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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Friday, October 31, 2014
 
Steyn sings Cat Scratch Fever
Go to 5:40.


 
Most dangerous transit systems for women
According to a Thomson Reuters Foundation survey, of 16 transit systems ranked, New York's is the safest for women. You don't want to be female and riding a bus or subway in Latin America.


 
Bitcoin, the book
Bitcoin: The Future of Money? by Dominic Frisby is now available and Samizdata's Rob Fisher gives a brief synopsis of it.


 
Good question
Tim Worstall: "would Typhoid Mary these days be able to claim discrimination if people refused to hire her as a cook?"


 
Practice doesn't make perfect
Michael Jordan calls President Barack Obama a "shitty golfer."


Thursday, October 30, 2014
 
NFL halfway mark
What we know about each team with approximately half the season completed.
NFC East
Dallas Cowboys (6-2): Truly a very good team but the injury to QB Tony Romo on Monday night is a major concern that could sink the 'Boys. They may have the best running back (DeMarco Murray) and best wide receiver (Dez Bryant) in the NFL this season. But the story of this team is the D. They had a historically bad defense in 2013 and with a number of big free agent losses and injuries, it could have been worse this year. Instead, a regression to average/over-performing expectations (14th overall in total defense) has Dallas in great shape. That, more than DeMarco Murray's league-leading 1054 rushing yards, has the Cowboys looking playoff bound.
Philadelphia Eagles (5-2): Last year the Eagles were a very good offense with a suspect defense. This year they have a good defense with a suspect offense. They are dead last in turnover differential and if they get that under control, will be in good shape for a playoff ticket. They have the number one ranked special teams according to Football Outsiders, which gives them a huge field position advantage.
New York Giants (3-4): Eli Manning is a slightly above average QB with a below average team. According to Football Outsiders, they are in the bottom half of all three areas of the game (offense, defense, special teams) and they don't look capable of much improvement.
Washington Redskins (3-5): Don't know what this team has under center in the short- or long-term as their starting QB RG3 was injured in September and the backup Kirk Cousins, who wasn't very good, got injured in Week 7. Colt McCoy is the starter. Season is a write-off, and so might Robert Griffin III.
NFC North
Detroit Lions (6-2): The offense hasn't been clicking but the defense is the stingiest in the NFL (126 point allowed). If the offense is as good as it could be, they could be the best team in the NFC.
Green Bay Packers (5-3): Scoring 27.8 ppg will win you plenty of games. Should be exciting race for the NFC North.
Chicago Bears (3-5): Neither the defense nor the offense is very good. Pundits and fans are wondering if mega contract extension to franchise quarterback Jay Cutler was a mega mistake.
Minnesota Vikings (3-5): The Teddy Bridgewater era has begun and it's too early to tell what that means. Building a team for the future, and that's fine. That future will not include Adrian Peterson.
NFC South
Carolina Panthers (3-4-1): Few pundits think they will remain atop the division. Being -41 on point differential strongly suggests the pundits are right.
New Orleans Saints (3-4): Many pundits thought their would be unstoppable after the ultra potent offense was teamed with a second ranked defense that added free agent safety Jarius Byrd. I predicted some regression on the D, but not as much as they've suffered, falling to fifth last with 390.4 ypg allowed. They have the offense to win games and the NFC South. They are famously 3-0 at home and 0-4 on the road, although two of those losses are by a field goal or less, so they should eventually win on the road.
Atlanta Falcons (2-6): Maybe last year wasn't an aberration. Coach Mike Smith is on the hot seat. According to Football Outsiders, the Falcons have a top 10 offense and top 10 special teams units, but are dead last in defense. An improvement to just below league average might be enough for Atlanta to start picking up wins.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-6): One of the worst teams in the NFL, but first-year coach Lovie Smith will get a second season even though he hasn't improved the team in his specialty area (defense) which is league worst in yards per game allowed (409.9) and points per game allowed (31.9).
NFC West
Arizona Cardinals (6-1): The +25 point differential suggests that they are not really a 6-1 team, but the Seahawks and 49ers struggles and two-game lead in the division could have the Cardinals in decent position to play football in January. I'm dubious that the QB combination of Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton, and Logan Thomas is playoff calibre.
Seattle Seahawks (4-3): They lost a lot of players in the off-season and therefore lost a lot of depth. They have the talent to repeat, but back-to-back losses -- and nearly losing to the Carolina Panthers last Sunday -- means they have an uphill battle. The locker room drama will disappear if they start to win and the narrative will be that the players are champions, consummate professionals, but if they don't make the playoffs, it will be due to off-the-field infighting.
San Francisco 49ers (4-3): Injuries and suspensions have hurt the defense, which is allowing 23.6 ppg, up from 17.1 ppg last seasons. If the D gets better, San Fran could win the division or capture a wild card spot and go to their fourth consecutive NFC Championship game.
St. Louis Rams (2-5): The pass rush isn't there after being dominant last season. That more than musical quarterbacks is the reason the Rams are disappointing this season; undrafted Austin Davis has been decent at quarterback considering he started the season as third on the depth chart.
AFC East
New England Patriots (6-2): A month ago everyone was doubting the Patriots as they barely beat the Oakland Raiders at home and then were demolished by the Kansas City Chiefs. There was speculation that Tom Brady might be benched for rookie Jimmy Garoppolo. Since then they have won four straight and outscored opponents 158-89. It looks like this week's Brady-Manning Bowl will be a preview of the AFC Championship Game.
Buffalo Bills (5-3): We have dueling narratives. The first is that the team is infinitely better with Kyle Orton (3-1) under center than E.J. Manuel. The second is that the Bills choke in the second half of the season (25-47 in the second half over the past nine seasons). Orton has been better: 67% completion rate against 58%, 9 TDs compared to 5. But he needed two last minute drives to beat the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions. The running back situation is a mess with C.J. Spiller out for the rest of the season and Fred Jackson gone until probably Thanksgiving. With Orton likely to perform more like a journeyman, Buffalo may indeed be lucky to be 500 at the end of the season. Don't look playoff-bound as six of their final eight games are against teams that are currently above 500.
Miami Dolphins (4-3): All four of their wins were by at least 13 points. That's impressive. But this team doesn't seem impressive. According to the Football Outsiders Total DVOA, the Fins are 10th (12th in offense, 4th in defense, and dead last in special teams), which isn't bad at all. But they don't seem very good when you watch them. Third-year QB Ryan Tannehill looks to be getting better with a higher completion rate, QB rating, and touchdown to interception ratio, and about the same yards per catch. It still might be too early to know whether it is enough to be quarterback of the future. Not sure what this team is or is capable of doing. Might hand around the playoff race until the end.
New York Jets (1-6): They are just bad. One of four teams with none or one victory, the third worst scoring differential (-84), and they are probably realizing Geno Smith is not the quarterback of the future but playing Michael Vick makes them an even worse team this season. Coach Rex Ryan will almost certainly be looking for a new job in the off-season.
AFC North
Cincinnati Bengals (4-2-1): They should be better than they are and their -3 scoring differential is a big concern. They are middle of the pack in total offense and third worst in total defense. The injury to WR A.J. Green has hurt. They have the talent to win the division, but their play so far indicates they won't.
Baltimore Ravens (5-3): Their +86 is the best in the NFL. They are the only team in the top 10 in Football Outsiders' offensive, defensive, and special teams ratings (7th, 5th, and 6th respectively). They are very good.
Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3): They are the only team to lose to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and barely beat the 1-7 Jacksonville Jaguars and then Pittsburgh beat the Indianapolis Colts 51-34. That is typical of recent years Steelers: playing down or up to the opposition. They showed they have the offense to win the division, but with their 26th ranked defense (according to FO), they seem destined to be a 500 team.
Cleveland Browns (4-3): Two of their three losses came on the final play of the game, so they could easily be 6-1. Jed Hoyer has played well enough that no one cares if Johnny Manziel sees playing time. That may or may not be good long-term. But the Browns could play the spoiler this season.
AFC South
Indianapolis Colts (5-3): Despite the severe beating they took from the Steelers on Sunday, the Colts are a very good team, scoring the second most points per game (31.2) behind only the Denver Broncos (32). They need a pass rush and a running game to be truly great but they are the class of the AFC South.
Houston Texans (4-4): Even with J.J. Watt, the Texans have a mediocre defense (13th in FO's defensive DVOA). But allowing just under 21 ppg will help a below-average offense led by the mediocre QB Ryan Fitzpatrick stay in most games. The Texans need the D to get better once rookie linebacker Jadeveon Clowney returns from injury and be the dominating force many experts predicted he would be. Or they need the Colts to stumble if Houston is to have any chance at a playoff berth. Right now they look like a 500-team.
Tennessee Titans (2-6): The revamped O-line is terrible. They are on their third quarterback. They have the fifth worst total offense (321 ypg). On the plus side, rookie QB Zach Mettenberger flashed worthwhiledness (is that a word?) in his first start on Sunday against the Texans. Tenny should use this season to see what their 6th round pick looks like.
Jacksonville Jaguars (1-7): For a team that has scored just 14.8 ppg (fewest in the NFL) and has been outscored by 100 (worst in the league), the Jags are on the right track. Rookie QB Blake Bortles is getting game time. They have shown fight, building a double-digit lead over the Philadelphia Eagles on opening day (only to lose) and almost upsetting the Pittsburgh Steelers earlier this month.
AFC West
Denver Broncos (6-1): They have the best offense and one of the three best defenses. According to Football Outsider's Total DVOA metric the Broncos are better than they were last year. With the Seattle Seahawks stumbling, the Broncs are the elite of football and should be the favourites to win the Super Bowl.
San Diego Chargers (5-3): According to traditional metrics, they have a strong offense and quality defense. According to advanced metrics, they have a dominating defense and one of the worst defenses. So who knows, but if they can keep up allowing just 18.6 ppg, with the way Philip Rivers is playing, they should take a wild card.
Kansas City Chiefs (4-3): They have the third best yards allowed per game (308.6) and points allowed per game (18.3). That should keep them in games, but the offense isn't particularly strong. They also need to generate more takeaways (31st ranked five in seven games).
Oakland Raiders (0-7): They've already fired their coach and rookie QB Derek Carr looks like a rookie. They probably won't be good next year either.


 
Vote Republican and stock up on condoms
What a desperate attack by NARAL on Colorado Republican Cory Gardner.


 
Planned Parenthood shirt designed and promoted by Lena Dunham
Here. There's a story at Time along with pictures of celebrities wearing the t-shirt. It's creepy seeing actress Leslie Mann and her young daughter wearing the abortion giant's pink shirt.


 
America's hypocrisy schizophrenia on capitalism
George Will on the Senate race in Georgia between David Perdue and Michelle Nunn:
That she might win November 4, or at least force a runoff, illustrates a paradox of Republican politics: Republicans prefer the private sector to the public. Americans profess admiration for markets and those who prosper in them. But voters can recoil from market rationality.
Perdue, 64, won the nomination by stressing that he is a stranger to politics and is a practicing capitalist (“I would be the only Fortune 500 CEO in the Senate”), thereby touching two Republican erogenous zones. But capitalist rationality is more beneficent than pretty, which is a problem.
Nunn, 47, is a political novice from the nonprofit sector, which is doubly ideal: She has no record in any office to attack, and she has never made the political mistake of making a profit. In Perdue’s attempts to revive failing companies, he took some measures that Nunn says — and he vehemently disputes — outsourced jobs, making him vulnerable to reprises of the attacks on Mitt Romney in 2012. Romney was first attacked as a “vulture capitalist” by rivals in the Republican primaries. Nunn is recycling attacks that Perdue’s Republican rivals began, and she is using an advertising firm that made anti-Romney ads.


 
2016 watch (Jerry Brown edition)
Breitbart reports that Politico is puffing up California Governor Jerry Brown as a possible, even ideal, candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in two years. Brown is on the verge of landslide victory and unprecedented fourth term as Golden State guv. With Hillary Clinton, another Bush, maybe Mitt Romney, and now potentially Jerry Brown as possible candidates in 2016, everything old is new again.


 
Quote of the day
At the Adam Smith Institute blog, Tim Worstall notes, "Breaking news: Paul Ehrlich still wrong about population." Bloke in Oxford says: "Genuine question: has Paul Ehrlich ever been right about any major issue? He seems to be an infallible contra-indicator!"


 
People might not be panicked about Ebola if Obama wasn't incompetent
Investor's Business Daily editorializes:
President Obama this week tried to tamp down public concerns about the Ebola outbreak. But it's not the disease that has Americans so alarmed as the festering incompetence on display at the White House.
In his remarks, Obama delivered a thinly veiled attack on critics of his administration's response to the outbreak ...
Take Obama's decision to name an Ebola czar. Political insider Ron Klain would, the White House said, provide "the resources and expertise we need to rapidly, cohesively and effectively respond to Ebola at home and abroad."
But the administration's Ebola response has become, if anything, more chaotic since Klain took on this role ...
The CDC, meanwhile, continues to act as if it's never confronted a deadly infectious disease. After a series of missteps, the agency on Monday issued a new set of guidelines meant to clarify how states should handle those who might carry the disease.
According to the CDC, even those who fall into the "high risk" category — because they've, for example, stuck themselves with a needle while treating an Ebola patient — should be allowed to do things like jog and attend public functions, so long as they stay three feet away from others ...
Even the mainstream press is starting to question Obama's competence in managing this outbreak, with AP calling it a "crazy quilt response" while noting that Klain has been invisible since his appointment.
A Reuters reporter said at a White House press conference this week that the administration's actions appear "being made up on the fly."


Wednesday, October 29, 2014
 
North Korean-style democracy
Dave Meslin has the five Toronto city council victors, all with 80%-plus victories.


 
Liberal Halloween
A Halloween-themed cartoon from Political Laughs.


 
Rarity: college doesn't overreact
Scott Shackford at Hit & Run:
No, posting a picture of your daughter doing yoga while wearing a T-shirt with a quote from Game of Thrones on social media is not a threat to do harm to anybody. Thank heavens the folks at Bergen Community College in New Jersey have finally settled that little issue.
It is sad that a moment of sanity from the academy is noteworthy.


 
Pollsters won the Toronto mayoral election
Eric Grenier noted that pollsters were mostly on mark for the Toronto mayoral election. Guess who was the least accurate? Grenier states:
The most active pollster on the municipal scene, Forum Research, was the furthest with a total error of 7.8 points (or two per candidate, including others). Its estimate for Tory was just outside of the margin of error, over-estimating his support by almost four points. Ford and Chow were both under-estimated slightly, but overall it was still a decent result.
No surprise there.


 
Should the bullet holes in Parliament stay?
iPolitics talks to a number of MPs about whether or not the bullet holes from the gun fight in the Hall of Honour in Parliament should stay or be fixed. It doesn't quite break down partisanly. Not sure there is a right or wrong answer, but it makes sense to fix the bullet holes in the doors, door-frames, and windows, and leave the marks as is in the walls, perhaps with a plaque noting that "these holes brought to you by the Religion of Peace and the brave individuals who protected the institution of Parliament and its members and visitors on October 22, 2014."


 
Procrastination defined
By TLDRWikipedia.


 
Libertarians and the midterm
Three from Reason:
Robert Sarvis, a lawyer running for the Libertarians as senator in Virginia: "Vote Libertarian to Stop the Next 'Bipartisan' Disaster." Sarvis says: "Pick a problem. Any problem. There's a pretty good chance both major parties—Republicans and Democrats—share responsibility for it." From the national debt to the surveillance state to corporate welfare to the failed drug war, there is usually bipartisan responsibility for the problem.
Rand Paul, Republican Senator from Kentucky: "Vote Republican for Limited Government." Paul speaks to the ideals of the Republican Party, not its practices:
For too long, our party's platform has solely focused on national security and tax reform. And while those are important issues, it's not enough. Our party needs a facelift. We need a different kind of GOP that will speak to these infringements to personal liberty.
The GOP does not want to tell you how to live. In fact, we want to get out of your lives. We will not choose your doctor for you. We will not trespass on your first amendment right and dictate how to run your business. We also will not outlaw doughnuts or Big Gulps.
We will stay out of your bedroom, your doctor's office, your classroom, your business, your pantry, and your cell phone.
Terry Michael, a former Democratic National Committee press secretary: "Vote Democrat in 2014: An Election About Nothing." Michael encourages voting for inertia:
Democrats won the culture policy war in the first decades of the 21st Century. True, "the future is widely misunderstood" (Ray Kurzweil, "The Singularity is Near"), but recent warp-speed change in support of gay marriage and marijuana legalization suggest the clock won't be turned back on questions of individual choice.
Republicans won the economic policy war in the 1980s and 1990s, with deregulation of some business activity and marginal tax rates far lower than when I helped shuttle Democrats to the polls in the 1950s. It was something of a pyrrhic victory for free market libertarian Republicans, given the GOP's crony capitalist friends at Big Pharma, Big Banking, and Big Defense.


 
Superheroes ranked
Tim Marchman has the list of the top 92 superheroes as chosen by Deadspin staff. The comments are worth reading.


 
The end of the economy is the consumer not the producer (or labour)
Matt Ridley in The Times last week: "Ignore producers: the cost of energy benefits consumers." Ridley explains:
Yet by far the greater benefit of the oil price fall comes from the impact on consumers. Making this essential resource cheaper allows everybody, whatever their nationality, to spend less money on dull things like heat, transport, metal and plastic, which leaves them more money for things like movies, holidays and pets, which gives other people new jobs, which raises everybody’s living standards ...
It is true that part of the reason oil prices are falling is that world economic growth is slowing. But economists reckon that every 10 dollars off the price of a barrel of crude oil transfers 0.5 per cent of world GDP from countries that export oil to countries that import it — and the latter tend to spend the money more quickly, accelerating the velocity of money and encouraging investment and innovation.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014
 
McGinnis on Ford (and me on Ford and Tory's future)
Rick McGinnis was on assignment last night and took some pics and offered some thoughts about Rob Ford:
If you've ever covered an election night you'll understand the barely controlled chaos veneered with predictable ritual - the mannered striving to stop just short of gloating in a victory speech; the careful mixture of gratitude, dignity and defiance in a concession. Let's just say that this had it all.
Assuming good health, Rob Ford should be considered the front-runner in 2018. That's a safe prediction because John Tory is going to screw up the next four years. Here are the likely outcomes for Mayor Tory: he will capitulate to the Left on city council (80% chance) or he'll be fighting with them for most of his term and not get anything done (5%) or city hall will be all cooperation for a year (with the exception of Rob Ford) before the Left gets antsy and starts picking fights with Tory by his second budget in early 2016 and very little will get done (15%).


 
Let employees make up their job title
Canadian Business reports: "The study’s authors found that customized job titles can help workers express their own identity and personality in ways that increase 'self-verification' and 'psychological safety,' and therefore help reduce emotional exhaustion." Suggestions include "Sales Jedi" instead of "Sales Manager" and "Buzz Ambassador" instead of "Public Relations." This sounds all so very Bobos in Paradise.


 
Defending abortion, Pollitt rails against reality
Mollie Ziegler Hemingway reviews Katha Pollitt's Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights at NRO, noting "She says that abortion is hard to get in the United States (where more than 1 million abortions are performed each year) and that "although abortion is legal, it might as well not be'." In other words, this pro-abortion advocate lives in a make-believe world. More of the anti-reality:
Pollitt hates the idea that men and women are different in any way that matters, particularly as it relates to the life of a child. It’s all quite simple, or rather simplistic: “Surely there is a question of sex discrimination when laws against abortion require women to lend their bodies to fetuses for nine months, not to mention childbirth, but men are never required to give so much as a pint of blood to their born child.”


 
Comparing Barack Obama to Jimmy Carter
It's okay when liberals do it. Thomas Frank in Salon:
I pretty much ignored the Carter-Obama comparison in those days because it was so manifestly empty—a partisan insult based on nothing but the lousy economy faced by both Carter and Obama as well as the recurring problem of beleaguered American embassies in the Muslim world. (Get it? Benghazi=Tehran!) More important for Republican purposes was the memory that Jimmy Carter lost his re-election campaign, which they creatively merged with their hopes that Obama would lose, too. Other than that, the comparison had little connection to actual facts; it was a waste of trees and precious pixels.
What has changed my mind about the usefulness of the comparison is my friend Rick Perlstein’s vast and engrossing new history of the ’70s, “The Invisible Bridge.” The book’s main subject is the rise of Ronald Reagan, but Perlstein’s detailed description of Carter’s run for the presidency in 1976 evokes more recent events so startlingly that the comparison with Obama is impossible to avoid. After talking over the subject with Perlstein (watch this space for the full interview), I am more startled by the similarities than ever.
(HT: Walter Russell Mead at The American Interest)


 
Good personal practice, bad law
Lenore Skenazy reports:
Mel Finnemore, a mom of four in the U.K., is trying to get the government to pass a law requiring all children to wear brightly colored coats or bookbags. Her goal is to increase kids' visibility, thus preventing accidents. To this end, she organized a parade of school children in hi-viz outerwear, telling the press, “I want to get the message across to children that it is ‘hip and happening’ to wear high visibility jackets."
There are so many practical problems -- what exactly is bright coloured? at what point does a colour become the wrong hue? -- that it seems silly to harp on the reflexive desire to compel people to act a certain way. As Skenazy says, it is a good idea not to wear black when you are out on the streets at night, but the state requiring best practices is a little much. Is the idea to put kids in foster care for wearing navy blue?


 
'Thank you, Dr. Salk'
Google doodle celebrates centenary of Jonas Salk's birthday.


 
Obama unleashed
Investor's Business Daily's John Merline: "Obama To Unleash Regulation, Executive Order Blitz After Elections." He did it after the 2012 election, too. This time expect executive orders on Obamacare and immigration.


 
The family deficit
Robert J. Samuelson discusses trends in marriage as noted in Isabel Sawhill's Generation Unbound: Drifting into Sex and Parenthood without Marriage:
In 1960, only 12% of adults 25 to 34 had never married; by the time they were 45 to 54, the never-married share had dropped to 5%. Now fast forward. In 2010, 47% of Americans 25 to 34 had never married. Based on present trends, 25% will still be unmarried in 2030, when they're 45 to 54, according to the Pew Research Center.
The stranglehold that marriage had on middle-class thinking and behavior began to weaken in the 1960s ...
The flight from marriage may also have subtracted from happiness. Sawhill quotes from one study that "married women and men live longer; they are less likely to be disabled. ... have better sex than the unmarried, and they are less likely to be lonely."
But the biggest social cost of less marriage involves children. "New choices for adults," Sawhill writes, "have not generally been helpful to the well-being of children."
Single-parent families have exploded. In 1950, they were 7% of families with children under 18; by 2013, they were 31%. Nor was the shift isolated. The share was 27% of whites, 34% of Hispanics and 62% of African-Americans. By harming children's emotional and intellectual development, the expansion of adult choices may have reduced society's collective welfare.
It is not that all single-parent households are bad or that all two-parent families are good. But the advantage lies with the approach that can provide children more financial support and personal attention. Two low-income paychecks, or two good listeners, are better than one.
With a colleague, Sawhill simulated the effect today if the marriage rates of 1970 still prevailed. The result: The child poverty rate would drop by about 20% — a "huge effect" compared to most government programs ...
More than 40% of births now go to the unwed. Some of these mothers, says Sawhill, will have multiple partners and subject their children "to a degree of relationship chaos and instability that is hard to grasp."
Sawhill doubts that either liberals or conservatives have workable remedies for these problems. More social services (the liberals) could be "very expensive." Reviving marriage (conservatives) presumes — unrealistically, she says — that many anti-marriage norms can be reversed.
Along with the budget deficit, we have a family deficit. It explains some stubborn poverty and our frustrations in combating it. We've learned that what good families provide cannot easily be gotten elsewhere. For the nation, this deficit matters most.


 
The problem with (know-it-all) intellectuals
From Thomas Sowell's Random Thoughts:
Too many intellectuals are too impressed with the fact that they know more than other people. Even if an intellectual knows more than anybody else, that is not the same as saying that he knows more than everybody else put together — which is what would be needed to justify substituting his judgment for that expressed by millions of others through the market or through the ballot box.


Monday, October 27, 2014
 
Italy is a mess. Like always but even more so.
Nicholas Farrell in The (London) Spectator:
Same old story. Regardless of who is in charge in Italy, it is nearly always all mouth and no trousers, which to be fair is partly because the electoral system makes it impossible to avoid coalition governments and partly because the constitution, for fear of dictatorship, gives the prime minister little executive power ...
Italy’s sovereign debt, meanwhile, continues to grow exponentially. It is now €2.2 trillion, which is the equivalent of 135 per cent of GDP — the third highest in the world after Japan and Greece. And the more deflation Italy has, the bigger the debt and its cost in real terms.
In Italy, as in France, a dirigiste philosophy has predominated since the second world war. The government is run like a protection racket; money finds its way into every nook and cranny of the economy. Even newspapers are publicly subsidised, which is why there are so many of them.
Anyone who works in the real private sector — the family businesses that have made Italy’s name around the world — is in a bad place. Italy has the heaviest ‘total tax’ burden on businesses in the world at 68 per cent, according to the Sole 24 Ore newspaper, followed by France on 66 per cent, compared with just 36 per cent in Britain. To start a business in Italy is to enter a Kafkaesque bureaucratic nightmare, and to keep it going is even worse. It also means handing the state at least 50 cents for every euro paid to staff. Add to this a judicial system that is byzantine, politicised and in possession of terrifying powers, and you begin to understand why no sane foreign company sets up headquarters in Italy ...
Yet there is another Italy — the state-financed one — where life is, if not a bed of roses, still fine, all things considered — even though those Rome Opera House sackings have caused a little ripple of anxiety. Italian MPs are the highest paid in the civilised world, earning almost twice the salary of a British MP. Barbers in the Italian Parliament get up to €136,120 a year gross. All state employees get a fabulous near-final–salary pension. It is not difficult to appreciate the fury of the average Italian private sector worker, whose gross annual pay is €18,000.
The phrase ‘you could not make it up’ fits the gold-plated world of the Italian state employee to a tee — especially in the Mezzo-giorno, Italy’s hopeless south. Sicily, for instance, employs 28,000 forestry police — more than Canada — and has 950 ambulance drivers who have no ambulances to drive.
An Italian government that really meant business would make urgent and drastic cuts not just to the bloated, parasitical and corrupt state sector, but also to taxes, labour costs and red tape. Yet even now only Beppe Grillo, a modern comic version of Benito Mussolini, and the separatist Northern League advocate Italian withdrawal from the euro. Most Italians still don’t get it: the euro is the problem, not the solution — unless, that is, they go for real austerity in a major way, which they will not do unless forced to at gunpoint.
Italy, more even than France, is the sick man of Europe — and it is also the dying man of Europe.


 
25 of Europe's 130 biggest banks failed the ECB's stress test
Business Insider reports on stress tests conducted by the European Central Bank:
Twenty-five of Europe's biggest banks just failed the Eurozone's first united health check, out of 130 in total. These banks are short a total of €25 billion ($31.67 billion), and the overall impact on them runs to €62 billion ($78.55 billion). The results are pretty much in line with reports that were leaked to Bloomberg at the end of last week.
Twelve of the 25 banks have already raised the required capital to cover their shortfall, but 13 have not. Those banks need to raise another €9.5 billion ($12.94 billion).
In another article, BI reports that nine of the banks are from Italy and three each are based in Greece or Cyprus.


 
E-day in Toronto
For better or worse -- mostly worse -- John Tory is not Rob Ford. Gods of the Copybook Headings says of the Toronto mayoral front-runenr: "John Tory would be a very impressive looking and sounding Mayor. He would not stagger drunk down the Danforth or make sexual references about his wife in public." I can't vouch for the staggering drunk on city streets, but Tory talked about sex with his wife quite a lot on his CFRB 1010 AM radio talk-show. Too much actually. He wasn't as crude as Rob Ford, but even the topic is icky.
Gods of the Copybook Headings is voting for Doug Ford because Tory isn't really up to the job: "I don't want a smooth mediocrity bankrupting Toronto, or striking half-baked compromises with the Left." That is precisely my reason for not voting Tory; if city council was solidly conservative, I could tolerate Tory in the mayor's chair. He'd work with the privatizers and tax cutters to ensure the minimum of conflict. But with a left-wing city council, Tory will give in to many of their demands; go-along to get-along is John Tory's MO.
If the choice was between Tory and socialist Olivia Chow, I wouldn't vote. But the choice is between Tory, Chow, and Doug Ford and most of the reasons I would vote for a Ford (primarily to piss off the anti-Ford Nation Left and downtown Toronto elite) are not enough to compensate for the fact that Doug Ford is just a bullying jerk without any of his brother's charms. I'm voting today, but not for mayor. I want to vote against the incumbents at city hall and the Catholic school board, John Fillion and Maria Rizzo respectively. I will not be disappointed if Doug Ford wins, if only to give a giant middle finger to the anti-Ford Nation brigades and to watch the shitshow that will be city hall for the next four years. But I don't want to lend that result any credence.


 
A short history of recent Toronto mayors
Rick McGinnis has an essay and photos of recent Toronto mayors at Some Old Pics I Took, starting with David Crombie, Toronto's most over-rated mayor:
Crombie's tenure is remembered as a golden era of progressive city policy, when developers were held in check, the demolition of neighbourhoods was stopped, and Jane Jacobs' theories of urbanism had a voice at city hall. Oddly enough, Crombie did all this as a member of the Progressive Conservative party, albeit a member of the "Red Tory" wing - what most American conservatives would call a "goddamned city liberal."


 
How the media operates
Kyle Smith has a long review of Sharyl Attkisson's Stonewalled: My Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation, and Harassment in Obama’s Washington in the New York Post. A key part of the media's MO for political stories:
Reporters on the ground aren’t necessarily ideological, Attkisson says, but the major network news decisions get made by a handful of New York execs who read the same papers and think the same thoughts.
Often they dream up stories beforehand and turn the reporters into “casting agents,” told “we need to find someone who will say ...” that a given policy is good or bad. “We’re asked to create a reality that fits their New York image of what they believe,” she writes.


 
Thank God for the internet
Deadspin ranks Koala fight videos. Cute, cuddly, and sometimes mean, these marsupials make some strange sounds.


 
'Map: Where each state's largest immigrant population was born'
I'm pretty sure I've linked to this before. For about 3/5ths of the country, it's Mexico. Alaska, Virginia, and Connecticut provide some surprises.


 
The glass is half full/empty
Mark Steyn: "the left's popular culture isn't necessarily that popular, merely effective propaganda."


 
You know you've done a good job parenting when ...
Coyote Blog:
Conversation over text today between my wife and my son who is in Venice:
wife: "So the gondola ride wasn't the highlight?"
son: "It was pretty fun... I just kept thinking about the economic barriers to entry into that field. They are basically a closed guild."


 
Why we farm
Because of the tragedy of the commons. Tim Worstall explains.


 
Satire, but not
The New Yorker's Borowitz Report:
A new study, by the University of Minnesota, indicates that fear of contracting the Ebola virus is highest among Americans who did not pay attention during math and science classes.
According to the study, those whose minds were elsewhere while being taught certain concepts, like what a virus is and numbers, are at a significantly greater risk of being afraid of catching Ebola than people who were paying even scant attention.


Sunday, October 26, 2014
 
Discount caviar market
The Daily Mail reports that Aldi grocery stores in England are selling cheap "Belgua" caviar under false pretenses:
Costing £215 for 100g at Fortnum & Masons and taking up to 35 years to mature, Beluga caviar is among the most exclusive of foods.
So when discount supermarket Aldi said they would be selling 20g portions of the luxurious delicacy for £9.99, more than a few eyebrows in the fine foods industry were raised.
And now the store has admitted that their product is not Beluga caviar at all, after an expert revealed that the supermarket's product is from the wrong type of sturgeon.
Beluga caviar can only consist of roe from the Huso huso sturgeon, according to World Health Organisation food standards ...
It will instead use caviar produced by river and Amur sturgeon in China, which have no relation to the Huso huso species ...
'The adding of the word ‘Beluga’ in Aldi’s product implies something that is actually not its origin or value. Hence this caviar has no correlation whatsoever to ‘Beluga’ caviar or the Huso huso sturgeon. Aldi should rectify this.'
But it might be possible to create a cheaper, non-pure Beluga in the future:
'Given how long it takes to mature the species, many farms have now started to mix sturgeons to try and create a 'Beluga-ish' product they can try to sell as ‘Beluga’, whereby the male Huso huso is crossed with another faster-growing species such as sterlet or baeri.
'This is known as a hybrid cross. However a hybrid cross such as ‘Huso Sterlet’ is not such a headline grabbing name as the well-known ‘Beluga’ caviar.


 
We need more anarcho-capitalist critiques of Disney princess narratives
Art Carden questions the power and wealth of Disney royalty and why the "good guys" don't make amends for the sins of their ancestors. When our family saw Frozen, I explained to my children that imposing sanctions was a morally incorrect reaction against the Duke of Weselton.


 
Abusing the law to target political opponents
George Will on the use of John Doe laws to target political opponents. This is truly terrible, about Milwaukee County’s Democratic district attorney John Chisholm misuse of his office who has used the "John Doe" process "to launch sweeping and virtually unsupervised investigations while imposing gag orders to prevent investigated persons from defending themselves or rebutting politically motivated leaks, which have occurred." The motivation is purely political:
According to several published reports, Chisholm told members of his staff subordinates that his wife, a teachers’-union shop steward at her school, is anguished by her detestation of Walker’s restrictions on government employees’ unions, so Chisholm considers it his duty to help defeat Walker.


Saturday, October 25, 2014
 
Rex Murphy on the Ottawa shootings
I really liked this.


 
'The Sobering Facts About Egg Freezing That Nobody’s Talking About'
Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos writes in Wired.com about the sobering facts about IVF:
Egg freezing is invasive and it comes with serious short- and long-term physical and mental health risks.
To secure any eggs you must first submit to a demanding series of rigorously scheduled blood tests, hormone injections, and ultrasounds conducted over several weeks prior to the actual egg retrievals. During a typical natural cycle, your body will release one egg a month. During the egg freezing process you will inject yourself with a cocktail of powerful hormones—many prescribed off-label – that hyper stimulate your ovaries to produce eggs.
Depending on your age and reproductive health you may only generate a few eggs or you might produce two dozen. (As many as one-third of women who undergo ovarian stimulation suffer from a condition known as ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), which in extreme cases, can be life threatening.)
After nine to 13 days of self-injection, usually twice daily, you will submit to the risks of sedation while a doctor collects the eggs by punching a series of holes into your ovaries and applying suction. If you have exceptional egg quality and produce six eggs in one cycle, there will probably be one reasonable attempt at pregnancy. To increase the odds of sufficient viable eggs to fertilize, egg freezing businesses advise at least two cycles. Assuming unlimited financial resources or a generous benefit package you may endure multiple cycles. With each round of powerful hormones and punctured ovaries the risk of complications and long term health consequences increase. Once flash frozen, your eggs are stored indefinitely for an annual fee ranging from $500 to $1,000.
Fast forward many months or even years into the future. You now attempt to get pregnant with your frozen eggs. Hopefully you have sufficient savings, or are still employed by Facebook or Apple, because you must now undergo at least one, but probably multiple rounds of invasive and life-altering in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures.
You must again inject yourself with hormones, this time to prepare your uterus to welcome a potential embryo. You must open your entire emotional, social and professional schedule to daily blood tests, ultra sounds, vaginal probes and other assorted procedures that experienced women have referred to as “humiliating.” I can attest to this.
If your uterus responds to the hormones, the frozen eggs must then be successfully thawed––-no easy task given low thaw survival rates. An egg’s shell hardens when frozen in liquid nitrogen so to attempt in vitro fertilization sperm must be injected directly into the egg with a needle to fertilize the egg through a technique known as ICSI (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection).
Again, if all goes well and at least one viable embryo is created in the laboratory, it is then transferred into your uterus. As with naturally occurring conception, the final outcome is in Mother Nature’s hands––-and she is clearly not incentive driven. The vast majority of procedures fail.
In fact, only about 300,000 of the estimated 1.5 million IVF procedures undertaken every year succeed.


 
'Dead heart' transplant
USA Today reports:
For 20 years, the heart transplant unit at Sydney's St. Vincent's Hospital has been working hard to figure out a way to transplant a dead heart into a live patient. Doctors from the team announced their work had paid off.
They have successfully completed three transplants using hearts that had stopped beating for 20 minutes – said to be the first such transplants in the world, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
Two of the patients are already up and about, while the most recent recipient is still recovering in intensive care.
Heart transplants typically rely on organs taken from brain-dead donors whose hearts are still beating; the Herald reports the new development could save 30% more lives.
In The Interim we have explained the moral problems with many organ donations:
There are permissible organ donations and illicit organ donations. They do not entirely depend on whether such “donations” are voluntary; rather, the standard is whether the surgery in which the organs are removed ends up killing the donor.
Dr. Paul A. Byrne, director of neonatology and director of paediatrics at St. Charles Mercy Hospital in Oregon, Oh., has made clear that there are four categories of organ donation. Two are ethical: 1) living individuals who donate non-vital organs – one of their two kidneys, liver graphs, bone marrow – that they can live without after donating and 2) tissue that is not compromised once there is no longer a beating heart – corneas, heart valves, bones, skin, ligaments and tendons that are donated post-mortem.
But there are two forms of organ donation that are always immoral because they result in the death of the donor: those taken from people after “brain death” and so-called “non-heart-beating donors” (NHBD). When vital organs such as the heart, liver, lungs, pancreas or intestine are removed from a patient declared “brain dead,” it is the removal of the organs that kills the patient. The heart was still beating and the blood circulating at the time of the removal surgery – the act that kills the patient. This can never be allowed. Ditto for NHBDs when such patients have normal vital signs and a “functioning brain,” but are still taken off all life support, including a ventilator. Once there is no discernable pulse, the organs are removed – killing the patient.
If "dead hearts" are medically useful, it will increase the number of lives saved, but should also lead to having to kill fewer people, too.


 
Buying Trudeau's memoirs
Yesterday I went into an Indigo and bought Justin Trudeau's Common Ground for $20. I felt dirty, the way most people probably feel the first time they buy porn. I felt embarrassed picking it up from the display, worse as I walked to the checkout, and like I wanted to die when I handed it to the cashier.
Reading it today, I feel the need to keep the book out of the sight of my kids.


 
Honest mistake or slip that betrays the truth
RealClearPolitics: "Dem Sen. Udall Introduces Michelle Obama: 'We Judge People By The Content Of Their Color'." He probably just admitted the way modern liberals view the world.


 
'There is no reason to turn Parliament Hill into an armed fortress'
Former Stephen Harper chief of staff Ian Brodie urges improvements to security on Parliament Hill without turning it into an uninviting fortress, distant from the people who elect the legislators who work there. One of the frustrations of many observers is the famously divided nature of the security arrangements. Brodie explains that there are reasons for division of responsibilities:
The security apparatus on and around Parliament Hill is divided between four separate agencies. Wellington Street and the thoroughfares surrounding Parliament Hill are protected by the Ottawa municipal police. The outdoor spaces on the Hill are the responsibility of the RCMP. The interiors of the four buildings on Parliament Hill and several office buildings near Parliament Hill are under the protection of two different agencies — the House of Commons security force in areas that “belong” to the House, and the Senate security force in areas that “belong” to the Senate. Centre Block, the most important of the buildings, home to the House and Senate chambers themselves, the Prime Minister’s Hill office and dozens of other parliamentary offices, is a divided jurisdiction, with part of the building “belonging” to the House and part to the Senate.
There are important historic reasons for the existing arrangement. It is an ancient parliamentary principle that the police — the RCMP and the Ottawa force — are not permitted into the houses of Parliament without an invitation. Historically, this protected MPs and Senators from being pursued by agents of the government of the day. A few years ago a Senator camped out in his office to avoid being served with a court summons, an extraordinary protection afforded those with extraordinary responsibilities in the legislative process.