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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Wednesday, March 04, 2015
Why meetings ruin the productivity of the productive employees
Managers like meetings, makers do not. Chris Blattman points to a 2009 Paul Graham essay on "The Maker's Schedule" and excerpts the most important part:
The manager’s schedule is for bosses. It’s embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you’re doing every hour ...
Most powerful people are on the manager’s schedule. It’s the schedule of command. But there’s another way of using time that’s common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started.
When you’re operating on the maker’s schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in. Plus you have to remember to go to the meeting. That’s no problem for someone on the manager’s schedule. There’s always something coming on the next hour; the only question is what. But when someone on the maker’s schedule has a meeting, they have to think about it.
For someone on the maker’s schedule, having a meeting is like throwing an exception. It doesn’t merely cause you to switch from one task to another; it changes the mode in which you work.
I'd add that for certain people (both by job description and personality type), "meeting" is the same as "doing" while for many other people "meeting," at its best, leads to "doing" but is usually just an interruption in doing.
To increase productivity in many cases requires changing management styles, perhaps even the concept of management itself. Unfortunately, too often managers get to blame the makers.
A middle ground would be to limit meetings to only managers.

Sowell's 'Random Thoughts on the Passing Scene'
Thomas Sowell can sometimes say more in paragraph or sentence than most columnists do in their allotted 750 words, and this is especially true with the pithy observations contained in each "Random Thoughts on the Passing Scene" column. An snippet from his most recent one:
We should never again put a first-term Senator in the White House. But, of the three Republican first-term Senators who are prospective candidates for the 2016 nomination for president, Marco Rubio is one of the very few politicians of either party to publicly admit that he was wrong on a major issue — immigration. He may well be ready for the White House in 2020.

Net neutrality
Tim Harford had a pretty good primer on net neutrality, explaining what it is and the argument for and against, in the Financial Times on the weekend. Harford challenges one of the central tenets of net neutrality:
What about the idea that customers have already paid for their internet content, so cable companies shouldn’t be able to demand cash from content providers too? That is not how things work elsewhere. In a shopping mall, customers enter for free and retailers pay to be there. (They pay very different rents, too.) At an industry convention, both the delegates and the exhibitors will pay. There is nothing sacred about the idea that one side of the market pays nothing. Customers may even benefit if content providers must pay, since then the cable company might wish to slash prices to attract them and increase its leverage with the content providers.
Should all content providers be able to connect free of charge? This may not be the best rule for consumers nor the best way to promote innovation. The best defence of such a rule is that it seems to have worked well in the past and, with so much at stake, a change would be risky – not a terrible argument but hardly cast-iron.

2016 watch (Ben Carson edition)
John Avlon tweets: "So Ben Carson just said on @NewDay that people go into prison straight and come out gay, citing it as evidence that orientation is a choice."

Pro-growth and pro-family tax policy
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Republican senators Mike Lee (Utah) and Marco Rubio (Florida) outline, once again, their tax reform plan which includes simplifying the corporate tax code and reducing rates on the one hand and reducing the burden of what they call the parent tax penalty (payroll taxes to fund seniors entitlements while raising the next generation of taxpayers) on the other.

2016 -- and beyond -- watch (Hillary Clinton edition)
The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf writes scathingly on "Hillary Clinton's Contempt for Transparency" and what using her private email in an official capacity could mean if she returns to the White House: "But the episode already confirms what attentive observers have long known: If the Clintons return to the White House, we can expect more suspicious secrets, stonewalling, and opaqueness, much as we've seen in the past. Voters have been given ample warning."

M. Stanton Evans, RIP
M. Stanton Evans, an icon in the American conservative movement, has passed away at the age of 80. His famous Evans’ Law of Political Perfidy: “When 'our people' get to the point where they can do us some good, they stop being 'our people'." That's why he created the National Journalism Center in 1977 to train aspiring conservative journalists and to counter liberal bias in the media. My favourite Evans quote was noted by in the Investor's Business Daily obit: "We have two parties in this country. One is the evil party, and the other is the stupid party. Occasionally, the two parties get together to do something that is both evil and stupid. That's called bipartisanship."

Tuesday, March 03, 2015
The catch-all explanation for everything wrong in the world
Science mag asks: "Did climate change drive the Syrian uprising?" The argument is that the 2007-2010 drought destroyed crops and displaced 1.5 million people, destabilizing the region and the regime.

Coburn joins the Manhattan Institute
Last week the Manhattan Institute announced that former senator Tom Coburn joined their Project FDA bringing to it both political and medical expertise.

It is difficult to get regulations right
Two stories from today's Toronto Star.
Martin Regg Cohn writes about an overhaul that will change the way private wine stores (the Wine Shop and the Wine Rack) operate because the provincial government's regulations mean they make too much money and not enough of their profits are being diverted back to the provincial treasury. This fact shouldn't necessarily be a problem except that the government is greedy (and the lack of a level playing field -- more competition under one set of rules would do the trick). Still, the point is that according to someone in government, these private outfits are too profitable directly due to the state's rules on how they operate.
There is a story in the GTA section of the Toronto Star on how the city's restrictive rules are hurting the food truck industry in Toronto. The city has imposed so many rules on food truck operators in order to protect existing brick-and-mortar restaurants that fewer than half the food truck licenses were purchased and some may not be renewed. Because of city regulations that include a three-hour limit for standing at one spot and prohibiting trucks from operating within 50 meters of a restaurant. According to the food truck industry and a handful of (mostly left-leaning) politicians, these private outfits are not profitable enough due to the state's rules on how they operate.
In other words, it is difficult to get regulations correct. It is a problem because politicians and bureaucrats are not disciplined by market forces, and too often have political rather than economic goals to pursue.

Lawrence Martin on Tories vs. Grits as economic managers and political spin
I don't usually note Martin Lawrence Martin columns because they suck, but today's isn't terrible. (Actually, it is terrible, but it isn't incorrect.) Martin suggests that using common indicators of economic health, Canada generally does better under Liberals than Progressive Conservatives/Conservatives. Martin is also correct to say that context and timing matter when judging an economic record of a government. I would add that a particular government might also benefit or suffer from the policies of its predecessor as their effects slowly make their way through the economy. But considering every government touts current statistics as indicators of the job they are doing, that's the accepted standard and we'll use them as apple-to-apple comparisons.
There are items to quibble over in Martin's column. Yes, Pierre Trudeau "posted GDP numbers more than twice as high as the Harper government" but so did most western countries compared today. We might be living in the Great Stagnation. The problems Canada's economy faces are not unique to Canada, so it is wrong to lay all the blame on Harper for slower than Trudeau GDP growth. (The same should be said for comparing Barack Obama's record to Ronald Reagan's.)
However, there are three noteworthy items in Martin's column.
First, he says polls almost always show people think Conservatives are better managers of the economy than Liberals. (The same would be true of Republicans and Democrats in the U.S.) Martin suggests this is because the Right has spun their story better. He's close but misses the mark. A better explanation might be that Conservatives talk a better economic game than they deliver in terms of tax relief, debt reduction, and business-friendliness. Liberal rhetoric seems more anti-business (and they have a history of dubious interventionism like the National Energy Program). It's not quite spin, it's political rhetoric. People pay more attention to speeches and campaign promises than policy and outcomes.
Second, Martin's point about spin and narrative. Hitching his argument on the complaint of MP and former finance minister Ralph Goodale, who says that the current Conservative government has hired "countless" flacks which gives "them a huge advantage over opposition parties in weaving tall tales," Martin says the Tories win the economic debate because they have successfully framed the economic debate. Canada is doing well compared to the G8 is the standard Tory line; but Martin says if the point of comparison was instead the G20, Canada's record is mediocre. Framing the debate is important up to a point, but it can be taken too far. At some point an individual's own experience trumps the story being peddled, whether by politicians or the media. Still, Goodale has good advice for political parties and candidates: "If you've got a good story, do not assume everybody knows it." Of course, that is what the Tories are trying to do, and Goodale and Martin are complaining about it. Goodale's problem is not that the Tories are using spin, but that the Liberals aren't using enough of it. So convince your party leadership to employ more.
The third point is that Goodale thinks the Liberals lost in 2006 because the Martin Liberals weren't boosting their own economic record enough. It's true that the Martin campaign did a poor job communicating the Liberal economic record (although it was worsening by several measures under Martin compared to Jean Chretien). But other issues matter, too. In 2006, the Liberals had to answer the criticism that they were crooks. A scandal-ridden party like the Adscam Liberals can deliver all the good economic news in the world, but the bottom line is not the only thing voters care about.

Crony capitalism: a bipartisan game
From a Wall Street Journal editorial:
In a Monday story in the New York Post, Fred Dicker reports that GOP members of the state Senate are trying to impose a new biofuels mandate for heating oil at the behest of billionaire John Catsimatidis. A prolific donor to both political parties, Mr. Catsimatidis owns United Metro Energy, which is preparing to open one of the country’s largest biofuel plants in Brooklyn.
The proposed mandate would require that all heating oil sold in the state contain at least 2% biofuel, which can come from used restaurant grease and cooking oils but is typically made from soybeans. New York City has had such a mandate since 2012, and now United Metro wants to take it statewide.

Monday, March 02, 2015
The shift from rape to 'sex without consent'
Brendan O'Neill in the provocatively titled "In defense of drunken sex" in Reason:
The big problem is the shift in recent years from talking about rape to "sex without consent." Rape is a violent word that describes a conscious act by a wicked man (usually) to defy a woman who says no and and to force sex on her. Disgusting. Lock him up. But "sex without consent" is a totally different phrase: it's more passive, signalling an act that doesn't require criminal intent and which can cover everything from rape as it was once understood to drunk sex, drugged-up sex, or regretted sex. We've gone from punishing those who rape to casting a vast blanket of suspicion over anyone who has sex. But the fact is—and please don't hate me—sex isn't always 100 percent consensual. Especially after booze. Sometimes it's instinctual, thoughtless, animalistic. Sometimes it just happens. It's sex without consent—that is, without explicit, clearly stated, sober consent — but it ain't rape. It's sex.

Playground safety: public choice theory in action
The American Society for Testing and Materials will vote on new playground surface standards to make playgrounds safer for children with better Impact Absorbing Surface. Lenore Skenazy points to sources that note only about one child a year dies from falls in playgrounds and that there are few serious brain injuries. We can't make playgrounds risk-free -- nor should we want to -- but the real question is whether the benefits are worth the costs. It is impossible to have that conversation when people actually believe rhetoric like "if it saves only one life" bullshit. Skenazy links to several skeptics worth reading, especially Bernard Spiegal who questions that authoritative credentials of the ASTM, who says their appeals to "evidence-based" conclusions is rife with "barely acknowledged value-based assumptions." Playground Guru says there are unintended consequences of improving surface safety:
There are many possible reasons for the accident rates to remain unchanged that have nothing to do with the resiliency of the landing surface. One possibility is that the recent trend to cover the entire playground with rubber is so expensive that the amount of play equipment has to be reduced significantly. This results in a lack of events, which in turn reduces the opportunities for graduated challenge that allow kids to gain skills incrementally. On the one hand little kids must use equipment that is beyond their skill level and on the other hand older kids find little to challenge them and so use the equipment in inappropriate ways.
I assume the real motivation for this is not safety but self-interest. Companies that make playground equipment, including surfaces, would love to have an entire country worth of new clients; if all existing playgrounds do not meet the recommended -- or worse, mandated -- safety standards, they'll need new surfaces. That's a pretty profitable concern for the safety of the children. Also, politicians will want the photo-ops that come with opening new, safer parks.

Crony capitalism Warren Buffett-style
Ira Stoll writes in the New York Sun about Warren Buffett's famous letters and what they tell us about his business model and worldview, and they betray a billionaire cozy with the state:
Mr. Buffett sounds like he’s counting on politicians and bureaucrats to make his bets pay off. He brags that “regulated-industry segments” like the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad and Berkshire Hathaway Energy are where “the truly big winners reside” among Berkshire’s many dozens of businesses.
Mr. Buffett writes that Berkshire Hathaway Energy “now accounts for 6% of the country’s wind generation capacity and 7% of its solar generation capacity.” The company will have spent $15 billion on renewable energy projects. And here’s the kicker: Mr. Buffett writes, “we relish making such commitments as long as they promise reasonable returns — and, on that front, we put a large amount of trust in future regulation.”
Stoll also writes about how Buffett takes advantage of tax credits, despite the Sage of Omaha's claim that people do not respond to tax disincentives (which are two sides of the same coin):
Yet Mr. Buffett devotes a substantial section of his 50-year retrospective to explaining how Berkshire’s conglomerate structure is advantageous because of “our ability to move funds between businesses or into new ventures instantly and without tax.” If the businesses were spun off, Mr. Buffett explains, Berkshire “would lose control value, capital-allocation flexibility and, in some cases, important tax advantages.” Why, he sounds like a figment of Grover Norquist’s imagination.
The tax angle is significant, Mr. Buffett acknowledges, in those renewable energy investments: “certain tax credits that are available to our utilities are currently realizable only because we generate huge amounts of taxable income at other Berkshire operations. That gives Berkshire Hathaway Energy a major advantage over most public-utility companies in developing wind and solar projects.”

Politics is bullshit. And Conservative politics is more than bullshit
Brigitte Pellerin in C2C Journal on her journey out of not giving a shit about politics:
Is Stephen Harper a less awful choice for prime minister than either Justin Trudeau or Tom Mulcair? Yeah, sure. I guess. But why is this the question? And why doesn’t it bother my “fellow conservatives” a lot more?
I deeply resent being asked to vote for, and defend, nominally conservative options because the other guys are worse in theory, though indistinguishable in practice. They all spend tax dollars like they were an endlessly renewable resource. They all bribe voters with their own money. They all engage in corporate welfare. In opposition everyone promises efficiency and honesty, and in office everyone delivers extravagance and arrogance. To say this leaves me cold gravely understates the frostiness of my current relations with politics.
I wasn't good at math or science in high school so I mastered history and its grubby cousin politics. And now I can't quit. While I have a dozen nits to pick with Pellerin's article, I agree with the major points she makes: the Tories can't excite me because they aren't very conservative or libertarian and it probably doesn't matter anyway. This is not holding out for the perfect, but holding out for good enough. Good enough, though, should be a high enough standard to make our principles worth something. Just because the red team is terrible doesn't mean the blue team is good. Why should I care more about my lower priorities just to elect a party that doesn't share my big priorities?
I just wish, like Pellerin, I could quit my politics addiction. If I could make a living doing sports writing, I'd quit in a minute.

Bryan Caplan's 'totally conventional views'
Bryan Caplan has his list of 20 "Totally Conventional Views" and Scott Sumner replies to some of them. Caplan has published lists such as "40 Things I Learned in My First 40 Years" and "10 Things I Learned in My First 10 Years of Parenting," many of which are not conventional. I find some of Sumner's critiques petty considering Caplan's median for this exercise is a -- their -- blog.
This one doesn't seem conventional: "9. Unemployment of 5% or higher is extremely inefficient and socially dangerous." This one is truer than most people realize: "17. Most kids, no matter how rebellious, eventually turn into their parents."

When will each state become majority-minority
The Center for American Progress looks at 10 demographic trends that have (and will continue) to influence American politics. A major finding is when a state has or will become majority-minority (mostly Hispanics, blacks, and Asians). The authors note:
Nothing captures the magnitude of these shifts better than the rise of majority-minority states. Right now, there are only four majority-minority states: California, Hawaii, New Mexico, and Texas. But with the ongoing demographic transformation of the country, our States of Change projections find that this will become more and more common. A table of when we expect these newly minted, majority-minority states to emerge is displayed on the following page. Note that since minorities are not monolithic in their policy or political preferences and because, in any case, those preferences may change over time, any assumption that majority-minority states will adopt a unified policy or political orientation would be unwise.
The next two majority-minority states, Maryland and Nevada, should arrive in the next five years. After that, there should be four more in the 2020s: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, and New Jersey. In the 2030s, these states should be joined by Alaska, Louisiana, and New York, and in the 2040s, these states should be joined by Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Virginia. The 2050s should round out the list by adding Colorado, North Carolina, and Washington. By 2060, that should bring the number of majority-minority states to 22, including seven of the currently largest states and 11 of the top 15. Together, these 22 states account for about two-thirds of the country’s population.

Sunday, March 01, 2015
Former Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion endorsed Justin Trudeau because he supports cities and opening the spigot of infrastructure spending. And she's a Liberal.
And proof that the media can spin Trudeau being Trudeau as a new-and-improved Trudeau story, CTV says that the Liberal leader is open to extending Canada's Iraq mission. However, it is the same old policy of saying Canada should do what Canada does best which is apparently hug-a-thug restricted to humanitarian interventions while our allies put their troops in harm's way.
Former Tory MP Bill Casey will be the Liberal nominee in Cumberland-Colchester. That makes two former MPs, with Casey joining Eve Adams. The Liberals will spin this as Trudeau attracting people across party lines -- MPs today, voters tomorrow -- but it might be better described as the traditional Grit ability to attract opportunists.

What we can learn from the Price is Right
Cafe Hayek's Donald Boudreaux says that watching the first episode of the Price is Right from September 1972 -- I wasn't even born yet -- suggests how much living standards has improved since then.

Rhino vs. Hippo
This is about a month old: Deadspin debates who would win a fight between a hippopotamus and a rhinoceros. Greg Howard says, "No one's gonna sit here and say hippos can't scrap. But compared to rhinos, hippos are bullshit." I disagree. Hippos are big and have powerful jaws. Location might matter, as they'd have an advantage in water. However, the video of the rhino vs. African buffalo suggests the power of the machine with horns and armour. Unfortunately, the debate isn't conclusive.

Perspective on the fuss over TFSAs
At Worthwhile Canadian Initiative, Livio Di Matteo adds a bit of perspective to the complaints this week about doubling the limits for Tax Free Savings Accounts. Two major points needs to be made, he says. First, the criticism of TFSAs also applies to Registered Retirement Savings Plans, namely that the wealthier can save more. We don't see a lot of criticism of RRSPs, though. Second, estimate of foregone revenue (taxes) "need to be considered as a proportion of GDP yet to come rather than as absolute numbers." After all, $14.7 billion in 2060 may sound like a lot, but inflation adjusted, it probably won't be.
That said, Frances Wooley is probably correct to say that doubling TFSA contributions is part of the Harper government's long-term strategy to starve the federal budget beast. That, though, is a legitimate goal.

Good habits key to happiness
Or, at least, a better life. Maclean's interviews several experts including Gretchen Rubin about habits and how good ones can improve your life. We do a lot of suboptimal things that decreases the quality of our lives. At the very least, we should understand that many of our poorer "decisions" are done almost by rote: "Part of the trick is actually seeing our habits as such. Routine actions can be so ingrained, we continue to take them, even when they don’t make sense." Changing these actions is less about changing our behaviours than changing the cues and rewards. Excellent and potentially helpful article.
I'm a big Gretchen Rubin fan and look forward to her new book Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives.

Paul Well on Justin Trudeau
Writing in Maclean's about the Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, Paul Wells says:
It’s as though people don’t much care what he has to say. It’s as though politically involved Canadians view Trudeau, not as a question—Is he ready? Is he proposing interesting things?—but as a statement, a kind of totem. If you don’t like Harper, you need somebody to replace him and, for nearly two years now, Trudeau has looked like that somebody. If you’re protective of Harper, then Trudeau is a bogeyman, but again, that doesn’t actually have much to do with what he says or does.
The interesting question is what happens when Trudeau loses his aura of inevitability. Maybe nothing much. Under Trudeau, the Liberals are still more popular than they were under Michael Ignatieff after mid-2009. But until now, he was able to float on a tautology: He was popular, so if you wanted Harper defeated, you had to support the Liberals.
Considering that the Conservatives and Liberals are neck-and-neck in the polls, it seems wrong to call Junior an underdog. And under-estimating politicians can be dangerous. There was a time that Stephen Harper was thought to be unelecteble. Trudeau has the benefit of being charismatic, and he has the media on his side. More conspiracy-minded Conservatives might think the media is playing up the underdog angle to lower expectations. And yet Wells seems correct in his analysis: Trudeau is running as "not Harper" which worked for Harper when he ran against then prime minister Paul Martin (at least the second time).

Wind chill
Popular Mechanics provides a short history of wind chill and how it (variously) works. The point the article comes up short making is this: granting that how we feel cold is subjective doesn't mean that as a guide wind chill numbers do not have utility.

What is the opposite of 'damning with faint praise'?
Well, whatever it is, Samizdata's Perry de Havilland notes that former British intelligence "watchdog" Sir Malcolm Rifkind essentially did it when he said Conservative MP David Davis was "captured" by the civil liberties lobby.

'Warren Buffett has been writing an annual letter to his investors for decades'
The Wall Street Journal has highlights from Warren Buffett's annual letters.
In 1983, he wrote:
One of the ironies of the stock market is the emphasis on activity. Brokers, using terms such as “marketability” and “liquidity”, sing the praises of companies with high share turnover (those who cannot fill your pocket will confidently fill your ear). But investors should understand that what is good for the croupier is not good for the customer. A hyperactive stock market is the pickpocket of enterprise.
In 1988 Buffett wrote:
Our experience with newly-minted MBAs has not been that great. Their academic records always look terrific and the candidates always know just what to say; but too often they are short on personal commitment to the company and general business savvy. It’s difficult to teach a new dog old tricks.
Like many rules there are exceptions, and the Journal notes Buffett's own exception, Tracy Britt, hired in 2009.
And in 2007, during the housing bubble, Buffett said:
You only learn who has been swimming naked when the tide goes out – and what we are witnessing at some of our largest financial institutions is an ugly sight.

Will makes the case for judicial activism
Looking at a cases involving a provision of Obamacare and judicial redistricting in Arizona that are being heard by the Supreme Court of the United States, George Will says "when judicial modesty becomes dereliction of the judicial duty to judge" at times and concludes they could contribute to the "fueling the crackling fire of the conservative argument for a vigorously engaged rather than a passive judiciary."

2016 watch (GOP field edition)
FiveThirtyEight's Harry Enten describes the Republican field:
The field of plausible Republican presidential candidates is historically flat — all the contenders are massed together with about the same level of support. A clear front-runner has yet to emerge. But here’s another unusual characteristic of the GOP race so far: It’s crowded. Very crowded.
At least 10 Republicans who hold a prominent political position1 appear at least somewhat likely to officially run for president. Unless a few people decide not to run, we’re looking at the most congested primary contest since 1976.
The Republicans have never had 10 declared statewide or national office holders run for the nomination in one year. The Democrats have done it twice (1972 and 1976). Since then the party establishments have gotten better at winnowing the field. Enten concludes by stating the obvious: "for every serious Republican who officially declares, we know a little bit less about who the 2016 Republican candidate will be."

2016 watch (online buzz edition)
The Wall Street Journal reports Republican Senator Ted Cruz, and former secretary of state and Democratic senator Hillary Clinton lead among the likely candidates in mentions on Twitter. That seems mostly meaningless; those mentions could be positive or negative or just a reflection of making news. What is interesting is that Cruz leads by so much. Not only is he beating Clinton by 200,000 mentions (686,493 to 483,219) but that he has many mentions as three of his major competitors, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and former doctor turned pundit Ben Carson, do combined. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Senator Rand Paul are third and fourth in mentions, with about 400,000 each. None of this probably matters except to reflect who is getting talked about the most, which may or may not be a good thing. The tweets could be negative or, if they are positive, could indicate an early peek of interest.

Saturday, February 28, 2015
Businesses hiring people with physical and mental disabilities
The Globe and Mail has a feature in its Report on Business section on hiring people with physical and mental disabilities. The Globe reports:
In the United States, drugstore giant Walgreen Co. has hired more than a thousand people with disabilities – from those with Asperger’s to obsessive-compulsive disorder, mobility challenges and schizophrenia. The company began targeting disabled workers in 2007 with a pilot project at a distribution centre where a third of its employees had a disability. The chain soon discovered that job performance was just as high among those with disabilities, while absenteeism was half that of typical workers and retention was twice as high. Workers with disabilities now comprise 10 per cent of the staff in Walgreen’s supply chain alone. Other multinationals, like Best Buy, have studied Walgreen’s efforts and are now replicating them. They’ve had to make some modifications and accommodations, but not costly ones.
The Globe highlights Mark Wafer, who owns six Tim Horton's franchises:
Now, he added, if he had two job candidates with similar skills and education, he would hire the one with the disability. He cited figures that showed his stores were better at making money and had lower absenteeism and a better safety record.
Employee turnover has been the big difference. His stores have less than half the turnover of his competitors and not just among workers with disabilities, but all staff. A more inclusive work environment, he said, helps with retention and productivity for everyone.
The average tenure of an entry-level Tim Hortons worker is 1.3 years. Among Mr. Wafer’s staff with disabilities, the average is seven years. That’s partly because since disabled people have such a hard time finding a job, they are less likely to leave for another. And turnover is expensive. It costs $4,000 in training and lost productivity for each new worker, he said.
The Globe quotes Paul Clark, executive vice-president at Toronto-Dominion Bank and chair of the bank’s people with disabilities committee, who says:
"What we typically find with people with disabilities is that the accommodation requirements on average are actually quite minimal. And I don’t even mean monetarily. I mean to put in place – the complexity is actually quite straightforward."
Even if you assume there are benefits to a more diverse workplace that can better serve customers at almost no cost to business, you have to believe there is some sugar-coating on this story. That doesn't mean the benefits do not outweigh the costs, but the article seems to be selling the idea of a cost-free upgrade and that makes me dubious.

Sign of the times
Market Watch's list of "6 signs the selfie craze has gone too far" includes a selfie toaster. Innovation brilliance or egotism run amok?

What a great day for college basketball
University of Northern Iowa (#11) vs. Wichita State (#10) right now, with the Missouri Valley Conference on the line. This will be most people's first look at UNI which has a chance at a three-seed with a win today (and winning the MVC tournament). A big Big 12 contest between Baylor (19) and West Virginia (20) that will have serious tournament seeding implications. Just a game separates #7 Arizona and #13 Utah in the Pac-12 standings (and again, there is March Madness fallout although Arizona's hold on a two-seed seems more dependent on winning or not winning the Pac-12 tournament). Syracuse is unranked and banned from the tourney, but they play #4 Duke in what will be a great match. And #1 Kentucky faces what might be their biggest obstacle to a perfect season before the NCAA tournament, against #18 Arkansas.
Before the Wildcats beat Mississippi State this week, FiveThirtyEight determined Kentucky had a 74% chance of finishing the regular season with a perfect record and a 26% chance to finish a perfect 40-0 and, of course, winning the SEC and NCAA tournaments. Before March Madness begins, the Razorbacks are probably the only team to stand in the way, both today and during the SEC tourney in Nashville.

Do you think the Liberals have buyer's remorse?
Robert Fife tweeted earlier this week: "Sources say Jean Chretien is unhappy @MPEveAdams begged for phone call from him & promised confidentiality & then tweeted it".

Conservative Party Trudeau-meets-Putin caption contest
Enter here. The sophisticates like Bruce Anderson will hate this kind of politics. That alone should recommend it.

What Charles Murray can teach liberals
Noah Smith, who didn't like The Bell Curve, learned a lot from Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. Smith writes:
Before I read Coming Apart, I was relatively unconcerned with the situation of the American lower middle class. I knew that their incomes had slightly declined, and that their economic risk had increased. But compared to people in poor countries, they seemed very well-off. Also, they weren't particularly nice people in high school. So I pretty much disregarded their problems.
Coming Apart totally changed my mind ...
Anyway, Coming Apart is all about the social problems of the American lower middle class. They have broken families and poor health, and are disengaged from their communities. If you read the book, you will be convinced by the numbers that these things are really happening. The same problems are not happening to the upper middle class.
The lower middle class matters, too.

Coyne on social conservatives and pundits
Andrew Coyne has a marvelous column in the National Post that shouldn't be remarkable but it is. Coyne takes issue with columnists who not only criticize the views of social conservatives, but condemn them to silence because their views on abortion or sex ed or whatever are not politically expedient:
Now it’s entirely possible that my colleagues are right — right, not just in their aversion to social conservatism on its merits, but also in their apparent conviction, common to most pundits, that the position they think is right is also the politically winning position. They’re wholly entitled to think that, as they are also entitled to think that winning should be the priority.
I’m just not clear why they insist the so-cons should adopt the same priority. Perhaps it is the duty of a party leader, as they suggest, to enforce “iron-fisted” party discipline on dissenters, to the point not merely of whipping votes but “prohibiting debate.” But why is it the duty of journalists to help them? When did we enlist as party whips?
Me, I think so-cons should be so-cons. Or at least, I think they have a right to be: not only to think what they wish, but if they think it is important and right, to say it out loud, and to try to persuade others to believe it as well. Indeed, for members of Parliament, I might almost say it was their obligation: for there it is not only a matter of being true to themselves, but of representing their constituents.
Coyne also defends radicalism -- "often more thoughtful and well-considered than moderatism" -- and thus more importantly, the idea that journalists enforce, namely that politics be fought within the 40 yard lines.
I find it amusing that many of the journalists who bemoan lower voter turnout are the ones who want to circumscribe the issues that many voters care about.

End gerrymandering
In the Wall Street Journal Bill Mundell and Charles Munger Jr., a pair of California fair redistricting activists, make the case for independent commissions to draw the lines for congressional districts. The only state that does this is Arizona (although Arizona state legislators still appoint the commission). There is a ballot initiative in California to get a similar commission but which would go further and ban elected politicians from appointing commission members. These are good ideas.
Ending gerrymandering is great and these efforts should be supported. Better yet, we should, as economist Steven Landsburg advises (in More Sex Is Safer Sex: The Unconventional Wisdom of Economics) to redraw the districts according to the alphabetical lists of all voters, rather than by geography. It would make pandering to specific groups (race, class, profession, industry, etc...) more difficult.

Sinatra song of the century
Mark Steyn looks at "All of Me":
"All Of Me" disappeared for a decade or so - until Billie Holiday retrieved the song in 1941 with an interpretation that seems to be somewhat equivocal about the all-or-nothing love and sits perfectly poised between the downbeat lyric and the upbeat tune.
Sinatra was a great and attentive Billie Holiday fan, and he surely heard that record. And three years later, on a "V disc" for the troops, he recorded it for the first time, in an Axel Stordahl arrangement that doesn't give Frank enough of a point of view on the song. Another three years passed and he tried again, this time with George Siravo and a jazzy little combo, whose piano intro sounds like it's leading you to a darkened side-street to some dive where some dumped loser is singing out his troubles. The band's great, particularly Clyde Hurley's trumpet. And the second chorus is a kind of duet between Sinatra and Babe Russin, whose tenor sax seems to be egging Frank on to really let rip. And it dawns on you that it's the perfect Sinatra song: he was cocksure and swaggering, but also the first male singer to project, seriously, vulnerability and loneliness and heartache. Hence, "All Of Me": a song for the swaggeringly vulnerable, for cocksuredness as a defense against heartache.

Friday, February 27, 2015
Progress: fewer children under five are dying
Reason's Ronald Bailey:
The folks over at Wired are reporting the good news that kids around the world are much less likely to die before age 5 than they were in 1990. This happy conclusion is based on data derived from a January study in The Lancet on the global burden of disease. The Lancet reported that 7,608,500 kids died in 1990 before reaching their fifth birthday. That number had dropped to 3,665,700 in 2013, a decline of more than 52 percent. Why? Mostly because fewer kids are dying from various communicable diseases and starvation. The Wired article points out that there are vaccines against many of the diseases now in retreat. I suspect that improved nutrition also enables some kids to fight off infections better.
More at Wired and The Lancet.

Sports controversies
Most sports controversies are silly. They are necessary to justify a dozen sports channels, fill air time on the full-time radio sports-talk shows in every U.S. city, and to provide content for the SI/ESPN websites. Will Leitch of Sports on Earth has "February's Dumbest Controversies." They have to do with athletes on Twitter and the weight of other athletes and seven other things most of us sports fans have forgotten about already. Except, perhaps the silliest controversy which will have legs because it's A-Rod and it's a New York team.

Social media and elections
I see on Twitter that political consultant Jaime Watt said the "'Honest answer is we don't know' what effect social media will have on the 2015 federal election." Over the years I've talked to a lot of political staffers, party workers, and consultants and all them admit they have no idea how to do social media to engage voters (beyond their hardcore base) although everyone points to the two Obama presidential campaigns as an example of social media being used successfully for fundraising. Reaching out to non-committed voters is virtually impossible. My best guess is that social media is useful to engage media who still filter the message in traditional ways (newspapers, television news, radio). And that has diminishing returns considering how few people read the paper or watch the evening news anymore.
It is amazing that after 20 years of the internet and a decade of social media that 1) the traditional media hasn't figured out a viable plan on how to profitably deliver the news and 2) the political class hasn't figured out how to reach new voters.
These are smart, well-compensated experts and they are clueless about how this little thing called the internet and how it affects their jobs.

Second bananas in pro wrestling
Grantland has it's second banana bracket going and when it started I wondered why Marty Jannetty was the only pro wrestler on it. There are many others and Arn Anderson is a great pick. I would have had NWA (as #2 to the over-rated comic-book-in-a ring WWF). Anyway Grantland's Masked Man has an all-too-brief look at wrestling's second banana, many of whom ended up forgotten. Yeah pro wrestling is stupid (always has been) and really sucks now, but it was also a lot of fun and a big part of the formative years for a lot of adolescent males. Grantland should have had better representation than just Jannetty.

I'm ignoring the Conservative Political Action Conference. Warning to everyone, especially journalists: reaction to possible 2016 contenders at CPAC is not relevant. Most of the candidates were providing red meat for a conservative audience that isn't representative of Republican primary voters.

The Daily Caller asks the tough questions: "Is Sofia Vergara’s Younger Sister Hotter Than Her?"

Profile of Raghuram Rajan
Finance and Development, the quarterly magazine of the IMF, profiles Raghuram Rajan, Governor of the Reserve Bank of India. It traces the trajectory of a brilliant career.
His "recent" research:
With the global economy relatively calm—the turmoil finally subsiding from an Argentine default at the end of 2001—Rajan was able to step up financial sector research and explore how to integrate financial sector issues into the IMF’s economic country models. This might have seemed doable given that the IMF already had models for handling fiscal and monetary issues. But creating a model for financial issues turned out to be much tougher. As a result, while Rajan is credited with laying the groundwork, the issue is still very much a work in progress, not just for IMF researchers but for hundreds of academics.
The big difference is that a decade ago creating such a model lacked urgency, whereas now it is a high priority. As Rajan wrote in a Project Syndicate column in August 2013: “In the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis, macroeconomists tended to assume away the financial sector in their models of advanced economies. With no significant financial crisis since the Great Depression, it was convenient to take for granted that the financial plumbing worked in the background. Models, thus simplified, suggested policies that seemed to work—that is, until the plumbing backed up. And the plumbing malfunctioned because herd behavior—shaped by policies in ways that we are only now coming to understand—overwhelmed it.”
And about putting research in action:
Rajan may have made his career in the United States, but he never forgot India, making it a frequent topic of speeches and research. He says that he was drawn to economics because it offered a way to help India enter the “pantheon of nations.” In 2008 he got the chance to help shape India’s financial sector when he chaired a high-level government committee on financial sector reforms. The committee report, “A Hundred Small Steps,” suggested that the RBI should target a single objective—low and stable inflation—rather than juggling multiple mandates (such as inflation, the exchange rate, and capital flows).
It also proposed that India promote the availability of financial services—including credit, saving, and insurance products—to a wider number of people (especially in rural areas, where most people lack access to formal sources of credit and insurance); reduce the heavy government presence in the banking system; and step up foreign participation in its financial markets.
In September 2013, he took the helm at the RBI, after five years of advising Prime Minister Manmohan Singh from Chicago and a year as chief economic advisor in the Finance Ministry in Mumbai. At that point, India’s markets were in turmoil because of rising inflation, large fiscal and current account deficits, and a slowdown in growth. But he moved quickly to stabilize the rupee, reduce inflation sharply, and build up foreign exchange reserves—earning him the sobriquet “rock star” in the local media. He also wasted no time in laying the groundwork for adopting an inflation target and is pursuing many other reforms suggested in “A Hundred Small Steps.” ...
Rajan now has an opportunity afforded few academics—to put in practice what he has long preached. The RBI (as well as central banks in other emerging market economies) may not be the most powerful car on the block, but for Rajan, this chance to be an exemplary driver is the opportunity of a lifetime.

Men and women and last meals
The Daily Beast reports on the differences between the meals of men and women facing death row. Women favour salads (and vegetables and fruits) and desserts. Over the last 35 years, about half of executed women ordered no last meal, while another ordered just coffee and another a mere bag of chips. Meanwhile, "executed American men, on the other hand, often order belt-busting meals with no leafy greens in sight."

The Roman collar in the naked public square
Randy Boyagoda, a professor of American Studies at Ryerson University in Toronto and author of Richard John Neuhaus: A Life in the Public Square, writes in the Wall Street Journal about the importance of Fr. Neuhaus -- and religion -- to America's public square:
[T]he book that first made Neuhaus famous, “The Naked Public Square,” published during the 1984 presidential campaign. The effort was inspired by what he regarded as the dangerous and unwelcome efforts of fundamentalist Christians to impose their terms on American public life by exercising political influence through organizations like the Moral Majority.
Their rise, Neuhaus wrote, “kicked a tripwire alerting us to a pervasive contradiction in our culture and our politics. We insist that we are a democratic society, yet we have in recent decades systematically excluded from policy consideration” positions and proposals informed by closely held Christian beliefs.
Neuhaus sympathized with their grievances—over abortion and gay rights, challenges to school prayer and to Christian displays in public, and the coarsening of American culture. But he rejected their solution because the groups, he wrote, saw no reason “to engage the Christian message in conversation with public and universal discourse outside the circle of true believers.” Neuhaus instead affirmed the core premise of Enlightenment political thought: the differentiation of public authority into separate, autonomous spheres that valued individual rights.
He argued that the strongest support for these rights came from the Judeo-Christian tradition’s foundational conviction: We are made in the image of God. Demanding absolute obedience to political dictates, whether in the name of God or something else, would undo centuries of political progress, and goes against God’s own gift of free will to every human person.

Thursday, February 26, 2015
Wild Rose changes leadership race in the biggest way imaginable as the campaign begins
The Canadian Press reports:
Alberta's Wildrose party has picked March 28 to announce its next leader.
The Wildrose had originally planned to hold a leadership vote in June, but the party decided to move that up to be ready for what is being speculated will be a spring election.
Telephone balloting is to take place over 12 days beginning March 16 and the winner will be announced at an event in Calgary.
How is it fair to change the leadership race by moving up the election by more than two months? Favours the front-runner who is supposedly former MP Brian Jean.

Beer and wine freedom
The Toronto Star reports:
Craft brewers and cideries in Ontario would be able to sell each others’ products under a private members’ bill reintroduced Thursday by Progressive Conservative MPP Todd Smith.
The same rules would apply for Ontario wineries and craft distillers, said Smith, whose bill will put more pressure on Premier Kathleen Wynne as she ponders how to ease restrictions on alcohol sales at the Beer Store and LCBO in the spring budget.
It's passed second reading with the support of the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives, but is opposed by the NDP. It will now go to the finance committee for hearings.

This story barely rises above 'dog bites man'
National News Watch headline: "Deborah Coyne, Trudeau leadership rival and mom of half-sister, joins Greens." More accurate headline: "Nobody academic Liberal loser joins irrelevant loser party of nobodies."

Will Costco vs. Whole Foods/Holt Renfrew voters be the Tim Horton's vs. Starbucks divide of the 2015 election?
Huffington Post reports:
The Prime Minister does not often give sit-down interviews — except at the end of the year, when he typically speaks to a very select number of news outlets... and Costco magazine.
Costco Connection, the "lifestyle magazine for Costco members," was able to capture some of the PM's valuable time. In their March/April issue, the magazine published a two-page spread featuring an "exclusive" interview with Harper from last December.

Terri Schiavo and Jeb Bush
Bobby Schindler, brother of the murdered Terri Schiavo, writes in the Wall Street Journal to defend former Florida governor Jeb Bush who heroically did whatever he legally could to protect the life of Terri Schiavo, who 10 years ago next month, suffered death by court-ordered starvation and dehydration. Bush is being attacked in the media right now -- as he was in 2005 -- for being a rogue who trampled the law to pander to his right-to-life base, but in fact he was seeking a review of the facts just as he would in capital punishment cases:
So what did Gov. Bush actually do that was supposedly so egregious? Under what was known as “Terri’s Law,” he was legally permitted to seek “to clarify the facts” in a court case that appeared to many to have clearly defective judicial orders and irregularities. That is what he did—for which he was immediately and viciously attacked.
Having clarified the facts, and having been advised that without food and water Terri would slowly starve and dehydrate to death, he sought as governor to have her case “reviewed”—very much as he had been asked to do, and did, in capital-punishment cases.
This same motive prompted the U.S. Congress to get involved. Their reasoning was that if mass murderers like Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy could have their cases thoroughly reviewed by federal courts in cases that had run through the normal appeals process at the state level—surely an innocent, brain-injured woman facing a death sentence ought to be given the same basic right. This view received unanimous consent in the Senate, including from then-Sen. Barack Obama , which he later characterized as a “mistake.”

Republican views of Obama
The Washington Post reports (via Twitter) that six times as many Republicans consider President Barack Obama a Muslim than a Christian (54% compared to 9%).

Could Illinois portend the future for America?
George Will looks at the challenges facing new Republican Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner -- unfunded pension liabilities, a government workforce that is 93% unionized, and sleazy careerist politicians -- but also the opportunities for change, concluding:
An Illinois governor (Adlai Stevenson) once said, “Cleanliness is next to godliness, except in the Illinois legislature, where it is next to impossible.” If Rauner emancipates Illinois from government organized, through its employees’ unions, as an interest group that lobbies itself for perpetual growth, so can other states. And the nation.
Illinois political fact of the day: four of the previous nine governors went to prison.

Wesleyan University offering LGBTTQQFAGPBDSM housing
NRO's Katherine Timpf reports:
For the culturally ignorant among us, “LGBTTQQFAGPBDSM” stands for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, flexual, asexual, genderfuck, polyamorous, bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, sadism/masochism.”
The name of this super-inclusive, social-justice-hero of a dorm is “Open House,” and it is meant to be a “safe space” for self-identified LGBTTQQFAGPBDSM students, according to the university’s official website.
Of course, some students may feel their sexual orientation or gender identity is so unique that it could never fit into one of the 15 categories represented by those letters. So, in order to make sure no one ever feels discriminated against, ever, the webpage also clarifies that Open House is “for people of sexually or gender dissident communities” in general.
The problem with names that list so many groups is that inevitably it leaves someone out. But at least those interested in student housing catering to "genderfuck" now have a place where they do what they do.

'Green Party Could Be Excluded From Upcoming Election Debates'
So reports the Huffington Post. Please, please, please be correct. Elizabeth May adds nothing to Canadian politics.
And while we're at it, the Bloc Quebecois with their telephone booth-sized caucus shouldn't be in the English debate (at least), either.

Hint at the 2015 federal election campaign
Fundraising letter from the Tories begins:
Here’s a simple question: Do you want to pay more or less in taxes next year? This is the question you’ll face in October. How will you answer?
Is that a winning election theme for the Harper Conservatives? Probably. Justin Trudeau has talked up "investing" in infrastructure for three years and the Tories will have a simple question for him: how will you pay for it? Voters aren't stupid, they'll want if not a specific plan at least some sort of clue from Justin Trudeau; Junior's only apparent idea is cutting back on the tax cuts the Harper government is promising.