Normative Narratives


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Monday Morning QB: New Year, New NFL Super bowl Champion

The Giants season ended a lot like their last Super bowl defense. This time, no one literally shot themselves, but with missed opportunities to lock up a playoff spot earlier in the year (8-5 after week 14), it certainly feels like the team collectively “shot itself in the foot”. The Bears also fall into this category; oh well, better luck next year guys.

It is almost funny going onto ESPN today, as almost every story is about a head coach, GM, or coordinator who was fired from a NFL team that struggled this year. Not at all surprising, but an insight into just how unforgiving an industry professional sports can be.

Congrats to the L.A. Clippers, who went 16-0 this month and have won 17 straight games! The combination of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin has been dominant, and depth in the form of role players such as Caron Butler, Chauncey Billups, and Lamar Odom (just to name a few) have the Clippers poised to make a deep playoff run. Despite the highly publicized signing of Dwight Howard by the Lakers, it appears the Clippers are now the team to beat in L.A. This is a true “changing of the guard”, as the Lakers have been the big brother in L.A. as long as I can remember.

Back to the NFL, Let’s do a little Wild Card breakdown:

Colts v Ravens:

This will be an interesting game; a high powered offense versus one of the game’s best defenses. Can rookie Andrew Luck continue his meteoric rise to NFL stardom? Will Ray Lewis be effective when activated from injury, or perhaps even more effective after a long break (he is old; the injury could have been a blessing in disguise keeping him fresh). The match-up to watch here is how the Colt’s defense plays against the Ravens offense. If they can keep Ray Rice, Anquan Boldin, and Torrey Smith in check, I like their chances. Andrew Luck won’t become the first rookie to make it to the Super bowl, but his season does not end next weekend either.

Predicted Winner: Colts (I may just be thinking wishfully, but who doesn’t want to see Peyton v. Luck in the playoffs?)

 

Bengals v. Texans:

The Bengals have a high powered offense, but little to fear after that. The Texans have one of the most complete teams in the NFL; a solid QB, an All-Pro RB and WR, and a defender in J.J. Watt who strikes fear in the hearts of NFL QBs. I got the Texans in this one all the way, possibly by a large margin.

Predicted Winner: Texans

 

Seahawks v. Redskins:

This has got to be the first time two rookie QBs have faced off in an NFL playoff game, right? RGIII has been nothing short of amazing since week one of the season, beating Drew Brees at home. Russell Wilson has had more of a traditional rookie season, but eventually got it together and tied Peyton Manning’s rookie TD record with 26. RGIII is the better QB, but the Seahawks are the better team in every other aspect of the game (particularly on defense; the Seahawks are one of the league’s best, the Redskins one of the worst). I’m calling this one for the Seahawks.

Predicted Winner: Seahawks

 

Vikings v. Packers:

Fun, fun, fun, a rivalry game in the playoffs (so is Ravens-Colts I suppose). A week 17 rematch, I expect different results this time around. Adrian Peterson has been unstoppable this year; coming off a knee injury and a slow start, “All Day” AP finished only 9 yards shy of Erik Dickerson’s single season rushing record. This though should keep AP warm during an otherwise cold post-season, as the Christian Ponder lead Vikings will not beat Aaron Rodgers and the gang for the second time in two weeks. This one will probably be a shootout, as neither team has a great defense, which favors the Packers who can move the ball more effectively through the air. The “cheese-heads” have legitimate Super bowl aspirations, and must first knock off the surging Vikings to get there.

Predicted Winner: Packers

 

There are my NFL Wildcard predictions, we’ll have to tune-in next weekend to see what actually happens.

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Normative Narratives 2013 Wish List:

New Years is all about reflection and resolution after a holiday season of gluttony and generally unproductive activities. However, here at Normative Narratives we never take a break from fighting the good fight. In light of this, and in a rare “selfish” move, I will go ahead with my 2013 Wish List for the blog:

Wish List:

A NYG Super Bowl repeat
A NYY World Series title

A speedy resolution of the Conflict in Syria

An end of the European debt crisis

Stronger economic recovery in the U.S., especially with regards to unemployment

Non-partisanship in the U.S. Federal Government, including a new tax and budget plan (and short-term stimulus spending!!)

Stability in the Middle East: Egypt, Iran, Israel-Palestine, Pakistan

 

Wish List (Within the Power of the NN community)

Continuation of high quality blogging

Reach new followers who have yet to discover NN (tell your friends, family, co-workers, anyone!)

Greater level of community involvement, including commenting on posts and voting on weekly polls

Many good questions to pick from on Q & A Friday (All you have to do is ask, I’ll do the rest!)

Guest Bloggers!!! I know you are out there, don’t be surprised if I personally ask you to become a guest contributor sometime in the near future (it’s a compliment!!)

 

That’s all! Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year, see you all in 2013!


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Transparency Watch: China’s Human Rights and Civil Liberties Violations

I recently posted on the abysmal state of environmental protection in Asia and the resulting human cost in premature deaths. Many probably wonder why Chinese people are not more vocal about this obvious (and potentially lethal) example of government neglect.

The answer is that they probably are, and the Chinese government is doing it’s best job of using legislation in hopes of restricting politically contentious discourse.

This article highlights the Chinese Communist Party’s most recent attempt to prevent free speech. The party is now trying to stifle China’s bustling micro-blogging industry, a main driver of transparency movements and organized political dissent in China.

By making users register their internet capable devices with their real names, combined with the possibility of legal recourse, the Chinese government is trying to strong-arm its opposition into silence.

As a blogger with socially conscious goals, obviously I have a problem with this.

“The authorities periodically detain and even jail Internet users for politically sensitive comments, such as calls for a multiparty democracy or accusations of impropriety by local officials.”

Thankfully I am blogging safely from New York, a global center of progressiveness and liberty. I hope one day Chinese citizens are able to voice their opinions as openly and without fear of persecution as American’s can.


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Polls, Another Interactive Feature, Now Avaliable on NN


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Q & A Friday: Should Puerto Rico Become the 51st State?

Today’s question comes from Yshak from New Rochelle, NY:

Q: Should Puerto Rico become the 51st state? What are the pros and cons of statehood?

An interesting question Yshak, first some background information. Puerto Rico is currently a territorial commonwealth of the United States. Puerto Rico receives military defense and federal aid from the U.S. government. Puerto Rico does not, however, have an official say in U.S. political matters.

The most popular option for Puerto Rican’s living in the U.S. is to remain a territorial commonwealth (69.4% support this). As one man in San Juan said, “I believe we should stay the way we are. It’s worked for about 50 years already. We get the best of both worlds.” This reminds me of the old saying “if it aint broke, don’t fix it” Puerto Rico currently receives $4,200 per capita in federal expenditure (about 25% of GDP per capita!), while paying only $888 per capita. As a territorial commonwealth, Puerto Rico receives many of the benefits of statehood, without many of the costs (most notably, income tax).

There are still many pros to statehood, both political and economic. Politically, with a population around 4 million people, statehood would grant Puerto Rico 7 house representatives and 2 senators, totaling a very politically relevant 9 Electoral College votes.

Economically, statehood would include Puerto Rico in all U.S. trade agreements (NAFTA for example), which could greatly increase export revenues. Also, with a per capita income of around $16,000, Puerto Rico would immediately become one of the poorest states, meaning even more Federal benefits (with minimal additional costs, as $16,000 is barely above the taxable income threshold once standard deductions are accounted for).

So what are the cons of statehood? Why don’t more people support it? First off, many first generation Puerto Rican-Americans do support statehood (57.4%). The main argument against statehood is that Puerto Rico will lose its unique cultural identity. It is understandable to be concerned, as the U.S. dwarfs P.R. in size, population, and international influence in basically every category. However, this fear is unfounded. The U.S. as a country is one of the strongest proponents of individualism and freedom of speech. There are many distinctly regional identities within the United States, and there is no reason to believe that the Puerto Rican identity would be lost (unless it is abandoned by its people, which it would not be).

Some people want complete independence, after 400+ years of Spanish and then American rule, this is somewhat understandable. However, this is only a small group of people (typically older, liberal Puerto Ricans); these people are not considering the economic realities of independence. From a modernization standpoint, independence makes little sense.

It is also not just up to Puerto Rican’s whether they want to become a state or not. It would also have to draft a state constitution and pass a vote through U.S. congress, which in today’s political reality is far from a sure thing. The G.O.P has apparently decided to become friendlier to “Latino” voters after the 2012 presidential election, so perhaps it would pass a vote, but only time will tell.


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Transparency Thursday: Climate Change, Pollution, and Premature Death

Smog in central Shanghai. Credit: oliverlaumann/flickr.

Here at Normative Narratives, the negative impacts of Climate Change are always a hot-button issue. In previous posts, I have examined the linkages between climate change and drought / conflict and assessed the sustainability of development in the BRIC countries.

In this assessment, we saw that a disproportionately large amount of total world coal production is in China (49.5%) and India (5.6%). Furthermore, 2/3 of all proposed new coal plants worldwide are in India in China.

In light of these facts, it is alarming when there are reports of record numbers of pollution-related premature deaths in China and India. In 2010, 2.1 million people died prematurely in Asia from pollution-related causes. Including indoor (unclean cooking techniques) and outdoor pollution, pollution is the second most common cause of death in the world after blood pressure.

Before we go any further, I would like to reiterate that these are premature deaths. Perhaps many of these people were not in great health to begin with or led otherwise unhealthy lifestyles–you must view these figures with this in mind and draw your own conclusions.

To put this number (2.1 million) in perspective, in 2000 800,000 people died from pollution related causes in the whole world. There were 6.8 million combat related deaths in the four year span covering WWI, averaging 1.7 million a year. Japan estimates that a total of 440,000 people were killed from atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. People are dying prematurely from pollution in numbers eclipsed only the most egregious events in human history, such as WWII and select genocides.

No wonder China vetoed U.N. R2P action in Syria on sovereignty grounds; there are mass killings in China going unchecked by the government. The numbers are even more troubling when you consider the Chinese governments dismal history of transparency and openness–these numbers are probably understated.

China continues to develop economically, however unprecedented economic growth has led to only modest standard of living improvements. China has yet to become truly “modernized”. Continued reliance on cheap labor and lax environmental standards, coupled with restrictions on human rights and questionable government transparency will cause China to be highly scrutinized in the international community, and will prevent it from fulfilling its true potential as a world power.

India, as a democracy, is much more transparent and accepting of western values than China. However, in search of economic growth India, like China, has foregone environmentally sustainable development. This is especially relevant as many global climate initiatives have stalled in recent years, with developing countries and the developed world remaining in stalemate over who should pay for the majority of global “cleanup” projects. It is true that the developed world has been the leading contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the past, but if going forward the developing world (or Asia at least) is the main contributor to these emissions, then it must pay its fair share too.

Experts believe it is booming automobile demand that is the catalyst behind this disturbing trend. While this is indisputable, I would also have to imagine large-scale coal production is a leading contributor to air pollution related premature deaths. Health-related accountability of emissions by producers, alongside a global carbon tax, could stimulate in the global transition from “dirty” to “clean” energy.


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Economic Outlook: “Teetering on the Edge” of the Fiscal Cliff

President Obama cut his holiday vacation in Hawaii short to resume talks in hopes of averting the fiscal cliff. Members of Congress will also be called back. What could possibly make two sides that cannot seem to agree on anything more cooperative then pulling them away from their families during the holidays? You will have to excuse me for not shedding a tear for these poor politicians, they’ve had months to deal with this issue—the ineptitude of our political system over the last few months (years?) is mind boggling.

The “Fiscal Cliff” is not is really a cliff, it is more of a hill which eventually leads to a river of molten magma. Spending cuts will take time to be enacted, and tax increases won’t hit immediately either. The January 1st deadline will not lead to The Great Depression, but confidence (consumers, producers, and financial markets as well) will be shaken. Also, the clock will start ticking on real human suffering at the hands of elected officials, which is unacceptable.

The fiscal cliff talks remind me of a Simpsons episode (as most things in life do). In “Much Apu  About Nothing”, the citizens of Springfield face the catch 22 of government services (they must be paid for).

“Quimby: Are those morons getting dumber or just louder?

Assistant: [Takes a moment to check his clipboard] Dumber, sir.

Quimby: They want the bear patrol but they won’t pay taxes for it. This is a situation that calls for real leadership. [Opens the door to his office to confront the angry mob.]

People, your taxes are high because of illegal immigrants! “

It has already been highlighted that many conservative small government states are also the states which receive the most federal aid. People want the services the government provides, they simply do not want to pay for them (understandable, but not rational).

This has led the G.O.P. from being conservative on budget deficits to a “starve the beast” approach to governance. The party believes that large surpluses are bad for the economy, as they will lead to expansion of government services (which they believe will lead to inefficiencies in both the public and private sector). By cutting taxes, and bringing in less government  revenue, programs will have to be cut. This was the thinking behind the Bush-era tax cuts.

This is not how governance has worked in practice however. Social programs are very popular, and some are necessary for security, and economic growth and stability. Instead of cutting programs en lieu of lower taxes, these programs were financed by deficit spending. Add a few expensive wars and a bursting housing bubble and you get the “Great Recession” of 2007-2009.

The G.O.P., through bad policy and bad philosophy has gotten us into this mess. Now, they hope to extend the mess by continuing with their tried and failed rhetoric. It is time to wake up and smell the bullshit people. Even if you do not agree with gay marriage, gun control, or allowing illegal immigrants to stay in the country, you should believe in arithmetic and historical / empirical fact. The G.O.P. allowed itself to become controlled by a fringe group (which rhymes with the Pee Party), and continues to hold the U.S. economy hostage in order to protect the interests of a small group of wealthy supporters.

Do not be fooled by the scapegoats (“People, your taxes are high because of illegal immigrants!”), the problem and solution are both as clear as day.

It is amazing that the House of Representatives was able to maintain a G.O.P. majority after the ineptitude of the 2010-2012 congress. Perhaps we need to start teaching economics and political science to students at a younger age, because there is clearly a mismatch between how things work and how the majority of the country perceives how things work.

There is also the fact that the average American is much more willing to compromise than elected officials. Perhaps a national referendum (vote) should be allowed during times of political gridlock. Some countries allow a vote of confidence to dissolve an ineffective government and vote on a new one, maybe the U.S. congress needs a similar mechanism.

What do you guys think?


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Conflict Watch: Egypt (Update)

Merry X-mas! Goodwill amongst men should mean there are no conflicts to watch, but of course in real life things are not so simple.

Egypt passed a constitutional referendum in a two part vote over the past two weeks. The constitution has been challenged by the opposition as being too open to interpretation and not explicit enough in its human rights guarantees. Having not seen the charter, I cannot comment on this. Islamist supporters argue that although the opposition did not participate in drafting the document (by choice, not because they were not invited), it is fair for all Egyptians.

I will say this; even the U.S. constitution has many clauses that are open for interpretation. How law evolves depends on how the judiciary interprets the constitution—it can be amended. Any legal document is going to be open to interpretation; this is not a good argument against the Egyptian constitutions legitimacy.

The referendum only got about 30% voter turnout. Some people will point to this and say the constitution is illegitimate because of this low turnout. However, the transition to democracy has been filibustered at every given opportunity by Morsi’s opposition. The still-Mubarak-backed-courts challenge Morsi’s legitimacy and dissolved a democratically elected parliament. The opposition refuses to even come to the bargaining table to have its demands heard (in my mind further hurting their legitimacy).

Now the opposition has decided since it cannot win in a vote, it will not vote. This is not how democracy works; as long as the right to vote is not restricted, it is legitimate. Knowing you cannot win and abstaining is the equivalent of forfeiting. If you forfeit something you lose it—the constitutions legitimacy cannot be challenged on low voter turnout because it was a choice, not a result of discrimination in suffrage.

It remains to be seen what type of leader Morsi will be. I believe Egypt is a dynamic country where democracy can lead to great wealth and prosperity. Morsi simply wants to be the person responsible for this modernization—that is his “selfish” goal, to be remembered as an important political leader and a modernizer of the Muslim Brotherhood.

For democracy to work, the will of the majority must be tempered to ensure the rights of the minority. It is understandable that the minority in Egypt is scared, as they have never experienced a functioning democracy which upholds people’s rights indiscriminately. Democracy must be given a chance, and only in its functionality can it be judged.

I hope my gut feeling that Morsi is a legitimate leader is correct. It is certain that Egypt is moving in the right direction. I leave you with this quote of a regular Egyptian citizen to support this claim:

“I am 45 years old,” he said, and the post-Mubarak transition “[this] is the first time I have voted.”

“I think the referendum is beautiful.”


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Monday Morning QB: Dreaming of a Big Blue Christmas

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Hello all, happy holidays, not gonna do the usual Monday review of sports as it is the holidays. But I did want to spread some holiday cheer around Giants nation today after that tough loss yesterday versus the Ravens.

The Giants are 8-7, and no longer determine their own playoff destiny. However, if the Packers beat the Vikings and the Lions beat the Bears, a win gets the Giants in. Definitely not the sure thing a playoff berth felt like a few weeks ago, but still worth tuning in and keeping a close eye on the week 17 action.

After all, the Giants we’re 7-7 after a disappointing week 15 loss to the lowly Redskins last year. Everybody counted the Giants out after that game—they we’re terrible!! That is until they made it to the playoffs on the last day of the regular season with a 9-7 record.

The rest, as they say, is history.

The Giants have an opportunity to make lightning strike twice (three times?). If the Giants make the playoffs, all bets are off. Every NFL analyst marvels at how the Giants seem to be able to “turn it on / off” on any given week. You simply cannot count out Coach Tom / Eli when it comes to crunch time. Unfortunately the Giants missed a huge opportunity by not winning yesterday, and they’ve admittedly looked terrible the last few weeks, but it is certainly not time to “cuncel da season”.     


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Movie Review: The Hobbit, and The Symbolism of The Great Eagles

Two thumbs up, really a great adaptation of a classic novel. I am very excited that they are doing The Hobbit as a trilogy, and cannot wait for the next two installments.

One thing that caught my attention was the use of “Great Eagles” to rescue the company of Thorin from the evil Pale Orc. I then remembered that Eagles also saved Frodo at the end of the Lord Of The Rings Trology. Is there any significance to these creatures being “Great Eagles”. Why not Dragons, or Griffons, or something more mystical to fit the theme of Middle-Earth?

My theory here, and I call it my theory but it may well have been explored before, is that the “Great Eagles” represent the United States of America. A quick series of Google searches did not yield any results, so I believe this may actually be a case of a rare “original thought”.

Think about it, Tolkien was English. “The Hobbit” was originally published as a book in 1937. In 1918, when Tolkien was 26 years old, the United States saved the Allied Powers from the “evil” Central Powers. At 26, it is very possible that Tolkien himself was a soldier in WWI and benefited from American support. I have not studied Tolkien’s life at all, it is possible these issues are addressed in his biography.

Still not convinced the Eagles represent America? How about this; “The Lord of the Rings” was published in 1954. At the end of the Lord of The Rings, Eagles save Frodo from the steps of Mt. Doom in Mordor (basically the center of evil in middle earth). A few years earlier, the American’s again helped turn the tide of a World War by helping the Allied Powers defeat the Axis Powers.

Perhaps this is all just a coincidence, and Tolkien admired eagles for other reasons. Eagles have long been considered a symbol of strength and courage. I think the timing of the books, in a historical context, as well as Tolkien’s English origins make the use of Eagles too much of a coincidence to not be a personal “thank you” from Tolkien to America–a timeless tribute to the immeasurable help the U.S. provided during WWI, WWII, the Marshall Plan, etc.

Any Tolkien buffs out there? Anybody read his biography? I have to imagine this possibility has been explored at some point in the almost 60 years the books have been out. Tolkien passed away long ago (1973), so if these ideas were never explored, they may remain a mystery forever.