Sobering Thoughts

Comments on politics, the culture, economics, and sports by Paul Tuns. I am editor-in-chief of "The Interim," Canada's life and family newspaper, and author of "Jean Chretien: A Legacy of Scandal" (2004) and "The Dauphin: The Truth about Justin Trudeau" (2015). I am some combination of conservative/libertarian, standing athwart history yelling "bullshit!" You can follow me on Twitter (@ptuns).

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Thursday, July 27, 2017
 
Heritage panel on occupational licensing
Yesterday the Heritage Foundation had a panel exploring occupational licensing, including opening remarks from Maureen Ohlhausen, acting chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, and economist Alex Tabarrok, among others. There is both video and audio, but the video isn't the complete talk. It's good to hear not just the statistics and theory, but from one of occupational licensing's victims, Dexter Price, Jr. (on the audio only, not the video, at about the 40th minute). Price wants to manage properties but in Washington DC, he needs to be a licensed realtor for five years and then get his own brokerage before he can apply for a property management license; but he doesn't want to be a real estate agent (to buy or sell houses) or pay the numerous fees to get and maintain his real estate license to maybe eventually qualify for the right to run properties in the nation's capital. Dexter's talk is less than five minutes but nicely illustrates how licensing reduces competition for current product/service providers and stands in the way a regular folks striving to support themselves or aspiring to fairly modest professional goals.


 
Life in prison, or at least 14 years
The Canadian Press reports, "A Manitoba woman who admitted her repeated abuse and neglect killed her 21-month-old daughter is facing a possible sentence of life in prison without parole for at least 14 years." Nothing wrong with the report. The story reflect a typical sentence for murder and manslaughter. It's pretty well routine. But many Canadians probably don't much like the whole life in prison for at least 14 years. Life might not always mean the rest of a convicted criminal's life, but I'd guess to most Canadians it should probably mean more than a decade-and-a-half.


 
Senator Kid Rock
Via Jim Geraghty, we learn about the 2018 Senate race in Michigan, as a Delphi Analytica poll found:
Of respondents who stated a preference between Debbie Stabenow and Robert Ritchie, 54% stated they would vote for Ritchie while 46% said they would vote for Debbie Stabenow. These results could indicate that Ritchie is a popular figure in Michigan, Debbie Stabenow is unpopular, or some combination of concurrent trends. The relatively large, 44%, number of undecided respondents may be due to the early stages of the campaign.
It's early. In many ways this poll captures the mood of voters and their attitudes about Democrats, Republicans, and Donald Trump than it does about the actual state of the senate race. With more than four in ten respondents not offering an opinion, there is a lot of room for one candidate or the other to build a huge lead. That Kid Rock -- identified in the polling question as Robert "Kid Rock" Ritchie -- is not behind also tells you that the idea of the hard rocker entering the world of elected politics is not as preposterous as it sounded when it was first floated; that 44% of undecideds perhaps also indicates more people are willing to consider the possibility of Senator Rock than many pundits might have expected -- they are not automatically dismissing the idea. It's likely this is all a publicity stunt, but whether or not it is the Delphi Analytica poll should tell you a few things: the stunt is not as crazy as it seems and Stabenow might be especially vulnerable considering she can't beat what appeared to many pundits as a not terribly serious potential political opponent.


 
The myth of the rational voter
A few weeks ago, the Peterson Institute for International Economics released a chart: "Disruptions to NAFTA Agricultural Trade Could Especially Hurt Trump-voting States." PIIE explains:
The Trump administration’s plan to renegotiate NAFTA could disproportionately harm states that voted for Trump in 2016 if agricultural exports are hampered. The maps above show the states with economies most reliant on agriculture exports to NAFTA countries, including Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, Montana, and Kansas. Maine, which voted for Clinton, also gains greatly. Farm exports to Mexico and Canada have grown at a faster rate than exports to the rest of the world since NAFTA was enacted.
Economists have long known that voters don't really understand the benefits of trade (mostly as consumers) and in 2006 Bryan Caplan explained that voters often act against their own interests (especially when they don't trust the efficacy of free markets and international trade).


 
Reduce occupational licensing now
E21's Charles Henderson on occupational licensing:
Today almost one-third of Americans need an occupational license to work legally, a number that has increased fivefold since the mid-20th century. Occupations requiring licenses range from practicing physicians to shampooers to fortune tellers.
Uncle Sam appears to be taking notice. Maureen Ohlhaussen, acting chairman of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), has recently spearheaded an Economic Liberty Taskforce to address many of the issues caused by the current licensing landscape ...
Because licensing is controlled by the states, requirements for licenses are not uniform or systematic. The Institute for Justice analyzed the occupations that require licenses and highlighted how they vary by state. For instance, a barber’s license requires almost two and a half years of education and training in Nevada, but only 175 days of training in Wyoming. Moreover, a barber from Nevada could not cut hair in any other state, including the less stringent Wyoming.
Cities can further complicate matters by spawning unnecessary restrictions, such as New York City’s new ban on pet sitting without a kennel license. Another traditionally teen job is eliminated by the bureaucracy.
Research by Morris Kleiner from the University of Minnesota concludes that occupational licenses decrease interstate mobility, raise prices, and have no clear effect upon the quality of services provided. Using standard models, Kleiner estimates that licenses can result in 2.8 million fewer jobs with an aggregate cost of $203 billion to consumers annually.
Occupational licensing is a form of rent-seeking that protects product and service providers from competition, screws consumers, and hurts the economy generally. But existing service providers can organize (future barbers are not really a constituency) and consumers don't understand the harm that limiting competition causes them. Obviously some licensing requirements are defensible, but many are not. Many requirements should be eliminated, while others should be examined to ensure they are justified. Just as importantly, creating mechanisms so that licensed professionals can easily move to other jurisdictions to ply their trade is long overdue.


 
How to think about automation and jobs
Adam Thierer, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, at Tech Liberation on robots replacing human workers:
The reality is that we suffer from a serious poverty of imagination when it comes to thinking about the future, and future job opportunities in particular. “One thing automation alarmists sometimes miss is that the simplistic ‘machines steal jobs’ story tells an incomplete tale,” observes James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute. “How machines can complement what humans do and create increased demand should not be overlooked when evaluating the rise of the robots. Yet it seems like it often is,” he notes.
Bank tellers are the paradigmatic example. With the rise of ATMs a few decades ago, many thought the days of bank tellers were numbered. But research by economist James Bessen of Boston University shows that we have more bank tellers today than we did 40 years ago. (See chart below). How’s that? Because once the ATMs could handle the menial tasks of counting and distributing money, the tellers were freed up to do other things.
This is a part of the story of technological change that is often ignored, as Pethokoukis suggests. Old jobs and skills are indeed often replaced by mechanization and new technological processes. But that in turn opens the door to people to take on new opportunities — often in new sectors and new firms, but sometimes even within the same industries and companies. And because human needs and wants are essentially infinite, this process just goes on and on and on as we search for new and better ways of doing things.
Historically this is true and it probably will be in the future. But just as techno-skeptics should enlarge their imagination to understand that new jobs are created, techno-enthusiasts should also ponder the possibility that the future is not like the past.


Wednesday, July 26, 2017
 
Government takes more property than burglars, and could increase the gap
Tony Lima, professor emeritus of economics at California State University, East Bay, writes in the Wall Street Journal:
There aren’t many things government can claim to do more efficiently than the private sector. Taking people’s property is one. In 2014 the federal government seized about $4.5 billion from people who hadn’t been charged with crimes. That exceeds the private-sector equivalent, burglary. According to an analysis by Armstrong Economics, perpetrators absconded with only $3.9 billion that year.
Since 2007 the Drug Enforcement Administration alone has seized more than $3 billion in currency from individuals in civil actions under which legal protections for criminal charges do not apply. Criminal asset forfeiture requires an indictment against both an individual and the property in question. With civil asset forfeiture only the property is charged before being seized.
Last week Attorney General Jeff Sessions stated his intention to increase the volume of these asset forfeitures.
Law professor Glenn Reynolds explained last week in USA Today how civil asset forfeiture works:
Under “civil forfeiture,” law enforcement can take property from people under the legal fiction that the property itself is guilty of a crime. (“Legal fiction” sounds better than “lie,” but in this case the two terms are near synonyms.) It was originally sold as a tool for going after the assets of drug kingpins, but nowadays it seems to be used against a lot of ordinary Americans who just have things that law enforcement wants. It’s also a way for law enforcement agencies to maintain off-budget slush funds, thus escaping scrutiny.
As Drug Enforcement Agency agent Sean Waite told the Albuquerque Journal, “We don’t have to prove that the person is guilty. … It’s that the money is presumed to be guilty.”
Ostensibly this is to get tough on crime, but it violates constitutional and historic protections for accused and is the very definition of big, intrusive government. And there is a societal cost to be paid. After relating several civil asset forfeiture horror stories that destroyed or nearly destroyed businesses, Lima writes:
Asset forfeiture imposes costs on the broader economy as well as individual businesses. Capital that is tied up in court proceedings or accounts payable is not available to finance productive enterprise.
Reason's J.D. Tuccille wrote earlier this week that civil asset forfeiture could incentivize police to make up crimes and plant evidence, which is obviously not a good idea. Both Lima and Tuccille acknowledge that Sessions brought in some limits to the practice although the thrust of his policy is to expand federal involvement in civil asset forfeiture (and Lima says that the policy was mischaracterized as Washington using the practice in states where it was banned). The point, however, is that small-government, liberty-loving Republicans should be massively scaling back civil asset forfeiture, not entrenching and enlarging its scope.


 
Vanity Fair on 'agony' and 'anxiety' at the New York Times
Vanity Fair reports:
The Times is clearly doing something right when it can register 130,000 new digital subscribers in a month and political reporter Glenn Thrush is being portrayed on Saturday Night Live by Bobby Moynihan.
And yet, in many corners of the Times’s Renzo Piano-designed building at 620 8th Avenue, the glory is hollow. As one editor put it, “The mood at the paper is poisonous in a way I’ve never seen it in the past 15 years.” The ostensible reason is that the Times is undergoing yet another round of buyouts, set to be finalized on Thursday. “Every buyout is tense,” the editor continued, “but there’s something really demoralizing about this one that’s been worse than any before.”
Unlike past buyouts, though, the human toll is now only part of the sinking mood. A major newsroom reorganization is upending a time-honored method of producing the Times’s signature journalism while simultaneously making an entire class of employees feel obsolete. Additionally, the Times’s midtown Manhattan headquarters is itself being upended, shrinking by eight floors and leaving all but the highest of editors without private offices. Open floor plans have long been increasingly popular among publishers, particularly given how important cross-desk collaboration has become in the social-media age, but this, too, amounts to a decisive and, for some, painful break with the news organization’s past.
At its core, the Times’s internal transformation focuses on upending the paper’s copy desk. And while this might seem like a rather small innovation, it is poignant and fraught in a distinctively Timesian manner. For decades, the copy desk has been an all-seeing, all-powerful enforcer of Times standards and verbal peculiarities. As much as the reporters, writers, and editors, it’s what makes the Times the Times. The traditional desk structure allowed for multiple eyes to be placed on every story—checking, tweaking, standardizing, changing “dads” to “fathers” and discouraging the use of “launch” unless it involved a rocket, or perhaps a boat. For reporters, the process could be agonizing. The system, after all, was conceived during a bygone pre-Internet age when so much copy hit the desk at a single time and certain standards and shortcuts needed to be applied. As executive editor Dean Baquet recently noted at Recode’s Code Conference, referencing the late David Halberstam, the system may have occasionally formalized the copy of more elegant stylists, but it undoubtedly elevated the prose of less lyrical reporters. And most reporters, aware of this trade-off, knew that it ensured the preternatural assiduousness, in matters factual and grammatical, that readers counted on. The copy desk was a deeply conservative, church-like institution at the core of the Times.
In the reorganization, the copy desk is being eliminated as a freestanding entity. A smaller number of copy editors will be absorbed by different departments such as culture, metro, sports, etc. The Times’s 109 copy editors were invited to re-apply for jobs under the new system, and those who didn’t make the cut were encouraged to apply for buyout packages that also were offered to reporters and other editors. “Our goal with these changes is to still have more than one set of eyes on a story, but not three or four,” Baquet wrote in a Q&A with readers earlier this month. “We have to streamline that system and move faster in the digital age.” (Despite the dozens of positions that are being eliminated, the paper’s headcount of around 1,300 won’t change much. The money saved will be used to create 100 new positions for reporters and visual journalists. Investigative reporters will be a priority, according to the Times.)
Only a New Yorker could believe Bobby Moynihan playing a reporter on SNL is a sign of vibrancy.
I want to say that conservatives should resist any schadenfreude, but I'm not sure why this isn't a gleeful time for critics of the paper of record.


 
Minimum wage law to cost Loblaw, Shoppers Drug Mart labour/consumers $190 million next
The CBC reports that Loblaw expects minimum wage increases in Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec to cost them $190 million next year. The grocery chain, which also owns Shoppers Drug Mart and PC Financial, made a second-quarter profit of $358 million, but there is little reason to believe that it will just eat the increased labour costs. Experience and theory teaches us that the costs of larger minimum wage increases will passed onto consumers in the form of higher prices or labour in the form of fewer hours or lost jobs. You can probably expect longer lineups when you pay for your more expensive groceries as cash register operators will be the first to lose shifts or jobs. Or you might spend more time at self-check out or lose the human touch at the cold cut counter or customer service; $190 million in additional costs (in one year), could be an incentive to automate more functions.


 
New York Times advocacy
I understand that the editorial pages are not held to the same journalistic standards of objectivity that the news section is, or should be, but today's opinion letter from New York Times editorial page editor David Leonhardt crosses a line to directing political advocacy. Leonhardt takes a hardline against the Republican healthcare bill, including the repeated charge that it was created in secret (fair comment) before saying:
Is there anything that concerned citizens can do? Yes, there is.
“The next 24 hours are critical. The public blowback must be immediate and overwhelming,” Topher Spiro, a former Congressional aide who opposes the various bills, wrote yesterday.
That link is to the TrumpCareToolKit.org website that lists Republican senators with their phone numbers and suggested tweets about the number of people who will supposedly lose health care coverage in their state. This is not merely suggesting that people vote one way or another for reasons stated in an editorial or column, but directing specific advocacy action. Journalists, including opinion writers, should eschew that sort of direction in daily newspaper and broadcasts. There used to be a saying that you can't march in the parade and cover it; journalists and newspapers shouldn't be covering issues in which they are taking part publicly as anything more than an observer.


 
What I'm reading
1. Tax, Order, and Good Government: A New Political History of Canada, 1867-1917 by E.A. Heaman. I was hoping to read this history of Canadian taxes in the first 50 years of Confederation by now. I don't think a perusal read will do. About 100 pages in its endlessly interesting, although it leans toward the theory that taxes are the price paid for civilization.
2. Awakening: How Gays and Lesbians Brought Marriage Equality to America by Nathaniel Frank
3. Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently by Beau Lotto. Beautiful illustration help Lotto make his point that neuroscience explains why our perceptions of what we view our different from reality.


Tuesday, July 25, 2017
 
Where are MacLean's defenders?
CafeHayek's Donald Boudreaux has done a great job over the past month critiquing and linking/excerpting to critiques of Nancy MacLean's terrible work of alternative history Democracy in Chains (about James Buchanan). He notes today:
In a comment in a Facebook thread on why no notable left-leaning professional historian has yet weighed in to criticize the countless criticizable parts of Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains, David Bernstein (a GMU colleague from over in the Scalia School of Law) observes that no prominent historian has, as yet, come to MacLean’s defense (at least none that David is aware of; I, too, am unaware of any such defense).
David’s observation is a good one. Might the reason be that, while not wishing to criticize someone who criticizes the Kochs (however shabby and without evidence that criticism might be), any decent and self-respecting historian understands that he or she would imperil his or her own professional reputation by attempting to defend the intellectual merits of a book that has no such merits to defend?
Even MacLean isn't defending MacLean, as Boudreaux makes in another post today:
Gene Epstein, who runs the Soho Forum in New York City, offered to pay Nancy MacLean a generous fee to debate Mike Munger on the thesis of her book Democracy in Chains. MacLean has refused.
Of course, it’s possible that MacLean has a long-standing policy of not doing debates. (I myself do not like this form of wrestling with ideas. I rarely accept such invitations.) But because MacLean has yet, with one weak exception, to offer even in writing and in interviews any substantive defenses of her book, it’s fair to wonder if her refusal to debate Munger springs from her correct realization that she doesn’t really know what she’s talking about. My guess is that MacLean is simply afraid to debate someone such as Munger – someone who actually knows the material that MacLean, despite her writing a book about such material, obviously doesn’t know and appears to be incapable of grasping.


 
Rent-seeking chicken-farmer bastards
This Tim Worstall CapX article "We have nothing to fear from American chickens," is a very good essay on free trade. Everyone should read it, especially members of legislatures and governments. Worstall says that the United Kingdom shouldn't fear importing chlorine-washed chickens because 1) they are not a danger to the health of Brits and 2) the market, not the state should decide these matters. Worstall says the fear-mongering over unsafe chicken meat is a great example of the Baptists and Bootleggers coalition in which moralizers and self-interested stakeholders align to ban or restrict the competition. European and British chicken farmers have an interest in ginning up resistance to a potential competitor (American chicken producers). The modern Baptists (usually regulators and environmentalists) insist that local consumers don't want the product. Worstall responds:
We can’t go on banning them because people don’t want them because it wouldn’t make sense. If they don’t want them, they simply won’t buy them. And if we think they will buy them – the only justification for the banning – then why are we banning people from doing what they wish to do?
If people truly do not want chlorine-cleaned chicken, European producers have nothing to fear. But they do fear the competition (American chicken is typically 20% cheaper) thereby tellingly exposing their lie about what consumers want or don't want.
What policy-makers and the public must remember is that economies exist not to create jobs for workers or profits for companies, but to supply as much variety in products and services to consumers as possible. Producers will conspire to limit those choices. Government should not aid in their conspiracy by limiting trade.
Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg gets it. He says he trusts British consumers to decide: "Critics are saying we mustn’t let the British people to buy American chickens because it’s got chlorine in it. Well, why not let the British people decide for themselves."


 
Religious oddities
David French writes at National Review Online:
[A]s I grew older I noticed something odd. Many of the best-educated and least-religious people I knew weren’t all that reasonable. They held to downright irrational views about reality. I remember an elite-educated secular friend in Philadelphia who scoffed at my wife’s Christian faith; this friend was also convinced that her child had an “indigo aura” that imbued him with special gifts. I recall conversations with Harvard Law School classmates who laughed at the New Testament but thought reincarnation was “cool.” And how can I forget the strange sight of Harvard students walking in and out of the neighborhood witchcraft store?
When you get right down to it, every religion believes crazy stuff. My own tribe believes in a Virgin Birth as well as Transubstantiation, which I admit are weird things to believe are true. (That's one reason I can't get upset with supposedly irreverent comedy.) What is particularly amusing to watch, as David French does, is the scorn secular progressives reserve for Christians while simultaneously indulging various New Age or the traditional beliefs of other cultures. As French says, "You believe the Bible? How stupid. Pass me the tadpoles. I need them for my potion." A friend of mine has more than once remarked how open-minded secular liberals are when it comes to patently ridiculous native Indian customs. Identity politics trumps science.


 
For a new geopolitical filter
In his second brief First Things essay on how American conservatives view Vladimir Putin, Peter J. Leithart concludes:
My concern is with how Americans, and especially American Christians, process geopolitics. And on this point, I'm a Johnny One-Note: Our political analysis and viewpoint has to be ecclesial rather than primarily national. And that means that it can't be either globalist or nationalist in the sense that those terms are typically used. American Christians too easily leap onto the nationalism bandwagon. If we're going to resist Babel, we also need to resist the evils that often come with patriotism. And we can do that if we rigorously attempt to make the Church, rather than the nation-state, the heart of our geopolitics.
I think there is a lot of value in David Goodhart's Somewheres and Anywheres analysis of politics, but if there is an Anywhere view of the world that makes sense it is in the ecclesial vision of Christianity (and perhaps Judaism). I do think that the religiously minded should impose a religious point of view on their own political analysis and worldview, at least as a factor that informs how they look at the world.


Monday, July 24, 2017
 
Betting on Theresa May's replacement
The Sun reports:
According to Paddy Power, David Davis is the favourite to take over from Mrs May at 3/1.
Jacob Rees-Mogg and Philip Hammond are both given odds on 6/1 to take the keys to Number 10.
Boris Johnson is floundering on 8/1 while Home Secretary Amber Rudd has odds of 10/1.
I don't think these odds are correct. I would put Hammond's chances a little better (5:1) and Rees-Mogg and BoJo's lower (12:1 to 15:1 range) and Rudd further back (20:1). I'm not sure Davis is that much of a favourite over Hammond, but if you made Davis' odds 9:2, that would leave approximate odds of 7:2 for the rest of the field and I'd be very comfortable taking that. Theresa May was not among the frontrunners in the lead-up to the Brexit vote (Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and even George Osborne were thought to be candidates before David Cameron resigned). Of course, a lot can change if May survives until March 2019. On election night last month, Johnson's odds skyrocketed to 3:1 or 4:1 at some betting sites. Since then Davis has looked like the mature adult in the room Tories are looking for, but how Brexit negotiations proceed could change the Conservative caucus' and electorate's view of him significantly.
Over the weekend, The Observer reported on a Party Members Project poll that found that 21% of party members support Davis, 18% support Johnson, 6% for Rees-Mogg, 5% back Hammond, and just 4% want Rudd. More than a quarter (26%) did not name anyone and a majority want May to stick around.
Mogg-mentum may be a thing, but it is hard to believe the eccentric MP is really 6:1. And even if he's there, Mogg-mentum may have peaked.


 
Canada's 'Independent' senators
"Independent" senators Kim Pate (Ontario) and Wanda Thomas Bernard (Nova Scotia) have a letter in today's Hill Times: "Trudeau’s right on Khadr: we have to stand up for people’s rights when it’s difficult, unpopular." They conclude their letter:
We thank the prime minister for a decision that Canadians can take pride in as a step toward a more just society and we reiterate our willingness to assist the government in any way we can as it carries out its constitutional duty to uphold the human rights of Mr. Khadr and of all Canadians.


 
Newsworthy deaths
Alex Tabarrok points to a visualization of research that examines how many deaths must occur on average before there is major network news coverage. Volcanoes need just one death and earthquakes two. Storms require an average of 280 while epidemics need nearly 1700, droughts almost 2400, and food shortages nearly 40,000 fatalities. From 1968 to 2002, about one third of volcano eruptions and earthquakes were covered, but just 2% of epidemics, 3% of food shortages, and 4% of droughts. This might also have something to do with the (seeming) suddenness of volcano eruptions and earthquakes compared to the longer term nature of epidemics and famines. That said, earlier coverage of epidemics, food shortages, and droughts might muster the necessary political will to address emerging catastrophes.


Sunday, July 23, 2017
 
Douthat on medical care and tough cases
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat on the issues raised by the Charlie Gard case: who gets to make decisions on extraordinary health care and "when illness and death should be allowed to take their course." This might be the best column I've read about this issue -- not just the Gard case, but who and how nearly futile cases are decided.
There is an important philosophical point:
The rights of parents are essential to a free society’s architecture, and fathers and mothers are far more likely than any other party to have their child’s best interests close to heart. To intervene on behalf of experts against the family is sometimes necessary but always dangerous, fraught with totalitarian temptations to which the modern West is not immune.
We need to remember that even when it is necessary to put the decision in the hands of expert it is still dangerous to proscribe the rights of individuals (and families, churches, companies, or local communities). I don't mean we should go through some faux hand-wringing exercise when liberties are violated. It means the authorities and advocates should genuinely consider and acknowledge the harms done by their decisions.
The totalitarian temptation goes further:
The second institutional temptation is not toward active wickedness but toward sclerosis, groupthink and stagnation. Establish an iron triangle of doctors, insurers and government boards, tell them they must establish predictable standards for what treatments will be covered, and they will inevitably resist many of the experiments through which medical progress advances. In which case it will become more necessary than ever to allow families and individuals the freedom to refuse the consensus, and to pay for more radical options if they can.
None of this is to say that families -- or insurers or government -- must always choose extraordinary or experimental care. Costly overtreatment is also a problem in the west. There are certainly cases where families have chosen treatment that seems hopeless in which patients have been put through cruelty to sustain meager hopes of elongating a loved one's life.
Putting aside the moral and philosophical issues, Douthat says there is a pragmatic issue that arises from discouraging medical care moonshots:
And in this dark territory it is not expert confidence but a mix of hope and desperation that leads to breakthroughs and to cures.
An extra treatment for poor Charlie Gard will probably not lead anywhere. But if a cure is someday found for his condition, it may well happen because somebody, or a succession of somebodies, tried things that the experts said would never work.
It is for that future’s sake, as well as for the sake of their rights as Charlie’s parents, that the Gards should be allowed to try one last time to heal their baby son.
This is an excellent column. You should read and ponder it.


 
Musk's hyperloop announcement
A couple of days ago, Elon Musk went to Twitter to announce: "Just received verbal govt approval for The Boring Company to build an underground NY-Phil-Balt-DC Hyperloop. NY-DC in 29 mins." Sure. Government giving verbal approval isn't a thing. Tyler Cowen has a number of reactions, including this one:
There are some people who on Twitter will just “fuck with us.” Precisely because they have done a lot in the so-called “real world,” they just don’t take Twitter that seriously.
In other words, Musk is trolling the public, especially the science nerds.


 
Rent-seeking kennel-owning bastards
The New York Daily News reports that the Big Apple has banned pet sitting apps using existing bylaws that prevent anyone other than licensed kennels from caring for pets:
Health Department rules ban anyone from taking money to care for an animal outside a licensed kennel — and the department has warned a popular pet-sitting app that its users are breaking the law.
“The laws are antiquated,” said Chad Bacon, 29, a dog sitter in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, with the app Rover. “If you’re qualified and able to provide a service, I don’t think you should be penalized.” ...
The health code bans boarding, feeding and grooming animals for a fee without a kennel license — and says those licenses can’t be issued for private homes.
Bacon is a former zookeeper and animal researcher. He would probably know what he's doing. The ban on non-licensed kennels is ostensibly justified to protect animals, but it ultimately protects kennels from competition. Individuals caring for pets without a license in New York City face a minimum $1000 fine.


Saturday, July 22, 2017
 
Politics and friendship
The Washington Post: "Nearly half of liberals don’t even like to be around Trump supporters." The Pew Research Center's report found that liberal Democrats are more likely to have problems with friends who voted for Donald Trump:
Most of the public says learning that a friend voted for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton would not have any effect on their friendships. About one-in-five (19%) say that knowing a friend had voted for Trump would put a strain on their friendship; 7% say knowing a friend had voted for Clinton would strain their friendship.
About a third (35%) of Democrats and Democratic leaners say that, if a friend had voted for Trump, it would “put a strain on [the] friendship;” a smaller share of Republicans and Republican leaners (13%) say the same about learning a friend had voted for Clinton ...
There is a division on ideological lines among Democrats on whether a vote for Trump would strain a friendship. Liberal Democrats are about evenly divided between saying say their friendship would be strained (47%) if a friend said they voted for Trump and saying it would not have any effect (51%).
This survey didn't ask about whether or not Democrats and Republicans could be friends with supporters of the opposite party, but rather whether voting for a specific Republican or Democrat affected their friendships. With this in mind, I think there are several possible, non-exclusive explanations for Pew's findings.
1. Liberals and Democrats are less tolerant of other points of view than conservatives and Republicans more generally (sense of superiority, strong conviction they are right and others are wrong, repugnance of other views).
2. Conservatives and Republicans are more tolerant of other points of view because they feel they are persecuted for their own political views. Extending this courtesy is necessary for them to survive in today's predominantly progressive Left culture.
3. Liberals and Democrats find support for a particularly repugnant President (because of both his views and actions) a more disqualifying personality trait than conservatives and Republicans find support for Hillary Clinton.
4. The views on political friendships might have been reversed if Hillary Clinton won last November. Liberals and Democrats might be more embittered because their candidate lost to such an unworthy candidate, but conservatives and Republicans would probably have been similarly bitter if Trump had lost.
5. Conservatives and Republicans are lying and are just as intolerant.
6. Liberals and Democrats are lying as a form of virtue signaling, and politics haven't affected their personal relationships.
Also, Pew found:
A majority of the public finds talking with people who have a different opinion from their own about Donald Trump to be a stressful and frustrating experience: About six-in-ten (59%) say it is stressful and frustrating, while about a third (35%) say it is interesting and informative.
I think 35% are lying.
I'm anti-Trump and anti-anti-Trump. Nineteen out of 20 conversations I have about the US President frustrating and stressful, but informative about the the person with whom I'm having a discussion.


Friday, July 21, 2017
 
'9 ways Britain could stay in the European Union'
Politico Europe: "9 ways Britain could stay in the European Union." They include the highly unlikely (another UK election followed by a new referendum, or EU reform that convinces the UK to stay) and the merely improbable (Tory dissent scuttling negotiations). Even if staying had the "legitimacy" of a new referendum with a 55% victory (or whatever), imagine what that does to those voters who supported Brexit and had their wishes ignored. I agree that Brexit means Brexit (Theresa May) and that "either you are in the European Union or you out" (Jacob Rees-Mogg on whether the UK can leave the EU but stay in the common market or customs union). But there are (unsatisfactory) degrees of soft Brexit that would appear to take the concerns of Brexit voters seriously, and I'd guess that's where May and David Davis lead the country. Staying in as is would be a political disaster, and one that would embolden Brussels (and Berlin and Paris) in the bullying of member states.


 
Holding the line on euthanasia and assisted suicide
At SpikedOnline Kevin Yuill says that the United Kingdom's High Court should not strike down the 1961 Suicide Act because 1) Parliament overwhelmingly upheld the statute just two years ago, 2) the law works well, 3) the law reflects the value British society puts on human life, and 4) once any jurisdiction permits the medical killing of some people, it is almost impossible to put meaningful limits on that particular license. This last point is important and Yuill notes that Canada's law was no sooner passed than it was challenged as being insufficiently tolerant of killing more people; the government immediately announced it would review expanding the criteria for assisted-suicide and euthanasia and a number of individuals with various maladies that fell outside the requirements for "MAiD) launched legal challenges. This happens everywhere. Another name for a restriction on euthanasia is discrimination. What legislators or the (ill-informed) public consider a safeguard is, in fact, discrimination against some group of people from accessing what has been determined a legal right for others. Never mind that discrimination is another name for discerning, and that not everyone can enjoy all rights (we don't allow minor children to vote or the blind to drive). With euthanasia, once the principle that all human life should be protected is violated, the next "hard case" that falls outside the limits of the law will challenge our "compassion" and the restrictions will be relaxed. In the Netherlands, the list of those whose lives can be terminated has steadily been expanded since the practice became legal in 2002, and now authorities there are considering expanding euthanasia to those who have lived "full" or "complete" lives. That is, perfectly healthy individuals who are ready to "step out of life" because ... well, for whatever reason: they fear old age, don't want to be burden, think life will never again be as good as it is right now. This seems like a psychiatric condition requiring help, not a doctor rushing to exterminate a human life. But Yuill's point that it is hard to hold the line of euthanasia once it becomes permissible seems impossible to refute. Better to not concede the principle that human life is precious and deserves legal protection than allow the suggestion that some people are better off dead.


 
A news addict
Lionel Shriver writes about her addiction reading and watching the news -- needing not only to avoid missing out on an important story but knowing first -- for the newly launched Unherd (Tim Montgomerie's promising new site). Shriver describes the depths of her addiction:
My name is Lionel Shriver, and I am a news-aholic.
I begin my day in London loading The Daily Telegraph on a tablet. Eschewing the features, I knock back most of the hard news (which chimes chillingly with hard booze) and always treat myself to the letters (the best part). But that’s just the start. I move on to the New York Times app. Since America’s “paper of record” could occupy my entire day, chugging maybe fifteen articles, putting away a few shots of the Opinion pages, and gulping a goodly proportion of “Most Popular” passes for restraint. Frightening myself, before finally getting to work, I sneak a furtive sip of the Guardian webpage.
I’d like to claim that the above takes “only” a couple of hours. But we’re often talking three.
In the effectual oyster of my afternoon, I will often take nips of the New York Times webpage, just to make sure nothing big has happened.
I begin the evening by switching on the TV – incriminatingly, already tuned to Sky News, of which I take a bracing slug. After hitting Channel 4 News (55 minutes), I’ll down Newsnight (45 minutes) with my co-dependent husband (both shows on series record). Before bed, we’ll indulge in an informational nightcap: the CBS News from the US (30 minutes). Should Sky once more not have broadcast the programme in defiance of its schedule, rage ensues: the telltale tantrum of the addict denied her substance.
To come completely clean, I also keep on hand a six-pack of news-related documentaries. I subscribe to The Spectator, Standpoint, and The New Yorker; finally letting subscriptions to The Week and The Economist lapse last year constituted my quail-sized version of cold turkey. But even excluding these top-up sources of binge consumption, two hours of newspapers + 2.5 hours of broadcast news = 4.5 hours minimum of drinking in news, news, news every bloody weekday, and often a great deal more.
I get this. I don't watch much television news -- I PVR the evening Canadian political panel shows and fast forward to watch what I need and want. I stopped watching all American panel shows (daily and Sunday) long ago. As a teen I taped "Crossfire" and "This Week" and re-watched them, sometimes months later. But papers -- oh papers -- I read, it seems, ever more. I subscribe to the dead tree editions of all four Toronto papers. I often buy the Financial Times, especially on weekends. I subscribe to the twice weekly Hill Times that covers Canadian Parliament. I have online subscriptions to the New York Times, Washington Post, Daily Telegraph and the (London) Times. I check in on them multiple times a day. Same with the Guardian, Bloomberg, Reuters, Washington Times, and Washington Examiner. Politico, Politico Europe, Conservative Home, the Ottawa Citizen, Calgary Herald, and Montreal Gazette are acquaintances I like to drop by to see regularly. If something is happening locally or if I have time I check the Vancouver Sun and Edmonton Journal and the op-ed sections of the Waterloo Region Record and Winnipeg Free Press. I refresh the CBC politics page a couple times daily. If a story is breaking in Manitoba or Atlantic Canada, I'll check the regional CBC coverage. I try to start each morning dropping by National Review Online, the Weekly Standard, The Spectator (British version), Bloomberg View, and the New Statesman. If time permits, The Week and Prospect, too. UnHerd will join that routine. I drop by NRO and Bloomberg View again at noon and might see what's at Politics Home and Brexit Central. I make time for First Things and The Public Discourse. SpikedOnline and Commentary is visited regularly but not daily. I seldom check the New Yorker anymore except for their book reviews unless a blogger links to something that sounds interesting. I usually save LifeSiteNews until the evening. I check Instapundit, Hot Air, and various news aggregators (and Twitter) lest I miss anything. This doesn't take into account the opinion sites, better blogs, and book reviews. Nor does it account for sports news. August to October is particularly difficult with both baseball and football competing for my attention.
After reading a story on a topic, I quickly skim similar articles in other publications and websites. Quite often it is possible to skip the first half of a story to find slightly different takes and sources. I no longer need to know the editorial opinion of the Times and Post, and I'm becoming more selective about columnists. I no longer feel the need to see what's happening at The New Republic, Salon or Slate, and generally only peak at them when others are commenting on an article there. I've gotten out of the habit of reading Maclean's online and only briefly scan the monthly edition that arrives at my home. I let my Economist subscription lapse a few years ago. I would still often buy it at the newsstands but less so since they increased the cost to $9.99. I no longer auto-buy Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The National Interest, and The American Interest, instead making my purchase based on what the articles are each issue. My regular newsstand buys are limited to Commentary and The Spectator. This is perhaps progress in addressing my news addiction.
I'd like to think that my own voracious consumption of news would be lessened if my professional obligations did not require it, but my intellectual curiosity would probably lead me to read more of some stuff (American political scandal) and less of other topics (some social and educational issues at the provincial and state level in Canada and abroad). The problem one might see it is that I don't see a problem. It's not the cost of the addiction, it's the time. My compromise with the world is that the news can wait between supper preparation and when we get the children to bed. But then I'm promptly back on my laptop.
For the most part, Shriver is not apologetic for her addiction and doesn't see it as a terribly bad thing, but does see a self-congratulatory, even vain, aspect to it:
I grew up in a liberal American household much invested in being “interested in the rest of the world,” if this lofty internationalism was sometimes priced at my parents’ diminished interest in the world closer to hand: their own kids. In my family, we’ve long used politics as filler and distraction. Affairs of state provide a range of happily inexhaustible default topics. Trading predictable, broadly unanimous opinions mercifully substitutes for raw interaction with one another. We thereby steer clear of real emotions, not all of which would be pretty. These days when I visit my elderly parents and discussion runs dry, we can always resort to Trump. Our convergence on the same dismay reinforces our joint sense of virtuous perspicacity, fortifying a clubby, self-congratulatory us-versus-them dynamic painfully standard in the United States. Mutual huffiness helps us to believe in the moment that we have more in common than we do.