Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hard Knocks

Even with all that football blogging since the close of the regular season, I somehow managed to leave out the Dallas Cowboys and their terrible, no good, very bad 2008 season. Truthfully, anything short of the Super Bowl would have been considered a disappointment for this team, but to finish 9-7, embarrassing themselves in their final two losses, was nothing short of one of the all-time chokes in all of sports.

So what went wrong and where do the 'Boys go from here? As usual, everyone is calling for TO's head, as if it were somehow TO's fault that everyone else on the offense couldn't hold onto the football againast the Eagles or that the defense which had played so well just collapsed in the season's final two weeks. The fans and the media have this need to lay blame somewhere and TO just makes himself much to easy a target. But as an unapologetic TO defender, I've just got to scratch my head. Tony Romo choked at the end of the season not for the first, not for the second, but for the third time in his brief career. This isn't Peyton Manning struggling to overcome good defenses on his own, this is a guy who literally seems to be a shell of his warmer-weather self as the weather turns cold. Yet rather than worry about Romo and whether the Cowboys can win with him, we're worrying about TO- I heard from several different people on ESPN radio today that the Cowboys should get rid of TO, along with Roy Williams, and just go from there.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. TO is a great, game-breaking receiver, who may have a big mouth, but always plays hard and has undeniably fantastic numbers. A good team will find a way to work TO's skills to their benefits. A bad team or a team with too many big egos will use TO's mouth to help excuse their own self destruction. But let's be serious for a minute. TO had another 1,000 yards this year and another 10 TD season, the 8th time in his career he managed that feat. And he opens his big mouth about wanting the football, and now, after that disaster in Philly, the team's offensive play calling. As I started out by saying, teams don't lose games because people open their mouths. Generally, teams don't win or lose on much of anything their receivers do, unless it's catch big balls or drop key passes. Teams lose because of bad coaching and crappy quarterback play.

Speaking of bad coaching, it's now rumored that wonder-kid Jason Garret is being considered for the Detroit job. I might think twice if I were the Lions. I'm sure Garret has a future in the league, but he didn't do a very good job of managing all that talent this season. Really, the Dallas offense this year, after a flourishing start, settled into mediocrity for most of the season, with flashes of brilliance few and far between. I'm not sure what you do if you're Dallas- Given Garret's performance this season, I don't think the Cowboys can justify promoting him and firing Wade Phillips. I think you either keep them both and give them another shot or else get rid of them both. Of course, there's no guarantee Garret won't go somewhere else.

But mark my words- parting ways with TO won't make the Cowboys better.

Monday, December 29, 2008

What's More Important, Idealogy Or Actually Helping People?

I missed this Nicholas Kristoff piece at the Times last week on the moral dilemma of having for-profit business people running charities while making a profit.

Here’s a question for the holiday season: If a businessman rakes in a hefty profit while doing good works, is that charity or greed? Do we applaud or hiss?

A new book, “Uncharitable,” seethes with indignation at public expectations that charities be prudent, nonprofit and saintly. The author, Dan Pallotta, argues that those expectations make them less effective, and he has a point.

Mr. Pallotta’s frustration is intertwined with his own history as the inventor of fund-raisers like AIDSRides and Breast Cancer 3-Days — events that, he says, netted $305 million over nine years for unrestricted use by charities. In the aid world, that’s a breathtaking sum.

But Mr. Pallotta’s company wasn’t a charity, but rather a for-profit company that created charitable events. Critics railed at his $394,500 salary — low for a corporate chief executive, but stratospheric in the aid world — and at the millions of dollars spent on advertising and marketing and other expenses.

“Shame on Pallotta,” declared one critic at the time, accusing him of “greed and unabashed profiteering.” In the aftermath of a wave of criticism, his company collapsed.

One breast cancer charity that parted ways with Mr. Pallotta began producing its own fund-raising walks, but the net sum raised by those walks for breast cancer research plummeted from $71 million to $11 million, he says.

Mr. Pallotta argues powerfully that the aid world is stunted because groups are discouraged from using such standard business tools as advertising, risk-taking, competitive salaries and profits to lure capital.

I just love the figures. Critics slammed him, charities dropped him, and that one particular breast cancer charity saw it's net amount raised fall by 60 million dollars. This is just the argument about income disparity, transferred to a different forum. Instead of critics claiming to be compassionate about the poor who are merely just envious of the wealthy, we have charitable causes that would rather get upset about profits than actually worry about championing their charitable cause. In the income disparity game, the problem is that smaller disparities in income doesn't mean those at the bottom are better off. Most of us would take a world where the poorest make 5 dollars a day and the richest make 100, but the income disparity folks would have us choose a world where the rich don't make any more than 10, but the poor make only 2. Just like income, charitable giving is not a zero sum game. Maybe you don't like the idea of profits being made on charity, but if the work to get you those profits can bring in six times the money, then what's the problem?

I don't let my libertarianism get in the way of the government doling out assistance to the very poor (I only quibble with how it's done). So why let a little profit get in the way of charity?

More Football Thoughts: A Brief Note On Tiebreakers

For those of you who were curious, the reason the Patriots lost out on the division to the Dolphins was because of tie-breakers, in this case, conference record, which is actually the fourth tie-breaker. The two teams split their season series and finished 4-2 in the division. The third tie-breaker is common games, in which both the Pats and the Dolphins both finished 11-3. In fact, the Pats and Dolphins had remarkably similar seasons, both sweeping the Bills and splitting with the Jets, losing to AFC North and AFC South opponents (Baltimore and Houston for Miami, Indy and Pittsburgh for New England), and earning victories againast Denver, Oakland, Kansas City, Seattle, San Francisco, and St. Louis. The difference for the Pats and Dolphins were the Cardinals and the Chargers. The Patriots annihilated the Cardinals in the snow in Foxboro, while the Dolphins went and got blown out in the desert early in the season. But while Miami got the Chargers at home, winning a close game, the Patriots traveled to San Diego as the second game of a west coast leg, and were soundly beaten.

And while I see the value in tiebreakers, if you had to make an NCAA tournament-like human judgment, I find it hard to believe that the Dolphins would get picked over the Pats. Looking at the differences, they both got blown out on the road, but the Pats played the better game at home. Plus, the Pats had a slightly harder schedule, they won the second matchup between the two teams, and they faced two multi-game west coast trips, while the Dolphins had all those same west coast teams coming to play them.

Not a complaint, really. It's just a matter of finding something to talk about other than the playoffs.

Other Thoughts on this NFL season

Some other thoughts on this just completed NFL season.

# I can't think of a season that had as many compelling week 17 matchups. Nor can I think of a season that had as few compelling first round playoff matchups. It's made for some interesting football, but as a whole, I think it's all related to how the quality of play was significantly down this year. As I mentioned mid-season, the classes of the AFC and NFC, Tennessee and the Giants, aren't all that intimidating and don't match up particularly well with the elite teams of years past. I'd even find it hard to argue that the Giants, the favorite to repeat, are better this year than last minus Plaxico, Strahan, and Osi Umenyiora. But to judge the league this year, most telling are not the league's elite, but the league's doormats. The Lions, losers of all 16 games, were only blown out 6 times in any meaningful sense of the word. In those other 10 losses they were within a touchdown at a meanigful point in the second half. The blowouts included games againast the 6-10 Packers, the 5-11 Jaguars, the 9-7 Bears, the 7-9 49ers, and the 8-8 Saints, all teams that failed to make the playoffs, while the Lions played close games againast the playoff Vikings (twice), Colts, and Panthers.

Just look through the schedules of the league's other doormats this year- Kansas City, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Oakland- and you'll see more close games and wins againast good teams and more bad losses to mediocre teams and teams with loosing records. Ordinarily, you'd call this parity, but unlike the years where there are gluts of teams at 7-9, 8-8, and 9-7, this season there were teams with records all over the spectrum. This is about inconsistency, from every team in the league, from top to bottom.

# Who's the league's MVP? We had an interesting discussion amongst my friends yesterday about this question and I'd like to throw out five names for consideration.

1- Peyton Manning, 4,002 yards, 27 TD's, led team to 9 straight wins and a 12-4 record

2- Adrian Peterson, 1,760 yards rushing, 10 TD's

3- Phillip Rivers, 4,009 yards passing, 34 TD's, somehow got that Charger team to the playoffs

4- Michael Turner, 1,699 yards, 17 TD's

5- D'Angelo Williams, 1,515 yards, 20 total TD's

6- Drew Brees, 5,069 yards passing, 34 TD's, despite losing some of his best offensive weapons

I have trouble finding the case for any of these guys to be convincing. I like Peyton, continuing to win, despite the drop off in talent around him, but statistically, this was his lowest passer rating and the fewest touchdowns he's thrown since 2002. Peterson, the league's rushing leader, also seems like a good pick, but he had only 10 TD's and looking back on his schedule, there are only one or two games where he really carried the Vikings to victory. I threw Rivers into the discussion because of his stats, but I'm not sure anyone thinks of him as MVP material. Turner is worthy of consideration, but we probably wouldn't be talking about him if it weren't for Matt Ryan. Williams is a guy who'll probably get overlooked, but he had some huge games this year. And finally, there's Brees, who's Saints failed to score under twenty points only once this season. I actually like Brees as a dark horse candidate, if only because I can both look at his numbers and say that they really do look like MVP numbers and look at his team and say where would they be without him.

Just A Few Inches Short

I wrote last week that I wouldn't scrap the NFL's divisional and conference based playoff system and in the face of my Patriots missing out on the playoffs, only the second time in league history that an 11-5 team has missed the playoffs, I'll stick by my guns. Sure, it sucks that 8-8 San Diego, 9-7 Arizona, 9-6-1 Philly, and 10-6 Minnesota are all in over the 11-5 Pats, but thems the breaks. And while I do support these mediocre divisional winners getting into the playoffs, I'm still opposed to those mediocre teams hosting playoff games. Far worse than the Pats missing out on the playoffs, next week the NFL presents us with 11-5 Atlanta at 9-7 Arizona, 12-4 Indy at 8-8 San Diego, and 11-5 Baltimore at 11-5 Miami, where Baltimore crushed the Dolphins earlier this season.

And what to make of the Patriots season? My initial thoughts last night were that this was that however disappointing this finish was, it wasn't nearly as bad as falling just short of perfection againast the Giants last year. But in a way, the two seasons are very similar, offering the same feelings of unfulfillment, the same feelings that everything special the team did was for naught. And for the 16-0 team, at least there's the record book, along with the personal records of Brady and Moss to ensure that the 2007 won't be forgotten. But Matt Cassel's team seems destined to join John Elway and the 1985 Denver Broncos in the dustbin of history. (Interestingly enough, that Broncos team also lost out to an 8-8 divisional winner, in their case, Marty Schottenheimer's Cleveland Browns.)

Feelings aside, it's tough to grade this season in anything other than positive, complimentary terms. Even Belichick said he was proud of the team. And just keep in mind how close this season really was. If the coin toss goes the other way in that last Jets game, the Pats would be in the playoffs right now. If the Patriots had managed to hold onto the ball in that Steeler game and come away with a win, not only would they have been in the playoffs, but they'd have the number two seed and a bye. The Patriots finished the season 7th in points scored, 8th in points allowed, and 6th in points differential. Again, hard to find fault, especially given that we're talking about Cassel, who was practically a rookie, a running back corp that only got healthy in December, and a defense that spent most of the year starting undrafted free agents as defensive backs and had to bring back old Junior Seau and terrible Roosevelt Colvin to start as half of the linebacking corp at the end of the season. What's most disappointing is that this team won't have the chance to test it's mettle in the playoffs. We don't get to see Matt Cassel or any of this makeshift defense in January and none of the rest of the guys from last year get a chance for some redemption.

Friday, December 26, 2008

My goal is to make government as unhip as it has ever been

From today's New York Times Op-Ed page, Paul Krugman mentions Obama wanting to make government cool again. I must have missed that little nugget along the way. It's just like I said last week, the emerging thread here is to marginalize those of us who reject big government by any other name.

Maybe it's just me, but it certainly feels like the battle to control our modern political narrative has intensified greatly over the past few months. Obama wants to make government cool again and Paul Krugman chimes in with his editorial, seeking to rewrite history. George Bush, the President who gave us more government growth than Bill Clinton did, is painted as the intellectual leader of an anti-government ideology that supposedly has controlled Washington for the past eight years. Except, I've never heard Bush say anything remotely anti-government during his years in the White House, nor have any of his budgets, new regulations, or massive bailout plans ever seemed remotely anti-government. Rather, the anti-government meme seems to be more a product of the left, who would much rather chalk up the Bush Administration's failures to a polar opposite ideology than face the practical limitations of government.

Matt Welch noted this morning on Hit and Run, that he can't comprehend why the leftist critics of capitalism "presumes/pretends that all enthusiasts of capitalism prefer no rules at all in the functioning of markets" when "[t]hose of us who aren't quite ready to abolish the state tend to be in favor of a more limited, and much more smart, set of clear rules that are based largely on transparency, cost-benefit-analysis, and fairness (i.e., so that the system can't be gamed to favor certain large investment banks or quasi-governmental entities that lard the political system with campaign contributions)." In the end, it doesn't really matter if this is an intellectually honest argument or not. What it's about is putting in place the popular narrative for years to come. As I've noted before, libertarians are still fighting an uphill battle in regards to the Great Depression and the New Deal and that same battle over the narrative is once again what we're facing today.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Save Our Playoffs!

As the fan of a team that could become the first team in the modern playoff era to go 11-5 and miss out on the postseason, I feel very comfortable saying that Greg Easterbrook is dead wrong in his complaints about the NFL's playoff system. I'm confident the Patriots will manage to find their way in, but even if they don't, you'll hear no complaints from me. This is a season where, if the Patriots had beaten the Steelers a few weeks ago, they'd be playing not in the hopes of the playoff spot, but for the guarantee of a two seed. That's how the NFL works, as a literal game of inches and I've got no regrets.

TMQ's proposal is to eliminate the conference and division distinctions and just seed the best 12 teams. That way, faltering teams like the Cardinals and Broncos would be out, and more deserving teams like the Patriots, Jets and Dolphins would be in. Except, that's not how football works. If you're eliminating the automatic divisional playoff bid, then what's the point of divisions in the first place? Why have them if they're ultimately meaningless. I think most football fans would agree that there's value in divisional play and you don't want to eliminate that value by scrapping the playoff system.

Now perhaps there's something to be said about changing up the seeding. The thought of an 11-5 wild card team in the AFC having to go to play an 8-8 Chargers team or a 9-7 Broncos team seems a bit unfair. But that's a simple, not-so-radical fix. Just seed based strictly on record, with no regard to how one made the playoffs.

Yeah, the NFL has changed it's playoff system several times before, but that doesn't mean scrapping the divisions is a good idea. Divisions have up and down years, as do conferences. Sometimes good teams miss out, but that's just football. Some years, the league as a whole is just more mediocre and you find more 8-8 and 9-7 teams in the playoffs. But don't forget the flip side of mediocrity. All of these teams with good records this year have benefitted from games againast an unusual number of stink factories.

Scary Stuff

This has got to be a joke, right? With Ann Coulter penning the article, Human Events has named Sarah Palin "Conservative of the Year."

I've spent plenty of time doing the Palin bashing thing before, so my only comment is this: What conservative things has Sarah Palin ever done or said? According to Ann Coulter, Palin is worthy because she annoyed liberals. Let's hope that's not what conservatism has really become.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Short Break

There's been lots and lots of good stuff I've been meaning to blog on lately, but the holiday season and winter weather has been catching up with me. I figure blogging may be light for the next week or so, so, before the holidays, here are some unsupported and unsubstantiated thoughts:

# The auto bailout passed with nary a peep from me or Congress- Bush went right ahead and ordered his own bailout in a way that some on both the left and the right have described as unconstitutional. In typical Bush fashion, no accountability was placed upon him or the automakers- Obama will have to decide what to do when progress reports come due in March.

#I saw a big piece this morning on one of the news shows executive compensation and how outrageous it was that some of the CEO's at financial firms receiving bailouts are still receiving such large bonuses (even though as a whole, executive compensation for 2008 is way down). 1) This was the law that was passed, so it's what were stuck with. 2) There is good language in the bailout bill to prevent bad management from receiving "golden parachutes," which makes good sense. But compensation becomes a more difficult issue, as compensation is obviously one of the tools used to lure away good management from one company to another. Even as a libertarian, I'd be willing to accept the proposition that, in general, there are problems with executive compensation. I just find the proposition that government (or anyone) can dictate what compensation is fair to be even more troublesome.

# Two other things from this morning- The compensation for executives and upper management for all of these major financial firms totaled about 1 billion, which would be 0.00125% of the 800 billion dollar bailout package. One of the reporters discussed an interview with a CEO who's name I don't remember about the notion of accountability in this bailout. The CEO said point blank there could be no accountability. In essence, they took the check, cashed it, and continued to go about their business. Even if the law had demanded accountability (which it doesn't), what does that even mean in the first place?

# Thank God for the angry and the principled left, many of the members of which have become more and more critical of the Obama plan. Obama, of course, is giving America exactly the sort of unity and change he promised. And without being too conspiracy-oriented, let's be clear about what Obama is doing. Obama is attempting to unify Americans behind the mantle of big government while calling a truce in the culture war. Having Rick Warren deliver the invocation at his inauguration is an appeal to social conservatives and Mike Huckabee Republicans, while his holdover of Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense and naming of several other Republicans in cabinet posts is an attempt to assuage whatever remaining Bushies may be left. Who does this leave out, but me and my fellow libertarians, along with any conservatives who still fly the flag of limited government.

Should libertarians regret not actively opposing Obama? That I'm not so sure about. Obama-brand big government may well be better than Bush-brand big government, but I have no way of knowing. What scares me though, is the nature of the language being used and the way that those who would stand with a stop sign in the face of a government onslaught are being simply brushed aside. The Bush administration is held up as a straw man for free markets and limited government so that our ideas don't even have to be addressed anymore. Rather, we're presented with a picture of the future, where Americans are unified in the idea that our political leaders should solve our problems.

I said thank God for the left because if so-called conservatives wind up as mushy-spined as their Congressional Republican representatives, than libertarians will need the left more than ever to stand true to their principles and point out this new administration's abuses of power.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Requiem For An Epic

I won't make this post unduly long, but I need to take a moment to just completely trash Hollywood for continually pushing the same formulaic garbage on the American people. Last summer was sort of a lost summer for me in terms of movies, as I missed out on countless films I was actually interested in seeing, and one of my "most-missed" films of the summer was Prince Caspian, the second installment in the Chronicles of Narnia series. I loved the books as a kid and the first installment, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe had been enjoyable, if not outstanding, so I was quite interested to see what movie magic could do with a story that was definitely geared toward slightly older children.

Well, I found out the other night when my wife and I finally watched the DVD and to say I was disappointed would be an understatement. Hollywood films today have this tendency of trying to stuff any story into a generic formula that's easily to sell to the public and in the case of Narnia, this meant the movie needed to be a fantasy epic in the style of Lord of the Rings, regardless of what the original story actually was or what would be even remotely interesting. This was achieved by revolving the movie around epic battle scenes, rushing the plot, and giving the characters precious little time to interact.

Perhaps we've been spoiled by TV dramas where stories are allowed to unfold over time and characters are given time to develop, but that doesn't mean the film is dead as a storytelling device. The Harry Potter films tend to suffer a bit from rushed plots, but that's only because of very real time constraints. The Narnia books on the other hand are all very, very short and very easy to work with. Yet rather than utilizing C.S.Lewis's timeless story, the creative minds behind the film decided C.S. Lewis could use some rewrites. The scenes not in the book include a twenty minute (or longer) assault by the Narnians on the castle of evil King Miraz. Even the film's penultimate battle is unduly long and exaggerated. In the book, the Telmarines surrender when Aslan appears. In the film, one of the baddies sword fights with a river person.

The scene I remember most from the book is that of Aslan roaming the countryside with Lucy (and perhaps Susan) and Telmarine children dashing from their classrooms to see the great lion. It's a fitting scene for a book that's supposed to be a religious allegory and it's nowhere to be found in the movie, perhaps because there was not a single action sequence that could afford to be cut.

The other scene I remember quite well is the one where the dwarf Nikabrik recruits several evil creatures and attempts to convince Caspian and the others to call on the White Witch to help them againast the Telmarines. In the book, Nikabrik and the evil creatures are quickly slain when their plans are revealed. In the movie, we're treated to the White Witch herself, called by black magic, and a far more furious action sequence. It's a minor complaint, but it's indicative of the need to soak every scene in as much adrenaline as possible and the dumbing down of scenes to ensure that absolutely no one misses the point or gets mired in subtleties. (For Lord of the Rings fans, I'd say this is similar to the LOTR films treatment of King Theoden as literally posessed by Sauraman.)

I could go on, but I promised not to make this too long of a post. Anyone interested in similar complaints about the Two Towers and the Return of the king can let me know.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Right To Be Healthy

Nicholas Kristof has some interesting thoughts on the New York Times Op-Ed page on the greatest health care breakthrough in the last 40 years.

Let’s break for a quiz: What was the biggest health care breakthrough in the last 40 years in the United States? Heart bypasses? CAT scans and M.R.I.’s? New cancer treatments?

No, it was the cigarette tax. Every 10 percent price increase on cigarettes reduced sales by about 3 percent over all, and 7 percent among teenagers, according to the 2005 book “Prescription for a Healthy Nation.” Just the 1983 increase in the federal tax on cigarettes saved 40,000 lives per year.

That's right, it's not drugs, not medical technology, not anything that scientists had anything to do with. The greatest health care breakthrough of the past 40 years involves the government nudging the population in a healthy direction.

But hell, why stop at simple nudging and taxation. If cigarette taxes make for such an incrementally wonderful health policy, why not just ban them altogether. In fact, why not ban anything and everything unhealthful? Kristof's piece lauds New York City for implementing a soda tax to fight obesity, but why not just completely rid the city of those calorie-laden, sugar loaded beverages? And you could go even further. Mandatory exercise programs, strictly controlled diets, and sleep requirements, all formulated and mandated by the government of course, could produce a far healthier population.

I know the regular response of some of the readers here, who think I tend to careen off the deep end with these issues, but there's an important point to be made here. Kristoff is justifying "sin taxes" on the basis health, directly quoting the number of lives saved by such taxes. My point is that if a tax saves X number of lives, outright restrictions should save even more. So if the point is to save lives and to make the population more healthy, why should we stop at a 5% tax or a 10% tax or whatever? Why not just go all the way and save the most lives possible? The answer is that even the most ardent statists tend to have some respect for the notion of individual freedom. Even those who would be willing to ban cigarettes would probably be uncomfortable with the thought of banning soda. So where does it all end? Supporters of these policies can say I'm wrong all they want, but that doesn't excuse them from the natural consequences of their ideas.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Howard Dean, Still Crazy

Reason's Nick Gillespie takes note of Howard Dean's stream of consciousness on MSNBC's Morning Joe.

Talking on the generally excellent and substantive Morning Joe today, DNC head Howard Dean, an M.D., former governor of Vermont, and legendary presidential screamer says, "We cannot continue to spend 16 percent of our GNP on health care. Period."

He added that he "thinks the decisions should be made at the individual level."

And that he's against "corporate care."

Confused? I am, and it's not just the corporate prescription pharmaceuticals. Just wait until the hard-core health-care reform proposals start hitting the ground in late January.

As Nick says, this is precisely what's very scary about the idea of health care reform. It's not that we don't need it- God knows we do- It's just scary that political leaders continue to push conflicting objectives while providing no mechanisms for meeting those objectives. Making health care decisions at an individual level is something every libertarian could agree with, but the idea of eliminating business from health care all together can't mean anything but government provided care. And unless there mandated cost controls and restrictions, an idea at odds with the notion of individual choice, I'm unclear how a government run program could hope to stay within any budgetary restrictions.

I know I've made the point here countless times before, but the real solution, the only solution to our health care problems are to permit more market forces to work, not to eliminate the idea of health care markets all together. The left is perfectly correct to note that insurance companies aren't entitled to their profits- Much of what they earn is a result of the twisted system of health care policy and tax law we have in this country. But there's a tremendous difference between arguing that we should rid ourselves of the costly, complex leviathan of regulations we've created and arguing that the profit model is ineffectual when it comes to health care.

Mortgage Question

I'll allow my massive ignorance to show for a moment here while I ask a question related to this mortgage crisis. Many people are upset, and rightfully so, that those with troubled mortgages may be given the opportunity to rewrite the terms of those mortgages. And I'm not sure whatever became of the idea, but during the run-up to the election even John McCain proposed that those with negative equity in their homes should be given the opportunity to reduce not only the amount they were paying in interest, but the principle owed on a home, in order to compensate for declining real estate values.

Throughout all this talk of monkeying around with mortgages, I never once heard it proposed that people with bad mortgages have their terms extended, so, for example, a 30-year obligation would be turned into a 40-year one. I'm pleading ignorance here, so I would love to know why this wouldn't be a good idea. Is the 30 year mortgage an industry standard or is it mandates by law? And in either case, why can't it be changed? It seems to me that it makes much more sense to hold individuals to their obligations, but adjust the terms by which they have to fulfill those obligations, rather than changing the nature of the obligations in the first place.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Weekend Movie Reviews

Caught two more films on my "too see" list over the past week, "The X-Files : I Want To Believe" and "Pineapple Express."

The X-Files was movie was terrible, which given the terrible performance at the box office, should guarantee the once popular series another painful death. You would think that with seven years to work on it, Chris Carter could have come up with a better story than "psychic pedophile priest seeks redemption in helping Mulder and Scully find Russian Dr. Frankenstein in the West Virginia wilderness." But no, what we got was a story that would have been at best an above average episode, provided it was well-executed. Unfortunately for movie viewers excited to see Mulder and Scully once again, this one was not particularly well-executed.

David Duchovney does an excellent job as a believable Mulder who's been hiding in isolation for the past seven years. Yet Gillian Anderson's Scully seems almost nothing like the Scully we remember and the movie can't even be bothered to explain why. Scully looks thin, gaunt, and wearied and seems just plain miserable and I grew tired of her not long after the movie started. The plot is semi-interesting, but the lack of Mulder and Scully chemistry just drives the entire project into the ground. Even the appearance of Skinner near the film's end seems a bit tacked on. It's as if the movie was made for a general audience with hopes that a few scraps here and there would placate the fan base. But in the end, I doubt anyone was left satisfied.

Pineapple Express on the other hand, was well worth the viewing, and should be one of those films that draws plenty of laughs for years to come. In brief, the movie tell's the tale of Seth Rogen's Dale Denton, a 25 year-old stoner who makes a living as a process server and James Franco's Saul Silver, Dale's dealer and soon to be best friend. Dale witnesses a murder and flees the scene leaving a joint of his dealer's newest variety, pineapple express, at the scene. The murderer is Silver's dealer's dealer and with the pot easily traced back to our two lovable stoners, the film kicks into overdrive.

Compared with the other tropically-named action comedy from the summer (Tropic Thunder, which I mentioned a few weeks ago), Pineapple Express is far more engrossing. Maybe I'm just getting older, but the action humor stuff just doesn't quite do it for me anymore so the extended action sequences can be a bit grating. But unlike Tropic Thunder, where the penultimate scene seems to go on forever, Pineapple Express manages to wrap things up before getting too out of hand. But the movie is well worth watching for the dialog alone, with many a priceless scene between Rogen and Franco. If you've ever been a pot head or just known one, you'll certainly enjoy this film.

Would Farm Subsidies By Any Other Name Smell As Sweet?

From the New York Times Op-Ed Page last week: America should rename the Department of Agriculture the Department of Food.

In other news, incoming President Obama has proposed changing the name of what had formerly been the Department of Torture and Evil into the Department of Rainbows and Smiles.

The Importance of Historical Narratives

Salon has a piece on Obama's First 100 Days, bringing to mind the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the dawn of the New Deal. And meanwhile, many progressive commentators have been more their vocal in their support for a new "New Deal" as centerpiece of President Obama's economic plans. I had planned on doing a post before the election on the importance of historical narratives in politics and got got waylaid, but nonetheless, the concept of historical narratives is still highly relevant.

If you asked the typical knowledgeable American about the New Deal, they'd probably tell you that the New Deal was FDR's plan that saved us from the Great Depression. Progressives will tell you it was the dawning of the era of light, while libertarians will tell you it was the beginning of the end. Truthfully, the immediate results of the New Deal were mixed if not non-existent and it was World War II that really got America out of the Great Depression, but this is far too small a forum for a historical debate of that magnitude. The important thing to note here is that in the long run, the left won the battle of words about the New Deal, as Roosevelt's efforts are painted in a positive light in virtually every historical text book. Even if there is still much to debate, those who would question the New Deal are left with the unenviable task of running smack into the standard historical narrative.

What this means for today is that questions about calls for a new New Deal or similar radical reforms are met with a skepticism directly related to that historical narrative. Those who write the history books are given more leeway to shape the present and the future.

From everything I've ever read it seems clear to me that the New Deal lengthened the Great Depression. Forget about the debate over whether or not the government crushed the market, what happened particularly during the early years of the New Deal was that the government's constant tinkering with the economy left businesses unwilling to make changes or take risks. It was about business not knowing what was coming next, something that I fear has already started with the growth of bailout mania these past few months. The financial system today remains in crisis, at least in part, because no one is willing to take bold steps while the government bides it's time in making decisions ans dolling out cash. These are the lessons I've learned, but it's not part of the standard story. Until it is, I'm terrified at the havoc Obama's new New deal could wreak.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Technology Outpaces Morality

I caught this surprisingly sane and non-hysteric piece in USA Today on the sharing of racy cell phone pictures this afternoon. I say sane and non-hysteric because the article just notes the trend without moralizing. Generally we see these cases in the news in relation to high school students, but as the article indicates, this is a trend amongst all young people.

What's fascinating is how this is such a vivid example of technology vastly outpacing sexual mores. Technology moves at it's own breakneck pace, but morals and social norms, even in the internet age, are still way behind. In a way, this is no different than the sometimes virulent and nasty behavior that occurs on blogs and social networking websites. When it comes to all this new technology, there's no guidance, no tradition, and no real standards. Perhaps what we need is a Ms. Manners for the technological age, but the truth is, Ms. Manners merely pontificates on time-honored traditions; she doesn't create rules out of thin air.

Perhaps this all lends some credence to a rather Hobbesian view of human nature and it's the complex web of interactions over time that make up society that serves to civilize us. Or maybe not. Regardless, these new technologies that affect our lives on such an individual level are certainly fertile grounds for some extremely provocative philosophical discussion.

The Auto Bailout

I haven't written at all on the auto bailout because I just don't have much to say. It's a horrible, horrible idea, made all the worse by the potential creation of a car Tsar (Yes, I prefer the T-spelling). At least the proponents of the financial bailout could make the argument that a potential credit crunch could potentially stifle the entire economy, but here, other than helping people who might lose their jobs, there doesn't appear to be any real rationale for federal intervention.

Even if you're a big government liberal, you've got to be a bit troubled here, both with the proposed powers that would be granted to the government and with the valuing of certain people's livelihoods above others. As a libertarian, I have a big problem with the government offering a helping hand to provide well-paying jobs to those who wouldn't have such jobs in a free market, while at the same time not offering to the same sort of assistance to those who are actually living in poverty.

It's interesting because Obama won the election by focusing on the middle class, while rarely, if ever, discussing the poor. The middle class lifestyle has become what the nation feels entitled too and not one that individuals can achieve through hard work. Just look at all the proposed policies we've seen of late- people shouldn't have to lose their homes, people shouldn't have to lose their jobs. We've moved well past the notion of a social safety net to a vision of a society where there should never be any losers. It's practically a political movement, only one who's ideas were never throughly articulated and that's probably because when you actually put it down on paper it sounds so distasteful.

Even as a libertarian, I recognize that there's something to be said about the idea of a social safety net and a rich society ensuring the poor a decent standard of living. But how do you justify poverty when rich Wall Street types and even well paid autoworkers have their lifestyles supported through tax dollars. If anyone, liberal, conservative, or libertarian can think of a world where this is just, I'd love to hear about it.

Prostitution or pornography?

Interesting discussion at the Volokh Conspiracy over the legal distinction between prostitution and pornography. Professor Volokh notes a recent New Hampshire Supreme Court just recently overturned the conviction of a man who had been convicted of soliciting a couple to allow him to film them for $50 an hour. According to the court, this was a First Amendment violation of Constitutionally protected speech.

So the real question is, does adding a camera make prostitution legally acceptable? There seem to be few good answers, which in my mind, weighs more negatively on the existence of anti-prostitution in the first place more than it does anything else.

I've also always found it curious that the concept of the Constitutional right to privacy would protect sex between consenting adults in the privacy of one's bedroom, but that the same right to privacy disappears as soon as money is exchanged. Again, this is probably more about old fashioned moralizing than it is about good law.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Last Time on the Lonely libertarian ...

To pick up from Wednesday and the stories I had linked too ...

The piece of higher education costs is interesting in that there's little speculation about why these costs have increased so dramatically. Part of that increase is, I'm sure, related to the growth of entrenched bureaucracies. This is true of education at all levels, where more and more administrators who don't actually teach children are paid fairly substantial salaries. These higher-ups tend to become the hardest people in the budget to cut, oftentimes because they're intricately involved in the budget process.

But that's certainly not the whole story. Another factor in increased costs certainly has to be technology- I don't know what it costs to maintain a campus-wide wireless network, but that's certainly one cost that simply didn't exist twenty years ago. Here's where the tie-in the medical costs comes in and that's the question of what new technology is worth. Technology offers tremendous benefits, but even the simplest technology represents costs that just didn't exist before. It seems to me as though this would be the sort of issues economists would be all over, but I've seen very little on the topic.

Perhaps the real issue is that the push for near-universal higher education has pushed millions into a market that hadn't previously been accounted for. So long as there is no universal higher education and you have individuals paying their own way, what you have is a market system, a convoluted one perhaps, but a market system nonetheless. And given we're talking about a market, it's not all that surprising that prices have increased dramatically along with the increase in demand.

To move on to Britain, we find that their public health care system is left with the difficult decision of weighing how much people's lives are actually worth. It sounds morbid, but this is how money works. For an individual family, it probably makes sense to go bankrupt to prolong a loved ones life, but you can't justify such unlimited expenses in a system where everyone shares costs.

My own personal light bulb went off when reading these stories for the various manners in which markets are neglected and ignored. Market factors are at work and economic decisions have to be made, even when the idea of a market isn't so apparent. But what's even more interesting is this unconscious desire (or sometimes not so unconscious desire) to wish away basic economics altogether. After all, it's not fair that a private college might cost so much for a poor person, or that a life-prolonging treatment would be so expensive. What we don't see is an acceptance that health and education are services that cost money and that values need to be assigned whether you it's pleasant or not. In terms of college, discussion about the costs versus the benefits of various educational opportunities are rarely discussed, even amongst families and individuals. In terms of medical care, there generally are no limits when it comes to individuals and families, but the nice thing about a market system is that it's a choice individuals and families actually get to make.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Save For Discussion

If you have the time, check out these two really worthwhile pieces from the New York Times today:

Higher Education May Soon Be Unaffordable For Most Americans


British Balance Benefit vs. Cost of Latest Drugs

Seemingly unrelated, but in the end, both pieces are really about the intersection between markets and government whether they know it or not. There are questions of costs and questions of universal access and both stories seem to demonstrate, at least to me, that it ain't so easy to just give the people everything they want. Maybe a bit more on this tomorrow.

More Stupidity

From the same website I had just mentioned, Here's more stupidity, this time on a Constitutional proposal to eliminate wealth in electoral politics:

SECTION 1. For the purposes of providing all citizens, regardless of wealth, a more equal opportunity to influence elections, public policy and run for public office; of furthering the principle of “one person, one vote” and preserving a participatory and democratic republic; as well as the purpose of limiting corruption and the appearance of corruption, we the people declare the unlimited use of money to influence elections incompatible with the principle of equal protection established under the Fourteenth Amendment.

SECTION 2. The Congress shall have the power to set limits on contributions and expenditures made to influence the outcome of any federal election.

SECTION 3. Each state shall have the power to set limits on contributions and expenditures made to influence the outcome of elections in that state.

SECTION 4. The power of each state to set limits on contributions and expenditures shall extend to all elections in that state, including initiative and referendum elections, as well as the power to lower any federal limits for the election of members of Congress to represent the people of that state.

SECTION 5. Congress shall have power to implement and enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

I'll keep this sweet and simple. This isn't just about restricting donations to candidates for office, this is literally about restricting speech. The language would specifically give the states and the federal government power to set limits on "expenditures made to influence the outcome of elections in that state." As I've pointed out many times before, this is the logical extension of campaign finance reform and an idea that tears at the very fabric of the First Amendment. It's literally insane and would potentially mean the death of talk radio, newspaper editorials, and even well-read political websites.

I'll leave you with this thought- if such restrictions were permissible during the debate over the Constitution in the 1780's, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton could have been limited in their ability to publish the Federalist Papers, as publication of those famous political tracts involved expenditures made to influence the outcome of elections.

File This One Under "S" For Stupid

Here's another old post I've had kicking around for some time now, one that is perhaps more relevant in a political climate that's become increasingly fearful of markets.

With that being said, I give you Reclaim Democracy Dot Org, an organization seemingly devoted to crushing corporate power ... or some such thing. And this is their proposal, a Constitutional amendment to limit the rights of corporations and like, restore power to the people.

Here's the proposed Amendment:

SECTION 1. The U.S. Constitution protects only the rights of living human beings.

SECTION 2. Corporations and other institutions granted the privilege to exist shall be subordinate to any and all laws enacted by citizens and their elected governments.

SECTION 3. Corporations and other for-profit institutions are prohibited from attempting to influence the outcome of elections, legislation or government policy through the use of aggregate resources or by rewarding or repaying employees or directors to exert such influence.

SECTION 4. Congress shall have power to implement this article by appropriate legislation.

I think the reason I've had this post kicking around for so long was because I kept wanting to delve into some of the specifics of corporate law, but it's probably not necessary. Perhaps the one legal fact all you non-legal types should know is that the legal concept of the corporation is designed to allow investors (shareholders) to invest some of their money in a business venture without having to risk all of their assets. The liability of shareholders in a corporation is limited to the money they invested. And just about anyone should be able to see why this is desirable- without that protection, why would anyone risk their wealth in an investment which could cost them everything. Keeping that all in mind, each state has it's own corporate law structure, laying out the basic rules of the game and setting up a number of default rules.

Now, back to our proposed amendment, which I'm sure has any number of lefties drooling. Section 2 seems self-apparent- corporations are just as bound by the law as any other group or individual is- And section 4 is merely a Congressional enforcement clause. So the real interesting (and troublesome) pieces here are Section 1, which proclaims that the Constitution only grants rights to human beings, and Section 3, which would basically prohibit corporations from any involvement in government. This amendment encapsulates the desires of the far left, but also reveals some real intellectual bankruptcy. Limiting corporate power is one of those great, feel good ideas in theory that tends not to hold up to any sort of logical, legal scrutiny.

The practical problem, as I indicated before, is that a corporation is made up of individuals, just like any other sort of organization. So when it's said that the Constitution protects only the rights of human beings, what does that exactly mean? Does that mean free speech rights apply only to individuals and not to groups of people? Does that mean that protection from illegal searches and seizures applies only to individuals and not to organizations. I can think of a great number of anti-war groups who wouldn't be too pleased with that interpretation.

And even if you were to include some words here about protections not applying to for-profit corporations, what does that mean for small business? If you run a business out of your home but don't incorporate does the Constitution apply to you, whereas an individual who incorporates and runs a business out of his home wouldn't have any Constitutional protections from searches and seizures?

The third section is even worse in it's attempt to limit speech from for-profit organizations. Again, does that mean the small businessman is simply not allowed to take part in politics? What these anti-corporate activists always forget is that the corporation is merely a structure. I actually agree about the troublesome influence of large corporate institutions, but that's an issue to be dealt with delicately, not with a broad swiping away of rights.

Some folks get all worked up over notions of corporate personhood, but these concepts exist so corporations can be subject to the legal world, not to exempt them from it. We want (or should want) corporations to have Constitutional protections because the government should have to follow legal due process when dealing with corporations and because the government shouldn't be able to storm in and demand to see a corporations records. In fact, I believe that's precisely what the left (and civil libertarians) have been fighting for over the past several years, claiming that without a warrant, the government shouldn't be able to search through Google's and AT&T's records. Without Constitutional protections, that's just what you'd get. The 4th Amendment could be completely subverted without the ability of corporations to protect their records of our personal business. Of course, some folks just don't get that, which is why I filed this one under "S" for stupid.

Why Sports Talk Sucks

I love sports, but perhaps the most disappointing thing about being a sports fan is the moron factor. It can permeate the fan community and is ever present amongst the community of ex-jocks known as experts. This isn't to say every expert or analyst is a moron, only that far too many of them are. Take this morning, where the big news on ESPN's morning radio show was the Plaxico Burress suspension and the upholding of the suspensions for banned substances for a number of Saints and Vikings for the remainder of the season. They had an attorney on to talk about the banned substance suspensions, which was interesting, but the real problem was the breakdown of what this meant for the rest of the season. Mark Schlereth weighed in that the suspension of their two interior defensive linemen knocked the Vikings down a rung and made the Bears the favorite in the NFC North. It would have been a decent point if this was week 1, but with 4 games left in the season, I know as a fan I'd like some facts, not just vague assertions.

There I was, sitting in the car listening to the radio, where I could care less about what the suspensions meant to the Vikings as a team. All I wanted to know was, could the Bears catch the Vikings? I knew the Bears were a game down and I knew they had split the season series- but could the Bears win a tiebreaker, or would they need to actually gain two games on the Vikings to win the division? It's a hell of a big deal and exactly the sort of thing that always seems to get forgotten by the so-called experts.

So, I decided to take a look myself. The Bears and Vikings, having split their season series are both 3-2 in the division. But while the Vikings play at winless Detroit this week, the Bears face a tougher game againast the Packers. The Bears also play at home againast Jacksonville and New Orleans and finish the season on the road at Houston. Minnesota plays at Arizona before finishing at home againast Atlanta and the Giants.

So let's skip ahead one week and assume both teams take care of business and you'll have Minnesota at 8-5, Chicago at 7-6. Chicago's season will probably rest on that Packer game, because if they lose that, the only way they'd win the division would be if Minnesota lost their final three and the Bears won their games againast the Saints and at Houston. If your the Bears, you're certainly happy to see the Vikings lose the interior of their defensive line, but beating a tough Packer team is no gimme. Even if the Bears beat the Packers, their still basically hoping the Vikings lose their final 3 games. As of now, the Vikings hold an edge in conference record, 5-3 versus the Bears 5-5, and record againast common opponents, 7-5 versus the Bears 4-6.

At this point in the season, schedule matters, and tie breakers matter, certainly more so than who's on the field. Whether those Vikings got suspended or not, the Bears need to win and they need the Vikings to lose so it seems a bit silly to say that missing players would suddenly tilt the balance one way or another.

And then there's Plaxico. And again the discussion veered off into the Giants making due without their top players before and the sort of team the Giants are this year. All relevant points of course, but isn't the real story and the real question about the Giants young receivers Steve Smith and Domenick Hixon? They've emerged this season as legitimate targets for Eli Manning and their development certainly will soften the blow of losing Plaxico. But can they fill his shoes as a go-to guy, can they draw the attention he draws? I'm not sure, but that's the sort of thing I'd love to hear the so-called experts talk about. Instead, as usual, we get the same old crap.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Thanksgiving Movie Madness

So this past Thanksgiving weekend I actually got a chance to watch three of the movies I wanted to see this summer but never actually got around to seeing. Just some brief thoughts on each:

Hancock, which received mixed reviews, starring Will Smith as an alcoholic superhero who needs to repair his image.

My wife loved this movie, having gone on several girl dates to see it this summer. And while it was certainly better than what the critics that panned it gave it credit for, it didn't quite live up to the high expectations created by my wife either. The first half of the story entertains as sort of a superhero meets the real world sort of scenario, with Will Smith's Hancock turning to Jason Bateman's Ray Embrey in an attempt to better his public image. It's a cute story that doesn't let itself get weighed down by it's characters. The audience can see the Hancock is lonely and troubled without the story having to dwell on that fact. The movie lost me when about halfway through, it's revealed that Embrey's wife Mary, played by Charlize Theron, actually has super powers like Hancock and is technically his wife. It's not that it's an unbelievable plot twist, it's just that it's a complete U-turn in story. The first half of the movie was more than a bit funny, but the movie's end dragged on and on with tedious life and death matters about our superhero's true natures. It's worth watching, but I wouldn't be running out of my way to see it.

Tropic Thunder
, a star studded send up of the movie business, which received glowing reviews

I had heard from several different people in different circles that this was a great movie and while I enjoyed it, I'm not sure it lived up to the hype. The story is just so over-the-top ridiculous that it begins to lose you after awhile. And while it's funny, I've certainly seen funnier movies. That all being said, Robert Downey Jr. is tremendous as a send up of a character actor who works so hard to get into character he has skin augmentation to make himself look black and can't even get out of character when faced with life or death choices. There's also Ben Stiller putting on his macho hat as an action star begging to be taken seriously and Tom Cruise donning a bald cap and fat suit to play a loud profane studio executive. I remember people being impressed with Cruise this summer, but how hard can it be to act like a complete asshole? Go and watch it because it's got some very funny moments and it's nice to see Hollywood literally ridiculed from top to bottom, but just don't expect anything great.

Wall-E, the latest and greatest widely praised Pixar film.

Forget the fact that this is a "kids" movie, Wall-E was the best movie I've seen in years. It's amazing that Pixar's animation, when combined with a good story, can breath more life into their characters than 90% of whatever else Hollywood has to offer. I could probably go on forever about this movie, but I'll try and keep it brief. Basically, Wall-E is a robot who's charged with cleaning up the earth after it was evacuated centuries ago for having too much garbage. Wall-E falls in love with Eve, a probe sent back to Earth by the robot caretakers of humanity- the human race you see, has spent centuries living in space on luxury liners, having their every whim catered too by literal armies of robots. It's an incredible mix of traditional science fiction and Pixar cuteness, one where neither overwhelms the other, the little robot characters are allowed to shine, and the plot is allowed to progress very naturally.

Some folks have criticized the movie's environmental message, while other's have criticized the portrayal of fat people as lazy, but as a fat guy who's sick of environmental messages, I didn't really have a problem with either of those things. What struck me about the humans in the movie was that they were so damn nice. Even the generally positive Issac Asimov gave us worlds where people too defendant on robots grew cold if not downright hostile. Here, the first few people we see are down right friendly and courteous to Wall-E. The lazy part is true, but that's more a comment about human nature than anything else. Jeff Garlin (who's great as the Captain), shows that even after centuries of physical and mental lethargy, humans are still perfectly capable of getting down to business when the situation demands it. As to the environmental message, yeah, it's there, but I didn't find it overwhelming. As far as messages go, it's a rather soft take care of the planet sort of message, one that you'd have to be pretty hard-hearted to disagree with. And while the movie may be pointing out our over-consumption, this isn't some Marxist flick. Wall-E after all, gains his individuality through the leftover treasures he finds in the garbage. His collection of stuff is part of what makes him who he is. If I haven't said it yet, see Wall-E. And if I haven't said it yet, eat your heart out George Lucas. Pixar's computer characters are a million times better than anything you could ever create.

Monday, December 01, 2008

There Will Be Blood

The 2008 season hasn't been easy for the New England Patriots and yesterday's game againast the Pittsburgh Steelers was no different. The game was a sloppy mess, with fault to be laid at the feet of just about every Patriot player that took the field. Rather than waste time commiserating what went wrong on a day where the Pats had the opportunity to catch the Jets, I'd rather look ahead to the last four games and look back at an impressive 2007.

You'd have a hard time arguing that the 2008 version of the Patriots have been on the wrong end of plenty of "A" games. The Patriots successes have put a big target on their back, one that's gotten even bigger with Tom Brady out for the season. To put it simply, the Patriots have faced a murderers row of teams out for blood. Yesterday's Steelers team was one that didn't forget the 34-13 thrashing they took in New England at the same time last year. Nor have the older players forgotten the AFC Championship losses in Pittsburgh. This isn't to make excuses for this team- they are what they are and they're probably exactly the sort of team their record indicates that they are- this is more to note the fact that there's a big difference between getting an opponent's "A" game and getting just about anything else.

All of the Patriots losses this year have basically been againast teams lusting for blood. Remember how amped up Joey Porter and the Dolphins were before they went out and pounded the Patriots in Foxboro? And remember the game in San Diego, where the Chargers were certainly still smarting over back-to-back seasons in which ended againast the Pats in the playoffs? And the Jets certainly gave the Pats their best on that Thursday night game a few weeks ago. The Colts and the Pats both played a little tense, but that's probably why that game turned out the way it did. The Colts of course, despite last year's loss, had already exercised their Patriots demons with three wins in 2005 and 2006.

Need more evidence of the relevance of blood lust? Look no further than the Denver Broncos, owners of a 5-1 againast the Pats in the Belichick era going in to the Monday Night game in October. Big game for the Pats, less so for the Broncos, and the result was a Patriot blowout.

My other point to make is that the top teams of 2008- the Giants and the Titans- may not be quite as good as some think they are. They're certainly the best the NFL has to offer this season, but they're probably not as good as say both the Patriots and Colts of recent seasons. Both the Giants and the Titans have benefitted enormously from flying under the radar. The Giants play in a division where everyone is out to get one another, a division that they didn't even win last year. And Tennessee has played in the shadow of the Colts since the AFC South was created in 2002. When the Colts and Titans met a few months ago, the Colts were the one's with the target on their backs on the Titans were the one's out for blood.

By the end of the season, I think this will have helped the Giants tremendously, giving them home field in the playoffs, and allowing them the opportunity to steamroll their way to another Super Bowl. The Titans have it tough because they're likely to face veteran teams and veteran quarterbacks in the playoffs. With four games left, I'll call it right there that it's those very same Colts who wind up winning the AFC, much like the last time they won it, having the advantage of not having to play the roll of the favorite.