Sobering Thoughts

Comments on politics, the culture, economics and religion by Paul Tuns -- in short, everything about the human endeavour from a non-hyphenated conservative perspective. I am Toronto-based writer and editor, whose articles, columns and reviews have appeared in more than 35 publications. I am editor-in-chief of The Interim, Canada's life and family newspaper, author of Jean Chretien: A Legacy of Scandal and a regular contributor to the book pages of the Halifax Herald.

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Sunday, September 14, 2014
Nationalism, or ethnic nations
George Will gives readers some things to think about in the week before the Scottish vote for independence from the United Kingdom by looking at the big picture of nationalism and statehood in the 20th century.

If Scotland separates ...
Won't the United Kingdom need to abandon the Union Jack? Story at the Daily Mail.

Obstacles facing driverless cars
Natalie Scholl of the American Enterprise Institute notes a MIT Technology Review article noting that that autonomous vehicles face numerous technical problems before they will be fully road-ready. Scholl summarizes the obstacles at AEI Ideas thusly:
The self-driving car can’t drive itself in 99% of the country.
It knows almost nothing about parking, and can’t be taken out in snow or heavy rain.
If a new stoplight appeared overnight, the car wouldn’t know to obey it.
Google’s cars can detect and respond to stop signs that aren’t on its map, but at an unmapped intersection stop sign the car wouldn’t know what to do after it had stopped, and would probably remain stationary until a human driver intervened.
The car hasn’t yet tackled big, open parking lots or multilevel garages.
The car’s video cameras detect the color of a traffic light, and they’re still working to prevent them from being blinded when the sun is directly behind a light.
Pedestrians are detected just as moving, column-shaped blurs of pixels—meaning that the car wouldn’t be able to spot a police officer at the side of the road frantically waving for traffic to stop.
The car’s sensors can’t tell if a road obstacle is a rock or a crumpled piece of paper, so the car will try to drive around either. The car also can’t detect potholes or spot an uncovered manhole if it isn’t coned off.
Most of these problems will probably be solvable sometime in the future.
AEI's Jim Pethokoukis says that regulation is a bigger obstacle for this particular form of innovation. As Pethokoukis says, "government, not technology, is the problem here."

Thank God we elected Conservatives
David Akin of Sun News:
From a tuna sport fishing derby to golf tournaments to brain research, Conservative MPs rang up a whopping $1.4 billion bill handing out cheques on the summertime spending circuit.
The annual summer spending spree began on June 21 when the House of Commons shut down for the summer recess and it ends Monday when the House opens for its fall sitting season.
But in the 85-day-summer that government MPs had to hit the barbecue circuit, a total of 432 spending announcements were logged in our exclusive QMI Agency "Ottawa Spends" database.
Some were small handouts, like the $5,000 Fisheries Minister Gail Shea gave last week to the Tuna Cup Challenge Sport Fishing Tournament held out of North Lake, PEI.
Others were more substantial, like the $425,000 that Stephen Harper's Quebec lieutenant Denis Lebel handed over to help organizers of the RBC Canadian Open Golf Tournament in Montreal.
And then there were a couple of biggies like the $51.4 million Health Minister Rona Ambrose said last week would be distributed to 32 brain research projects across the country.
Some of that spending, like brain research, is arguably defensible, but MPs supporting local events is a way to curry favour with local voters and stakeholders (potential donors, opinion influencers, would-be political rivals, etc...). When Liberals do it, Tories complain and when Tories do it, Liberals complain. That doesn't make it right, but clearly vote-buying by handing out cheques is a bipartisan and time-honoured activity. Still, it is good that people like Akin point it out, especially details like this:
The database tracked 214 announcements that triggered $376 million worth of spending in ridings held by Conservatives. There were 81 cheques worth a combined $82 million for ridings held by the NDP and 69 cheques worth a combined $88 million for ridings held by Liberals.
That's not out of the kindness of the government's heart. There are two political calculations going on here. The first is to ingratiate the Conservatives to voters in other ridings that might shift to the Tories. The second is more subtle; it also allows everyone to pretend that this is not a partisan activity. By providing fewer and smaller handouts to the ridings of political opponents, we can pretend that there isn't as much politics and partisanship involved in raiding the public purse for photo-ops.

AMA with Peter Thiel
Yesterday there was a Reddit AMA with Peter Thiel.
Interesting throughout, but two things stand out:
What is one thing you believe to be true that most do not?
Most people believe that capitalism and competition are synonyms, and I think they are opposites. A capitalist accumulates capital, and in a world of perfect competition all the capital gets competed away: The restaurant industry in SF is very competitive and very non-capitalistic (e.g., very hard way to make money), whereas Google is very capitalistic and has had no serious competition since 2002.
I love the question. I'm not entirely sure about Thiel's comment, although Donald Boudreaux's thoughts on real and mistaken competition are helpful.
Also, this:
What did you think when you first met Elon Musk?
Very smart, very charismatic, and incredibly driven -- a very rare combination, since most people who have one of these traits learn to coast on the other two.
That is a very astute observation, not only about Musk, but successful and semi-successful human beings in general.

Saturday, September 13, 2014
Going 0-2
At Grantland Bill Barnwell looks at the four teams that must avoid going 0-2 to start the season. Since 1990, 12% of teams that go 0-2 make the playoffs, but since the new format in 2003, just 9% of teams have. Barnwell says that teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns were not likely to make the playoffs even if they didn't drop their first two games. And teams like the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots could be fine starting 0-2. Saying that the three non-Eagles teams in the NFC East are more dependent on how Philadelphia does than their own start, Barnwell examines the four teams that are digging themselves a big hole with a second defeat in two weeks, focusing on their injury situations, how their primary divisional opponents are doing, and the up-coming schedule; the Chicago Bears and Kansas City Chiefs, for example, have lost games they were probably counting on (perhaps as even easy victories against the Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans respectively) and now face tough schedules for the next few weeks. Right now there are 15 teams that are 0-2 and three play each other. That means that at least three and as many as a dozen teams could begin the 2014 season 0-2. The number will almost surely be in the 6-8 range than either extreme. According to Barnwell, the Bears, Chiefs, San Diego Chargers, and Indianapolis Colts have the most riding on this weekend's games. Unfortunately for them, all four are playing teams that are almost consensus picks to make the playoffs.

Size of the Islamic State
Via WaPo on Twitter: about the size of Great Britain.

The new economy
Business Insider: "18-Year-Old YouTube Star Says She 'Doesn't Need A Real Job'." BI reports on Jenn McAllister:
She's a YouTube star, with hundreds of thousands of fans, millions of views on her funny "Buzzfeed-y" videos. Her latest, "Kids Back Then vs. Kids Now," already has nearly half a million views with just a few days of being live on the platform. At just 18, she's already chastising a younger generation for always being on their phones while hanging out rather than playing games like hide-and-seek. And her fans love her for it, because it's all in good fun.
McAllister, who makes money from ads on YouTube and integrating different brands' products into her videos (most recently, Kohl's), tells Business Insider she's "never had a real job" and frankly, doesn't see herself having one anytime soon.

Lorrie Goldstein on Doug Ford
Toronto Sun columnist Lorrie Goldstein: "Doug Ford not yet qualified to be mayor of Toronto." Goldstein notes:
The point is Rob Ford put in the time and effort and won the mayor’s race fair and square. He had a genuine knack for retail politics, earned during his years at City Hall.
Doug didn’t — he came in on his younger brother’s coattails in his brother’s old ward in 2010, as anyone could have done as long as they had Rob Ford’s endorsement.
Indeed, what’s amazing is that Rob Ford’s brand with voters remains so strong today.
Doug Ford hasn't earned the trust that Rob Ford has.
I also agree with Goldstein when he says: "What Toronto needs right now isn’t a confrontational and abrasive rookie politician for mayor who lacks not only tact and diplomacy, but the political smarts borne of experience." I'm not against confrontational and abrasive, but Rob Ford was confrontational and abrasive mostly on the issues; Doug Ford is nasty in a very personal way. Also, Doug Ford is more socially liberal than his brother and buys into too many downtown Toronto prejudices. And while DoFo is described as RoFo's brains, I'm not sure that Doug understands the subtleties of policy (not that Rob Ford did, either, but his rock solid political principles got the mayor far).
I won't be voting for mayor on October 27 unless I can find a really interesting fringe candidate. I can't stand Olivia Chow, John Tory, or Doug Ford. I don't think any of them will get done what this city needs and none of them deserve my vote. The fact that Doug Ford is not Olivia Chow is not a good enough reason to vote for him. John Tory or Doug Ford would be fine with a right-of-center city council, but that's not going to happen.

Justin Trudeau kisses the bride
While photo-bombing a wedding. Ezra Levant comments.

Political overreach
Mediate reports Nancy Pelosi said, “It would be very important for the Democrats to retain control of the Senate. Civilization as we know it today would be in jeopardy if Republicans win the Senate.” The fact is, very little is likely to change, especially for the next two years with Barack Obama in the White House. Will Obama let a Republican Congress repeal the medical devices tax or okay the Keytsone XL pipeline? But even if Obama acquiesces with the GOP on these, does lowering the cost of medical devices or the building of a pipeline from Canada to Texas end civilization?

Seinfeld (sort of) defends Fox News
Breitbart reports that on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher, the host blamed Fox News for polarizing the United States. Republican pol Haley Barbour said that Fox News provides balance to the predominantly left-leaning media: "Fox News was the first thing to come along that gave a conservative point of view." Jerry Seinfeld added that "each side just talks to its side" and "to blame it all on Fox news doesn't seem completely fair." I like Seinfeld's "pox on all their houses" posture.

Ethical stem cell advance. Maybe.
Nature magazine reports on possibly good medical news from Japan: "Surgeons implanted retinal tissue created after reverting the patient's own cells to 'pluripotent' state." Read on and you'll discover that doctors do not believe that it will restore the patient's sight. This may lead to further developments. There is often over-reporting of these events that ignore details that temper enthusiasm. Furthermore, it isn't clear that this is an advance in ethical stem cell research. Use of iPS cells sometimes still involve a triggering event that used embryonic stem cells, so it will be important to know the full details of how the patients' cells are turned into pluripotent stem cells.

Reddit does something about HuffPo stealing their stuff
The Daily Caller: "Huffington Post Steals Content, Gets Banned By Reddit."

Yahoo threatened with $250,000-a-day fine for not helping government snoop
Business Insider reports:
In 2008, the U.S. government threatened to fine Yahoo $250,000 a day if it didn't hand over user data as part of the NSA's controversial PRISM program, according to court documents released today.
The 1,500 page document outlines Yahoo's legal struggle to challenge the U.S. surveillance laws — which were part of the PRISM program, established to acquire data from tech giants including Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, and Yahoo — by calling them unconstitutional.
Yahoo lost its legal battle and had to provide the requested email metadata. (Not the actual content of emails, but information about which users sent emails to each other and when).

Politicians should support TEMs
Ben Casselman at FiveThirtyEight has a good article about the economic value of various degrees. It is worth reading in its entirety, especially if you are an American thinking about college in the near future (or have kids that will be). Casselman challenges the trendy push for majoring in the STEMs:
Politicians love to tout the importance of science, technology, engineering and math majors. But when it comes to earnings, the “S” majors don’t really belong with the “TEM” ones. Engineering majors are nearly all high-paying. So are most computer and math majors, and math-heavy sciences like astrophysics.3 But many sciences, particularly the life sciences, pay below the overall median for recent college graduates. Students who major in neuroscience, meteorology, biology and ecology all stand to make $35,000 or less — and that’s if they can get a full-time job, which many can’t. Zoology ranks as one of the lowest-paying majors of any category, with a median full-time wage of $26,000 a year.

Pet costumes
Who dresses their dog up as a bishop?

Friday, September 12, 2014
The Left doesn't get economics
A Venn diagram at Coyote Blog about Paul Krugman but which accurately describes the economic illiteracy of the Left in general.

2016 watch (Iowa caucuses edition)
Polls at this stage are absolutely ridiculous. But a CNN/ORC poll, noted at Hot Air, from Iowa shows that Hillary Clinton has 53% support from Democrats in the state, compared to 15% for Vice President Joe Biden, 7% for Senator Elizabeth Warren and 5% for Independent Senator Bernie Sanders. Among Republicans, the leader is ... former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee with 21% followed by Rep. Paul Ryan with 12% followed by Senator Rand Paul (7%), former Florida governor Jeb Bush (6%), and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (6%) with Texas Governor Rick Perry, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio each with 5%. Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal behind with 4% each. In other words, there is simply no front-runner in the GOP at this time, while Hillary Clinton looks like she will cruise to the Democratic nomination. Of course, the former First Lady looked like she was going to easily win the 2008 nomination two years before the caucuses and primaries began.

Dalrymple on health & medicine
PJ Media's Dave Swindle collected, "100 Compelling Health and Medicine Questions Answered by Theodore Dalrymple."
(HT: Blazing Cat Fur's Black Mamba)

Salon is wrong about Peter Thiel
In Salon Michael Lind writes about what he considers the over-ratedness of Peter Thiel and basically he has two arguments: Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal, is not Thorstein Veblen and he's a homophobe. Let's skip the first one and go right to Lind's second point. Quoting a Fortune article about the Silicon Valley libertarian, Lind notes that in a 1995 book The Diversity Myth, Thiel and his co-author David O. Sacks, defended a student who found himself on the wrong side of campus speech code after using an anti-gay slur. This is implied evidence of Thiel's homophobia. (While neither the story nor the headline use the terms, the url for the article is meet_the_anti_gay_sexist_celebrity_genius_why_peter_thiel_is_grossly_overrated.) The problem is Thiel is gay. And according to Wikipedia, he's a major supporter of homosexual political activism:
Thiel has supported gay-rights causes such as the American Foundation for Equal Rights and GOProud. In 2010, Thiel held Homocon 2010 for GOProud, a LGBT conservative/libertarian, in his New York City apartment. He invited conservative columnist Ann Coulter, who is a friend of his, to Homocon 2010 to guest speak. Coulter would later dedicate her new book, Demonic: How the Liberal Mob Is Endangering America, to Thiel. In 2012, Thiel would donate $10,000 to Minnesotans United for All Families, in order to fight Minnesota Amendment 1.
Thiel has argued that identity can be exaggerated and turned into an ideology for gays, blacks, and women, but he has also partially distanced himself from that view. That doesn't make him anti-gay. Nor does questioning college speech codes. The click-bait might work, but Lind's implication and Salon's url are fundamentally dishonest.

Big technology means Big Government and Big Unions. Smaller technology means ...
Bigger government. That's not the point of Michael Barone's piece, but that's because he makes an uncharacteristic misstep.
Washington Examiner columnist Michael Barone notes that the story of the 20th century was physically larger technology, from assembly-line factories and power stations to communications satellites and airplanes; the 21st century is about smaller technologies from genetic engineering to 3D-printing. "If [Henry Ford's] Rouge plant looming over Dearborn was the iconic symbol of the industrial age, the iconic symbol of our information age is the smartphone in your pocket," says Barone. He also says these technological developments have ramifications about how we organize socially (mostly through government, but also in other ways):
“Large” technology requires the standardization of masses of people, centralized command-and-control, conformity to social norms. Massive work forces and massive armies cannot operate optimally otherwise.
“Small” technology enables individuals to make personal choices, fashion their world to their own dimensions, deploy their own talents and pursue their interests in ways of their own choosing. Standardization yields to customization.
President Obama doesn’t seem to get this. He sees history as a story of progress from minimal government to ever-larger government. He’s only sorry that he hasn’t taken us farther on that track.
But history doesn’t proceed in a straight line; it moves around. “Large” technology made big government seem necessary in 1914. “Small” technology requires something different, something more adaptive today.
I'd bet on government not receding. It is precisely people's desire to "deploy their own talents and pursue their interests" that will make government want to control them even more. Witness the rise of the surveillance state, with the NSA ostensibly going after terrorists but casting a much wider net.

On the agenda for the Tories this fall
A Chris Hall analysis at the CBC: "Conservatives' fall priorities add up to one: winning re-election." Let me tell you that's the priority for all the parties. Well maybe not the Green Party. Elizabeth May isn't a serious politician. She treats Parliament like a high school club. But everyone else is thinking about winning the next election. The media only notices this truth for one party.

'A Szaszian Take on Conformity Signaling'
Bryan Caplan: "The psychiatrist is not prone to look with favor upon the man who suggests everyone is out of step but him, or upon the man whose reaction to society is to reject it." Of course, the psychiatrist is not alone in these prejudices.

Democrats vs. the Bill of Rights
George Will:
The First Amendment as the First Congress passed it, and the states ratified it 223 years ago, says: “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.” The 48 senators understand that this is incompatible — by its plain text, and in light of numerous Supreme Court rulings — with their desire to empower Congress and state legislatures to determine the permissible quantity, content, and timing of political speech. Including, of course, speech by and about members of Congress and their challengers — as well as persons seeking the presidency or state offices.
The 48 [Democratic] senators proposing to give legislators speech-regulating powers describe their amendment in anodyne language, as “relating to contributions and expenditures intended to affect elections.” But what affects elections is speech, and the vast majority of contributions and expenditures are made to disseminate speech. The Democrats’ amendment says: “Congress and the states may regulate and set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections,” and may “prohibit” corporations — including nonprofit issue-advocacy corporations (such as the Sierra Club, NARAL Pro-Choice America, and thousands of others across the political spectrum) from spending any money “to influence elections,” which is what most of them exist to do.
Because all limits will be set by incumbent legislators, the limits deemed “reasonable” will surely serve incumbents’ interests. The lower the limits, the more valuable will be the myriad (and unregulated) advantages of officeholders.
The 48 senators include (with those facing re-election this fall in italics):
Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Cory Booker (N.J.), Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Benjamin Cardin (Md.), Thomas Carper (Del.), Robert Casey (Pa.), Christopher Coons (Del.), Richard Durbin (Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Al Franken (Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Tom Harkin (Iowa), Martin Heinrich (N.M.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Mazie Hirono (Hawaii), Tim Johnson (S.D.), Angus King (Maine), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Carl Levin (Mich.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Edward Markey (Mass.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Robert Menendez (N.J.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Barbara Mikulski (Md.), Christopher Murphy (Conn.), Patty Murray (Wash.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Jack Reed (R.I.), Harry Reid (Nev.), John Rockefeller (W.Va.), Bernard Sanders (Vt.), Brian Schatz (Hawaii), Charles Schumer (N.Y.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Mark Udall (Colo.), John Walsh (Mont.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), Ron Wyden (Ore.).
Will correctly calls those 48 senators "extremists" because they are the first politicians to try to amend the Bill of Rights and severely curtail free speech rights.

Fact of the day
The Wall Street Journal reports that despite an decline in sales of many unhealthy foods, "sales of Pop-Tarts have gone up each year for the past 32."

Private school enrollment in Canada
Mark Milke notes in his Vancouve Sun column about private schools the enrollment in independent schools for each province: "British Columbia (69,455); Alberta (27,426); Saskatchewan (1,593); Manitoba (14,172); Ontario (111,168); Quebec (125,913); New Brunswick (990); Nova Scotia (2,949); Prince Edward Island (206); Newfoundland and Labrador (830)." In total, that is 354,702 kids in independent schools or about 7% of elementary and high school students.

'The periodic table of elements and the countries they were discovered in'
Very cool. Germans and Americans do science. Sweden over-represented. Italy under-represented. No Canada or People's Republic of China.

Thursday, September 11, 2014
This doesn't inspire confidence in Canadian justice
The Sun News Network reports:
Toronto Police located a killer Wednesday night who had been released from a mental health institution on Monday morning in Toronto.
Thomas Brailsford was granted a day pass from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) at 10 a.m. Monday but failed to return.
Police had described him as "unlawfully at large."
In 2010 Brailsford beheaded his mother, 78-year-old Barbara Starkey-Brailsford, and was charged with first degree murder.
He was however found not criminally responsible in the grisly killing and in 2011 was sent to CAMH.
Yeah, this is a mental health issue, but it also a criminal justice issue. Lack of resources preventing truly dangerous, mentally ill people from getting the care they need, and society the protection it needs.

Ravens vs. Steelers
Narrative watch for Baltimore Ravens game tonight. If they lose, they were distracted by Ray Rice controversy. If they win, they rallied because of Rice controversy. Ravens really need to win; can't open season with two home losses against division rivals (Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1). Should be a close game but Pittsburgh Steelers are vulnerable to downfield passes because Ike Taylor is one of the worst cornerbacks in the NFL. Joe Flacco to the Smiths (Steve and Torrey) is difficult to defend for Pittsburgh. I think Steelers eke out a late victory in Baltimore.

What do the last four presidents have in common?
Philip Gourevitch in The New Yorker: "Every American President in the past quarter century has now gone on television during prime time to tell the nation and the world that he has decided to bomb Iraq." That's both Bushes, Clinton, and Obama.

Canada, presenting your next prime minister (if the polls are to believed)
Justin Trudeau told an audience in London, "We have to rethink elements as basic as space and time."

Not just a left-wing think tank ...
But a "major left-wing think tank." That's how the CBC describes the Broadbent Institute in a story about its study on inequality.

Media didn't care about politicians who used prostitutes before, why would they now?
Via Small Dead Animals.
Several years ago when The Works, a burger chain that used to name its burgers after local celebrities, came to Toronto, I asked the waitress if the Layton Burger had an Asian rub. She didn't get it.

Erect devil statue removed
UPI reports: "An unsanctioned nude devil statue sporting a full erection at the side of a Vancouver, British Columbia, road was removed by the city, officials said." THe problem according to a city spokesman is that the statue "was not a piece of City commissioned artwork and consequently it has been removed." The statue was "8-9 feet" tall but there is no report of how long the devil was.

The French trade minister resigns
The Daily Telegraph: "President Hollande's disgraced trade minister, who resigned over unpaid taxes after only nine days in the post, causes more embarrassment with the revelation that he also failed to pay his rent for three years." The Telegraph also reports of Thomas Thévenoud, who was also booted from the Socialist Party:
He insisted that he was "not a fraudster" and said his late payments were the result of psychological problems, which he described as an "administrative phobia", explaining that he tended to let his paperwork slide.
Not sure if "administrative phobia" is in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but maybe the next edition.
Thévenoud is the second Hollande minister to resign in less than 18 months for not paying taxes.

Cowen on Henry Kissinger's new book World Order
Tylwer Cowen: "I liked parts of his China book, but there’s nothing really to this one. Leave it alone."

Militarization of the (school) police
The Daily Caller: "San Diego School District Gets Its Own Mine-Resistant Army Vehicle." DC reports:
Most recipients of the gear have defended the program, citing potential threats.
“We recognize the public concern over perceived ‘militarization of law enforcement,’ but nothing could be further from the truth for School Police,” San Diego Unified School District police Capt. Joseph Florentino said in a press release, according to NBC San Diego.
“It’ll be designed for us to get into any hostile situation and pull kids out,” he continued. “We can fit about a full elementary class into the back of [the] vehicle.”
How often do schools actually need this type of vehicle. Ever? Officials will use the line that it is justified even if it is needed once, but for 99.9% of school districts, it won't even be needed once.

IRS targets Breitbart News
Investor's Business Daily:
As the 2014 midterms approach, what has become a political arm of the Obama administration has targeted — as it targeted the Tea Party — a leading conservative truth-teller that has exposed so many of its lies.
Even as the IRS races to cover up a prior abuse of power, it ruthlessly engages in another, using its power to tax in an attempt to destroy the vast truth-gathering enterprise launched by the late Andrew Breitbart, which the administration apparently ranks right alongside the Tea Party atop its enemies list ...
"The Obama administration's timing on this is exquisite, but try as they might through various methods to silence us, we will only be emboldened," Stephen K. Bannon, executive chairman of the Breitbart News Network, said in a statement.

Army officer refused entry to school to pick up daughter
Instapundit notes story of another school behaving stupidly. Guards at school say the military uniform "might offend another student."

Wednesday, September 10, 2014
Hope he tells them to screw off
CBC reports: "Stephen Harper to address UN General Assembly for 1st time since 2010."

IRS: the law is nicety it doesn't always follow
The Hill reports IRS Commissioner John Koskinen admits, “Whenever we can, we follow the law." Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) responded: “I encourage you to follow the law in all instances."

EU gets it bass-ackwards again
Quartz: "The European Commission’s new executive line-up makes France responsible for economic affairs and gives the UK oversight of financial regulation."

Why Americans don't support the President's handling of ISIS
The National Journal's Ron Fournier has a theory on why Americans do not support President Barack Obama's handling of ISIS:
He doesn’t seem to be taking the threat seriously enough.
His assurances are habitually wrong.
He stubbornly clings to his views.
These could apply to anything Obama does on foreign policy.

What senators were doing 30 years ago
A great pie chart from the Washington Post. Most were employed (private and public sector), but 12 were Congressmen and five were senators.* Also 14 were in college/university, and eight were in high school or lower.
* Term limits now, please.

Ebola: it's getting worse
AFP reports: "The UN's health arm upped the Ebola death toll Tuesday in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria to 2,288 out of 4,269 cases, noting nearly half of all infections had occurred in the past 21 days." To put that number in some perspective, however, there are about 1.19 million traffic accident deaths each year. Ebola is difficult to contract and easy to spread.

The global warming that wasn't
The Daily Caller reports:
The numbers are in and the verdict is that there has been no global warming for 17 years and 11 months, according to satellite data.
Satellite data prepared by Lord Christopher Monckton shows there has been no warming trend from October of 1996 to August of 2014 — 215 months. To put this in perspective, kids graduating from high school this year have not lived through any global warming in their lifetimes.
According to Monckton ... the rate of warming has been half of what climate scientists initially predicted in the early 1990s.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) first predicted in 1990 that global temperatures would rise at a rate of 2.8 degrees Celsius per century. But the temperature rise since the IPCC’s prediction has only been at a rate of 1.4 degrees Celsius per century.
The so-called “pause” in global warming has baffled climate scientists, as many climate models did not predict a prolonged period of little to no warming.

Five Feet of Fury has a new look
Normally I hate when websites and publications change their layout. Five Feet of Fury's new look is an exception. Of course, it has the same great content.

Why Roger Goodell owns the Ray Rice controversy
That any organization has regulations like this is absurd. Judge, jury, and executioner is a recipe for disaster.

Ray Rice and the video that changed ... nothing
At Pro Football Talk Mike Florio has a good post about Ray Rice, the video, Roger Goodell and the Baltimore Ravens, in which he asks some good questions:
But what did Goodell or anyone else expect the video to show? The original criminal complaint accused Rice of “striking [Janay] with his hand, rendering her unconscious.” And that’s what we saw in the video.
If the NFL is going to rely only upon the evidence generated by law enforcement and not by less reliable sources, why didn’t the NFL accept the contents of the criminal complaint from law enforcement as accurate and truthful? Rice struck Janay with his hand and knocked her out. The video showed what we already knew it would show.
So how does the video make the situation any different?

Mad magazine guide to politics
"The Mad guide to political types" provides traits for liberals, Leftists, conservatives, reactionaries, right-wing militants, and New Left extremists. A little dated but still funny.
(HT: Jesse Walker at Hit & Run)

Are we better off with Harper?
Economist Stephen Gordon looks at various economic indices since Stephen Harper and the Conservatives took office in 2006. Gordon says one can cherry pick from statistics to make whichever case you are inclined to make, but it should be noted that the declines are insignificant whereas the increases are larger.
Positive: GDP (+13.9%), GDP per capita (+3.1%), total employment over age 15 (+10.2%), average weekly earnings (+9.9%), after-tax income for lowest quintile (+10.2%), after-tax income for middle quintile (+6.7%), after-tax income for top quintile (+8.9%).
Negative: Unemployment over age 15 (+0.4%), employment rate over age 15 (-0.9%).
There are a few other statistics, but that's the gist of it. I'd say overall that's a positive record.

Big Money, Big Power, Big Hypocrisy
A video by Tea Party Nation.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014
World's most expensive video game
Destiny is now out and it cost £310 million ($500 million) to make. The Daily Mail reports, "It's predicted to be the biggest title of 2014 and cost $75 million more than Avatar - Hollywood's most expensive blockbuster film to date." It cost twice as much to create than the next most expensive video game, Grand Theft Auto V.

Obamacare and the bigger picture
Casey B. Mulligan, professor of economics at the University of Chicago and author of the new ebook Side Effects: The Economic Consequences of the Health Reform, writes about "The Myth of ObamaCare's Affordability" in the Wall Street Journal:
Whether the Affordable Care Act lives up to its name depends on how, or whether, you consider its consequences for the wider economy ...
The Affordable Care Act attempts to help low- and middle-income families avoid some of the tough sacrifices that would be necessary to purchase health insurance without assistance. But no program can change the fundamental reality that society itself has to make sacrifices in order to deliver health care to more people. Workers and therefore production have to be taken away from other industries to beef up health care, or the workforce itself has to get bigger, or somehow people have to work more productively.
Although the ACA helps specific populations by giving them a bigger slice of the economic pie, the law diminishes the pie itself. It reduces the amount that Americans work, and it makes their work less productive. This slows growth in both personal income and gross domestic product ...
In effect, people who aren't receiving assistance through the ACA are paying twice for the law: once as the total economic pie gets smaller and again as they receive a smaller piece.
Policies, like ideas, have consequences. Social science and economics leave room for debate about these things, but clearly incentives matter and (less obviously) first- and second-order consequences should be taken into account (where possible) when trying to judge whether a policy is beneficial or not (which is a different question from whether it works). Politicians trumpet the families now covered by the ACA but not those who take home less pay because of Obamacare. It is harder to demonstrate the latter, mind you, but that doesn't mean the effect is merely theoretical. When judging whether President Barack Obama's signature achievement is helping people afford health care, also take into account those people who have to work longer and harder to pay for health care. Mulligan says overall it is making health care less affordable by reducing the amount of disposal income workers have.

Crony capitalism leads to doing good (for themselves)
An E21 commentary by Diana Furchtgott-Roth:
Back in February, when CVS announced that it would stop selling tobacco products, I wrote that CVS was looking for something in return: more access to the lucrative Affordable Care Act health care market.
Now the New York Times is reporting that the "drugstore chain seeks to redefine itself as [the] health care destination for consumers."
February's CVS announcement looked suspicious because it was coordinated with the White House. An hour after the announcement, President Obama congratulated CVS CEO and President Larry Merlo by name, saying, "I applaud this morning's news that CVS Caremark has decided to stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products in its stores, and begin a national campaign to help millions of Americans quit smoking instead."
CVS gave up $2 billion in revenues by halting the sale of cigarettes, and its stock declined. The question was, what did CVS get from the administration in return?
Seven months later, the answer is clear. CVS spokeswoman Carolyn Castel told the Times that "the company opened 32 clinics last quarter and is on track to open 150 more this year." Revenues at its clinics have increased by 24 percent in the second quarter of 2014 compared with the second quarter of 2013. CVS plans 1,500 clinics by 2017, up from 900 at present.
Other companies might be tempted to follow suit:
The company is taking no chances that it could fall out of government's favor. CVS spent $13 million on lobbying in 2013, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, over 17 times as much as the firm spent in 2007.
Not all drugstores are caving in to government pressure on cigarettes. Walmart, Walgreens, and Rite Aid, among others, continue to stock tobacco. But health care is a growing market, and a tough one. Sometimes it helps to have friends in high places.

Question regarding Ray Rice's violent attack on his fiancee
The NFL suspended now-former Baltimore Ravens RB Ray Rice in July for two games after he agreed to a pre-trial intervention to avoid jail time for his assault on Janay Palmer, his fiancee who married the NFL star a month after he knocked her out with a left hook in an Atlantic City casino elevator. Yesterday, TMZ famously made available video from the elevator. My question: Why does the video change anything? I mean that seriously. Did NFL commissioner Roger Goodell not understand what an assault is? I understand the difference between video images and descriptive writing and that we react more to the former than the latter; when I was in university and Schindler's List came out, a history major who saw the movie said she "knew the Nazis were bad, but not that bad." But in reality nothing has changed. From a public relations standpoint a lot has changed, but when you break it down it means that victims lucky enough to be taped being assaulted can get more justice for their assailants. How is that fair?
There is a consensus that the NFL should have suspended Rice for more than two games (if that is their wont) but an indefinite suspension now seems like overkill and yet no one seems to be questioning it. Last night on the Monday Night Football pre-game show, its pair of MNF contests, and the half-time shows was treated like a giant teachable moment not to hit women. This should be obvious, but having some washed up football player or some never-been broadcaster say it relentlessly Monday night isn't really going to change anything. There was mass hysteria in footballland yesterday and hand-wringing is the PR exercise of choice. These people -- the NFL, the broadcasters -- should put their money where their mouths are and donate tens of millions of dollars to programs for abused women but also university athletic programs to teach student-athletes not to hit women.
Furthermore, I do not understand those who took to Twitter and elsewhere to register their disgust with a protest that they can't watch football anymore. What does Ray Rice being a barbaric creep have to do with continuing to enjoy a game that has brought great pleasure to the viewer in the past. Again, we all knew for months that Ray Rice hit Janay Palmer. Most of thought he got off lightly. What reality changed with the video? Do we really lack the imagination to understand that a football player like Ray Rice is going to do serious damage to his girlfriend when he hits her?
I also wonder about whether or not employers should be punishing employees for non-work related incidents (this includes recreational drugs), but that's another issue. I understand the need to worry about image, but is this the proper venue for punishing people for off-field (or out-of-office) incidents? I don't know but it makes me uncomfortable.

Kareem Abdul Jabbar defends Levenson
Having won one scalp in Donald Sterling, the Perpetually Offended Machine run by race hucksters are out to get Atlanta Falcons owner Bruce Levenson, who had two years ago written an email about how the team might attract more white fans. This, of course, is found to be racist. Levenson is now selling his portion of the team. NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul Jabbar defends Levenson:
I read Levenson’s email. Here’s what I concluded: Levenson is a businessman asking reasonable questions about how to put customers in seats. In the email, addressed to Hawks president Danny Ferry, Levenson wonders whether (according to his observations) the emphasis on hip-hop and gospel music and the fact that the cheerleaders are black, the bars are filled with 90% blacks, kiss cams focus on black fans and time-out contestants are always black has an effect on keeping away white fans.
Seems reasonable to ask those questions. If his arena was filled mostly with whites and he wanted to attract blacks, wouldn’t he be asking how they could de-emphasize white culture and bias toward white contestants and cheerleaders?
Of course it is the same thing, but it isn't. When noting that blacks don't like white culture, it's in an effort to promote diversity. When noting that whites don't like black culture, well that's racism.

'Grading Economics Textbooks on Climate Change'
Turn the list upside down and go with that. Yoram Bauman, the stand-up economist, created the list and report for the Sightline Institute.

Richest Congressmen
Roll Call's list of richest Congressmen (senators and House reps) is topped by a pair of Republicans followed by eight Democrats. However, GOP constitutes 60% of the top 50. To make the top 50, a Congressman has to have a net worth of $7.47 million.
(HT: Fiscal Times)

On the Islamic State, Obama is growing
Investor's Business Daily praises President Barack Obama's (very slow) growth on IS. From failing to recognizing any threat, to ignoring it, to saying he has no strategy to announcing he will come up with one. Eventually, the administration might do something about Islamic terrorists.

2016 watch (Jim Webb edition)
Bloomberg's Albert Hunt: "Could Jim Webb Mount Credible Challenge to Clinton?" Seems odd that a former senator, a one-term senator at that, is considered a credible candidate. He has gone to Iowa and is going to make a major speech shortly. Queue speculation. Yet it doesn't quite make sense. Webb might be too liberal on gun control and foreign military intervention, has said things that will upset gender feminists, and doesn't really have a constituency unless the anti-war Left is looking for a hero. He is too far Left on some issues and too far Right on others. Hunt doesn't mention Webb's lack of charisma. Webb's economic populism and anti-Wall Street message might resonate but he probably doesn't check the right mixture of boxes to have his candidacy take off.

Sign of the times
Proposed sign: Caution jihad zone. It would make a great t-shirt.

Monday, September 08, 2014
'Expect Jim Prentice to play role in national scene'
So says Toronto Star columnist Chantal Hebert. I think Jim Prentice might be busy running Alberta and restoring the reputation of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta. Lots of non-Tories and Red Tories want Prentice to use his new job as a stepping stone to eventually replace Stephen Harper as head of the federal Conservatives.

Almost everything government does it sucks at
James Pethokoukis at AEI Ideas:
“Can the U.S. compete internationally? Its companies can. Its workers cannot.” That’s the lede from Wall Street Journal reporter Josh Zumbrun’s story on a new competitiveness survey of Harvard Business School alums.
The above chart shows how respondents categorized various elements of the American business environment and how they have shifted since the original 2011 survey. Among those elements described as a “strength and improving”: capital markets, corporate management, universities, property rights, supply chains, and entrepreneurship. Among those elements described as a “weakness and deteriorating” are the K-12 education system, the tax code, regulation, and the efficiency of the legal system.
So I guess my lede would have been a big different: “Can the U.S. compete internationally? Its companies can. Its government cannot.”
American government isn’t taxing, educating, regulating, or adjudicating effectively or efficiently right now. You can be for smaller government while also wanting government that works better.
I'm torn on the issue of whether I want government to work better because working better means people will have more affinity for it. That said, government is both inept and corrupt today and its doesn't seem to temper the voting public's enthusiasm for more government. If the state is going to be all-encompassing, a libertarian case can be made for ameliorating the damage and ensuring what the programs government delivers, it does so competently.
Regardless of my own opinions about government, those who see government as a force for good should consider the findings in this study sobering: government doesn't work very well. Full stop. Other than shoving more money into the giant maw of state, what policies to make make government programs work better do politicians and academics have? I'm talking to both the Left and the Right. In the United States it sometimes seems that the reformist bent of modern liberalism ended in the 1960s and reform-minded conservatism died with the first wave of successful GOP governors in the early 1990s (John Engler, Tommy Thompson, William Weld). Politics is about posturing for votes, not solving problems and addressing issues so politicians do not need to provide answers to why what they are in charge of does so poorly. And voters do not punish those in charge nearly enough to encourage the type of change that the situation (should) demand.

'Back to College Wardrobe From 1948'
The Art of Manliness: "Back to College Wardrobe From 1948." Better dressed than most of today's businessmen.
(HT: Kids Prefer Cheese)

Umberto Eco on Peanuts and Krazy Kat
Tyler Cowen points to a 1963 essay by Umberto Eco that was reprinted in the New York Review of Books in 1985. I'm not a comic strip fan but it is worth reading, if only to witness the condescension and bullshit of a sophisticate like Eco. Speaking of which, Cowen seems to be enjoying Michael Ignatieff's memoir/philosophical reminiscences about politics, Fire and Ashes.

In the weekend Financial Times Tim Harford looked at Philip Tetlock's Good Judgment Project which seeks to determine what makes successful forecasters. If data and forecasting is something that interests you at all, this longish article is worth reading. The takeaway is that what makes a good forecaster right now is that they aren't as inaccurate as the bad forecasters, but are still far from accurate enough to depend upon. Harford says:
An intriguing footnote to Philip Tetlock’s original humbling of the experts was that the forecasters who did best were what Tetlock calls “foxes” rather than “hedgehogs”. He used the term to refer to a particular style of thinking: broad rather than deep, intuitive rather than logical, self-critical rather than assured, and ad hoc rather than systematic. The “foxy” thinking style is now much in vogue. Nate Silver, the data journalist most famous for his successful forecasts of US elections, adopted the fox as the mascot of his website as a symbol of “a pluralistic approach”.
Philip Tetlock. His Good Judgment Project, begun in 2011, aims to find better ways to see into the future The trouble is that Tetlock’s original foxes weren’t actually very good at forecasting. They were merely less awful than the hedgehogs, who deployed a methodical, logical train of thought that proved useless for predicting world affairs. That world, apparently, is too complex for any single logical framework to encompass.
So what makes better (or worse) forecasters:
So what is the secret of looking into the future? Initial results from the Good Judgment Project suggest the following approaches. First, some basic training in probabilistic reasoning helps to produce better forecasts. Second, teams of good forecasters produce better results than good forecasters working alone. Third, actively open-minded people prosper as forecasters.
But the Good Judgment Project also hints at why so many experts are such terrible forecasters. It’s not so much that they lack training, teamwork and open-mindedness – although some of these qualities are in shorter supply than others. It’s that most forecasters aren’t actually seriously and single-mindedly trying to see into the future. If they were, they’d keep score and try to improve their predictions based on past errors. They don’t. Successful forecasters aren’t afraid to change their minds and are comfortable with the notion that fresh evidence might mean abandoning an old view This is because our predictions are about the future only in the most superficial way. They are really advertisements, conversation pieces, [or] declarations of tribal loyalty...

'What To Expect From Benny Johnson At National Review'
The Daily Caller suggests BuzzFeedish listicles for National Review Online. Quite humourous.

World population
Half of the world's population lives in just six countries: Red China, India, USA, Brazil, Indonesia, and Pakistan. Via Conrad Hackett.

Militarizing school police
School cops don't need automatic weapons and armoured vehicles but some Texas district schools are getting erstwhile military hardware. If there was a school hostage-taking or some other serious event that needed such heavy equipment, the local SWAT would take over.

Tim Worstall calls BS on Obama visit
Tim Worstall says there is no way that U.S. President Barack Obama just dropped in for some unscheduled sight-seeing and glad-handing at Stonehedge. These things take planning. Journalists report these things all the time and there is no way they are true. It might have been unannounced but it was not impromptu. As Worstall says: "The 500 police with dogs and guns, the 25 car motorcade plus the various unbadged large gentlemen just happened to be passing as well?"

The march of progress
Donna Brazile tweets: "Some of the political ads this Fall make the Willie Horton ad in 1988 look like a Hallmark moment." Does she mean the dishonest attack ads by Democrats against Republicans and their so-called "war on women"?
When it comes to attack ads and negative campaigning, the chattering class always complains that things get worse. The fact is the Horton ad was fare comment about a system that allowed prisoners out into society unsupervised for short periods of time, a program supported (but not started) by then Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis. There is more truth in the Willie Horton ads than the war on women ads today.