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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Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Light/no blogging for next week

I have a lot of stuff to do, including a few days on the road and getting the book by Kathy Shaidle and Pete Vere on human rights commissions ready for layout. We're finishing the website and and hope to have it running in about 10 days, ready to take orders for pre-sale. Also, a freelance project deadline looms. I expect to return to regular blogging around August 8-10. Enjoy the nice weather & long weekend.

Monday, July 28, 2008
More UN suckiness

It's been a couple of weeks since I last complained about the UN, so it is once again about time. The AFP reports:

"South Africa and Libya on Monday pressed a proposal in the Security Council to defer a possible indictment of Sudan's president on Darfur-related genocide charges but ran into Western opposition, diplomats said.

The 15-member body met behind closed doors to weigh a British draft resolution to extend the mandate of the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur (UNAMID) for one year from Thursday when it expires.

But South Africa, Libya, backed by China, Russia and Vietnam, sought the an amendment that would defer for one year, renewable, any prosecution of Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir as requested by International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo."

One year deferment that is renewable?

Remember the never agains uttered after Rwanda? I am taking bets now on the next locale for African genocide that the UN does nothing about.

Larry Summers is right

And the media is wrong. As Alex Tabarrok noted, the study widely reported last week, did show average ability in math among boys and girls to be similar but that there was some significant variance (both high and low), which means that there will be more male math geniuses, but also more male math idiots. Tabarrok says:

"I quote from the study (VR is variance ratio): 'Greater male variance is indicated by VR > 1.0. All VRs, by state and grade, are >1.0 [range 1.11 to 1.21].'

Notice that the greater male variance is observable in the earliest data, grade 2. (In addition, higher male VRS have been noted for over a century). Now the study authors clearly wanted to downplay this finding so they wrote things like "our analyses show greater male variability, although the discrepancy in variances is not large." Which is true in some sense but the point is that small differences in variance can make for big differences in outcome at the top. The authors acknowledge this with the following: 'If a particular specialty required mathematical skills at the 99th percentile, and the gender ratio is 2.0, we would expect 67% men in the occupation and 33% women'."

In 2005, then Harvard president Larry Summer (in)famously said:

"... if one is talking about physicists at a top twenty-five research university, one is not talking about people who are two standard deviations above the mean...But it's talking about people who are three and a half, four standard deviations above the mean in the one in 5,000, one in 10,000 class. Even small differences in the standard deviation will translate into very large differences in the available pool substantially out."

Tabarrok notes that Summers is correct:

"If you do the same type of calculation as the authors but now look at the expected gender ratio at 4 standard deviations from the mean you find a ratio of more than 3:1, i.e. just over 75 men for every 25 women should be expected at say a top-25 math or physics department on the basis of math ability alone."

Of course, math ability alone does not determine who becomes math or physics professors.

The whole post is worth reading, as is the Wall Street Journal article on the study (one of the few to get it right).

Friday, July 25, 2008
Leopard v. crocodile

This would be even better as a video but still tres cool. The Daily Telegraph has more pics and an accompanying story.

UPDATE: YouTube has moving photos -- not quite video -- of the attack.

Conservatives are wrong on Obama (this time)

Many conservatives -- too many conservatives -- are criticizing Barack Obama's foreign trip and speeches abroad, mocking him for running for Secretary General of the United Nations and jokingly asking whether he knows he is running for President of the United States. Even the normally sober-minded New York Sun editorialized thusly:

"We'd settle for a president who is a citizen of America, thank you very much. Or at least one with the humility to recognize that the president is elected by Americans, not Germans. In the meantime, it is hard to take Mr. Obama's speech as anything more than the pandering to which he is prone. What else to make of his proclamation that 'America has no better partner than Europe'?"

The Sun says he was pandering to Europe, but he was indeed campaigning domestically by travelling abroad and pandering to his base. To those Americans, typically liberal Democrats, who think it is necessary for America to be a good team player with socialist Europeans and who are heavily invested in the notion that George W. Bush is a failure because he is an isolationist cowboy, Obama's trip reassures them that the United States will be seen differently (read: better accepted) if he is elected in November. Make no mistake about it: Obama might have been standing in Berlin, but he was speaking to voters in Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Portland, and Denver.

I'd bet against it

Washington Post headline on E.J. Dionne's column: "The Year The Youth Vote Arrives."

There are always predictions like this and then life happens and the distractions of school work, the first job, girls, beer and football get in the way of one's 'civic duty'. That is not a judgement, merely an observation. Who wouldn't prefer studying, girls or the game over hauling one's butt to the voting booth to cast a ballot that will not influence the result of the election. Rational people stay home on election day. Score one for the wisdom of youth.

Thursday, July 24, 2008
Like most international organizations, the IMF sucks

From New Scientist:

"The International Monetary Fund could be bad for your health. The organisation loans money to countries with financial problems, and in return requires governments to undertake "structural adjustment" policies aimed at improving their financial management.

These usually cut government spending to control inflation. Critics have long charged that this reduces spending on healthcare, so much so that some have called for the organisation to be renamed the 'Infant Mortality Fund'.

David Stuckler and colleagues at the University of Cambridge have now tested this by analyzing TB data in 21 countries in central and eastern Europe that were involved with the IMF for different amounts of time after 1989 and borrowed different amounts of money.

They found these were associated with 13% more TB cases, and 16% more deaths."

I like that name: Infant Mortality Fund.

The study, published in PLoS Medicine is here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Bullying billionaires

The New York Times reports:

"Bill Gates and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced on Wednesday that they will spend $500 million to stop people around the world from smoking...

The $500 million would be spent on a multipronged campaign — nicknamed Mpower — that Mr. Bloomberg and Dr. Margaret Chan, director of the health organization, outlined in February. It coordinates efforts by the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use, the health organization, the World Lung Foundation, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Foundation and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

The campaign will urge governments to sharply raise tobacco taxes, outlaw smoking in public places, outlaw advertising to children and free giveaways of cigarettes, start antismoking advertising campaigns and offer their citizens nicotine patches or other help quitting. Third world health officials, consumer groups, journalists, tax officers and others will be brought to the United States for workshops on topics like lobbying, public service advertising, catching cigarette smugglers and running telephone hot lines for smokers wanting to quit."

Obama at Yad Vashem & 'never again'

Passport blog has a hand-written copy of what Barack Obama wrote in the guestbook at Yad Vashem, Israel's holocaust memorial. What is notable is this line:

"Let our children come here, and know their history, so they can add their voices to proclaim 'never again'."

Of course, 'never again' means 'once every ten years or so'. Obama's idea of proclaiming never again means going to the UN to bitch and complain and perhaps get some useless, unenforceable resolution passed.

Monday, July 21, 2008
Ignore/sneer at the prophets at your own peril

Jonathan Kay on George Jonas:

"In my early days as a National Post editorial board member, my colleagues and I would marvel -- 'snicker' was often a more appropriate description -- about how Jonas could take any subject and bring it back to Joseph Stalin in four paragraphs. His archenemy, then as now, has always been the creeping tendrils of the busybody, bureaucratic state -- and the Soviet-style oppression that can result if free individuals do not beat those tendrils back.

Over time, I've learned to stop snickering, because so many of his warnings have come true."

(HT: Five Feet of Fury)

Sunday, July 20, 2008
Something for neo-Malthusians to ponder

Earlier this week, Edward Glaeser reviewed the Paul and Anne Ehrlich's new book, The Dominant Animal in the New York Sun. At one point he says:

"The authors are particularly ardent in their opposition to population growth. It is true, as they point out, that there are environmental costs of having more people — all of us use natural resources and energy and bear some responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions. But there are also benefits, especially to the people being born. Each new person has a brain that might come up with new technologies that could reduce humanity's environmental impact. As an urban economist, my life's research has focused on the many ways in which we are all enriched by the people around us. Are there many parents who think that the world would have been better off if they had decided to have one less child?"

Potentially perverse incentive system in UK health care

The Sunday Telegraph reports:

"NHS surgeons are to be paid bonuses based on the number of lives they save, in radical plans being drawn up by hospitals across Britain.

For the first time, they will receive performance-related pay according to the results they achieve on the operating table, with levels dependent on how well patients recover.

Leading surgeons said that this could deter doctors from taking on higher-risk patients, such as the frail and elderly, and from carrying out complex operations."

Why would the government pay doctors in a way in which some types of patients and some types of procedures might not end up being covered?

But what is it saying to and about doctors if they are getting paid to do their job and getting paid more to do it correctly (which is what payment for life-saving surgery is)?

The state has no business in the comedy clubs of the nation

Rex Murphy has had several great columns on the human rights commissions over the past six months and he has another one in this weekend's Globe and Mail as he addresses whether comedians should be hauled before Canada's kangaroo courts. Read the whole thing but here is his conclusion:

"The really funny joke in all of this, however, is not going to come of out the mouth of any comedian. It is the dreary fact that comedians are the latest targets of Canada's human-rights commissions. Did you ever in your wildest dreams see heckling as the subject of a human-rights inquiry?

The mirthless sitting in adjudication over the mirth-makers, telling Canadians what they're allowed to laugh at."

Stat of the day

From Michiko Kakutani's New York Times review of Elizabeth Royte's Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It:

"Environmentalists argue that it takes 17 million barrels of oil a year to make water bottles for the American market — enough oil to fuel 1.3 million cars for a year."

In 2006, Americans bought eight billion gallons of bottled water.

Quote of the day

Winston Fletcher, author of Powers of Persuasion: The Inside Story of British Advertising, quoted in the Financial Times review of the book:

"Conventional wisdom has it that advertising oozes with sex, but the reality is that nipples have only once been seen, briefly, in a commercial, for Neutralia shower gel in 1994 (made, predictably, by a naughty French agency in Paris)."

Friday, July 18, 2008
No such thing as public opinion on embryonic stem cell research

In The Corner, Yuval Levin dissects some numbers and finds that polling on embryonic stem cell research is inadequate and does not -- cannot -- capture what the public thinks about the issue. For the numbers, check the full post, but here is the vital point:

"My point is not that in fact the public opposes such research, but rather that public understanding of the issues involved (both scientific and ethical) is very poor and opinions turn out to be extremely malleable and indeterminate. The Ethics and Public Policy Center, where I work, tested that point with a poll a few months ago that sought to dig a little deeper than most polling on these issues, and it turned out that the context and wording of questions made an enormous difference, and that, in essence, there really is no such thing as public opinion on stem cell research."

The case against paternity leave

Nicola Brewer, the head of the Equalities And Human Rights Commission, wants to 'rethink' family policy and give fathers the same rights and responsibilities as mothers. I am always amazed with the hubris of government officials who think that they can undo biological realities; fathers cannot ever have the same rights and responsibilities as mothers, if you know what I mean. (Think the Life of Brian sketch where Stan announces he wants to be a woman and have babies.)

Anyway, James Delingpole writes in the Daily Telegraph about why fathers should not qualify for paternity leave (90% of salary while he watches the kids):

"We're great at the fun, irresponsible stuff: swinging our kids till their arms almost come out of their sockets; jokily throwing balls at them, making them cry and getting told off by our wives; letting them stand up on the wall of the lion enclosure.

That is because we instinctively know that our task is to nurture our offsprings' sense of risk and adventure. And also because we're basically still children ourselves."

If governments want dad to spend more time with the kids, lower taxes so he doesn't have to work as hard to keep the family's budget in the black.

Of course, Brewer might have an ulterior motive. Earlier this week, the Telegraph reported that providing longer maternity leave has hurt women in the workplace. Providing the same 'benefits' to men might by a way of putting the state's thumb the scales of gender equality.

Globalism and music

Tyler Cowen lecture on 'Does Globalization Trump Culture: The Future of Music in a Flat World' (with tunes) from February 2008.

Several interesting points.

1) The world is becoming more alike because everywhere is becoming diverse. There is more heterogeneity and homogeneity.

2) Globalization enriches cultures by allowing different ideas and traditions to rub against each other, developing into new styles or regional takes on old styles. That is, music benefits from trade.

3) J.S. Bach was a globalized composer: English Suites, French Suites, Brandenburg Concertos, Italian Concertos.

4) Abba is a bunch of Swedes who sing in English (and other languages) without Swedish accents.

Thursday, July 17, 2008
The good news buried on page A5 of the Ottawa Citizen

The Citizen reports:

"There are more Canadians than ever before on the roads, but the number of people killed in motor vehicle crashes has dropped by half over a 25-year period, according to a Statistics Canada study released yesterday. The study used death certificates to determine that the number of people who died in motor vehicle accidents declined by 52 per cent, from 5,933 in 1979 to 2,875 in 2004."

Would have liked some analysis as to why, but alas the editors thought this merited only a news brief. The section quoted above is about half the total article, yet not nearly half of the actual story.

Police smash window to save a ... doll

From The News (Australia):

"FRANTIC police smashed a window to rescue a seemingly unconscious baby from a locked vehicle in Queensland last week only to find it was an extremely lifelike doll...

Gympie Sen-Sgt Phil Edwards said last week's incident had been frightening for both police and members of the public who genuinely believed a baby was dying.

'It was incredibly lifelike,' he said, agreeing that warning cards on the dolls might be a good idea.

He said when the car's owners were eventually found they were 'nonplussed and apologetic'."

The dolls are freakishly realistic.

Quote of the day

Found at the Adam Smith Institute blog:

"For every action, there is an equal and opposite government program."
-- Anonymous

Freedom and security

From the American Civil Liberties Union:

"The nation's terrorist watch list has hit one million names, according to a tally maintained by the American Civil Liberties Union based upon the government's own reported numbers for the size of the list.

'Members of Congress, nuns, war heroes and other 'suspicious characters,' with names like Robert Johnson and Gary Smith, have become trapped in the Kafkaesque clutches of this list, with little hope of escape,' said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. 'Congress needs to fix it, the Terrorist Screening Center needs to fix it, or the next president needs to fix it, but it has to be done soon'."

A million? Well, it has a million names, but not necessarily a million individuals. As Leonard Boyle, director of the Terrorist Screening Center, explains in the Washington Post, many people have multiple identities (funny how terrorists might use aliases) and other identifying information, each of which is a seperate file. In total, Boyle says, there are 400,000 individuals on the list. Furthermore, 95% of those on the list are not American citizens.

That said, what is there oppose in the ACLU's suggestions to improve the integrity of the terrorist watch list and protect the civil rights of individuals:

"Controls on the watch lists called for by the ACLU included:

* due process
* a right to access and challenge data upon which listing is based
* tight criteria for adding names to the lists
* rigorous procedures for updating and cleansing names from the lists.

The ACLU also called for the president - if not this one then the next - to issue an executive order requiring the lists to be reviewed and limited to only those for whom there is credible evidence of terrorist ties or activities. The review should be concluded within 3 months."

Although, as Boyle notes, the Terrorist Screening Center is constantly auditing its own lists. That is commendable, but I would suggest that the TSC must also appear to be unimpeachable. Civil liberties matter; it is one of the reasons that Islamists seem to hate the West, a perceived weakness in their eyes but truly a vital part of heritage.

On the other hand, defenders of the current administration can point to the fact that there have not been terrorist attacks on American soil since 9/11 as evidence that policies such as the terrorist watch list works and is appropriate. Boyle says the consolidated watch list has been an effective information-gathering tool that allows "vital intelligence" to be "shared across federal, state and local agencies."

I think we need to be vigilant, yet I defer to the wisdom Benjamin Franklin who said, "Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither." Security yes, but not at the expense of freedom.

The end of the American Dream?

Business Pundit says:

"After writing about Anheuser-Busch, Fannie Mae, and GM over the past week, something occurred to me...

It was this: During the past week, several key American icons–the suburban house, the SUV, the ubiquitous can of Bud–have fundamentally changed in some way...

An entire middle-class identity has, in the period of about a week, indicated its time is up."

The suburban homes are still there, one can still buy a Budweiser and vehicular preferences change all the time. The one constant in our society is the hysteria on the part of those who fret over economic change.

The American Dream is dynamic; the extreme economic conservatism which views all change as bad is in diametric opposition to the American Dream. You would think a blog called Business Pundit might understand that.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Reflections on the All Star Game

Watching the parade down a red-carpeted Sixth Ave with the legends of the past and future Hall of Famers, was a amazing. Sure it was cheapened by the death threats Boston Red Sox hurler Jon Papelbon claims were uttered against his wife, but, hey, it's New York and he slighted their beloved Mariano Rivera two days earlier. But one should not lose sight of the majesty of the past players and the greatness of many of today's stars that easily compare to those of the past. Only baseball could mix such nostalgia while at the same time putting on display their future.

Ditto for the moving tribute to the Hall of Fame players at the opening ceremony. Bloggers are the game said the cheers for Mariano Rivera were the loudest they've ever heard at Yankee Stadium. The cheers for other current Yankees (Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter), former Yanks (HoFers Reggie Jackson, Whitey Ford), and other luminaries (Willie McCovey and Hank Aaron) would have blown off the roof, if there was one. But to me, the two loudest cheers were reserved for Willie Mays and Yogi Berra, and why not. Mays is one of the best three players of all time (with Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds) and Berra is a fan favourite all out proportion to his (still magnificent) abilities. I'm a sucker for this kind of nostalgia and I had to hold back a tear or two.

It was also moving to see George Steinbrenner crying as he was driven to the infield on a golf cart to deliver the ceremonial balls. The security detail would not let him stand up to acknowledge the ovation he received and it was a little sad to watch. I understand that he was in ill health and they wanted to save him the indignity of some failing of his physical faculties, but the sight of a grown man being instructed to sit back down and nearly restrained was disturbing thing to watch. It deprived the fans of properly recognizing the man who has done so much for New York baseball and the sport, but more importantly it deprived Steinbrenner of some dignity.

The game was one of the most exciting baseball games I have ever watched. Whatever the flaws and faults of the ASG in general (and all star games in other sports, for that matter), it has one purpose: to make money for Major League Baseball. It does this by providing fans with the opportunity to see the best (and some of the merely very good) assembled together for one game.

It is pure baseball talent on display. And what a wonderful display it was.

Stolen bases. Homeruns. Strikeouts. Hits. Lots of hits, 27 in total. Great defense. Bunts. Pickoffs. And the drama. Extra innings, running out of bench players and pitchers in the bullpen, with the right for one league or the other to host the World Series, the tension was palpable. Runner on third with no outs? Surely he will score. Nope. There were at least four plays at home, all of which adds to the excitement. National League catcher Russell Martin put on a clinic on how to play defense at the plate. Sure the Dioner Navarro call was blown (replays show he was safe) but Martin earned the missed call by perfect positioning.

It was nice that Boston Red Sox and AL ASG manager Terry Francona played to the Yankee fans, giving them a chance to cheer for hometown heroes A-Rod and Jeter by making a defensive change after an out was made in the inning. Ditto giving Mariano Riveria 1.2 innings to earn the win (which he didn't). As much as the ASG is about baseball's best, this All Star Game was marketed as a Yankee Stadium, and thus New York Yankee event. It was right to give the fans what they want.

What fans want most is great baseball. The first half dozen innings, despite the scoring, might have been draggy at times, but no more so than any other All Star Game. But the final product, including six extra innings, was thrilling to watch. There might have been players who didn't deserve to be there, but at least two of them (Baltimore Orioles reliever George Sherrill and Colorado Rockies starter Aaron Cook) proved to be important contributors, combining for 5.1 shutout innings of relief in extra innings for their respective sides. It wasn't always pretty (I'll avoid any Dan Uggla jokes) but the job got done.

All the elements of a great baseball game were present last night (and this morning -- the game finished after 1:30 AM). The fans made it known they were every bit as much of this game as the players. The game's best were there for fans to appreciate (and boo if they were from the Red Sox or Mets). It was a spectacle and more. It was at times maudlin, especially with the TV announcers' endless reminders (as if they were necessary) that this was the last season for Yankee Stadium. But what a send-off.

I am every bit as much of a critic of the process for picking players and I'll complain about this or that undeserving All Star, but that is part of the charm of the ASG. But even this was overshadowed by the thrills provided last night. I watched the game and followed an online discussion at Baseball Prospectus, where many of the bloggers were cynics through the first eight innings, but were every bit as excited as an eight-year-old fan at his first game as the ASG entered the ninth, then tenth inning. The reason is simple: it was fun. That in itself is something special and something to cheer for.

The New York Times as stopped clock

But even then it needs the help of guest columnists. Jamie Gorelick, a deputy attorney general during the Clinton administration and Slade Gorton, a former Republican senator from Washington, (and both members of the 9/11 commission) say that the transition between the old and new administrations (the time between election day and the inauguration) must be changed to reflect the dangerous times (the constant threat from Islamic terrorists).

I'm not sure how feasible all their suggestions are, in part because of political realities (bipartisanship) and whether presidents-elect will have the incoming national security cabinet ready so soon after winning the election. Still, there are valid points worth serious consideration by the candidates, the departments and agencies in question, and the Senate, which confirms presidential appointees.

The authors are right to identify the transition between presidents as a time of vulnerability; it might, however, be a problem without a likely solution considering the imperfect nature of government and the human beings who comprise it.

Cool stuff on You Tube

1. Quantum of Solace, the teaser for the next Bond film.

2. John Pizzarelli performing Take Me Out To The Ballgame.

3. Marvin Gaye singing the longest U.S. national anthem ever at the 1983 NBA All Star Game in L.A.

4. The Superfriends intro.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Give George a standing O

Sam Borden says:

"There will be lots of cheers at Yankee Stadium tonight, starting with the ones for the Hall of Famers who will be honored in a pregame ceremony and, of course, for the players who will be part of the All-Star Game. Then, at some point during the evening, there will be a planned tribute to George Steinbrenner, and the sold-out crowd will presumably stand and cheer again.

It will be a deserved ovation. Steinbrenner, like the Stadium itself, is as big a star as any this year, and commissioner Bud Selig has said that one reason he wanted the All-Star Game here was to pay tribute to what Steinbrenner has meant to the game."

I will be one person standing at home and clapping for the man who, although at times buffoonish, did a lot for New York baseball.

Borden notes, "From the firings (and hirings) of managers and GMs to the temper tantrums, borderline legal dealings with shady characters, and occasional mistreatment of club employees, the legend of King George was universally known." What could be more New York than that.

June issue of The Interim

Is online. Some notable stories include:

Our editorial on Quebec's 400th anniversary, entitled Raising Lower Canada. Another editorial looks at how human rights commission are marginalizing religion in the public square.

Terry O'Neil on Morgentaler's threatening letter to Pierre Trudeau. Nice to consider how Canada's pioneering abortionist resorted to near-blackmail to try to advance his agenda, especially in light of his Order of Canada membership.

Michael Coren says trashy art doesn't need federal subsidies.

A profile of's editor John-Henry Westen.

And, of course, my Editor's Desk column which I posted here yesterday, on why the battle against the human rights commissions is so important.

What I'm reading

1. Righteous Warrior: Jesse Helms And The Rise Of Modern Conservatism by William A Link.

2. "What if the Candidates Pandered to Economists?" by Greg Mankiw in the July 13 New York Times. Short column shorter: what might be popular with economists probably isn't going to fly with voters (see Byran Caplan's The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies, the paperback edition of which is coming out in August).

3. The first draft of Kathy Shaidle and Peter Vere's book manuscript on Canada's human rights commissions that will be released by Interim Publishing this Fall. Should have a link for pre-orders up in a couple of weeks for both e-books and dead tree versions.

4. The IMF report, "Food and Fuel Prices—Recent Developments, Macroeconomic Impact, and Policy Responses." I read more of this stuff than is healthy for me.

5. "The Ethanol Trap: Why Policies to Promote Ethanol as Fuel Need Rethinking," a C.D. Howe Commentary by Douglas Auld.

Monday, July 14, 2008
Why the battle to rein in HRCs matter

I think I have posted this before but it is finally online with the rest of the June issue of The Interim.

Reining in the human rights commission industry
Paul Tuns
The Interim, p. 5
June 2008

In recent months, the media have finally begun covering the goings-on of human rights commissions, thanks to separate complaints by different Muslims against Ezra Levant (the former publisher of The Western Standard), Maclean’s magazine and now the Halifax Chronicle-Herald newspaper. It took a complaint against one of their own tribe for journalists to finally wake up to the danger that this country’s federal and provincial human rights commissions present to our essential liberties.

I won’t go into the details of these cases or the problems with how human rights commissions operate -- see our February cover story for that information. What I’d rather do now is explain why this battle must be won and why human rights commissions must be, at the very least, reformed.

This month in British Columbia, Maclean’s magazine is defending itself before that province’s human rights tribunal for publishing an excerpt of Mark Steyn’s best-selling book, America Alone. The book and the article warned that there is a clash of civilizations (between the Muslim world and the West) which Europe and Canada could very well lose, in part because of our lousy demographic trajectory, in part due to our lack of unifying cultural values. Steyn quoted European imams and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi saying things to the effect that Europe will one day be Muslim.

One may or may not agree with Steyn. One might accuse him of being overly selective in his quotes and sensationally provocative in the presentation of his alarming thesis. One might even find it irresponsible of Maclean’s to republish a portion of his book. But what right does that give the critics to use the state – for that is what human rights commissions are – to tell a private magazine what it may or may not publish.

The complainants want an article of equal length to run in Maclean’s unedited, rebutting Steyn’s argument. No publication would concede to this and no publication should be made to do so. This is not just a freedom of the press issue, although that is vitally important in a free and just society. Rather, it is a private property issue: does a magazine or newspaper have the right to run its publication in the manner it sees fit?

(The same could be said of, say, a Knights of Columbus hall that refuses to rent its facilities to a lesbian couple or a printer who wants the right to refuse clients because he disagrees with the message of the work he would do or a political party and the messages it chooses to present on its website.)

Although technically, the complaint against Maclean’s is not against the author (Steyn), but the magazine and its editor/publisher Kenneth Whyte (who has shown admirable resolve in the face of this bullying), Mark Steyn has been the public face and effective spokesman of the defendant in this case. He recently wrote that the magazine will probably lose the case, after which the it will probably be required to run an opposing viewpoint and restricted in the future about what it can say about fanatical Islam and jihad. Steyn and Whyte say this is outrageous and it is. If human rights commissions decide they can require a particular magazine to publish a particular story, they can decide that any magazine can be susceptible to similar treatment.

While the complainant against Catholic Insight is not asking for rebuttal privileges, there is nothing to stop some future gay activist from doing so. And why stop at gay rights activists? Why not require Catholic Insight to print articles by atheists espousing godlessness? Why stop at Catholic Insight? The Interim might be required to print commentary by abortionist Henry Morgentaler. But why stop there? The Toronto Star should be made to run columns by businessmen promoting capitalism, by polluters to trash Greenpeace and gang leaders to defend violence in schools.

Isn’t that silly? Yes, it is. But once the principle that human rights commissions can interfere with editorial judgments of newspapers and magazines in some circumstances, why not permit it in all circumstances when an aggrieved group is offended by the material a publication produces?
The answer is simple: some groups are privileged to have the human rights commissions do their bidding and others are not. But that makes them even worse because it puts the HRCs in the position of promoting some causes and views over others, creating a class of permissible, even near-official views, and a class of impermissible and possibly punishable views.

As Ron Gray, leader of the Christian Heritage Party and the target of a federal human rights commission complaint, has said, this is the road to tyranny.

And speaking of tyranny, there is also the issue of human rights commissions operating as official censors, taking certain topics off the table. We have already seen this when it comes to the issue of homosexuality. In recent years, Hugh Owens and the Saskatoon StarPhoenix were punished for running an amateurish advertisement against the sins of homosexual behaviour, while Stephen Boissoin and the Red Deer Advocate were castigated for discussing the homosexual lifestyle – the paper promised to never run another letter to the editor critical of homosexuality and no paper in Alberta can run Boissoin’s letters on the topic.

This censorship goes way beyond the original mandate of human rights commissions to address housing and employment discrimination. They have become Orwellian thought police, punishing those who deviate from politically correct norms.

As Steyn and fellow Maclean’s columnist Andrew Coyne have both said, it is easy to turn a blind eye to the abuses of human rights complaints when it involves some “kook” neo-Nazi or a poor, solitary opponent of the gay agenda. But it’s becoming more difficult to turn away when the rights of “mainstream” journalists and editors are threatened.

That is why people like Ezra Levant and myself are hopeful something can be done to rein in the whole corrupt human rights commission industry. Now that the media is taking notice, the public will realize that these commissions are not benign entities stamping out legitimate hatred, but a clear and present danger to our liberties. Change is at hand. Be patient, but be diligent. And continue to press your MPs on the issue to ensure they stand up for the freedom of Canadians.

Sunday, July 13, 2008
My latest cover story in Report magazine

I have reproduced here what is available at the Report's website.

Ontario: Have not
Path to economic success is shown in the west
By Paul Tuns
July 2008

Is Ontario about to become a have-not province? According to a TD Bank Financial Group report released in April, Canada's largest province is likely to qualify as a recipient of federal equalization transfers by 2010/2011. Equalization payments from Ottawa are given to less prosperous provinces so that they can provide comparable public services at comparable levels of taxation. In the popular shorthand, the program transfers billions of dollars from Canada's "have" provinces to the "have-nots."

Only four provinces are currently designated as "have" provinces: Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Ontario. In recent years, both B.C. and Saskatchewan have moved from "have-not" to "have" status, and due to its offshore oil operations, in the next year or so Newfoundland and Labrador is likely to join the "haves" for the first time.

Even though it was briefly an equalization recipient nearly three decades ago, Ontario has long been the economic engine of Canada, home to both the most important financial district and its manufacturing base. But in recent years, the importance of Ontario's economy within the country has been declining.

The Ontario economy represents 38.65 percent of Canada's gross domestic product, slightly less than its proportion of the national population (38.82 percent).

Unemployment is slightly higher than the national average (6.3 percent compared to 5.8 percent), the first time that unemployment was higher in Ontario than the rest the country.

Things will not get any better in the near term. All five major banks predict that Ontario's economic growth will be one of the two slowest in the country in 2008; it has already lagged behind the rest of the country since 2005.


The conventional wisdom says Ontario's economy is suffering due to the high dollar (which reduces American demand for high-priced Canadian manufactured goods), the economic slowdown in the United States (which also hurts Ontario-based exports south of the border) and globalization (goods can be produced in the developing world cheaper than in Canada). To a degree, all that is true. While 75 percent of Canada's exports go to the U.S., 84 percent of Ontario's exports are destined for America, making the province more closely tied to the U.S. economy and sensitive to changes in the value of the loonie. In 2007, Canadian merchandise exports to the U.S. fell 11.6 percent, but fell 20.1 percent in Ontario.

Hardest hit by this reality is the automotive sector. One in five manufacturing dollars in Ontario comes from the automotive industry, and, not surprisingly, when Americans buy fewer Canadian-made parts, the province as a whole suffers.

The province has lost about 55,000 manufacturing jobs since the beginning of the year, many in the automobile sector. Windsor alone has seen several plants close, including two Ford Motor Co. factories, the Essex Aluminum Plant, and Lear Corp., a seat-making plant.

The General Motors plant in Oshawa reduced the number of shifts in January, cutting 1,000 jobs, and announced another shift reduction for September. The plant makes full-size pickup trucks, demand of which is falling due to increased gas prices and the dampening U.S. economy. The New York Times reports that high gas prices have led North American customers to buy more fuel-efficient cars made by Honda and Toyota rather than gas-guzzling trucks and vans. (Toyota is opening a 1.8 million-square-foot assembly plant in Woodstock later this year.)

New security restrictions at the border are also making it less feasible to build automobiles in stages with the numerous cross-border trips parts necessary as part of the process.

No doubt the high dollar and globalization are indeed factors. Many products once manufactured in Ontario are now made in the developing world. Toronto-based Arvin Meritor Inc. moved its ride-control equipment production to Mexico, eliminating 500 jobs.


But Ontario's fate is not beyond its control. The high dollar, a U.S. economic slowdown, America's national security crackdown and globalization only go so far in explaining Ontario's economic situation. Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has been critical of Ontario's Liberal government in recent months, repeatedly saying that the province is a poor place to invest as he urges Premier Dalton McGuinty to reduce tax rates and regulations.

Flaherty is on to something. According to the Fraser Institute's 2007 "Canadian Provincial Investment Climate Report," Ontario is fourth among the 10 provinces as the best place to invest based on seven criteria that are evaluated, ranked and weighted.

Interestingly, Ontario ranks behind the three most western provinces - Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan. When it comes to corporate capital, corporate income and personal income taxes, Ontario ranks behind the three western provinces. Ontario also ranks behind Alberta and Saskatchewan in regulatory burdens, and behind Alberta in labour-market regulations. In most cases, Ontario is well behind Alberta in these areas.

The general corporate income tax rate in Ontario is 14 percent (6th highest in the country), whereas Alberta's is 10 percent, B.C.'s is 12 percent and Saskatchewan's is 13 percent. The lowest corporate income tax is in Quebec, which taxes business profits at 9 percent. While these may seem like small differences, previous Fraser Institute studies found that corporate income taxes were rated the most important provincial policies affecting investment climate. According to a TD Economics Special Report, "Loosening the Tax Noose On Business Investment - Making Progress," a province will have trouble "attracting and retaining businesses" if it has more than a 2 percentage point spread in the general corporate income tax rate.

Furthermore, Alberta has no corporate capital tax (CCT), and B.C. eliminated the CCT on all industries except the financial sector. In 2006, Saskatchewan dramatically reduced its capital taxes. By having no or low CCT, companies make more profit and can invest their earnings in upgrades, wages or to pay down debt - all of which are attractive to potential investors. Ontario has begun to phase out its capital tax, and has taken steps to reduce property taxes. This puts Ontario back on track for the long term, but probably will not have an immediate stimulus effect.

According to federal Department of Finance numbers, Ontario has the second-highest total combined provincial taxes, including sales taxes, behind only Manitoba. The tax burden in Alberta is 6.6 percent; in Saskatchewan it is 13.6 percent, and in B.C. it is 18 percent. Yet, Ontario's combined rate is 20.5 percent.

Ontario also has a more onerous personal income tax burden. Alberta's rate is a flat 10 percent, whereas Ontario's top rate is 17.4 percent which kicks in at $72,102. British Columbia's top rate is 14.7 percent, and it applies to income over $94,121.

Saskatchewan's top rate of 15 percent affects only those making in excess of $107,367. The higher burden and lower threshold affects Ontario firm's ability to recruit and keep expensive talent.

While Ontario rates second in the Fraser Institute's flexible labour markets ranking, it is far behind Alberta, with a 3.6 score out of 10 compared to 6.0 for Alberta. The lower the score, the more union friendly is a jurisdiction. All other factors being equal, companies would rather set up shop in provinces that do not make it easy to set up unions or for unions to operate. By liberalizing the labour market, Ontario would gain a significant advantage over most of the rest of the country.

According to the burden of regulation scores - based on a 2005 report from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) - Ontario ranks in the middle of the table, far behind Alberta and slightly behind fourth-place Saskatchewan. According to the CFIB report, the total cost of regulation as percentage of GDP in Ontario is 2.5 percent compared to 2.1 percent in Alberta and Manitoba, and 2.2 percent in Saskatchewan.

While B.C. rated worse (2.8 percent), the CFIB noted that in the first years of Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell's government, the province made significant strides in reducing red tape, including costing and reporting the regulatory burden.

Ontario businesses and individuals spend an estimated $12.8 billion complying with regulations. According to a CFIB survey, more than half of Canadian businesses say they would invest part of their savings from reduced regulations purchasing equipment or expanding. Regulations serve as a "hidden tax" that inhibits companies' ability to invest to increase their productivity.


As the authors of the Fraser Institute report note, "Jurisdictions are constantly in competition with one another to provide a positive investment climate." Whether or not Ontario actually recognizes this is another matter. The difference between Ontario and Alberta is of an order of magnitude that is simply not going to be overcome any time soon. The difference between Ontario and B.C. in developing a positive investment climate is also fairly large, although the gap between Ontario and Saskatchewan is not that big.

So which direction is McGuinty's Ontario going? Mostly the wrong way. Despite early indications that it would tackle red tape, the province has not followed through. The CFIB told the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs last year that fully two-thirds of their member businesses say the province's regulatory burden has increased since the McGuinty Liberals came to power.

While some corporate taxes are being reduced, Ontario, unlike Alberta, has a sales tax that is paid throughout the supply chain, and deters capital investment. Even worse, one of the first things the Liberals did upon getting elected in 2003 was to repeal corporate tax cuts introduced in their predecessor's 2001 provincial budget. If they had maintained those tax cuts, Ontario would have the lowest corporate income tax rates in the country rather than one of the highest. Recently announced corporate tax reductions will still have Ontario at a major disadvantage compared to Alberta and B.C. - a classic case of too little, too late.

Kevin Gaudet, the Ontario director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, points to massive increases in government spending since McGuinty came to power in 2003 ($20 billion more per year than just five years ago) as one reason why it is difficult for the province to reduce taxes. Taxes have also increased under the McGuinty Liberals, most notably its health tax which takes an additional $2.6 billion out of the economy each year.

The Ontario government blames the U.S. slowdown, the strong loonie and globalization, but none of that explains why Ontario is doing so much worse than the rest of the country economically. But it would also be easy to exaggerate Ontario's economic problems. In some ways, Ontario becoming an equalization-recipient province reflects the economic vibrancy of the west as much as it does its own economic weaknesses.

But to compete both internationally and domestically for business investment to create jobs and fuel growth, Ontario needs to cut taxes and reduce regulations. Hiding under the cover of the strong dollar or the weak U.S. economy only delays addressing the real solutions to Ontario's long-term recovery.

Bobby Murcer, RIP

Bobby Murcer was a fan favourite who hit 277 with 252 homers and 1,043 ribbies over 17 seasons with the New York Yankees (two tours of duty), San Francisco Giants and the Chicago Cubs. He hit a homer in his first game in the majors (in front of vice president Richard Nixon), delivered the eulogy for team-mate and captain Thurman Munson who died in a plane crash in August 1979, was a five-time All Star, and a Gold Glove winner. He worked in both the Yankee front office and in their broadcast booth.

Last week at Yankee Stadium, a trivia question was flashed on the outfield pixel board: Who was the only Yankee to play with both Mickey Mantle and Don Mattingly. Four options were provided and my wife correctly and confidently stated Bobby Murcer. I say it was a guess, but she maintains she knew it.

A week later, Murcer has passed away. A good player and, by all accounts, a great human being, he succumbed to the brain cancer he was diagnosed with 18 months ago. Yankees broadcaster Michael Kay said, "What he went through the last couple of years no one should ever have to go through, but he went through it with such grace. He was an amazing, amazing guy. He was a piece of work in the best way possible." Current Yankee 1B Jason Giambi said, "He always had that bright smile and that positive spin on everything ... He was the type of guy who never had a bad day."

When people complain about today's athletes, they are to some measure comparing them to the likes of Bobby Murcer, which is a little unfair. Bobby Murcer, a player's player and a player fans admired, dead at the too-young age of 62.

The New York Times obituary is here. Bronx Banter's Alex Bleth also writes about Murcer's passing with a great memory of the "good but never truly great" player.

And here's what Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post had to say about Murcer:

"Murcer was every bit the Yankee that any of the Yankees crystallized in Cooperstown were. Because Murcer was forced to do what no other Yankee had ever been forced to do: He was the singular reason why a lot of Yankees fans bothered to come to The Bronx in the dark, desultory days of the last 1960s and early 1970s. Before him, Yankees had always danced on stardust. He was forced to trudge through the ashes of a fallen dynasty.

When the Yankees' kingdom collapsed, there was Murcer, and there was little else. There was Murcer, who'd come out of Oklahoma just like Mickey Mantle, who'd come up as a shortstop just like The Mick, then shifted to center field. He wore uniform No. 1, and he was the No. 1 attraction for some awful Yankees teams, playing a terrific center field, conforming his stroke to the Stadium's short porch."

Saturday, July 12, 2008
Me on TV

On Sunday evening in Ontario and Alberta I'm on Behind the Story on CTS at 7pm local times. We talk about Morgentaler's Order of Canada, the rescue of the hostages in Colombia, and a lightning round of a bunch of issues including Dion going to Calgary to sell his carbon tax. Can you tell that I had a nap on the way from Toronto to the studio in Burlington and hadn't completely awoken?

Friday, July 11, 2008
Never give up hope, never give up the fight

The promise of the pro-life movement, as enunciated by Fr. Richard John Neuhaus' during his remarks to the National Right to Life Committee last week:

"We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until every unborn child is protected in law and welcomed in life. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until all the elderly who have run life’s course are protected against despair and abandonment, protected by the rule of law and the bonds of love. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until every young woman is given the help she needs to recognize the problem of pregnancy as the gift of life. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, as we stand guard at the entrance gates and the exit gates of life, and at every step along way of life, bearing witness in word and deed to the dignity of the human person—of every human person."

And his wonderful conclusion, words to rally the pro-life soldiers:

"We do not know, we do not need to know, how the battle for the dignity of the human person will be resolved. God knows, and that is enough. As Mother Teresa of Calcutta and saints beyond numbering have taught us, our task is not to be successful but to be faithful. Yet in that faithfulness is the lively hope of success. We are the stronger because we are unburdened by delusions. We know that in a sinful world, far short of the promised Kingdom of God, there will always be great evils. The principalities and powers will continue to rage, but they will not prevail.

In the midst of the encroaching darkness of the culture of death, we have heard the voice of him who said, “In the world you will have trouble. But fear not, I have overcome the world.” Because he has overcome, we shall overcome. We do not know when; we do not know how. God knows, and that is enough. We know the justice of our cause, we trust in the faithfulness of his promise, and therefore we shall not weary, we shall not rest.

Whether, in this great contest between the culture of life and the culture of death, we were recruited many years ago or whether we were recruited only yesterday, we have been recruited for the duration. We go from this convention refreshed in our resolve to fight the good fight. We go from this convention trusting in the words of the prophet Isaiah that 'they who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength, they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not be weary, they will walk and not be faint.'

The journey has been long, and there are miles and miles to go. But from this convention the word is carried to every neighborhood, every house of worship, every congressional office, every state house, every precinct of this our beloved country—from this convention the word is carried that, until every human being created in the image and likeness of God—no matter how small or how weak, no matter how old or how burdensome—until every human being created in the image and likeness of God is protected in law and cared for in life, we shall not weary, we shall not rest. And, in this the great human rights struggle of our time and all times, we shall overcome."

The silly sport of veep speculation

Matt Cooper has three names that provide fodder for a speculative column at Linda Lingle, Meg Whitman and Olympia Snowe. I'd bet that none of the three even made the first list drawn up by John McCain's vice presidential vetting committee.

Getting rid of bad teachers

Ray Fisman writes in Slate about the best but nearly impossible way of improving education: prevent bad teachers from being hired in the first place and firing bad teachers once the are identified as shabby educators. Fisman describes the importance of doing this:

"Education is an awfully good predictor of future earnings, and keeping bad teachers in classrooms filled with kids from poor families certainly helps to reinforce the cycle of poverty."

The problem is teachers' unions; once a teacher has a job, it is virtually impossible to remove them from the classroom. It is timely (up to seven years in some jurisdictions) and expensive (involving hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and management's time) to fire a teacher. Many incompetent or otherwise lousy teachers are merely re-assigned to other schools.

Fisman notes that many traditional teachers' qualifications (teacher's college, certification boards) do not adequately reflect a teacher's ability to actually teach students. Fisman endorses the idea of apprenticeships where would-be teachers eventually graduate to full jobs. This would allow school administrators to observe the abilities of potential teachers before they win union-protected jobs for life. While Fisman admits there would be obstacles with such a solution (teachers' unions would oppose the move), I think he diminishes the difficulties in implementing such a program.

The great thing is that there are 50 states and many more school boards in America, so there is the possibility that some jurisdiction may try this approach and, if it works, serve as a model for others. As Fisman concludes and as I began this post, the stakes are too high not to try new approaches to getting education policy right and fixing the nation's schools.

If making money is important to you, skip the humanities has a slide show for the most lucrative college majors, which are, in order:

1. Computer Engineering
2. Economics
3. Electrical Engineering
4. Computer Science
5. Mechanical Engineering
6. Finance
7. Mathematics
8. Civil Engineering

The story is here. Strange how people who are educated to deal with money, help make things or count stuff are the ones making real dough.

Predictably economic,
Or, why it would suck having friends as economists

Dan Ariely on gift-giving:

"From a standard economic perspective, gifts are a waste of money. Imagine that you invite me over for dinner one day and I decide to spend $50 on a bottle of wine. There are a bunch of problems: To start, I am not sure what wine you would like the most. And besides, maybe you’d prefer something else, like a book, a DVD, or a blender. This means that the bottle of wine that cost me 50 dollars might be worth, at most, 25 dollars to you.

If gift-giving were rational I would come to dinner and tell you, 'Tom, thanks for inviting me for dinner. I was going to spend $50 on a bottle of wine, but realizing that this might provide you with only $25 of benefits, here is the cash instead and you can decide how best to spend it.'

(Or even better, maybe I would split the cost and offer Tom $37.50, making both of us better off.)

But, despite the realization that gifts are economically inefficient, I don’t suspect that many people will follow this advice. Why? Because even though a cash gift is more economically efficient, it will in no way endear you to your host.

For example, if the day after the dinner party you find yourself in a bind and need some help moving a sofa, the odds are that a host that you gave a gift to will step in to help. But what about the host that you gave the efficient cash gift to? Wouldn’t his logical response to your request for help be, 'How much are you offering me for my time?'

The point is that while gifts are financially inefficient, they are an important social lubricant. They help us make friends and create long-term relationships that can sustain us through the ups and downs of life. They are in fact efficient because they help us create the social fabric we so depend on.

It turns out that sometimes a waste of money is worth a lot."

Long overdue reports:

"Ohio's elections chief is reconsidering a plan to prohibit poll workers from taking voting machines home for safekeeping in the days before the November presidential election."

It's about time. Why was it ever permitted in the first place?

This anecdote is interesting:

"[Secretary of State Jennifer] Brunner has frequently referred to a Licking County poll worker who took a machine home for safekeeping and improperly voted on it, fearing there wouldn't be enough time on Election Day."


Recent 'Vital Stats' articles from the New York Times include this one showing that Summer sports are safer than Winter sports: "The snowboarding accident rate is higher than the rate for summer pastimes like boating, camping, fishing, hiking, mountain biking, swimming, and water-skiing — combined." Exact figures in the charts accommodating the story.

Thursday, July 10, 2008
Posted without comment

Reuters reports: "The Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom wants to buy any available natural gas produced by Libya and some of the country’s oil."

Quote of the day

The New York Sun editorializes on Jesse Jackson's open microphone criticism of Barack Obama, permitting the Democratic nominee to have his Sista Souljah moment. They conclude:

"We are trying to think of a Republican equivalent of Rev. Jackson that Mr. McCain could get to be caught on tape insulting him, but it is not easy."

Not going to happen

From a comment at TNR's The Stump on Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, whom the chattering classes are talking up as a potential running mate for Barack Obama:

"This talk of Hagel as VP should stop right now. McCain will never pick Lieberman, and Obama will never pick Hagel, for the same reason: they disagree with their candidate on every single domestic issue. Lieberman might be as bellicose as McCain, but he's a Democrat true and true on most domestic issues. Hagel might even stump for Obama on issues of national security and foreign policy, but he's a conservative Republican on every domestic and social policy. Iraq is not the be all and end all of the presidency by any stretch of the imagination."

This analysis is spot on.

Fanciful reporting analysis is the kind of thing that pundits do (speculate wildly) between the end of the primaries and a week or two before the conventions. And why not? It is as harmless as it is brainless and pointless.

What I'm reading

1. Here's Where I Stand: A Memoir by Jesse Helms. I'm re-reading his autobiography for the obit I'm writing in the August Interim.

2. Morgentaler: The Doctor Who Couldn't Turn Away by Eleanor Wright Pelrine. I'm re-reading this book for the story on the Order of Canada I'm writing for the next Interim.

3. "A New Approach to Capitalism in the 21st Century," by Bill Gates (remarks made at the World Economic Forum, January 24, 2008, at Davos). There is a blog, edited by Michael Kinsley, dedicated to discussion of Gates' talk.

4. "Harvesting Yankee Stadium: Get ready for the biggest yard sale ever," by Mac Montandon in New York. It's about the memorabilia sale that will take place after they close Yankee Stadium after this season -- $20 for dirt from the field to $300 for a trash bin to $2,000 for the dugout phone to $50,000 for the front stadium facade 'Yankee Stadium' lettering. In all MLB, the Yankees, the City of New York, auctioneers, and the collectibles agents could net $50 million. A fascinating article throughout.

5. "The Roots of Modern Conservative Thought from Burke to Kirk," a Heritage Foundation First Principles Series Paper by Edwin J. Feulner.

It is not every day that government increases our liberty

I should have noted this yesterday: Quebec will allow margarine to be butter coloured ending a decades-old silly regulation.

George Will on beer

A lighter column from the Washington Post's George F. Will; I didn't take him to be a beer drinker. Or perhaps, like politicians every election campaign, he takes a populist turn and pretends to be one of the hoi polloi.

Whether or not Will enjoys a pint now and then, the column is refreshing and ends, delightfully, with the wisdom of Benjamin Franklin: "Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."

Unlikely funeral songs

The Daily Telegraph reports that three increasingly popular funeral songs in Australia are AC/DC's Highway to Hell, Queen's Another One Bites the Dust, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life from Monty Python's Life of Brian and Ding Dong the Witch is Dead from the Wizard of Oz. These ironic songs join the likes of sappy or sentimental funereal favourites such as Frank Sinatra's My Way and Louis Armstrong's What a Wonderful World. Only two hymns make the top ten: Amazing Grace and Abide With Me.

If I went for secular music -- which I wouldn't -- I'd go with Bob Seger's Famous Final Scene.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008
El Presidente Obama

Salon reports that Barack Obama wants all American children to learn a foreign language. Obama said:

"Now, I agree that immigrants should learn English. I agree with that. But understand this. Instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English -- they'll learn English -- you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish. You should be thinking about, how can your child become bilingual? We should have every child speaking more than one language.

You know, it's embarrassing when Europeans come over here, they all speak English, they speak French, they speak German. And then we go over to Europe, and all we can say [is], 'Merci beaucoup.' Right?

You know, no, I'm serious about this. We should understand that our young people, if you have a foreign language, that is a powerful tool to get a job. You are so much more employable. You can be part of international business."

I didn't think Spanish counted as a foreign language in America anymore.

But isn't he contradicting his wife, Michelle "My Belle" Obama. He says by learning another language Americans can 'be part of an international business,' but she has urged young Americans to eschew a job in the corporate world.

Perhaps Americans should learn foreign languages so when they enter the helping professions (social worker, police officer, school teacher, emergency room attendant) they can work with the English-less immigrants coming to their country. Just a thought.

2008 FP/FfP Failed States Index

Foreign Policy magazine and the Fund for Peace has released its 2008 Failed States Index. Somalia, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Chad and Iraq 'top' the list. Can't argue with that. Unless you count Moldova, there are no European countries in the top 50, which does have a lot of African, Middle Eastern and southeast Asian countries. Only Colombia and Haiti make the list from the New World. I am not sure why Israel is 59th; I wouldn't consider it a failed state by any measure.

Give Prentice two minutes for interference

From CTV:

"Anger over Telus and Bell Mobility's plans to begin charging customers for incoming text messages appears to be rippling all the way to Ottawa, with one minister calling it an 'ill thought-out decision.'

A statement from Industry Minister Jim Prentice said the decision has raised 'serious consumer concerns' because in theory, the change could mean customers would be charged for unwanted and unsolicited spam messages.

'While I have no desire to interfere with the day-to-day business decisions of two private companies, I do have a duty as Minister of Industry, when necessary, to protect the interests of the consuming public. I believe this was an ill-thought out decision,' Prentice said in the statement released Wednesday."

On the one hand, this could be taken as a Conservative government attempt to appear to be doing something by giving voice to the concerns of some customers, although there will be little follow-up. On the other hand, the Conservative government is giving credence to the idea that Ottawa should be telling private companies how to run their business. Prentice says ht doesn't want to "interfere with the day-to-day business decisions" of Telus and Bell, but then says he must protect consumers (presumably against big, evil corporations) and criticizing the decision as "ill-thought out." Sort of like making this government-loving Red Tory the Industry Minister.

'Pill-Popping Pets'

Only in the New York Times.

Cooper on the Calgary Stampede

Barry Cooper in the Calgary Herald on the festivities going on in that city right now:

"Of course it's dangerous. Four wagons and 32 horses clipping along at 60 km/h could hardly be anything else.

But only a prissy puritan would find the danger that accompanies excitement objectionable. And as for the horses, they are mostly thoroughbreds whose time on the race track circuit is over, but their genetic love of running is as strong as ever. As they stand there in the infield, held barely under control by the outriders, you don't have to be an old-time cowboy to tell they're just rarin' to run."

Why the Blue Jays suck

John Brattain at looks at why the Toronto Blue Jays aren't scoring. For a while, it was granted that the criticism of weak-hitting LF, 1B, and DH and the failure to hit with runners in scoring position could be a reflection of a bad month or two, but more than half way into the season the Jays must admit that there is a serious problem in not cashing in runners.

Anyway, this is great writing:

"The thing is, I know about randomness and luck but I also know what a choke job looks like—anybody who has been subjected to Jays games this year knows that not only are they not getting the big hit, they are seldom robbed by highlight reel defensive gems. Generally, it’s a strike out, a ground ball to the infield or a lazy fly ball that the outfielder can casually jog to gather in."

Baseball fans, especially those of the Jays, should read the whole article and ask: why is J.P. Ricciardi doing about it? The general manager was on TV last night saying that there is no one person to blame because so many players aren't producing. Well, there is one person to blame for assembling a team that collectively can't score runs.

Credit card regulations

NRO rails (rightly) against the 17 Republicans, including some conservatives, who support measures to reduce the cost to companies of using credit cards. The inevitable result will be higher fees for credit card users.

Environmental polls are meaningless

CTV reports:

"Most Canadians still want aggressive government action to fight climate change, in spite of skyrocketing fuel costs, a new poll suggests.

The Canadian Press Harris-Decima findings appear to fly in the face of the notion that Canadians, shocked by record-high oil and gasoline prices, won't stomach environmental policies that drive up their cost of living even further.

The poll results were published Tuesday as leaders from the Group of Eight industrialized nations, including Canada, issued seemingly conflicting declarations at their meeting in Japan.

One statement endorsed cutting the world's emissions of greenhouse gases in half by 2050, while another called on oil-rich states to ramp up production to reduce fuel prices."

Rather than say "Canadians want aggressive government action," the reporter should have said "Canadians say they want aggressive government action." What people tell pollsters is merely what they say, not necessarily what they really believe. On an issue like the environment, this might be even more true.

Furthermore, as countless conversations I've had demonstrate, many people think that "aggressive government action" on reducing greenhouse gas emmissions relieves them of doing anything -- that is, there will be minimal cost or change in lifestyle for themselves. A better question is what if people are going to believe in global warming what are they willing to give up to address it. Too many people think that a government policy is magically (without pain or cost) reduce GHGs, perhaps punishing oil companies and other corporations that pollute. But if addressing this issue were painless, it would have already be done. Which is why Canadians say they want aggressive action but would likely complain and perhaps even resisted once such policies were proposed and their costs explained to the public.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008
Stephen Taylor, government lover

I don't get this, from Stephen Taylor:

"Congratulations to Kory [Teneycke] and thank you for taking up the cost of the job. A former lobbyist, Teneycke is now subject to future lobbying restrictions of the Federal Accountability Act. Though with this cost comes greater personal honour of serving Canadians."

What kind of fricking statist is Taylor to think that serving as a director of communications for the government is more honourable than lobbying? Or is Taylor saying there is something dishonourable about Teneycke's lobbying for federal funding for biofuels? And if Teneycke does dishonourable things, why hire him as Stephen Harper's director of communications? And if lobbying for such funding is dishonourable, isn't actually funding biofuels (as the Harper government has done) as least as dishonourable?

I'm going to guess that Taylor thinks working for the government is more honourable than private sector work because otherwise he's calling into question Teneycke's previous work and (indirectly) the PMO which would hire such a person.

Sir John Templeton, RIP

Some people think that capitalism and Christianity cannot mix. Others believe that science and religion are mutually exclusive. Sir John Templeton, dead at the age of 95, proved the former wrong with his life and worked to prove the latter incorrect through his foundation. He was a pioneer in globalized diversified mutual funds, earning billions and giving away tens of millions every year. He also briefly set up shop in Canada to avoid capital gains taxes and eventually made his home in Bahamas. He fiercely defended minimizing one's taxes (one could argue that when Christ said render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, he never imagined a 50% tax regime).

Here's a 2006 interview with the Ottawa Citizen and a 2005 Business Week profile here.

This speaks against 1) the EU, 2) government regulations, 3) government in general

The Washington Post reports on cucumber thinness, apple colour and artichoke roundness in Europe. The paper reports the:

"European Union, which has 34 regulations on marketing standards -- from the allegedly essential to the patently absurd -- for fruits and vegetables.

Consider the Class I cucumber, which must be 'practically straight (maximum height of the arc: 10 mm per 10 cm of the length of cucumber).' Translation: A six-inch cucumber cannot bend more than six-tenths of an inch. Following 16 pages of regulations on apples (Class I must be at least 60mm, or 2 1/3 inches, in diameter) come 19 pages of amendments outlining the approved colors for more than 250 kinds.

As for peaches, 'to reach a satisfactory degree of ripeness . . . the refractometrix index of the flesh, measured at the middle point of the fruit pulp at the equatorial section must be greater than or equal to 8° Brix'."

Or consider the plight of protecting consumers from insufficiently unonion-like onions:

"Let's consider the onion for a moment, and the E.U.'s 'Regulation (EEC) No 2213/83 of 28 July 1983 laying down quality standards for onions and witloof chicory.' You would think that the 10 pages of standards and the 19 amendments and corrections made in the 25 years since the regulation's enactment would leave little doubt about the required size, shape and color of an onion, and the amount of peeling, bruising, staining, cracking, root tufting and sprouting that is permissible. You would be wrong.

In January 2007, the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture issued a report in which it took 29 pages to explain 'quality standards for onions,' complete with 43 photographs."

But this might end if the European Commission's agriculture commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel, gets her way. She has proposed scrapping 24 of 34 regulations saying (in the Post's words) "they are needlessly cumbersome and bureaucratic, and that they lead to people throwing away perfectly edible fruits and vegetables for cosmetic reasons at a time when the world is suffering food shortages and rapid price increases." Representatives from the 27 EU member states must still vote on Boel's recommendations later this month. But they are unlikely to pass as at least 19 countries have reservations about the proposal and four (France, Hungary, Italy, Spain) have endorsed a letter which states, "marketing standards play an important role in facilitating and ensuring transparency in market operations while protecting customers at the same time." Yes, because consumers must not be protecting from eating a slightly bent cucumber.

Monday, July 07, 2008
Utterly unsurprising

The sub-head on a Newsweek story: "More than six months after the United Nations formed a peacekeeping force in Darfur, little has happened on the ground."

Don't blame oil speculation for price increase

So say Sabastian Mallaby and The Economist. Hardly Ayn Rand-following, capitalist wackos.

Logistical nightmare in the making

Not that I mind. The New York Times is reporting that while the first part of the Democratic National Convention in Denver will take place at the Pepsi Center (20,000 capacity), Barack Obama will accept his nomination at Invesco Field (75,000 capacity). If they pull that off without too many hitches (its outdoors so it could rain), it could be impressive.

This raises the stakes in the gimmick department; what does John McCain do in Minneapolis?

The best case ever made for John Kasich as GOP veep

Michael Novak in The Corner:

"John McCain's Vice President should come from one of the three keystone states, in the central arch of this year's 270 electoral votes: Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. He should have a downtown, factory, Walmart's touch, and ketchup-and-meatloaf credibility. He should be a proven budget hawk. He ought to be feisty and combative. He ought to have finely honed television skills. He should call to mind Republican public leadership at its best — in the exhilarating 1994 revolution. He should despise Republican big spenders as much as Democrat big spenders. He should look and sound like a Reagan Democrat.

He should be a flag-in-the-lapel patriot, a 'Buster-Don't-you-ever-say-that-again' patriot, a guy who wants to be worthy of heroes, warriors, and men and women of honor. Like most of them, he is a religious and moral man.

He should be smart, witty, tough, and a just plain no-nonsense presence."

Great headline

On Mike S. Adams' column at "My Right to Unlimited Rights."

Here's my two cents -- for I am going to exercise my right of free speech.

For rights to make sense they must be enforceable by the state without being granted by the state. You are not given the right to speak or practice religion or to publish a newspaper or magazine; rather you already have that right prior to the creation of the state and the state helps protect the exercise of your rights -- unless it is the one violating them (which it usually is). The logic of this understanding of rights is that there is no right to free health care or schooling. You have the right to health care or education, but not the right to demand that others supply it for you.

Back to Adams' column, where he demands a new right:

"I believe that I have a right to demand that you show me a copy of the U.S. Constitution every time you demand a new right. And if you cannot identify the constitutional basis of your proposed right, you forfeit that right as well as your right to vote in 2008. And, of course, I get to cast the vote you forfeited."

This might end the promiscuous enumeration of rights that is, ironically, making us less free.

Jim Hoagland has a good idea

And like many if not most good ideas, it's a non-starter. The rest of Jim Hoagland's Washington Post column can be ignored, but this makes a lot of sense:

"The G-8 long ago proved that bigger is not always better. The intimate gathering of just six leaders that French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing convoked in 1975 has been transmogrified into a giant public relations exercise with little real point. And the admission of Russia in 1998 -- despite its lack of qualifications as an established democratic industrial power -- further diluted the process.

Predictable suggestions that this body be expanded to a G-13 or a G-20 go in the absolute wrong direction. More expansion will destroy any opportunity for informal, effective consultation by world leaders. They will be talking for the press releases, not for each other. Such proposals should be put forward only as cover for a more sensible proposition: The United States, the European Union and Japan should quietly form a G-3 that would operate in the shadows of the much larger talk shop."

Hoagland himself admits that the photo ops and opportunity to play host once every seven years means there is too much vested interest in maintaining the ineffective structure in place, but at a time when other pundits are saying its time to expand the G7 (former Canadian prime minister Paul Martin wanted 20 and many are now arguing for the inclusion of at least China, if not also India and Brazil) it is nice to see someone say that more isn't always better. The funny thing is as much sense as that makes, increasing membership also makes more sense the current structure.

New Mao-less Chinese note

BBC has the story.

Return from a great weekend

I was zonked yesterday and didn't feel like blogging or emailing. I was zonked from a hectic schedule that I can hardly believe we endured and experienced. The weekend exceeded my wildest expectations -- my wife planned everything perfectly and told me not to worry about the tight (for me) timelines, that everything would be fine. And it was. Three-plus hours is lots of time between landing and the start of the game. In fact, less than an hour after landing, and more than two hours before the game, we were at Yankee Stadium.

Got to see both Yankee Stadium and new Yankee Stadium. It rained for the two hours before the game, causing some concern about the trip being for nothing. Even if it rained, it would still be great to see the House that Ruth Built (as it is tiringly referred to) one more time. And it was exciting to see the new stadium. While Yankee fans are rightfully nostalgic over the eight-decade old stadium where a lot of baseball (and other) history has happened, it was exciting to see the new stadium, the House that A-Rod Will Build as I like to call it. The fact is, Yankee Stadium is hold. The hallways are made of concrete and are crowded, the seats are tattered and, most importantly considering the economics of baseball today, there is hardly any room for luxury boxes. It was a great stadium, but its time has come. Lou Gehrig's and Joe DiMaggio's streaks, Babe Ruth's and Roger Maris' records, Don Larsen's perfect World Series game, and all the other historic moments won't die or disappear simply because Yankee baseball moves across the street.

The Yanks won 2-1, and the win makes the game perfect although it would have been every bit as exciting if they hadn't. No homeruns but there is more to thrilling baseball than the long ball. There were seven hit batters, some tremendous defensive plays, wild pitches and Boston loading the bases at the top of the ninth with none out and down by two. They only scored once as Mariano Rivera struck out two and forced an infield pop out to limit the damage.

The game was great, but a lot of it is the atmosphere. One thing about the game in New York -- and it might have been the fact that their opponents were the hated Boston Red Sox -- it was loud. Lots of cheering, although there is a definite hierarchy of fan favourites (Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter at the top, followed by Melky Cabrera and then Alex Rodriguez and Mike Mussina, followed by Jason Giambi). Even a bum like Jose Molina (who caught all four games to neutralize the Red Sox running game -- he threw out two BoSox basestealers on Saturday, a day after throwing out three) gets more cheers than Alex Rios or Vernon Wells does in Toronto; from what I recall, the ovation for Molina was even more boisterous than Roberto Alomar and Paul Molitor got for the Jays in the early '90s. There is also a lot of booing; and there is also a hierarchy of detested Red Sox players: Manny Ramirez, Jason Varitek, Kevin Youklis.

Even more than the fans, is the personality of the employees: security guards, city police officers and the men and women selling beer, water, hot dogs, cotton candy, etc... The middle aged man that looked like a candidate to be a on most wanted poster, sweating bullets while shouting "Whadda 'bout dat wadda" perhaps was not the best person to be selling water. But he gave our section even more personality, and the fans bonded through the shared experience of having some good natured fun at his expense.

The day at the stadium was about a seven hour experience: getting there early, walking around the outside of the park, visiting the stores across the street selling Yankee shirts and other paraphernalia (and the street vendors doing likewise), walking around the inside of the park, getting a hot dog, hanging around after the game until security asked us stragglers to leave, watching the players get into their cars and driving away (most drive trucks and SUVs) and to The Yankee Store at the stadium where I hypocritically bought our three daughters pink Yankee hats.

After the game we took the subway (first time I ventured that in New York) to downtown Manhattan for dinner and then a cab ride to Queens to retire for the night, finally settling down at about one in the morning. Another first experience for me: the taxi driver's estimate for the trip from Manhattan to our hotel was actually more than the real cost.

When my wife told me Friday night that I wouldn't be able to watch the Yankees-Red Sox game on TV Saturday afternoon because we had other plans, I was a little upset. When she told me that it was because I was going to be there in person, I had no response -- I was shocked and didn't really believe her. That very day, July 4, was the tenth anniversary of the only time I was at Yankee Stadium and I was a little sad at the likelihood it was going to be the only time. My wife Christina is wonderful (and not just because she arranged the trip to New York) and sharing Saturday with her made it all that more special. She seemed to enjoy it as much as I did, but she says that what she enjoyed was watching me thrill at seeing the stadiums, cheering every Yankee hit, my burst of energy as I thrust up my arms in celebration of the victory, but also when I began to hum "Those Were the Days" (the All in the Family theme song) and smiled as we flew over Queens or how my eyes lit up at Times Square even though I've been there many times before.

As I said before leaving, I hoped your weekend would be as good as mine but doubted that would be possible. If your weekend was half as enjoyable as mine, you are lucky indeed. My luck is not in being able to go to New York for the weekend to enjoy the Yankees but how lucky I am to have the wife that made it possible. Thanks, Christina.