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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Friday, November 24, 2017
Beta male sexual harassers
George Neumayr has a very good essay at The American Spectator in which he says that "male feminist pigs," the "rise of beta male sexual harassers," the the "offspring of the unhappy marriage between feminism and the sexual revolution." Neumayr explains:
The growing pile of confession notes — which combine ostensible empathy and promises of sensitivity and submission with strategically placed, lawyerly denials — testifies to the grimly comic dishonesty of the Beta Male sexual harasser. He thought that he could continue to indulge his appetites as long as he adjusted his attitudes, a view that all of the prattle about “systemic change” confirms him in, insofar as it treats his misbehavior as an ideological problem rather than a moral one. Implied in many of the confession notes from the harassers is the ludicrous suggestion that with a little more “education,” with a few more training seminars, with a little more consciousness-raising, they would have behaved virtuously. This pose allows them to escape moral responsibility and painlessly join the “solution.” The sexual revolution’s massive crisis of unchastity is thus turned into a “problem of power” that can be remedied by the hiring of more female executives, the expansion of HR departments, and “better” education ...
In a culture that rejects chivalry, chastity, and the countless prudent safeguards previous generations adopted in light of real differences between the sexes — in a culture that in effect reduces “goodness” to a set of political attitudes — the rise of the Beta Male sexual harasser was inevitable. From the sordid bed of the sexual revolution and crass feminism has come a new creature — the male feminist pig.

What I'm reading
1. Embattled Nation: Canada's Wartime Election of 1917 by Patrice Dutil and David MacKenzie. An important and divisive election that saw a split in Wilfrid Laurier's Liberals and the Conservative Prime Minister run on a Unionist slate. Robert Borden is over-rated by Canadian conservatives and under-rated by Canadians.
2. How Language Began: The Story of Humanity's Greatest Invention by Daniel L. Everett
3. Numbers and the Making of Us: Counting and the Course of Human Cultures by Caleb Everett. This goes along nicely with How Language Began.
4. Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials by Malcolm Harris. They are not all nearly as spoiled and lazy as some of us might want to believe.
5. "Guaranteed Minimum Income in Quebec: A Utopia? An Inspiration for Quebec," the final report from the Expert Committee on Guaranteed Minimum Income

NYT profile of Ben Shapiro
The New York Times has a short article on Ben Shapiro, and while it appears that author Sabrina Tavernise is trying to be fair to her subject, there is a look-at-this-exotic-conservative-who-is-slightly-smarter-than-Rush-Limbaugh-who-appeals-to-millennials tone to it. Shapiro is also described in ways that a liberal never would be; for example, Tavernise quotes a former admirer of Shapiro who says "He’ll never concede anything to the left." If the profile were about a thirty-something liberal, he'd be principled in not compromising but Shapiro comes off as stubborn. More than once Tavernise notes his audience is mostly young, straight, while males. She also delves into Shapiro's anti-Trump and anti-Fox News positions before warning, "he is not a moderate. His views are extremely conservative." She explains what extremely conservative means:
Transgenderism is a mental illness, as per the encyclopedia of mental disorders before 2013. Yes, blacks have been historically discriminated against. No, institutions are not broadly discriminating against them today. The rich pay too much tax. Abortion should be illegal. Social Security ought to be privatized and Obamacare repealed.
Other than privatizing Social Security, many of these positions are hardly "extremely conservative" and would be held by tens of millions of Americans.
There are three missed opportunities in this profile. The Times might ask why young conservatives are attracted to Shapiro. It could have also explored whether he is winning over millennials to conservatism. And lastly, it should have explicitly noted that his often moderate tone can get opponents to think about the more conservative positions he's espousing. But this would have entailed taking Shapiro more seriously than the author or paper intends.

Thursday, November 23, 2017
Saving liberalism from itself
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat on the sliver of hope that (classical) liberalism can save itself (from modern liberalism):
What will save the liberal order, if it is to be saved, will be the successful integration of concerns that its leaders have dismissed or ignored back into normal political debate, an end to what Josh Barro of Business Insider has called “no-choice politics,” in which genuine ideological pluralism is something to be smothered with a pillow.
In Angela Merkel’s Europe right now, that should mean making peace with Brexit, ceasing to pursue ever further political centralization by undemocratic means, breaking up the ’60s-era intellectual cartels that control the commanding heights of culture, creating space for religious resistance to the lure of nihilism and suicide — and accepting that the days of immigration open doors are over, and the careful management of migrant flows is a central challenge for statesmen going forward.

'Justin Trudeau blocked from entering Scarborough mall event after being mobbed by fans'
That Global headline is misleading. If you make it to the end of the story you will learn it was not a "mall event" but a Liberal campaign event for Jean Yip, the party's candidate in the December 11 Scarborough-Agincourt by-election. There is no doubting that the Prime Minister has rock star status, but Global was delinquent in both its headline and reporting about the nature of the partisan crowd that mobbed him.

It's not just the Telegraph
Charles Glasser at Instapundit:
The Telegraph (UK) is good at finding “scientists” who will say anything.

Republican tax plan panned
The Initiative on Global Markets at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business regularly polls economists from across the ideological spectrum about economic issues (and asks them their confidence about their answers). IGM recently asked their panel: "If the US enacts a tax bill similar to those currently moving through the House and Senate — and assuming no other changes in tax or spending policy — US GDP will be substantially higher a decade from now than under the status quo." One of the 42 respondents agreed the tax plan would boost GDP; 22 disagreed (disagreed or strongly disagreed) and 15 were uncertain. The others did not respond. Furthermore, not one of them disagreed with the statement that the tax measures would substantially increase the debt to GDP ratio. It is possible that these particular economists think the Republican tax plan has other benefits that IGM did not inquire about.

Giving thanks for the carnival of American culture
George Will's annual Thanksgiving column looks at the absurdity of the human drama in America. An excerpt:
In toney and oh-so-progressive Malibu, the city council voted to become a sanctuary city. The councilwoman who made the motion for protecting illegal immigrants said: “Our city depends on a Hispanic population to support our comfortable lifestyle.” In more-progressive-than-thou Oregon, where you can get state-subsidized gender reassignment surgery at age 15 without parental permission, the Legislature made 21 the age at which adults can buy cigarettes.

The Halperin effect
Buzzfeed's Eve Fairbanks uses the sexual harassment allegations which cost Mark Halperin his ABC gig as a reason to write about the "insidious" effect Halperin had on political journalism and the way consumers of political news think about politics:
I want to talk about the deeper, subtler, more insidious effect Mark Halperin had on our politics — one which we’ll be paying for for years to come.
The Note purported to reveal Washington’s secrets. In fact, its purpose was the exact opposite: to make the city, and US politics, appear impossible to understand. It replaced normal words with jargon. It coined the phrase "Gang of 500," the clubby network of lobbyists, aides, pols, and hangers-on who supposedly, like the Vatican's cardinals, secretly ran DC. That wasn't true — power is so diffuse. But Halperin claimed he knew so much more than we did, and we began to believe it.
Once you believe that, it’s not hard to be convinced that politics is only comprehensible, like nuclear science, to a select few. There were those chosen ones — the people who'd flattered Halperin to get a friendly mention in his newsletter, the ones he declared to be in the know — and the rest of us. Halperin wrote about Washington like it was an intriguing game, the kind that masked aristocrats played to entertain themselves at 19th-century parties: Everyone was both pawn and player, engaged in a set of arcane maneuvers to win an empty jackpot that ultimately meant nothing of true importance.
At the same time, The Note made it seem that tiny events — a cough at a press conference, a hush-hush convo between Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell in a corridor — held apocalyptic importance. Cloaked in seriousness, with the imprimatur of Peter Jennings' ABC News, in reality The Note was not news but simple gossip.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Four NFL games to watch (Week 12 edition)
Honourable mention: Green Bay Packers (5-5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (8-2), Sunday night: This would be the #1 game of the week if Aaron Rodgers was playing. But he isn't. Brett Hundley has been awful in Rodgers' stead, but the Steelers play down to opponents and it is hard to imagine the Packers will play atrociously on the national stage in prime time so there is a non-zero chance that this game will be closer than the conventional wisdom suggests. But if Green Bay and Hundley play terribly, it could be fun watching the Steelers' D tee off on them: Pittsburgh is second in sacks and fourth in interceptions. Hundley has thrown seven interceptions and been sacked 17 times in five games. This game would have been flexed out of prime time if the 5-5 team playing their backup was not Green Bay. Steelers win comfortably. Non-Steelers fans might choose the Houston Texans (4-6) at Baltimore Ravens (5-5) on Monday night. These teams are part of the nine teams separated by one game in the AFC battling for the sixth playoff spot and this game could be a tie-breaker at the end of the season. Again, this game would be one of the top games of the week if Deshaun Watson was leading the high octane offense against the top-ranked Ravens defense. But alas, Watson is out for the season.
4. Los Angeles Chargers (4-6) at Dallas Cowboys (5-5), later afternoon, Thursday: Thanksgiving games are fun. Teams headed in the opposite direction are fun. Dealing with injuries and Ezekiel Elliott's suspension, Dallas has lost two in a row and been outscored 64-16. After losing their first four (three of them by three points or less), they are 4-2. Parity means mediocrity, which means that at 4-6, the Bolts are just one game out of a playoff spot. San Diego is an average team (12th in offense and 11th in defense according to Football Outsiders) and is a tough out; at the very least they play compellingly close games. The Cowboys have played terribly with left tackle Tyron Smith out the last two games, Dak Prescott was sacked 12 times (he was sacked 10 times in the previous eight games). Prescott will face the defensive end duo of Mark Ingram (8.5 sacks) and Joey Bosa (10.5) sacks. This would be a tremendous match-up if Cowboys O-line were healthy but it's almost unfair if Smith doesn't play (no decision yet). Chargers win in Dallas and spoil the Cowboys' 50th Turkey Day game.
3. Buffalo Bills (5-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (6-4), early Sunday afternoon: Neither team has looked great in recent weeks. Tyrod Taylor has been reinstated as the starting Bills QB. The narrative is that after losing his starting job last week to fifth round pick while the Bills were in the middle of the playoff hunt, perhaps Taylor is playing with a chip on his shoulder. Not that will necessarily help a lot; Buffalo is averaging 302.1 yard per game, good for 27th in total offense, just behind the Chicago Bears. They are 30th in passing yard, throwing for just 184.4 yard per game. Facing the Bills' anemic offense will help right the Chiefs ship. That doesn't sound exciting, but this game has major playoff ramifications and some great play-makers. The Chiefs are hoping to build a lead in the AFC West and the Bills are trying to either move ahead of the Baltimore Ravens or keep pace with them for the sixth playoff spot. After averaging more than 121 rushing yards per game over the first five games and having five plays (rushing or receiving) of 50 or more yards in those five games, rookie RB Kareem Hunt has averaged 52.8 ypg in the last five games and has had no play of more than 50 yards and only one game with more than 75 rushing yards total. On the plus side for Hunt, he is facing a Bills defense that is allowing 212.7 yards per game on the ground over the last three contests. If Hunt doesn't ramp up his game, WR Tyreek Hill and TE Travis Kelce are exciting play-makers. After discovering the deep pass early in the season, Alex Smith turned back into traditional Alex Smith, completing short passes and letting his receivers find the extra yards while hardly ever turning over the ball. Yards after catch can be as thrilling to watch as out-pacing the cornerback to pull in a 30-yard catch. Playoff implications and exciting players makes this a must-watch game. That said, I don't see the result in question. The Bills are 1-4 on the road this year and going into Arrowhead. Kansas wins handily.
2. Minnesota Vikings (8-2) at Detroit Lions (6-4), early Thursday afternoon: This game is more important than you think. Never mind that the Lions beat the Vikings at home last Thanksgiving. Detroit beat the Vikes in Minnesota earlier this season. A Lions win this week and they are just a game behind Minnesota but they'd hold the first tie-breaker to win the division. A Detroit win not only puts them in contention for the division, but puts distance between themselves and nearly a half dozen marginal playoff contenders like the Cowboys and maybe the injury-depleted Seahawks, and probably turns the wild card chase into a three-way race amongst themselves, the Panthers and the Falcons. While anything is possible, the Vikings have to be favoured. They have scored a touchdown in each of their last nine trips into the red zone; the Lions are famously not as proficient inside their opponents' 20-yard line. Lions kicker Matt Prater has one of the best legs in football, but Detroit relies on it too often: Matthew Stafford has led one TD drive of 75 yards or more this season. The Vikings red zone defense is rated third best according to points per red zone trip allowed, whereas Detroit's defense is 23rd. This doesn't even seem like a fair fight. The Vikes are 8-2 because of their revamped O-line. Last year, they were amongst the worst offensive lines (in part due to injuries) so even moving up to league average would be a huge improvement. The fact that the Vikings O-line is amongst the very best in the NFL is a very big reason Minnesota is tied for the second best record in the NFL and that Case Keenum is leading a very good offense. After a solid start, Detroit is having trouble winning the war in the trenches whether they are playing offense and defense. The Vikes are favoured and they should win. If it's close, you'll hear plenty about how Stafford led the Lions on eight game-winning fourth-quarter drives in 2016. But he won't do it again Thursday.
1. New Orleans Saints (8-2) at Los Angeles Rams (7-3), late Sunday afternoon: The Rams took the most proficient offense into Minnesota last week and scored just seven points. The Saints are on an eight-game winning streak and have kept six of their eight opponents to 17 points or less over that stretch. If the Rams lose back-to-back against division leading Minnesota and then division-leading New Orleans, their narrative will change from "contender" to "can't beat good teams" which might be true, but it's too early to know. New Orleans can beat opponents with defense, with the running game, or as Drew Brees showed when the Saints came from 15 behind to beat the Redskins in overtime, with the passing game. The Rams have a pesty front seven which can get pressure on the quarterback but can't do much against the run. I expect Brees to hand the ball to the best running back combo in the NFL today, Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara. The Saints are also great against the pass, but below average against the run, so Jared Goff is likely to favour Todd Gurley over airing out the ball. But both coaches will add wrinkles that make this a fascinating chess match. I'm excited to watch this game regardless if its a video game-style high-scoring contest or a close low-scoring affair. I trust Brees more than I trust Goff to make the necessary plays to pull out the victory, so I'm going with the Saints in a close one.

The appalling mess that coincided with the decline of traditional moral norms
Ben Shapiro write at National Review about what works (erstwhile moral strictures) and doesn't (virtue-signaling) to ensure men don't behave beastly to women:
This is the trendy new habit on Twitter when another prominent man is outed for sexual harassment and sexual assault: Virtue-signaling men rush to the medium to repent on behalf of their sex. Men, they say, are disgusting creatures — but they know that, since they’re men. So leave them alone, ladies. They’re on your side.
All of this is galling. That’s because it ignores a fundamental fact about human life: All human beings are capable of sin. And that means that the antidote to human frailty and brutality isn’t issuing broad-based mea culpas in behalf of groups, but working to instill virtue in individuals through prophylactic rules. But the leftist rubric forbids such inculcation, because that would be culturally oppressive and judgmental ...
In order to combat piggish behavior, conservatives have advocated for certain rules and a certain educational framework, built up over the course of centuries. Some of those rules include: social expectation that sex would be connected with marriage, thus cementing the connection between sexual activity and commitment; encouragement of marriage prior to sexual activity, thereby providing objective evidence for positive consent from the woman before an entire community of witnesses; carefully cultivated rules of conduct between men and women, including, in many religions, proscribed physical contact; expectation that men would protect women in chivalrous fashion.
All of these rules have fallen under heavy attack.
I do not disagree with the thrust of Shapiro's argument although I have an issue with this line of criticism, namely that it implies everything as fine back in some non-existent Golden Age. It wasn't. But the norms were upheld as ideals to which one aspired and in doing so it certainly encouraged many men to behave decently. Modern morality is predicated almost entirely upon consent, which is a poor substitute for a thorough system of rules that serve as checks and balances on men's appetites.

Washington DC politician wants to honor Putin victim, Russian democracy movement
The Hill reports:
Local officials in Washington, D.C., are considering renaming the street in front of the Russian Embassy after a prominent political opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin who was assassinated in 2015.
The block of Wisconsin Avenue in northwest would be renamed “Boris Nemtsov Plaza" if the legislation passes.
Councilmember Mary M. Cheh (D), whose council ward jurisdiction includes the Russian embassy, rolled out the legislation to rename the street, telling The Washington Post in an article published Tuesday that it was important for the U.S. to honor Russia's democracy movement.
This is a great idea, but I assume it won't get very far for diplomatic reasons. Here is the Wikipedia entry for Nemtsov, who "was an active organizer of and participant in Dissenters' Marches, Strategy-31 civil actions and rallies 'For Fair Elections'." He was gunned down in February 2015. Senator Marco Rubio (R, Florida) supports the gesture.

Free the internet
Senator Ted Cruz (R, Texas) and Federal Communications Commission commissioner Michael O'Rielly write in Roll Call:
The Constitution’s Commerce Clause provides Congress with the power to regulate interstate commerce. Given that the internet permits consumers and businesses to connect to others in different states (as well as countries), broadband services are inherently interstate services and must therefore be protected from state and local interference. As the FCC rolls back the Obama-era regulations on the internet, it should also take the opportunity to affirmatively recognize this ...
Imposing public utility regulations — which have their roots in the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 — on the internet is not the right policy to keep America globally competitive. Now is the time to end government micromanagement of the internet and let it thrive without federal, state, or local meddling. The United States’ continued leadership in the 21st Century digital economy rests on getting this policy right.
For these reasons, it is imperative that the FCC establish a strong deregulatory federal framework for broadband regulations and preempt state and local regulators from having the opportunity to implement the next internet power grab.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Taxpayer-covered fund for victims of sexual harassment to protect politicians on the Hill
Vox reports:
On Monday night, BuzzFeed broke the story that Michigan Rep. John Conyers paid a former staffer thousands of dollars in a settlement in 2015 after sexually harassing her and other women in his office and then firing her for refusing his advances.
He likely isn’t the only member of Congress to settle a harassment case. Since 1997, Congress has paid at least $15 million to settle complaints about sexual harassment, racial discrimination, and violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act under the umbrella of the Congressional Accountability Act (CAA) of 1995.
The payments made to Rep. Conyers’s alleged victim came out of his taxpayer-funded office budget. Generally, though, these payments aren’t made by members of Congress or their offices. They’re made by a special section of the Department of the Treasury established under Section 415 of the CAA — and ultimately by the American taxpayer.
The process by which victims of sexual harassment on the Hill seek justice is long and arduous — it takes up to three months before a formal complaint can be filed. If a settlement is reached, it’s kept secret. The source of the money in the fund is excluded from the standard appropriations budget made public by Congress each year. There’s no process by which voters — or potential employees — can find out who the harassers in office are, what they’ve been accused of, or if they’ve settled with victims before.
There are legal and privacy issues involved in this slush/hush fund for political pervs. But at the very least, this part of the CAA must be revised to eliminate covering up sexual harassment and protecting (alleged) perpetrators.

Trifecta of very good Henry Olsen columns
National Review yesterday: "What Happened to the ‘Libertarian Moment’?" The constituency for liberty/small government within the Republican Party might be 25% of the base. More of a small-tax, traditional values party. I'd add that values matter more than economics for most voters, with values defined very broadly.
New York Times today: "Whatever Happened to Trump’s Populist Agenda?" The populist agenda has stalled because the four faces of the Republican Party -- the GOP problem is that it is a truly Big Tent with diverse interests and values -- can't agree on tax reform or health care reform. Olsen says that the old Reagan coalition of "non-Republican populists, fiscal conservatives and business Republicans" should be able to agree on taxes and health care with just a little imagination and compromise. But the donor class dominated GOP politics and it is opposed to an agenda that would help working-class Americans. Olsen also says that Reagan provides a model on trade and entitlements, but those seem more difficult terrain on which to find common ground.
Unherd today: "Evangelicals are still voting for Roy Moore: how populism beat decency." It begins with a line that would be unimaginable six months ago: "Populism and pedophilia don’t often mix." The American version of Protestantism is different than European Protestantism, because it is an evangelical strain that is both highly politicized and reactionary. But like European populist movements, it seeks redress for its perceived marginalization.

Bird flu spreading in Asia
The New York Times a few days back: "Bird Flu Is Spreading in Asia, Experts (Quietly) Warn." This is merely a pretense to (again) post this Obama-era/Ebola-era Remy video.
And Taylor Swift is not alt-right.

Monday, November 20, 2017
GMOs to the rescue of Africa
(London) Times columnist Matt Ridley explains why genetically modified agriculture could reap huge benefits for Africa, and the environment:
The average yield of an African maize crop is less than a quarter of that of a North American crop, even before the effect of the fall armyworm. This is largely down to a lack of fertilisers, pesticides, hybrid seeds and biotechnology, and frequent drought. Hybrid seeds alone, produced by conventional breeding, can deliver improvements in yield of 20 to 30 per cent, I’m told. Drought-resistant varieties, also conventionally produced, can double the yield. But neither helps against the fall armyworm [a bacteria that destroys maize] ...
Agriculture is an arms race against the other species, and newer techniques should keep us easily one step ahead, so long as we do not prevent them.
The next technology to help farming will be gene-editing, different from the transgenic technique that produced Bt maize, and involving the introduction of no foreign DNA, the thing that critics say they most object to. A tweak to the genes of maize can make it resistant to maize lethal necrosis, a viral disease hurting yields in parts of Africa. There is an opportunity for Britain here. Freed from Europe’s deadly precautionary principle, British plant scientists could be well placed to support their colleagues in Africa.
Those who think poverty a price worth paying for nostalgia say we should go back to traditional agriculture, in better harmony with the land. Not if we want wildlife. Globally, if we had the yields of 1960 we would need more than twice as much land to feed today’s population. In which case, you could kiss goodbye to all rainforests, nature reserves and national parks.

New York subway fact of the day
From the New York Times story on the neglect of New York City's subway system:
More than 90 percent of trains reached their destinations on time on most subway lines in 2007. Ten years later, that figure is less than 70 percent for many lines.
NYC's subway system is among the oldest in the world and one of the few that run 24 hours a day. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the whole region's (southeast New York state) public transit system, has responded to consistent underfunding by cutting back on maintenance, which leads to delays.

Trump more popular than Europe's Big Three leaders
Popular opinion or job approval polls are a staple of political news coverage, but FiveThirtyEight and the New York Times' David Leonhardt can't go a week without pointing out how historically unpopular President Donald Trump is. Most (non-Rasmussen) polls find that Trump's approval rating hovering in the 38%-40% range, and it's true that no president in the age of frequent approval polling (going back to Nixon) has been so low in his first four months, six months, or year in office. But what if instead of comparing Trump to previous presidents at this stage of their presidency, Trump was compared to his contemporary peers. The Washington Examiner reports on a Zogby poll that finds Trump on par with German Chancellor Angela Merkel (40% approval, 49% disapproval) and besting French President Emmanuel Macron (28% approval, 52% disapproval), and British Prime Minister Theresa May (28% approval, 61% disapproval).

The 2018 Illinois gubernatorial election
George Will has a column on the race for governor in Illinois featuring Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and likely Democrat nominee J.B. Pritzker, an heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune. Will says that Rauner's real opponent is Michael Madigan, the Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives, who was first elected when Richard Nixon was president and rose to Speaker during Reagan's first term in the White House. Madigan, whom Chicago Magazine has called "the Real Governor of Illinois," is a political thug closely tied to the public-sector unions, which are bankrupting the state. Will describes the state of Illinois:
Unfunded state and local government retirement debt is more than $260 billion and rising. Unfunded pension liabilities for the nation’s highest-paid government workers (overtime starts at 37.5 hours) are $130 billion and are projected to increase for at least through the next decade. Nearly 25 percent of the state’s general funds go to retirees (many living in Texas and Florida). Vendors are owed $9.5 billion. Every five minutes the population — down 1.22 million in 16 years — declines as another person, and an average of $30,000 more in taxable income, flees the nation’s highest combined state and local taxes. Those leaving are earning $19,600 more than those moving in. The work force has shrunk by 97,000 this year. There has not been an honestly balanced budget — a constitutional requirement — since 2001. The latest tax increase, forced by the legislature to end a two-year budget impasse, will raise more than $4 billion, but another $1.7 billion deficit has already appeared.
The blue state model is untenable and Will says voters in this bluest of blue states will reach a verdict on the model 12 months from now.

Sunday, November 19, 2017
Bernier memoir
CBC reports that Maxime Bernier will pen a memoir which could be published in early 2019. Bernier says: "The book will be about my vision of the country. What's wrong with our country and how we can fix it." It will also cover his time in Stephen Harper's cabinet and the 2017 Conservative leadership race. Bernier says he won't really get into supply management because he promised the party he would not advocate the ending of the Soviet-style command-and-control system supported by the Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, but he also says he will explain his "strategy" for focusing on the free market issue in the leadership race. That sounds either duplicitous or disappointing. He sort of denies the book indicates he will run again for the leadership saying that he already had his chance. Brian Mulroney and John Diefenbaker ran for the Progressive Conservative leadership more than once. No doubt that there will be more questions about Bernier's motives and future when the book is released. The problem for Bernier is that he either writes a libertarian book that will raise uncomfortable issues for his party in the months leading up to the October 2019 federal election or he will write an unsatisfying book that hides the strong free market principles Bernier has promoted his entire adult life.

What I'm reading
1. Continental Ambitions: Roman Catholics in North America by Kevin Starr
2. The Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith, and the Friendship That Shaped Modern Thought by Dennis C. Rasmussen
3. Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency by Joshua Green. A little too knee-jerk anti-Breitbart, but Green takes Bannon's views and political acumen seriously.
4. Playing With Fire: The 1968 Election and the Transformation of American Politics by Lawrence O’Donnell

Saturday, November 18, 2017
UK debt after the Age of Austerity
At CapX, Lee Rotherham explains that the idea the UK has experienced "austerity" is a joke, as the Cameron-May governments have piled on debt with years of reckless deficit spending. The United Kingdom has now accumulated £1.9 trillion in national debt. What would that debt buy?
Train buffs might reflect on the costs of HS2. There remains considerable dispute on what the final bill will be for this, but one reasoned estimate currently puts the price tag at £48 billion just for Phase 1. With of length of some 140 miles, that makes for an eyewatering £342 million a mile. But at those rates, £1.9 trillion would lay track from London to Beijing. That would make quite some latterday silk road ...
At the time of writing, the gold price is about £31 million a tonne. Setting aside again the obvious and inevitable discrepancies that arise with such flights of fancy relating to market disruption and so on, £1.9 trillion would get you over 61,000 tonnes of gold – variously estimated at between 1/3rd and 2/5ths of all the gold ever mined. What could you do with it? To quote Goldmember, Shmelt it! Factor in relative metal densities, play short cuts with gravity and architecture, and you could rival Easter Island with glittering colossoi.
Our imminent level of national debt would be able to buy us 68 Statues of Liberty, made out of gold. We could line them up on the White Cliffs of Dover to greet travellers, and maybe even stick some turbines on them to keep the Green lobby happy.
What does the United Kingdom have as a result of years of deficit spending. Not trains. And not statues made of gold. As wasteful as such statues would be, there would be something to show for the spending.

'Justin Trudeau Now Has A Craft Beer Named After Him'
Story here. It is available in Ukraine. Other world leaders to have a beer named after them: Angela Merkel and Donald Trump. Bet this review for Corona Light applies to Trudeau magnum pale ale.

Friday, November 17, 2017
Liberalism undoes itself
Here's a good David Brooks column. (I probably use that sentence more often than you do.) The gist of Brooks' essay: people must be connected to (so-called) illiberal institutions like family and church and local community, or liberal ideals will be undermined by new and less effective forms of connection (identity politics, tribal partisanship).

Thursday, November 16, 2017
'The case for the case headline'
Associate editor Caroline Mimbs Nyce writes in defense of The Atlantic's trope of using "the case for ..." in headlines. It begins with a short history of its use in the magazine (both print and web) before making the argument, all-too-briefly:
So, why all the Cases? Scott Stossel, the editor of the print magazine, argues that the Case is “a very simple, unadorned way of saying ‘This is an argument.’” And argumentation, he says, is at the core of what The Atlantic does.
That's pretty weak tea as far as arguments go. Essentially this is a conservative argument: it's always been done this way so we'll continue doing it. That's fine. But on almost any political issue, The Atlantic would argue against such reasoning.

Four week 11 NFL games to watch
Honourable mention: Buffalo Bills (5-4) at Los Angeles Chargers (3-6), 4:05 pm Sunday: Every game this weekend could have playoff implications. That may seem like a stretch but the handful of 3-6 teams are only two wins out of a playoff spot right now in the AFC, so even the Cincinnati Bengals-Denver Broncos contest (both are 3-6) matter. If Cincy or Denver wins and their playoff chances improve to around 10% to crash to near zero with a loss. Even the Arizona Cardinals (4-5) at the Houston Texans (3-6) can keep their slim playoff hopes alive with a victory. But the Bills-Chargers seems to be the most relevant contest among fringy teams. The Bills are a game ahead of the Dolphins, Raiders, and Ravens so a win is vital to them to keep ahead of what seems likely to be some seriously flawed team scraping their way to the last wild card spot (the loser between AFC South contenders Tennessee and Jacksonville is probably the first wild card team). And the Bills have two games remaining against both the Patriots and Dolphins and a game in Kansas City, so every win matters. For added interest, the Bills announced that QB Tyrod Taylor will not start and the job was given to rookie fifth-round pick Nathan Peterman, who excited Buffalo fans in the pre-season. It will be interesting to see what the first year quarterback can do. It's a little unfair to Taylor to punish him for Buffalo's two-game losing streak; the Bills' losses are on the defense that has given up 81 points the past two games, but it's easier to replace one player than a whole unit. And the organization probably wants to see what they have in Peterson so they can move on from Taylor's contract this off-season. The Chargers may have to play their backup QB, Kellen Clemens, as Phillip Rivers is in the concussion protocol. According to Football Outsiders, the Chargers have a middling offense (15th) and defense (14th) but terrible special teams (31st) while the Bills have a below average offense (22nd) and defense (20th) and solid special teams (7th). But that is with Taylor and Rivers under center. If Rivers plays, a win gives the Chargers some playoff hope, and could changer perceptions about the team if it is an impressive-looking victory. If Rivers is on the sidelines, it's a coin flip and even if the Bolts win, the (few) Los Angeles fans won't feel like they have much of a hope to be playing January football.
4. Philadelphia Eagles (8-1) at Dallas Cowboys (5-4), Sunday night: This game would probably top the list if the Cowboys hadn't lost to the Falcons last week and Dallas had a path to the NFC East division title. That seems unlikely now. And the Cowboys will struggle in the next few weeks with Ezekiel Elliott suspended, and left tackle Tyron Smith and linebacker Sean Lee injured. The loss of Elliott could be overcome if the offensive line could be its dominant usual self, but in Smith's absence last week QB Dak Prescott was sacked eight times, six by defensive end Adrian Clayborn, who is playing for near the league minimum in 2017. Still, this is a prime time game between NFC rivals and Dallas is still in the playoff picture. But the game doesn't have the luster it could have if the 'Boys beat Atlanta last week and/or they were healthier. Philly beats their rival in Jerry's World and becomes prohibitive favourites for the NFC's number one seed.
3. Tennessee Titans (6-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (7-2), Thursday evening: I forget where I read or heard that this game is too good for Thursday night, but it's a great description of this contest between two division leaders in the middle of November. There are competing narratives at play. The Titans, as Bleacher Report's Mike Tanier explained on Monday, "appear poised to reach the playoffs by winning a bunch of Sunday early games while looking unimpressive the moment a national audience starts paying attention to them." The Steelers are coming off a terrible game in which they barely beat the Indianapolis Colts, which might be the worst team in the NFL, because Pittsburgh is notorious for playing down to their opponents' level. So if the Steelers play down to the prime time version of Tennessee, this could be an ugly game. However, Tennessee is not a bad team (nor are they good -- they are pretty middling according to Football Outsiders) and Pittsburgh shines in front of national audiences. If Pittsburgh can get their offense going, it is a lot of fun to watch. Le'Veon Bell is the most dynamic runner in the game and JuJu Schuster-Smith is the most thrilling young receiver in the league, to say nothing of Antonio Brown. The Titans are difficult to run against, so it will be interesting to see how Bell does against a fairly stout front seven. Tennessee is built to run and they are eighth in rushing yards per game (124.8) and they ran for 180 against the Cincinnati Bengals last week. And indeed, in Pittsburgh's two losses this year (Jacksonville and Chicago), they gave up an average of 226.5 ypg. But if you take out the monster rushing games, the Steelers are difficult to run against (about 67 yards per game in their seven wins). Steelers should win handily, but when they should they don't. It's hard to imagine them losing a meaningful prime time game at home, though. Pittsburgh stays atop the AFC with a victory.
2. Atlanta Falcons (5-4) at Seattle Seahawks (6-3), Monday night: The Falcons are right behind Seattle in the playoff hunt and a win would give them a wild card tie-breaker if it were needed. The Falcons offense is a little better than pundits and fans are giving them credit for (they are third in yards per drive, eighth in yards per game, and 10th overall in offensive DVOA). It might be slightly more difficult to score in Seattle, but the Seahawks haven't looked as impressive at home this year as they have in the past. It won't help that Devonta Freeman (652 yards from scrimmage, 4.4 yards per rush) is injured. But Seattle has their own injury woes, including CB Richard Sherman (out for the year) and safety Earl Thomas (questionable for Sunday). Thomas makes the whole defense better and could provide coverage help for whoever replaces Sherman. With the Seahawks' defense looking vulnerable due to injuries, Atlanta has a really good chance to pull off the upset in Seattle.
1. Los Angeles Rams (7-2) at Minnesota Vikings (7-2), 1 pm Sunday: If you assume the Eagles win the NFC number one seed -- a reasonable assumption -- there is at least a three-way battle, and perhaps a four-way battle, for the number two and it features the New Orleans Saints, the Seattle Seahawks if they can get something going, and these two teams, the Rams and Vikings. Both teams are quarterbacked by players who are having surprisingly good seasons: Jared Goff (LA) and Case Keenum (Minnesota). Interestingly, Keenum started ahead of Goff last season in LA. To those who aren't watching closely, the story of this game is Rams offense versus Vikings defense. The Rams score an NFL-leading 32.9 points per game; the Vikings allow 18.3 ppg, good for fifth overall. But according to Football Outsiders, the Rams have the 11th ranked offense and first overall defense (and first overall special teams); the Rams are, in fact, slightly stingier than the Vikings, giving up 18 ppg and just 63 points over its last 22 quarters. But Minnesota is hardly all D. The Vikings are seventh in offense and ninth in defense. These are two solid teams. The Rams have scored 30 or more points six times but haven't scored more than 27 when facing a top-ten defensive DVOA (Jacksonville and Seattle), so this game has the potential be close. The Rams are scoring because they have great field position due to special teams (they have a league-best shortest field averaging just 64 yards to the end zone) and takeaways (they lead the league with 19). The Vikes special teams are average but they hardly give the ball away; they have thrown five picks and surrendered five fumbles, and they are tied for sixth fewest giveaways. If Keenum, who threw two interceptions last week, can avoid giving the ball away, Minnesota has a very good chance to win this one at home. But the great teams crush bad teams and beat good teams. The Rams look like a great team. They win the game and go up a tie-breaker against the Vikings. All that said, there are two games-within-the-game to watch. The Vikings allow just 81.3 rushing yards per game and haven't allowed any rusher to gain 100 yards this year but they are facing the fourth most prolific runner in Todd Gurley (754 rushing yards in nine games, which is just a little more than 83 yards per game). If Minnesota can keep Gurley's gains down, they can stop the play action passes that are Goff's bread-and-butter. At the same time that the offensive line must make holes for Gurley, it must stop defensive end Aaron Donald, possibly the most menacing defensive player in the league in J.J. Watt's absence, from getting pressure on Goff and hurrying the second-year passer's throws. According to ProFootballFocus, Donald leads the NFL in hurries with 52, despite missing the opening game of the season. This should be a meaningful game between two very good teams, with lots of talented players and interesting match-ups, and I haven't even mentioned the fact the Vikings might have the best shutdown corner (Xavier Rhodes) and the most under-the-rader reciever in Adam Thielen.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017
Euthanasia and personal autonomy
The documentary Fatal Flaws will come on next year. A woman, Magreet, from the Netherlands is interviewed. In a chilling excerpt, she says of her mother: "She was euthanized without consent. They decided." The "they" were the doctors and hospital staff. Years ago I read of a Dutch doctor who bragged he euthanized a nun without her consent, saying that he dared not ask her what her wishes were because her religion would prevent her from making the right decision. Most euthanasia "safeguards" provide inadequate protection for the vulnerable.

Deconstructing the administrative state (II)
The Dallas Morning News has an interview with Mark Cuban focusing on the billionaire's desire to see government employees replaced with technology:
"The government can and should change into a service like Amazon. We just need new people who have a tech-clue. Government is people-driven; it shouldn't be. All those people should be gone and their work should be online," [said Cuban].
He added: "Amazon does more than most governments. Our government is capable of functioning this way at one-tenth its size."
Cuban said if the government embraced technology, it might pave the way for a faster operation and downsizing. "I'm for small government and tech will make it much smaller and better. No more 10 layers of paper pushers," he said.
In theory this sounds good. Certainly technology can make government services more efficient and could aid in policy-making. However, I assume the government coders would program government technology to grow government and make itself and the IT department indispensable.

Deconstructing the administrative state
Bloomberg reports that Richard Cordray is stepping down as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Bloomberg reports:
His decision means President Donald Trump should soon get to install his own director atop the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a regulator set up in response to the 2008 financial crisis to police mortgages, credit cards and other financial products. Cordray’s departure gives Republican lawmakers and bankers the chance to push a deregulatory agenda at an agency they say has too much power and has burdened lenders with unnecessary red tape ...
For months, Republicans had urged Trump to try to remove Cordray, claiming he lacks accountability and that the CFPB has stifled lending during his tenure. In contrast, Democrats heaped praise on Cordray for making the young watchdog an aggressive regulator.
In a January open letter, Senators Mike Lee (Utah) and Ben Sasse (Nebraska) called upon the President to remove Cordray from his position. Lee and Sasse said, "The CFPB has vigorously advocated for the right to operate as an unaccountable fourth branch of government." They call for substantial reform of the CFPB, and argue that removing Cordray is an important step in the reform process:
Director Cordray’s removal will be the first marker in the long process of rolling-back an agency that combines the powers of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches into the hands of a few unaccountable Washington elites.
There is some debate whether the President has the authority to fire the Bureau's director. President Donald Trump could have tried, but now that Cordray is leaving on his own (reportedly to seek the Ohio Democratic gubernatorial nomination), Trump has a chance to rein-in the CFPB and reduce not only burdensome regulation but administrative state creep.

Why democracy is the worst system of government, except for all the others
Winston Churchill is also supposed to have said, "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter." Yeah, but no. National Post columnist John Robson writes about social media today, but this paragraph on the strength of the democratic system is worth highlighting:
In some sense, voters have always been the greatest weakness in Western democracy. But also its greatest strength. All human institutions are fallible because all humans are fallible. And the great argument for self-government, as one aspect of a determinedly open society even when it hurts or smells, is that it corrects mistakes far better than any other system.
The case against authoritarian rule is that on the big things the individual is foolish and the species is wise (to quote Russell Kirk). The vain and mistaken individual ruler is less likely to correct his error than the wisdom of the masses and inherent conservatism (suspicion of change) of large groups of people.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017
Seasteading closer to becoming a reality
The New York Times reports a recent development in seasteading in the south Pacific. Much of the article rehearses the well-known story that seatsteading has thus far has been a dream of techno-libertarians that resulted in a single fruitless attempt to turn that dream into a prototype near San Francisco. Alas, that dream -- seeded by Milton Friedman's grandson and Peter Thiel's money -- may come to fruition. The Times reports:
Earlier this year, the government of French Polynesia agreed to let the Seasteading Institute begin testing in its waters. Construction could begin soon, and the first floating buildings — the nucleus of a city — might be inhabitable in just a few years.
“If you could have a floating city, it would essentially be a start-up country,” said Joe Quirk, president of the Seasteading Institute. “We can create a huge diversity of governments for a huge diversity of people.” ...
Mr. Quirk and his team are focusing on their Floating Island Project in French Polynesia. The government is creating what is effectively a special economic zone for the Seasteading Institute to experiment in and has offered 100 acres of beachfront where the group can operate.
Mr. Quirk and his collaborators created a new company, Blue Frontiers, which will build and operate the floating islands in French Polynesia. The goal is to build about a dozen structures by 2020, including homes, hotels, offices and restaurants, at a cost of about $60 million. To fund the construction, the team is working on an initial coin offering. If all goes as planned, the structures will feature living roofs, use local wood, bamboo and coconut fiber, and recycled metal and plastic.
“I want to see floating cities by 2050, thousands of them hopefully, each of them offering different ways of governance,” Mr. Quirk said. “The more people moving among them, the more choices we’ll have and the more likely it is we can have peace prosperity and innovation.”
I find the idea intriguing even if the difficulties are under-appreciated and the benefits oversold. It is impractical for large populations. But living on the sea, or any community away from the prying eyes and paws of our current governments, has a great deal of appeal to many people and its wonderful to see an admittedly small nation get out of the way to make a mini utopia for some possible.

Ontario PC Party policy schizophrenia
The Ontario Progressive Conservative Party released the results of the online voting for 139 policies. The results will guide, not dictate, the party platform in the June 2018 provincial election. Most of the policies passed with 80% or more, and no policy had less than 69%. This is not surprising. At least 100 of the so-called policies were anodyne motherhood statements that few in any party would oppose. What I found most interesting, however, was the contradiction in having more than three-quarters of the party faithful support both R125 and R126 in section about agricultural and rural Ontario.
R125 stated that "PC Party policy is to support a broad range of agricultural safety nets, including orderly marketing, supply management, and business risk management, to maintain the competitiveness of Ontario’s diverse agriculture and food sector." Nearly 76% of respondents supported the statement while 20.7% opposed it and 3.7% abstained. By the standards of the online vote of PC Party members, this was a less popular policy. One might assume that there are still a significant contingent of small-c conservatives who oppose supply management. Sadly, more than three out of four Tories still supported a resolution in favour of supply management (and much else, just to muddy the waters). Yet, 87.6% of respondents supported R126: "PC Party policy is to support verifiable, market-driven, industry-led sustainability production methods, within Ontario’s farming, food, fuel, fibre and other rural resources." Nearly one in ten were were opposed (9.5%) and 2.9% abstained. To be clear, 75.6% of Tories support supply management -- and thus do not trust free markets for farmers to sell their products -- yet 87.6% support "market-driven" sustainability. This isn't a complete contradiction. But it is problematic. Perhaps there is some slice of PC supporters that take the exquisitely nuanced view that markets do not work in distribution but do in sustainability. Somehow, though, I doubt that. I have little doubt, however, that if there was a question about market-driven distribution, it, too, would have obtained a three-quarter or better threshold of support among Tory members.

Monday, November 13, 2017
Cowen visits a brick-and-mortar Amazon bookstore
Tyler Cowen didn't like the Amazon bookstore in Manhattan and has a number of (mostly critical) observations, including this: "I consider myself quite pro-Amazon, still to me it feels dystopic when an attractive young saleswoman says so cheerily to (some) customers: 'Thank you for being Prime'!"

Clinton and reckoning
Put aside the wisdom and propriety of the spate of accusations regarding sexual harassment -- a swirling combination of weaponized feminism, seeking victimhood status, its under-appreciated cousin survivorship, a new sensibility about what is appropriate behaviour in the workplace, and much, much more -- it is curious to think that a mere 20 years ago, Bill Clinton survived his own serious of accusations from women. Caitlin Flanagan writes in The Atlantic about Clinton's appearance at the 2016 Democratic Convention and the Clintons' highlighting that they were grandparents:
When the couple repeatedly reminded the crowd of their new status as grandparents it was to suggest very different associations in voters’ minds. Hillary’s grandmotherhood was evoked to suggest the next phase in her lifelong work on behalf of women and children—in this case forging a bond with the millions of American grandmothers who are doing the hard work of raising the next generation, while their own adult children muddle through life. But Bill’s being a grandfather was intended to send a different message: don’t worry about him anymore; he’s old now. He won’t get into those messes again.
Yet let us not forget the sex crimes of which the younger, stronger Bill Clinton was very credibly accused in the 1990s. Juanita Broaddrick reported that when she was a volunteer on one of his gubernatorial campaigns, she had arranged to meet him in a hotel coffee shop. At the last minute, he had changed the location to her room in the hotel, where she says he very violently raped her. She said she fought against Clinton throughout a rape that left her bloodied. At a different Arkansas hotel, he caught sight of a minor state employee named Paula Jones, and, Jones says, he sent a couple of state troopers to invite her to his suite, where he exposed his penis to her and told her to kiss it. Kathleen Willey said that she met him in the Oval Office for personal and professional advice and that he groped her, rubbed his erect penis on her and pushed her hand to his crotch.
It was a pattern of behavior; it included an alleged violent assault; the women involved had far more credible evidence than many of the most notorious accusations that have come to light in the past five weeks. But Clinton was not left to the swift and pitiless justice that today’s accused men have experienced. Rather, he was rescued by a surprising force: machine feminism. The movement had by then ossified into a partisan operation and it was willing — eager—to let this friend of the sisterhood enjoy a little droit de seigneur.
The author quotes at length Gloria Steinem's cringe-worthy 1998 New York Times column defending Clinton, saying at worst he was guilty of making a reckless pass at a woman. Flanagan says "The Democratic Party needs to make its own reckoning of the way it protected Bill Clinton." But so does Bill Clinton. Flanagan doesn't suggest how the party would do it. I'm not sure how, short of an apology, Clinton does so.
I have a problem with the article, and it isn't necessarily Flanagan's fault. The title is "Reckoning With Bill Clinton’s Sex Crimes." He was never convicted of sex crimes. This is a problem with these allegations: there is no way to defend oneself against them when the pointed finger is enough to ruin a career and a life. But that highlights how far we've come in two decades. Clinton survived multiple serious allegations and had the most prominent feminist in America defend his actions. Today, the entertainment section reads like a police blotter of sex crimes and the exposé is judge, jury and executioner. If decades-old allegations are enough to end a career -- and if Bill Clinton committed the sexual assaults he has been accused of committing -- there should be a reckoning that is not excused by Clinton's progressive politics.

2020 watch (Biden edition)
Albert Hunt acknowledges Joe Biden's problems (he's old, he was a terrible two-time candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, he's a "gaffe machine," he's old), but makes the case for why the former vice president might be a credible candidate:
[S]tart with this fact of political life: When an incumbent runs for re-election, the contest is a referendum on him. A challenger, to be successful, must offer an appealing alternative that better addresses whatever's bothering people. Jimmy Carter, the outsider, beat President Gerald Ford in 1976 in the shadow of the Watergate scandals. Ronald Reagan defeated Carter four years later by showing resolve that resonated during the Iranian hostage crisis. Bill Clinton's domestic focus had broad appeal in 1992, the first presidential contest after the end of the Cold War, against the veteran cold warrior President George H.W. Bush.
After three-and-a-half years of Trump, what will swing voters be looking for? A grown-up who is committed to getting things done by trying to bridge the bitter partisan divide. A person with experience in governing, savvy about the ways of Washington and wary of national-security booby traps. A reputation for incorruptibility to drain the ethical swamp of the Trump years.
More than most outsiders, new faces or ideological purists, the 74-year-old former senator and vice president could fit that bill.
Biden presents as a compelling figure, his relatively gaffe-free vice presidency and serving near the Sun King without getting burned has seemingly magically provided him with a gravitas he lacked when he was a senator. I think he can fool people, much like Barack Obama had, that he is the answer to their prayers.
There are "caveats": "Biden would have to pick a special type of running mate well in advance, plan only to serve one term and release all his health records. And he'd have to be running against President Donald Trump." Sure, these might help. The problem, as Hunt acknowledges, is that running as the candidate of change and fresh ideas might be difficult for person who has been in Washington for decades. I'm also not sure he is different enough from the incumbent, similar in age and appearance, to satisfy voters seeking change.

Political labels matter more even though political leaders have less control over their brand
From David Leonhardt's daily New York Times op-ed newsletter:
The Republican Party has a big Roy Moore problem. Either the detailed, credible accusations of child molestation against Moore may cost Republicans an otherwise easy Senate victory in Alabama next month — or Moore could win and become a national symbol of the party.
And it’s not clear that party leaders can push Moore out of the race, even if they started trying harder to do so.
Why does the party currently look so weak? Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report argues that Republicans are suffering from a combination of institutional weakness and voters’ strong partisanship.
Party leaders once would have found a way to push out a candidate like Moore, she said yesterday, on CBS. But they no longer have the power they once did. Meanwhile, party labels are more powerful than they once were.
As a result, many Republican voters will “stick with their party even though the party leaders are abandoning the person who represents the party,” Walter said.
No one likes the party apparatchiks who tip the scales to favour the establishment until they are needed. Of course, there is a balance between keeping the most egregious or harmful individuals from tainting the brand -- and more importantly, away from power -- and running roughshod over a party to impose the elite's will on it.

Holland Tunnel opened 90 years ago
At a cost of $48 million and after seven years of construction, Manhattan was connected to the United States mainland through a pair of tubes, the Holland Tunnel. The New York Times front page from October 9, 1927 was wonderful coverage of the making of the tunnel. The article is worth reading as a glimpse into the breathless reporting on engineering marvels of the time and municipal boosterism ("an undertaking technically so difficult and economically so momentous"). I especially enjoyed the paragraphs on avoiding traffic jams (with some editorializing).
I'm still floored by the $48 million cost ($822 million in 2017 dollars). There is no way that the 1.6 mile-long tunnel would cost less than a few billion today. Environmental regulations would also ensure the project took more than seven years just to clear administrative hurdles.

What I'm reading
1. Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House by Donna Brazile. In her book promo interviews he has repudiated the most interesting parts of the book. What I don't get is if Hillary Clinton was such a morally awful candidate -- or at least such a compromised one -- why did Brazile leak CNN questions to the Democrat standard-bearer. In the absence of an adequate answer to that question, I can't take this book seriously.
2. My Life, Our Times by Gordon Brown. I'm enjoy the former UK prime minister and chancellor of the exchequer's memoirs more than I wanted to. This book is not available in North America until February. It's worth getting directly from England now.
3. The River of Consciousness, a collection of essays by Oliver Sacks. Nothing new, but worth re-reading or at least perusing.

Sunday, November 12, 2017
May troubles
The Observer rehearses the terrible week that Theresa May has had and wonders if she can continue. The Observer reports that Sir Malcolm Rifkind thinks she can hang on. It might not be her choice. The Sunday Times reports:
Plotters reveal that 40 Conservative MPs — eight short of the number required to force a leadership challenge — have joined a list of Tory rebels who want her to resign … Downing Street hoped it had killed off any coup last month after it revealed that Grant Shapps, a former Tory chairman, had been the “chief rebel” assembling a list of MPs wanting May to go.
Rebel leaders say May has made the situation more dangerous because some MPs were now sending letters directly to Graham Brady, chairman of the backbench 1922 committee.
In an article for The Sunday Times, [David] Davis today signals that the government will attempt to face down the rebels who are demanding a series of concessions on the withdrawal bill.
That's getting too close for comfort. Not sure Tory MPs want to risk Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn, though.
Brexit politics, sexpest allegations against key allies, and ministerial foul-ups might matter less than Chancellor Philip Hammond's budget statement on November 22. There is a lot of way to piss off eight more MPs, including a large swathe of Brexiteers. Michael Gove and Boris Johnson have written a letter to the Prime Minister expressing serious concern about Hammond's lack of budget preparations in case there is no Brexit deal. With Damian Green, her First Secretary of State and key ally and adviser, battling sexual impropriety allegations, May, a resilient and stubborn fighter, will have to let BoJo and Gove wag the Tory dog for a while. It's the key to her survival.

Saturday, November 11, 2017
Tribal politics breaking family binds
The abstract of a paper by M. Keith Chen (UCLA) and Ryne Rohla (Washington State), the findings of which should be classified as latest preliminary evidence that there is something wrong with our posture regarding politics:
Using smartphone-tracking data and precinct-level voting, we show that politically divided families shortened Thanksgiving dinners by 20-30 minutes following the divisive 2016 election. This decline survives comparisons with 2015 and extensive demographic and spatial controls, and more than doubles in media markets with heavy political advertising. These effects appear asymmetric: while Democratic voters traveled less in 2016, political differences shortened Thanksgiving dinners more among Republican voters, especially where political advertising was heaviest. Partisan polarization may degrade close family ties with large aggregate implications; we estimate 27 million person-hours of cross-partisan Thanksgiving discourse were lost in 2016 to ad-fueled partisan effects.
(HT: Marginal Revolution)

Governing is hard
CBC: "Government still can't say when legal pot goes on sale in Canada." The Liberal government originally said the law will be in place by Canada Day 2018, but now they are saying it will be the month of July 2018. And that doesn't include getting provincial regulations in place.

Root causes
Wesley Smith says that human interaction is the key to understanding recent mass shootings. Places where people connect with each other were the locus of the atrocities and the decline of human interactions could be the root cause for them. Smith writes:
But the non-ideological killers stymie us. Not only are we left striving to comprehend the why of such chaotic savagery, but we also find ourselves yelling at each other over what to do about it. “Control guns!” some say. Others respond that we should let more people be trained to carry guns as an informal security force. It’s all gotten so banal. Tell me which side I’m on, and I’ll spit out the talking points.
Our problem isn’t too many or too few guns. It’s the culture. We are sickened by a malignancy striking at the human condition. Notice that all these attacks were committed in places of intense human bonding: kids learning together in school, parishioners praying in church, country music fans partying at a concert festival. Beyond killing for its own dark sake, I think these mass murderers aimed at destroying human interconnectivity. In this sense, we were all the intended victims.
Surely such all-consuming malevolence did not arise spontaneously from darkened hearts. There seems to be an infectious desire — or, if you will, a spirit of the age — to break the human ties that bind.
Smith recounts an anecdote that shows how automation (checking into a hotel) severs us from one another. But it isn't only technology:
We live in an age in which many of our elites sniff disdainfully at those who gather together in prayer and faith; when even that great unifier, football, has become politically divisive; and in which many children are being raised in homes without emotional stability. In such an uncoupling culture, severely damaged people more readily metastasize into monsters.
Gun don't kill people, people kill people. Disconnected people kill people.

Friday, November 10, 2017
Best typical eating
Tyler Cowen is asked:
“You have to drop a pin somewhere. Thereafter, at each meal time, a random person living within 30km of that pin will be selected, and you will eat an exact copy of what he is eating. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, for the rest of your life, a different random person, but always within 30km of that pin. Where do you drop it?”
Cowen answers: "I go for the three s’s: Singapore, Seoul, and Sicily ... Seoul is especially good for vegetables, Singapore for variety, Sicily for yummy!"
In the past Cowen has said that Scarborough (east Toronto) might be the best place for ethnic restaurants in the world. Read the comments for explanation that Cowen doesn't really get into.

EU gives more to farmers
The European Union already provides €58 billion a year in subsidies to farmers. Now they are giving the agriculture industry the right to form cartels to strengthen their hand in dealing with the food processing and supermarket industries. They are also intervening in the food supply chain with the European Commission formalizing supply contracts and France is considering setting floors for some agricultural products. The changes reverses recent attempts to bring market discipline to the ag industry. The European media has been full of stories in the last year or so about small farms going under, food shortages, and an alleged "epidemic" of farmer suicides in France. Just last year, Brussels added subsidies for the dairy industry to address some of these issues.

Why university is a complete waste of time & money for half the student population
Mark Steyn has an essay on Professor Mark Bray, a lecturer in history at the Gender Research Institute at Dartmouth, an antifa intellectual. Steyn quotes a Chronicle of Higher Education article on Bray, who is touring promoting his new book:
In fact, there's a point Mr. Bray made in an interview that Mr. Scott often finds himself citing. "We don't look back at the Weimar Republic today and celebrate them for allowing Nazis to have their free-speech rights," he says. "We look back and say, Why didn't they do something?"
Steyn says:
It is a testament to the wholesale moronization of our culture that there are gazillions of apparently sane people willing to take out six figures of debt they'll be paying off for decades for the privilege of being "taught" by the likes of Professor Bray. The reason "we don't look back at the Weimar Republic today and celebrate them for allowing Nazis to have their free-speech rights" is because they didn't.
Bray might be a celebrity example, but is hardly unique is teaching #fakehistory.

Thursday, November 09, 2017
Four week 10 NFL games to watch
Honourable mention: Houston Texans (3-5) at LA Rams (6-2), late Sunday afternoon. I wanted to have the Arizona Cardinals-Seattle Seahawks Thursday night contest listed somewhere because this could be a more intriguing matchup than it sounds but only a game separates the two NFC West rivals. However, both Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas could miss the game, thus making the 'Hawks D not only less impactful but less fun to watch. That and their terrible colour rush uniforms. So the honourable mention instead goes to a game that would have been the game of the week had Deshaun Watson not got hurt. But he did. This game probably won't be close: the Rams are averaging 32.9 points per game and Texans starter Tom Savage is atrocious. The Rams are a really fun team to watch, and if you don't mind lop-sided contests you can enjoy the offensive explosion led by QB Jared Goff and RB Todd Gurley and deep and diverse cast of receivers. The Rams have scored 40 or more points three times in eight games, one more such scoring prowess than they've had in the previous ten seasons. Rams win easily. Watch to see if they break 40 again after scoring 51 against the Giants last week.
4. Miami Dolphins (4-4) at Carolina Panthers (6-3), Monday night: It is hard to believe that neither of these teams are sub-500 if you have watched many of their games. Both sides have won contests in which they performed poorly. So there is a certain value in watching and figuring out why Miami is a fringey wild card team and the Panthers are in the mix for not only a playoff spot but potentially a bye. Cam Newton is pretty good at making plays and it's enjoyable watching him leap into the end zone or scramble for a first down; Jay Cutler is pretty good at sulking and sucking the life of out his team-mates. The latter can be pretty damn entertaining. I seriously considered putting the New York Giants-San Francisco 49ers game here in the Draft Pick Bowl, a contest that could determine the number one pick but the Giants and Niners are bad in a non-entertaining way, so the highly playoff-relevant, interconference Fins and Panthers contest gets the nod instead. Panthers win at home, probably by a lot of points, and that'll make watching the sulking-on-the-sidelines Cutler that much more entertaining to watch.
3. New England Patriots (6-2) at Denver Broncos (3-5), Sunday night: Despite getting scorched by the Eagles offense last week, Denver has the top-rated D according to ESPN's FPI and the sixth-best defense according to Football Outsiders. This is pretty close to must-win for the Broncs and they'll need Von Miller to get to Tom Brady for this defense to slow down the Pats offense. (Brady has been sacked 21 times and is on pace for a career high in that category.) New England is on a four game winning streak and coming off a bye, but they haven't scored more than 24 points in any of those wins and have been kept to under 20 twice. The Pats have struggled against the Broncos, especially in Denver, but the lack of an NFL-ready quarterback will make if very difficult for the home team to compete even if their defense limits Brady to under 20 points. New England could do a little better than eke out a victory this week. If Paxton Lynch, who is returning from injury, gets inserted into the game, there is a chance fans will get to watch the future quarterback of the Broncos, but more likely -- considering that he hasn't been able to win the starting job over Trevor Siemian in either of the last two pre-seasons -- we'll see the reason Denver could draft a QB in the first round or sign a free agent quarterback this off-season. Or we could see Siemian return to action a week after losing his starting job to much-maligned QB Brock Osweiler.
2. Dallas Cowboys (5-3) at Atlanta Falcons (4-4), late Sunday afternoon: Atlanta is scoring the equivalent of two full touchdowns per game less than they were last year. Over the past few weeks the 'Boys offense has looked much like it did last year after a slow start in 2017. The D is getting better, too. In Falcons WR Julio Jones and Cowboys QB Dak Prescott, you have two of the NFL's most exciting players to watch. The Falcons are still very much part of the playoff picture but won't be if they lose. ESPN rates this game extremely important for Atlanta: a win and their playoff chances rise to 27% but a loss drops their chances to under 10%. Ezekiel Elliott may begin serving his suspension but Dallas seems equipped to deal with his absence (although obviously they are better with him). Atlanta is favoured by three at home but I see the Cowboys by more than a touchdown.
1. New Orleans Saints (6-2) at Buffalo Bills (5-3), early Sunday afternoon: The advanced metrics have the Bills defense declining to the point of league average but they are still tied for fifth stingiest in the NFL as Buffalo has allowed just 18.6 ppg. The Saints offense is much more dangerous but is allowing just 15 points per game over this six-game winning streak and have kept opponents to 17 or fewer points in five of their last six games. There is some worry about Drew Brees in the outdoors in November, but that's more narrative than analysis. The Saints can beat opponents a a variety of ways with defense, Brees airing it out, or their diverse running game. Rookie RB Alvin Kamara will be an offensive rookie of the year candidate and he makes highlight-reel plays. Saints eke out a road victory against a toughish opponent.

The fine line between acting and lying
Fascinating and troubling Atlantic interview with Ishii Yuichi, proprietor of the Japanese company Family Romance. Yuichi and his actor employees play roles in people's lives to makeup for the lack of friends and family (and more). A single mother needs a father so her child isn't discriminated against. A widower has an actress pretend to be his former wife. An employee has a stand-in represent himself to take criticism from an employer. (Not sure why the employer doesn't know who the real employee is.) A lesbian daughter faking an entire wedding to make her family happy. There is an in-depth exchange about the role of father Yuichi plays in one girl's life; she believes he is her father and he spends a few hours every week with her but then leaves, as he explains, for his other family. Yuichi says if the client (the girl's mother) doesn't tell her, he'll have to play the role of grandfather to his fake child's children some day. It is all very disturbing and in many ways seems unfair to those who are being deceived. As Yuichi suggests, this service thrives in a culture that is depopulating. The company's motto is "more than real." I highly recommend reading the full interview.

What I'm reading
1. James Noble Allan: The Man. The Mason. The MPP by Allison F. Gowling. Even though he was a long-time and influential Ontario finance minister (in the Leslie Frost ministry), this book is mostly about Jim Allan the Mason.
2. The Ordinary Virtues: Moral Order in a Divided World by Michael Ignatieff
3. Mercies in Disguise: A Story of Hope, a Family’s Genetic Destiny, and the Science That Rescued Them by Gina Kolata. I disagree with the thrust of the book (pro-genetic screening) but the issue is made clear through human stories.
4. Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That'll Improve and/or Ruin Everything by Kelly Weinersmith and Zach Weinersmith

Signing a climate agreement is not the same thing as tackling climate change
The latest post-Paris conference get together for government officials and environmental NGOs is in Bonn. The New York Times looks at "how far the world is from meetings its [Paris] climate goals":
Under the Paris deal, each country put forward a proposal to curtail its greenhouse-gas emissions between now and 2030. But no major industrialized country is currently on track to fulfill its pledge, according to new data from the Climate Action Tracker. Not the European Union. Not Canada. Not Japan. And not the United States, which under President Trump is still planning to leave the Paris agreement by 2020.
Worse, even if governments do take further steps to meet their individual pledges, the world will still be on pace to warm well in excess of 2 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the threshold that world leaders vowed to avoid in Paris because they deemed it unacceptably risky.
“One year after the Paris Agreement entered into force, we still find ourselves in a situation where we are not doing nearly enough to save hundreds of millions of people from a miserable future,” said Erik Solheim, head of the United Nations Environment Program.
Most of the rest of the article describes what various countries are doing (and not doing), and the significant efforts being made to reduce carbon emissions (closing coal plants, getting electric cars on the road, renewable energy products) while still not coming close to meeting their treaty obligations. Whether or not one accepts man-made climate change, the takeaway from this story is that the public should judge actions not virtue-signalling treaty signings. But the lack of action signals that the governments signing the treaty do not actually believe anthropomorphic climate change is real, or at least they don't believe their worst-case scare scenarios. (If they do, they are profoundly irresponsible.) Perhaps the half-measures are a balance between the environment and economic considerations, but their alarmist rhetoric suggests such balance is wrong-headed. However, it isn't too conspiratorial to suggest that (at least some) governments are enacting half-measures because they are providing what the duped public wants (at best) or are using climate change as a pretext for government regulation/control of the economy.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017
Off-year election takeaways
Jim Geraghty at NRO last night:
But the key lesson of the night goes far beyond Gillespie. Right now, the Republican party’s brand in Virginia is dirt. Throw in the failure to make New Jersey even remotely competitive, and tonight is about as bad as it can get for the GOP – a sense of déjà vu from the results across the country 2006 and 2008. Democrats are, no doubt, energized by their daily outrages of the Trump era. Congressional Republicans and the Trump administration should feel slapped in the face, and even more pressure to accomplish as much as possible between now and Election Day 2018.
And 538's Nate Silver on Republicans and their reaction to polls:
Republicans should stop taking comfort in the fact that polls underestimated Trump in 2016. They could just as easily wind up overestimating Republicans instead in 2018, as they did in Virginia tonight.
Me: The Republicans shouldn't be fatalistic about the midterms or 2020 or in denial about the challenges the party faces. The Democrats shouldn't celebrate prematurely.

A matter of perspective
New York magazine's Eric Levitz writes:
One year ago, Democrats woke up to find an authoritarian insult-comic headed for the White House — and their party slouching toward oblivion.
The GOP had nominated the most widely reviled presidential candidate in American history ...
Most reviled in New York and the New York Times and Stabucks, maybe. Hillary Clinton was probably the most reviled candidate in history elsewhere (National Review, Fox, on commuter trains, McDonalds).

Tax avoidance
Spiked-Online's Tim Black criticizes the anti-wealth, voyeuristic, so-called journalism of the Paradise Papers. It is ugly and unseemly to invade the privacy of people just because they have money. The moral grandstanding of publications "exposing" a common and well-known practice that is (mostly) legal would be off-putting were it about any other class of individuals. It's a good column, but I have a nit to pick. Black writes:
This is not to defend tax avoidance. There’s nothing virtuous or morally good about trying to limit the amount one pays to the state, no matter how legal it is. But then there is nothing virtuous or morally good about maximising the amount one pays to the state, either.
I understand what Black is saying: tax avoidance is neither good nor bad, it just is, and it isn't something about which others should get upset about. Those who are upset will justify their outrage that the well-off are avoiding taxes, a secular sin in itself. I have no such problem and this is where Black goes wrong. I believer People are duty-bound to legally reduce the amount of tax they surrender to the state because the state is a poor steward of this money. Ottawa or Washington or London or wherever does not have an absolute claim to the money I make. Or Bono makes. Or Stephen Bronfman. Or Lord Ashcroft. Or anyone else. If taxes are confiscatory, if the rates are too high because money is being squandered, taxpayers citizens have a responsibility to deny the state as much of the fruit of their labour as possible.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017
GOP should listen to Ted Cruz
The Hill reports:
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Tuesday criticized the House GOP tax plan for likely raising taxes on individuals in high-tax states such as New York and California and called for language to repeal the individual mandate to produce more revenue.
Cruz called raising taxes on people in wealthy, staunchly Democratic states such as New York and California "a mistake."
Cruz has teamed up with fellow conservative Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in calling for tax reform to include language repealing ObamaCare’s tax penalty on people who don’t buy health insurance.
Punishing success in the Empire and Golden states should take a back seat to punishing those who eschew health insurance for whatever reason, many of whom can't afford it. It's both good politics and good policy.