Sobering Thoughts

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

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Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Liberty and care for the mentally ill
A few years ago I struggled with an issue: should we coerce the mentally ill to receive treatment. I don't remember what led me to have an opinion on the issue or why it mattered so much. For a long time, to my libertarian mind, this was relatively simple: no, we should not coerce people to receive treatment they do not want. People are allowed to be different. (I was led astray reading too much Thomas Szasz.) People are allowed to make bad decisions. Forcing treatment on the mentally ill was obviously (to me, at the time) an infringement of their rights. But it wasn't that simple. What about the horrible things some mentally ill people do to their fellow citizens? This caused me some consternation, but ultimately violating the liberty of an individual outweighed the potential harm that individual might do to others.
After some time contemplating the topic as a philosophical issue, I asked David Gratzer, a psychiatrist, about it. Or more accurately, I asked for a brief opinion and some reading that could help me come to my own conclusions. He led me to a number of journal articles and books, but the most important was the author E. Fuller Torrey. I devoured several of his books, most notably The Insanity Offense: How America's Failure to Treat the Seriously Mentally Ill Endangers Its Citizens and Out of the Shadows: Confronting America's Mental Illness Crisis. (I look forward to Insane Consequences: How the Mental Health Industry Fails the Mentally Ill which will be published next year.) In many ways Torrey focuses on the stories of people doing harm to others -- the violence the mentally ill do to strangers on the street or the loved ones in their own homes. But the framing of the question was changed. No longer was the issue personal liberty vs. society's safety, but the tragedy of someone harming others quite against his own -- the perpetrator's -- free will. As Dr. Gratzer said to me, some people's brains are just different, work differently, and they need help. That is, their judgement is impaired in ways that limit their ability to make good decisions. This raised other philosophical issues of free will. After extensive reading and other research (including interviews with members of Capacity and Consent boards, mentally ill individuals who got themselves off the street with the proper care, neurologists, and psychiatrists) I changed my mind: there are times when we as a society should compel individuals to receive care. I'm still very leery of the position and I want vigorous safeguards, but there are some people who are not able to exercise their free will because of the (metaphorical) demons they are dealing with. We cannot abandon these people.
All of this is a very long way of introducing David Gratzer's latest weekly reading: "The NEJM on 'Our Struggle to Care for People with Serious Mental Illness'." You should read Gratzer's weekly readings, a short excerpt and comment on some recent article (medical journals, popular press) or book that deals with mental health issues. I often link to them on Twitter. But this one deserves special attention. The issue is important. I'm not looking to have every reader agree with me, but I would like people to approach the issue with more than a gut reaction which for many people is all they have to go on.
Gratzer notes that the recent New England Journal of Medicine has several articles on mental illness, but he focuses on "Liberty versus Need — Our Struggle to Care for People with Serious Mental Illness," by Lisa Rosenbaum (a cardiologist). As usual Gratzer excerpts the article, summarizes it, and comments on it. The numbers are staggering: an estimated 40% of the nearly 10 million Americans with serious mental illness do not receive treatment in any given year and inpatient-bed availability is 11.7 psychiatric beds per 100,000 population compared to 337 beds per 100K population in 1955. De-institutionalization has turned into "transinstitutionalization" as "prisons have replaced state hospitals as treatment sites." But it is not just a matter of resources. What do to do about those who deny they are ill? She acknowledges the "tension" between liberty and care and understands that the reticence to coerce treatment is based on the noble desire to avoid serious past wrongs (force electroconvulsive therapy and frontal lobotomies).
Grazter says of "Our Struggle to Care for People with Serious Mental Illness":
The tension between care and liberty is well described. It should resonate with all of us in the field. Yes, we can treat so many successfully – including those who are homeless. On the other hand, patient autonomy is a cornerstone of our health care system (and society). Earlier in my career, I was short with lawyers and annoyed at Consent and Capacity Board hearings. But today, I’ve seen the hurdles as being more than historic artifact.
Rosenbaum provides a principle but not a clear path to dealing with the mentally ill who deny they are sick: "Such good and compassionate care is possible, but only if we acknowledge that people with mental illness need treatment to function in society and are willing to accept, not deny, their differences." As principles go, this is a good one. Too often liberty is an abstract goal; providing treatment for the seriously mentally ill so they can function -- and, yes, exercise other freedoms -- should be the public policy goal of treating these patients.

Rogan interviews Peterson
Joe Rogan has a nearly three-hour interview with embattled University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson. It is wide-ranging, covering gender and identity, political correctness and social justice warriors, education, and religion, among much else. I do not typically recommend long videos, but this is worth watching.
The answer to Rogan's repeated question of how did the universities and society get to this caustic, anti-liberty, unreasonable, ideological time: we live in the age of feelings. Reason doesn't matter, feeling does.
Peterson has a lot of hard truths: history is bloody, most of what you'll do will fail, etc. And the former Harvard professor advises parents to send their kids to trade schools because a case could be made that "the universities do more harm than good now."

'Politics and the social media bubble'
Rick McGinnis in the December Interim on "Politics and the social media bubble." A snippet:
I wonder how much people really want to escape the echo chamber. Facebook’s great success as a media platform during this election came from allowing its readers to build and customize their echo chamber, with just enough outside noise to flatter yourself that you were getting something like an “objective” worldview. You could keep all those liberal or conservative friends and relatives in your friend list, but mute their annoying rants and shares with a simple click of the “unfollow” button. Only in the most extreme circumstances would you ever reach for the nuclear option of the Facebook “block” and banish someone to the status of Facebook persona non grata.
And like so much of the internet, it makes it so much easier to forget that you’re dealing with actual people some of whom you might actually like. I didn’t keep close tabs, but by the morning of Nov. 9, I knew that I’d lost at least one friend. It wasn’t just a Facebook “friend” either, but someone who I knew and liked, the husband of an old friend. We’d been to their house and even spent a weekend at their cottage. We knew that our politics didn’t exactly overlap, but up until this election I’d assumed that we could always keep this difference amicable. After all, it was only politics.
His real-life acquaintance unfriended him.

Obama returns to familiar theme: blame Fox News
Rolling Stone interviewed President Barack Obama. This stood out:
RS: You think it’s still a progressive country?
BO: I think that nothing is determined, but that the number of people who have a strong belief in a fair, just, equal, inclusive America is the majority and is growing.
And part of the challenge, though, that we do have, and this is something that I’ve been chewing on for a while now, is that there is a cohort of working-class white voters that voted for me in sizable numbers, but that we’ve had trouble getting to vote for Democrats in midterm elections. In this election, [they] turned out in huge numbers for Trump. And I think that part of it has to do with our inability, our failure, to reach those voters effectively. Part of it is Fox News in every bar and restaurant in big chunks of the country, but part of it is also Democrats not working at a grassroots level, being in there, showing up, making arguments.
Obama's next answer is about all the good things his administration has done for workers and families in Michigan and that somehow there is a communications problem. It isn't a communications problem. Many Americans got the message loud and clear that culturally the Left is against them. Obama can't admit this because it would undermine his message that the majority of Americans still support his Social Justice Warrior progressive vision for the country. Pocketbook issues are important, but so are values.
Blaming Fox or social media for obstructing the work of Obama's Ministry of Truth was how Barack Obama started his eight-year reign.

The New York Times has a wonderful feature on how the Fidel Castro obituary was written, edited, re-written, re-worked, and re-written numerous times over more than five decades. Sixteen contributors take part in this feature -- all of whom had a hand in the final obituary in some way -- and its a glimpse into how the Times (and papers like the Daily Telegraph and London Times) prepare obits.
Bill MacDonald, the obituaries editor, writes:
Fidel Castro’s obituary cost us more man/woman hours over the years than any piece we’ve ever run.
Every time there was a rumor of death, we’d pull the obit off the shelf, dust it off, send it back to the writer, Tony DePalma, for any necessary updates, maybe add a little more polish here and there and then send it on to be copy-edited and made ready — yet again — for publication.
My biggest worry was that when the day finally came, we’d get word at, say, 10 o’clock on a Saturday night and literally have to stop the presses in the middle of the run for the Sunday paper and somehow, on the fly, shoehorn all those thousands of words into it. (Ugh.)
As it happened, the timing worked out fine: too late for the Saturday paper but right on the money for the full Sunday run, and of course digital readers had it with their Saturday morning coffee.
I should admit that as the editor of a monthly paper, I have the same thoughts (nightmares) about news happening at inconvenient times in our production schedule. The news doesn't wait for print deadlines.
Anthony DePalma was the bylined author of the obituary. He has a longer contribution, but this recollection when he wrote an Americas column in 2000 provides yet another insight on how the obituary end of the paper is run:
The obituaries editor, Chuck Strum, knowing of my interest in Latin America, asked me to take a look at an obit for Fidel that had been started but never completed. I accepted the assignment and, starting from scratch, wrote the first draft by the end of 2000. I have been updating it ever since.
After Fidel took sick in 2008, rumors often circulated about his death, and a frantic call from the obit desk usually followed. On one of those occasions, there was so much static on social media that the editors pulled out the obit and set it on the print page. Of course it was a false alarm, and we were glad that it was. The Times had just recently changed the dimensions of the paper, and at the last minute we discovered that the layout prepared for the larger broadsheet no longer fit the smaller page size.
We’ve been updating it regularly.

On the Trump cabinet
NRO's Jim Geraghty on President-Elect Donald Trump's cabinet announcements so far:
We may quibble with a few here and there, but overall it’s a really good group, particularly considering the perceived limited circle of connections and talent around Trump during the campaign. By and large, this is a pretty darn conservative cabinet, and one that’s sufficiently experienced, professional, and knowledgeable, prepared for the massive tasks before them. In fact, if any of the other 16 Republican presidential candidates had won, it’s easy to picture some of these same names appearing in those alternative Republican cabinets.
And some of the more troubling names -- Chris Christie, Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, maybe even Ben Carson -- originally being mentioned as cabinet-material have not been given jobs in the cabinet (although they might still get formal or informal roles in the administration).
Conservative and competent is a combination that many Trump critics within the party assumed would not be possible. That said, it is not universally great; Erick Erickson has raised some fair criticisms of Steve Mnuchin at the Treasury post.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016
What I'm reading
1. Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School by Stuart Jeffries. This is the book I have been waiting for on Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse and Jürgen Habermas. At least in theory. I didn't think a readable biography of these individuals and their ideas was ever going to be published. I am glad I was wrong.
2. Canada Always: The Defining Speeches of Sir Wilfrid Laurier by Arthur Milnes
3. Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650 by Carlos M. N. Eire. I get that sweeping histories are going to be long, but I find I can read a 900-page book in about the same amount of time I take to read a 400-page book because I begin to peruse large portions. Not sure I'm learning much that I didn't already know from my senior seminar course on Reformation history in university, although it reminds me of a fair bit that I have long forgotten.
4. A Culture of Growth: The Origins of the Modern Economy by Joel Mokyr. A tough slog. I wanted to enjoy this book but am not.
5. "The Human Freedom Index 2016," an important annual report published by numerous think tanks and spear-headed by the folks at the Cato Institute.
6. "2015 Tax Competitiveness Report: Canada is Losing its Attractiveness," a University of Calgary School of Public Policy research paper by Philip Bazel and Jack Mintz
7. "The Cost of Poverty in Toronto," a brief report by John Stapleton's Open Policy Ontario consultancy.

Reading Stephen Marche
Stephen Marche is an unpleasant little essayist and pundit. He deals in caricature rather than facts. If you watched last month's The Agenda on the first anniversary of Justin Trudeau's election victory or the same program's show earlier this month on whether liberal smugness contributed to Donald Trump's presidential win, you saw his fellow liberals correct him (and then saw him a little less enthusiastic in making his partisan points). In both episodes. You can't trust him to report the facts. So when you read his overwrought essay in the New York Times about Muskrat Falls in the shadow of the relationship between Justin Trudeau and Canada's "First Nations" or aboriginal population, you have to stop and wonder: is this true? One example:
Since Mr. Trudeau’s election a year ago, changes grand and subtle have been made. At Toronto schools, morning announcements begin with recognizing the original settlers of the land. “I would like to acknowledge that this school is situated upon traditional territories,” it begins, before establishing which peoples the territories belonged to (in Toronto’s case, the Mississaugas of the New Credit), and concluding, “I also recognize the enduring presence of aboriginal peoples on this land.”
Just this paragraph raises a few issues. Education is a provincial responsibility and largely locally run by regional school boards. The federal government -- Justin Trudeau's government -- has almost nothing to do with it. Marche is wrong to insinuate that Trudeau is responsible for this. Yes, "since Mr. Trudeau's election last year" the Toronto District School Board has instituted a three-paragraph pro-First Nations announcement for all of its 588 schools, but there is no indication that it was inspired by the country's new prime minister or that the PM had any role in it at all. None at all.
Marche plays fast and loose with the facts, so you can't believe what you read in a longish essay like the one the Times just published. All too often, he seems more concerned about making pro-Trudeau (and anti-Harper) points than he does in getting his story correct.

Against the $15/hr minimum wage
The American Enterprise Institute's Mark Perry has collected videos of stories of small business owners of bookstores, diners, and childcare centers who have closed or relocated because they can't afford to pay their employees $15 per hour. Minimum wage hurts small business owners with low margins and low-skill labour. No one has ever answered my question: why is it better to lose a job that pays $15/hour than to have a job that pays less?

The future: good or bad?
James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute interviews Chris Kurtarna, co-author of Age of Discovery: Navigating the Risks and Rewards of Our New Renaissance, about the future and whether we should be optimistic or pessimistic about the disruption that technology will bring. I thought this was especially important:
Pethokoukis: So if we’re not seeing gains in very large parts of the economy, then we’re not going to see productivity gains in the economy overall.
Kurtarna: Correct. But my broader thesis actually is that, you know, if the question is about innovation and is it dazzling or is it dismal, then I think we actually need to start going beyond productivity statistics that are by their nature confined within the economy. Some of the innovations that we’re talking about that science is going to put forward over the next 10, 20, 30 years frankly have implications far beyond our economic systems. So let me give you one –
So let me sort of –I spend a lot of time in a great thought shop at Oxford called the Oxford Martin School, which has, you know, typical Oxford humility. Our mandate is to solve humanity’s global challenges in the 21st century, right?
We talked to the science communities there. And they would say, you know, the big innovations that drove so much productivity in the early 20th century — the combustion engine, commercial aviation, germ theory, plumbing — that was all based on pretty easy science. Now, we have the tools, because of our computers, to go after the hard questions in reality. Computers are more impactful to astronomy than the telescope ever was and more impactful to biology than the invention of the microscope. So science is certainly in a moment of discovery at the base of a very steep learning curve.
And we could just think of one example which maybe is going to affect humanity most profoundly, which is synthetic biology, right? We are getting very good at unpacking DNA and what it means in systems biology, getting a sense of how genetic code relates to the behaviors of the organisms. We are already at a point where we can genetically modify yeast so that instead of turning sugar into alcohol, it turns sugar into painkiller medication, which depending on your point of view is a good or a bad thing.
We have the technology to start aggressively tinkering with humanity. Should we help nature to evolve a more advanced form of us? We’re getting close to the point of asking that question. As a society, we are very far from having the wisdom or even the institutions to think about how we ought to answer that question. Right now, different societies are moving in different directions on it. In China, they’re moving aggressively with human genetic modification. I mean, this has the potential to divide us more profoundly than our economics ever has. Will we give birth to the transhuman? This is no longer science fiction. This is the frontier of where science is heading down the road.
And so to bring that one example back to the economic argument, it’s not clear to me that the productivity statistics are ever going to help us recognize that kind of technological disruption as it comes to us. This is a far more profound ethical question about what do we do with these powers that we’re creating.
There are similar deep questions to ask about artificial intelligence which has the potential not only to displace half of the workforce, but also as the Internet of Things comes online, has the processing power to make transparent the social cost of private actions that right now we’re ignorant of. There’s going to be a very strong argument in 25 years for a far more paternalistic form of government that knows better, when society knows better than we do individually about the cost of our behaviors.
So those are just a couple of examples of how technology is going to interact with society in the next 20, 30, 40 years and present the most difficult challenges that we’ve ever faced as a civilization, even though the economic consequences, frankly, are going to be a side effect or an aftermath of sort of the main stage of the issue.
This (long) answer has a lot to unpack, but Kurtana raises numerous important issues about not only how we will cope with technological disruption and transhumanism (to name two), but our ability to handle how to decide to cope with these changes.

The Left vs. a ban on flag-burning
Once you've decided that micro-aggressions, "misgendering," and "hurtful" chalking can be punished, what ground do you have to stand on when criticizing Donald Trump for wanting to outlaw flag-burning? Sure it’s a dumb and unconstitutional idea, but Dems have been on board with lots of those where speech is concerned.
I mean, pretty much the entire Democratic party supports overturning Citizens United — a case in which a filmmaker faced punishment for criticizing Hillary Clinton — so what free speech principles are they invoking now?
I totally agree with Glenn Reynolds on this.

Monday, November 28, 2016
Clonal meat
The M.I.T. Technology Review has an article about a promising agri-food technology:
Mozdziak is an expert in growing avian muscle cells in a lab flask. That obscure corner of research recently landed the North Carolina State University professor of poultry science at the cutting-edge of “cellular agriculture,” or the idea that animal protein could be manufactured in bioreactors rather than by animals.
The technology, also known as in vitro meat cultivation, may sound strange. But it has been drawing a following of environmentalists, animal-rights activists, and investors who think meat can be made by biotech companies rather than on farms.
There is a little bit of boosterism in the article: theoretically "one cell could turn into enough muscle to manufacture over 20 trillion turkey nuggets." The benefits are enormous (if sometimes oversold), including being able to feed more people with less land and saving animals from the cruelty inherent in mass farming. Even a modest success, however, could reap widespread benefits in providing protein to a growing population, not to mention vegetarians opposed to meat for ethical reasons. The costs have to come down ("lab-grown meat is still far from being economical"), but at one point televisions, computers, and air travel were luxuries; as the technology improves, the price will decrease.
Another obstacle is the ick-factor. If anti-GMO activists have successfully frightened people about harmless genetically modified crops, imagine what they'll do with this advance ("Frankenfood"?)?

The futility of the US election recount
The Wall Street Journal editorializes on the recount effort ("a progressive gambit to raise money from the gullible, or perhaps to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election") that has little chance of success: "Mr. Trump leads in 30 states with 306 electoral votes, and he would have to lose all three contested states to lose the election. He leads by some 71,000 votes in Pennsylvania, a little more than 20,000 in Wisconsin, and by nearly 11,000 in Michigan." Even if you think one of those states can be turned around -- and 11,000 votes is actually quite a lot -- it is inconceivable that it will occur in all three states. And if they were, imagine what it does to the U.S. public, increasing cynicism in the electoral process and entrenching division. It is time to move on.
The Journal's glass-is-half-full view is that this provides a useful civics lesson and a warning against a favourite policy of Democrats:
The silver lining may be to teach a lesson in electoral federalism. It’s all but impossible for hackers to rig U.S. elections because they are run locally and voting machines aren’t connected to a national internet network, as Hans von Spakovsky and John Fund explained on these pages in September. Progressives, not conservatives, want to nationalize election laws.

Against buying local
Steven Horwitz makes the case against buying local at the Foundation for Economic Education:
Is there a moral or economic case for shopping local ... There is not. Many of the same arguments made by progressives in favor of shopping local are the same as those made by Trump and his supporters in favor of what they call “economic nationalism.” For the same reasons that shopping local isn’t morally or economically superior to buying from chains and big boxes, neither is buying “Made in the USA.” The most moral and economic choice is to buy from whomever you want based on your preferences about price, service, or any other number of factors.
He explains:
The moral and economic cases against buying local are intertwined. Consider the argument that buying local is better because buying from Walmart or Target doesn’t keep money and jobs in the local community. This argument ignores that the average Walmart Supercenter employs around 400 people and the numbers are similar for Target. Those jobs continue to exist because people shop at those stores. The hundreds employed at any given big box store are just as much members of the local community as are the owners of the small business that compete with the big boxes.
To the extent that the prices at the big box stores are cheaper, they enable those who shop there to have income left over to spend on other goods and services, including things from locally-owned businesses, creating jobs that would not exist otherwise. If we only shopped from locally-owned businesses, we would be paying higher prices and overall employment and incomes would be lower. Plus, consumers would not have access to the variety of goods available at chain and big box stores, forcing them to not only spend more but get less value for it.
We see economists and economically oriented conservatives/libertarians make this sort of argument all the time. I have taken a different tact, and finally someone shares my view (although Horowitz doesn't quite describe it the same way): buying local and trade protectionism are both inherently bigoted. Horowitz explains:
It is not clear why people more near to us geographically should have moral weight than those further away. Given the choice between helping a middle-class small businesswoman in our neighborhood or increasing the chances of better employment at a higher wage for much poorer men and women in China, why should we believe that the former is necessarily morally superior?
If human beings deserve our moral consideration by virtue of their humanity, and if those who are worse off economically are deserving of more such consideration, then it would seem that if there is a moral case for anything, it’s for buying in ways that help the least well-off, regardless of their nationality or ethnicity.
What's odd is that the progressive Left is the one usually making the case for discriminating against foreigners.

Consensus candidates
Writing in the Globe and Mail, academic and political veteran Tom Flanagan looks at how the rules of the Conservative Party leadership contest might affect the outcome, noting there are two ways a contender can win in a multi-candidate, preferential ballot: first-count victory or become the consensus candidate. He says Kellie Leitch's strategy of aggressively pushing immigrant-screening suggests she is going for broke to win on the first ballot. It's a high-risk, high-reward strategy. The publicity sets her apart, but also makes her a target. In the consensus model, candidates look at making formal alliances or signalling mutual support to win on subsequent counts of the preferential ballot. A benefit can be that it naturally builds post-convention consensus for whoever is victorious. However, Flanagan says that "the qualities needed to build internal consensus do not always lead to victory over other parties." Flanagan notes that Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau both won their respective leaderships on the first ballot and went on to become prime minister, while former Alberta Progressive Conservative leader Alison Redford (who served briefly as the province's premier) and former Liberal leader Stephane Dion won on later ballots with the support of other candidates and are considered political failures.

Sunday, November 27, 2016
Best comment on the political rise of the alt-right
A. Barton Hinkle writes about the Left's election post-mortem in the Richmond Times-Dispatch and makes an observation about the media's newest bogeyman, the alt-right:
The movement is dangerous and needs watching; as C.S. Lewis put it in The Chronicles of Narnia, when there’s a wasp in the room you want to know where it is. But attributing Trump’s election to the alt-right is like giving credit for Barack Obama’s re-election to Rhode Island: Yes, it helped — but much bigger forces were in play.

Will on Castro's passing
George Will has a column about revolutionary Marxists in general and the Cuban revolutionary leader in particular that concludes:
Socialism is bountiful only of slogans, and a Castro favorite was “socialism or death.” The latter came to him decades after the former had made Cuba into a gray museum for a dead utopianism.

Castro-style communism survives Fidel
Ted Cruz, whose father initially supported the Fidel Castro-led revolution before being forced to flee Cuba, in National Review:
That is the true legacy of Fidel Castro — that he was able to institutionalize his dictatorship so it would survive him.
There is a real danger that we will now fall into the trap of thinking Fidel’s death represents material change in Cuba. It does not. The moment to exert maximum pressure would have been eight years ago, when his failing health forced him to pass control to his brother Raul. But, rather than leverage the transition in our favor, the Obama administration decided to start negotiations with Raul in the mistaken belief that he would prove more reasonable than his brother (an unfortunate pattern they repeated with Kim Jong-un, Hassan Rouhani, and Nicolas Maduro). Efforts to be diplomatically polite about Fidel’s death suggest the administration still hopes Raul can be brought round.
All historical evidence points to the opposite conclusion. Raul is not a “different” Castro. He is his brother’s chosen successor who has spent the last eight years implementing his dynastic plan.

Saturday, November 26, 2016
Gag-inducing tribute to Fidel Castro
As I note in my previous post, the statement by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was egregious. I found one that is worse. Irish President Michael Higgins: "Fidel Castro will be remembered as a giant among global leaders whose view was not only one of freedom for his people but for all of the oppressed and excluded peoples on the planet." Seriously?

Fidel Castro dead
Fidel Castro, the long-time ruler of the island prison known as Cuba has passed away at the age of 90. The New York Times (Cuban Revolutionary Who Defied U.S.), The Guardian ("revolutionary icon"), BBC ("Cuba registered some impressive domestic achievements"), and Reuters ("remained widely respected in parts of the world that had struggled against colonial rule") all mourn his passing. Writing in The Spectator, Andrew Roberts wonders:
Why are left-wing dictators always treated with more reverential respect when they die than right-wing ones, even on the Right? The deaths of dictators like Franco, Pinochet, Somoza are rightly noted with their history of human rights abuses front and centre, but the same treatment is not meted out to left-wing dictators who were just as monstrously cruel to people who opposed their regimes.
Et, tu, Telegraph ("Revolutionary hero")? The Independent got it right: "Cuban leader condemned as 'dictator' who presided over executions and human rights abuses."
The Wall Street Journal captures the right tone: "Fidel Castro, Former Cuban Strongman, Dies." The paper begins its story: "Cuba’s former dictator Fidel Castro has died, his brother and successor Raúl Castro said on national television late Friday, sparking mourning among some Cubans and celebration among exiles that fled his regime." The Miami Herald reports on the celebrations of the exiles:
Fidel Castro died, and Cuban Miami did what it does in times of community celebration: It spilled onto the streets of Little Havana — and Hialeah, and Kendall — to honk horns, bang pans, and set off more than a few fireworks, saved for exactly the sort of unexpected special occasion that proved worthy of their detonation.
Why celebrations. Because Cuba was a communist dictatorship. While he might have had the trains run on time delivered some measure of education and health care achievement in Cuba, he also stripped Cubans of their liberty. (Earlier this year, the Washington Post said the health care miracle is a myth, as is the country's reputation on racial equality.) And according to Tim Worstall, took a country that doing okay economically and made it poor.
Freedom House describes the Castro's dictatorship:
The Castro brothers have long dominated Cuba’s one-party political system, in which the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) controls all government offices and most civil institutions ...
All political organizing outside the PCC is illegal, and independent campaigning is not permitted. Political dissent, whether spoken or written, is a punishable offense, and dissidents are systematically harassed, detained, physically assaulted, and frequently sentenced to years of imprisonment for seemingly minor infractions. The regime has called on its neighborhood-watch groups, known as Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, to strengthen vigilance against “antisocial behavior,” a euphemism for opposition activity. This has led to the use of “acts of repudiation,” or supposedly spontaneous mob attacks, to intimidate and silence political dissidents. In recent years, dissident leaders have reported an increase in intimidation and harassment by state-sponsored groups as well as short-term detentions by state security forces.
Here are the Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch 2016 reports on Cuba's atrocious human rights record -- that's the legacy of Fidel Castro.
Yet Justin Trudeau, fan of "the basic dictatorship" of Beijing, pays his respects in a shameful statement:
"It is with deep sorrow that I learned today of the death of Cuba’s longest serving President.
“Fidel Castro was a larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century. A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation.
“While a controversial figure, both Mr. Castro’s supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for “el Comandante”.
“I know my father was very proud to call him a friend and I had the opportunity to meet Fidel when my father passed away. It was also a real honour to meet his three sons and his brother President Raúl Castro during my recent visit to Cuba.
“On behalf of all Canadians, Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to the family, friends and many, many supporters of Mr. Castro. We join the people of Cuba today in mourning the loss of this remarkable leader.”
"Legendary revolutionary." "Significant improvements." "Served his people." "Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection." "My father was very proud to call him a friend." "Remarkable leader." This is disgusting. The statement captured the attention of Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal:
UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has an admirably curt statement that signals little ambivalence about the loss of Castro. There can be little doubt when one read's Johnson's statement that "Castro’s death marks the end of an era for Cuba and the start of a new one for Cuba’s people" the British goverment believes that new era will be a better one.
Today we should remember Castro's victims and accurately recall his record of human rights abuses and economic impoverishment of Cuba. No tears should be shed for the dictator himself.

Nearly all donations to Labour from unions
The Daily Mail reports:
Unite and GMB alone accounted for 36% of the money received by the party. Labour donations amounted to just over £2 million between July 1 and September 30, according to the Electoral Commission’s register. Of that, £1.78 million came directly from trade unions, meaning 88% of all donations received by the party in the last quarter came from unions ... Under Jeremy Corbyn, trade unions have tightened their stranglehold over the Labour Party, both financially and politically.

I assume this means he's given up returning to cabinet
The Independent: "George Osborne earned over £320,000 from delivering speeches in US after losing job."

Friday, November 25, 2016
Trump's victory and pro-life
It's all about the Supreme Court. Donald Trump won because SCOTUS and he will be judged on SCOTUS. I write in the December Interim:
It certainly helped that his opponent, Democrat and feminist Hillary Clinton vowed to expand abortion in America, promising to fight for increased access and funding to both abortion and contraception and scrapping the Hyde Amendment which restricts federal funding of abortion. Long gone was the Clintonian rhetoric of the 1990s when Bill Clinton said abortion should be safe, legal, and rare; the rare portion of that line was dropped. Hillary Clinton also vowed to appoint only Supreme Court justices that supported Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that opened the door to abortion-on-demand across the country. In recent years, supreme court appointments have been contentious affairs precisely because of the issue of abortion. And indeed, the death of pro-life justice Antonin Scalia in February may have been the pivotal moment of this campaign.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R, Kentucky) refused to hold hearings on President Barack Obama’s appointment to replace the late justice, Merrick Garland, thus ensuring a central issue of the campaign would be the balance on the court. Currently, there is usually a four-four split on issues, so control of the court was important to activists on both the Left and the Right.
Trump repeatedly said he would appoint pro-life judges and took the unprecedented step of releasing a list of 21 judges, academics, and lawyers which would comprise the roster from which he would choose Scalia’s replacement. Most of the people on the list are pro-life and all of them resist judicial activism. Perhaps the best candidate is Judge William H. Pryor Jr. from the 11th Circuit Court in Atlanta, who was on George W. Bush’s shortlist for the court a decade ago. As a former Alabama attorney general, Pryor called Roe vs. Wade the “worst abomination in the history of constitutional law.”
After the election, Trump went on 60 Minutes, during which he reiterated he will appoint pro-life judges: “I’m pro-life. The judges will be pro-life.” Trump acknowledged that if the court overturned Roe it would simply mean that the abortion issue would return to the states and that some would allow it, others would restrict the procedure, and others ban abortion outright. He also said that this was far off.
Trump can appoint a new justice as soon as he’s president (assuming Barack Obama does not attempt a temporary “recess appointment” for one year), but considering the previous court with Scalia did not overturn Roe, that possibility might be another justice or two away from becoming a reality. He will almost certainly have more opportunities to do so with three current justices aged 83, 80, and 78. A 2006 Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy study reported that since 1971, the average age of retirement for a Supreme Court justice has been 78.7.
My analysis looks at Donald Trump's position on social issues and who the exit polls suggest supported the Republican presidential candidate. But the key point is about the Supreme Court.

The real problem on campus
Politically biased professors are a problem but as Instapundit observes: "the real sources of PC dictatorship on campus are the educrats — 'diversity and inclusion' offices, 'student life' deans, etc. They’re much bigger offenders than faculty." These offices attract social justice warrior-types.
Also, you should read Glenn Reynolds' USA Today column "Men to America — Thanks for nothing." There are several American trends affecting men that would be national crises if the statistical discrepancy went the other way: men make up 43% of college enrollees and are 93% of prison inmates.

Did fake news affect the election?
How does the narrative about fake news stories swinging the election in Donald Trump's favour fit the social media bubble narrative? It doesn't. Taki's Magazine's David Cole explains:
That said, is it possible that these fake news sites helped swing the election? Almost certainly not. [Fake news producer] Paul Horner admits in his WaPo interview that he purposely targeted die-hard Trump fans and not people who may have been inclined to vote for Clinton. Pretty much all of the fake news sites did the same. In other words, the hoax stories were sent to, and reposted by, people who already had their minds made up, people who were going to vote Trump regardless. There’s zero credible evidence that fake social-media stories helped sway independent voters. These phony news pieces were used in a purely masturbatory way, fetish porn sent to preexisting fetishists. Self-important dime-store agitators like Horner, who actually believe they made a difference, need to get over themselves. They’re pathetic trolls, and nothing more.
Cole also points out that the author of the Washington Post article on fake news was once a victim of a hoax story and reported a non-existent news for her paper. That little fact didn't make her story about fake news affecting the election, which is funny because reporters falling for hoaxes is about the only way to break the social media bubble deeply divided Americans find themselves in.

Thursday, November 24, 2016
'This Year, Be That Obnoxious Conservative Uncle At Thanksgiving'
Townhall's Kurt Schlichter writes:
Thanksgiving is a magical time when families gather together in a traditional celebration featuring gratitude, joyous fellowship, and the cruel mockery of insufferable millennial relatives. We are also seeing the rise of a new Thanksgiving tradition: tiresome, geek-scribbled columns about how to talk to your obnoxious conservative uncle at the dinner table that pop up every year on essential millennial websites like Vox, Salon, and Perpetual Barista.
But how about some guidance for those of us who eagerly embrace our inner obnoxious conservative uncle? Well, here are some helpful hints for when that smug tool spawned by your sister and her twitchy second husband opens up his piehole for something other than inserting pie ...
Listen intently to his list of dietary restrictions, then helpfully explain that “Your vegan option is not eating.” ...
“If he pops off about how Hillary allegedly won the popular vote, start laughing and inquire, ‘Then you mean Hillary was too dumb to win an election she won?’ Hoist your glass and call for a toast to the Electoral College.”

A Thanksgiving message
Tyler Cowen: "Whether you admit it or not, you have much to be thankful for. For one thing, agricultural productivity is higher today than ever before ..." Cowen posts an illustration to prove his point.

Four NFL Games to watch (Week 12)
Honourable mention: Pittsburgh Steelers (5-5) at Indianapolis Colts (5-5): All three Thanksgiving Day games are worth watching. Potentially dynamic Steelers offense against the anemic defense of the Colts could mean fireworks. Both teams are second in their respective divisions, which they probably need to win to make the playoffs as the wild cards look like they could both go to the AFC West. If Andrew Luck is healthy, there's a chance this game is top four. Steelers beat the Colts easily if Luck is out, but eke our a win if Indy's star QB plays.
4. Green Bay Packers (4-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (5-5): The Monday Night contest features two teams that hurt their playoff chances significantly in Week 11 with losses to the Washington Redskins and Seattle Seahawks respectively. The Packers have the third worst NFC record, but during their current four-game losing streak have scored at least 24 points in each contest while giving up at least 31. There should be lots of scoring in this game. Green Bay's Sunday night contest against the 'Skins saw the two teams combine for 34 fourth-quarter points. The Eagles have a dominant defense, so the Pack will have trouble scoring. Philly's offense seems to have regressed a little since the beginning of the season, but the injury-savaged Green Bay secondary could help us all remember Carson Wentz's heydays of early 2016. Eagles win to keep their playoff hopes alive and bury Green Bay's.
3. Minnesota Vikings (6-4) at Detroit Lions (6-4): Turkey Day's opening contest and for once it matters, and for both teams. Detroit currently leads the NFC North by virtue of its victory against Minnesota earlier this month. If the Lions beat the Vikes, not only are they a game up on Minnesota, they have the head-to-head tie-breaker in their favour. If the Vikings win, they will hold the (current) tie-breaker and would be atop the division. Minnesota broke a four-game losing streak against the disappointing Arizona Cardinals by returning to their pre-slump winning formula: flukey defensive scores (second-quarter, game-swinging, 100-yard pick six) and unexciting offensive efficiency. Vikes WR Stefon Diggs is capable of highlight-reel plays (although he might not play), but there isn't that much else to thrill fans from the Minnesota side. Matthew Stafford's offense can light it up for the home fans. The Lions have trailed at some point during the final quarter in every game this season so the are capable of produce winning drives. Minnesota's formula for winning is unsustainable, so expect Detroit to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the division.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (7-3) at Denver Broncos (7-3): Winner gets a huge leg up in the wild card and improves their chances of taking the division from the Oakland Raiders. The Broncos get a slew of players back from injury coming off their bye week. The Chiefs are a little banged up. The Broncos have the second best D according to Football Outsiders, but their offense is ranked 26th. The O-line needs to keep Trevor Siemian upright; Denver's quarterbacks have been under too much pressure and the Chiefs are good at bringing pressure. That said, the Chiefs have scored two or fewer TDs in six of Alex Smith's eight games, so Denver might not need to put a lot of points on the board with their dominant defense. The Sunday night atmosphere in Denver will be playoff-like. Denver wins at home, and take the under whatever it is.
1. Washington Redskins (6-3-1) at Dallas Cowboys (9-1): This is a contest of arguably the two hottest teams in the NFL: Dallas has a franchise record nine-game winning streak while Washington is 6-1-1 since starting 0-2. Gotta figure that the 'Boys will be securing the NFC East with a victory. The 'Skins give themselves a chance to win the division by beating Dallas. The 'Skins are potent offensively, averaging 418.5 ypg total offense (2nd overall), including more than 300 in the air. That doesn't always translate to points, as they average 25.4 ppg, good for ninth in the league. Kirk Cousins distributes his throws among a deep and diverse cast of receivers in what is, frankly, a pleasing style to watch even if you have no rooting interests in the game. The superficially improved Cowboys defense -- slightly below average traditional numbers, but 25th ranked defense according to the advanced metrics of Football Outsiders -- faces one of their toughest challenges so far this season. But Dallas can win shootouts. The Cowboys have the best overall offense and last week showed that they can air the ball themselves (Dak Prescott had more than 300 passing yards) when opposing teams "stop" their running game (Zeke Elliott had just 97 rushing yards against the Baltimore Ravens). Washington's run defense is atrocious (31st in rushing yards per attempt) so we should see a fair bit of Elliott carrying the ball for explosive plays. Dallas wins their tenth in a row.

O'Leary still considering running for Conservative leadership
The Globe and Mail reports that TV reality star and mouthpiece for unrestrained capitalism Kevin O'Leary has reached out to potential campaign staff and fundraisers. He says that the U.S. has become a competitor and not just a partner now that Donald Trump has been elected president and says that Justin Trudeau isn't up to the job of protecting Canada's economic interests in a competition with America. The Globe reports:
As part of his leadership discussions, he recently met with Martin Goldfarb, the federal Liberal Party’s pollster between 1973 and 1992 and a key adviser to former prime minister Pierre Trudeau.
Mr. Goldfarb confirmed the meeting took place a few days ago but said he has “no interest in doing anything with Kevin O’Leary.”
“He came to see me about fundraising and whether I would be interested in running his campaign. And I said, ‘Not in a million years,’” Mr. Goldfarb told The Globe and Mail.
Mr. Goldfarb said he believes Mr. O’Leary is serious about running. When asked if he’s a credible candidate, he said, “In today’s world, who knows? … There’s no such thing as an ‘uncredible’ candidate after they elect Trump.
I must admit the idea of O'Leary running, let alone winning, seems less far-fetched today than it did a month ago.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016
What I'm reading
1. Trudeau's Canada: Truth and Consequences by Philip C. Bom. I reckon this brief 1977 offering is the 50th book by or about Pierre Trudeau that I've read. Bom says PET is a radical socialist but not a communist.
2. The Habsburg Empire: A New History by Pieter M. Judson. Came out earlier this year, just getting to it now. It's been a while since I've read much about the Hapsburg Empire, but it seems a little revisionist, depicting the Central European patchwork of nations as a force for modernity.
3. "How are Canadians Really Doing," the 2016 Canadian Index of Wellbeing national report.
4. "Apprenticeships: Useful Alternative, Tough to Implement," a Cato Institute Policy analysis by Gail Heriot. She's says it is difficult to do in the U.S. without adding pro-union, pro-licensing regulations. Difficult but not impossible.
5. "Working Without a Net: Rethinking Canada’s social policy in the new age of work," a Mowat Center study by Sunil Johal and Jordann Thirgood
6. "Injecting Some Healthy Competition Into Canadian Health Care," a Macdonald-Laurier Institute report by Mark Ronayne and Dr. Richard Audas

UK Autumn Statement
Phillip Hammond released his Autumn Statement today. ConservativeHome has a nice summary of the headline announcements. There are larger than expected budget deficits (compared to the March budget), leading the government to scrap plan to return to balance by 2020/2021. In fact, there is £122bn more deficit spending over the next five years, partly due to economic uncertainty surrounding Brexit. There is new spending for the National Productivity Investment Fund and to lessen the impact of the reductions in the value of Universal Credit announced earlier this year. The May government commits to the 0.7% foreign aid goal. There is also new money for housing and research. Somewhat worrying for conservatives, the government is increasing the country's national "living wage" 30 p to to £7.50 an hour. The only new budget revenue is a 20% increase in the tax on insurance premiums. The best news is that Hammond is ending the autumn statement, effectively ending the unnecessary political theatre of a second mini-budget each year.

Trump critic is Trump's new UN ambassador
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, 44, released a statement: "Our country faces enormous challenges here at home and internationally, and I am honored that the President-elect has asked me to join his team and serve the country we love as the next Ambassador to the United Nations." She doesn't have foreign policy experience but is considered to hold typically hawkish GOP views on defense and international issues. She is the first woman and first non-white appointed to a cabinet-level job, but it should be noted that ambassadors have relatively little discretion -- they take orders, not make decisions.
The Washington Post reports on a possible political angle to the appointment:
If confirmed, Haley would be replaced by South Carolina’s Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster, a top Trump ally. His ascension is seen inside of Trump’s inner circle as a welcome consequence of her departure, the person said — a way to promote them both.
Is Trump Machiavellian enough to scrap her in year with this whole plum post actually a way to punish her, to get her out of the way, and promote a supporter?

The Guardian reports that left-wing academics and activists are calling for a recount in three states, suggesting voting irregularities where electronic voting occurred, compared to paper ballots. The paper hints at possible foreign intervention, but provides zero evidence. Polling guru Nate Silver has responded that Donald Trump's vote totals in some of the supposed counties of concern fall within a normal level of variation compared to counties that have paper ballots.
Now imagine if Hillary Clinton had won and Donald Trump or Breitbart raised these issues. CNN and the New York Times and The Guardian would be irate, condemning the bitter clingers, losers hoping against hope for an electoral reversal of fortune.

Bipartisan cabinet?
The New York Times reports that two Democrats are being considered for cabinet posts: Michelle Rhee, an education reformer who ran Washington DC schools and met with the President-Elect yesterday, and former Congressman Harold Ford of Kentucky, may get the Education and Transportation departments respectively. Rhee would be a good choice, although I recall candidate Donald Trump promising to abolish the federal Department of Education.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Hammond's autumn statement
The Sun reports on Chancellor of Exchequer Phillip Hammond and the autumn statement today:
Theresa May has ordered the Treasury to soften the blow of George Osborne’s eye-watering benefits cuts on the poorest workers. Chancellor Philip Hammond will reverse some of the £3.4bn axe that his predecessor took to Universal Credit in his mini-budget on Wednesday, The Sun can reveal. The move will halt up to three million of the most needy losing £1,000 from their annual income. Taking the cash away from the work allowance element of Universal Credit reduces the incentive to stay in work, putting the landmark new benefits overhaul at risk of failure. But a fresh squeeze on the nation’s poorest workers, with inflation also now rising again, has prompted a major rethink.
Alex Wild, Research Director at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, calls for an end to the autumn statement:
The first thing the Chancellor should say tomorrow is that his will be the last ever Autumn Statement. Having two major fiscal events a year creates uncertainty and is not conducive to good policy-making. In its current form as another major political event, it merely creates another opportunity for chancellors to add complexity to the tax system for short-term gain. If recent reports are to be believed, fiddly tax reliefs for the film industry were insisted upon because there was a good gag to accompany them – if that is true, it’s a sad indictment of how these events are used for quick scores in the media.

The not cabinet material
The Right Scoop reports that Ben Carson might end up being Secretary for Housing and Urban Development, if Donald Trump's tweets are to be believed. Some are surprised he'd get HUD and not Health and Human Services; I have always thought he'd be kept out of cabinet and given the Surgeon General's job and the bully pulpit that comes with it. I'm not sold on Carson being anywhere near the administration in a formal capacity.
In the same story, the Right Scoop also reports on the chances of Sarah Palin making the cabinet, noting:
“I know that they’re close and that she’s been a great, loyal friend and adviser to him throughout the campaign, but I haven’t seen her as part of the cabinet mix,” Kellyanne Conway told Fox News’ “The Kelly File” on Monday night.
Conway quickly added: “But that doesn’t mean that she’s not.”
Right Scoop speculates:
I expect Trump found out very quickly just how his ardent fans felt about Sarah Palin when he had her on the campaign trail and that might have something to do with her not being considered at this point. Or maybe he thinks she has too much baggage for his administration to carry or she’ll be too much of a target by the left.
Or she's not competent.
Donald Trump probably doesn't care about whether she'll win accolades from Democrats and the media. And he probably doesn't want cabinet ministers who will steal the limelight. But most of all he will eschew incompetence.

More minimum sentences struck down in Canada
The Globe and Mail reports:
Justice Maria Linhares de Sousa of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice gave a sentence of seven months in jail and two years’ probation to 50-year-old man found guilty of sexual interference for fondling the breasts of a 15-year-old girl. In her ruling, the judge called the law that established the mandatory minimum for the offence unconstitutional, saying one year would be grossly excessive in “reasonable hypothetical” cases, although not in the one currently before her.
Several points.
1) Courts should rule on real cases not "reasonable hypothetical" ones.
2) Is a one-year minimum sentence for sexual interference really grossly excessive?
3) I'm no fan of minimum sentences for numerous reasons: they do not give judges the discretion their job requires in some cases, studies show they tend to lead juries to find the accused not guilty or guilty of lesser crimes, and contrary to the claims of their proponents there is little evidence minimum sentences deter crime. That said, creating reasonable minimum sentences is within the purview of legislatures and not the courts. The debate is over reasonable, and the difference between one year and something less should not trouble the courts; a 20-year minimum for sexual interference would probably be excessive and therefore unconstitutional. A policy may be unwise and still constitutional.
4) Decisions like Justice Linhares' is what leads to the public losing confidence in the judiciary and courts, a sentiment that feeds the political response of mandatory minimum sentences.

America and racism
Kathy Shaidle at Taki's Magazine:
What if eight years of Obama’s affirmative-action incompetence, arrogance, and antiwhite animus turned some formerly color-blind Americans racist?
We’ve all noticed that black vs. white racial animus has increased dramatically during the reign of the great “healer” Barack. So why can’t we take this observation to its logical conclusion and admit that antiblack feelings must have increased too, and that this was surely reflected in votes for Trump? (Or, more accurately, against Black Lives Matter enabler Hillary Clinton.)
I didn’t say “celebrating.” I said “admitting.”
The Hope-and-Change President produced increased racial animus and Donald Trump. That's what happens when the country hires a race huckster for its most important elected position.
Also, Shaidle correctly wonders why swastika graffiti is assumed to be pro-Trump considering his philo-Semitism. I personally don't get why his election is considered a victory for so-called homophobes when he is the first person entering the presidency as pro-gay marriage. It's probably (further) evidence that the Left mindlessly throws every -ism and -phobia together.

Remember when the Left criticized those on the Right for using Barack Obama's middle name*
The Washington Examiner reports that the Left is referring to Donald Trump's choice for Attorney General by his full name: Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III. The Alabama senator is reportedly named after both Confederate President [sic] Jefferson Davis and Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard; even if he was named after two leaders within the confederacy that hardly means he is sympathetic to separatist south in 2016. But as Daniel Allott says, the Democrat double-standard has a consistency to it: "When Republicans use Obama's middle name, it's proof of Republican racism. When Democrats use Republicans' middle names it's also proof of Republican racism."
* Hussein.

Election commentary = hate crime
As David Thompson at Small Dead Animals notes, "Pink Post-It Note Causes Campus Meltdown. Local police now involved." Admittedly, the tiny piece of paper had "Suck it up, pussies" on it. Then again, it occurred at something called Edgewood College.

Monday, November 21, 2016
Take that New Yorkers
Marc Ambinder writes in the Washington Post about how President-Elect Donald Trump's plan to spend weekends in the Big Apple is going to affect his neighbours:
Donald Trump is a creature of New York. He ran against Washington and called it “a swamp.” During his campaign, he often flew home late at night so he could wake up in his own bed. His 10-year-old son is enrolled in a Manhattan private school. So it’s no wonder Trump is reportedly considering spending time in New York whenever he is able — presumably on weekends.
If so, his home, in the penthouse of Trump Tower, on W. 56th Street and Fifth Avenue, will be the epicenter of an iron curtain that will wall off much of Midtown from the rest of the city. Creating a permanent, sterile environment inside a 58-story, multi-occupancy building on one of the busiest streets in one of the busiest cities in the world poses an unprecedented challenge for the Secret Service and the military.
No city on Earth is better prepared to host a presidential visit than New York: The police department works seamlessly with the Secret Service these days, and Manhattanites are used to traffic jams. But to accommodate a more regular presidential presence, the daily routines of ordinary New Yorkers who live in, work near or commute through a five- to 10-block radius of Trump Tower will change. They will not be able to move freely; sometimes they won’t be able to move at all. Whenever a president moves, everything nearby freezes ...
[S]hielding Trump from harm is only one of many objectives. Ensuring that he can communicate with the military, world leaders, Congress and the American people at all times is just as vital, and these goals exponentially increase the number of people, objects and systems that surround a modern president.
Regarding Trump Tower, Ambinder writes:
From now until the end of Trump’s presidency, everyone who enters and exits the building will have to be vetted by the Secret Service, even if the Trumps aren’t there. At the very least, their names will be run through agency threat databases. The service will want to inspect every package that goes into the building and will insist that staffers — at every shop, restaurant and residence — be scanned with a hand-held magnetometer, which detects hidden metal. When Trump is there, all of their personal effects will probably be checked by bomb-detection dogs, too.
Trump’s office is about 30 floors below his apartment. In between and below are residences and offices owned or leased by other people, who have rights that the city and state of New York are obligated to enforce. (For instance, the federal government can’t evict or move tenants at will.) Celebrities such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Bruce Willis, who keep apartments in the building, will find themselves living in Trump’s bubble.
The Secret Service has a special unit that will defend Trump Tower’s electronic and cyber architecture from electronic attack. Occupants might have to surrender some privacy as agents look to monitor incoming phone calls and even Internet traffic.
In the city, there is likely to be constant surveillance of the places Trump likes to frequent and for tourists, "Weekend helicopter tours of the city are probably now a pleasure of the past." And expect delays at the airport as all air traffic is frozen for 15 minutes prior to a president landing.

Thinking about nature
In the November Interim, Rick McGinnis writes about how nature doesn't give a damn about people (with stories of careless lad being mauled to death by grizzlies and a young man who succumbed to "superheated, acidic water") before waxing philosophical:
There’s nothing new about our fascination with nature, or the deep identification with its alleged perfection and spiritual qualities, which began – tellingly – when industrialization started the migration of people from the country to cities, and had got its first philosophical justification from the French-Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who celebrated the idea of the natural man or the “noble savage,” free of the shackles of civilization.
It’s worth arguing that the secularization of the western world began with Martin Luther and Henry VIII, but Rousseau was the man who kicked the big hole in the dam that would soon sweep religion from the public square, and now we live in a world where the spiritual realm is being returned to the forests and rivers where our pagan ancestors saw them, and the environmental movement invokes the fear of nature’s wrath in new laws and regulations.
I do not consider this a good thing ...
There is no morality in nature, where utility is the only yardstick by which success – and survival – is measured. It’s no surprise that, as we’ve transposed our spiritual longings from religion to nature, our laws are striving to justify the utility of murdering the weak and the innocent. We’re entering a wild, dangerous place, and we’re ignoring the signs.

Obama: the guest who wouldn't leave
The Associated Press reports:
President Barack Obama said Sunday he doesn't intend to become his successor's constant critic - but reserved the right to speak out if President-elect Donald Trump or his policies breach certain "values or ideals."
Offering a rare glimpse into his thoughts on his post-presidency, Obama suggested once he was out of office he would uphold the tradition of ex-presidents stepping aside quietly to allow their successors space to govern. He heaped praise on former President George W. Bush, saying he "could not have been more gracious to me when I came in" and said he wanted to give Trump the same chance to pursue his agenda "without somebody popping off" at every turn.
But Obama suggested there may be limits to his silence.
"As an American citizen who cares deeply about our country, if there are issues that have less to do with the specifics of some legislative proposal or battle or go to core questions about our values and ideals, and if I think that it's necessary or helpful for me to defend those ideals, I'll examine it when it comes," Obama told reporters.
The policy versus values distinction is meaningless, because everything is a core question about values and ideals. His presence in the nation's capital ensures that either directly (interviews) or indirectly (leaks), the Obamas will get their views aired criticisms reported. We knew this was coming when the Obamas announced they weren't leaving Washington.
This is atrocious and entirely unexpected. There are any number of non-exclusive reasons the Obamas think the country needs his continued two cents.
1) He is attempting to stay relevant. It is difficult to go from one of the most powerful people in the world to has-been.
2) Most politicians have enormous egos. Obama considers himself uniquely qualified to oppose Donald Trump (we've already seen this in the subtle lecturing of the President-Elect). Obama believes America needs him, but really he needs the spotlight.
3) Obama looks around the Democrat Party and the Left in general and sees it lacking the stature or smarts to oppose Donald Trump.
4) Keep the Obama name in the public consciousness so that Michelle or one of the kids can run for public office in the future.
5) Obama has nothing better to do. I don't mean he lacks competence to reinvent himself like Bill Clinton did as the head of a globally important foundation (while serving the former president's family's political interests). Obama considers politics the highest calling and can't let it go.
I feel less sorry for Donald Trump than I do the Democrat Party and the Left which will both have to live in the shadow of the former president.

Driving for Uber and nature's call
The Ringer's Molly McHugh:
Recently, my colleague Allison P. Davis had her own Uber urine jar encounter. She was about to exit an unusually horrible Uber Pool ride that included fried chicken and a backseat argument, when her purse strap snagged on something under her seat. As she pulled it, a jar came tumbling out and spilled. “I said, ‘Oh I’m sorry! I knocked over your…’” and stopped speaking as she realized what it was, making eye contact with the driver. They both knew. They said nothing to each other. She shut the door and walked away from a pee-soaked passenger seat floor.
At first, this sounds like a funny, if stomach-turning story. It’s not — it’s depressing and revealing. The intense working conditions of the ridesharing market — and the sharing economy in general — are often forgotten, while issues about consumer safety and pricing grab the headlines.
Cab drivers, of course, faced the bathroom break issue for years. And just this month, a BBC report found that Amazon delivery drivers urinate and defecate inside their delivery vans in order to keep up with intense demand. Hours on hours in a car, whatever the job, is not conducive to bathroom breaks. The difference, though, is a common complaint of on-demand service drivers: They legally can’t do anything about it. Cab drivers and truck drivers have unions and are considered actual employees and not independent contractors. These protections afford them mandated break times, luxuries that sharing economy drivers don’t get.
Two thoughts. First, just because taxi drivers are unionized and have negotiated breaks for themselves doesn't mean they take them. If Uber drivers are forced to stay on the road to make money, so are cab drivers. Second (and McHugh mentions it) is the paucity of public restrooms which makes breaks for anyone more difficult.

Sunday, November 20, 2016
Not The Onion
From Slate: "What Iran—Yes, Iran—Can Teach America About the Fight for LGBTQ Rights." It takes a while, but that would be pre-Revolution (1979) Iran and even then the author doesn't tell us what Shah-era Iran could teach America. But there is this tidbit from 1975:
Maryam Hatoon Molkara would not take extremism for an answer and did not bow before the forces of hate. In 1975, she began a letter-writing campaign to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, seeking to convince him that Islam permitted gender reassignment. This was before the revolution that installed Khomeini as supreme leader—and also resulted in Molkara losing her job and being institutionalized and forcibly medicated to make her live as a man.
So even the good ol' days of Persian tolerance meant fatwas for transgender individuals. Despite the click-bait header, there is absolutely nothing that America can learn from Iran on LGBTQ issues.

The vicious cycle in politics
Robin Hanson:
I’ve been disturbed by rising US political polarization over recent decades, with each election accompanied by more extreme rhetoric saying “absolutely everything is now at stake!” And I’ve been worried that important social institutions could erode when more people believe such claims. And now with Trump’s election, this sort of talk has gone off the charts. I’m hearing quite extreme things, even from quite powerful important people.
Many justify their extreme stance saying Trump has said things suggesting he is less than fully committed to existing institutions. So they must oppose him so strongly to save those institutions. But I’m also worried that such institutions are threatened by this never-compromise never-forget take-no-prisoners fight-fight-fight mood. If the other side decides that your side will no longer play by the usual institutional norms of fairness, they won’t feel inclined to play fair either. And this really all might go to hell.
So please everyone, dial it back a bit.

California's housing shortage
The McKinsey Institute study "A tool kit to close California’s housing gap: 3.5 million homes by 2025," is summarized on the consultancy's website in an article titled, "Closing California’s housing gap." Alex Tabarrok highlights this part of the study: "California ranks 49th among the 50 US states for housing units per capita. Benchmarked against other states on a housing units per capita basis, California is short about two million units." The authors say governments need to identify high density housing opportunities (mostly near transit hubs) and reduce regulations that obstruct the building of housing:
More than a quarter million of these units could be built on urban land that is already zoned for multifamily development and is sitting vacant. Up to 3 million units could be built within a half-mile of high-frequency public-transit stations. More than 600,000 could be added by homeowners to existing single-family homes.
It's recommendations should be taken seriously in regulation-crazy California.
The tool kit only once mentions social impact investing, and the article ignores the concept completely. It is an interesting potential tool and while its benefits are easily oversold, its benefits are more often overlooked in the area affordable housing (even the 2014 book Measuring and Improving Social Impacts: A Guide for Nonprofits, Companies, and Impact Investors pays scant attention to housing). Social impact investing can help create market signals on both the supply and demand side of housing if done properly, and investors, not taxpayers assume the financial risk.

The professors and the new president
George Will wonders how much influence the environment in the academy today contributed to the election of Donald Trump:
Academia should consider how it contributed to, and reflects Americans’ judgments pertinent to, Donald Trump’s election. The compound of childishness and condescension radiating from campuses is a constant reminder to normal Americans of the decay of protected classes — in this case, tenured faculty and cosseted students.
Most of Will's column dismissively reports on the response to Trump's victory at many universities where adults were treated like children and the decreasing academic standards of the modern academy. Will assumes that pervasive puerile behaviour among students and the declining standards of scholarship contributed to Trump's victory. But there is more to it than that. If you think, as I do, that Trump was largely elected because of the failures and excesses of progressivism, it is hard not to assign at least some blame to higher education where safe spaces are an all too common examples of modern liberalism's overreach.

Saturday, November 19, 2016
NFL games to watch (Week 11)
Honourable mention: Houston Texans (6-3) at Oakland Raiders (7-2): Battle of two AFC division leaders on Monday Night Football, from Mexico City. The Texans do not really resemble a 6-3 team, with a -27 point differential on the season and one of the worst QBs in the NFL (Brock Osweiler). But if Houston can can take advantage of its weak schedule, this is a possible playoff preview. The Raiders are becoming a more exciting team although with WR Amari Cooper possibly out, the offense is a tad less dynamic. Third-year QB Derek Carr is facing a more formidable defense than he typically does -- Oakland's fifth ranked total offense (401.1 ypg) faces the fifth ranked total defense (318 ypg) -- but it should still be fun to watch the Raider team eke out a MNF victory.
4. Miami Dolphins (5-4) at Los Angeles Rams (4-5): This is not a great slate of games this week, but there are plenty of important games, especially with every NFC team but the Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers going into this week no more than a win out of a playoff spot. The Fins-Rams games is quietly interesting. First, this year's first overall pick, Jared Goff, is finally going to start, despite more than two months of lousy quarterbacking from Case Keenum. This is long overdue and while we shouldn't expect much, Goff's first start is much anticipated. He faces a Miami team that has won four of its last five games. RB ‎Jay Ajayi has been a revelation, running for 619 yards in his last four games; he'll be facing an 18th ranked run defense (LA allows 103.1 ypg rushing). Both teams are fringy playoffs contenders so a win is essential. Fins edge out the Rams in a low-scoring, close game.
3. Green Bay Packers (4-5) at Washington Redskins (5-3-1): A tale of very different teams at this point of the season. The Packers have lost three in a row as they have been ravaged by injuries, a lackluster secondary, and a star quarterback (Aaron Rodgers) who has undeniably taken a major step backwards. With injuries piling on in Green Bay, it will be interesting to see who Rodgers targets if Redskins CB Josh Norman takes Jordy Nelson out of the game. The Skins began their campaign with two losses, but have gone 5-1-1 since. Kirk Cousins is prone to bouts of poor play, but has generally been good. The Redskins pass offense is averaging about 40 more yards per game than Green Bay's (294.4 ygp compared to 253.4) and the Cousins-led offense has put up 329.7 ypg per game over their last three contests; Cousins has a 99.9 passer rating over his last four games. He is even more dangerous when he has the tight end pairing of Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis, which he will this week. Green Bay is only a game out of first in the NFC North and despite their sub-500 record, is very much in the wild card race. The 'Skins would be in the playoffs if the season were over today, and while it seems the NFC East is out of reach, they are also very much part of the wild card. The Ringer's Kevin Clark is calling this weekend "Save Your Season Sunday" and that seems especially true of this game, and more so for the Packers. I'd bet against Green Bay on the road considering both team's recent quarterback play.
2. Philadelphia Eagles (5-4) at Seattle Seahawks (6-2-1): First-year QB Carson Wentz was all the rage in the first month but he appears human after all. The rookie will have trouble play-calling in Seattle with the 'Hawks 12th man being a factor. The Eagles front-seven should be able to get pressure on Russell Wilson to keep this game close. The Eagles have the best D according to Football Outsiders while the Seahawks are rated fifth overall. But Seattle's offense looks more dangerous as of late. The 'Hawks have scored 31 points in their last two games, including in New England last Sunday night, with Wilson attaining at least a 124 passer rating in each contest. Both teams are very much in the thick of the playoff race, but Seattle will get breathing room with a narrow victory.
1. Baltimore Ravens (5-4) at Dallas Cowboys (8-1): The AFC North division leader vs. the NFC's best team features a potentially tremendous match-up of strengths: the Cowboys offensive line (the best in the NFL) against the Ravens front seven (one of the best overall). The Ravens D is rated second best by Football Outsiders, while the 'Boys have the second best offense. Outstanding rookie RB Ezekiel Elliott is going up against the best rushing defense in the NFL as the Ravens give up just 71.3 ypg. But the Ravens have trouble scoring as only the Texans and Chicago Bears have scored fewer touchdowns (16 in 9 games). With their defense, it is easy to see Baltimore keeping this contest close, but Dallas looks like it's going to win its ninth game in a row and its first game ever against the Baltimore Ravens (0-4).

Food localism and protectionism is bigotry
Please tell me how choosing restaurants based on the country of origin for their beef is any different than choosing what companies to do business with based on the colour of the skin of their owners.