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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Sunday, December 04, 2016
Right to try
The National Post reports on efforts to establish the right-to-try non-approved drugs for terminally ill patients. I find the story leans toward unnecessarily skeptical about the benefits of right-to-try. More than 30 U.S. states have allowed terminally ill patients access to drugs not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration, although these laws do not supersede the decisions of the FDA. They are more expressive, signalling dissatisfaction with the FDA's slow and expensive approval process.
The Post interviews Owen Thomas, a 31-year-old Nova Scotia lawyer with ALS who is among a group of Canadians who sent the federal Health Minister a letter urging Ottawa to consider enacting right-to-try. The paper reports:
One of the goals of right to try would be to encourage collaboration between pharmaceutical companies, researchers and specialist physicians. Thomas says a drug company could, with the support of a recommending physician, conduct an experimental trial without following a multi-phase, placebo-controlled regime.
He believes the U.S. states that have right-to-try legislation haven’t gone far enough as most require Phase 1 approval. He wants the threshold to be lower in Canada.
It appears that what the right-to-try movement is seeking in Canada is something similar to Free to Choose Medicine as described by Bartley Madden at the Foundation for Economic Education. Earlier this year, he explained the benefits of FTCM:
The open-access database would contain treatment results of FTCM patients including their genetic makeup and relevant biomarkers. This database (not part of Right To Try legislation) would reveal subpopulations of patients who do extremely well or poorly with the new drug. Pinpointing such groups of patients is a huge benefit to, not only patients, but to biopharmaceutical researchers working on new breakthroughs in medicine ...
FTCM federal legislation needs to provide a new type of drug approval – Observational Approval – based on treatment results for real-world patients who receive the FTCM drugs.
The Post interviewed a number of bioethic experts opposed to liberalizing or opening up the drug approval regime. I'm not sure how many drug companies would be excited about open-access databases, but for patients and pharmaceutical companies willing to participate, it seems overly paternalistic to stand in the way of both science and the (long-shot) possibility of improving a terminally ill individual's life.
Thomas says that Canada says there is a right to die, so it's time for a right to try. Refusing to liberalize the rules for potentially life-saving treatments is not only cruel, but signals that the Canadian regime has a preference for death over life.

Saturday, December 03, 2016
Labour Party in trouble
The (London) Times reports "Chuka Umunna warned that there were now 'no safe Labour seats,' as the party faces being crushed between Ukip and a resurgent Liberal Democrats." Umanna is a Labour MP, frequent Jeremy Corbyn critic, and promoter of the idea that his party should target "middle-class, aspirational voters." And while he is wrong to say there are no safe LP seats, his larger point is spot on: Labour risks being squeezed into political irrelevancy (in the short term, at least; parties are resilient creatures over the long term).

What I'm reading
1. The Ethics of Influence: Government in the Age of Behavioral Science by Cass R. Sunstein
2. Future Sex: A New Kind of Free Love by Emily Witt
3. A Brief History of Entrepreneurship: The Pioneers, Profiteers, and Racketeers Who Shaped Our World by Joe Carlen. More of a cursory history of the idea of entrepreneurship in various cultures than a history of entrepreneurs. That's not necessarily a complaint, other than to highlight that the subtitle is a bit misleading.
4. "World Happiness Report 2016," edited by John Helliwell, Richard Layard and Jeffrey Sachs

Friday, December 02, 2016
BoJo on Britain's future
“It is my passionate belief there is no contradiction whatsoever between a trust in the nation state as the key building block of the global order, and a generous and open mindset to the rest of the world.”
UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson gave a speech at Chatham House on Britain, in which he describes the decision to leave (concern for democracy -- "a country taking back control of its democratic institutions") and a vision for the future (engaged with the rest of the world). Johnson denies that the Brexit vote fits neatly into the analytical framework of a populist revolt in the west. He also denied that it was xenophobic:
And we keep sending our soldiers to lay down their lives? Why? With one in eight of the people born in this country now living abroad a bigger diaspora than any other rich nation, you ask yourself what impulse drives this astonishing globalism, this wanderlust of aid workers and journalists and traders and diplomats and entrepreneurs, because whatever that feeling is, it isn’t xenophobia.
And I imagine there are people in this distinguished audience today who are wondering whether the next generation of Brits will be possessed of the same drive, the same curiosity, the same willingness to take risks for far flung peoples and places.
Global engagement includes British foreign aid. He has a nice anecdote:
I saw it in Pakistan the other day, which has itself its own population boom, they’re heading for 200 million people, 250 million in the next few years where two thirds of adult women cannot read or write.
I saw what we’re doing to tackle this, I stood in a DfID–funded classroom in the Punjab and asked the girls what they had been reading. You know what they said, Harry Potter – in Urdu. I asked them who was the headmaster of Hogwarts, and you know what they said.
Of course I suppose you could and I will make a commercial case for Britain’s interest in this.
The more girls who can read around the world the more copies of Harry Potter you can sell.
But that isn’t why your money – British taxpayers’ money – is being used to teach 6m girls in the Punjab to read. It is about giving them the chance to take control of their lives.
The funny thing about that excerpt, you could imagine Justin Trudeau saying something similar, perhaps a little better written but not as well delivered.
It wasn't Trudeauvian in that this is his answer to the so-called problem of population growth -- not abortion and birth control, but the empowerment of women.
The rest of the speech is not at all like Canada's Prime Minister. It is muscular, especially in regard to Putin's Russia -- "we cannot normalise relations with Russia or go back to 'business as usual'" -- and it challenges other NATO members to carry their own weight.
The speech also commits to globalization, saying trade helps the poorest the most and repeating Prime Minister Theresa May's commitment to be a leading "agitator" for free trade.
This speech at Chatham House is an answer to those who think Great Britain is turning inward. It is not. Most definitely not.

The Obamaconomy
Bloomberg reports that according to a new Labour Department report the unemployment rate fell from 4.9% to 4.6%, but that was partly due to labour participation dropping slightly for a second straight month to 62.7%. That would be the lowest level in nearly 40 years. Furthermore, average hourly earnings fell 0.1% to $25.89, so those who are working are making slightly less. Business Insider reminds us that according to a President's Council of Economic Advisers report earlier this year, labour force participation has declined significantly since 2000, with the stubbornly sluggish post-2008 financial crisis economy bearing responsibility for about half of the drop in participation. That would be the economy President Barack Obama and his media allies like to take credit for.

Democrats are slow learners
NRO's Tim Alberta writes about why it is probably a mistake for House Democrats to re-elect Nancy Pelosi as Minority Leader. He quotes a Huffington Post story: "Pelosi mocked Ryan’s argument in an interview with The Huffington Post on Monday. 'He didn’t even carry his district for Hillary Clinton,' Pelosi said with a laugh, 'so I don’t know why he’s saying that'." Alberta observes:
Pelosi’s remark is astoundingly tone-deaf, and helps to explain why so many Democrats (one-third of the caucus voted against her) wanted changes in the party’s leadership.
A few loosely organized thoughts on this: For starters, the fact that Trump carried Ryan’s district — while the congressman won reelection in that same district by 35 points — proves Ryan’s overarching point that Democrats can appeal to Trump voters if the national party modulates its message and takes it to a broader swath of the electorate. Ryan and other House Democrats who won Trump districts shouldn’t be mocked or treated as second-class citizens inside their caucus; they should be celebrated and dissected for clues as the party looks to repair its image among voters who were once a core constituency ...
The presidency isn’t decided in San Francisco or Manhattan or other ultra-liberal enclaves in dark-blue states; it’s decided in places like Trumbull County, Ohio, which Obama won by 22 points in 2012 and Clinton lost by 6 points to Trump even as Ryan, who represents almost the entire county, carried it by 36 points. (For comparison’s sake, consider that Clinton won roughly 48 percent of all votes nationwide; in Trumbull County she won 45 percent, and in San Francisco County she won 86 percent).
Pelosi’s comment echoes of an ideological insularity that is at once understandable (there aren’t many swing voters in San Francisco) and incredibly destructive. The party’s unambiguous leftward lurch during the Obama era — on everything from social issues to environmentalism to regulation of industry — has already contributed to cascading losses for Democrats across the country, and, in conjunction with gerrymandering, has resulted in the purge of moderate members from the party’s congressional ranks. The “Blue Dog” coalition of moderate Democrats, which ten years ago numbered around 40, will have dwindled to single digits by the time the 115th Congress is sworn in January 3. It’s impossible to imagine Democrats taking back the House majority without winning some of the rural and/or industrial districts that Trump carried on November 8. Ryan did exactly that. Any Democrat can win in San Francisco; winning in the Rust Belt or in the Deep South is a different story. Members like Ryan — not Pelosi — are the majority-makers for Democrats.
It might not be fair to say Democrats are slow learners, perhaps it is only Pelosi. According to FiveThirtyEight, the 63 Democrats who voted against her leadership is the most opposition that any Minority Leader has received since at least 1991, and her 68% support is the lowest in that same time frame. In fact, since 1991 -- that's 13 Congresses prior to the next one -- there have been a total of 52 votes against the winning Minority leader. Notably, Pelosi has one the receiving end of 39 of those 52 dissenting votes on a total of five occasions. There seems to be a growing number of her colleagues that realize the San Francisco liberal isn't the best face to put on the party.

Thursday, December 01, 2016
Richmond Park by-election
BBC: "Lib Dems oust Zac Goldsmith in Richmond Park by-election." Goldsmith is the centrist Tory who lost his bid to become the Conservative mayor of London earlier this year to Sadiq Khan. He resigned from the Tories after the Theresa May government okayed the Heathrow expansion in October.

Four NFL games to watch (Week 13)
Honourable mention: Buffalo Bills (6-5) at Oakland Raiders (9-2): You could make a case for Detroit Lions at New Orleans Saints if you like a lot of scoring; you could make a case for Washington Redskins at Arizona Cardinals in a battle of offense vs. defense. You could make a case for Carolina Panthers at Seattle Seahawks if Newton-Wilson VII is your thing. The Raiders are arguably one of the three or four best teams in the NFL. They have a legit chance to take the top seed in the AFC (31.5% chance according to Football Outsiders). According to FO, the Bills have just a 3.7% chance to make the playoffs. Buffalo is playing for their lives and they bring the top-rated rushing offense (157.4 ypg) to Oakland which has the 26th ranked rushing defense (116.9 ypg). Oakland's Derek Carr is building a MVP resume, but this team's MVP is DE/OLB Khalil Mack who will cause havoc on the Buffalo offense. Oakland goes to 10-2 and buries the Bills chances to make the playoffs.
4. Miami Dolphins (7-4) at Baltimore Ravens (6-5): FiveThirtyEight says this is the most important game of the week in terms of playoff implications: The Fins win and their chances of making it to the playoffs is 53% but only 20% if they loose; the Ravens have a 48% chance of making the playoffs with a victory but their chances decline to 18% with a defeat. That's a total of 63 "swing points." And the result will also have a significant impact the Pittsburgh Steelers and Buffalo Bills chances of making the playoffs. Miami has a six-game winning streak and everyone is abuzz about Ryan Tannehill finally proving he's a franchise quarterback, but they have only faced one top-ten defense in that time (San Diego's 9th ranked) so Baltimore's top-ranked D could prove a challenge for the Dolphins QB. I would take Miami at home, but Baltimore should be able to scrape to a victory.
3. Kansas City Chiefs (8-3) at Atlanta Falcons (7-4): Both these teams are strongly favoured to make the playoffs. The Falcons score 32.5 ppg, tops in the league. KC is 8th in scoring defense, allowing just 19.5 ppg. The return of linebacker Justin Houston last week should be a boon for the Chiefs D. Last week, the Chiefs played a defensive game in the first half before getting into a shootout with the Denver Broncos in the second half. Watching two teams that have paths to a playoff bye, even if they are from different conferences, means this is a contest of two very good teams with a lot to play for. The Falcons offense is a lot of fun to watch; despite the caricature of Atlanta being a Matt Ryan to Julio Jones show, its is actually quite diverse (both RBs have at least 21 receptions and 269 yards receiving). It will be a challenge for the Chiefs defense to take all of Atlanta's weapons out of the game. Neither QB gives up the ball much (Ryan is intercepted on 1.7% of pass attempts, Alex Smith on just 1.2%). I think the Chiefs are capable of giving any team fits, but I just don't see how they stop Atlanta's high-octane offense. Atlanta wins at home.
2. Dallas Cowboys (10-1) at Minnesota Vikings (6-5): Great Thursday night contest one week after both these teams played on Thanksgiving. Cowboys are looking at the number one seed in the NFC and the Vikings are fighting for their playoff lives. (5-0 seems so very long ago.) Injuries and unsustainable "strengths" like scoring on special teams and defense have long meant that Minnesota's streak of five wins to open the season was never going to be sustainable. But those wins are banked and the Vikes have a chance at the playoffs and perhaps a better shot at defeating the 'Boys and ending their 10-game winning streak than first appears. ESPN's Ben Goessling notes that Dak Prescott is one of the least blitzed rookie QBs since 2009, and he has done very well when not under pressure. The Vikes pressured the Detroit Lions' Matthew Stafford last week and although Minnesota lost, Stafford had a mediocre game (232 yards, 23/40 passing). The problem for opposing teams that blitz is that Prescott is playing behind the best O-line in the NFL, is mobile enough to escape pressure, and has the a good receiving RB, Ezekiel Elliott, in the backfield if he gets into trouble. This chess match will be fun to watch, although it's hard to see how Dallas is going to come up short ... unless the rookie QB has trouble in noisy US Bank Stadium. Cowboys extend their streak to 11 win.
1. New York Giants (8-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5): Both are playoff contenders with the Giants likely path being the wild card and the Steelers likely needing the to win the AFC North. Giants have won six in a row, but against relatively weak opponents. The Steelers are capable of putting up a lot of points but their defenders can't stop the passing game, so Eli Manning should be able to put points on the scoreboard himself. This game also features probably the two most exciting wide receivers, Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr. Ignore the narrative about the battle between two 2004 draft quarterbacks. Watch the highlight film catches. Pittsburgh can cheat a little because they don't have to really worry about New York's running game. New York must account for LeVeon Bell, one of the NFL's two best running backs. Pittsburgh wins.

If you are going to appoint a Democrat, appoint a senator
Politico reports that President-Elect Donald Trump is considering West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin (D) for Energy Secretary. Says one source, Manchin "is being considered to show the coal people how serious Trump is about coal." Politico also suggests the transition team is considering North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkemp (D) for a job in the administration.
Manchin is a conservative Democrat and makes a lot of sense in a Trump administration, especially for the job of Energy Secretary. But this is a brilliant political move, too. Depending on the outcome of next week's Louisiana run-off, the Republicans will have either 51 or 52 senators. Taking a Democrat or two out of the mix, especially in states in which the GOP could pick up, is a good move.

Giving life to UK access to single market?
The Guardian reports:
David Davis has suggested that the government would consider making contributions to the EU budget in exchange for access to the single market, saying his Department for Exiting the EU would consider all options to get the best deal with the bloc.
During questions in the House of Commons, the Labour MP Wayne David asked if the Brexit secretary would “consider making any contribution in any shape or form for access to the single market”.
Davis said the government would look at the options during the article 50 process over the next two years. “The major criterion here is that we get the best possible access for goods and services to the European market,” he said. “And if that is included in what he is talking about, then of course we would consider it.”
I'm not sure there is much there to warrant the coverage this is getting. David Davis said the responsible thing: everything is on the table going into negotiations. Not much to see there. Meanwhile Bloomberg reports that both the Theresa May government and some officials at the European Union are talking up the possibility of a quick negotiation (15 months). Again, best to assume goodwill although a quick negotiation might indicate one side caving early recognizing the poor position it might be in. It is also a recognition that whatever the negotiators come up with must be approved by the European Parliament. (It is also possible that British courts require a parliamentary vote there, although it is unlikely.) And while the Italian referendum vote this week isn't a Brexit-like vote (despite the worries of some pundits), as ConservativeHome's Mark Wallace points out, it could affect the EU's negotiating position: a no vote could "inspir[e] politicians across the Continent to wonder if the EU really is the best bandwagon to hitch their career to and, perhaps, pulling back the curtain to reveal that the whole edifice is far less secure and stable than its leaders like to pretend."

Maxime Bernier sent a message to supporters:
Paul, the key to winning is building the best team.
Tony Clement is a giant amongst Conservatives.
He has the kind of experience that the next Conservative government needs.
Clement did incredible work at the Treasury Board to get spending under control, making balancing the budget on the government's schedule possible. But his leadership experience is ... not as good: finished third in the 2002 provincial Progressive Conservative leadership, third again in the 2004 federal Conservative leadership, and dropped out of the current federal Tory leadership race. Admittedly, his first two forays into leadership politics were during a three-year period in which Clement lost four elections (his seat in the 2003 provincial election and his first bid in 2004 to become a federal MP). Just saying that Clement might be better at governing than politics.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Liberty and care for the mentally ill
A few years ago I struggled with an issue: should we coerce the mentally ill to receive treatment. I don't remember what led me to have an opinion on the issue or why it mattered so much. For a long time, to my libertarian mind, this was relatively simple: no, we should not coerce people to receive treatment they do not want. People are allowed to be different. (I was led astray reading too much Thomas Szasz.) People are allowed to make bad decisions. Forcing treatment on the mentally ill was obviously (to me, at the time) an infringement of their rights. But it wasn't that simple. What about the horrible things some mentally ill people do to their fellow citizens? This caused me some consternation, but ultimately violating the liberty of an individual outweighed the potential harm that individual might do to others.
After some time contemplating the topic as a philosophical issue, I asked David Gratzer, a psychiatrist, about it. Or more accurately, I asked for a brief opinion and some reading that could help me come to my own conclusions. He led me to a number of journal articles and books, but the most important was the author E. Fuller Torrey. I devoured several of his books, most notably The Insanity Offense: How America's Failure to Treat the Seriously Mentally Ill Endangers Its Citizens and Out of the Shadows: Confronting America's Mental Illness Crisis. (I look forward to Insane Consequences: How the Mental Health Industry Fails the Mentally Ill which will be published next year.) In many ways Torrey focuses on the stories of people doing harm to others -- the violence the mentally ill do to strangers on the street or the loved ones in their own homes. But the framing of the question was changed. No longer was the issue personal liberty vs. society's safety, but the tragedy of someone harming others quite against his own -- the perpetrator's -- free will. As Dr. Gratzer said to me, some people's brains are just different, work differently, and they need help. That is, their judgement is impaired in ways that limit their ability to make good decisions. This raised other philosophical issues of free will. After extensive reading and other research (including interviews with members of Capacity and Consent boards, mentally ill individuals who got themselves off the street with the proper care, neurologists, and psychiatrists) I changed my mind: there are times when we as a society should compel individuals to receive care. I'm still very leery of the position and I want vigorous safeguards, but there are some people who are not able to exercise their free will because of the (metaphorical) demons they are dealing with. We cannot abandon these people.
All of this is a very long way of introducing David Gratzer's latest weekly reading: "The NEJM on 'Our Struggle to Care for People with Serious Mental Illness'." You should read Gratzer's weekly readings, a short excerpt and comment on some recent article (medical journals, popular press) or book that deals with mental health issues. I often link to them on Twitter. But this one deserves special attention. The issue is important. I'm not looking to have every reader agree with me, but I would like people to approach the issue with more than a gut reaction which for many people is all they have to go on.
Gratzer notes that the recent New England Journal of Medicine has several articles on mental illness, but he focuses on "Liberty versus Need — Our Struggle to Care for People with Serious Mental Illness," by Lisa Rosenbaum (a cardiologist). As usual Gratzer excerpts the article, summarizes it, and comments on it. The numbers are staggering: an estimated 40% of the nearly 10 million Americans with serious mental illness do not receive treatment in any given year and inpatient-bed availability is 11.7 psychiatric beds per 100,000 population compared to 337 beds per 100K population in 1955. De-institutionalization has turned into "transinstitutionalization" as "prisons have replaced state hospitals as treatment sites." But it is not just a matter of resources. What do to do about those who deny they are ill? She acknowledges the "tension" between liberty and care and understands that the reticence to coerce treatment is based on the noble desire to avoid serious past wrongs (force electroconvulsive therapy and frontal lobotomies).
Grazter says of "Our Struggle to Care for People with Serious Mental Illness":
The tension between care and liberty is well described. It should resonate with all of us in the field. Yes, we can treat so many successfully – including those who are homeless. On the other hand, patient autonomy is a cornerstone of our health care system (and society). Earlier in my career, I was short with lawyers and annoyed at Consent and Capacity Board hearings. But today, I’ve seen the hurdles as being more than historic artifact.
Rosenbaum provides a principle but not a clear path to dealing with the mentally ill who deny they are sick: "Such good and compassionate care is possible, but only if we acknowledge that people with mental illness need treatment to function in society and are willing to accept, not deny, their differences." As principles go, this is a good one. Too often liberty is an abstract goal; providing treatment for the seriously mentally ill so they can function -- and, yes, exercise other freedoms -- should be the public policy goal of treating these patients.

Rogan interviews Peterson
Joe Rogan has a nearly three-hour interview with embattled University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson. It is wide-ranging, covering gender and identity, political correctness and social justice warriors, education, and religion, among much else. I do not typically recommend long videos, but this is worth watching.
The answer to Rogan's repeated question of how did the universities and society get to this caustic, anti-liberty, unreasonable, ideological time: we live in the age of feelings. Reason doesn't matter, feeling does.
Peterson has a lot of hard truths: history is bloody, most of what you'll do will fail, etc. And the former Harvard professor advises parents to send their kids to trade schools because a case could be made that "the universities do more harm than good now."

'Politics and the social media bubble'
Rick McGinnis in the December Interim on "Politics and the social media bubble." A snippet:
I wonder how much people really want to escape the echo chamber. Facebook’s great success as a media platform during this election came from allowing its readers to build and customize their echo chamber, with just enough outside noise to flatter yourself that you were getting something like an “objective” worldview. You could keep all those liberal or conservative friends and relatives in your friend list, but mute their annoying rants and shares with a simple click of the “unfollow” button. Only in the most extreme circumstances would you ever reach for the nuclear option of the Facebook “block” and banish someone to the status of Facebook persona non grata.
And like so much of the internet, it makes it so much easier to forget that you’re dealing with actual people some of whom you might actually like. I didn’t keep close tabs, but by the morning of Nov. 9, I knew that I’d lost at least one friend. It wasn’t just a Facebook “friend” either, but someone who I knew and liked, the husband of an old friend. We’d been to their house and even spent a weekend at their cottage. We knew that our politics didn’t exactly overlap, but up until this election I’d assumed that we could always keep this difference amicable. After all, it was only politics.
His real-life acquaintance unfriended him.

Obama returns to familiar theme: blame Fox News
Rolling Stone interviewed President Barack Obama. This stood out:
RS: You think it’s still a progressive country?
BO: I think that nothing is determined, but that the number of people who have a strong belief in a fair, just, equal, inclusive America is the majority and is growing.
And part of the challenge, though, that we do have, and this is something that I’ve been chewing on for a while now, is that there is a cohort of working-class white voters that voted for me in sizable numbers, but that we’ve had trouble getting to vote for Democrats in midterm elections. In this election, [they] turned out in huge numbers for Trump. And I think that part of it has to do with our inability, our failure, to reach those voters effectively. Part of it is Fox News in every bar and restaurant in big chunks of the country, but part of it is also Democrats not working at a grassroots level, being in there, showing up, making arguments.
Obama's next answer is about all the good things his administration has done for workers and families in Michigan and that somehow there is a communications problem. It isn't a communications problem. Many Americans got the message loud and clear that culturally the Left is against them. Obama can't admit this because it would undermine his message that the majority of Americans still support his Social Justice Warrior progressive vision for the country. Pocketbook issues are important, but so are values.
Blaming Fox or social media for obstructing the work of Obama's Ministry of Truth was how Barack Obama started his eight-year reign.

The New York Times has a wonderful feature on how the Fidel Castro obituary was written, edited, re-written, re-worked, and re-written numerous times over more than five decades. Sixteen contributors take part in this feature -- all of whom had a hand in the final obituary in some way -- and its a glimpse into how the Times (and papers like the Daily Telegraph and London Times) prepare obits.
Bill MacDonald, the obituaries editor, writes:
Fidel Castro’s obituary cost us more man/woman hours over the years than any piece we’ve ever run.
Every time there was a rumor of death, we’d pull the obit off the shelf, dust it off, send it back to the writer, Tony DePalma, for any necessary updates, maybe add a little more polish here and there and then send it on to be copy-edited and made ready — yet again — for publication.
My biggest worry was that when the day finally came, we’d get word at, say, 10 o’clock on a Saturday night and literally have to stop the presses in the middle of the run for the Sunday paper and somehow, on the fly, shoehorn all those thousands of words into it. (Ugh.)
As it happened, the timing worked out fine: too late for the Saturday paper but right on the money for the full Sunday run, and of course digital readers had it with their Saturday morning coffee.
I should admit that as the editor of a monthly paper, I have the same thoughts (nightmares) about news happening at inconvenient times in our production schedule. The news doesn't wait for print deadlines.
Anthony DePalma was the bylined author of the obituary. He has a longer contribution, but this recollection when he wrote an Americas column in 2000 provides yet another insight on how the obituary end of the paper is run:
The obituaries editor, Chuck Strum, knowing of my interest in Latin America, asked me to take a look at an obit for Fidel that had been started but never completed. I accepted the assignment and, starting from scratch, wrote the first draft by the end of 2000. I have been updating it ever since.
After Fidel took sick in 2008, rumors often circulated about his death, and a frantic call from the obit desk usually followed. On one of those occasions, there was so much static on social media that the editors pulled out the obit and set it on the print page. Of course it was a false alarm, and we were glad that it was. The Times had just recently changed the dimensions of the paper, and at the last minute we discovered that the layout prepared for the larger broadsheet no longer fit the smaller page size.
We’ve been updating it regularly.

On the Trump cabinet
NRO's Jim Geraghty on President-Elect Donald Trump's cabinet announcements so far:
We may quibble with a few here and there, but overall it’s a really good group, particularly considering the perceived limited circle of connections and talent around Trump during the campaign. By and large, this is a pretty darn conservative cabinet, and one that’s sufficiently experienced, professional, and knowledgeable, prepared for the massive tasks before them. In fact, if any of the other 16 Republican presidential candidates had won, it’s easy to picture some of these same names appearing in those alternative Republican cabinets.
And some of the more troubling names -- Chris Christie, Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, maybe even Ben Carson -- originally being mentioned as cabinet-material have not been given jobs in the cabinet (although they might still get formal or informal roles in the administration).
Conservative and competent is a combination that many Trump critics within the party assumed would not be possible. That said, it is not universally great; Erick Erickson has raised some fair criticisms of Steve Mnuchin at the Treasury post.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016
What I'm reading
1. Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School by Stuart Jeffries. This is the book I have been waiting for on Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse and Jürgen Habermas. At least in theory. I didn't think a readable biography of these individuals and their ideas was ever going to be published. I am glad I was wrong.
2. Canada Always: The Defining Speeches of Sir Wilfrid Laurier by Arthur Milnes
3. Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650 by Carlos M. N. Eire. I get that sweeping histories are going to be long, but I find I can read a 900-page book in about the same amount of time I take to read a 400-page book because I begin to peruse large portions. Not sure I'm learning much that I didn't already know from my senior seminar course on Reformation history in university, although it reminds me of a fair bit that I have long forgotten.
4. A Culture of Growth: The Origins of the Modern Economy by Joel Mokyr. A tough slog. I wanted to enjoy this book but am not.
5. "The Human Freedom Index 2016," an important annual report published by numerous think tanks and spear-headed by the folks at the Cato Institute.
6. "2015 Tax Competitiveness Report: Canada is Losing its Attractiveness," a University of Calgary School of Public Policy research paper by Philip Bazel and Jack Mintz
7. "The Cost of Poverty in Toronto," a brief report by John Stapleton's Open Policy Ontario consultancy.

Reading Stephen Marche
Stephen Marche is an unpleasant little essayist and pundit. He deals in caricature rather than facts. If you watched last month's The Agenda on the first anniversary of Justin Trudeau's election victory or the same program's show earlier this month on whether liberal smugness contributed to Donald Trump's presidential win, you saw his fellow liberals correct him (and then saw him a little less enthusiastic in making his partisan points). In both episodes. You can't trust him to report the facts. So when you read his overwrought essay in the New York Times about Muskrat Falls in the shadow of the relationship between Justin Trudeau and Canada's "First Nations" or aboriginal population, you have to stop and wonder: is this true? One example:
Since Mr. Trudeau’s election a year ago, changes grand and subtle have been made. At Toronto schools, morning announcements begin with recognizing the original settlers of the land. “I would like to acknowledge that this school is situated upon traditional territories,” it begins, before establishing which peoples the territories belonged to (in Toronto’s case, the Mississaugas of the New Credit), and concluding, “I also recognize the enduring presence of aboriginal peoples on this land.”
Just this paragraph raises a few issues. Education is a provincial responsibility and largely locally run by regional school boards. The federal government -- Justin Trudeau's government -- has almost nothing to do with it. Marche is wrong to insinuate that Trudeau is responsible for this. Yes, "since Mr. Trudeau's election last year" the Toronto District School Board has instituted a three-paragraph pro-First Nations announcement for all of its 588 schools, but there is no indication that it was inspired by the country's new prime minister or that the PM had any role in it at all. None at all.
Marche plays fast and loose with the facts, so you can't believe what you read in a longish essay like the one the Times just published. All too often, he seems more concerned about making pro-Trudeau (and anti-Harper) points than he does in getting his story correct.

Against the $15/hr minimum wage
The American Enterprise Institute's Mark Perry has collected videos of stories of small business owners of bookstores, diners, and childcare centers who have closed or relocated because they can't afford to pay their employees $15 per hour. Minimum wage hurts small business owners with low margins and low-skill labour. No one has ever answered my question: why is it better to lose a job that pays $15/hour than to have a job that pays less?

The future: good or bad?
James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute interviews Chris Kurtarna, co-author of Age of Discovery: Navigating the Risks and Rewards of Our New Renaissance, about the future and whether we should be optimistic or pessimistic about the disruption that technology will bring. I thought this was especially important:
Pethokoukis: So if we’re not seeing gains in very large parts of the economy, then we’re not going to see productivity gains in the economy overall.
Kurtarna: Correct. But my broader thesis actually is that, you know, if the question is about innovation and is it dazzling or is it dismal, then I think we actually need to start going beyond productivity statistics that are by their nature confined within the economy. Some of the innovations that we’re talking about that science is going to put forward over the next 10, 20, 30 years frankly have implications far beyond our economic systems. So let me give you one –
So let me sort of –I spend a lot of time in a great thought shop at Oxford called the Oxford Martin School, which has, you know, typical Oxford humility. Our mandate is to solve humanity’s global challenges in the 21st century, right?
We talked to the science communities there. And they would say, you know, the big innovations that drove so much productivity in the early 20th century — the combustion engine, commercial aviation, germ theory, plumbing — that was all based on pretty easy science. Now, we have the tools, because of our computers, to go after the hard questions in reality. Computers are more impactful to astronomy than the telescope ever was and more impactful to biology than the invention of the microscope. So science is certainly in a moment of discovery at the base of a very steep learning curve.
And we could just think of one example which maybe is going to affect humanity most profoundly, which is synthetic biology, right? We are getting very good at unpacking DNA and what it means in systems biology, getting a sense of how genetic code relates to the behaviors of the organisms. We are already at a point where we can genetically modify yeast so that instead of turning sugar into alcohol, it turns sugar into painkiller medication, which depending on your point of view is a good or a bad thing.
We have the technology to start aggressively tinkering with humanity. Should we help nature to evolve a more advanced form of us? We’re getting close to the point of asking that question. As a society, we are very far from having the wisdom or even the institutions to think about how we ought to answer that question. Right now, different societies are moving in different directions on it. In China, they’re moving aggressively with human genetic modification. I mean, this has the potential to divide us more profoundly than our economics ever has. Will we give birth to the transhuman? This is no longer science fiction. This is the frontier of where science is heading down the road.
And so to bring that one example back to the economic argument, it’s not clear to me that the productivity statistics are ever going to help us recognize that kind of technological disruption as it comes to us. This is a far more profound ethical question about what do we do with these powers that we’re creating.
There are similar deep questions to ask about artificial intelligence which has the potential not only to displace half of the workforce, but also as the Internet of Things comes online, has the processing power to make transparent the social cost of private actions that right now we’re ignorant of. There’s going to be a very strong argument in 25 years for a far more paternalistic form of government that knows better, when society knows better than we do individually about the cost of our behaviors.
So those are just a couple of examples of how technology is going to interact with society in the next 20, 30, 40 years and present the most difficult challenges that we’ve ever faced as a civilization, even though the economic consequences, frankly, are going to be a side effect or an aftermath of sort of the main stage of the issue.
This (long) answer has a lot to unpack, but Kurtana raises numerous important issues about not only how we will cope with technological disruption and transhumanism (to name two), but our ability to handle how to decide to cope with these changes.

The Left vs. a ban on flag-burning
Once you've decided that micro-aggressions, "misgendering," and "hurtful" chalking can be punished, what ground do you have to stand on when criticizing Donald Trump for wanting to outlaw flag-burning? Sure it’s a dumb and unconstitutional idea, but Dems have been on board with lots of those where speech is concerned.
I mean, pretty much the entire Democratic party supports overturning Citizens United — a case in which a filmmaker faced punishment for criticizing Hillary Clinton — so what free speech principles are they invoking now?
I totally agree with Glenn Reynolds on this.

Monday, November 28, 2016
Clonal meat
The M.I.T. Technology Review has an article about a promising agri-food technology:
Mozdziak is an expert in growing avian muscle cells in a lab flask. That obscure corner of research recently landed the North Carolina State University professor of poultry science at the cutting-edge of “cellular agriculture,” or the idea that animal protein could be manufactured in bioreactors rather than by animals.
The technology, also known as in vitro meat cultivation, may sound strange. But it has been drawing a following of environmentalists, animal-rights activists, and investors who think meat can be made by biotech companies rather than on farms.
There is a little bit of boosterism in the article: theoretically "one cell could turn into enough muscle to manufacture over 20 trillion turkey nuggets." The benefits are enormous (if sometimes oversold), including being able to feed more people with less land and saving animals from the cruelty inherent in mass farming. Even a modest success, however, could reap widespread benefits in providing protein to a growing population, not to mention vegetarians opposed to meat for ethical reasons. The costs have to come down ("lab-grown meat is still far from being economical"), but at one point televisions, computers, and air travel were luxuries; as the technology improves, the price will decrease.
Another obstacle is the ick-factor. If anti-GMO activists have successfully frightened people about harmless genetically modified crops, imagine what they'll do with this advance ("Frankenfood"?)?

The futility of the US election recount
The Wall Street Journal editorializes on the recount effort ("a progressive gambit to raise money from the gullible, or perhaps to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election") that has little chance of success: "Mr. Trump leads in 30 states with 306 electoral votes, and he would have to lose all three contested states to lose the election. He leads by some 71,000 votes in Pennsylvania, a little more than 20,000 in Wisconsin, and by nearly 11,000 in Michigan." Even if you think one of those states can be turned around -- and 11,000 votes is actually quite a lot -- it is inconceivable that it will occur in all three states. And if they were, imagine what it does to the U.S. public, increasing cynicism in the electoral process and entrenching division. It is time to move on.
The Journal's glass-is-half-full view is that this provides a useful civics lesson and a warning against a favourite policy of Democrats:
The silver lining may be to teach a lesson in electoral federalism. It’s all but impossible for hackers to rig U.S. elections because they are run locally and voting machines aren’t connected to a national internet network, as Hans von Spakovsky and John Fund explained on these pages in September. Progressives, not conservatives, want to nationalize election laws.

Against buying local
Steven Horwitz makes the case against buying local at the Foundation for Economic Education:
Is there a moral or economic case for shopping local ... There is not. Many of the same arguments made by progressives in favor of shopping local are the same as those made by Trump and his supporters in favor of what they call “economic nationalism.” For the same reasons that shopping local isn’t morally or economically superior to buying from chains and big boxes, neither is buying “Made in the USA.” The most moral and economic choice is to buy from whomever you want based on your preferences about price, service, or any other number of factors.
He explains:
The moral and economic cases against buying local are intertwined. Consider the argument that buying local is better because buying from Walmart or Target doesn’t keep money and jobs in the local community. This argument ignores that the average Walmart Supercenter employs around 400 people and the numbers are similar for Target. Those jobs continue to exist because people shop at those stores. The hundreds employed at any given big box store are just as much members of the local community as are the owners of the small business that compete with the big boxes.
To the extent that the prices at the big box stores are cheaper, they enable those who shop there to have income left over to spend on other goods and services, including things from locally-owned businesses, creating jobs that would not exist otherwise. If we only shopped from locally-owned businesses, we would be paying higher prices and overall employment and incomes would be lower. Plus, consumers would not have access to the variety of goods available at chain and big box stores, forcing them to not only spend more but get less value for it.
We see economists and economically oriented conservatives/libertarians make this sort of argument all the time. I have taken a different tact, and finally someone shares my view (although Horowitz doesn't quite describe it the same way): buying local and trade protectionism are both inherently bigoted. Horowitz explains:
It is not clear why people more near to us geographically should have moral weight than those further away. Given the choice between helping a middle-class small businesswoman in our neighborhood or increasing the chances of better employment at a higher wage for much poorer men and women in China, why should we believe that the former is necessarily morally superior?
If human beings deserve our moral consideration by virtue of their humanity, and if those who are worse off economically are deserving of more such consideration, then it would seem that if there is a moral case for anything, it’s for buying in ways that help the least well-off, regardless of their nationality or ethnicity.
What's odd is that the progressive Left is the one usually making the case for discriminating against foreigners.

Consensus candidates
Writing in the Globe and Mail, academic and political veteran Tom Flanagan looks at how the rules of the Conservative Party leadership contest might affect the outcome, noting there are two ways a contender can win in a multi-candidate, preferential ballot: first-count victory or become the consensus candidate. He says Kellie Leitch's strategy of aggressively pushing immigrant-screening suggests she is going for broke to win on the first ballot. It's a high-risk, high-reward strategy. The publicity sets her apart, but also makes her a target. In the consensus model, candidates look at making formal alliances or signalling mutual support to win on subsequent counts of the preferential ballot. A benefit can be that it naturally builds post-convention consensus for whoever is victorious. However, Flanagan says that "the qualities needed to build internal consensus do not always lead to victory over other parties." Flanagan notes that Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau both won their respective leaderships on the first ballot and went on to become prime minister, while former Alberta Progressive Conservative leader Alison Redford (who served briefly as the province's premier) and former Liberal leader Stephane Dion won on later ballots with the support of other candidates and are considered political failures.