Sobering Thoughts

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

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Sunday, December 31, 2006
 
Weekend list

Eight most important stories of 2006 that will have a lasting impact

8. Stephen Harper is elected prime minister of Canada -- Canada's silent conservative plurality helps elect a Conservative minority government thus ending 13 years of Liberal rule. The Tories reduce government spending a bit, promise to tackle the debt and lower the tax burden, and replace left-wing social engineering (Court Challenges Program, Kyoto gimmicks and the Status of Women) with right-wing social engineering ($100-a-month to parents of children under 6, tax credits for kids who play sports).

7. Benedict XVI's Regensburg speech -- Muslims are outraged at papal speech espousing what the Catholic Church has always espoused: the compatibility of faith and reason. The speech and the reaction to it illustrated the cleavage between the Christian West and Islam.

6. Israel loses its first war -- After U.S. pressure, Israel accepts unfavourable terms for a cease fire in the bombardment of Lebanon that results its terrorist enemies (Hezbollah) surviving a bombing campaign. The Hezbollah victory emboldens the Palestinian, Arab and Iranian enemies of Israel.

5. The continued incompetence of the UN to deal with real crises -- Genocide in Darfur turns into a international conflict involving Sudan, Chad and the Central African Republic; nuclear weapons programs proceed in North Korea and Iran.

4. The widespread acceptance of the environmentalist agenda -- From the Stern Report which gave a (phony) economic impetus to address climate change to Canada's Liberals choosing Stephane Dion, from David Cameron flying to Norway for a photo op in front of disappearing glaciers to the resurrection of Al Gore, the environment is making a major political imprint.

3. Russia uses its energy resources as a weapon -- Blackmailing, or simply pressuring, Europe and its Asian neighbours, Russia reasserts itself on the global stage.

2. The realization that the U.S. has lost Iraq -- It affects America's ability to respond to other foreign challenges and reduces her credibility and influence abroad, and it cost the Republicans their majority in both houses of Congress. Losing the peace in Iraq thus affects domestic and international affairs for years to come.

1. There was no terrorist attack in the United States -- Americans are lulled into believing that World War IV is over.


 
Media selectivity about showing death

From Reuters: "As the world awaited word of Saddam Hussein's fate, U.S. television news executives faced a quandary over whether to break a taboo against airing footage of executions should video of his hanging become available." On Friday night, hours after Saddam Hussein was executed, Anderson Cooper said that if the videos were made available CNN producers would have to look at them before deciding what portions of the hanging to broadcast. It seems that television news has decided not to air the hanging but only the moments leading up to the Saddam's death and, for some news outlets a few moments afterward but not one aired the actually moment of death. I vividly recall seeing the one-man firing squad execute Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife in 1989 following a coup and speedy trial. I recall in 1994, a California television station suing a penitentiary for the right to film and broadcast an execution of a criminal in that state, albeit unsuccessfully. I recall CBS's 60 Minutes airing video of Jack Kevorkian murdering Thomas Youk, who had Lou Gehrig's disease. I recall the repeated re-airing of Reginald Denny being nearly beaten to death during the Rodney King riots in L.A. in 1992. Has the media become less callous about showing (real) death on TV or is there some agenda here on the part of journalists and their producers?


 
Kipling at 141

The Gods of the Copybook Headings by Rudyard Kipling still stands up after 87 years. So says the co-author of a blog that took the greatest poem's title as the name of their blog. Kipling, by the way, was born 141 December 30ths ago.


 
Jon Stewart on Time magazine's Man of the Year

Video available at thatvideostite.com. Exceptionally funny from the 1:50-2:49 portion of the segment.


 
TV & kids

Dimitri A. Christakis, a pediatrician, researcher at Children's Hospital in Seattle and coauthor of The Elephant in the Living Room: Make Television Work for Your Kids, writes in the Washington Post that television is not doing the harm to children that many parents think it does: it does not cause obesity ("being a couch potato is not what causes obesity. Kids sit around to read, too, but no one suggests that reading causes obesity"); it may increase a child's proclivity to violence and a teenagers likelihood becoming sexually active but can also lead to increased social skills such as kindness and tolerance; it does not make children dumb but educational videos have no value for children under three. I think that the effects of television on children are pointless to debate with studies providing contradictory findings. I also doubt there are simple cause-and-effect relationships and that the affects are the result of a complex set of variables that essentially come down not to television but parenting: what matters is what children watch, how much time they spend in front of the television, if they are alone when they are watching TV and how parents treat television (as a babysitter, an educational tool, a distraction, one of a variety of entertainment choices) and whether parents discuss the content of the shows their children watch with their kids. No doubt that many children play more violently after watching violent TV, but a discussion with kids about violence is a fairly good antidote to the desensitizing effects of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I also think that 'educational' shows such as Sesame Street are more effective when reinforced by conversations and activities with parents. These observations are made with a relatively small sample size of four television-watching children (mine) ages 21 months to 16 years. And thus far watching James Bond movies hasn't led either of my sons (9 and 16) to bed any Russian spies.

What disappointed me about Christakis' WaPo piece was that the author only shared his conclusions and not the research that allowed him to reach them, nor any argument for why his conclusions might be true. But such complex matters cannot be reduced to a 900-word column.


 
Myron Magnet

Most people who are not public policy nerds probably heard of Myron Magnet when The Dream and the Nightmare: The Sixties' Legacy to the Underclass was published in 1993 and highlighted by Newt Gingrich during his press conferences and speeches during the 1994 midterm elections and early days of the Contract with America. (Gingrich never lost his professorial touch as his speeches often seemed to include reading lists for both journalists and citizens.) Magnet was an early supporter of (then) Governor George W. Bush's compassionate conservatism and often articulated the vision better than Bush, as he did in the pages of the Wall Street Journal in 1999. The man with sideburns that made him look like a character out of a Dickens' novel has also been the editor for the past 12 years of City Journal, the public/urban policy quarterly from the Manhattan Institute. Now Magnet is stepping down. The New York Sun pays tribute in its lead editorial on December 29:

"The year would not be complete if we did not tip our hat to one of the most extraordinary editors in this, or any, town, Myron Magnet. At the end of the year he is stepping down from the editorship of City Journal, which over the past 12 years he has built into a magazine of outsized influence in the political and cultural affairs not only of New York but of all cities. It would not be too much to say that under Mr. Magnet's editorship City Journal has become the most influential urban magazine in the country and the most beautifully crafted. Published by the Manhattan Institute, it has made its mark by setting out to be more than an organ of the think tank that owns it. It has cast a wide net in conducting the policy debate on urban issues, winning a national audience among mayors and policy makers across the country, and articulating an aesthetic vision that has given new hope to those inspired by classical design in cities, in architecture, and in art.

One event that brought all this home to us was a Manhattan Institute banquet last year, where Mayor Giuliani was the speaker. He brought as a prop for the evening some copies of City Journal. They were his back copies of City Journal, and he had held onto them. The mayor flipped through and, article by article, mentioned ideas that had made it from the pages of the journal into the policies of his administration — from broken-windows policing to welfare reform and ending social promotion. It wouldn't be overstating it, one of the city's most effective mayors said, to say that he had plagiarized his policies from the pages of City Journal. Reporting the matter out later with aides to the mayor, we learned that the policy staff at City Hall actually waited around for the next issue of the City Journal to arrive before picking out ideas to adopt.

If that were all that Mr. Magnet had accomplished at the helm of City Journal it would have been enough. But it turns out that some years ago the editor forged a relationship with the governor of Texas, George W. Bush, and his aide Karl Rove, and thus the ideas of City Journal came to infuse not only the policies of America's largest and greatest city but also the domestic policy of the Bush administration and its "compassionate conservatism." No doubt the attacks of September 11, 2001, made the administration's priorities more focused on foreign than domestic policy. But if one had to pick two politicians to influence during the term of an editorship in the past half-generation, one would be challenged to match the ones Mr. Magnet so famously influenced in Messrs. Giuliani and Bush.

Mr. Magnet's greatest skill, though, was in establishing and cultivating a team of writers and making them into stars in their own rights. We think of Kay Hymowitz on the family, Heather Mac Donald on policing and on welfare, Steven Malanga on New York's City Council and the city's political culture, Sol Stern on schools, Howard Husock on housing, and Theodore Dalrymple on the underclass. The depth of City Journal's coverage became clear to us when, in researching topics for a series of policy-setting editorials in the Sun's first year, we found almost invariably that the most thorough, fact-filled, and clear-eyed treatment of almost any urban issue was in City Journal, even when our take was different from City Journal's, as, on occasion, it has been.

This kind of achievement no doubt owes much to Mr. Magnet's capacious personality and his willingness to go against convention. This starts with his mutton chops and his impeccably cut suits and is reflected in his taste in the paintings of city motifs that have become the trademark of the magazine's cover. His relish for art and architecture is matched by his attachment to fine prose. Mr. Magnet has devoted most of his energies to perfecting the work of others and making them famous. He will be succeeded by the deputy he groomed, Brian Anderson. We're told Mr. Magnet's plan will be to write under his own byline, including in City Journal. We look forward to reading him. He has set an example of the influence that can be had with a small-circulation publication (or not so small; it now has 950,000 individual readers on the Internet). He has helped make our city safer, more prosperous, and more pleasant."


What better tribute is there -- even better than this editorial -- than the fact that former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani admits to 'plagiarizing' his policies from the pages of the City Journal; it should be added that Giuliani's best policies were plagiarized from CJ. Magnet presided over a must-read magazine for those interested in social and urban policy. His editorial hand will be missed by those who have enjoyed his magazine. But his real legacy is not mere journalism, but journalism that affected change. By influencing Giuliani, as the Sun noted, he made New York safer, more prosperous and more pleasant. How many editors can say that?


Saturday, December 30, 2006
 
One of these people are not like the others

I thought I was done blogging about Pinochet but I noticed this item at the von Mises blog by George Reisman about New York Times obits for the Chilean dictator, Mao Tse-Tung, Joseph Stalin, and V.I. Lenin:

"In these headlines we find utter condemnation of a dictator who was relatively mild as dictators go, but who was Anti-Communist; his leading characteristic was allegedly rule by 'Terror.'

In contrast, in the case of Communist mass murderers we find non-judgmental tolerance in the headlines, along with a studious refusal to mention the incalculably greater terrors they caused. More than that, we find positive esteem and enthusiasm in the headlines for the Communist mass murderers. Thus Mao was the 'Leader of Red China’s Revolution'; Stalin allegedly transformed 'Russia Into Mighty Socialist State'; and Lenin’s funeral was described as a phenomenon of near worshipful enthusiasm: '…COFFIN CARRIED FIVE MILES Members of Council of Commissars Stagger Under Load, Refusing Gun Caisson'..."


The post has the full headlines. And luv how George Reisman threw 'allegedly' in front of ruled by terror.


 
Australia -- the way of the future?

Maybe not quite, but there are lessons from the health insurance industry that might well be applicable elsewhere, at least according to Dr. Fred Hansen at the Adam Smith Institute blog:

"Not only in Australia but on a global scale, the change in disease patterns, demographics and medical progress are resulting in a surge of health care expenditures – enforcing changes in demand management and in the funding of health care in order to enhance sustainability. So many experts expect a consolidation of the health insurance industry, with a need for more flexibility. NIB [a non-profit insurer] for example, generated its recent profits with a strategy to attract the under-40s with cheaper health insurance by scrapping interventions they were unlikely to use. Increasing use of the internet, accounting for 30 percent of the fund's sales also helped to cut management expenses."


 
CBO?

Businesspundit points to this neat job: Chief Beer Officer at Four Points by Sheraton.


 
Most unsurprising headline of the year

It took 364 days but here it is: "Saddam's fate fuels death-penalty critics."


Friday, December 29, 2006
 
Stuff that I would have blogged about

Taking nearly two weeks off from my blogging responsibilities was on one hand great (re-introduced myself to my wife and kids, more productive evenings, more sleep) but on the other hand, quite frustrating (there was lots of interesting things I would have liked to add my two cents to). Here is a partial list of bloggable events, stories, etc...:

Time picked You (and me) as its Man of the Year. Some pundits and bloggers saw it as old media sucking up to new media. Others thought that either Pope Benedict XVI or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were the most important (read: influential) newsmakers of the year. I think Time's choice was a defensible decision (who can really argue that John Q. Public is not man of the year "for founding and framing the new digital democracy," that there was not an advance in the use of web-based technologies?) but that Time did it for indefensible reasons: pure cowardice. Among the reasons Time managing editor Richard Stengel told AP his magazine chose everyone were two incredibly cowardly rationales: "If you choose an individual, you have to justify how that person affected millions of people. But if you choose millions of people, you don't have to justify it to anyone." And: After admitting that if the magazine chose an individual it would have been Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Stengel said: "It just felt to me a little off selecting him." So it wasn't really news judgement, it was not wanting to justify their decision and specifically not justifying choosing the world's most dangerous leader. Remember that the next time journalists pat their own back about their courage.

Former U.S. President Gerald Ford passed away. Lots has been said, mostly about Chevey Chase and Richard Nixon. Not nearly enough has been said about Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn -- precisely Ford's mistreatment of the Nobel prize winner and Soviet dissident. In 1975, Ford refused to give Solzhenitsyn an audience in the White House because his National Security Council and Henry Kissinger said it might upset the Kremlin. Solzhenitsyn was a critic of detente, Ford (and Kissinger and other Nixon leftovers) were practitioners. The NSC questionned Solzhenitsyn's mental fitness. The White House said that they did not want to participate in what they said was a mere high profile stop on Solzhenitsyn's book tour. Press Secretary Ron Nessen said the president and former political prisoner could not meet because of a "crowded schedule." Later Nessen changed his story: "For image reasons, the President does like to have some substance in his meetings. It is not clear what he would gain by a meeting with Solzhenitsyn." How does one respond to that? Most of the current commentary says that Ford was so golly darn nice. But do nice people snub and insult people like Solzhenitsyn? For crying out loud, even Jimmy Carter, another devotee to detente, met with Vladimir Bukovsky.

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi has said he will continue trying to revive the dead corpse of his nation's economy by reducing red tape to encourage foreign investment. How much reform Prodi will actually push for is unclear considering he backed down in 2006 when taxi cab drivers protested his efforts to deregulate the industry and permit some competition.

Timeswatch.com has the 10 lowlights for the year from the New York Times. Just 10? It's long but worth the read.

The NDP held up a pay raise for Ontario MPPs and Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty says that if they don't want a pay raise, they don't have to accept it. Dalton: does the same principle apply to Ontarians who don't want your tax increases?

In amazing news, the New York Yankees might trade their $16-million, declining and slowing, 43-year-old starting pitcher who had back surgery in October. Rumours are they might get a major league player and a prospect in return for Randy Johnson if they agree to pick up a sizable chunk of the Big Unit's salary. His former team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, are most interested although Johnson has a veto over any trade. I said mid-season and have been saying ever since that the Yankees should (and can afford to) pay him not to play. He is a hindrance to the team and his good record (17 wins) is less a reflection of the Yankees offense (more than seven runs per 9 innings when Johnson pitches) than the southpaw's own skills. Getting live bodies in return is a definite bonus. If Yank's GM Brian Cashman can move Johnson, it will be the greatest Christmas present this year.

Speaking of late Christmas presents: electoral Nazi Jean-Pierre Kingsley resigned. Gerry Nicholls has links to his various comments and thoughts on Kingsley's 17-year-too-late exit from the federal scene.

There were lots of other things, but these were the news items I recalled wanting to blog about. As for those of you who thought that I was going to blog during my self-exile, you lose. I have some will-power. Happy New Year. Blogging will be intermittent for the next little while.


Sunday, December 17, 2006
 
Merry Christmas to all

This should be my last post until after Christmas. I have a busy week (don't we all), but more importantly I want to prepare for the day that celebrates God's Great Gift to man. I wish you and your family the peace and joy of this holy day and season.

"And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."


-- Luke 2:10-14


 
Weekend list

Best books of 2006

Honourable mentions:

American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia by Bruce Frohnen, Jeremy Beer, and Jeffery O. Nelson (The book is not without its problems -- the continuation of the Kirk family war against George F. Will results in claiming that he is pro-welfare state -- but it is a very good overview of American conservatism); Shades of Glory: The Negro Leagues and the Story of African-American Baseball by Lawrence D. Hogan and Jules Tygiel (Simply one of the best histories of the Negro league by one of the best historians of the era, it is comprehensive and intelligible); Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq by Thomas Ricks (There are few honest and non-partisan critiques of the poorly executed pacification of Iraq (see Bob Woodward, Michael Isikoff and David Corn) but Ricks provides a serious indictment of what went wrong by simply reporting on how inept was the pre-war planning); Heart Matters by Adrienne Clarkson (A surprisingly candid autobiography with more than a few interesting political tidbits from the Martin years).

Ten best books of 2006

10. How to Spend $50 Billion to Make the World a Better Place edited by Bjorn Lomborg (A condensed version of Global Crises, Global Solutions where policy experts offer solutions to various problems such as poverty, water scarcity, global warming and epidemic diseases premised on the idea that they would have $50 billion to solve them; counter arguments are also offered. I don't agree with all the ideas but all are thoughtful and thought-provoking.)

9. Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation by Michael Zielenziger (There is a lot wrong with Japanese culture and Zielenziger explains much of it, from women who eschew marriage and children to young men who eschew work and stay in cramped apartments for most of their life. A disturbing and cautionary tale about worshipping at the altar of materialism.)

8. The Trouble with Africa: Why Foreign Aid Isn't Working by Robert Calderisi (Not as readable as William Easterly's The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good, which also has a much more developed thesis involving searchers and planners, The Trouble with Africa finds that ultimately Africans are mostly responsible for the lack of development due to dictatorial and corrupt regimes, woefully bad economic and agricultural policies, cultures inimical to entrepreneurialism.)

7. The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis (The book is mostly about football -- the evolution of the game and the emergence of the left tackle. But it also the story of Michael Oher, the Ole Miss left tackle likely to be taken number 1 in the NFL draft in 2008 and his improbable and inspirational journey from Memphis were his crack-addicted mother didn't care for him at all but the Christian family of Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy did. An incredible story well told.)

6. The Cure: How Capitalism Can Save American Health Care by David Gratzer (The best public policy book of the year is about the perennial problem of controlling health care costs; Dr. Gratzer's prescription: less government, more market discipline.)

5. White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era by Shelby Steele (Examines how compassion of white liberals -- and their dehumanizing social theories -- keep black Americans down.)

4. Baseball Between the Numbers edited by Jonah Keri and James Click (The Baseball Prospectus people look at what are meaningful statistics and what are not for an irreverent but useful look at the game.)

4. America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It by Mark Steyn (Clearly demonstrates that the welfare state and low fertility rates are national security issues in the clash between the West and Islam.)

3. The Undercover Economist: Exposing Why the Rich are Rich, the Poor are Poor-and You Can Never Buy a Decent Used Car by Tim Harford (Financial Times columnist explains economics and the economics of everyday life in a very reader friendly way.)

2. Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran (Former WaPo Baghdad bureau chief offers vignettes demonstrating the ineptitude of the Coalition Provisional Authority as it prepared to transfer power to a new Iraqi government.)

1. The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger by Marc Levinson (Not to be confused with Box Boats: How Container Ships Changed the World: How Container Ships Changed the World by Brian J. Cudahy which was released two weeks later, The Box is a riveting narrative about how shipping containers made globalization possible.)


Saturday, December 16, 2006
 
I've heard of Christmas in July but April Fool's Day in December?

Andrew Coyne has a column advocating tax relief for Christmas shoppers. Or he doesn't. Read to the end. Irreponsible for him to write such a column; wrong for the paper to publish it. That said, here are some interesting statisticoids in it.


 
The Democrats -- who's in and who's out

Before ever stepping officially into the race for Democratic presidential nomination, Indiana senator Evan Bayh, usually described a moderate (read: hand-wringing) Democrat, has said he will not run. Bayh said:

"At the end of the day, I concluded that due to circumstances beyond our control the odds were longer than I felt I could responsibly pursue ... This path — and these long odds — would have required me to be essentially absent from the Senate for the next year instead of working to help the people of my state and the nation."

Read: this race is between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. By dropping out now, before making one speech about why he should lead the Democrats and consequently implying that Hillary or Obama should not, Bayh keeps himself in the veep sweepstakes after Hillary and Obama bloody each other to point that neither could pick the other as a running mate.

I have leaned against thinking that Obama will run. He's young and could quite clearly be "the future" of the party if he doesn't run and lose now. But after reading George F. Will's WaPo column from Thursday, it makes a lot of sense that the future is now. Will states four reasons:

1. "[O]ne can be an intriguing novelty only once." If another Democrat is elected president in '08, Obama will have to wait until he's 55 to run again. By then, "there will be many fresher faces."

2. "[I]f you get the girl up on her tiptoes, you should kiss her." If he doesn't run, he's an electoral tease.

3. His strongest opponent, Hillary Clinton, is his ideal opponent. "Many Democrats who are desperate to win are queasy about depending on her. For a nation with jangled nerves, and repelled by political snarling, he offers a tone of sweet reasonableness." He is much more liberal than he seems. That helps with Democrats (his liberalism) and centrists (that few people notice it).

4. History indicates that the Republicans are unlikely to retain the White House in '08: "...for 50 years it has been rare for a presidential nominee to extend his party's hold on the presidency beyond eight years." The sole exception is when George H.W. Bush was elected to continue the Reagan administration. No one wants to give a new lease on life to the George W. Bush administration. If Obama does not run in '08, he is not likely to get another chance until 2016, but if the historical trend holds, the Democrats are unlikely to win in that year assuming President Hillary Clinton (or whoever) win re-election.

In other words, the man and moment have met. I still think Barack Obama is a mostly empty suit, but empty suits can win. Or at least they can win presidential primaries and leadership contests. A general election is quite another thing.


 
Not my first choice

The AP reports that Edmonton Archbishop Thomas Collins will replace Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic to lead the archdiocese of Toronto. Archbishop Collins has been a been a stronger episcopal voice than has Cardinal Ambrozic, but that isn't saying much. One would have hoped for a stronger voice than this: Archbishop Collins said of the issue of denying communion to politicians that openly dissent from the teaching of the Magisterium that (in the words of Canadian Catholic News) "such confrontations with politicians 'going astray' over moral teaching might 'scare away anyone who might want to be a Catholic politician'." On the positive side, he has asked Our Lady of Guadalupe to pray for him in his new mission. I don't presume to know better than the pope, but my first choice would have been the deeply intelligent and (more) orthodox Basilian Archbishop J. Michael Miller, the Secretary for the Congregation of Catholic Education.


 
Weekend list

Best books of 2006

Honourable mentions:

American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia by Bruce Frohnen, Jeremy Beer, and Jeffery O. Nelson (The book is not without its problems -- the continuation of the Kirk family war against George F. Will results in claiming that he is pro-welfare state -- but it is a very good overview of American conservatism); Shades of Glory: The Negro Leagues and the Story of African-American Baseball by Lawrence D. Hogan and Jules Tygiel (Simply one of the best histories of the Negro league by one of the best historians of the era, it is comprehensive and intelligible); Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq by Thomas Ricks (There are few honest and non-partisan critiques of the poorly executed pacification of Iraq (see Bob Woodward, Michael Isikoff and David Corn) but Ricks provides a serious indictment of what went wrong by simply reporting on how inept was the pre-war planning); Heart Matters by Adrienne Clarkson (A surprisingly candid autobiography with more than a few interesting political tidbits from the Martin years).

Ten best books of 2006

10. How to Spend $50 Billion to Make the World a Better Place edited by Bjorn Lomborg (A condensed version of Global Crises, Global Solutions where policy experts offer solutions to various problems such as poverty, water scarcity, global warming and epidemic diseases premised on the idea that they would have $50 billion to solve them; counter arguments are also offered. I don't agree with all the ideas but all are thoughtful and thought-provoking.)

9. Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation by Michael Zielenziger (There is a lot wrong with Japanese culture and Zielenziger explains much of it, from women who eschew marriage and children to young men who eschew work and stay in cramped apartments for most of their life. A disturbing and cautionary tale about worshipping at the altar of materialism.)

8. The Trouble with Africa: Why Foreign Aid Isn't Working by Robert Calderisi (Not as readable as William Easterly's The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good, which also has a much more developed thesis involving searchers and planners, The Trouble with Africa finds that ultimately Africans are mostly responsible for the lack of development due to dictatorial and corrupt regimes, woefully bad economic and agricultural policies, cultures inimical to entrepreneurialism.)

7. The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis (The book is mostly about football -- the evolution of the game and the emergence of the left tackle. But it also the story of Michael Oher, the Ole Miss left tackle likely to be taken number 1 in the NFL draft in 2008 and his improbable and inspirational journey from Memphis were his crack-addicted mother didn't care for him at all but the Christian family of Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy did. An incredible story well told.)

6. The Cure: How Capitalism Can Save American Health Care by David Gratzer (The best public policy book of the year is about the perennial problem of controlling health care costs; Dr. Gratzer's prescription: less government, more market discipline.)

5. White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era by Shelby Steele (Examines how compassion of white liberals -- and their dehumanizing social theories -- keep black Americans down.)

4. Baseball Between the Numbers edited by Jonah Keri and James Click (The Baseball Prospectus people look at what are meaningful statistics and what are not for an irreverent but useful look at the game.)

4. America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It by Mark Steyn (Clearly demonstrates that the welfare state and low fertility rates are national security issues in the clash between the West and Islam.)

3. The Undercover Economist: Exposing Why the Rich are Rich, the Poor are Poor-and You Can Never Buy a Decent Used Car by Tim Harford (Financial Times columnist explains economics and the economics of everyday life in a very reader friendly way.)

2. Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran (Former WaPo Baghdad bureau chief offers vignettes demonstrating the ineptitude of the Coalition Provisional Authority as it prepared to transfer power to a new Iraqi government.)

1. The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger by Marc Levinson (Not to be confused with Box Boats: How Container Ships Changed the World: How Container Ships Changed the World by Brian J. Cudahy which was released two weeks later, The Box is a riveting narrative about how shipping containers made globalization possible.)


 
John Redwood is blogging

Here. In this post, he argues that the Tories are the best hope for euroskeptics whilst making a strong case for David Cameron and Stephen Harper-like pandering to many of the pocket book issues of self-centered middle class voters. That is, after all, what politics is all about. Here is the money 'graphs on the realities of politics:

"There is no pleasing some people. Every time a leader of the Conservative Party talks about some other subject, Eurosceptic critics shrug their shoulders and say, 'There you are. You cannot trust the Conservatives as he has made another speech on something other than Europe.' Many voters are more interested in the state of their local hospital, whether they have the choice of a good school, how much tax they are paying to Gordon Brown, whether their local environment is green and clean and whether there is a transport system that helps them get to work in the morning, than they are in constitutional issues surrounding the European Union. A great national party which wants to win the trust of the British people to govern again cannot ignore these legitimate concerns and has a natural interest in them anyway. Our stance on Europe, shown by our words and our votes, shows we understand that in some cases to do what we need to do at home we first have to remove EU obstacles abroad.

Many people now have a very consumerist attitude towards politics. Most people going into the local department store do not want to get involved in an argument about the company structure, the corporate governance of the shop, its stock policy, what contractual relationship it has with its suppliers, or what its staffing policy may be. They just wish to see a good choice of goods and will buy the ones that are attractively priced and to their liking. The same is true for many of politics. Whilst to the connoisseurs and the patriots the question of constitutional arrangements is fundamental, because it determines how all other matters are settled or resolved, to most voters the constitutional issue is unimportant. They are more preoccupied by their Council Tax Bill or by how long they have to wait to get a hip operation."


 
Legalizing prostitution will not make it any safer

The debate about decriminalizing or legalizing prostitution that has been re-ignited by the Ipswich murders led someone at the Civitas blog to ponder whether turning the girls who turn tricks legit would make them any safer:

"... if prostitutes were in high security bordellos and clean of drugs they’d still be at risk. Prostitutes don’t get killed because prostitution is illegal. They get killed because serial killers target them. For people with that most complex of psychopathologies often tend to, firstly, be intelligent enough to evade detection, and, secondly, have fixations that lead them to target particular groups.

There are serial killers, such as ‘black widows’, who kill a succession of husbands, lovers, or other family members. There are serial killers, who as nurses or other medical professionals, become self-appointed ‘angels of death’ murdering babies, elderly, or the desperately ill. And, relevant to this case, there are those who prey on women and children. Prostitutes, drifters and hitchhikers are their victims of choice."


Interesting argument that I hadn't really considered before.


 
EU regulations lead to moment of ironic levity

From the Open Europe blog:

"The Open Europe team has had all hands on deck this week stuffing envelopes with our new report on EU financial regulation which we're sending out to as many people as we can afford.

When the posties came to pick up the mail bags filled with the reports they shook their heads in that familiar plumber-style fashion: 'Sorry pal, won't be able to take them.'

OE: 'Why not?'

'Too heavy... It's these bloody European directives. Can't carry anything over 11 kilo...'

They left telling us that they would return when we'd made the bags lighter and EU compliant. The irony of a report on EU over-regulation being slowed down by EU red tape was not lost on the team..."


The report on financial industry regulations can be found here.


 
McAbortions are closing

Planned Parenthood has experienced a steady decline in the number of their "health clinics" since 1995. According to a press release from the American Life League, Planned Parenthood had 938 clinics in operation in 1995, 875 in 2000, 825 in 2005 and 817 in 2006. That is 121 clinics that committed abortions and distributed and propagandized for birth control closed over 11 years, an average of 11 closings per year.


 
America, bastion of capitalism, right? Wrong!

Belatedly from last Sunday's Washington Post:

"Most U.S. dairy farmers work within a government system set up in the 1930s to give thousands of small dairies a guaranteed market for their milk and to even out prices for consumers. Farmers who participate in regional pools operated by the federal government or the states deliver raw milk to cooperatives or food processors. They get a guaranteed price, whether the milk ends up in a gallon jug, cheese, butter or ice cream. In Arizona and other federally regulated regions, the Agriculture Department uses a formula to set the price processors pay for raw milk, issuing 'milk marketing orders'."

That tidbit is part of a long but interesting story on how big milk and big government collude to screw small farmers by thwarting the free market. As Dutch-born California dairy farmer Hein Hettinga says: "I had an awakening ... It's not totally free enterprise in the United States." Unfortunately, no, it isn't.


 
At least Toronto/Queen's Park pols didn't give themselves this kind of raise

The Financial Times reports that at a time when the government is trying (and needs) to bring spending under control, Brasilian legislators gave themselves a 90.7% pay raise -- more than three times the rate of inflation (28%) since their last pay raise in 2003.


Friday, December 15, 2006
 
Not gonna happen

The Financial Times:

"Ban Ki-moon, the new United Nations secretary-general, swore his oath of office on Thursday with a pledge to restore ethics and efficiency to the organisation's scandal-ridden administration."

The UN is dysfunctional. The biggest problem is that the UN brings together some 200 countries with diverse national interests and hopes that they will act as one. Also, you have a majority (at least) of the General Assembly utterly uninterested in reform; you have a large, unaccountable bureaucracy that has little incentive to act ethically; you have a large, cumbersome bureaucracy that simply cannot be efficient. Ban Ki-moon might make the place a little less unethical, a little less inefficient, and convince member states to occasionally put aside their national interests for the collective good, and that is all that one can expect or even ask for.

Yet, there are positive signs. As the New York Sun editorialized today:

"The new secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, says his 'first priority will be to restore trust' in the world body. It is a slap at the outgoing secretary-general, Kofi Annan, who did so much to erode that trust."

Many of those responsible for damaging the trust Ban alludes to, most notably Kofi Annan himself, will not be held to account but it is a hopeful start for the incoming Secretary General to recognize, even implicitly, the sins of his predecessor. Doing so may allow him to avoid making the same mistakes. While it might be too much to expect that the Secretariat be thoroughly cleaned up, one might hope that the new Secretary General is clean.


 
Tom DeLay blogs

Delay and others, that is. Technically, it's Tom DeLay's Grassroots Action and Information Network. The blog's mission statement (so to speak) is:

"The importance of the blogosphere in shaping and motivating the current conservative movement is unquestionable- not only has it served as an important tool in breaking through the liberal MSM clutter but it has helped to keep our elected officials true to principle.

This blog is meant to further the online discussion in the marketplace of ideas."


Who knows if he has any future political hopes (wake up and smell the defeat, Tom, if you do) but I am skeptical when politicians blog. Anyway, there is some interesting stuff, but a lot of it is pretty pedestrian: he hopes Senator Tim Johnson gets well, he notes that Nancy Pelosi has already seemingly broken one of the key Democratic campaign promises (to enact all the 9/11 commission recommendations) about which DeLay concludes, "now the ball is in Nancy's court."


 
Frank Johnson, RIP

Former Speccie and Daily Telegraph editor Frank Johnson has passed away. Boris Johnson, Frank's successor at The Spectator and a frequent victim of his columns, said:

"There are very few journalists who create a genre of their own and even fewer who remain unsurpassed in that genre. Frank Johnson invented the modern parliamentary sketch complete with his own hilarious metaphysic conceits. By that I mean yoking together two disparate subjects and playing with both. Every other sketch writer has attempted to imitate him and nobody has equalled him. He was a wonderful man and brilliantly funny."

He was was of journalism finest and his writing will be missed by his many fans and admirers.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006
 
Extremely funny

Charlie Brown Christmas Jihad.

So much better than Charlie Brown Kwanza. (Warning: offensive language)


 
Black thugs and liberal racists

From Stanley Couch's incredible New York Daily News column earlier this week:

"That was part of what has surely become a cultural crisis in which young black men adorn themselves with surface trappings and take on the obnoxious vulgarity of thugs in order to meet the expectations of young black women who have embraced their own degradation, seeming to find it sexy. That degradation is expressed in the misogynistic doggerel that dominates popular hip hop recordings.

Added to this low-lying mix are the supposedly sympathetic white liberals, who are more than happy to submit gutlessly to the black middle class. These white liberals have been intellectually hustled into believing that the inarticulate thug and the freelance slut are young black people in their natural state."


As Crouch says, this thug image culture is less about criminality than bedding ho's, the sluts (in dress and behaviour) finding thugs sexy and rewarding their slavishness to fashion (as it is) with sexual fulfillment -- or at least a quickie. So the key to reversing this odious trend is for the sluts to become a little more discriminating. Crouch puts it a little less offensively but not less straightforwardly:

"The solution may have to come from the women, who have been known to get men to act right when they have gotten tired of them acting like animals."


 
Year in review

George F. Will offers his annual Newsweek take on the year's events. Luv'd these lines: "This year's civil-rights outrage was 'soaring' and 'record' gasoline prices, a violation of Americans' inalienable right to pay for a gallon no more than they paid 25 years ago. By December the price of a gallon, adjusted for inflation, was 83 cents lower than in 1981." There is lots more journalistic goodness in the column like worrying about global warming causing the "emerging hurricane problem" and then blaming global warming when it doesn't occur. Or this: "Two U.S. explorers went to the North Pole to study how global warming threatens polar bears. They had planned to go last year, but were forced to delay Project Thin Ice because of unusually heavy snow and ice." As Harold Bloom often says, we live in an age in which satire is no longer possible.


 
A little perspective on Pinochet

I expected the strong criticism of the former Chilean strongman from the likes of the New York Times and even Stephen Pollard but David Frum? Please. Perhaps a little perspective is in order; from yesterday's Wall Street Journal editorial on the passing of General Augusto Pinochet:

"The official death toll of the Pinochet dictatorship is some 3,197. An estimated 2,796 of those died in the first two weeks of fighting between the army and the Allende-armed militias. The balance died in the next 17 years."

No communist country could match that kind of restraint: about 400 deaths over 17 years. And then Pinochet demonstrated the difference between authoritarian and totalitarian regimes:

"... over time, with the return of private property, the rule of law and a freer economy, democratic institutions also returned. An economic crisis in 1982 led to even more economic liberalization."

So, no, defending Pinochet isn't about him being our sonuvabitch or his bringing about free market reforms and trade liberalization -- although those led to Chile's eventually democratizing. It is about turning the tide on communism in Latin America, his being a loyal ally in the final stages of the Cold War, the slow and eventual democratization of the country, and the gross exaggerations (and hypocrisies) of the Left. Communists from Stalin down to the average Marxist professor justified breaking a few eggs for their utopian omelets. As John O'Sullivan noted, Fidel Castro killed perhaps 20 times the number Pinochet's regime did; the death toll for the Soviet and Chinese communists is in the millions. Yet it is Pinochet that is reviled. He exiled more than ten thousand political opponents which is certainly preferable to killing them or sending them off to prison camps.

Pinochet now faces a more severe tribunal and a much more serious punishment than his earthly opponents are calling for, but I can't get all that upset about what amounts to about 400 politically motivated deaths 30 years ago. There is something substantially and significantly different in murdering a few hundred people and a few thousand and a few million people. There are many more tyrants and much worse bad guys to castigate. Without sounding overly utilitarian, the very real good Pinochet did for his country and the West vastly outweighs his crimes. "One death is too many" is a nice slogan for a whining human rights group but a little realism and perspective wouldn't hurt -- 400 deaths, for crying out loud. I can't see how the deaths of several hundred Chileans over nearly two decades in a slow-motion liberalization project is any worse than the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis in an attempt to establish a democratic beach-head in the Middle East.


 
There is no end to UN silliness

Oxblog's David Adesnik:

"Having a name is your human right: I just found out that according to Article 7 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, children 'shall have the right from birth to a name.'

Was that right included in the Charter in response to an epidemic of nameless births? I didn't have a name until I was eight days old, but I don't hold it against my parents.

In the future, if society decided that it is more efficient for humans to have a number instead of a name, would that violate the Charter? Or does a string of digits count as a name? Calling prisoner 24601...

The Charter also says in Article 16 that 'No child shall be subjected to...unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation.' What does that mean? Were all those mean kids who called me fat when I was little violating my human rights?

There are plenty of good and useful rights in the Charter, but some pruning might have been beneficial."


 
Like you could silence women

Political Staples points out the folly of Belinda Stronach's complaint that women are being silenced. In a TV interview Stronach was asked why couldn't women speak out on issues like a national daycare scheme or pay equity without government funding their special interest groups. Stronach replied: "They are the ones being silenced, in fact I attended a rally yesterday where there were over five hundred women and those groups were represented there." As Greg Staples says:

"Stronach attended a rally were five hundred women were 'silenced'! Apparently I have lost the ability to understand the english language. People "silenced" at a public rally on Parliament Hill. Amazing."


 
12 years after never again, the UN watches -- again

The London Times editorializes about the genocide in Darfur and the UN's (non) reaction to it:

"Yesterday Kofi Annan urged the UN’s Human Rights Council to condemn Sudan. That will hardly make Khartoum tremble. This council, created last June, was supposed to mark a new start, after the abolition of the UN’s notoriously politicised Human Rights Commission. Since then it has passed eight resolutions against Israel; but African countries refused to criticise Sudan. The Arab League has also been mute.

The UN Security Council has 'decided' to replace an inadequate posse of African peace monitors with a UN force, but only if Sudan agreed, which of course it does not. China’s and Russia’s lack of enthusiasm for sanctions should be seen as tacit support for the slaughter. That is certainly how Khartoum interprets their silence. So the killing goes on, spreading now to refugee camps in Darfur and across the border to Chad. UN emissaries have been thrown out and the aid operation is at the edge of total breakdown."


The paper says set up safe havens in Chad and hold China and Russia accountable for obstructing progress in saving lives in Darfur. Chad wants the UN in their country and it would send a tougher signal than Turtle Bay can usually muster when African regimes practice or permit genocide. But it won't. Action requires the will to act and too many member states, including two of five permanent Security Council members, have no desire to upset Khartoum.


 
They did not break them

Chen Ziming, "a pillar of the fledgling Â? and daring Â? democracy campaign in China" and a leader of the student protest in Tiananmen Square in 1989, was recently freed from prison after serving 13 years in jail for his role in the pro-democracy protest. The London Times reports that Chen's "determination to bring democracy to the most populous Communist nation in the world is undiminished by the many years that he has spent in Red ChinaÂ?s prison camps. And he is unafraid of retribution." He has vowed to obey the law and laments the shedding of blood in 1989, partly because he thought it was a needless step for the students to take. He was offered safe haven abroad -- there is no reason to believe that he won't harassedsed by ChiComm officials -- but wants to stay in China to help develop the idea of democracy and work with candidates with the election process.


 
Just ignore his words

Diplomacy always seems to be about talk but diplomacy also requires that sane nations become temporarily insane and ignore what dangerous countries are actually saying. Reuters reports that at the Holocaust deniers confab in Tehran, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the end of Israel is near. Specifically he said:

"Thanks to people's wishes and God's will, the trend for the existence of the Zionist regime is downwards, and this is what God has promised and what all nations want ... Just as the Soviet Union was wiped out and today does not exist, so will the Zionist regime soon be wiped out."

Reuters reports, "His words received warm applause." We are to ignore Ahmadinejad's genocidal comments. And his guests' approval of such a genocide.

On the plus side, the Vatican, Germany and the European Commission have finally joined the United States and Israel in condemning Iran's hosting the Holocaust deniers' conference.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006
 
A good reason to avoid biking (if you're a dude)

How do you pass up a column with a title like this from Slate: "Does bike riding numb your genitals?" As William Saletan explains that according to a new study females who ride a bike for at least 10 hours a week, "have a decrease in genital sensation. However, there were no negative effects on sexual function and quality of life." For men, previous studies have determined, there can be deleterious sexual consequences. As Saletan says: "Why male but not female dysfunction? Scientific answer: 'Female cyclists may benefit from anatomical differences that produce less compression.' Sarcastic translation: You don't say."


 
Since when was patriotism a bad thing?

Clay Risen writes about scary conservative Ben Stein at The New Republic Online and offers this little gem: "... the Stein who writes for The American Spectator is all emotion -- angry, vindictive, nostalgic, and patriotic." Interesting that patriotic is thrown in with emotions that most people would consider bad (angry and vindictive) as well as an emotion that most liberals consider puerile (nostalgic). But few even implicitly condemn patriotism -- the last emotion of a scoundrel, no doubt.

I won't even get into Risen's use of 'offshore' as a verb.


 
Let's look at Kofi Annan's record

As part of NRO's symposium on the Kofi Annan record (hint: it's not that impressive), Brett Schaefer of the Heritage Foundation, says that instead of real reform:

"Annan choose instead to engage in platitudes and ad hominem attacks on American policy in human rights, international peace and security, and development Â?

* As if the U.N. were simply chomping at the bit to address situations like those in Darfur, but for U.S. intransigence;

* As if the Human Rights Council would act as a balanced and reliable forum for examining human-rights abuses without disproportionate scrutiny of Israel, if only the U.S. had run for a seat on the body;

* As if threats to international peace and security would be immediately addressed if only the U.S. agreed to subject its military decisions to the wisdom of the Security Council that regularly shields rogue nations from consequence for their actions.

* As if the U.N. would prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, if only the U.S. would be more multilateral in its policies.

* As if the U.S. and other donors were more responsible for poverty, despite trillions of dollars in development assistance, than the repressive policies of many poor nations.

* As if the economic gains of globalization could somehow be better realized if only market-led growth was subject to increased taxation, regulation, and redistribution led by the U.N.

Supporters of the United Nations, including Annan, often describe the organization as an 'indispensable instrument' or as possessing a 'unique legitimacy.' These claims are more wishful thinking than reality. In reality, the U.N. is fraught with outdated mandates, waste and inefficiency, and a vulnerability to paralysis that impedes action."


Platitudes might have won Kofi Annan accolades but they did not accomplish much, other thanantagonizingg the UN's largest financial contributor. Maybe its time Washington rethink that fact.


 
More reasons to miss John Bolton

LifeSiteNews.com reports on the 'resignation' of American ambassador to the UN, John Bolton:

"Dr. [James] Dobson and Focus on the Family President Jim Daly both described Bolton as a 'pro-life gentleman' to listeners of their radio program. Bolton had extended to them 'an invitation to work with him in setting some policy there at the UN that would support the values we believe in.' They had a private meeting with Bolton and concluded that Democrats were opposing him because 'he's pro-life, pro-family, pro-morality and sees things the way we do regarding condom distribution and abstinence and other things'."

I would have guessed that Bolton leaned socially conservative and friends of mine at the UN say that American delegation is much more pro-life than it was six years ago. And while opposing the UN's radical social agenda of abortion-as-a-human-right, promotion of homosexuality, and condomizing everything (especially in Africa), would not endear Bolton to the Joseph Bidens and Jean Kerrys of the Senate, it was not those issues that led the Democrats to hate him; they hate him because he is critical of the way the UN works (or, more properly, doesn't work) and that he won't pay homage to their form of multilateralism that gives France a veto over America acting in its national interests. Bolton's pro-life, pro-family position helped him better represent the Bush administration's priorities at the UN as well as American national interests, to make no mention of keeping the UN focused on its original mission. But it didn't cost Bolton his job. Putting US interests ahead of sucking up to Kofi Annan and Jacques Chirac, did that.


 
Wal-Mart: 'An effective poverty alleviation organization'

Michael Strong, co-founder and board member of Flow, an organization that focuses on the goals of sustainable peace, prosperity, and happiness, writes (pdf) in the current Fraser Forum, that Wal-Mart has done more to help people out of poverty (in China) than most foreign aid projects. Some facts -- or at CNN used to call them, factoids:

* The company is (indirectly) responsible for an estimated $23 billion of China's $713 billion worth of exports;

* That represents to lifting 38,000 people out of poverty each month or 460,000 a year;

* An estimated 70% of Wal-Mart's products are made in Red China;

* According to an anti-Wal-Mart story in the Washington Post, there are many poor Chinese willing to "move hundreds of miles from home for jobs that would be shunned anyone with better prospects." Despite Western fretting over sweat-shops and the idealization of peasant life, urban workers "on average [earn] twice as much as they had on the farm."

* Leftist economist and pundit Paul Krugman has said that globally economic growth and multinationals provide opportunities that would never otherwise exist: "[it moves] hundreds of millions of people from abject poverty to something still awful but nonetheless significantly better."

* Private charity provided $400 million of relief in the Asian tsunami aftermath in 2004. Strong notes that would not even provide one day's pay for the nearly 630 million Chinese making less than $1-a-day.

Obviously economic growth is preferable to endless, futile foreign-aid handouts. The best social program is a job, at home or abroad. And companies like Wal-Mart are the engine of economic growth and thus the jobs. As Michael Strong says, "Charity cannot take place on an adequate scale to solve global poverty."

Strong has two pieces of advice for the anti-globalization crowd.

1. Give up the social justice posturing: "An unreflective passion for social justice may be one of the biggest obstacles to creating peace and prosperity in the 21st century."

2. More importantly, we can make a direct difference: "Act locally, think globally: Shop Wal-Mart."


 
Developing world needs more free trade

The USA Today editorializes against Democrats and union standing in the way of American free trade pacts with Latin American countries. Here are the money 'graphs:

"The pending trade agreements with Peru and Colombia would eliminate most tariffs, modestly expand trade in such areas as textiles and agriculture, give U.S. financial services companies more access to these markets and require greater intellectual-property protections. Defeating them would essentially say to the world: Never mind all that rhetoric about free enterprise and open markets. It would make the United States look like a cowardly lion, afraid of much smaller, poorer nations.

Anti-trade groups argue, as always, that they are trying to protect workers, not defeat trade pacts. In fact, they would encumber the deals with protections that are impractical in developing countries facing myriad economic and political challenges."


Sometimes the obstacles to freer trade come not from the West but the developing countries themselves. In the most recent issue of the IMF's quarterly journal Finance & Development, Sanjeev Gupta and Yongzheng Yang note that African countries have a long ways to go to beneficial and sustainable trading regimes. Some of the obstacles include an anti-export bias (external tariffs), policies that are ineffective in attracting investment, a generally unfavorable business environment, high indirect costs for manufacturers and producers (energy, land, transportation, telecommunications, security, insurance, and marketing), counter-productive tariff schemes, export monopolies, and a completely unsustainable macroeconomic situations (high inflation, large debts, deficit spending). Gupta and Yang also criticize regional trading agreements (RTAs). The authors suggest:

"All African policymakers should continue liberalization on a nondiscriminatory basis. To reduce the risk of trade diversion arising from RTAs, African countries need to slash their MFN [most favoured nation] tariffs. African exporters must have access to the cheapest imports so that they can compete globally; they need to bring in foreign technology and know-how and use foreign machinery and equipment, which are often unavailable from RTA partners. Although trade liberalization entails adjustment costs for local industries, it also improves economic efficiency over the long term, which should outweigh the costs, particularly if other domestic reforms are also carried out."


 
Charles Murray on immigration

Never before had Charles Murray states his views on immigration but he responds by email to an inquiry made at NRO. Here is Murray's position on the issue:

"What's my position on immigration? Well, since apparently someone asked (and I have never published anything on immigration), here goes.

Regarding illegal immigration:

1. Making laws about who gets to become a citizen, under what circumstances, is a legitimate function of the state.

2. Protecting borders is a legitimate function of the state.

3. Enforcing the law is a central function of the state.

4. Immigration reform must begin first with enforcement of existing immigration law. If it takes a wall, so be it.

5. And while I'm at it, I'll mention that English should be the only language in which public school classes are taught (except for teaching English as a foreign language) and in which the public's business is conducted.

Regarding legal immigration:

1. Immigration is one of the main reasons—I'm guessing the main reason apart from our constitution—that we have remained a vital, dynamic culture, but immigration of a particular sort: Self-selection whereby people come here for opportunity. That self-selection process used to apply to everyone. It still applies to the engineers and computer programmers and entrepreneurs who come here from abroad, but it is diluted for low-job-skill workers by the many economic benefits of just being in the United States. Most low-job-skill immigrants work very hard. But Milton Friedman was right: You can't have both open immigration and a welfare state. The tension between the two is inescapable.

2. Massive immigration of legal low-skill workers is problematic for many reasons, and some of them have to do with human capital. Yes, mean IQ does vary by ethnic group, and IQ tends to be below average in low-job-skill populations. One can grant all the ways in which smart people coming from Latin American or African countries are low-job-skill because they have been deprived of opportunity, and still be forced to accept the statistical tendencies. The empirical record established by scholars such as George Borjas at Harvard cannot be wished away.

3. I am not impressed by worries about losing America's Anglo-European identity. Some of the most American people I know are immigrants from other parts of the world. And I'd a hell of a lot rather live in a Little Vietnam or a Little Guatemala neighborhood, even if I couldn't read the store signs, than in many white-bread communities I can think of.

4. When it comes to the nitty-gritty, I would get rid of reuniting-families provisions, get rid of the you're-a-citizen-if-you're-born-here rule, and make immigrants ineligible for all benefits and social services except public education for their children. Everybody who immigrates has to be on a citizenship track (no guest workers). And I would endorse a literacy requirement. Having those measures in place, my other criteria for getting permission to immigrate would be fairly loose. Just having to get through the bureaucratic hoops will go a long way toward reinstalling a useful self-selection process. But, to go back to basics: None of this works unless illegal immigration is effectively ended.

I suppose other libertarians will disagree, but I don't see a single item in this approach that runs against the principles of classical liberalism."


There is little there to disagree with, however, I do worry about the U.S. losing its Anglo-American identity while agreeing that many immigrants are as Anglo-American oriented as many American-born citizens. But massive (legal or illegal) immigration can threaten (by changing, for better or worse) a country's culture. It is not racist to acknowledge that a million Zulus aren't as capable of assimilating into Virginia as a million Brits, to adopt Patrick Buchanan's line. And we would be fools to ignore the effect of even two million diverse immigrants across the whole fruited plain, year after year.


 
Oh boy

Sex with animals might be wrong but not with their dead bodies. That is the line of argument employed by the lawyer for Bryan James Hathaway, a 20-year-old Wisconsin man. Here's the opening paragraph from a Register story on the case:

"The defence lawyer of a Wisconsin man charged with having sex with a dead deer is claiming he's innocent of any wrongdoing - because a 'crimes against sexual morality' statute prohibits sex with animals, but fails to mention carcasses, The Duluth News Tribune reports."

In the post-Clintonian world of American sexuality, Mr. Hathaway may get off depending on what the definition of animal is. Hathaway's lawyer, Fredric Anderson argues that according to Webster's an animal is "any of a kingdom of living beings." A carcass wouldn't be a living animal, would it? Anderson asked the judge to determine said "what the Legislature intended 'animal' to mean in the statute", claiming, "the only clear point to draw the line in that definition, I believe, is the point of death." Anderson warned that including dead animals in the definition of animal and "you really go down a slippery slope with absurd results." Absurd indeed.

(HT: Dispel the Illusion)


Monday, December 11, 2006
 
Comments

Send them to paul_tuns[AT]yahoo.com


 
Passing thoughts on immigration

I'm a skeptic about the benefits of immigration (studies indicate that it is not so clear anymore) and I think that it is probably generally unhealthy for a country to have too much diversity (problems of social cohesion) but in the end I agree with Tim Worstall: "What terrors this immigration issue brings us! People actually get to decide which country they'd like to live in! Appalling, isn't it?" For me, severe immigration restrictions are just too much government. Ideally I'd like to replace immigration quotas with criteria such as language proficiency, employability, and a lack of criminal record for whom there would be no limit to the number let in. That is the ideal. It probably can't work that way. Ultimately the libertarian in me is winning the argument. At least for now.


 
Idiot hall of fame

It's been a while, probably at least a year since there's been a new inductee in the Idiot Hall of Fame and this one is long overdue: Andrew Sullivan. What a massive tool. In his Daily Dish he calls Chris Kelly's rant "a brilliant piece of writing." That brilliant piece of writing concludes that Hitler was better than George W. Bush: "It's almost like the hippies at MoveOn have it backwards. When it comes to protecting his country, Hitler isn't George Bush." Kelly is an idiot but Sullivan is an idiot cubed. There was a time when Sullivan would have known better but he has become completely unhinged in recent years.


 
Unhappy holidays

LifeSiteNews.com reports:

"Zogby polling shows an overwhelming majority (95%) say they are not offended by being greeted with a 'Merry Christmas' while shopping, including 98% for weekly Wal-Mart shoppers. But greet them with a 'Happy Holidays,' and 46% say they take offense. The Zogby Interactive poll surveyed 12,806 adults between Nov. 21-29 and has a margin of error of +/- 0.9 percentage points...

While 'Happy Holidays' is a greeting intended to appeal to everyone, retailers' efforts to avoid offending anyone may have backfired. More than half of those polled (51%) said they are bothered by store clerks who greet customers with 'Happy Holidays' in an effort to help stores be politically correct. For some shoppers, a clerk who says 'Happy Holidays' might as well be saying "Don't shop here" - 36% say they have avoided shopping at a store or have cut their visit short after being greeted with a 'Happy Holidays' instead of a 'Merry Christmas'."


Not surprisingly, Democrats were more likely to be offended by a greeting of Merry Christmas than Republicans (8%-1%).


 
It's never too early to think about the future

Aaron Wherry speculates at Macleans.ca about Stephane Dion's replacement as Liberal leader. Some of the list is incredibly silly: Scott Brison (low single digit finish at the preceding convention is not a springboard for the next leadership race), Jean Chretien (too cute), Martin Cauchon (another leader from Quebec?) and Brian Tobin (Captain Yesterday). Some are longshots: Michael Ignatieff (even Wherry admits Iggy might be back at Harvard by the time the leadership becomes open again), Martha Hall Findlay (needs much more experience to be a credible leadership candidate) and Belinda Stronach (rumoured to be exiting politics; hampered by the defeat at the Liberal convention of her one-person, one-vote leadership proposal). But others are more intriguing. Dalton McGuinty already has a decent job and is unlikely to risk it for the Liberal leadership; if McGuinty doesn't have his job when the leadership is open it is because he lost the provincial election; a losing provincial campaign is not the stuff of which federal winners are made? Mark Holland is ambitious and might want to set the stage for a real future leadership bid but is more likely to play power broker next time 'round. Gerard Kennedy is the presumptive next leader but without looking it up, my guess is that Canadian political history if full of examples of people touted as the next leader who for one reason or another don't quite make it. I'd bet money today that Kennedy will not be the next leader of the Liberal Party (with a caveat: unless Stephane Dion wins the next election). Justin Trudeau. The Liberals would chose another Quebecker if that Quebecker was Trudeau. I thought the Liberal game-plan all along was to hand Justin Trudeau the Liberal leadership around 2010-2012. The schedule might be bumped up or Dion might be kept around longer than many think even if he does perform poorly. The party is aching to have a Trudeau lead the party again. That is part of the reason I think Ignatieff lost: why settle for the imitation Trudeau when there is a real one waiting in the wings.

Part of the question about the next Liberal leader is timing and part of it is circumstances. There are a few scenarios:

1) The Conservatives win a majority. Highly unlikely but if it happens, Dion is gone. Trudeau is overwhelming favourite to replace him.

2) The Conservatives keep their minority or grow it slightly. Possible and Dion should survive if he runs a competent campaign and the Tory gains are not seen to be a result of Dion's connection to previous scandalous Liberal regimes.

3) The Conservatives have a reduced minority. Highly likely and Dion keeps his job as long as he runs a good campaign. Many Liberals are taking the current post-convention polling bump as a sign that Canadians are eager to get the NGP back into power but Dion would be safe with no obvious replacement ready to seize control of the party.

4) The Liberals win a minority. Unlikely but Dion obviously keeps control of the party. Jockeying begins between Kennedy and Trudeau for control of the party's future. Liberal leadership probably becomes open if Dion cannot win a majority in the next election.

5) The Liberals win a majority. Unimaginable but Dion is leader until he loses government. Kennedy's future depends entirely upon his federal cabinet performance. Hall Findlay will either prove herself a key competitor or a complete pretender. Trudeau's stock declines.

There are variations on these themes depending on how long any government lasts. But unless the Conservatives win a majority, Dion would have to prove himself seriously incompetent to be pushed out within the next 18 months. There is one unknown that a friend of mine suggested: the Kennedy-Dion deal is based on an agreement that the leader will resign if the Liberals do not improve upon their January 2006 election finish. That's possible but a risky bargain for both sides. If it ever became public it would ruin both candidates as being overly political.

No doubt if the Conservatives returns as the government after the next election there will be a flurry of stories about Dion considering resigning as leader or there being Liberals trying to push him out. It will be much like the stories about Stephen Harper after the 2004 election. There is a 90% they will be as accurate as those stories from 28 months ago. The Liberals -- and Canada -- will need some political stability and the party would be foolish to ditch the leader at the first sign of trouble. Almost as foolish as Canada's national news magazine speculating about Dion's replacement before there is any sign of trouble for the Liberals.


 
The state of the feeliversity

Over at No Left Turns, Joseph Knippenberg points to this paragraph from a Christianity Today story on post-secondary education:

"My date book contains cartoons first published in the New Yorker. One shows a young boy in front of his class, doing arithmetic at the blackboard. He has just written '7 x 5 = 75' and says to his astonished teacher, 'It may be wrong, but it’s how I feel.' There, in a nutshell, is the problem with the post-secular university. Faith is dead, reason is dying, but 'how I feel' is going strong."


 
Maybe the second time 'round will go better

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio) will run for the Democratic presidential nomination because the Democrats are not surrendering Iraq fast enough. This guy would have no business running anything let alone the world's only superpower. Apparently mucking up Cleveland and being an ignorable Congressman isn't enough for this overly ambitious man.


 
Last word (maybe) on Pinochet

From the Daily Telegraph: "'He broke the chains of communism for us... we didn't become a second Cuba, and that's thanks to him,' one woman told local television." But the Left won't think that a good thing. Really, was Pinochet worse than Fidel Castro? If Castro gets a free pass on human rights because he introduced universal healthcare shouldn't Pinochet get a free pass on creating the wealthiest Latin American nation and establishing the most functional pension system on the southern side of the hemisphere? And if comparisons to Castro offend, certainly Pol Pot was worse but there was not nearly as much criticism of him eluding "justice" as there was about Pinochet.


Sunday, December 10, 2006
 
Reasons to be thankful that Al Gore invented the internet

To watch golf balls being shot at various objects in slow motion.

In case you missed a 300 lb safe being dropped on a car on David Letterman.

Mary Poppins remixed to be a horror movie.

For two minutes and eight seconds of all the f-words from Pulp Fiction.

To hear this performance of Georgia On My Mind by Ray Charles.


 
The limits of Jeffrey Simpson's profundity

From Bob Tarantino last week:

"'True confession: I almost never watch television so I had never heard [Dion] in English.' That's Jeffrey Simpsons speaking. One of the most prominent (if inexplicably) political commentators in Canada, given pride of place on the Globe and Mail's opinion pages and... he almost never watches television. He almost never watches the dominant communications medium of our time. To the point where he had not ever heard the eventual winner for the Liberal leadership, a man who had been a Cabinet minister for the better part of a decade, speak in English. Ponder that for a moment. Then realize why he gets so much so wrong.)"


 
Weekend list

Favourite colour for 10 different things

1. Favourite colour: navy blue
2. Favourite colour game piece in a board game: yellow
3. Favourite colour for any car: black
4. Favourite colour suit: charcoal grey
5. Favourite colour dress shirt: dark slate blue
6. Favourite dominant colour in a tie: Red orange or maroon
7. Favourite colour eyes: blue
8. Favourite colour on a jersey (non-baseball): red
9. Favourite colour in advertising: green
10. Favourite colour combination on a flag: red, white and blue


 
Pinochet, RIP

Former Chilean leader General Augusto Pinochet has passed away. I have already talked about the important role Pinochet played for both Chile and Latin American politics earlier this week. In 1988 Pinochet's regime lost a plebiscite on whether the government should continue and George F. Will wrote that there had never been clearer example of Kirkpatrick's important distinction between authoritarian and totalitarian regimes.


 
Steyn destroys the ISG

Chicago Sun-Times colunnist Mark Steyn takes on the surrender plans put forth by the Illustrious Seniors' Group, er, Iraq Surrender Gran'pas, er, the Baker commission. Read the whole column, its classic Mark Steyn (although not as good as last week's Steyn column on the ISG) but here's his take on the ISG wanting a support group that includes the usual suspects of losers and do-nothings, with part of the Mos Eisley cantina thrown in:

"So there you have it: an Iraq 'Support Group' that brings together the Arab League, the European Union, Iran, Russia, China and the U.N. And with support like that who needs lack of support? It worked in Darfur, where the international community reached unanimous agreement on the urgent need to rent a zeppelin to fly over the beleaguered region trailing a big banner emblazoned 'YOU'RE SCREWED.' For Dar4.1, they can just divert it to Baghdad."

And here's what happens when you get a guy who's said "Fuck the Jews" to chair your fix-Iraq study group:

"Why would anyone -- even a short-sighted incompetent political fixer whose brilliant advice includes telling the first Bush that no one would care if he abandoned the "Read my lips" pledge -- why would even he think it a smart move to mortgage Iraq's future to anything as intractable as the Palestinian 'right of return'? And, incidentally, how did that phrase -- 'the right of return' -- get so carelessly inserted into a document signed by two former secretaries of state, two former senators, a former attorney general, Supreme Court judge, defense secretary, congressman, etc. These are by far the most prominent Americans ever to legitimize a concept whose very purpose is to render any Zionist entity impossible. I'm not one of those who assumes that just because much of James Baker's post-government career has been so lavishly endowed by the Saudis that he must necessarily be a wholly owned subsidiary of King Abdullah, but it's striking how this document frames all the issues within the pathologies of the enemy."


 
Don't get rid of your SUV quite yet

The Sunday Telegraph reports:

"Mankind has had less effect on global warming than previously supposed, a United Nations report on climate change will claim next year.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says there can be little doubt that humans are responsible for warming the planet, but the organisation has reduced its overall estimate of this effect by 25 per cent ...

The panel, however, has lowered predictions of how much sea levels will rise in comparison with its last report in 2001.

Climate change sceptics are expected to seize on the revised figures as evidence that action to combat global warming is less urgent.

Scientists insist that the lower estimates for sea levels and the human impact on global warming are simply a refinement due to better data on how climate works rather than a reduction in the risk posed by global warming."


But if scientists were wrong before because of the quality of their data, is it not possible that this new set of data is not the whole story either? Doesn't the work of the UN's climate change panel demonstrate the speculative nature of climate change "science"?


 
A child needs a father like a feminist needs a bicycle

Or something like that. The Sunday Telegraph reports that the British Department of Health will announce soon that single women and lesbians will be allowed to undergo fertility treatment. Says Health Minister Caroline Flint of this and other changes to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, including permitting the creation of embryonic animal-human hybrids (chimeras) for the purpose of research, "The over-arching aim is to pursue the common good through a system broadly acceptable to society." So a Labour minister, a minister of the Crown, says that for some (perhaps unreported) reason it is a matter of indifference that children have a mother and a father. Sounds like caving to sociological realities -- the divorce culture, feminism-inspired go-it-alone women, legally recognized homosexual relationships, and other societal problems -- rather than upholding the common good. With few exceptions, the Labour government in the United Kingdom has preferred to pander rather than lead. In terms of experimental and reproductive technologies, pandering to special interests (single women, homosexuals, unscrupulous scientists) has taken precedence over the common good.


Saturday, December 09, 2006
 
When the best simply won't do

Deborah Howells, the Washington Post ombudsman, writes in her column:

"The Post needs more opinion writers and columnists who are of the female persuasion or are minorities. Overwhelmingly, Post columnists are white guys. Some are among the paper's best columnists, but more diversity would make The Post a richer paper."

So the best columnist might be white guys but somehow the best is not enough because of who they are. Have you ever seen such a clear admission that merit matters less than gender and skin colour.

The column goes section-by-section for a penis and vagina count, as well as enumerating the number of blacks and whites. Interestingly, only the Style section has more women columnists than men columnists which may explain why I never feel that my concerns and my worldview are represented when I read the Post's Style section. Could we have some diversity in the Style section, please?

Overall the count is 44 men and 17 women; 52 whites, 8 blacks and 1 (sub-continent) Indian.

If one is concerned about diversity, I would guess that Jews are over-represented but no one ever complains about that. The Post though should be congratulated on the only diversity that matters: diversity of opinion. It is so much better than most large and infuential papers are getting a wide spectrum of views on their op-ed pages, both from regular columnists and other contributors. I might usually skip over some of the liberals (Colbert I. King, Richard Cohen, Harold Meyerson), enjoy some relatively reasonable liberals (David Ignatious, Sebastian Mallaby) and never miss two of best conservative commentators in the business today (George Will, Charles Krauthammer) but the point is that the op-ed pages offer them all. So while the ombudsman (shouldn't that be ombudsperson or ombuds?) might ignore the paper's diversity of opinion, it is obvious that its editors do not.

One might also be tempted to congratulate the paper on the diversity of talent that it offers -- sports writer Thomas Boswell, Business section "Regulators" columnist Cindy Skrzycki, and political commentators George Will and Anne Applebaum on one hand, Washington Sketch columnist Dana Milbank, sports columnist Tony Kornheiser and ombudsman Deborah Howell on the other.


 
Pat yourself on the back while you're at it Meghan

Meghan Daum of the Los Angeles Times visited Joni Mitchell to talk art, music and politics. It is a rather dull piece with no insight into the ostensible subject matter (Mitchell) but that should have been obvious from the sub-title of the article: "A fan's notes about conversations with Mitchell on art, politics and music." You see, piece is not about Joni Mitchell, it's about Megham Daum. The most glittering example is this self-congratulatory line: "[Another guest] was rendered speechless throughout much of the meal as I asked Mitchell totally geeked-out questions about specific lines from 'Mingus' (jazz, 1979, generally underappreciated by lesser fans.)" Totally geeked-out means: I know things that other people don't, things they wouldn't even be interested in; I'm so much better than the plebs.


 
Keep the government off of the catwalks of the nation

Reuters reports:

"Italy's government and its fashion chiefs are working on a manifesto to crack down on the use of ultra-thin teenagers on the catwalk, as pressure grows on the fashion world to promote healthier looks."

Earlier this Fall, Spain barred models that were too young and too thin. Brasil and Argentina have joined the campaign to ban waifish models. You would think that the government did not have any compelling reason to interfere in the fashion industry but there appears to be no area of human endeavour in which the government does not have an interest. So out with the idea that the market has spoken and the market wants their models thin and youngish looking. Or does it? Is it consumers or someone else driving this trend? Years ago someone in The Spectator (I forget who) explained the build of models, who were young and thin two decades ago: many designers are gay and they want their models to look like young boys and an important feature with many though not all young, thin models is that they are flat-chested. Such common sensical analysis eludes the usual band of politically correct worrywarts.