Sobering Thoughts

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

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Thursday, October 19, 2017
 
Xi Jinping's address
The Guardian reports on the Chinese communist leader's speech to the party: "Xi Jinping tests eyelids – and bladders – with three-and-a-half hour speech." The Washington Post editorialized about Xi Jinping's speech and the direction Red China has taken in recent years:
In perhaps the most important speech of his career, Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Wednesday promised “a new era” that “sees China moving closer to center stage” as “a leading global power” with a “world-class” military. Given how else he described the regime he intends to fashion over the next few years, that prediction ought to concern the world’s democratic nations.
A decade and more ago, the United States and other Western leaders were urging China to become a global “stakeholder.” But the superpower that Mr. Xi intends to lead doesn’t look like the cooperative partner and gradually liberalizing society they imagined. Instead, China’s 64-year-old ruler, having concentrated power in his own hands, now seeks to reinforce the authority of the Communist Party in all areas of life, at the expense of the rule of law, political dissent, private enterprise and even privacy itself: A new system of social monitoring will minutely record and rate the activities of every citizen, while storing their facial images for easy recognition.
Advocates of more and freer trade with China in the 1990s said that trade and technology would inevitably result in a more open, tolerant, and democratic China. Those predictions have not come to fruition. Indeed, as the Post suggests, the dictatorship is worse.


 
'I am woman, hear me roar, but pay for my birth control'
Denver Post columnist Krista Kafer wrote last week about the entitlement mentality and birth control:
The idea that women should not or cannot be expected to contribute financially to their sexual health is pernicious because men are expected to do so. That women must be given “free” things in order to thrive undermines the very principle of equality. “I am woman, hear me roar, but pay for my birth control” is not a statement of power but weakness.
Kafer also says it is weird that birth control would be covered when so many other expensive, necessary, life-saving medical interventions are not.


 
Four week 7 NFL games to watch
Honourable mention: New Orleans Saints (3-2) at Green Bay Packers (4-2) would have been top four if Aaron Rodgers was healthy, but Drew Brees vs. Todd Hundley doesn't have quite the same marquee value. If you love one-sided offensive games, this is must-watch football as Brees should be able to tear apart the soft Packers D. Instead of watching Rodgers match Brees drive for drive, however, you'll get Hundley playing behind a banged-up O-line. You should probably want to see what Hundley can do in his first career start and how much Mike McCarthy changes things up for his inexperienced starter. However, the Kansas City Chiefs (5-1) at Oakland Raiders (2-4) on Thursday evening is worth watching. After laying an egg against Pittsburgh on Sunday, the Chiefs are looking to rebound. The Raiders are looking for their first victory in a month. Oakland will be effectively eliminated from the playoffs if they drop to 2-5. I'd bet on that happening.
4. Arizona Cardinals (3-3) at Los Angeles Rams (4-2), early Sunday afternoon, from England: Divisional contest and it the way the Cards are slogging along and the breakthrough second-year QB Jared Goff has made makes it feel like that these two teams are separated by more than a single win. Arizona allows just 3.3 yards per rush attempt (fourth best) so RB Todd Hurley might not be able to take much pressure off of Goff. I'm not sold on the Cardinals after their geriatric squad had a great single game last week (Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald, and Adrian Peterson are all in their 30s). The Rams front seven should be able to stop Peterson and get to Palmer. LA will have just enough offense to edge past Arizona across the pond.
3. Atlanta Falcons (3-2) at New England Patriots (4-2), Sunday night: The narrative will become nauseating: Super Bowl rematch, blown Falcons lead. Both teams seems like they are underperforming. Falcons have lost their last two. If you remember their opening game, they were a dropped catch away from losing in Chicago. Giving up 20 second-half points to the hapless offense of Miami last week is reminiscent of their Super Bowl loss. Football Outsiders rates New England with the second most efficient offense, Atlanta as the fourth. Falcons QB Matt Ryan should look good facing a Patriots defense is allowing a league worst 440.7 yards per game, 26.5 ppg (3rd worst in the NFL), and is dead last in FO's defensive efficiency; every opposing QB has thrown for more than 300 yards in every game this season. Matt Ryan will, too. In Atlanta, I could pick the Falcons, but it's hard to see the struggling team beating Tom Brady in Foxborough, even if New England has already lost twice at home. This game will be a lot of fun to watch if you play a version of the drinking game for every mention of Atlanta's Super Bowl meltdown.
2. Cincinnati Bengals (2-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2), late Sunday afternoon: Both of these teams seem to be on the upswing after disappointing starts. Cincy famously did not score a touchdown in their opening two games and then fired their offensive coordinator. Since then, they's scored 75 points (and allowed just 50), and their only loss was in overtime against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Pittsburgh has been underperforming on offense all year, but last week the Steelers beat the best team record-wise last week (the Chiefs) following seven days of questioning if Ben Roethlisberger's career was bottoming-out. The Bengals and Steelers are ranked second and third in total yards allowed per game (under 273) and their defenses are ranked third and fourth respectively according to Football Outsiders. Cincinnati's run defense is about average, which might allow the Steelers offense to be diverse enough to be dangerous. Le'Veon Bell has averaged 4.1 yards per rush or more in three of the past four games and ran for 144 yards against Baltimore and 179 against KC, two decent defenses. When Pittsburgh establishes the run, it opens up their speedy receivers. The Bengals come off a bye but they are playing in Pittsburgh. Steelers end the Bengals winning streak at two.
1. Washington Redskins (3-2) at Philadelphia Eagles (5-1), Monday night: Philadelphia appears to be the class of the NFC with Aaron Rodgers out (Football Outsiders has them with a 91% chance of making the playoffs -- no other team is at 70% -- and a 60.9% chance of winning a bye). The Eagles have already beaten the Skins once this year. A win would put Philly well ahead in the division and have them owning the tiebreaker against Washington. The Eagles and Skins have the fifth and eighth ranked offenses according to Football Outsiders, but both have middling defenses. Should be a game with sufficient scoring to keep it interesting. Washington is a popular upset pick this week, but I don't see Kirk Cousins beating Carson Wentz, if only because the Philly pass rush is pretty strong and Washington's D is missing key pieces: its best cornerback (Josh Norman) is recovering from a fractured rib (so even if he plays, he won't be 100%) and best defensive lineman (Jonathan Allen) is out a few more weeks. Eagles go to 6-1 and the Redskins fall to 500.


 
Victimhood is coveted status
I'm not saying that people want to be a victim, only that people enjoy the status which is a privileged one. Stephanie Gutmann at Spiked-Online:
Here’s the problem with #MeToo-ism and the chortling over Weinstein (even if he was a big Hillary donor, etc, etc): they have become an excuse for a feeding frenzy. The mantle of victimhood is too tempting to pass up, so accusation and grievance is spreading.
Gutmann's essay is worth reading for a number of other points she makes, including raising the issue of whether heightened "sexual energy translated into productive energy," as Helen Gurley Brown surmised. Gutmann also warns about making the story of one man -- the vile Harvey Weinstein -- a story about all men. Gutmann also recalls a not entirely unwanted attention she received as an intern that would likely not occur today because of heightened sensitivity about sexual harassment.


 
GM foods
Chris Bullivant has a tremendous article defending the benefits of genetically modified foods at Unherd. In short, GM foods will allow us to feed a lot of people with less land. It is the only sustainable way to feed a growing population. Bullivant makes the point that while being GM-free is a lifestyle choice in the west, it is a life-saving source of food for people in the developing world.
Putting aside the moral arguments of whether virtue-signaling westerners should be allowed to starve to death the poor, out-of-sight people of Africa and south Asia, there is also the issue of hypocrisy how ill-informed the anti-GM set is. Bullivant explains that food does not have to be produced by Monsanto to be genetically modified and that campaigns against GM food dressed up as mere information ignore a lot of altered foods:
Humans have been altering the genetic composition of foods for thousands of years. The orange carrot is not natural. Afghan farmers turned carrots yellow from white 1,100 years ago. 500 years ago Europeans bred them orange, popular among the Dutch wishing to venerate their royal family, the House of Orange. Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, broccoli, and cauliflower have been developed by humans since 1400 from a wild mustard plant. The history of maize, corn, sweetcorn, is one of 10,000 years’ un-natural selection, begun in present-day Mexico. North American Indians introduced sweetcorn to Europeans in the 18th Century, and the process to create super sweet sweetcorn and popcorn today are all the result of human interference in the natural process of breeding and in the growth cycle of the plant. But even if we accept that some human interference is necessary or acceptable or an historic reality, at least with organic food no-one has interfered with DNA unnaturally, in the lab, right?
Wrong. Ruby red grapefruits came onto the market in the 70s and 80s. They were produced by mutagenesis, the process of randomly scrambling genes by exposure to atomic radiation or soaking in chemicals. It’s an attempt to speed up the evolutionary process by creating accidental mutations on a quicker scale than can be achieved over 10,000 years of human intervention, as with sweetcorn. It is clearly not natural, but it is the process by which some 3,000 crop varieties have been created, including wheat that goes into pasta.
So while there is labelling for GMO foods for the sake of ‘transparency’, there aren’t labels on organic foods to say they are unnatural because Aztecs bred them, or fake because a lab in Texas nuked seeds with gamma rays to see what it would do.


Wednesday, October 18, 2017
 
Fruits of the one-child policy
Reuters doesn't explore the issue as much as features the story of one Chinese woman, but this is the important part of the story:
Her stepfather was dying from pulmonary heart disease in an intensive care unit on the other side of the country and Zheng Yue had to rush to the airport to catch a flight to see him ...
The trip was important for her. She said she never really knew her biological father, who died when she was two. Her mother’s second husband was abusive, and she and her mother left him. This husband was better, and she developed genuine feelings for him as a father.
Now, she said, she was feeling the pressures of what lay ahead for her and her family, a common worry among the generation that sprang from China’s one-child policy.
“Being an only child means that down the line you’ll have to support the whole family,” she said.
Zheng's father died, and while this may be harsh, her brief response seems to betray relief at not having to be responsible for him.


 
D.C. Museum of the Bible
The Washington Post reports on the Green family funded Museum of the Bible opening in Washington D.C.:
The Museum of the Bible, a massive new institution opening next month just south of the Mall, is just as notable for what it ­includes — vivid walk-through re-creations of the ancient world, one of the world’s largest private collections of Torahs, a motion ride that sprays water at you, a garden of biblical plants — as for what it leaves out.
The $500 million museum, chaired and largely funded by the conservative Christian family that owns Hobby Lobby, doesn’t say a word about the Bible’s views on sexuality or contraception. The museum doesn’t encourage visitors to take the Bible literally or to believe that the Bible has only one correct form. And on floor after gleaming floor of exhibitions, there is very little Jesus.
I understand a Bible museum being silent on contraception. I don't get a Bible museum that ignores Jesus Christ. Except that the museum isn't what it set out to be originally -- and that's okay. Instead of being a tool for Christian evangelism, the project evolved to become a history of the influence of the Bible. It sounds like the original plan of the Green family a decade ago was to have a museum that would take part in America's culture wars. The Post seems upset that the Museum of the Bible's mission has evolved. The museum's director, Seth Pollinger, says "our goal isn't to give answers but to arouse curiosity." That's a good mission for any museum, but I wonder how many open-minded visitors it will attract. My guess is that it becomes a destination for American evangelicals looking for a safe, self-affirming place while visiting the nation's capital, and that's about it.


 
Cowen's conversation with Mary Roach
Author Mary Roach is very over-rated. I want to like her books, but they are just okay. Same with her conversation with Tyler Cowen (transcript and podcast). But her description of the Mary Roach production function -- how she writes -- is noteworthy:
I am essentially a massive filtration system. So when I begin a project, I don’t know where I’m going. I don’t know what will be in the book. I know that my job is to cherry-pick the most interesting, surprising, funny, bizarre material within this quite broad topic that I’ve selected ...
So 99 percent, I suppose, of what I come across I’m jettisoning, isn’t making the cut. And that whole process helps me figure out what it is that this book is about. I don’t know for the first few months, really, even six months, I don’t really know what this book should contain, what fits and what doesn’t fit.
It’s not very good advice to give anybody, to feel comfortable with randomness and chaos — because I think that is the healthy first stages of a book — well, for me anyway.
There are some interesting tidbits on space travel, if that's your thing. She isn't very good at Cowen's game of over-rated/under-rated, although I think I like her answer about New Hampshire.


 
Are free markets and liberty compatible with Christianity
Reason has responses from 13 Christian writers on "Are Free Minds and Free Markets Compatible With Christianity?" Lawrence Reed, Kevin Williamson, Emily Ekins, and Fr. Robert Sirico, among others weigh in. Gerard Casey, philosophy professor emeritus at University College Dublin and associated scholar at the Mises Institute, says:
If God, who from our perspective is the creator of the universe—he has literally made us, and in that sense, if anybody owns anything, God owns the universe—and indeed, from our theology, having died on the cross for us, he owns us again. So God, who owns us twice over, and who in a 'my house, my rules' way has the right, if anyone has the right, to tell us what we may and may not do and indeed to force us not to do it—if he's not willing to do that, how can anyone have the right to do it?
God gave us freedom, yes, but He expects us to do good. Or as Fr. Richard John Neuhaus said, to do good and to do well.


 
McGinnis on Richard Florida's mea culpa
Rick McGinnis in the October Interim on Richard Florida's new book, The New Urban Crisis:
In 2002, Richard Florida published his book The Rise of the Creative Class and made a career for himself as an urban theorist, traveling the world lecturing and advising on how struggling, economically challenged cities could revive themselves. His “creative class” – a loose coalition that included artists, tech workers, academics and, interestingly, gay men and women – were rebuilding decimated downtown neighbourhoods and could do the same almost anywhere, provided cities were willing to attract them with the cafes, concert venues, art galleries, public transit, and other urban amenities they required.
With his new book, The New Urban Crisis, Florida concedes that he might – just might – have overstated his case. The gaps between the rich and poor have increased, particularly in the case study cities that Florida described and, later, championed as an advocate of his pet theory. The so-called creative class has transformed cities, mostly by colonizing the most attractive districts, aggregating most of the wealth around them, and increasing house prices exponentially, driving the less fortunate classes – Florida’s “service class” and an equally distinct and diminishing working class – into insalubrious neighbourhoods, often at the city’s fringes.
A friend of mine once said that Florida "built a career on stating the obvious." McGinnis might add, "and ignoring the obvious, too."


Tuesday, October 17, 2017
 
Sumner on Warsh and Taylor as Fed chair
Scott Sumner opposes the idea of Kevin Warsh being named chairman of the Federal Reserve but is much more supportive of John Taylor being nominated for the post by President Donald Trump:
I had several problems with Warsh. He doesn’t have expertise on monetary economics, he didn’t do well during his stint at the Fed, and I worried that he might be more “political” than Bernanke and Yellen.
I have much less concern about Taylor. I believe that Taylor (and most other conservatives) missed the boat during the Great Recession, and was excessively worried that QE would lead to high inflation. But he is also extremely smart and well-qualified, and a person who is likely to keep the Fed out of politics. While the Taylor Rule is not the specific policy I favor, he’s a strong advocate for a rules-based approach.
In five further points, Sumner elaborates why Taylor would be a good choice. If you are interested in the Fed or monetary policy, it's worth reading.


 
The celebrification of politics
The Guardian reports: "Fresh from packing them in at the Conservative party conference, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson’s profile is set be further raised with an appearance on a celebrity episode of The Great British Bake Off." She's raising money for cancer, and her profile.


 
The conservative's guide to the 2017/2018 season
David French has his "The conservative's guide to the 2017/2018 season." I don't watch pro basketball nor the interest to do so. If you like basketball it might be worth reading, but I honestly don't know. But the names of the divisions are priceless for anyone with any interest in American politics. There is the Hillary Clinton division: "These teams lose. They’re boring. Please go away." And the Bernie Sanders division: "These teams lose, but they lose with attitude." And Ted Cruz division of teams that are "Still around, but no one talks about them anymore." There are about another half-dozen divisions, including ones named for Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, and William F. Buckley.


Monday, October 16, 2017
 
Two headlines from The Hill Times
The Hill Times covers Canada's Parliament and government, and page two is usually reserved for lighter stories, including book releases, media appearances, charitable endeavours, birth announcements, staffers moving to GR firms, and strategists moving back to government work, and the like. Two of the five brief stories today are:
Jagmeet Singh's hair is better than Trudeau's?
Battle of sex appeals: Andrew Scheer vs. Justin Trudeau vs. Jagmeet Singh
In the second of those two brief articles, based on a National Post article by Tristan Hopper, Shruti Shekar summarizes a Conservative staffer: "it is more appealing to be serious rather than being a celebrity." Journalists should give seriousness a try, too.
Democracy dies in levity.


 
2020 watch (Kasich edition)
Ohio Governor John Kasich was asked on some Sunday morning yak-show yesterday about 2020:
Chuck, I don’t know what I’m going to do tomorrow. You know, I will tell you this. The other day, with all the chaos going on, my wife said to me one morning, she said, “You know, John, I wish you were president.” That’s how I knew the country was in trouble.
Hot Air's Taylor Millard says:
I suppose it’s a teeny bit better than someone waking up and saying, “You know…I wish I were president,” but that depends on your point of view. It also means Kasich probably is thinking about running in 2020 because most politicians cite their spouses on whether a run for office is worth it.
Millard also says, "His website also looks like someone who’s planning at 2020 run." It sure does. The question, Millard says, is for which party would Kasich run? Kasich has done little to shoot down rumours he could run on a bipartisan third-party ticket, but he also makes the right statements about wanting to fix the GOP. Millard makes too much of Kasich's supposed RINO credentials; occasional forays into big government would disqualify almost every Republican; as for Ohio's Medicare expansion, it's popular with GOP voters in former industrial states so what is Kasich to do? (I still haven't seen a satisfactory Republican/conservative/libertarian response unless you count denying there is a health care access/affordability problem as the only right response.) Millard concludes Kasich probably runs for the GOP nomination because of the systemic difficulty of getting a third-party campaign off-the-ground. Kasich probably wouldn't dislodge Trump from the nomination but if Trump doesn't run (for whatever reason) and Kasich gets to take on Pence, then anything could happen.
There is another possibility and one that few pundits acknowledge: Kasich must pretend to be interested in running in 2020 to keep his opinions relevant to any political discussion beyond Ohio's borders. As 2020 approaches, he will find a reason to gracefully bow out rather than harm his reputation running and losing again.


 
Modern sexual morality poisons everything
David French has a very good column at National Review Online on the problem with consent being the end-all-and-be-all of modern sexual morality. He writes:
You can sum up the sexual ethic of the sexual revolutionary in one sentence: Except in the most extreme circumstances (such as incest), consenting adults define their own moral norms. One-night stands? Fine, so long as there’s consent. May/December relationships. Fantastic, so long as there’s consent. Workplace liaisons between boss and subordinate? No problem, with consent. Adultery? Yes, there are tears, but the heart wants what it wants.
The practical result of consent-focused morality is the sexualization of everything. With the line drawn at desire alone, there is no longer any space that’s sex-free. Work meetings or restaurants can be creative locations for steamy liaisons. Not even marriage or existing relationships stand as a firewall against potential hookups.
The problem, of course, is that people don’t walk around broadcasting their desires. We don’t have a flashing “yes” or “no” that hovers over our heads. So someone has to make the ask. Someone has to make the move. Consent is determined by the request, and in a completely sexualized culture, the request can come at any time, anywhere, and from any person you encounter — regardless of the power imbalance or the propriety of the location.
And for powerful people in particular, the ask so often has fruitful results — sometimes out of genuine desire, sometimes out of fear, and sometimes out of a sense of intimidated resignation — that the ask quickly blurs into expectation, and expectations can yield demands. But the pressure of course doesn’t simply come from those with corporate or political clout. Power is defined by more than wealth or fame. People who seek companionship and love feel sexual pressure to initiate or preserve relationships. Sometimes people want to simply fit in with the dominant culture, to feel included rather than excluded.
When everything is sexualized and virtually every woman is subject to the potential “ask,” scandals like those that rocked Hollywood, Fox News, and — yes — the Trump campaign become inevitable. And they’re replicated countless times on a smaller scale in schools and workplaces across the land. Desire is elevated over fidelity and certainly over propriety, so bosses bully, spouses stray, hearts break, and families fracture.
It virtually goes without saying that the sex drive is incredibly powerful. Sex is also a remarkably intimate act that often has a profound emotional impact. An ethic that indulges that drive while also denying the emotional significance of sex will inevitably wreck lives.
Consent alone is an insufficient moral limit on this powerful drive that leads man (and woman) into temptations that impact not merely themselves, but their loved ones and colleagues. French says the Christian Church has done a lousy job making the case for sexual morality, especially fidelity and self-discipline, and the cost of that is not merely lost souls, but wounded bodies and psyches, with a concomitant deleterious effect on individual and societal human flourishing.


 
D'Ancona on Hammond hatred
I thoroughly dislike the highly unlikable Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond. I am generally bullish on Brexit. But I quite like much of Guardian columnist Matthew D'Ancona's column defending Hammond against his pro-Brexit detractors in the Conservative Party. D'Ancona writes:
By something close to constitutional convention, the chancellor is the government-of-the-day’s Dr No. Whoever holds this great office of state must personify prudence, protect the public finances, resist all harebrained schemes that will jeopardise jobs, or otherwise imperil prosperity. That, at least, is the job description. So it is innovative, not to say extremely stupid, to insist that Hammond suddenly pick up the pom-poms of the cheerleader and whoop that “Brexit totally rocks!” Maybe it’s just me, but I’d rather not have a chancellor who behaves like the man on the bungee launchpad paid to say “jump”.
Not that we should be surprised. In politics, each action usually has an equal and opposite reaction, and the present calls for Hammond’s head are the symmetrical consequence of the briefing against Boris Johnson during the Conservative conference. In Manchester, the foreign secretary declared it was time to “let the British lion roar”. Now his fellow Brexiteers want the lion to bite off Hammond’s head.
The latest charge levelled against the chancellor concerns his alleged failure to prepare with sufficient enthusiasm and application for a “no-deal” outcome. All departments have been instructed to make contingency plans for the collapse of David Davis’s negotiations with Michel Barnier. But Hammond’s foes want to see the public coffers opened, and money splashed out to make Britain ready for the cliff-edge. Of Hammond’s refusal to spend, former chancellor Lord Lawson said last week: “What he is doing is very close to sabotage.”
I disagree with D'Ancona's assessment that leaving the EU without a deal in place will be calamitous. It will be difficult. D'Ancona's probably correct that there is little stomach for Britain becoming a "Singapore of the West," but that's conjecture at this point. If the Prime Minister -- or a future one (ahem, Boris Johnson) -- made the case for low taxes and low regulation with the trade-off for economic growth being necessary large cuts in the welfare state, perhaps that vision could win over Brits. It's Hammond's job to sell that vision, and he wouldn't be the right person to do it even it was. D'Ancona says Hammond shouldn't and can't, but he doesn't think that message is salable, period. But D'Ancona is correct to say that Hammond's hard Brexit opponents should stop complaining the Chancellor isn't doing more to make a deal-less Brexit possible. Assuming there are quiet preparations going on at Whitehall, it's best for the Chancellor to stay above the political fray. Of course, that means Hammond should be mostly silent about Brexit except to dutifully parrot the public line of the PM and Brexit Minister and be extremely careful not to venture his own opinions. He hasn't always been good at that, which perhaps convinces the Brexiteers to go after him. Which brings us back to D'Ancona's point: the Chancellor should be Dr. No, prudent even stoic. It is not only Hammond's critics that must appreciate that point, but the Chancellor himself.


Sunday, October 15, 2017
 
What I'm reading
1. Religion and Canadian Party Politics by David Rayside, Jerald Sabin, and Paul E.J. Thomas
2. Resilient Gods: Being Pro-Religious, Low Religious, or No Religious in Canada by Reginald W. Bibby
3. How the Right Lost Its Mind by Charles J. Sykes
4. Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History by Katy Tur. It was awful and unfinishable. The narrative is difficult to follow and too much of the commentary is the reporter's emotional but unexplained responses to candidate Donald Trump.
5. At the Edge of the World: The Heroic Century of the French Foreign Legion by Jean-Vincent Blanchard. Surprisingly readable while being thoroughly informative.


 
JO'S on populism
Few people understand populism as well as John O'Sullivan, former editor of National Review. He has a long piece at NRO, a speech delivered in Australia in August, that says populism is not a threat to democracy but its savior.
A couple points worth highlighting:
Consider the textbook accounts of populism. Among other things, it supposedly describes a movement that is personalist, rooted in a leader-principle, hostile to the “regime of the parties,” and based on blending Left and Right in a vague new synthesis.
Yet, as JO'S observers, French President Emmanuel Macron is never labelled a populist. Which brings us to O'Sullivan's second important point:
As generally used, therefore, populism is not a neutral, dispassionate description but a “boo” word employed to discredit those called populist or at least to indicate disapproval of them. This definition of populism seeks to end debate before it begins rather than to advance or clarify it.
JO'S says that populism must also be understood in the context not merely of liberalism -- a supposed backlash against specific policies and postures -- but liberal democracy itself:
In recent years, however, liberalism has come to mean the proliferation of liberal institutions — the courts, supra-national bodies, charters of rights, independent agencies, U.N. treaty-monitoring bodies, etc. — that increasingly restrain and correct parliaments, congresses, and elected officials. This shift of power was questionable when these bodies merely nullified or delayed laws and regulations. But more recently they have taken to instructing democratically accountable bodies to make particular reforms and even to impose them on the entire polity through creative constitutional and treaty interpretation. Their decisions have concerned a wide range of official powers from welfare rules through gay marriage to regulations on migration and deportation (of, among others, convicted terrorists). Liberal democracy under this dispensation becomes the undemocratic imposition of liberal policies...
Elites at the national level, O'Sullivan points out, have happily acquiesced with this shift in power when they are not actively cheering it on.
O'Sullivan says mainstream parties can reassert their relevancy by not only addressing the underlying issues through policy but reasserting their own relevance in the making of policy by ensuring that laws reflect national and regional interests, not the preferences of international organizations.
O'Sullivan's speech is worth reading in full.


 
'How is Turkey still a member of NATO?'
Jordan Schachtel, national security correspondent for Conservative Review, writes:
Instead of reinvigorating relations with its NATO allies, Turkey has embraced the countries that seek to bring down the West.
It has partnered with Iran and Iraq to bully the Kurds into submission, coordinating military action with the theocratic regime in Tehran to strip away the possibility of a new free state in the Middle East. Ankara has also rapidly increased military cooperation with Russia, a principal adversary of NATO.
The sitting Turkish government is openly supportive of the global jihadist Muslim Brotherhood and experts allege that high-ranking members of the government are actively supporting ISIS.
Their continuing anti-U.S. actions and rhetoric are impossible to ignore. Before engaging in a coming Syria operation, Turkish special forces were seen on camera taunting the American military, chanting in Turkish, “Wait for us, American Johnny’s, we are coming to get you.”
As a member of NATO, Turkey has special access to highly sensitive information regarding the enemies of the West. Turkey has already abused this privilege, threatening in July to spill classified positions of U.S. special forces operating in the Middle East.
At what time do NATO members declare that enough is enough, and boot the Islamic authoritarian menace out of the alliance for good?


 
Trump doesn't understand economics
Everything is interconnected. The Trump administration apparently wants China to receive fewer World Bank loans. Admitting that China has trillions in reserves, Tyler Cowen says:
As I understand it, the World Bank makes money on these loans and there is a cross-subsidy of other Bank activities, most of all aid. A World Bank that stopped such loans would be poorer and less skilled, and over time could devolve into one of the poorer, less effective poverty-fighting parts of the United Nations, without much of a political power base at that.
It is possible that President Donald Trump doesn't care about the work the World Bank does or helping alleviate poverty in the developing world.


Saturday, October 14, 2017
 
PC policies
Earlier this week, the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party released its list of 139 policy proposals for consideration amongst the membership. The Ottawa Citizen's David Reevely has a good column on the release of the proposals, noting it is "more a list of vision statements than a set of plans for how to achieve them." A few examples:
PC Party policy is to improve [senior's health] service delivery through review and implementation of innovative technologies to provide cost-effective, timely, and peace of mind care to patients and caregivers ...
PC Party policy is to improve the environmental regulatory process so that it is less burdensome ...
PC Party policy is to ensure innovative funding, and private sector expertise is used to make infrastructure investments more affordable and sustainable for taxpayers.
Most of them are motherhood statements that could supported by the majority of members in the PCs, Liberals or NDP. They are safe. They are boring. They border on meaningless.
To be fair, the policy commitments of a political party are often pretty meaningless. Neither the party nor the leader is bound to them and only sometimes are they reflected in the platform on which the party campaigns on.


Friday, October 13, 2017
 
The Hollywood-DNC industrial complex
Stephen L. Miller at FoxNews explains how the Democratic Party "has been tied to Hollywood, using them as messengers to push their agenda out to the mass public," and why many leading Democrats are now reticent distancing themselves from celebrity predators:
The late night hosts who only last week were happy to help Chuck Schumer push the Democrats’ gun control message are suddenly mute when it comes to Weinstein. And this is exactly where the Democrats find themselves in a bind. The party has depended on celebrity messaging for the better part of eight years, and were clearly planning to depend on it heading into the 2018 and 2020 elections (remember Maxine Waters appearing to raucous applause as a voice of The Resistance™ at the MTV Movie Awards?).
But the days of happy backslapping with Ben Affleck and George Clooney are coming to an end for a party that now has to distance itself from celebrity-spokespeople who were content to lecture the rest of the country about their religion, their guns or their politics – but who couldn’t seem to bring themselves to clean up their own house by calling out one of their closest friends and business colleagues for preying upon vulnerable young women – for years.
From promoting Obamacare to Get Out the Vote, Democrats have relied on Hollywood's celebrities to activate people. That might become untenable. Still, Dems don't want to risk a reliable ally.


 
#FakeNapkin
The New York Times reports:
It is one of the iconic moments in modern economics: A young professor named Arthur Laffer sketched a curve on a bar napkin in 1974 to show an aide to President Gerald R. Ford why the federal government should cut taxes.
The Laffer Curve became famous; the Republican Party became the party of tax cuts; and, in 2015, the Smithsonian announced that it was putting the napkin on display.
But the napkin now celebrated for starting a tax revolt is not, in fact, the original napkin, according to the people who were at the fabled meeting at what was then the Two Continents restaurant in Washington. In an interview this week, Mr. Laffer said it was most likely a keepsake created a few years later.
Among the clues: It is cloth, while the original napkin was paper. It is dated 9/13/74, while the original meeting took place after the November 1974 midterm elections. And it is inscribed to Donald H. Rumsfeld, then Ford’s chief of staff. Mr. Laffer met with Dick Cheney, Mr. Rumsfeld’s deputy.
Mr. Laffer said he did draw on the Smithsonian’s napkin, but he most likely did so several years later, at the request of the journalist Jude Wanniski, who wanted a keepsake of the famous moment.
It's an ex post facto creation, and that's okay. What isn't okay is the continued GOP mythology that tax cuts are self-financing.


 
Ferguson on Will
Andrew Ferguson has a nice tribute to "the dean of conservative journalists," George Will, in this week's Weekly Standard. There is some biographical anecdotes and comments on Will's style, but this observation on Will's role in the age of Trump is important:
At this particular moment in his long career, Will is best known as a ferocious critic of President Trump. He comes at him from the right. Will’s revulsion isn’t really about ideology, since the president has none. It is aesthetic, and aesthetics, Will says, have a place in politics. “Manners matter,” he says. “Appearances matter. Many people, including him, seem not to understand this. It simply won’t do to say, ‘Well, we like his program but not his persona.’ The two are now inextricable.”
The president’s vulgarity to one side, Will puts his finger on something more crucial about Trump’s rise. Virtually alone among Trump critics, he recognizes that the president is a bastard child not so much of the right as of the left—of the dominant “mainstream” culture and its obsession with individual autonomy: its sexual libertinism and moral relativism, its disdain for traditional propriety and distrust of the very idea of objective truth. “The Trump people talk of ‘alternative facts,’” he says. “If the Nietzscheans at the Modern Language Association were paying attention, they’d say, ‘Ah, yes, Nietzsche told us about this; there are no facts, only interpretations.’ They would have given Trump tenure, for Pete’s sake.”
The one thing I would have liked Ferguson to have explored is Will's libertarian turn. He was once a thorough Hamiltonian, but is now much more Madisonian.
Will is the pinnacle of what a newspaper columnist should be: insightful, entertaining, principled, not partisan. Reading his biweekly articles in Newsweek and the quadrennial collections of his columns in book form is what made me want to be a writer when I was a high school student. Three decades later Will's writing still delights, and he rates alongside only Mark Steyn and John Robson as must-not-miss columnists.