Sobering Thoughts

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

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Blogging break

Will probably not blog again 'til the weekend.

(In an ominous booming voice): Ignore the man behind the white sheet

David J. Garrow writes in the Los Angeles Times about the so-called revival of the Ku Kux Klan:

"But it's difficult to find public evidence of many violent or terrorist acts committed by the allegedly swelling ranks of Klan members. (A cross-burning on the lawn of a Salvadoran family in Kentucky, like an assault on a Latino teenager in Houston by assailants who screamed 'white power,' appear to top the list for 2006, but the actual perpetrators remain unidentified.)

It can be dangerous and counterproductive to hype the threat of racist hate groups. Anti-immigrant sentiment is an undeniable feature of today's world, and immigration issues no doubt merit more media coverage. But based on present evidence, the efforts of both KKKers and their opponents to publicize the Klan's supposed importance should be debunked rather than embraced."

I'm not usually a believer in ignoring so-called insignificant phenomenon, but the KKK is perfectly ignorable. The Christian Science Monitor and Anti-Defamation League seem to have made mountains out of these bigoted molehills.

Canada and human rights at the UN

UN Watch has an excellent report on Canada's defense of human rights at the United Nations. Here's the conclusion of the executive summary:

"At the General Assembly, Canada’s support for human rights and democracy issues was on a par with the other major democracies. It led the resolution that held Iran to account for its policies of torture, arbitrary arrest and repression. Canada also joined other democracies in citing major abuses in Belarus, Burma, and North Korea, and in supporting the failed attempt to censure Uzbekistan.

While Canada voted correctly on all of these, it failed to take the floor when the situations in Belarus and North Korea were debated. Atmospherics influence country attitudes—something the repressive regimes have internalized far better than the democracies.

What is perhaps most revealing is the report’s analysis of what Canada has done for victims of the most repressive regimes. Looking at the latest list of 19 as compiled by Freedom House, Canada did nothing for 13 of them.

Canada took no action whatsoever at the Human Rights Council or the General Assembly against China’s violations of civil, political and religious rights—which harm over a sixth of the world’s population. Canada was equally silent regarding Fidel Castro’s police state, where journalists languish in jail for daring to speak the truth. It said nothing about Saudi Arabia’s refusal to allow women to vote or drive a car, or its state-sponsored schoolbooks that teach children to hate Christians and other non-Muslims. Nor did it protest Robert Mugabe’s repression in Zimbabwe.

The horizon ahead offers imperatives as well as opportunities. First, Canada must commit itself to speaking out on far more situations of gross violations, and to do so more vigorously. Second, if it chooses to seize the moment, Canada can marshal the considerable respect it enjoys from both the European Union and the U.S. — which should be encouraged to join the Council — to forge a broader alliance in support of human rights, democracy, and peace. Free countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America should be called upon to vote on human rights issues at the UN based on their democratic values and not on regional-bloc and other group alliances. Canada has the potential to mobilize a democratic alliance that, with conviction, energy, and unity, can retake the initiative to ensure that the UN’s foremost human rights bodies live up to their promise."

In essence, Canada does more than most but not nearly enough. It has the ability but shies away from becoming a leader on the issue of human rights. Read the report here (pdf).

Capitalists must be socialists

The Financial Times reports that various Europeanoids -- EU member finance ministers and EU commissioners -- have stressed that private companies must share their profits with their employees or risk a "crisis in legitimacy." Just wondering if governments will ever be urged to share budget surpluses with taxpayers by lowering their tax rate or else face a "crisis in legitimacy"? Probably not. Anyway, one finance minister, Thierry Breton of France, said there was a need to “redistribute wealth created by companies” which is what I thought Europe's high tax, high spending schemes were designed to do. Perhaps this is a tacit admission that the European social model doesn't work. And while the ministers made an ostensibly economic case for a more 'equitable' sharing of profits, it must be remembered that finance ministers are politicians and there will be a French presidential election later this year, while German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück is a Social Democrat who wants to maintain his party's progressive credentials. All the socialist rhetoric led one un-named EU official to comment that the conference sounded “like a trade union meeting.” Old Europe lives, but for how long?

Selective free speech rights

George F. Will had an excellent column in the Washington Post yesterday about the Employee Free Choice Act which would dispense of the secret ballot vote to certify unions and implement a card check system where a union would become automatically certified once a majority of employees sign a union card. As Will usually does, he does not address the politics of an issue but its philosophical essence:

"The Employee Free Choice Act would short-circuit the process of persuading workers through a public debate between unions and employers, the winner of which would be determined by workers casting secret ballots. Welcome to the political culture that the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law is shaping. That law, which regulates the quantity, timing and content of political speech, is making it increasingly acceptable for interest groups to attempt to advance their social agendas by limiting their adversaries' speech."

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Send them to paul_tuns[AT]

Cap and trade is a Ponzi scheme

Burkean Canuck has an excellent longish post that is worth reading.

Go green and go nuclear

Technology Review looks at the benefits of nuclear energy for the developing world and finds that the gen-III reactors (third generation reactors) are much cheaper and easier to build, making them a practical alternative to coal plants for power production. Here's the money line before the article gets into the technical details:

"In 2007, with multitudes in India and China approaching lifestyles comparable to those in the developed nations, and with planetary climate change from carbon-dioxide emissions increasingly manifest, it's worth stressing that nuclear power remains the sole existing energy technology that's both proven and zero carbon."

Everyone repeat: "Nuclear power remains the sole existing energy technology that's both proven and zero carbon."

This is analysis?

Nothing new in Bruce Bartlett's column on how close some of the individual state races were in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections and what it might mean for 2008. Such is the Bartlett fetish for numbers that included in his analysis of the 2008 presidential election and the uphill battle he sees Democrats having that he notes that for 2012 presidential election (current) Red States will be worth even more following the next census adjustment in electoral votes. He says Democrats will have a tough time overcoming the slight but supposedly growing edge Republicans have in the Blue State-Red State divide. What is lacking in the column is any vigorous analysis: do the parties truly have most of the same states locked up as they have for the last two presidential elections; how might Middle America react to the debacle in Iraq or a Rudy Giuliani presidential run or a black presidential or vice presidential candidate on the Democratic ticket; how will women in Red States vote if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic candidate; is the Mountain West -- the most libertarian part of the country -- still solidly Republican (after all, the Democrats made gains there in the midterms); might not the actual candidates matter and what issues might strike a chord with voters. Instead, Bartlett provides numerical determinism that does nothing to elucidate about the 2008 presidential contest.

Calgarians don't like David Suzuki

The Calgary Herald notes in an editorial today, the kind of letter that doesn't make it into the letters section, part of the avalanche of complaint against enviro-zealot David Suzuki:

"Many of the letters are unprintable because the authors' wrath have caused them to respond in excessively hostile language. For example, one likened Suzuki's speech to the Grade 3 class at Altadore School to a suicide bomber looking for recruits... "

But if you watch the Greenpeace "angry kid" video, such comparisons are understandable.

Thoughts on the home library

Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution asks: "Should your library consist mostly of read books, or of unread books?" Should, I'll get to in a minute. What is? I'd say that I've barely opened a third, read a third and am acquainted in some way with the remaining third -- a thorough skim, began but unfinished or read a chapter or more. Cowen says:

"If you own mostly read books, you use your library for reference and remembrance. Your collection is like Proust's madeleine. If you own mostly unread books, your library yields exciting discovery but also lots of clunkers. Each step to the shelf offers a chance to redefine your life and your loves in unexpected ways, or perhaps crashing disappointment."

I use my books a lot for reference. Sentimentality has lot to do with the fact that the home library consists of somewhere between 2500 and 3000 books; I don't want to get rid of something that I invested so much time with. Why else keep a 15-year-old Thomas Sowell book on the state of American education, with data that is uselessly out-of-date and whose arguments I will remember regardless of whether the book is physically on my shelf. I also want to pass my collection on to my children. In fact, there is no other possession I care quite as much about (other than my magazine collection -- 15 years of almost every conservative magazine) than my books. It is important to me that these important things in my life go to my sons, if they are interested at all in having them.

There are also many books that I keep because someday I may 'need' them. As a writer and editor, I want sources for quotes, anecdotes, etc... that I might 'need' some day. And I do look forward to what discoveries might be in others -- biographies and specific event histories, as well as literature.

So the question is what should a personal library be full of: read or unread books? To which I answer: a lot of both. With the emphasis on a lot. My wife often says that we have too many books. I say that is impossible.

American socons and 2008

Over at TNR's The Plank, Noam Scheiber points out that according to the latest Zogby poll (I know, he's so 1994) Senator Sam Brownback has climbed all the way to 4% and thus joins the second tier of candidates -- behind first tierers Senator John McCain and former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani -- along with former Massaschuesetts guv Mitt Romney and two who are not likely to be candidates (Newt Gingrich and Condi Rice). Considering that McCain and Giuliani have 20% and 29% respectively, and Romney has more than twice as much support (9%), Brownback has a long way to go. I think that Brownback has an outside chance to win if either one of the Giuliani or McCain candidacies implode -- and an even better chance if both the Giuliani and McCain candidacies implode -- because there is a little room for a candidate to capture the social conservative imagination. But not much. McCain has a mixed record on life issues but he doesn't excite socially conservative votes; but neither should he turn them off too much. I support Giuliani for the same reasons that Maggie Gallagher does: national security and judges. And as Steven Malanga notes in the current City Journal, Giuliani is a conservative (of sorts) because he understands many problems -- crime, poverty, bad schools -- are, on some level, cultural issues. Some might protest that Giuliani's personal life -- he has been divorced -- disqualifies him. I don't recall reading Ronald Reagan's divorce from Jane Wyman being an issue.

(I also support Giuliani because of a truth that some socons don't like to hear: there is a difference between pro-choice conservatives and pro-choice liberals. The latter support abortion as a good thing (they are, in fact, pro-abortion), while the former genuinely but mistakenly tolerate abortion as a matter of not infringing on a person's (the mother's) freedom. The result is generally the same: keeping legal the killing of unborn babies. But pro-choice conservatives are not usually pushing the envelope and are often open to common-sense restrictions or regulations. (For possible regulations and restrictions on abortion, see my July 2006 article in The Interim, "How to chip away at abortion."))

So Brownback might be second-tier but the second tier is much further back from the first tier than it might normally be and Brownback is on the floor of the second-tier. His one selling point -- his social conservatism -- is of limited usefulness considering the legitimate, if lesser, claim to some sort of social conservatism of all the likely candidates in front of him.

If winning the presidency wasn't so important in 2008 and I was American, I'd vote for Rep. Ron Paul, who despite what Girl on the Right says, is an incredible Republican politician: pro-life, pro-traditional marriage and libertarian; a strict constitutionalist he believes in limited government; when elected to Congress for his third tour of duty in 1996, he vowed never to vote for legislation that increases spending and he has kept his promise. George F. Will profiled Paul last week in Newsweek.

A medium distance from the tree

James Galbraith in The Nation about Hamiltonian Democrats. He has all his dad's ideas about economics without any of his beautiful writing style to make reading about them bearable.

Not terribly shocking

Perhaps our worst prime minister ever, Paul Martin, has made formal what everyone was expecting: he won't seek re-election as MP for LaSalle-Emard. He will, instead, focus on fixing the lives of aboriginals and Africans. I'll resist saying that I think both peoples have suffered enough. Or maybe I won't.

Monday, February 26, 2007
The state of science

Last week, David Ewing Duncan complained at the (MIT) Technology Review blog, that there are 216 million scientifically illiterate Americans -- the US science literacy rate is a mere 28% although that number is up from 10% in 1988 --and says:

"As Carl Sagan eloquently wrote in The Demon-Haunted World, ignorance reigns in our society at a moment when science is on the cusp of doing amazing and wonderful things, but also dangerous things. Ignorance, said Sagan, is not an option."

So what are scientific illiterates missing? That "well-hung" rats and other rodents have an evolutionary advantage. As the New Scientist explains:

"The advantage this confers on rodents is unknown, but a generously proportioned organ may deposit a male's sperm further up the female reproductive tract, giving them a head start in the race to the egg."

This is the sort of information that 72% of Americans are missing out on.

Al Gore, hypocrite

From Drudge (HT: Dispel the Illusion):

"Gore’s mansion, [20-room, eight-bathroom] located in the posh Belle Meade area of Nashville, consumes more electricity every month than the average American household uses in an entire year, according to the Nashville Electric Service (NES). In his documentary, the former Vice President calls on Americans to conserve energy by reducing electricity consumption at home. The average household in America consumes 10,656 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, according to the Department of Energy. In 2006, Gore devoured nearly 221,000 kWh—more than 20 times the national average. Last August alone, Gore burned through 22,619 kWh—guzzling more than twice the electricity in one month than an average American family uses in an entire year. As a result of his energy consumption, Gore’s average monthly electric bill topped $1,359."

To be fair to Al Gore, I recall reading one time that he makes up for it by paying for trees to planted elsewhere. But as a friend of mine says, that gimmick is complete BS. The damage has been done, according to the logic of global warming fanatics, because the energy has been burned and the pollutants released. Planting trees does not actually eliminate the 'harm' that has been done by using the energy. As my friend says, it's like helping an old lady across the street after beating your wife; the nice gesture elsewhere doesn't undo the harm at home.

UPDATE: My memory regarding buying carbon credits -- perhaps not planting trees, but something -- is right. As Kathy Shaidle says, buying carbon credits sounds a lot like indulgences in the new Kyoto Religion.

For the love of politics

Writing for Comment, former Liberal and Independent MP Pat O'Brien lists 50 things he loves about politics. It is worth reading, especially for overly cynical anti-politician types. What struck me about reading the list is that simple and sometimes routine things that brought pleasure to O'Brien. I particularly like these two:

21. Speaking as a Member of Parliament in the Parliament of Canada, knowing that I earned that right with the help of so many people.

42. Almost every day on Parliament Hill, discovering some beautiful new detail in the buildings where I feel privileged and honoured to work.

Of course, cynical readers might not believe that he is much as a team player as he attests or that he views his past responsibilities as a great privilege; that is their loss. Some politicians are honest and decent and treat their public capacity not as an entitlement but an honour. O'Brien is one of them -- and it is why Parliament is poorer without him.

Sunday, February 25, 2007
Reporting non-stories

James Poniewozik writes in Time:

"When I heard that Ellen DeGeneres was going to host the Oscars, I thought, They're sure playing it safe. In 2005 and 2006 the Academy went edgy--well, Oscar edgy--with hosts Chris Rock and Jon Stewart. This year they got likable Ellen, Finding Nemo Ellen, good-natured, dancing Ellen ...

And--oh, right--lesbian Ellen. Ya-a-a-wn."

Then why write about it? Seriously, why write about something that the writer considers a non-event. Poniewozik has a larger point which is that lesbians are safe TV talk show (and Oscar) hosts but gay men are not. But that also seems so self-evidently true as to not warrant an article merely making such an observation. Some great insight why this would be so might be worth writing about, but Poniewozik comes up way short.

What use are Republicans?

The Associated Press reports:

"The welfare state is bigger than ever despite a decade of policies designed to wean poor people from public aid.

The number of families receiving cash benefits from welfare has plummeted since the government imposed time limits on the payments a decade ago. But other programs for the poor, including Medicaid, food stamps and disability benefits, are bursting with new enrollees.

The result, according to an Associated Press analysis: Nearly one in six people rely on some form of public assistance, a larger share than at any time since the government started measuring two decades ago."

Angelina Jolie joins the cabal who run the world

Ten years ago I might have considered this strange, perhaps even outrageous; the New York Post reports that actress and UN good will ambassador babe Angelina Jolie will join the Council for Foreign Relations. Says CFR member Carol Adelman, former head of U.S. foreign-aid programs, "It's not like Paris Hilton is being nominated." No, that would have been, like, so not hot.

Regarding the 'cabal' in this post's title, I'm joking. I don't think that the CFR runs US foreign policy. It is, rather, a slightly diverse, slightly interesting international affairs think tank, which begs the question: why invite Jolie to join? Then again, if CFR did direct US foreign policy, I'd ask: why invite Jolie to join?

Barone on '08

Michael Barone says Rudy Giuliani would be stronger GOP presidential candidate in 2008 than George W. Bush was in 2004. The main reason: "Rudy puts almost the whole East into play and is significantly stronger in several target states in the Midwest and West." I don't believe this was true six months ago, but social conservative issues may not be as important in '08 and if Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic nomination (or, I would add, Al Gore), the Religious Right will rally behind Giuliani or almost anyone to help defeat the Democrats. And Giuliani might be able to bring over new voters. For example, as Barone notes, Giuliani carries the women's vote in 18 states including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and several the libertarian-leaning Mountain and southwestern states (Montana, Colorado, Arizona) that are beginning to lean Democratic.

Luntz's advice to the GOP

"Be bold, return to basics, stop telling, start asking, focus on results, abolish "earmarks" and embrace a permanent balanced budget." That is, as Frank Luntz explains in the Washington Post, how win over the "fed-ups" of US politics. Probably. But as you read the WaPo piece, doesn't Luntz sound a little bitter about not being the GOP guru over the past 10 years and that it is more than a little self-serving to blame the fact that the Republican leadership did not pay attention to him for the party losing control of Congress last November?

Religious pols

Michael Portillo, who at one time long ago was a future saviour of the Tory Party, writes in today's London Times:

"When last week David Cameron revealed that he hopes his daughter will go to a Church of England school, his aides rushed to say that he attends Sunday worship in Kensington not as a ploy to help her chances but out of genuine religious conviction. I would be more reassured to hear that the Tory leader goes to church because that is what it takes to get a child into the best of state schools, not because he is a believer."

Portillo follows up by offering numerous non-arguments. My favourite, a trip down relativism lane, is this:

"But if our political leaders cite faith as their political guide, then how do we distinguish ourselves from the religious extremists who wreak havoc in our world? It may seem harmless to 'do God' a little in an essentially moderate country like ours. But once you claim that He is judging you or telling you what to do, there is no logical defence against another who claims that his God is instructing him to blow up discotheques or fly planes into buildings."

You see, there is no difference between wanting to protect the unborn or providing a "living wage" on the one (Christian) hand and blowing up office buildings on the other (Muslim) hand. Rather than debate the validity of any policy with an individual with a religious point of view, Portillo dismisses them all. Or does he? I wonder if he would condemn the sort of Christian who embraces homosexuals because Jesus wants us to be kind to our neighbours?

At one point Portillo condemns Tony Blair because the prime minister once said that he cares about how he will be judged by God. Portillo concludes:

"It would be good to know from Cameron that for him going to church is just a metaphor for wanting to be a good man and a good leader, and that he hears no voices, receives no divine instructions and looks only for the judgment of his fellow citizens. We could then sleep more easily at night."

Ottawa Citizen columnist John Robson wrote many years ago, when I believe he was still agnostic, that he wanted his politicians to be more afraid of the judgement of God than of voters because politicians who are concerned about eternal salvation more than winning the next election are likely to be much more prudential.

A lot of talk about the One Laptop Per Child program

There are some grounds on which to criticize the idea to put $100 laptops in the hands of one billion children (like private companies pretending to be philanthropic but which are actually hoping national governments and international organizations will buy one billion inexpensive computers), but this discussion with Walter Bender, president of One Laptop Per Child, and Ethan Zuckerman, founder of Global Voices Online on Radio Open Source is quite interesting. Interesting but incomplete.

I like the idea of the OLPC but deplore the 1) shiny, happy media coverage of the phenomenon and 2) the realities such reporting covers up. For example, the $100 laptop is now the Children's Machine XO because it really costs $135. Actually, as the OLPC News -- an independent watchdog blog on the One Laptop Per Child -- says that once start-up costs are included, the initial install cost is $208 per laptop, or twice as much as originally promised. But even at $100 per laptop, it was a $100 million laptop because they have to be bought in million unit blocks. And that is not it. The fact is, developing world governments (or someone or something else) will have to pay for the creation of an infrastructure to make the laptops usable and practical. Libya, for example, simply does not have the number of internet hosts to accommodate 1.2 million Libyan children suddenly getting laptops. As OLPC News noted last year when Bender's organization signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Muammar Qaddafi, Libya agreed to buy/provide: "1.2 million computers, one server per school, a team of technical advisers to help set up the system, satellite internet service and other infrastructure for $250 million dollars." (1.2 million students divided by the $250 million overall costs results in the aforementioned $208 per laptop cost.)

And then there are these costs, as reported by

"The price of the laptops is only a small portion of the final costs related to the OLPC initiative, according to Mukul Krishna, global manager of Frost and Sullivan's digital media practice.

'When you are talking about One Laptop Per Child, as an idea it is definitely very laud-worthy,' Krishna told TechNewsWorld. 'People need to be very cognizant of all the good they are trying to do. But just handing a laptop off to someone in Sierra Leone is arguably not going to do that much.

'There are lots of places where they've got to spend a lot of resources in training them how to use it,' he added. 'When you start looking at the scale and complexity of what they are really trying to achieve ... it's going to take a whole lot of time and be very difficult'."

Quebec (federal) politics

Via Political Staples, CROP polling numbers in Quebec:

Bloc Quebecois: 36%
Liberals: 26%
Conservatives: 22%

To put this in some context, the 2006 federal election breakdown in that province was:

Bloc Quebecois: 43%
Conservatives: 31%
Liberals: 14%

But back to the current polling numbers, where regional breakdowns are critically important. In the Quebec City region:

Conservatives: 39%
Bloc Quebecois: 31%
Liberals: 13%

As Paul Wells notes, the Quebec City region numbers indicate the Tories can hold their seats in the area and might even pick up some more -- which was part of the Harper plan all along. Tory strategists always thought they would be better poised to take seats from the Bloc in Quebec City and in several rural ridings but that they little chance of taking Liberal seats in Montreal. The province-wide numbers might indicate that picking up rural seats will be harder work than originally anticipated and perhaps even that some of their western Quebec seats might be in some trouble. But so, too, are the Liberals. While Wells likes to point out that the polling numbers disprove the notion that Stephane Dion could not do well among Quebec voters, it is also clear that the Liberals still have a bit of an uphill battle.

It should also be stated that these polling numbers are extremely useless. A lot will happen between now and a federal election, specifically Quebec's provincial election and a federal budget. These will have a great effect on the federal party support by the beginning of April but it is hard to imagine any set of circumstances where the Liberals will come out better. Unless the Conservatives do something surprising and offer a budget that actively seeks to antogonize Quebec, their hand should be strengthened over the next 40 days.

Saturday, February 24, 2007
If you are interested in African issues ...

Check out the dedicated Reuters Africa website. It is excellent: business, politics, sports. If you are a soccer fan, there is plenty about African soccer player and the European teams they play for. Also, you can easily search for stories by country. For example, if you want information about the Mauritius finance minister resigning and subsequently staying on board, you can find it in one handy spot on that country. It provides coverage of an important and unlikely story -- unlikely to the ill-informed in the West who don't read The Economist, that is -- about the mostly African-led consortium vying for the third mobile phone license in Saudi Arabia, the largest telecom market in the Middle East.

Congrats to Reuters for this. As Reuters chief southern African correspondent and Reuters Africa editor John Chiahemen told The Guardian: "We want to show that Africa can be covered as a business story, not just a disaster story." And indeed, its target audience are investors (and the African "diaspora") but should be of interest to people whose foreign policy curiosities go beyond the Middle East -- the aforementioned story notwithstanding.

The John Bolton interview

The American Interest website has only a few questions and answers from their interview with John Bolton, former US ambassador to the UN but it is worth subscribing to the journal or buying a dead tree version for the full Q&A. Two highlights from the 13-page transcript. The first is part of reply on the conventional narrative that Bolton was the "odd man out" at Foggy Bottom, usually taking a position out of step with Secretary of State Colin Powell and the bureaucracy at the State Department:

"It's the stuff of urban legend invented mainly by a credulous press, and one of the faults I would attribute to our media is that they don't understand the playing out of policy differences ... Because of their own intellectual limitations, few journalists analyze issues at a conceptual level, so they're left with a 'who's up, who's down' kind of reporting."

I don't think Bolton is being critical here; he's just making a observation, describing a problem with journalists in general. And I don't think he's inaccurate.

Secondly, after tackling a few issues and events (working at the State Department, North Korea, his time at Turtle Bay and his views on UN reform), Bolton provides a very sobering precis of what US policy vis a vis international institutions should be:

"Looking at the UN as an instrument for helping to advance US foreign policy, this means that if we're not satisfied with it, we can either try to fix it or go someplace else. I think competition in the marketplace for international problem solving is a good thing."

In other words: 1) use the UN when you can/need to because it serves your national interest, 2) use other institutions when they would be better, and 3) don't use any if they don't serve your purpose. To me this seems like common sense, but many people have made the UN an end in itself rather than a tool for pursuing foreign policy (national interest) goals.

Thanks Liberalism for what you have wrought

Theodore Dalrymple last week in the London Times:

"The Government will admit anything other than that its social policies, and those of previous governments, over the past 40 years have fashioned a psychopathic society in which an uncomfortably large part of the population looks on other people in a purely instrumental fashion, as means for the procurement of their immediate ends. It feels no social bond with them whatsoever.

When you look at the shooters and the shot, a depressingly familiar pattern emerges. They come, for the most part, from broken homes; abandoned by their fathers at an early age, if not before birth, because fathers now believe that incomes are pocket money and are not to be used for the trivial purpose of raising a family (the State being the father of first resort), their harassed mothers, who never seem to learn anything from experience, struggle to bring them up, alternating unreasonable strictness with grotesque overindulgence.

From all of this, the child learns that human relationships are but those of power, and that the only question worth answering is what you can get away with. He soon understands that the golden rule of life is shoot, that ye be not shot. Anything less than a confident swagger is weakness that invites exploitation or worse. The size of the ego is matched only by its tenderness and fragility. "

Licentiousness and big government are both bad in their own right but they are also incompatible.

Got get myself this

This sounds pretty cool: Landmark Speeches of the American Conservative Movement edited by Peter Schweizer and Wynton C. Hall from Texas A&M Unversity Press. Although you do have to question Barbara Bush being on the cover.

Justin Trudeau running for the Liberals in Papineau

The Montreal Gazette: "He's 35. It's about time the guy got a job."

In defense of profits

Simon Heffer defends profits in part his Daily Telegraph column and does so in a way that attempts to appeal to the Left:

" Profit was good because it created wealth, and wealth employed people, and wealth provided a welfare state and allowed provision for the future. If we seek to eliminate profit, or remove the incentives that entrepreneurs have to go out and make it, then we are all doomed."

He was echoing Enoch Powell (and admits doing so) when he told a crowd of Marxists at LSE: "You don't tax a loss, you only tax a profit. We're all in this together." I get the point and I appreciate (and advocate) framing the message for the audience, but won't anyway say that profits are good because entrepreneurs should enjoy the fruits of their labour, risk and vision? That is, profits are a just reward.

One last thing. This is perhaps the best quote to ever appear in journalism: "... trade unions, which are to wealth creation and prosperity what Aids is to free love..." File that under things I wish I'd written.

See for yourself

Elizabeth May, the Green Party leader who presumably wants the votes of Canadian voters, calls Canadians stupid on The Agenda (click on The Long Goodbye to GDP under video on the left-hand side of the site, scroll to about two-thirds through the video when May answers a question from a member of the audience). I originally talked about this Thursday night.

The truth about the gyroball

It's really just a slider. Jeff Passan has the whole story here at Yahoo! Sports but this is the most important part:

"It was supposed to be the first new pitch since Bruce Sutter popularized the split-fingered fastball … which itself was nothing more than a new grip, providing a different break, on the already-used forkball. The novelty of the gyroball caught on in the U.S. as it had in Japan. Kids posted videos of themselves on YouTube trying to throw the gyroball. The double-spin mechanics [Kazushi] Tezuka teaches – rotating the hips and shoulder in sync to prevent injuries – became the key to unleashing the nastiest breaking ball out there.

"Everyone," Tezuka said meekly, "kind of misunderstood."

The theory behind the gyroball is this: When a baseball spins sideways, like a bullet, it should cut down on the amount of resistance on its path to the plate. Without the same amount of air resistance as a regular fastball, which rotates backward, the four-seam gyroball should not experience the same slowdown and look as if it's exploding toward the plate.

A perfect gyroball should be straighter than the crease on a pair of slacks.

"It doesn't move," Tezuka said. "It doesn't move at all."

Turns out all the videos claiming to capture Matsuzaka's gyroball were instead of his slider, a pitch that has confused gyrophiles since 1999. A television station in Japan tried to understand the dominance of Matsuzaka's slider and noticed he pronated his wrist – or let it turn outward, like a screwball, except releasing the ball off the inside of his fingers rather than the outside – as Tezuka teaches practitioners of the gyroball.

The station urged Tezuka to confirm that Matsuzaka regularly threw the gyroball. He wouldn't. The connection was there, though, and has stuck for almost a decade.

When Matsuzaka admitted last year that he had tried throwing it, he wasn't lying. Tomoki Hoshino, himself a gyroballer and a former Seibu Lions teammate of Matsuzaka, told Tezuka that Matsuzaka would try to throw the pitch while messing around."

And one more bit of myth-busting: it was not invented at RIKEN, a Japanese labratory.

Friday, February 23, 2007
The useless promise to run more women

Greg Staples says, "Shows how much I know, I figured that with Dion's promise to run more women he would reserve Toronto Centre for Martha Hall Findlay." Here's what you gotta know about what Liberal Leader Stephane Dion said and what it means: he vowed that his party would run female candidates in one-third of the ridings. It's the kind of promise that get the feminists all hot for the Liberal Party but it is entirely meaningless because Dion didn't say anything about credible women candidates or winning women candidates. He didn't say anything about one-third of his caucus being women (that would be difficult although not impossible to guarantee). Feminists want the quota and probably won't complain about the ridings women run in because Dion spoke enough of their language to win them over. The promise was all about symbolism, not substance. He isn't going to run on restoring the 25% cut to the Status of Women so he needs to offer empty symbols.

If I was Dion and I didn't care about upsetting the riding associations, I'd go even more gimmicky and have every Liberal candidate in Alberta be a woman. That makes up a sizable chunk of the one-third requirement without jeopardizing (possibly) more electable male candidates elsewhere. It would also allow the Liberals to highlight how pro-woman" they are and how "anti-woman" the Tories are; that would go over well outside the province because it might reinforce central Canadian prejudices about the backwardness of the Conservative Party who have few female MPs from the province where only two of the party's 28 member contingent are women. It would also give the Liberals a way to get a lot of earned media in Alberta and across the country; whether that is good or bad is another matter, but the Liberals would be getting some attention in the province for something other than being a threat to Alberta's oil sands project. It would probably be noted that the female candidates had an uphill battle to win their seats in the heart of Tory country, and the critics would right. But, again, Dion never promised that a third of his next caucus would be women. If Canadians don't deliver a sufficient number of female MPs, you can always blame the socially regressive Canadian voter. Heck, join Elizabeth May in decrying Canadians are stupid.

The conflict of interest for the global warming/socialist crowd

David Friedman: "Environmentalism in general and global warming in particular provide new arguments for expanded government power, new taxes, and the like. That does not mean, of course, that those arguments are wrong, but it does mean that there are a lot of people who have an incentive to support them whether wrong or right."

(HT: Gerry Nicholls)

Did I hear your right, Andrew?

Andrew Coyne on The National said of Justin Trudeau's being a candidate in the next election (assuming he wins the Liberal nomination in Papineau) that the famous prime minister's son has "paid his dues" and thus is a qualified candidate with something more to offer than the Trudeau name. Really? And how has he paid his dues? What has he done? He seems to be a professional talker, someone who gets paid to show up to offer various liberal platitudes. As for accomplishments, I can't think of any.

Thursday, February 22, 2007
Non-voters have no discernable affect on election outcomes

That is the finding of a study published in Electoral Studies. CTV has the story:

"With voters in Quebec, Ontario and possibly across Canada headed to the polls this year, there's bound to be the usual election-season wringing of hands over that sure sign of democracy's imminent demise: plunging voter turnout.

But that concern may be misplaced, says new research published in the journal Electoral Studies that suggests turnout has no meaningful impact on the vote's outcome. The study also debunks prevailing wisdom that lower turnout favours right-wing parties. 'The situation in Canada is that about between 60 and 70 per cent of the eligible population is turning out to vote,' Daniel Rubenson, lead author of the study, said in an interview Thursday.

'The argument we're making is that doesn't affect the outcomes of the election compared to if everybody would vote.'

... The researchers compared the opinions of 3,500 voters and non-voters across a wide range of issues, from health care and welfare spending to gun control, abortion and tax cuts.
They found no differences in how those issues were viewed by those who decided to cast their ballots compared with those who didn't.

The researchers then conducted simulations of how the election standings might have looked if in fact everyone had voted. They found that even a full-on turnout would have had little impact.
Those who do vote are largely representative of the population as a whole, the study concluded. "

Another way to look at this is to realize that Jean-Pierre Kingsley, Canada's soon-to-be former chief electoral officer, was dead wrong when he said that lower voter turnout was "a major challenge to contemporary Canadian democracy." No, it's a major challenge to the professional fiddlers and fixers. Once again, many were searching for solutions -- mandatory voting was Kingsley's pet (although he denies it in the current issue of The Hill Times (subscription required)) -- to non-problems.


On TVO's The Agenda, Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, just said that the reason there is not a carbon tax in Canada is that there is no political leadership because politicians think "Canadians are stupid" and can't be sold new taxes. She then said, "And I agree with that assessment." She did not qualify which part of the assessment she ascribed to political leaders so one must assume that it is the entire assessment. So note: the leader of the Green Party thinks that Canadians are stupid.

A necessary corrective to America is a beacon of liberty myth

Of course the United States is the more freedom-loving nation on earth. It is the most free. But it is far from perfect. Read Jeremy Lott in Human Events for a demonstration of why before concluding:

"But the "America = freedom" mantra is not just wrong, it's also dangerous to our actual freedoms. According to various surveys, Americans still view government suspiciously but rarely do anything about it. There is no organized political constituency to toss the bums out for legislating and regulating the sort of outrages that I describe above. [Banning trans fats & smoking; closing soup kitchens that don't meet rigorous restaurant standards; distracted driving restrictions; putting ankle bracelets on truants from school; and my favourite, kicking a homeless guy out of van that isn't up to health & safety regulations for living arrangements.] We're much more likely to gripe amongst ourselves, then shrug and make with the consolation: At least this is the freest country on earth.

At the rate things are going, not for long it isn't. America may be exceptional but unless people are willing to dig in their heels, the government has no obligation to recognize this -- and it shows."

Regular Americans & the world

Gallup asked a bunch of Americans their political affiliation and whether they viewed various countries favourably or not. Republicans were generally more "pro" Israel and Afghanistan, while Democrats were more favourably inclined toward France and Venezuela than Republicans. What is notable is how low most countries were. Of the 25 countries inquired about, only five (Australia, Canada, Germany, Great Britain, and Japan) garnered favourable views above 75% by either Democrats or Republicans (and in fact got that level of support from both partisans) while only two other nations received a 70% favourable rating from either Democrats or Republicans (Israel for GOP supporters, India for both Republicans and Democrats).

I would guess that this demonstrates a general distrust of foreign governments and national interests, although another possibility arises. Is it a general distrust of other people? After all, three of the five countries with the highest level of approval are America's fellow anglosphere allies? I know, chicken and egg and all that -- the anglosphere countries are not only most like each other because they are all pluralistic, democratic, free market-oriented countries. And the countries that generally rate higher (with the exception of Egypt which received favourable ratings by at least 60% of both Democrats and Republicans) are free market democracies, if not exactly pluralistic.

All this is interesting but I'm not sure it's all that meaningful. The numbers are worth a look for the intellectually curious, although I'm not entirely sure what conclusions are to be gleaned from them.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Axworthy spits at Dion and ...

What's it matter. The National Post reported today that Liberal has-been Tom Axworthy has criticized the Liberal leader about something or another. But as Paul Wells blogs:

"Remind me why I'm supposed to care what Tom Axworthy says about anything?Seriously. Tom Axworthy? What's tomorrow's line story — a rebuttal from Andy Brandt?"

Someone buy that reporter at atlas

Or perhaps CP's Christopher Maughan could just look it up on the parliamentary website. In his Canadian Press report on raising the federal minimum wage, Maughan says that, "The minimum wage plan was proposed in October by British Columbia MP Peggy Nash." Nash represents Parkdale-High Park which is smack in the middle of Toronto. Ontario.

The lies of the global warming fanatics

At, Christopher Horner has the 10 biggest global warming myths:

10. The U.S. is going it alone on Kyoto and global warming. Nonsense ...

9. Global-warming proposals are about the environment. Only if this means that they would make things worse, given that “wealthier is healthier and cleaner.” Even accepting every underlying economic and alarmist environmentalist assumption, no one dares say that the expensive Kyoto Protocol would detectably affect climate ... Instead, proponents candidly admit desires to control others’ lifestyles, and supportive industries all hope to make millions off the deal...

8. Climate change is the greatest threat to the world's poor. Climate -- or more accurately, weather -- remains one of the greatest challenges facing the poor. Climate change adds nothing to that calculus, however. Climate and weather patterns have always changed, as they always will. Man has always best dealt with this through wealth creation and technological advance -- a.k.a. adaptation...

7. Global warming means more frequent, more severe storms...

6. Global warming has doomed the polar bears! For some reason, Al Gore’s computerized polar bear can’t swim, unlike the real kind, as one might expect of an animal named Ursa Maritimus. On the whole, these bears are thriving, if a little less well in those areas of the Arctic that are cooling (yes, cooling). Their biggest threat seems to be computer models that air-brush them from the future, the same models that tell us it is much warmer now than it is...

5. Climate change is raising the sea levels. Sea levels rise during interglacial periods such as that in which we (happily) find ourselves. Even the distorted United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports refute the hysteria, finding no statistically significant change in the rate of increase over the past century of man’s greatest influence, despite green claims of massive melting already occurring...

4. The glaciers are melting! As good fortune has it, frozen things do in fact melt or at least recede after cooling periods mercifully end. The glacial retreat we read about is selective, however. Glaciers are also advancing all over, including lonely glaciers nearby their more popular retreating neighbors. If retreating glaciers were proof of global warming, then advancing glaciers are evidence of global cooling. They cannot both be true, and in fact, neither is...

3. Climate was stable until man came along. Swallowing this whopper requires burning every basic history and science text, just as “witches” were burned in retaliation for changing climates in ages (we had thought) long past. The “hockey stick” chart -- poster child for this concept -- has been disgraced and airbrushed from the UN’s alarmist repertoire.

2. The science is settled -- CO2 causes global warming. Al Gore shows his audience a slide of CO2 concentrations, and a slide of historical temperatures. But for very good reason he does not combine them in one overlaid slide: Historically, atmospheric CO2, as often as not, increases after warming. This is typical in the campaign of claiming “consensus” to avoid debate (consensus about what being left unspoken or distorted). What scientists do agree on is little and says nothing about man-made global warming ... Until scientists are willing to save the U.S. taxpayer more than $5 billion per year thrown at researching climate, it is fair to presume the science is not settled.

1. It’s hot in here! In fact, “It’s the baseline, stupid.” Claiming that present temperatures are warm requires a starting point at, say, the 1970s, or around the Little Ice Age (approximately 1200 A.D to the end of the 19th Century), or thousands of years ago. Select many other baselines, for example, compared o the 1930s, or 1000 A.D. -- or 1998 -- and it is presently cool ... The claim that the 1990s were the hottest decade on record specifically targets the intellectually lazy and easily frightened, ignoring numerous obvious factors. “On record” obviously means a very short period, typically the past 100+ years, or since the end of the Little Ice Age. The National Academies of Science debunked this claim in 2006. Previously rural measuring stations register warmer temps after decades of “sprawl” (growth), cement being warmer than a pasture.

10 years of Blairism

Many so-called conservatives give British Prime Minister Tony Blair a free pass because he agreed to go along with U.S. President George W. Bush's war on terror. Good forBlair. At the time it seemed that he was on the right side. Can't fault him for that. But regardless of whether or not the war is a good thing now, there is a lot more to judge the British PM by than Iraq. In the pages of the Daily Telegraph, Simon Heffer goes through the horrible state of public services in Britian before concluding:

"I have not even mentioned the huge increase in the burden of taxation on productive members of society, the robbing of their pension funds, or the litany of scandals that may now culminate in criminal charges for trafficking in honours, because I simply wanted to illustrate how Labour, in its dishonesty and incompetence, has made life harder for the have-nots: for what it used to call 'our people.' They have no choice but to use state schools and public hospitals. They can't afford to install burglar alarms, or move to 'nice' areas where they won't be mugged on their doorstep. When old, they don't have a supportive social network. They are the most vulnerable, and they have been royally and monumentally stuffed.

Most of us don't mind paying to make life better for such people. But the extra taxes we have paid have been wasted, not least in putting 700,000 socially unproductive people on the public payroll, where they can gratefully vote for Gordon Brown in perpetuity. They, Mrs Blair, the Irish Republican Army and those for whom the most important thing in life is to be allowed to sodomise 16-year-old boys are the only ones I can think of who have done well out of the past 10 years. I suspect if Labour had told us that in 1997, we might even have voted for John Major."

So after 10 years of Blair-led Labour government, the only winners have been members of his family, loafers, terrorists and perverts. Great legacy.

Sobran on Ivins

Sometimes it's difficult to not speak ill of the dead, as columnist Joseph Sobran demonstrates in remembering the late Molly Ivins. Here's his February 20 syndicated column which is masterful if, however, at times a little hypocritical:

Putting the 'bitch' in 'obituary'
by Joe Sobran
Of the two notable Texan women who have left this vale of tears recently, you have probably heard about the one known to the public as Anna Nicole Smith. But the other, Molly Ivins, actually got nicer eulogies. This, for which I hold liberals responsible, needs to be corrected.

Whoever said, "De mortuis nil nisi bonum" must have been thinking of Roman chicks, because he obviously never met Molly. Usually I abide by the maxim, but it's time to draw the line. The nil-nisi-bonum crowd have already had their say.

She was just plain nasty and treacherous. I wouldn't have trusted her even if she were on my side.

It was just my luck that I knew Molly but not Anna Nicole. Not that I'm complaining. Well, actually, I am.

Her NEW YORK TIMES obituary mentioned that "she never married," and thereby hangs a tale. Molly was not exactly the type who had to beat off aged Texas billionaires with a stick. If she had left an infant behind, there would have been no media war over its paternity, except maybe heated denials.

More than any other woman I have ever met, Molly was secure in her masculinity. If she wasn't exactly the prettiest gal in Texas, her homely exterior, which in itself warranted a sort of awed pity, like the Elephant Man, was surpassed by her inner ugliness. Almost effortlessly, she could be feline and bovine at the same time.

Molly affected a forced joie de vivre, which sounds more excusable when you say it in French. In plain English, she thought she was fun, an idea encouraged by other liberals. She might have learned otherwise on a blind date, when the guy's seeing-eye dog growled and snarled at her. My sense is that she didn't get enough rejection as a child. Certainly not as an adult.

We debated once in Boise, and she won the heart of the compassionate liberal audience by pointing out that I was fat. I was doubly stunned -- first, by the sheer incivility of an irrelevant gibe at my appearance; second, by the audacity of it, considering the source. Down in Texas, I hear tell, folks has a sayin' about bein' called ugly by a frog, and I reckon havin' Molly Ivins makin' fun of your looks comes mighty close to that.

But this was a typical specimen of the keen har-har-har wit for which she was renowned. I was too polite to offer the obvious riposte -- that Molly's own circumference was grossly out of proportion to her radius -- so I just let it pass. They's also a sayin' about gettin' into a certain kind of contest with a skunk.

Later that evening our hosts took us out for drinks, and I told a few jokes, at which Molly laughed harder, or at least louder, than anyone else. And a few months later she dared to write of me, "I have met the man, and he has not one scintilla of humor." I resolved to make her eat these words. Heck, she looked as if she ate everything else.

As for Molly's own humor, she stood alone. That is, insofar as a plagiarist can stand alone. She passed off as her own bons mots jokes by Florence King, Ambrose Bierce, and Paul Gigot, to name only those I spotted. When detected stealing Miss King's lines, word for word, she explained that it must have been accidental. Yes. Accidentally verbatim.

Molly's own chief contribution to American humor, as far as I know, was to nickname George W. Bush "Shrub." Yes, in her most inspired moments she could be mildly clever, but let's just say she was always a plagiarist, never a plagiaree.

I know the anguish of facing a deadline with nothing to say -- I have nightmares about it! -- but even in a desperate moment I could never bring myself to steal someone else's lines. It would be like kidnapping someone else's baby. As in: Definitely not done. If it has my name on it, I wrote it.

That's the whole idea of being a writer. If you have nothing else, not even humor, you can at least keep your honor. Nobody can force you to steal others' achievements, and nothing can excuse it.

I'm amazed that anyone can feel differently, but Molly did.

Why I haven't missed blogging over the past 10 days

I woke up yesterday morning and turned on City-TV to get the weather and traffic (actually TTC) report only to hear the news reader say: "The top story today: Britney Spears shaved her head this weekend." Last Tuesday I listened to CFRB for the first time in about a year. The morning co-hostess (with Bill Carroll) said: "One minute we're talking about Anna Nicole Smith's death, the next we're talking about nukes in North Korea. Who is to say which one is more important." The week before the top story was a bride who had a breakdown on YouTube, although it ended up it was an actress. The pressing issues of the day.

GOP getting the porn industry's vote one perv at a time

From an old Daily Show, Stephen Colbert interviews a porn actress and porn producer about joining the Republicans. It's old -- 18 months before the midterms -- but worth taking a peak at.

I guess this means we are as good as dead when an asteroid heads this way

'Cuz the UN is on the case. The Financial Times reports:

"Work is under way to draft a United Nations treaty laying out the rules for international action if a killer asteroid threatened Earth. The treaty would specify responsibilities for a space mission to deflect the asteroid - preventing death and destruction on a gigantic scale."

So UN members will meet and talk and talk and talk before taking a break so everyone can go home to make it clear that they aren't going to change their minds about the issue only to return to talk some more. They'll draft something that "takes note" of the "imminent threat" posed by the asteroid and then talk some about an appropriate action. Just before the asteroid smashes into earth, precisely three years and six months after determining that the minor planet was headed our way, they'll dispatch an emissary to the asteroid politely asking it to change directions although the envoy will be sure to ... KABLOOEY!!!! And then the whole world learns what it is like to live in Darfur waiting for the UN to protect you.

And I thought only the French were this arrogant

The Financial Times reports:

"Brussels wants the rest of the world to adopt the European Union’s regulations, the European Commission will say this week.

A Commission policy paper that examines the future of the Union’s single market says European single market rules have inspired global standard-setting in areas such as product safety, the environment, securities and corporate governance...

The paper calls on the EU to encourage other jurisdictions to follow suit – for example by 'promoting European standards internationally through international organisation and bilateral agreements'."


I am so bored by Canadian politics at the moment -- all Kyoto all the time -- that I'm not sure I want an election or not.

The issue isn't whether a pol has done drugs but whether he still is

And Tim Worstall says it is better if he (or she) is:

"This issue raising its head again. Did the Boy Dave (C) take cocaine or not ? I wouldn't be surprised if he had: indeed, I don't think I'd believe him if he said he hadn't (no, not based upon any personal knowledge of the man).

I also don't think it matters a damn. In fact, I'd far rather the entire political class were crazed coke fiends: they'd be too busy in the toilets to steal any more of our money or freedoms."

Helpful usage guide

From Eclectic Economist: "Remember that when talking about temperatures, C stands for 'Canadian' and F stands for 'foreign'."

Justin Trudeau -- like his father but worse

Gods of the Copybook Headings on Justin Trudeau's big speech last week in London*:
"Trudeau Praises Capitalism
As an engine to finance green

As Justin the Great told the London Chamber of Commerce: "We need to change our priorities and adjust our values." And now doubt he is the one to change them. Capitalism at the service of Trudeaupia. Might be a slogan to bring aboard Liberals and Fraser Institute types, no?

* London, Ont., so the speech couldn't have been that big.

Standing athwart history and all that,
Or, what real conservatism looks like

Kathy Shaidle (scroll down to Feb. 16) explains:

"I welcome every opportunity to remind many of my so-called 'conservative' readers that (if I may be permitted to read out a few folks myself) true conservatives are primarily traditionalists, whose knee jerk reaction to any and all social innovations from gay marriage and adoption to mandatory recycling should be, must be, 'No! No! A thousand times no!' and not, as is so often the case these days, 'Whatever. What could it hurt? Hey, Family Guy's on'!"

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Computer problems @ home & busy-ness @ work mean have meant less time for blogging. Not that I could have blogged this evening; I'm taking my eldest son to the Tragically Hip concert at the ACC. Should be fun. Gordon Downie, the lead singer, is a hoot. In person, he's shy, almost awkwardly so; in concert, he's strange but entertaining. This evening should be a departure from the usual concert fare for our family (Rolling Stones, The Who).

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Ross McKitrick, an associate professor of economics at the University of Guelph, a peer reviewer of the International Panel on Climate Control, and debunker of the hockey stick theory of global warming, wrote at that the conclusions of the IPCC are not as unanimously supported as the political summary (pdf) makes it seem and he offers contradictory evidence to the IPCC's case. McKitrick writes:

"Last Friday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations group charged with assessing the state of the world's climate, unveiled the summary of its latest report. The IPCC Web site claims an impressive number of participants: 450 lead authors, 800 contributors and 2,500 expert reviewers (of which I was one). But it would be a mistake to assume all these experts endorse everything in summary, including its bottom-line assessment: "Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations." Many disagree with the conclusion itself or the claimed level of certainty, but the fact is, we were never asked. Most participants worked only on small portions of the report, handed in final materials last summer and never ventured an opinion on claims made in the summary."

The rest of the article questions the conclusions by providing evidence of the IPCC's methods and for other explanations to global warming. McKitrick concludes:

"The IPCC leaders have a point of view. Think of their report as the case for the prosecution. Maybe this time the district attorney is right. Maybe not: that is why we need to hear from the defense as well."

For your amusement

From, "The Dumbing Down Of America - Courtroom Testimony." Some samples:


ATTORNEY: Is your appearance here this morning pursuant to a deposition notice which I sent to your attorney?
WITNESS: No, this is how I dress when I go to work.


ATTORNEY: Doctor, how many of your autopsies have you performed on dead people?
WITNESS: All my autopsies are performed on dead people.


ATTORNEY: ALL your responses MUST be oral, OK? What school did you go to?

(HT: Dispel the Illusion)

Monday, February 05, 2007
Me on mutual funds fees

You can read my cover story on why Canadians pay high mutual fund fees in this month's Report magazine. There are a number of reasons including the habits of investors, but the government can do a lot to help including opening the market to foreign competition and centralizing securities regulations so companies do not have to comply with a hodge podge of rules.

Sunday, February 04, 2007
Pigletless in Qatar

Qatar Living has found Winnie-the-Pooh books in a bookstore in Qatar vandalized, or censored, in an unusual but unsurprising manner: images of piglet were blacked out. Don't know if it was the work of official censors (in Qatar or Saudi Arabia) or whether some censorious Muslim took the job of erasing the offending image of a little pig into his or her own hands. Anyway, the Muslim blogger finds this censorship wrong but makes a much more profound point:

"In a way though, the whole thing kind of makes sense in this part of the world. I mean, most Arab countries still try to wish Israel didn't exist by not saying it (they say "Palestine 1948") or by marking it off the maps!"

Friday, February 02, 2007
America's increasing uselessness as the Iraq debacle continues

Francis Fukuyama writes in the Yomiuri Shimbun that Japan is likely to pursue its own nuclear program to deter North Korea because the American deterrence power has been neutered by its misadventure in Iraq. Before getting into the meat of the argument, Fukuyama wonders about the importance of maintaining 'credibility', which is often offered as a reason not to abandon Iraq:

"But while strategists assume that credibility is critical, it is not clear on the basis of historical experience how quickly it is lost, or how difficult it is to reestablish. Rapid retreat in the face of setbacks clearly set bad precedents that encourage future aggression. Osama bin Laden, for example, is reported to have pointed to the American retreat from Somalia in 1994 after the killing of 18 U.S. soldiers as one reason he believed that the United States could be driven out of the Middle East.

On the other hand, credibility once lost can be regained. Then U.S. President Ronald Reagan withdrew American forces quickly from Lebanon in 1983 after the bombing of the marine barracks, and yet despite that he convinced the Soviet leadership that they would not be able to maintain a long-term military competition with the United States. He did this by confronting Soviet allies in Central America and Afghanistan, as well as through the military buildup that took place during the 1980s. Kissinger's fears that the Soviet Union and other communist powers would take advantage of perceived American weakness after the retreat from Vietnam turned out to be greatly overblown. When the last helicopter left Saigon in 1975, no one anticipated that China would soon embark on a major shift toward a market economy, that the rest of Southeast Asia would experience an economic miracle that would leave Vietnam in the dust, and that the Soviet empire would implode 16 years later.

It oftentimes does not make sense to maintain a costly military commitment simply for the sake of credibility, if the engagement cannot ultimately be won, and if the costs of staying are so high that one cannot use one's forces to meet other commitments. Tactical retreats are periodically necessary if one is to avoid strategic defeat. This is the choice that the United States potentially faces today as it considers its options in Iraq."

And about Japan and how Iraq fits into all this, Fukuyama says:

"The only serious argument that Japan is less safe today than during the Cold War, then, is one concerning American will: the United States has somehow changed, and is less willing to come to Japan's defense in 2007 than it was, say, in 1957 or 1977. Is this in fact the case?

The United States' disastrous involvement in Iraq is a cause for concern. The American military is clearly overstretched by the war there that is soon to enter its fifth year. But the U.S. deterrent in Asia does not depend on large numbers of ground forces; it is maintained by air and naval forces whose capacity has not been diminished by Iraq. Iraq clearly absorbs the time and attention of decision-makers in Washington, who have not been able to focus adequately on East Asia in recent years. But this is a short-term problem; the United States will be out of Iraq in all likelihood sooner rather than later. And in any event, there has been a great strengthening of the U.S.-Japan alliance, and much more intensive military cooperation, during the period of Junichiro Koizumi's prime ministership.

There remains a longer-term problem of political will, however. During the Cold War, the United States regarded the defense of Japan as part of a larger defensive strategy whose ultimate stake was defense of the United States itself. Today, the United States is engaged in a global "war on terrorism," but it can be argued that the defense of Japan is not part of that struggle, and hence is tangential to American security. And even after a withdrawal from Iraq, there may be an isolationist backlash against costly foreign commitments, as occurred after the Vietnam War.

I would not underestimate the general credibility of American commitments, despite the setbacks in Iraq and the possibility of a U.S. withdrawal from that country. The United States currently takes the threat of nuclear proliferation very seriously, even if there are no obvious solutions to the challenges by Iran and North Korea. The latter is seen as a possible supplier of terrorists, and the precedent of aggression against a fellow democracy undertaken by such a state would be taken extremely seriously, as a threat not just to Japan but to the United States as well. There are many other reasons why Japan might want military capabilities, independent of its judgment about the credibility of U.S. commitments. But the question of whether the United States will stand by its alliance commitments is a serious one that deserves to be debated at length, something that has not yet taken place."

(HT: AI cont'd)

A bunch of stuff about health care from David Gratzer

At the Reason Foundation Roundtable on Healthcare Reform the Manhattan Institute's David Gratzer talks about the need for a change in the mindset of the industry and what government can do to inculcate a marketplace that is friendly to consumers (read: patients) which would encourage further structural reforms to help reduce costs; in the Weekly Standard, he talks about how President George W. Bush has the right idea to further healthcare reform through subtle but important changes in the tax system to decouple healthcare insurance from employment; in the Wall Street Journal, Gratzer discusses the third anniversary of the most significant recent change in healthcare policy, health savings accounts, their expansion and what some people don't like about them before concluding that if their use continues to expand, HSAs will be an important driver of consumer-driven healthcare; in Forbes, Gratzer critiques California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's healthcare reform plan to provide coverage to the uninsured and gives some context to the "46 million Americans without healthcare" argument. (The number is closer to 8 million.)

Some of the material get repetitive, but you try to write four columns about healthcare reform that all appear in the same week and see if you don't cover some of the same ground. But together they will help both left and right move beyond the universal state-provided health "insurance" versus private care arguments and toward something more useful: non-ideological solutions to America's healthcare mess.

Thursday, February 01, 2007
Sign of the times

From the Finanical Times:

"The African Development Bank (ADB) has chosen to hold its annual summit in Shanghai this May in recognition of China’s increasingly pivotal role in Africa’s future.

The choice of Shanghai gives Zhou Xiaochuan, China’s central bank governor, automatic chairmanship of the board of governors of the ADB – only the second time, according to ADB officials, in the 43 years since the bank was founded that the post has gone outside Africa.

The ADB is the third largest multilateral donor on the continent after the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. ADB officials said the role of chairman was largely ceremonial, giving the Chinese input at ADB meetings in the coming year but no direct control over lending policy."

No direct control but still a significant symbolic step.

Google library

An extremely interesting article by Jeffrey Toobin in the New Yorker about Google's attempt to get every book that's ever been published up on the web and searchable. An incredible endeavour and the story is worth reading for a number reasons including how they got from vision to undertaking the project, the need for technology that would change pages while scanning literally millions of books (note: not much information on this because the technology is proprietary), the cooperation of several major universities, and the legal actions against Google by authors and publishers, including several who are partners in this venture. As I said, an incredibly interesting read.

Would love to hear Bob Tarantino's legal opinion on what Google is doing.

Insert flushing Koran down toilets joke here

Fox News and The Sun both reported earlier this week that some British prisons are renovating their lavatorial facilities to accommodate Muslims. The Sun reports:

"JAIL bosses are rebuilding toilets so Muslim inmates don’t have to use them while facing Mecca.

Thousands of pounds of taxpayers money are being spent to ensure lags are not offended.

The Islamic religion prohibits Muslims from facing or turning their backs on the Kiblah — the direction of prayer — when they visit the lav.

Muslim lags claimed they have had to sit sideways on prison WCs.

But after pressure from faith leaders the Home Office has agreed to turn the existing toilets 90 degrees at HMP Brixton in London."

But here's something interesting in the Fox report:

"A Muslim American rights worker commended the London prison system for their actions, but said the problem, so far, doesn't appear to be an issue in the U.S.

'There have been very significant and numerous complaints at U.S. prisons on issues of regulating hygiene and respect for dietary laws,' said Ibrahim Ramey, director of human and civil rights work for Muslim America Society. However, Ramey said he was unaware of any specific complaints regarding the direction of toilets in U.S. prisons."

I'm not a Koranic scholar but I have to wondering -- if Islamic law prohibits facing toward or turning one's back on Mecca while using the toilet and there has never been a complaint in the United States, that could mean only three things:

1. No prison toilet in America is lined up with Mecca;
2. Either American Muslims ignore or are not aware of this particular edict;
3. British Muslims are liars or, at the very least, practical jokers who've pulled a fast one on prison officials and taxpayers.

It seems strange that American Muslims haven't complained about this gross violation of their religious rights. But it also seems strange that Islam would have a rule about taking a dump in the direction of Mecca or even having one's back turned on the holy city while doing so.

Really cool, really small things

That's live bovine pulmonary epithelial cells.

From Scientific American, "Top 10 Microphotographs of Living Things."

Disappointing news from Ottawa

From Canadian Press:

"The Conservative government has ruled out income-splitting for families in its upcoming budget and will focus instead on tax cuts for individuals and businesses, The Canadian Press has learned.

A senior government official says Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s March 20 budget will not include the giant tax break some families had been hoping for."

So what are the Tories going to do for social conservatives? Socons sold their votes to the Conservative Party pretty cheaply: a promise to try to revisit the same-sex marriage issue and a vow to not implement a national daycare scheme. The SSM vote was a mess (I'll put my January cover story for The Interim on this issue sometime soon) and the Tories have delivered a $100 monthly cheque as an alternative to universal daycare. In recent months, socons were trumpeting income-splitting as a doable family friendly policy (read: sop to social conservative voters that had a chance of passing) but it appears that isn't going to happen. So what do socons ask for and what can they get. Or did Stephen Harper buy social conservative gratitude forever with his December motion asking Parliament to revisit the SSM issue even though it was defeated by a 50-vote margin? I don't have a whole lot of ideas -- I was among those advocating income splitting. I'd like to see defense of religion/conscience legislation but I'd guess that the media and opposition would say that is nothing more than the same-sex marriage issue in disguise and the Tories don't have the stomach for that fight, at least again and so soon.

It's not easy being green

I've been waiting to use this line since a friend of mine used it just before declaring that the next federal election will be the Kermit the Frog election. Frog legs anyone? Anyway, here's Gerry Nicholls on the great paradox of green politics:

"Here's how the politics of "Climate Change" seem to work.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper thinks Kyoto is a bad idea, but he will now apparently seek to implement it; Liberal Leader Stephane Dion thinks Kyoto is a good idea but he did nothing to implement it.

Go figure."