Saturday, October 28, 2006

. . . but it isn't

Well, the Tigers forgot the eighth inning rally in Game Five and lost the Series in five games to the Cardinals after all. Neither the worst nor the best Series ever played. A few observations:

1. The Cardinals victory was perhaps less of suprise than it seemed. They had vastly more playoff experience and it showed: in the Tigers lack of hitting, their defensive errors, the tightness they demonstrated throughout the Series. Like the Steelers before them, the Cards failed more than once to win it when they were the best team, then won it when they most probably weren't. A little less pressure works wonders.

2. The Series, and the whole playoffs, were an interesting turnaround on the regular season. The American League dominated the National as much this season as I can remember--there must have been eight AL teams that were better than the weakest entries in the NL playoffs, and maybe some of the stronger ones. But the National League won the Series in five games, and the NL playoffs were far more interesting, everyone essentially collapsing to the Tigers in the junior circuit. Go figure.

3. Although the MLB more or less got away with it this time, playing baseball at night at the end of October is a disaster waiting to happen. You can't tell me that three throwing errors by major league pitchers, or a good center fielder slipping under a fly ball, don't have something to do with playing in 30 degree weather night after night. The need to avoid postponements, because one knows it will be even worse tomorrow, only compounds matters. Baseball needs to choose between a shorter playoff or a neutral site, or the playoffs will continue to be an endurance contest rather than a test of quality in any meaningful sense.

Speaking of endurance, I still think the enduring moment of these playoffs will be Endy Chavez' catch off Scott Rolen in Game 7 of the Mets-Cardinals series, what turned out to be the real World Series this year. If the Mets had won, it would be up there with Mookie Wilson. As it is, they'll be talking about it in 25 years.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Seems like yesterday . . .

Well, the Cardinals led the Tigers 3 games to 1 in the 1968 World Series after a rainy Game Four, and the Tigers came back to win. (There was also an unpopular President with a ranch in Texas, but let's not go near that one.) Will history repeat itself? Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

north korea and the bomb

Some random comments on the latest proliferation of the supposedly nonproliferable:

1. The North Korean situation strikes me as different from Iran (or Iraq) in that everyone knows the North Korean Government will eventually collapse, as opposed to Iran which seems poised on several fronts to try to dominate its region. It is, in essence, a hostage situation--bribe us with money and recognition or we will harm our neighbors (and ourselves) even further. Given the lack of support for military action in South Korea, not to mention China, some form of a diplomatic approach seems inevitable, unless or until further outrages.

2. The Korean situation further demonstrates the bankruptcy of the "it's too early/it's too late" approach to nonproliferation. The same people who argue that "Bush lied" about Iraq, because they hadn't yet made enough progress to justify intervention, will now argue (perhaps rightly) that it is too late to take on North Korea because they've already made too much. If you're not willing to risk being too early, you will always find yourself late.

3. One piece of good news is the budding Japan-China rapprochement resulting from the Korean standoff. The current status of Japan, as an economic superpower but political pygmy, has been unsustainable for some time. No one wants to see a return to the 1930s: but a Japan that takes a seat as a global power, with due diplomatic and other recognition, is long overdue, and the Korean situation is likely to make the day that come much sooner.

italian budget bill hits snags

The differences between tax policy in Italy and the United States were brought home in the past few weeks when opposition leader Silvio Berlusconi--possibly upset by plans to strip him of a portion of his media monopoly--threatened mass protests in various cities against the proposed budget legislation (see previous blog). The legislation, proposed by the center-left Government, would extend the top tax rate (43 percent) to incomes exceeding 70,000 Euros as well as expanding the Government's ongoing efforts against tax evasion. Statements by other opponents of the bill, to the extend that they had personally evaded taxes and were proud of doing so, suggested the degree of the challenge faced in reforming this area. So far the Government has, generally speaking, held firm.

An article in Corriere Della Sera captured some of the tax compliance problem. According to the article, a survey of selected regions found that jewelers were reporting lower incomes than the average schoolteacher and dentists than the average police officer. The difference would appear to result, not from the high salaries of teachers and policemen, but from the fact that they are paid fixed amounts which are more difficult to hide than the income from a private business. Faced with this background--common to many countries--the income tax tends to seem rather arbitrary in nature, and building a consensus against evasion becomes much more difficult.

A piece of good news for the Government came last week when the IRAP, a sort of regional business tax, was held compatible with EU norms by the European Court of Justice, which has taken an increasingly assertive role in tax matters. The court held that the tax was sufficiently different from a value added tax that its imposition did not violate community norms with respect to VAT tax rates. Alas, Italy has been talking about eliminating the tax.