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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Monday, October 31, 2016
The Gadfather: Professor against political correctness
The CBC ran a story yesterday on Concordia's Gad Saad:
Saad, a Concordia University marketing professor, is perhaps just as known for his public battles against what he considers to be a social justice culture that harms society by rejecting intellectual diversity.
He argues political correctness is limiting the free exchange of ideas on university campuses across the continent — and he holds special disdain for professors who do not fight back.
"The seven deadly sins should be updated," Saad, 52, said over coffee. "We should add an eighth sin: Cowardice."
"Most (teachers) put their heads down. They want to do their research, not ruffle feathers, and cowardice seeps in — let someone else fight the battles."
When University of Toronto Professor Jordan Peterson was vilified for refusing to use gender-neutral pronouns for transgender people, Saad invited him on his YouTube show (The Saad Truth) instead of joining the chorus of academics and others who denounced him.
The episode garnered more than 100,000 views.
Saad had been challenging the SJW -- social justice warriors -- before the Jordan Peterson brouhaha. His video interviews are worth watching and even if he isn't correct about everything, he's intellectually challenging and engaging.

GMOs: haven't delivered on their promise
Alex Tabarrok pointed to this New York Times story on genetically modified organisms, the gist of which is not whether they are good or bad but whether they have delivered on the promise of increasing yields. A recent studies on the use of GMOs in North America suggests they have not:
An analysis by The Times using United Nations data showed that the United States and Canada have gained no discernible advantage in yields — food per acre — when measured against Western Europe, a region with comparably modernized agricultural producers like France and Germany. Also, a recent National Academy of Sciences report found that “there was little evidence” that the introduction of genetically modified crops in the United States had led to yield gains beyond those seen in conventional crops.
For many advocates of GMO, the test is whether or not they are efficacious in increasing yields in the developing world. Perhaps western farms are maximizing their potential while GMOs might benefit sub-optimal farming in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. As the scholars say, more study is necessary. Indeed, the Times reports:
Genetically modified crops can sometimes be effective. Monsanto and others often cite the work of Matin Qaim, a researcher at Georg-August-University of Göttingen, Germany, including a meta-analysis of studies that he helped write finding significant yield gains from genetically modified crops. But in an interview and emails, Dr. Qaim said he saw significant effects mostly from insect-resistant varieties in the developing world, particularly in India.
“Currently available G.M. crops would not lead to major yield gains in Europe,” he said.

Global trade is stagnating
Binyamin Appelbaum writes about global trade at Upshot in the New York Times:
The volume of global trade was flat in the first quarter of 2016, then fell by 0.8 percent in the second quarter, according to statisticians in the Netherlands, which happens to keep the best data.
The United States is no exception to the broader trend. The total value of American imports and exports fell by more than $200 billion last year. Through the first nine months of 2016, trade fell by an additional $470 billion.
It is the first time since World War II that trade with other nations has declined during a period of economic growth.
There seems to be a bit of backlash against trade in the developed world, partly due to demagogues focusing on costs and ignoring its benefits.
But the slower trade growth has more to do with economics than politics. Appelbaum explains the cyclical component of this stagnation:
Sluggish global economic growth is both a cause and a result of the slowdown. In better times, prosperity increased trade and trade increased prosperity. Now the wheel is turning in the opposite direction. Reduced consumption and investment are dragging on trade, which is slowing growth.
Troublingly, there is also probably a structural component to this stagnation with, for example, the Chinese producing a greater proportion of what they consume (and therefore exporting less of what it manufactures). But other countries are not picking up the slack; China developed a middle class the old-fashioned way with factory jobs but potential workers in India and other developing economies will lose out to automation.
The reasons for slow trade growth are multi-dimensional and not easy to solve. While it might be easy to blaming Donald Trump or European populists for exploiting the issue, their criticism of trade does not actually make consumers (or more precisely, companies buying parts and finished products) eschew foreign manufacturers and if global shipping capacity is any indication, the slowdown for demand preceded the political upswing of anti-free traders.

The male pill
Barbara Allen writes in The Guardian about the possibility of a male contraceptive pill:
Similar to most female forms of contraception, the male jab would be just about stopping pregnancy and wouldn’t act as any kind of barrier against STDs. So it (especially) couldn’t be used alone in casual encounters.
Responsible sexually active people would still have to load up with two, maybe more, forms of contraception/protection. Then, there’s the other less tangible, but no less pressing issue of trust between men and women or, more precisely, the distinct lack of contraceptive-reproductive trust that has always existed between the sexes.
In other words, women just can't believe the men they have sex with to be honest with them about being on the (male) pill. I think the larger issue is why sleep with someone who can't be trusted, full stop.

Early turnout in close states could help Clinton
The New York Times reports:
At least 21 million people have voted so far across the country. In the states that are most likely to decide the election — among them Florida, Colorado and Nevada — close to a quarter of the electorate has already cast ballots. While their votes will not be counted until Election Day, registered Democrats are outperforming Republicans in key demographics and urban areas there and in North Carolina, where extensive in-person voting began late last week and which has emerged as one of the most closely contested battlegrounds for the White House and control of the Senate.
Now, the salient question appears to be whether an unforeseen plot twist in the campaign’s final days can still upend an election that is already over for millions of voters.
So the FBI re-opening its investigation into Hillary Clinton emails are not going to affect a significant number of voters. Perhaps it doesn't matter if registered Democrats showed up earlier; they were less likely to be affect by what the Times calls the Clinton "campaign’s latest scrap with the F.B.I."

How safe are NFL games ... for fans
The Washington Post compiled police reports for arrests for incidents in and around NFL stadia (except Cleveland and New Orleans) since 2011. They find:
Last year, 6.34 arrests per game were reported league-wide during the 17 weeks of the regular season ...
The data assembled by The Post provides a snapshot of the factors the NFL and local law enforcement see as bellwethers for fan trouble. Division contests and night games result in considerably more fan arrests, according to records collected from city, county and state police jurisdictions that oversee security at NFL stadiums. The later the kickoff, the greater the likelihood of arrests, the data shows. Of the 15 games the past five seasons with the most arrests, a combined 705, nine of those contests began at 4 p.m. or later.
The NFL says arrests inside stadiums decreased by 32 percent from 2014 to 2015 and that fan ejections also were down. But fan behavior in parking lots, it acknowledges, is another matter. The NFL said there were nearly 500 arrests in stadium lots last season, a 6 percent increase over 2014. For the most part, data collected by The Post did not differentiate between arrests made inside and outside stadiums.
The stadia with the most arrests are San Diego (24.58 arrests per game), Oakland (17.78), New York (21.96, albeit between two teams) and Pittsburgh (16.75). The Post reports that league officials say the high arrest totals in San Diego, New York, and Pittsburgh stem from stricter enforcement. Meanwhile, Seattle, Chicago, Tampa, and Houston have the fewest arrests at an average of one per game or lower. That's an incredible disparity.
My problem with the story is its focus on violent altercations with reports of attacks resulting in serious bodily injury, but many arrests would be for relatively harmless boorishness arising from drunkenness. Instead of reporting raw numbers, the paper should have examined the reasons for arrests.

Sunday, October 30, 2016
October surprises are seldom game-changers
You might quibble with FiveThirtyEight's Harry Enten's list of "October surprises" but he quite clearly shows how the polling pre- and post-surprise don't really change. Enten is implying that the FBI's re-opening of Hillary Clinton's email scandal is unlikely to impact the election.

The upside of Hard Brexit
The Daily Telegraph reports:
Change Britain, a group co-founded by Michael Gove and endorsed by Boris Johnson, has discovered that 14 countries have publicly expressed interest in an agreement after Brexit.
The nations have economies that total around £17 trillion – twice the size of those countries who already have a trade deal with the EU.
However, the UK can only capitalise on that potential if they decide to opt out of the customs union, the group warns.
Honestly, we don't know the long-term economic benefits of Brexit (Hard or Soft) or remaining in the European Union. Perhaps Project Fear's mirror image is Project Optimism. But there is an alternative to the gloom and doom of leaving that most of the media, the Bank of England, the celebrity elite, and the Cameron government were peddling prior to the referendum and some economically illiterate business journalists still insist focusing on.

Child poverty in America
Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times describes the plight of a family in Arkansas:
Here’s the kind of person whom America’s presidential candidates just don’t talk about: a sweet, grinning, endangered 13-year-old boy named Emanuel Laster.
Emanuel has three televisions in his room, two of them gargantuan large-screen models. But there is no food in the house. As for the TVs, at least one doesn’t work, and the electricity was supposed to be cut off for nonpayment on the day I visited his house here in Pine Bluff: Emanuel’s mother deployed her pit bull terrier in the yard in hopes of deterring the utility man. (This seemed to work.)
The home, filthy and chaotic with a broken front door, reeks of marijuana. The televisions and Emanuel’s bed add an aspirational middle-class touch, but they were bought on credit and are at risk of being repossessed. The kitchen is stacked with dirty dishes, and not much else.
“I just go hungry,” Emanuel explained.
What many Americans don’t understand about poverty is that it’s perhaps less about a lack of money than about not seeing any path out. More than 80 percent of American households living below the poverty line have air-conditioning, so in material terms they’re incomparably better off than poor families in India or Congo. In other ways their lives can be worse.
Too many American kids are set up for failure when they are born into what might be called the “broken class,” where violence, mental illness, drugs and sexual abuse infuse childhood. Yes, such young people sometimes do stupid things, but as a society, we fail them long before they fail us.
I'm not sure what Kristof means by society? It seems that maybe Emanuel Laster's parents failed him.
Kristof probably means government when he says society, but there are issues of whether the social connections among individuals are frayed because private institutions have abandoned the vulnerable as they believe the impersonal state has replaced the function of families, churches, private charities and much else. It hasn't, and it can't.

Four NFL games to watch (Week eight)
Honourable mention: Seattle Seahawks (4-1-1) at New Orleans Saints (2-4): Strength vs. strength as The Saints are 3rd in the league scoring 29.3 ppg while the 'Hawks are tied for first in points allowed with 14.0. Add in TE Jimmy Graham returns to New Orleans narrative and this has the makings of a really fun game to watch. Gotta believe Seattle will win, especially because the Saints haven't been invincible at home in recent years.
4. Green Bay Packers (4-2) at Atlanta Falcons (4-3): Playoff seeding. Aaron Rodgers gone to crap narrative. Falcons-falling-apart-again-after-hot-start narrative. The exciting duo of Matt Ryan throwing to Julio Jones who will be defensed by a Packers secondary missing key players. The fact is these are both good teams and the Falcons have lost close contests against good or high-scoring teams this year. With Rodgers struggling -- forcing passes when he would have never done so a year or so ago, and getting picked -- Atlanta can get the victory at home.
3. San Diego Chargers (3-4) at Denver Broncos (5-2): A rematch from two weeks ago when the Bolts beat the Broncs 21-13 at home, although Denver QB Trevor Siemian was still recovering from a shoulder injury. San Diego is second in scoring (29.4 ppg) and Denver is third in points allowed (16.7). Broncos young quarterbacks have struggled after looking competent early. Denver's D might not be good enough to bail them out consistently. Gotta believe it will be different at home. The Chargers are only a few plays away from being 5-2 or 6-1, so this division has the potential to get real interesting. Broncos need the victory to pace the AFC West and they'll get it, effectively sinking San Diego's playoff chances and all but guaranteeing their own. The best reason to watch this game is to see San Diego rookie defensive end Joey Bosa cause havoc in the Denver backfield: according to ProFootballFocus, he is better at creating pressure on opposing quarterbacks than Denver's Von Miller with 20 total pressures (four sacks) and nine defensive stops in less than three games.
2. New England Patriots (6-1) at Buffalo Bills (4-3): The Bills were on a four-game winning streak and would have won their fifth in a row if their D hadn't disappeared in the fourth quarter in Miami last week. The Bills handed the Brady-less Pats New England's only defeat this season, but Tom Brady should be able to do what the Jacoby Brissett-led offense couldn't: score. Buffalo's while try to control the pace of the game with their running game (2nd in the NFL with 152.3 ypg), but it could be missing RB LeSean McCoy who is nursing a hamstring injury. Bills could make the AFC East very interesting with a victory (holding the tie-breaker with a season sweep if they win), but the Bills have never swept the Pats during the Bill Belichick era. They don't this year, either. Hesitant to say the Pats in a close one because the Bills D has been terribly inconsistent this year. But it will be the Pats.
1. Philadelphia Eagles (4-2) at Dallas Cowboys (5-1): The narrative for this game is the battle of rookie quarterbacks Carson Wentz vs. Dak Prescott. Bleacher Report's Mike Tanier adds much needed perspective, mostly that we are coming to conclusions based on a ridiculously small sample size. Today's contest is another tiny bit of information. Prescott might be facing his toughest opponent on defense today so we might learn a little bit more about him. What might be the more important test, however, is Cowboy's rookie RB Ezekiel Elliott against a tough front seven (that admittedly has allowed an average of 134 yards per game over their last three contests). Eagles-Dallas games are always fun, the NFC East is wide open and both team are battling for the division title and a playoff spot. Dallas narrowly edges Philadelphia as Wentz continues to play worse -- as all QBs do -- when playing from behind.

Pets are not children
M.A. Wallace writes in New York's The Cut about the mistaken but dangerous view that some pet owners have that confuses pets with children:
That people with pets now refer to themselves as “mom” and “dad” seems benign at first, a playful, innocent co-option meant to convey the deep love they feel for their animals. And if that was it, I wouldn’t be alarmed. I’ve had pets, and I appreciate how having one can be one of life’s great joys, an emotional and enriching experience of intimate connection with another being. But scroll through your feeds and look at how pets are treated, presented, and understood today. There’s no longer any sarcasm in a bumper sticker that says, “My Child Has Four Paws.” When people call themselves pet “parents,” they’re not just being playful. They sincerely believe that what they’re doing is parenthood.
It’s their sincerity that worries me because it can’t mean nothing that, just as we’re confronting a terrifying kaleidoscope of unprecedented societal change, millions of people are happily, willfully confused about the difference between having a pet and raising a child. Parenting is our connection to the future, the means by which we attempt to influence what tomorrow’s world will be. When people with pets take the title of “parent” and blur the line between pets and children, our language is distorted in a way that only adds to our confusion and anxiety. It may be a gentle delusion to think of your pet as your “child,” but it’s still a delusion. Misnaming our relationship with pets isn’t just a lighthearted goof. It’s a retreat from the world.
Equating pet ownership with parenthood is a denial of human exceptionalism.

Both sides cheat, but only one will get reported
Washington Post: "Trump supporter charged with voting twice in Iowa."

The euthanasia ideology is a greedy, jealous ideology
You can't have a little bit of euthanasia. Dr. Will Johnston of Physicians for Life in Huffington Post:
Taking a mere exception to a murder charge and spinning it as a right to be euthanized everywhere and anywhere in Canada is audacious but transparently political. The euthanasia lobby, flushed with its recent success, wants a monopoly on power, and a health care monoculture that sweeps away all opposition.
People who think differently are not even to be allowed into medical school.
Inviting such extremism into our society would be, to say the least, unhealthy. True diversity and freedom would not be served by it. The activists now attacking Catholic hospitals would not stop there. Everything is a one-way street for them. Their Utopia is euthanasia on demand.
Having convinced themselves that they are the only true humanitarians, no compromises are possible ...
The problem is not "religious hospitals." The problem is zealous ideologues whose inability to accommodate those outside their faction will damage the fabric of our culture.

Saturday, October 29, 2016
Rat globalization
Fascinating New York Times article on how the brown rat spread around the globe as seen through genetics. The rodent came to North America via Russia (Alaska, western Canada and the west coast) and western Europe (eastern Canada and United States). Interestingly, genes suggests western Europe was also the source of brown rats for South America, Africa, New Zealand, and some Atlantic and Pacific islands). The Times reports:
Even today, the ports of New York City are visited by rats from around the world. Before his new study, Dr. Munshi-South had originally suspected that the city’s rats would have inherited a mix of genes from ancestors far and wide.
But he and his colleagues found very little evidence of genetic mixing in New York, or in the other cities they studied. “You don’t see a lot of recent migrants arriving and reproducing,” he said. “There’s some force keeping them out.”
This might be the best article of the year.

October surprise
Hot Air's Ed Morrissey has been covering the various developments in the story about FBI director James Comey informing Congress the Bureau will reopen its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mail scandal. As Morrissey says, however, it is hard to imagine that the FBI or public will find anything new. Clinton is going on the offensive, calling on the FBI to be clear about what they have on her; Powerline's Paul Mirengoff says the campaign must be "convinced that the new evidence isn’t centered around Clinton." The Washington Post and New York Times report that Comey is under criticism for the move. The Wall Street Journal's editorial examines the sordid Clinton-FBI relationship up until this point.
Donald Trump critic David French explains at NRO the significance of the FBI's investigation:
[U]nless the FBI announces the investigation and clears her within the span of basically one work week (an action that would be deeply problematic on its own terms), Hillary’s closing argument to the American people is going to be that Donald Trump is so dangerous that it’s worth gambling your vote on a woman under current criminal investigation.

Friday, October 28, 2016
Obama the Virtue Signaller
Charles Moore in The Spectator:
World leaders are preoccupied nowadays with what is known as their ‘legacy’. In practice, this means being linked with moral-sounding projects, rather than embedding clear achievements. Barack Obama is even more obsessed with legacy than his predecessors. What might be his final way of showing this? Some suggest he will order the United States to abstain if France brings forward its planned UN Security Council resolution calling for a Palestinian state, thus permitting the resolution to pass. If so, he will bring no peace, but who cares? He will have signalled his virtue.
To a certain type of person, gestures are better than effective governing if gets the right people to like you.

Pakistan's law against honour killings
Bina Shah writes in the New York Times that Pakistan's new law against the misogynistic practice of honour killings won't change anything because societal attitudes that women are property aren't going to change any time soon and the law's requirement for the death penalty for perpetrators can easily be dodged by denying the motivation (the "honour" part of the killing). Shah might underestimate the symbolic importance of the law and the law's role in changing societal attitudes, but her warning that honour killings will merely go underground illustrates the need for the government to put some teeth into enforcing the law.

Thursday, October 27, 2016
Whatever happened to 'No sex please, we're British'
The Daily Mail reports:
The number of registered sex offenders on the streets has soared above 50,000 for the first time.
Ministry of Justice (MoJ) figures show that one Briton in every 1,000 is a sex offender on the national list, including rapists and paedophiles.
The total has increased by more than 73 per cent in a decade from just 30,000 in 2006.
This might have more to do with an increase in successful convictions rather than mass immigration, as some are suggesting.

WTO head predicts smooth Brexit
City A.M. reports:
UK's transition out of the European Union will be fast and smooth and there will be no disruption to trade, the head of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) said today.
Roberto Azevedo vowed that the UK would not face a vacuum or a disruption when it leaves the bloc and it would continue to be a member of the WTO.
Azevedo has been in discussions with the trade secretary, Liam Fox, and vowed to make the transition as smooth as possible. His comments will reassure some who fear uncertainty and repercussions on trade if Britain did not secure a trading arrangement quickly.
The only reason that Brexit would not be smooth is if the European Union and its member states (notably France and maybe Germany) want to make an example of the United Kingdom to tamp down enthusiasm for referenda to leave the EU in other countries. So Azevedo should have said, the transition should be quick and smooth. His larger point that the UK has trade options is more important and that notion being reinforced by the head of the WTO should help make the transition relatively easy.

Environmental lawfare
The Australian reports:
Environmental groups’ legal challenges to development projects ranging from dams and roads to coalmines are estimated to have cost the economy up to $1.2 billion — an amount that is rising as more “vexatious and frivolous” claims are made.
The 32 legal challenges under the environment laws that went to court meant developers spent a cumulative 7500 days — or 20 years — in court even though 28 of the environmental cases were defeated and three required only minor technical changes to go ahead.
The Institute of Public Affairs estimates that the delays to the projects “cost the Australian economy as much as $1.2bn”.
Imagine the economic costs in a country like the United States.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016
Government employees love their road (s)trips
Canadian Press reports:
A forensic audit has found the chief administrative officer of one northeastern Nova Scotia municipality charged $582 for visits to two Texas strip clubs.
The report by the accounting firm Grant Thornton examines credit card and expense claims by staff and councillors in the Municipality of the County of Richmond.
The auditors questioned two nights of visits to adult entertainment clubs in Houston filed by Warren Olsen, the chief administrative officer, which was listed as a "reception/meal."
I think government employees who put taxpayers on the hook for their strip club trips should be put in a pillory naked for a full 24 hours per $100 expensed.

Jacoby on the Religious Right ignoring the character issue
Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby takes issue with those on the Right, especially those who have upheld Judeo-Christian values, such as Dennis Prager, who dismiss or even excuse Donald Trump's character flaws:
I wrote last week about the hypocrisy of prominent Christian conservatives who declared in 1998 that Bill Clinton's moral turpitude made him unfit for the presidency, yet today embrace Donald Trump's candidacy despite his debauched and unethical character. My column — which used terms like "influential," "leaders," "spokesmen," "formidable televangelist[s]" and "public intellectual[s]" — focused explicitly on the hypocrisy of those in the highest ranks of the religious right. I quoted their unsparing moral disapproval of Clinton, and contrasted it with their far more indulgent line toward Trump. I concluded that such leaders have "shed their principles, and thereby dismantled their influence."
Perhaps Prager thinks it's unfair, for some reason, to contrast what leading conservative moralists said about Clinton then with what they say about Trump now. Perhaps he doesn't share my sense that they have seriously bruised their own reputations by getting in bed with Trump. But in lashing out with a charge of "gratuitous hatred," Prager makes a defamatory accusation he cannot back up.
My column didn't mention Prager, but it could have. For he, too, is on the Trump Train, notwithstanding his decades-long career of championing integrity and Judeo-Christian values. The Republican nominee violates practically every standard of good character, moral courage, empathy, and kindness that Prager has devoted himself to upholding. Yet Prager is all in for Trump. And to conservatives who are shocked to see him abandon his principles in this way, this is his rejoinder: "We hold that defeating Hillary Clinton, the Democrats, and the Left is also a principle. And that it is the greater principle."
I'm tired of those on the Right responding to concerns about Trump's character with the retort that the Clintons share these moral shortcomings. If it is disqualifying for one of them, it is disqualifying for both. Or at least it should be.
Of course, the Left is as guilty of excusing the moral shortcomings of their candidate. The difference, however, is that those on the Religious Right present themselves as morally upright precisely on the matters with which they took issue on the Clintons (honesty, sexual propriety), whereas the Left's self-righteousness is rooted in its own self-congratulatory worldview and niceness.

Democratic control of Congress
As of 10:15 AM, the Democrats had a 77% chance of taking control of the Senate according to PredictWise which assumes either a net gain of five or a net gain of four plus the White House (so the vice president can break Senate ties). That's up from under 55% in mid-September. PredictWise puts the Democrats chances of winning control of the House of Representatives at 14%. At both the Senate and House sections of their website, you can find PredictWise's chances of a Dem win in every individual seat.

Clinton operative on HRC's 'authentic weirdness'
Salon reports:
A new hacked email released by WikiLeaks shows Hillary Clinton’s campaign staff describing her over-laughter as “authentic weirdness.”
According to the email stolen from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s gmail account (), strategist Luke Albee commented during Clinton’s testimony in the House Benghazi hearing that, “She sometimes laughs a little too hard at jokes that aren’t that funny. Other than that…A.”
Podesta replied, “Laughing too hard is her authentic weirdness.”
The “authentic weirdness” line goes against the public image cultivated by her opponents, who characterized her as synthetic and calculating.
One person's authentic weirdness is another person's creepy.

Making hats great again while damaging the GOP
The Washington Post: "Donald Trump’s campaign has spent more on hats than on polling." The Post's Philip Bump reports:
I don't think there's a data point that better captures the weirdness of this presidential election cycle than the following: According to the Federal Election Commission filings, Donald Trump's presidential campaign has spent $1.8 million on polling from June 2015 through September of this year (the most recent month for which data are available). The report also lists $3.2 million spent on hats.
Bump also makes an educated guess that, "Trump has probably spent more on hats than he has spent on direct mail." And according to the FEC filings, Trump has spent more on hats and t-shirts than voter lists, data, and consultants.
The failure to poll and do data will hurt the Republicans down-ballot and in future campaigns. According to Republican analytics guru Patrick Ruffini and conservative journalist Jay Cost the GOP was already behind on data at least one, perhaps two election cycles. I've talked to members of the RNC who say that Trump is actively getting in the way of their and down-ballot candidates' polling and data-gathering exercises, going so far as trying to stop them (and stop registration and GOTV efforts). But why do you need quality information or get-out-the-vote efforts when you have hats?

Third runway at Heathrow, BoJo gets to speak out against government decision
The Theresa May government has given the green light to an expansion at Heathrow to build a third runway. The Guardian reports:
Theresa May said the decision was made to boost jobs and growth and to ensure the country’s success post-Brexit. The department for transport said would deliver economic benefits to passengers and the wider economy worth up to £61 billion and create up to 77,000 new local jobs over the next 14 years.
The Times reports that Boris Johnson is unhappy, but will (mostly) be a good team player:
Boris Johnson has promised Theresa May he won’t “tour the TV studios” today as he sets out his opposition to a third runway at Heathrow. The foreign secretary has pledged to limit his criticism to just one television interview as he makes use of the special exemption granted to prevent him from resigning over the issue, allies say. Mr Johnson once promised to lie down in front of bulldozers rather than allow a third runway at Heathrow and Justine Greening, the education secretary, has been barely less critical.
In December 2015, when he was still mayor of London, Johnson said the project was "undeliverable," said last month that the idea should be "consigned to the dustbin," and is still today warning that it could turn London into a "city of planes." He has also raised concerns about increased noise and air pollution, even though Johnson isn't an environmentalist. He is still promoting a new, four-runway, 24-hour, hub airport, as he did when he was mayor, and laments that this project hasn't been started.
Zac Goldsmith, MP for Richmond Park and failed 2016 mayoral candidate for the Tories, resigned from the party in protest. He's a pesky little environmentalist so his departure from cabinet might be welcomed. There will be a by-election and Goldsmith will run as an independent. The Conservatives have said they won't run a candidate against him.
As for the opposition parties, The Guardian reported:
The Lib Dems and the Green Party joined condemnation of the scheme while Labour said it needed assurances on on capacity, climate change, noise and air quality and the wider national benefits before offering its support.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Not The Onion
The Daily Mail reports:
A secret Nazi base in the Arctic abandoned after scientists ate infected polar bear meat has been unearthed.
The mysterious site, named ‘Schatzgraber’ or ‘Treasure Hunter’ by Hitler's underlings, was constructed in 1942 - a year after the Third Reich invaded Russia.
Russian researchers have now rediscovered the military base, which the former garrison evacuated by U-boat after eating infected polar bear meat.
I never thought I would read an article that combined Nazis and tainted polar bear meat.

The tangled web of politics
The Weekly Standard: "Breitbart Coordinated With Left-Wing Activist to Disrupt Rubio Campaign Events." The most charitable and probably most honest reading is that Aaron Black, an organizer with Democracy Partners and Occupy Wall Street, gave pro-Trump website Breitbart a heads-up about his organization's activities to maximize coverage, but their cooperation did include the "exchange" of video, which might suggest more than coordinating coverage.

Parliament must respect Brexit mandate
Conservative MP Mark Harper for Forest of Dean at ConservativeHome: "Parliament has the right to scrutinise the Brexit process, but not to block it." Harper writes:
Perhaps the least contentious aspect of the EU Referendum was the simple question of whether or not we should have one.
In the General Election last year the Conservative Party increased its share of the vote and won a majority standing on a manifesto promising a referendum, and committing to act upon the result.
In one of the first steps taken by the new Government, David Cameron introduced a Referendum Act which was passed by a ratio of six to one in the House of Commons – with strong cross-party support. At that point, and with that overwhelming vote, Parliament put the decision of whether to leave or remain in the hands of the British people.
And if that wasn’t clear enough, the booklet sent to every household setting out the Government’s position made it clear that “This is your decision. The Government will implement what you decide.”
In those three facts the Government’s mandate for acting upon the referendum result is crystal clear. The mandate is as straightforward as the decisive vote itself.

Viewpoint diversity and the academy
The Heterodox Academy ranks "America’s top 150 universities (as listed by US News and World Reports) ... according to their commitment to viewpoint diversity." Using four metrics, the University of Chicago finish first with a score of 93.75 followed by Purdue at 87.5, and then a steep drop to a 12-way tie for third that includes Princeton, George Mason University, Carnegie Mellon U, and William and Mary College, at 62.5. And then there's another drop to a score of 50. It is a sad reflection of American post-secondary education that a score of 50 out of 100 is enough to finish in the top half of viewpoint diversity rankings. Harvard finishes in the bottom seven, Yale is just above them along with much of the University of California system.

And Hillary wins ...
Bernie Sanders. The Washington Post: "Sanders is prepared to be a liberal thorn in Clinton’s side." He said, "I will be vigorously in opposition," when Hillary Clinton becomes president. And yet, he campaigns for her. The Post reports he will "push liberal legislation" -- which hardly makes him a gadfly to the administration, depending on the issues. The paper says on his and some of his senate colleagues' agenda are federal minimum wage, climate change legislation, and tuition-free public college, which are all standard Democrat fare, but other areas include breaking up "too big to fail" banks and demanding the left-wing of the party gets represented in key positions in cabinet and regulatory agencies.

Monday, October 24, 2016
What I'm reading
1. Politics: Between the Extremes by Nick Clegg. A combination of insider account of the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition government and a plea for the so-called center ground in British politics.
2. What the Luck? The Surprising Role of Chance in Our Everyday Lives by Gary Smith. It's a book about regression to the mean. People don't understand regression to the mean.
3. Counting Votes: Essays on Electoral Reform, a Fraser Institute ebook edited by Lydia Miljan. This is a re-reading because the contents have been released as essays previously, but it is good to have them in one book. I highly recommend Patrice Dutil's essay on the necessity of a referendum and John Pepall's defense of the first-past-the-post system.
4. "Renewal of the Inflation-Control Target," the Bank of Canada backgrounder
5. "Impact of Migration on Income Levels in Advanced Economies," an International Monetary Foundation note by Florence Jaumotte, Ksenia Koloskova, and Sweta C. Saxena
6. "The UK Health System: An International Comparison of Health Outcomes," a UK2020 study authored by Kristian Niemietz

Democrats hope for gains at the state level
The New York Times reports that President Barack Obama is campaigning for 150 state-level Democratic candidates, noting that the party needs help after eight years of Republican gains in the states:
Republicans effectively control 68 of the nation’s 99 statehouse chambers, compared with 36 at the start of 2010. For years, Democrats complained that Mr. Obama and his political operation paid too little attention to the health of the party, and during his tenure, more than 800 Democratic state lawmakers have been voted out of office, among the worst losses for the party under any president in more than 100 years.
Republicans control at least 22 capitals entirely, holding governors’ offices as well as legislatures. Seven years ago, they had complete control of nine.
I'm sure that Obama and the Dems have the data, but after eight years of voters repudiating the Obama-led Democrats at the state level, maybe his help isn't what they need.
That said, it means that the Republicans have a lot of seats to defend that are probably naturally Democrat. Combined with possible lower voter turnout among Republicans less than thrilled with the presidential race, there is a good chance that in some non-swing states that are Red at the state level to move back into the Blue column.

USA Today's misleading political map
Jim Geraghty at NRO:
USA Today’s projection of the Electoral College map currently has Hillary Clinton winning 263 electoral votes, Donald Trump winning 180, and 95 in the “toss up” category. Much to the frustration of everyone hoping to see Hillary Clinton defeated, this map is probably too skeptical about her chances in some key states. The map lists Wisconsin as “toss up” but Clinton has never trailed there, or even been tied with Trump. The map lists North Carolina as “toss up,” but Clinton has led the last 13 polls. Florida is also listed as a toss up; Clinton has led the last eight polls there. The last eight polls in Nevada show Clinton leading in seven and a tie in the eighth; that state is listed as a “toss up.”
Utah is in the Trump pile, even though the last three surveys in that state show Evan McMullin down by one point, ahead by 4 points, and down by one points.
In short, the map is just about as bad as it can get for a Republican nominee. Even in the worst moments of the McCain campaign in 2008, the GOP never feared losing Texas. A new CBS poll puts Trump up by 3 points in the Lone Star State. Only two polls have been conducted of Arizona this month; one puts Clinton ahead by 5 points, the other by 2 points.
Trump fans can insist that every poll by every pollster is rigged; that every poll is failing to sample all of those notoriously shy Trump voters.

2018 watch (Senate edition)
The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza says the real political battle over the next two weeks is about control of the Senate. A net gain of four for the Democrats and they take over the Senate (the House of Representatives is a tall order for the Dems at this point, barring a large-scale national shift). Cillizza says the majority could be short-lived "as the 2018 field is remarkably bad for [Democrats]." Cillizza writes:
The numbers for that year are stunning: 25 Democratic or Democratic-affiliated independents are up for reelection, compared with just eight Republicans. That’s as lopsided an election cycle as you will ever see.
But a look inside the numbers makes the Democrats’ challenge in 2018 all the more daunting. Fully 20 percent of the 25 Democratic seats are in states that then-Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney carried in 2012 (and even Trump is likely to carry on Nov. 8): Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia.
All five Democratic incumbents in those states are expected to run for reelection, a prospect that gives Democrats a chance in each. But with 2018 looking almost certain to be the first midterm election of a Hillary Clinton presidency, it’s hard to see how her party avoids major losses in red states.
On top of those Red States with Democrat senators, at least three other Democrats could be vulnerable: Tammy Baldwin (Wisconsin), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), and Bill Nelson (Florida) are either in very swingy states (Wisconsin and Ohio) or the subject of retirement rumours (Nelson). That could be eight very difficult Senate seats for the Democrats to defend, and perhaps more if Hillary Clinton is an unpopular president.
In 2010, President Barack Obama's first midterm election, the Democrats lost six Senate seats. In 1994, President Bill Clinton's first midterm election, his party lost eight seats. Hillary Clinton will probably have to deal with a Republican House for the first two years, but getting her priorities passed after 2018 looks that much more difficult considering recent political history.
And things could become more difficult for the Democrats before 2018. If the Democrats win, Tim Kaine will become vice president and whoever is appointed (by Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe) to fill his seat will face a special election in 2017 (before facing re-election in 2018). So a one-seat majority could be lost within the year.

'Child refugees'
Sunday Mail columnist Peter Hitchens on child refugees trying to get into the United Kingdom (from the hellhole of France):
I confess I was rather looking forward to the arrival of the alleged ‘children’ from the Calais migrant camp.
Leftists have an oily habit of stretching the definition of this emotional word. It helps them make the exaggerated claims of suffering, by which they so often achieve their political aims ...
Of course it’s possible that they are all really 12, and have been terribly hardened by war and suffering. But if that is so, how come they are in a crime-ridden camp in France, which exists purely to besiege our borders and launch illegal attempts to cross them?
Nobody ever asks how the inhabitants of this camp got there, because the answer in almost all cases is that they were trafficked there by well-paid crooks. What responsible parent would put an actual child in the hands of such people, notorious worldwide for their ruthlessness?
Check out the photographs of some of those "children" making refugee claims; one of them definitely wouldn't even asked to show identification if he walked into a casino.

Justin Trudeau statement on United Nations Day
From a statement released by the Prime Minister's Office today to mark United Nations Day:
On this day, let us pause to reflect on all that the UN has accomplished for the world, and celebrate the employees of its many affiliated programmes, funds, and specialized agencies who work tirelessly to make our global community a safer, more prosperous place. The UN is a vital organization, unparalleled in scope, that is a source of great optimism for a better tomorrow.
I am sure many people believe this to be true. I am certain it's an article of faith for the type of people who populate any Liberal government in Canada, from the highest ministers to the lowliest of staffers. But what is their evidence? How has the United Nations made the world safer and more prosperous? There is none. Free markets, entrepreneurship, and personal liberty have increased prosperity. The UN is powerless to bring safety until all sides of a conflict are on board with an agreement, thereby reduced to by-stander status; the UN is powerless to help in Aleppo and it literally sat by and watched the Rwanda genocide.
The UN is a talk shop, although some of its agencies do good work. However, UNICEF or the World Food Programme or UN Refugee Agency could exist without the United Nations itself, and non-government organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, or even the Clinton Foundation's Clinton Health Access Initiative, prove that the UN-connected agencies might be outdated and unnecessary.

If you care, Al Franken's fave SNL political sketches
The Washington Post has Senator Al Franken's "My 10 favorite ‘Saturday Night Live’ political sketches." Nine of the ten feature Franken as either writer or actor in the segment. I'm glad that the 1986 sketch of Ronald Reagan as the White House mastermind is on the list -- it's an under-appreciated classic. Not a bad list. I think SNL's take on the 1988 and 1992 elections (including primaries) is the best political work they've done. And while it's not a sketch, A. Whitney Brown describing during his "The Big Picture" rant on Weekend Update the evolution of American voters from voting for the candidate one supports to voting against the candidate one hates the most is probably my favourite political moment on the show.

Sunday, October 23, 2016
Donald Trump gets first big newspaper endorsement
The Las Vegas Review Journal endorsed Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump:
History tells us that agents for reform often generate fear and alarm among those intent on preserving their cushy sinecures. It’s hardly a shock, then, that the 2016 campaign has produced a barrage of unceasing vitriol directed toward Mr. Trump. But let us not be distracted by the social media sideshows and carnival clatter. Substantive issues are in play this November.
Our allies on the world stage watch nervously as America retreats from its position of strong leadership leaving strife and conflict rushing to fill the void. The past eight years have pushed us $20 trillion into debt, obligations that will burden our children and grandchildren. The nation’s economy sputters under the growing weight of federal edicts and regulations that smother growth and innovation. Obamacare threatens to crash and burn. The middle class struggles. An administration promising hope and unity instead brought division.
Yet Hillary Clinton promises to lead us down the same path. She’ll cuddle up to the ways and perks of Washington like she would to a cozy old blanket.
Mr. Trump instead brings a corporate sensibility and a steadfast determination to an ossified Beltway culture. He advocates for lower taxes and a simplified tax code, in contrast to his opponent’s plan to extract another $1 trillion from the private economy in order to enlarge the bureaucracy. Mr. Trump understands and appreciates the conditions that lead to prosperity and job creation and would be a friend to small business and entrepreneurship. Mrs. Clinton has spent most of her adult life on the public payroll.
The editorial concludes:
Mr. Trump represents neither the danger his critics claim nor the magic elixir many of his supporters crave. But he promises to be a source of disruption and discomfort to the privileged, back-scratching political elites for whom the nation’s strength and solvency have become subservient to power’s pursuit and preservation.
The Washington Post reminds readers that Republican donor Sheldon Adelson owns the Review-Journal. It also reports that it is the first big-city paper to back Trump:
Although smaller papers have endorsed Trump, several large conservative-leaning newspapers have broken ranks and endorsed Hillary Clinton for President in recent months.

Barack Obama, Nobel Peace Prize winner
Damon Linker in The Week: "Why won't anyone admit that America is fighting 5 wars?" Linker's column (published pre-third debate) begins:
In an election flush with conspiracy theories, here's one that's real: Both major party nominees, as well as the journalists who cover the election and moderate the debates, are actively conspiring to avoid talking about the fact that the United States is waging war in at least five countries simultaneously: Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia.
Linker explains why the Democrats and Republicans conspire to keep a lid on talk about the five wars:
Republicans have an incentive to avoid a conversation about our multiple wars because the GOP finds it more politically advantageous to portray Barack Obama as a feckless commander in chief who has made the country less safe through grandiloquent displays of spinelessness. To put our wars on the table for discussion and debate would expose the actual truth, which is that Obama has very much governed as a hawk (albeit one who, unlike Republicans, prefers not to brag about it).
Democrats, on the other hand, have several reasons of their own to avoid a conversation about our multiple wars. First, because they quite understandably fear that the American people might object if they realized the Democratic administration was meddling militarily in so many places. Second, because the results of and strategic goals at stake in these interventions are so consistently muddled. Third, because it would reveal that Democrats are closely following the foreign policy vision of their nemesis George W. Bush.
Get that? Former Nobel Peace Prize winner governs as a hawk.

Central bankers should focus on monetary policy
Global News reports:
Inadequate infrastructure is among the top inhibitors to economic growth, which is why spending money to fix it — even if it puts you in the red — is a good economic move, says Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz.
“There is a balance somewhere, but I can tell you we’re pretty far away from that point,” the country’s top banker to The West Block’s Tom Clark. “Canada is in a very good fiscal situation, so we shouldn’t be worrying about [going into greater deficit or debt] at this time.”
Stephen Poloz should keep his nose out of politics. Fiscal policy is a political matter, not an issue for the Bank of Canada.

A problem with the surveillance state
Kevin D. Williamson at National Review Online:
The creation of such mass databases is dangerous and unnecessary. But it is something that governments at all levels, under leaders of both parties, are pursuing aggressively. If you want to drive legally in freedom-loving Texas, prepare to be subjected to electronic fingerprinting and rules that require (unlike some other western states) license plates on both the front and the back of your car, to facilitate automated plate-reading.
If you have a driver’s license, your photograph and identification have probably been uploaded to a nationwide police database searched by facial-recognition software, even if you never have committed a crime or had so much as a speeding ticket. Police can use those to find bank robbers, but they also can use them to see who is attending the Clinton-for-president or the Trump-for-president rally this weekend. The Center for Privacy and Technology at Georgetown University surveyed 100 law-enforcement agencies, and what they found will horrify you even as it fails to surprise you: Almost none of those agencies had policies restricting inquiries into lawful public events conducted under First Amendment protection or conditioning such inquiries on traditional constitutional standards; only one agency even bothered conducting routine audits into how those tools were used and against whom ...
There is a good reason why police agencies do not audit the use of such programs: Because when they do conduct such audits, they find abuse, and lots of it. An Associated Press report found police officers using confidential law-enforcement databases to stalk former lovers or investigate new ones, to harass personal enemies, and the like. It’s pretty entertaining stuff, human frailty on dramatic display: A marshal whose ex-girlfriend was seeing a man who drove a white pickup ordered information on every white pickup in his jurisdiction; another police officer accessed information about a woman in a domestic-battery case to send her unsolicited Facebook messages on the theory that she probably was available; a jilted Akron police sergeant went to prison on a stalking conviction after abusing police data to harass and threaten his ex-girlfriend and her mother; another police officer shared information with suspects in a drug and gun-trafficking case in exchange for sex.
There are some heroic men and women in law enforcement. There are also a lot of bullies, bums, and reprobates.
Information collected by the surveillance state can be misused and abused by the state or the individuals who work for it for their own personal reasons.

Gay Republicans and Trump
CNN reports that the Log Cabin Republicans refuse to endorse Donald Trump despite the GOP presidential candidate's strongly pro-LGBQT view -- "perhaps the most pro-LGBT presidential nominee in the history of the Republican Party" -- because they don't like some of the people around him or his support for laws that protect conscience rights for people of faith. ABC News reports that some gay Republicans are still fans of Trump and will vote for him next month. The latter story illustrates my problem with organizations that purport to speak for members of X "community." How many gay Republicans are supporting Trump? How representative is the Log Cabin Republicans of gays within the party? Is there not viewpoint diversity among homosexuals within the Republican Party that makes talking about them as a group inaccurate? Has mainstream acceptance of homosexuality and homosexuals rendered the Log Cabin Republicans obsolete?

Frum on the choices facing principled conservatives
David Frum has written an excellent essay at The Atlantic on how conservatives could -- should -- approach their election day. Frum says:
Politics isn’t Starbucks. You don’t get to bespeak your selection from a menu of 80 choices. It’s coffee or tea, that’s it. If the tea’s poisonous, you choose the coffee, no matter how bitter—or how much you would have preferred a caramel soy decaf latte.
Frum offers the best -- his deliberately chosen adjective -- argument for voting for Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, or Evan McMullin:
Emphasize the word “best.” If your case for Trump rests on the assumption that America is hurtling toward national doom, if your case for McMullin rests on the hope of tossing the election into the House of Representatives, if your case for Hillary argues that she is a large soul eager to work cooperatively with those who think differently from her. I’d say you are not thinking very clearly. Despair and fantasy are misleading counselors.
For Frum, Trump is an ignoramus who will be an embarrassment, but at least he will do something about immigration.
The case for McMullin is that votes are expressive and the conscientious protest vote rejects both Clinton's progressive politics and the combination of Trump's vulgarity and "con-man narcissism."
The case for Hillary Clinton is a tough sell for most conservatives: she is more presidential than her opponent -- that is she can "'do the job' — manage a crisis, pay the bills, respond to hurricanes, face national enemies." I agree with Frum, especially if you think she'll implode and be a one-term president, facing a Republican Congress to limit the damage she can do. If you think voting is more than expressive or symbolic, this is probably your choice.
I don't think any one person's vote matters, but if I had the platform to influence a critical mass of conservative voters, my case for Clinton and against Trump is pragmatic: vote with the long-term interests of the conservative movement in mind and start looking at Republican Party in 2018 and 2020. Trump would further damage the Republican brand if he won, as the combination of his abrasive personality and harm he would do to the country with his anti-trade and divisive policies could make the party toxic at the national level for years to come. Giving her negatives, Clinton will hurt the Democratic brand if she were elected president, so give her the chance to do so and help the Republicans regroup for the midterm elections and 2020 presidential race. Partisans tend to think every election is the most important because the other party will do so much damage to the country an electoral loss cannot be risked. Not only is that view bullshit, it is short-sighted. It is worth recalling that one individual's vote never determines an election, but if people cannot believe that, remember what George Will said in 1988 when Americans faced the dismal choice between George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis: elections are not canonizations and can easily be undone in four years.

Saturday, October 22, 2016
Understanding opportunity cost (reading edition)
Excellent New York Times interview with Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project and many other good books. I recommend reading the whole thing because Rubin's approach to books and reading is smart, but the concluding question warms the cockles of my heart because few people understand the importance of not finishing bad books (or movies or whatever):
Q: Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?
A: For years, I believed that if I started a book, I should finish it, but a few years ago I decided to quit reading if I lost interest. As a consequence, I frequently don’t finish books — which gives me much more time to read books that I enjoy. I don’t want to supply the titles of any unfinished books, however. As a writer myself, I know how much work and love goes into every book.
I bring up this issue a lot, but to stop reading bad (or even sub-optimal books) is among the best pieces of advice I've ever followed.

Four NFL games to watch (Week 7 edition)
Honourable mention: Seattle Seahawks (4-2) at Arizona Cardinals (3-3): Cards are terribly inconsistent, having allowed seven or fewer points twice this year (and 17 once) but they've also allowed 33 or more twice. Arizona's three wins have come against bad teams (Tampa Bay, San Francisco, New York Jets). Watching the 'Hawks secondary against one of the best groups of receivers should be very exciting: CB Richard Sherman vs. WR Larry Fitzgerald is a marquee matchup. As good as Seattle's D is a league-best 283.6 yards allowed per game, Arizona's defense is ranked fifth (295 ypg). According to Football Outsiders, they are the first and third best defenses. If I were convinced the Cards were a likely playoff team or they played more consistently or proved they could beat good teams, this would be a top four game. But you don't know what you're getting with Arizona and they face one of the best all-around teams in the NFL. This division becomes much more interesting if Arizona can score the home victory, but this would seem like an upset despite being favoured by 1.5. I just don't see it happening. Bonus fact: Arizona hasn't beat Seattle at home since Bruce Arians took over as coach four years ago.
4. New England Patriots (5-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2): This would be #1 if Ben Roethlisberger was playing, but knee surgery has him out for 4-6 weeks. It could have been the most important game of the regular season in terms of seeding (determining #1 in AFC) featuring two exciting and brilliant offenses. Alas, it wasn't meant to be. Instead, see if Pittsburgh can keep it close handing it off to Le'Veon Bell and D'Angelo Williams 40 times and what those running backs can do with the ball. Hint: not enough to stop Tom Brady who will carve up the Steelers D by throwing to both his tight ends. New England by two scores in Pittsburgh.
3. Minnesota Vikings (5-0) at Philadelphia Eagles (3-2): Vikings seem to be the consensus best team in football and coasting to the playoffs, while the Eagles have seen their shine lose its luster in recent weeks as it fights for playoff relevancy. Philly has lost two in a row after opening with three victories. Minny is the last undefeated team in the NFL. Minny's Sam Bradford returns to the city of Brotherly Love to face the team that traded him seven weeks ago, just days before the season started. Bradford has been better than competent but not really a 5-0 QB: Minnesota is scoring 23.8 ppg, close to league average, and a disproportionate number of those points came courtesy of the defense and special teams. The Vikes are winning because of defense (#2 according to Football Outsiders, best by points per game (12.6 ppg, nearly 2.5 ppg better than 2nd place,) and 2nd in yards per game with 287.6). The Eagles front seven will get pressure on Bradford, who turns into a shell of his mediocre self with defenders bearing down on him, but rookie QB Carson Wentz will be facing the best defense he's seen all year by far. Is the League getting a read on Wentz; in his first three games, the Eagles scored at least 29 points, but in their last two contests saw them limited to 23 and 20 points. I like Minnesota off of a bye-week with their top-flight D taking on a rookie quarterback.
2. Houston Texans (4-2) at Denver Broncos (4-2): This game could have massive playoff implications. Both teams are favourites to win their respective divisions, so seeding could come into play -- right now the Broncs have about a one-in-four chance of a bye while the Texans have a one-in-20, but those odds would radically change with a Houston win. Also a loss for either team would give their division rivals hope: the whole AFC South if the Texans come up short, and the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders if Denver loses at home. I care less about QB Brock Osweiler returning to Denver to face his old team than the fact he must prove he is worth his obscene free agent contract, this week against the Broncos defense. A few weeks ago, we would have looked forward to this game as one featuring probably the most talent on D between two teams possible in any NFL contest. The Texans have disappointed by being a borderline top 10 defense with otherworldly linebacker J.J. Watt out of action. With the worst offense (according to Football Outsiders) going up against the fourth best defense, I don't see any chance of Houston pulling off the upset. But in terms of storyline (not only Osweiler returning, but questions of whether he or Trevor Siemian will have the better career), playoff implications, and watching while waiting to see if there is much hope of Osweiler becoming a franchise QB, there's a lot of reason to watch this game. But the best one is to see defense as art -- Von Miller and the rest of the cast on that side of the ball harassing Osweiler and preventing him from getting the ball to one of the more (potentially) exciting cast or receivers. Denver by double digits at home, perhaps not so much because Siemian returns to lead touchdown-scoring drives as the fact that their D prevents the Texans from doing so.
1. San Diego Chargers (2-4) at Atlanta Falcons (4-2): Offense. Offense. Offense. Seven QBs are averaging at least a pair of TDs a game so far this season and two are in this game: Philip Rivers for the Bolts and Matt Ryan for the Falcons. The Falcons are 1st overall with 33.2 ppg and the Bolts are 3rd with 28.8 ppg. I can see the potential for a upset here because Rivers could carve up Atlanta's FO-rated 26th defense. Perhaps it wouldn't be that much of an upset, because San Diego would be perfect if not for four fourth-quarter meltdowns that allowed opponents to score come-from-behind victories. In a shootout, anything can happen. But it's safer to take the dominant offense and special teams at home. Atlanta and definitely take the over (55 at Bodog).

Reason's interview with Mike Rowe
Great 47-minute Reason interview with Mike Rowe (video), who talks about having his privacy violated about a drone and labour issues, amongst much else. Love the story about a "naked guy with a shotgun in San Francisco" (the drone incident). He's a fan of guns and Second Amendment but isn't a member of the NRA because he's not a "joiner." Two other really important parts of the interview are "thoughts on occupational licensure" (about 31 minutes) and "the false choices of American life" (34:50). He says that brain surgeons shouldn't be licensed, but hair braiders don't need to be. Denying he romanticizes physical labour, Rowe says that labour need not be drudgery and that people who do hard physical work can be entrepreneurs and have a freelance mentality that leads to success. Excellent advice to graduates looking for work: be prepared to be uncomfortable and find a way to love what you are doing.

At FiveThirtyEight, Oliver Roeder has an interesting article on Ikea and what products have sticking power and which don't, and trend-lines in their prices. Many products are cheaper than a few decades ago, even before taking inflation into account (globalization has probably led to an overall decrease in furniture costs, not just at Ikea. The article is largely based on research undertaken by Marianne Baxter, an economist at Boston University, and comments from Marty Marston, a product public relations manager at Ikea, whom Roeder interviewed for the story. Two contradictory tidbits that explain the price cuts over time:
Although Baxter can’t yet prove its particulars — more data cleaning and analysis is necessary for her ultimate Ikea project — there is a sort of evolutionary dynamic at play in the annual Ikea catalog: survival of the fittest furniture. She noticed that the company tends to discontinue products that remain expensive. “If they can’t figure out how to make them more cheaply, or retool them or slightly redesign them, it seems like the things disappear,” she said.
Indeed, the products have evolved. In 1992, part of the Poäng was changed from steel to wood, allowing the chair to ship more densely and efficiently in the company’s flat packs. (“Shipping air is very expensive,” Marston said.) And the Lack table was changed from solid wood to a honeycomb “board on frame” construction, decreasing production costs and increasing shipping efficiency. Baxter theorizes, though, that if a product is finicky — requiring design in Sweden, manufacture in China and intricate pieces from Switzerland, say — it may eventually be abandoned.
Marston has a different explanation:
Marston thought the Darwinian idea was interesting, but that the deletions from the catalog were less about persistently high prices and more about popularity. “If a product doesn’t perform well — we have certain sales expectations — then it will cease to exist. The public didn’t like it for some reason, so why continue to sell it?” she said.
I prefer to read articles about Ikea than shop there, although I am a fan of their Billy bookcases.

Mark Perry on the ethical case against minimum wage laws
The American Enterprise Institute's Mark Perry says that ultimately his opposition to minimum wage laws is not economic but ethical:
After all is said and done my opposition to the minimum wage law is grounded in ethics, regardless of the economics. I believe deeply that a business owner who uses risks his or her personal savings (or borrows money) and works hard to start a business, hire workers and maybe earn a modest, honest income and enough profits to sustain a business in an extremely competitive environment, that income and those profits belong to the business owner to use as he or she chooses ...
Yet the minimum wage law rests on the premise that workers have some positive claim on the income and profits of business owners, even those struggling to survive on razor-thin profit margins. If business owners are forced to pay artificially high wages that are not commensurate with the productivity of unskilled workers, the state is insisting that those workers have an ethical claim on part of the income and profits of business owners – basically forcing those owners to provide charity to unskilled workers at their own personal expense.
Of course, if the state considers the fruit of workers' labour to be its (hence income taxes), there is no reason for the state to not consider the entrepreneur's capital investments to be at its disposal, also. The government is greedy for both control and money.

Your kids can have more screen time
The Washington Post reports:
For years, the American Academy of Pediatrics set a simple and clear ceiling: no more than two hours parked in front of the TV for any child over the age of two. But at its annual meeting in San Francisco on Friday, the group, acknowledging that some online media exposure can be beneficial, announced that it has radically revised its thinking on the subject.
The first big change is in how it defines screen time in the first place. The AAP now says that its limits apply solely to time spent on entertainment and not on educational tasks such as practicing multiplication facts online or reading up on the history of Fort McHenry and the Star Spangled Banner. The entertainment category itself is very broad and can include old-fashioned broadcast TV, streaming services like Netflix, video games consoles and being on social media accounts like Facebook and Twitter. The new recommendations are also more specific to the age of the child and, as a whole, are more generous.
For the youngest set — infants and toddlers younger than 18 months — Jenny Radesky, Yolanda Reid Chassiakos, and other authors of the guidelines now explicitly say that video-chatting with grandma and grandpa (or anyone else parents approve of) is okay. But that's it. Period.
The guidelines become progressively looser after that. Between 18 to 24 months of age, they say parents "who want to" can introduce snippets of things like educational shows. However, the AAP emphasizes that parents should "prioritize creative, unplugged playtime for infants and toddlers."
For 2 to 5 year olds, they recommend a max one hour per day of "high-quality programs" and give PBS and Sesame Network shows as examples. This does not give you permission to use your iPad as an electronic baby sitter! "Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them," the AAP said ...
It's at age 6 and older that you see the biggest changes. Instead of offering specific limits on digital media, the guidelines call for "consistent" limits that are up to individual families and advises parents to develop a media plan that fits their lifestyle. The message is one of striking a healthy balance between using media, sleep, physical activity, socializing with friends and other activities. The AAP warned that problems can arise when media use displaces hands-on exploration and face-to-face interaction.
The recommendations are more flexible and realistic, but I think they are still too strict. I appreciate concerns about changes to the brain that affect the ability of children to concentrate or pay attention that exposure to television, computer and tablet screens can cause, but that damage could be mitigated by attentive if parents talk with their children more.

Friday, October 21, 2016
Congressional races to watch
The Cook Political Report has 19 toss-up House races, and 17 of them are Republican (including CA-19, which is currently held by longtime Congressman Darrell Issa). There are 19 other "competitive" seats; 12 currently held GOP seats "lean" Republican. Of the seven races that lean Democrat, four are currently blue seats but three are red. There is just more potential for Republican losses than Democrat defeats. (Also, in the "likely" columns of each party, the GOP appears to have one definite pickup, whereas it is almost certain to lose three to the Democrats.)
Many of the toss-up and leaning seats could go Republican if the party makes the case that a GOP Congress is needed to keep a check on a President Hillary Clinton (two western New York seats, several Florida seats, ones in Iowa and rural Minnesota, the supposedly unsafe Utah seat of Mia Love). But if GOP enthusiasm is hurt by the top of the ticket, which could be a national phenomenon, the Democrats could do very well.

Voting for someone not on the ballot
Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer makes the case against Hillary Clinton. He has vowed not to support Donald Trump. He concludes his column: "The only question is whose name I’m going to write in. With Albert Schweitzer doubly unavailable (noncitizen, dead), I’m down to Paul Ryan or Ben Sasse. Two weeks to decide."
As someone who wrote Stephen Harper's name on my ballot for local MP in 1997 (thereby wrecking my ballot), I endorse Krauthammer's actions. There are people who oppose this. But one vote doesn't make any difference and it permits the voter to live with himself by not violating his own conscience. Voting is ultimately about self-narrative -- how we want to think about ourselves and, if we share information about how we vote with friends, family or the public, how we want others to think about us. Conscience is more important than tribal loyalties, or at least that's the story I prefer.
I would almost certainly write in Ryan's or Ted Cruz's name on my ballot if I were an American voter, but only if I bothered to show up for Republican candidates for the House or Senate (assuming they were worthy of my support).

STIs on the rise in US
The Washington Post reports that three different sexually transmitted infections have hit record numbers:
More than 1.5 million cases of chlamydia were reported last year, up 6 percent from the year before. About 400,000 cases of gonorrhea were reported, a nearly 13 percent increase from 2014. The biggest increase, 19 percent, occurred in syphilis cases, with nearly 24,000 reported, according to the annual report on STDs released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
All three diseases are curable with antibiotics, but gonorrhea is growing increasingly resistant to treatment with antibiotics.
There is a tremendous public cost to the spread of these STIs:
Most STD cases continue to go undiagnosed and untreated, putting people at risk for severe and often irreversible health consequences, the CDC said. The economic burden to the U.S. health-care system is nearly $16 billion a year, according to the CDC.
Young people and gay and bisexual men face the greatest risk of infection, and there continues to be a troubling increase in syphilis among newborns, who are infected by their mothers.
In women, untreated gonorrhea can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, which can lead to pelvic pain and infertility. Chlamydia also leads to PID and is the leading cause of infertility in women; it can cause sterility in men. Syphilis is the most dangerous because left untreated, the infection spreads to other parts of the body including the brain, heart, internal organs and nervous system.

Getting it Right on Crime
Megan McArdle interviewed Steven Teles, co-author of Prison Break: Why Conservatives Turned Against Mass Incarceration, for BloombergView. I recommend reading Prison Break, one of the best political/policy books of 2016, and the full interview. McArdle asks: "Can you give them a sense of how big a shift there has been in the conservative movement on crime?" Teles replies:
Well, an awful lot depends on how you define “big shift.” There are two ways to do that, which are changes in positions and changes in actions.
On positions, there’s been a huge shift. Not much more than a decade ago, the pretty-well-consensual conservative position on crime was hard-line: longer sentences, stricter policing, unquestioning defense of what goes on in prisons, and so forth. Today there’s a very wide swath of conservative politicians who feel entirely comfortable taking positions in the opposite direction.
One example sort of makes the point. When Texas made its big criminal-justice reform in 2007, which kicked off the process of state-level reform, Governor Rick Perry had to be pulled into supporting it -- he had opposed a similar reform just two years before. By the time he ran for president in 2016 (remember that?), he was advertising how wonderful the “Texas Model” of reducing reliance on incarceration is, and using the issue to show that he was a different kind of Republican.
Perry is now part of a huge group of conservatives who are part of the “Right on Crime” movement. This shows you how broad the change in position-taking is.
In terms of change in policy, on actions, it’s variable -- both between states and between the states and the federal government. Our argument is that you tend to see really big reforms, and more significant change in positions, in states where Republicans are solidly in the majority.
In Texas, Georgia, Mississippi and other bright red states, Republicans have now done multiple waves of reform. Our explanation is that once Republicans really take over a state lock, stock and barrel, they don’t need the crime issue to beat up on Democrats anymore. So that gives them an ability to step back and look at the issue more analytically, and to reflect on whether their political values really support spending so much on prisons.
By contrast, in states like Virginia, lots of Republicans in the state legislature sound like they haven’t changed at all since 1988 -- because in purple states, they’re just very hesitant to give up on an issue that might get them some electoral juice.
When Republicans don't need to cynically use crime as a wedge issue, they are free to bring "their positions on criminal justice into alignment with their positions on everything else." The conservative wing of the Republican Party has begun to question mass incarceration not as a systemic problem in the same way that the Left does -- as an injustice in itself -- but as unnecessarily costly, ineffective in reducing crime, and incompatible with their more libertarian beliefs about the competence of the state.
Good interview, good book, and a good cause. A leader in the criminal justice reform movement on the conservative side of the political spectrum is Right on Crime.

Rising housing costs
The Wall Street Journal reports on a new Zillow analysis that despite pledges of big city mayors in the U.S. to build new housing, construction is unlikely to keep up with demand:
Faced with an affordability crisis, mayors across the country have pledged to build thousands more units of housing. But a new analysis shows to meet those targets, many would have to exceed the construction pace reached at the height of the housing boom.
Cities such as Los Angeles, Boston and New York would have to build more homes per year than they did from 2000 to 2010—a decade that includes an unprecedented national building boom, although also some of the ensuing bust.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has called for the construction of 100,000 new units of housing by 2021, or about one for every two additional adults expected to move to the city. That’s about a 25% jump from the decade between 2000 and 2010, when the city added some 76,000 units — less than one for every two additional adults ...
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh says the city would add 53,000 units in 15 years to accommodate an estimated 91,000 new residents. From 2000 to 2014, the city added about half that, or nearly 22,000 units, according to Zillow.
Several days ago, the Journal reported on a new study by Daniel Shoag, an associate professor of public policy at Harvard University, and Peter Ganong, a postdoctoral fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research, which found that land-use regulations are increasing housing costs, and that the higher price of homes are preventing some workers from moving to pursue higher income jobs:
Moving to a wealthier area in search of job opportunities has historically been a way to promote economic equality, allowing workers to pursue higher-paying jobs elsewhere. But those wage gains lose their appeal if they are eaten up by higher housing costs. The result: More people stay put and lose out on potential higher incomes.
Many of the cities with the stiffest demand for housing, and thus the highest prices, are on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. They also tend to be the cities that impose the strictest rules on land use.
Shoag and Ganong conclude that high housing prices that prevent mobility to higher income areas are contributing to inequality.