Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Why I Will See Wes Anderson's New Movie

I'm not that much of a film buff. I only go to the theater a few times a year. I've seen some of Wes Anderson's past films, and have found them to be hit-and-miss. I really liked Rushmore,The Royal Tenenbaums, and The Fantastic Mr. Fox, but didn't care much for The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (despite some really original visual effects) or Moonrise Kingdom. I predict I will very much enjoy his new film, The New Budapest Hotel, based on an article at The Daily Beast (here). According to that article, Anderson's new film is based on stories by one my favorite twentieth-century authors, Stefan Zweig. I hope the film does justice to Zweig's brilliance as an author, and to the tragedy of his later life as a refugee from fin de siecle Vienna.

Legal Planet Has the Supreme Court's Future Decision in UARG v. EPA Surrounded

Based on Monday's oral arguments - from which one should never try to guess, let alone predict, an outcome - Richard Frank (UC, Davis) predicts an EPA loss (see here), but Megan Herzog (UCLA) predicts an EPA win (see here). Both saw the same oral arguments. Their fellow Legal Planet blogger Dan Farber agrees with Frank that a "narrow loss" by EPA seems most likely (here). At least Farber warned of the hazards of predicting outcomes from oral arguments.

Farber also pointed out quite rightly that the plain language of the statutory provision at issue in the could hardly be plainer. The only question before the Court is whether the EPA erred in interpreting the phrase "any air pollutant regulated under this chapter" from the PSD program includes carbon dioxide gases. Because carbon dioxide already is regulated under Title II of the Act covering mobile sources, it is a pollutant "regulated under this chapter."

Not only is the language of the statute plain, but EPA's interpretation of it has been consistent since the PSD program was first created in 1977. So, this case presents a real test for Justice Scalia, who describes himself as a textualist. Really, all he needs to do is pull out his trusty Webster's dictionary and look up the meaning of the word "any." Will he do that? I doubt it. In the past, I have found that Scalia is not the textualist and originalist he claims to be. Like most justices, he turns out to be a functionalist or instrumentalist - that is, an outcome-oriented justice who uses textualism and originalism only when they get him to the conclusions he prefers.

From a legal point of view, I consider this an "easy" case. Arguably, the Court should be especially reluctant to insert itself in this kind of case, where the statutory language is clear and Congress has full authority to overrule or alter EPA's regulations by amending the underlying statute. (The Clean Air Act may well be a bad fit for regulating greenhouse gases, but the Court already decided that issue in Massachusetts v. EPA.) Nevertheless, as Judge Posner has pointed out (see here), the US Supreme Court is not so much a court of law as a political court. I cannot possible predict what that political (and highly politicized) court will decide about politically controversial EPA climate regulations.

Insecure Data Storage Problem at Indiana University

Big news this morning as IU has admitted that personal data of 146,000 current and former students, which was supposed to be stored on an encrypted server, was mistakenly stored on an insecure server (see, e.g., here).

One of the more interesting aspects of the story to me is the fact that you can't find anything about the data insecurity problem on IU's own website. Apparently, the "IU Newsroom" (see here) is only for reporting positive news about the university, its campuses, schools, and departments.

Monday, February 24, 2014

RIP: Harold Ramis, 1945-2014

Very sad to read of the death (according to the Washington Post, here) of one of the great comedy
writers and directors (and sometimes actor) of the past 40 years.

I remember watching Ramis, when I was a teenager, on the old SCTV (see here). He wrote and/or directed some of the funniest films of the 1970s and '80s, including Animal House, Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, and Groundhog Day.

Some have commented over the years that I resembled Ramis, from which I can only conclude that he must have been a decent-looking guy.

Fracking, Horizontal Drilling, and Private Property Rights

Great presentation at the Workshop today by Gwen Arnold (one of Lin Ostrom's former students, now a Prof. at UC, Davis) about very interesting work she is doing with Ron Holahan (another "Workshopper," now a Prof. a Binghamton) on the "nature" of fracking shale as a good, property systems, and regulations. The video of her presentation will be posted on the Workshop website (here) soon.

She argued convincingly that, unlike convention oil and gas, which usually appears in (archetypal) common pools (rivarlrous in consumption but with high costs of exclusion), shale gas is more in the nature of a private good (rivalrous in consumption and low-cost of exclusion) because it is found in small pockets within shale formations. This argument is borne out by the industry's need to engage in horizontal drilling across property boundaries to make fracking economically viable. They cannot simply drill straight down on a piece of land and get enough gas out to make it worthwhile.

Horizontal (or diagonal) drilling is not lawful for ordinary oil and gas extraction from common pools; it would constitute an actionable trespass. But the ordinary trespass rule does not apply in the vast majority of states where fracking has become a major industry. Those states have passed laws for "compulsory pooling" or "compulsory integration" (see, e.g., here) that prevents landowners from "holding out" (that is, enforcing their rights to exclude) by granting fracking companies the state's power of eminent domain to engage in horizontal drilling. In other words, landowners have their rights to exclude taken away from them (presumably with "just compensation").

These "compulsory pooling" rules create an interesting constitutional issue under the "public use" requirement of the Fifth Amendment's Taking Clause. States have a long history of allocating their eminent domain power to favored industries, including mining and agriculture. But the relation of those industrial exercises to the "public use" requirement remains murky at best.

A quick Lexis search revealed, surprisingly, not a single reported state or federal case challenging "compulsory pooling" or "compulsory integration" as an invalid exercise of eminent domain under the "public use" clause. The lack of any such cases is particularly surprising in light of the massive public outcry over the "abuse" of "public use" in the wake of the Supreme Court's Kelo decision back in 2005. That case involved a city's use of eminent domain to engage in municipal redevelopment of an "economically distressed" area. Arguably, the taking of property rights to facilitate hydraulic fracturing has an even more tenuous relation to any conceivable "public use." Even more than in a case like Kelo, we have a taking of property from one set of identifiable private owners (the surface owners) for the private benefit of another set of identifiable private owners (the fracking companies). I have to wonder why the Institute for Justice, the Pacific Legal Foundation, and other private property-rights advocacy organizations are not filing lawsuits in every jurisdiction that has enacted "compulsory pooling" or "compulsory integration" legislation.

On the other hand, if "compulsory pooling" meets the public use requirement for fracking, then it clearly would satisfy the public use requirement for carbon capture and sequestration. That would resolve a sticky property rights issue relating to the use of underground pore space for the storage of carbon emissions that otherwise might contribute to climate change.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Perfect Tonic: Arsenal 4 - Sunderland 1

It helped that Sunderland put up little resistance, but Arsenal ran rampant with fast-paced, incisive passing. It was the kind of irresistible Arsenal attacking prowess we've seen too little of this year. Giroud scored the first two goals within the first 15 minutes or so, the second one set up on a silver platter by a poor attempted back pass to the goalie by a Sunderland defender. But it was Arsenal's third goal, score by Thomas Rosicky, which was a real thing of beauty. A series of at least four one-two passes between the goal scorer and several of his teammates that cut open the middle of the Sunderland defense like a surgeon's blade and put Rosicky in alone against the goalie. "Little Mozart," as he was known in his youthful days at Dortmund, simple dinked the ball over the unrushing Mannone. If not for Wilshire's wonderful goal in October against Norwich City (see here), this one would have been a clear favorite for Arsenal's best of the campaign.

Two aspects of the second half were predictable: (1) Sunderland were going to come out playing hard in response to a halftime tongue-lashing from their manager; and (2) Arsenal eventually were going to tire after their midweek effort in defeat against Bayern Munich. The outcome of the match wasn't in doubt. The only real question was whether the match would become more balanced in the second half.

Laurent Koscielny's goal in the 57th minute, on an unmarked header from a free kick, indicated that the Gunners were not going to simply relax and sit on their lead. It also suggested that Sunderland had not solved their defensive problems at halftime. Against the run of play, Sunderland scored in the 81st minute, when Giaccherini scored a brilliant strike from 20 yards out after Szcesny punched away a free kick (which a niggling commentator suggested he might have caught).

From that point on, it was just a matter of running out the clock. The most troubling point was that Jack Wilshire was limping with an injury for the last ten minutes of the match. Perhaps the most surprising statistic of the match was that Arsene Wenger did not substitute Lucas Podolski. I cannot recall another match in which Podolski played the full 90 minutes. Fans of Poldi (like me) have often wondered why. He always seems to play with plenty of energy.

BTW, Arsenal officially unveiled the statue of Dennis Bergkamp before Saturday's match. The great man was there for the unveiling and also gave a talk to crowd at halftime. Here's the statue:
























And here's a photo of the play on which it was based:


Thursday, February 20, 2014

If Ozil Fails

It's been a difficult first season at Arsenal for Mesut Ozil. After starting the first few games brightly with several assists, he's looked increasingly lethargic and almost disinterested on the pitch. His lackadaisical penalty kick in yesterday's Champion's League loss to Bayern Munich was emblematic.

Like many other players new to the Premiership, Ozil may just need more time to settle into the English style of play. And naturally it was a lot easier to become the European leader in assists when passing the ball into Christiano Ronaldo, as opposed to Olivier Giroud. He is, after all, primarily an elegant distributor of passes, rather than a hard-running workhorse of a player. And Arsenal don't have the players up front to make best use of Ozil's skill set.

However, if Ozil is not able to find his game at Arsenal before the end of this season, the repercussions for the club could be quite significant. It was a big deal when Ozil signed for the Gunners because it sent a message to the footballing world that Arsenal are still a big, ambitious club that could attract the best players in the world. But should Ozil fail at the Emirates, how much of the blame will be laid at the feet of the club for "wasting" or "misusing" his obvious and undeniable talent? More to the point, if Ozil fails, will that send out another message to the footballing world that the best players should stay away from Arsenal. To my mind, that is a much bigger concern than Ozil's current lack of form.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

10-Men Arsenal Capitulate: Gunners 0 - Bayern Munich 2

I didn't see the first half, including Ozil's missed penalty that would have given Arsenal the lead and Szczesny's red card, which I heard was well-deserved (I was teaching). I almost wish I had missed the second half. Despite Arsenal's dogged defending, two moments of brilliance undid them. And now the Gunners face the same problem they confronted last season in the Champion's League - heading back to Munich with a big deficit to overcome. Like last year, I expect the Gunners to give it all they have; if they do, they may come out of the match with the same kind of momentum that carried them last season to a fine finish to the Premier League campaign.

BTW, can anyone please explain to me why Arsene Wenger treats Lucas Podolski with such disdain? It seems like everytime he plays, Podolski scores and then is removed from the game and benched until the next time someone is injured. Does Wenger really think Podolski gives less effort on the pitch than, say, Ozil?

I Think I Can Guess the Answer to This One

Ahead of today's big Champion's League meeting between Arsenal and Bayern Munich, a headling in today's Independent (here) reads, "Arsenal v Bayern Munich: The 10 most dangerous Bayern Munich players." Unfortunately, the article is behind a pay wall, so I can't read it. But I think I have a pretty good idea of who those players are: they would be ten of the eleven players on the field during the game, who are capable of either scoring against Arsenal or preventing Arsenal from scoring. I struggle, however, to tell which of the 11 Munich players is not among the "most dangerous" to the Gunners. That player obviously sucks.

You Know You're Out of the Loop When...

... draft articles are appearing (here) about proposed climate legislation you never heard of (even though they had no chance in hell of enactment into law).

By the way, the draft article is excellent, and the bill itself adopted an approach I prefer, which is called cap-and-dividend. In essence, it is a per unit tax (in this case, called a "fee") on greenhouse gas emissions much of which is rebated directly to consumers, displaced workers, climate-sensitive industries and areas, or invested in energy research and development. Personally, I think a climate bill is most likely to succeed (in some conceivable, but not the actually existing Congress), if it uses cap-and-dividend to make it revenue neutral, e.g., by reducing other taxes equal to the estimated cost increases passed through to consumers. That is, of course, more easily said than done.

Also by the way, in light of my recent short colloquy with Alex Tabarrok (see here and here) it's worth noting that the bill containing this price-based instrument was sponsored by a Barbara Boxer, a Democrat,and Bernie Sanders, who is nominally Independent but an avowed socialist.

Final by the way, for the most part I'm quite content to be working on climate and other issues from the outside of whatever loops there might be. True, it means anything I write is unlikely to be read by the real "players" (defined as those within the loop), outside of the few friends I have in various loops who will at least glance at my working papers, and therefore less likely to affect prescribed or adopted policy. That's not the worst thing in the world, however, considering that any particular normative position I might advocate could turn out to be mistaken. If I have any really good ideas, then chances are that someone in the loop will eventually have them as well.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Chinese Government Will Fail To Curb Urban Smog with Price-Based Mechanisms

Nature has the story, here. Until China proves me wrong, I will continue to predict that market-based instruments for pollution control will fail to function effectively (let alone efficiently) in heavily polluting sectors of China's economy, which are still dominated by state-owned enterprises. Those enterprises suffer from soft-budget constraints, which leave them insensitive to price signals because their existence depends not on surviving in competitive markets but on meeting planned (output-based) production targets; any financial penalties they pay for pollution would go almost unnoticed.

Meanwhile, local regulators in China suffer from an endemic regulatory conflict of interest, as their career prospects turn on meeting development targets, rather than environmental goals. Until that changes - implicating the entire socialist structure of heavy industrial production in China - the only form of environmental protection that can be expected to succeed are technology-based requirements and plant shut-downs.

But never mind all that, China's economists and policy makers have learned from those in the West that market-based mechanisms of pollution control are always and everywhere superior to cumbersome and inefficient forms of direct regulation. No need to worry about the fact that market-based approaches depend on well-functioning markets, which don't yet exist in many of the most heavily polluting sectors of China's economy.

China's environmental situation today is not much different from that of Poland and other East European countries in the 1980s, where a similar combination of soft-budget constraints and regulatory conflicts of interest doomed price-based mechanisms for pollution control. It was not until those countries privatized polluting industries - something China has not yet done for major sectors like electricity production - that pollution levels began to drop, following the fall of communism.

In 1998, I published a book about Poland's experience with environmental protection before, during, and after communism (see here). I'm not surprised that Chinese economists and policy makers have not read my little-known work. I'm more surprised that they haven't taken on board some of fundamental lessons of Janos Kornai's studies of socialist economic systems. China's current pollution problems merely underscore the fact that Kornai deserves a Nobel Prize.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Arsenal Get Revenge in the FA Cup: Arsenal 2 - Liverpool 1

Everyone at Arsenal - coaches, players, staff, and fans - had to be at least a bit nervous going into today's FA Cup match against Liverpool, a side that destroyed the Gunners 5-1 in Premier League competition at Anfield one week ago. Since then, Arsenal and Man United tied 0-0 at the Emirates, and questions were rightfully being asked about Arsene Wenger's decision not to buy reinforcements during the January transfer window (despite what was reported this past week as a huge treasure chest), and about the Gunners' prospects for going another season without winning any silverware.

Liverpool couldn't have been expected to replicate the near perfection they achieved in the first half of last Saturday's match, when they came out on fire and were up 4-0 within the first 20 minutes. Nevertheless, Liverpool created the first two good chances of the match, and could easily have been up 2-0 within the first 10 minutes. But a greatly changed Arsenal side, featuring Yaya Sanogo up front replacing Giroud, Mathieu Flamini back from his red card suspension to help Mikel Arteta shore up defensive midfield, Karl Jenkinson replacing Bacary Sagna on the left side of defense, Lukas Podolski replacing the flu-ridden Santi Cazorla, and Lukas Fabianski deputizing for his fellow Pole Wojciech Szczesny in goal, as he usually does in FA Cup matches, eventually got a foothold into the match. They scored the only goal of the first half after about 15 minutes off of a corner kick that eventually found its way to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the center of the goal box. He dispatched the ball first time into the Liverpool goal.

For the rest of the first half, the two sides seemed pretty evenly matched (though Liverpool's fleet forwards continued to threaten an Arsenal defense that, as the half wore one, wisely positioned themselves farther back toward their own goal). Arsenal's fresh players - Sanogo, Podolski, and Oxlade-Chamberlain, in particular - impressed; but once again Mesut Ozil seemed out of sorts and unable to make any impression on the contest. The first half ended 1-0 to the Arsenal.

The second half started much like the first, with Liverpool creating good chances. The score would have been tied 1-1 within the first minute of the second period had not Fabianski made an excellent save with his legs from a shot by Suarez. But less than a minute after that, Arsenal doubled their pleasure on a sweeping move that started with Mesut Ozil, who found Oxland-Chamberlain bounding down the right flank. He found Lukas Podolski, who was busting a gut to break into the Liverpool box, with a perfectly weighted pass that Podolski had no trouble putting into the net. Ozil's role in that goal seemed to wake him up a bit. He nearly had Arsenal's third goal several minutes later, hitting a hard low shot from the left side of the Liverpool goal, which goalie Brad Jones did well to get a strong hand to.

In the 59th minute, Lukas Podolski made a poor forward's challenge on Luis Suarez in the penalty box. Steven Gerrard stepped up to take the penalty kick and calmly pulled Liverpool back into the match, down 2-1 with 30 minutes left to play. Arsenal were fortunate not to give up another penalty five minutes later, after Oxlade-Chamberlain clattered into Suarez in the Arsenal penalty box without getting any piece of the ball.

Throughout the last half hour of the match, the tension in the Emirates Stadium was palpable, as Arsenal tried to hold on to their one goal lead. Liverpool created a couple of good chances, including a strong shot from Suarez that flew over the bar. Finally, when the whistle blew to end the game, the Arsenal players and fans could both breathe a big sigh of relief.

Next up for Arsenal in the FA Cup quarterfinals, Everton. But first they have a big Champion's League match at home in mid-week against Bayern Munich, and more tough matches upcoming in the Premier League.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

US-China Joint Statement on Climate Change

Last year, the US and China established a joint climate change working group. Today, the parties reiterated their commitment to cooperating on reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and positively influencing global climate negotiations (see here). Although not long on specifics, the joint statement does list five specific initiatives:

  • Emission Reductions from Heavy Duty and Other Vehicles
  • Smart Grids
  • Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage
  • Collecting and Managing Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data and Energy Efficiency in Buildings and Industry
  • and commit to devote significant effort and resources to secure concrete results by the Sixth U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in 2014.
In and of itself, this joint statement hardly represents a great leap forward on climate policy. But the fact that the US and China are holding regular climate talks and nurturing joint policy initiatives represents a real ray of hope in the other dismal landscape of climate change. If they act together with real seriousness of purpose (admittedly an open question), the US and China could conceivable create a tipping set that changes for the better the entire nature of the climate game for other countries.

Climate policy scholars and advocates ought to be paying close attention to these and other sub-global negotiations, which are far more likely to produce fruit than the stuck-in-the-mud UN negotiation process.

The Experience of Excellent Health Care

I had it yesterday at IU Hospital North, where I went for minor abdominal surgery (yes, I know, "minor" surgery is surgery that someone else has). The entire team of doctors, nurses, and support staff, were highly competent, responsive, and extremely kind. Special kudos to Larry Stevens, who in addition to being a great cycling buddy and a dear friend, is among the top surgeons anywhere. I'm also grateful to Dr. Jim Caughlin, a friend, cycling buddy, and doctor, who facilitated my pre-op tests down here in Bloomington, allowing me to avoid an extra trip up to Indy.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Tabarrok on Environmental Policy

Over at Marginal Revolution, my old friend Alex Tabarrok has posted about the sorry state of environmental policy debates in the US. He mainly, and rightly, blames the Republicans, noting that the Reagan and Bush Administrations both supported social welfare-enhancing environmental policies that employed market-based approaches, such as cap-and-trade. Today, by contrast, "Republicans are no longer willing to accept the environmental goals regardless of the means."

But Alex also chides the Democrats for no longer being willing to accept market-based approaches to environmental protection. No evidence supports that statement. Certainly, Democrats were prepared to enact climate legislation in 2010 that relied predominantly on cap-and-trade mechanisms. Such legislation passed the Democratic-controlled House but failed in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Moreover, Alex's presumption that market-based approaches, including both cap-and-trade and effluent taxes, are always economically superior to command-and-control is unwarranted. The chief virtue of those market-based approaches is that they reduce the compliance costs of environmental protection for regulated industries. But compliance costs are not the only category of costs with which policy makers should be concerned. They must attend to the total costs of environmental protection, including monitoring and enforcement costs, which can in some cases be much, much higher for market-based approaches.

Back in 1998, Peter Grossman and I made that point in an article published in the Wisconsin Law Review, entitled, "When is Command-and-Control Efficient?" The article can be viewed here. We subsequently published a more concise version of the main argument from that article in volume 20 of Research in Law and Economics. And we currently are working on a more highly formalized (that is to say, mathematized) version of the argument, in a last-ditch effort to convince environmental economists (among other economists) that their blanket attachment to market-based instruments is mistaken.

Cap-and-trade and effluent taxes are, indeed, excellent and often preferable instruments for pollution control in many circumstances, but not always and everywhere. At least sometimes, because of technological constraints or the absence of well-functioning market institutions, such market-based instruments cannot be expected to function as well or as efficiently as direct regulations, e.g., technology-based standards (or non-tradable quotas based on available technologies).

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Arsenal Fail to Convince at Home Against Man U: 0-0

After the drubbing they took at Liverpool last weekend, today's match at home to Manchester
United was a very important test to see whether the Gunners could reassert their claim to title contention. Indeed, a win would have taken Arsenal back to the top of the league, after Chelsea's draw yesterday at West Brom. The Gunners didn't exactly fail today's test, but neither could it be said that they passed with flying colors.

I only saw the second half of this contest (I was teaching during the first half), but if the second half was any indication of the first, I didn't miss much. Neither side looked much like a title contender. We already knew that about Man U, of course; but Arsenal's inability to put the hammer down and impose their will in big matches will continue to concern Arsene Wenger and Arsenal fans. At least the Gunners' defense appeared better organized today. And one cannot fault Arsenal's effort (aside from Wilshire, who was guilty of giving the ball away on several occasions, at least twice resulting in decent attacks for Man U). The Gunners worked really hard to get the breakthrough goal, but just couldn't manage it.

To be fair, Arsenal did look the side more likely to score in the second half, holding more of possession and creating several colorable chances. A Man U defender had to head the ball off the line in the 62d minute to preserve the draw. On the other hand, it took a fabulous save by Szczesny who deftly deflected a Van Persie header off the post in the 80th minute to keep Arsenal in the match. The last really good chance of the game came Arsenal's way in the penultimate minute of regular time, when Cazorla was fouled just outside of Man U's penalty area. Mesut Ozil was unable to get the free kick over the wall. A minute later, Cazorla (once again Arsenal's most dangerous player) forced De Gea to make a decent save (for the second time in five minutes).

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Arsenal Crumble at Anfield: Liverpool 5 - Arsenal 1

In reality, the match wasn't as close as the scoreline might suggest. Less than a minute into the contest, Arsenal were down 1-0 (although the goalscorer, Martin Skrtel, was clearly offside). Within 20 minutes, they were down 4-0, and the first half might easily have finished 6-0, if Suarez's rocket of a shot had not caromed off the post and Sturridge had not missed another easy chance.

Arsenal were left to play for whatever pride they could muster. And they couldn't muster much. The implausibility of even managing a draw was underscored by Arsenal's failure to register a single shot - let alone a shot on goal - during the first half. For most of the match, it looked as if Liverpool had twice as many players on the pitch as the Gunners. Liverpool came out hot, attacking with incisive passing on offense and pressing hard and high up the field on defense. By contrast, the entire Arsenal squad seemed slow, poorly positioned on defense, and sloppy in possession, which is to say, completely unprepared to play a Premier League match, let alone an match away at Liverpool.

Perhaps some disease vector has spread Mesut Ozil's apparent lethargy throughout the entire Arsenal squad. The defense in particular were poor. The usually rock-solid pair of Koscielny and Mertesacker were ripped apart. Arteta and Wilshire, playing in front of them in the center of midfield, seemed to be running wearing heavy ankle-weights when defending against the fleet-footed Liverpool attackers. Arsenal's central midfield duo were, perhaps, the poorest of a poor lot on the day.

No doubt, Arsene Wenger would have liked to have brought on an entirely new set of outfield players at the half. But he must bear some of blame for the embarrassing performance. A championship caliber squad, which Wenger claims to possess, simply does not play this poorly. Anyway, Arsenal had to play better in the second-half, right? Certainly, they couldn't play any worse.

In fact, Arsenal did play marginally better in the second half, if only because Liverpool weren't pressing them as hard. Nevertheless, Raheem Sterling scored within the first seven minutes after the restart to extend Liverpool's lead to five. But that was, thankfully, the end of Liverpool's scoring for the day.

Arsenal managed to get off a shot or two of their own during the second half. Their lone goal came on a needless penalty given up by Steven Gerrard against Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who was on the very edge of the area, and not at all in a position to score. I half expected Arteta to blast the penalty shot over the net, but he dispatched it into the net with the same nonchalance he displayed in his matador-like defensive play throughout the match.

Can Arsenal go on to win the championship after this? Of course they can. But it seems highly unlikely. Man City, Chelsea, and Liverpool all will concede points during the run in, but Arsenal have the hardest finishing schedule by far. And you just don't see the other contenders giving up four, five, or six goals in the most important, really telling, matches against the other big clubs.

Like other hard-core Arsenal supporters, I will be watching game by game, cheering the Gunners on. But it would require far more optimism than I can muster to expect them to finish top of the League.

Friday, February 7, 2014

David Brooks: Public Philosopher or Agony Aunt?

I fear that the intelligent and sometimes insightful David Brooks, in his ongoing effort to refashion himself from  political pundit to public intellectual cum philosopher is in danger, instead, of becoming more like a "Dear Abby" type of advice columnist. Only, instead of responding to letters from specific readers, he gives advice based on hypothetical social interactions. Consider his latest advice column in today's New York Times, here.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

"The Fantasy of a Fresh Constitutional Start"

James Poulos has it exactly right in his article today at The Daily Beast. Calls for a major overhaul of the US Constitution have been coming fast and furious from all sides of the political spectrum (which may in fact be a circle). Hardly any of them consider that they might have to compromise with those who hold opposing (in some cases, diametrically opposed views) to get a new constitution. What Poulos rightly calls "the fantasy of a fresh constitutional start" would make getting a budget through Congress seem like child's play.

As long as many of us already are fantasizing about a new constitution, however, I might as well ask my perennial question: what firm empirical evidence do we have that our barely functional written constitution has provided America with better results than the UK's unwritten constitution, which our founding fathers rejected (although Adams evinced warm feelings toward it)? Are property rights and contracts substantially better protected and enforced here? Has judicial supremacy on constitutional issues really protected rights and freedoms better than parliamentary supremacy? Does the UK's representative democratic system (however dysfunctional it may be) really function significantly less well than that of the US? I don't just want bromides, I want real comparative institutional and organizational analyses.

Even if we could adopt a new constitution, it would probably be much much worse than the almost fatally flawed one we already have. And that's me being optimistic (there's no way we could adopt a new constitution given the institutional and organizational structures to which our existing constitution, along with state constitutions, has given rise).

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

What Was Coca-Cola Thinking?

Did they know they were going to piss off American conservatives? And if so, did they care? If there is a global market for anything, it is for Coca-Cola. Chances are, the multinational was willing to sacrifice a tiny fraction of 1% of market share in the US (if even that) to gain more customers globally.

But for many conservatives, the issue goes well beyond market-share. How dare Coca-Cola allow "America the Beautiful" to be sung in foreign languages? If Jesus had wanted that, he would not have written the song in English in the first place.

A Nicely Balanced Review of Gardiner's Bach Biography

Here, in the New York Review of Books. I agree with the reviewer's arguments about the shortcomings of approaching Bach predominantly through his chorale works, as Gardiner does (understandably, given the comparative advantage he holds in his unrivaled knowledge of them), to the exclusion of the equally voluminous instrumental works. In any case, I'm enjoying immensely, and learning a great deal, from Gardiner's carefully supported, if somewhat controversial, efforts to make Bach, the man, appear as a more ordinary (if supremely gifted), flawed, and therefore interesting human being (a truly difficult trick to pull off).

Monday, February 3, 2014

Great Interview with the Gifted and Hilarious Gary Shteyngart

Here, in the New York Times. If you haven't read any of Shteyngart's books yet, you should start immediately.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

German Word of the Day

Beleidigt*

-------------------------
*Combines "offended" and "hurt." Pretty much sums up my feelings about ----.


One Thing I Really Like about John Eliot Gardiner's New Biography of Bach

He dispels the inexplicably persistent myth of Bach as a purely intellectual composer, whose music was devoid of sentiment or romanticism. Gardiner's evidence comes mainly from Bach's cantatas. But I would defy anyone simply to listen to the second movement of Bach's Italian Concerto and then tell me that Bach was basically just a compositional computer.

Arsenal 2 - Crystal Palace 0

Arsenal went back top of the table, if only for a day, with an expected (and necessary) win over Palace at the Emirates. CP manager Tony Pulis had his side working for a nil-nil draw from the opening kick, playing all but one striker behind the ball at all times. In the first half, the strategy worked. Arsenal, despite having nearly all the possession, created only a couple of good chances, both off of set pieces.

But an early second-half goal by winger Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who only recently returned from Arsenal's long injury list, put Pulis's side in a tough position. Santi Cazorla (who has really come into form in the past several weeks, and has considerably outshone the new bright star on the block, Mesut Ozil) was nearly the only player on the pitch who saw "the Ox" breaking down the left center-channel toward the goal. Fortunately, Cazorla had the ball on his foot at the time, and lifted an inch-perfect pass over top of the defense. Ox took one fine touch with his right foot, then lifted the ball with his left foot over the sprawling Palace keeper into the net.

Oxlade-Chamberlain added to his tally later in the half on a beautiful give-and-go with Olivier Giroud. Not far inside CP's half of the field, the ball came into Oxlade-Chamberlain's feet, which he deftly passed to Giroud, who managed to hold off a would-be tackler. Having made the back-pass, Oxland-Chamberlain sprinted straight toward the CP goal, and Giroud, still holding off the defender, manage to get him the ball back in stride. The Ox dribbled three times across the top of the CP's goal area before dispatching a shot into the far corner of the net.

All in all, a convincing-enough performance by the Gunners - though one would still like to see more than a dozen shots on goal with 73% possession for the match. In addition to Oxlade-Chamberlain's outstanding performance (I hope the English national team braintrust were watching), the work rates of Giroud and Cazorla continue to impress, Szczesny made a brilliant save to keep a clean sheet, and Lukas Podolski showed the kind of aggression in the final third that hopefully will infect other players, especially Ozil.

With many tough matches ahead, including in both the FA Cup and the Champion's League, this was a much-needed win at home to keep Arsenal in contention for the League title. They'll stay top of the League tomorrow if Chelsea can manage a win or tie at home to Man City.