Sobering Thoughts

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

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Tuesday, October 16, 2018
 
Paul Allen became rich creating a better mousetrap computer experience
From the Washington Post's obituary of Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft:
When Mr. Allen and Gates founded their company, computers were bulky and expensive. Microprocessors had been invented just a few years earlier, and most monitors showed nothing but green or white characters on a black screen.
Technology companies were primarily interested in hardware — developing computers that were faster, stronger and smaller than anything that came before. But Mr. Allen and Gates, before most of their peers, realized that the programs a computer ran were just as consequential as the chips and wiring inside the machine. By the late 1990s, Microsoft operating systems would run on nearly 90 percent of personal computers in the United States.
Bill Gates said "Personal computing would not have existed without him." The Windows system and suite of products, often mocked, streamlined office work, making the lives of workers, especially secretaries in small businesses, easier. Pre-Windows, computers had complex but limited operating systems, and doing even simple tasks such as publishing or accounting on a computer made little sense. After Windows, computers became easier to use and thus more practical for smaller offices and home-use. Allen's obituaries focus on his post-Windows, ostensibly more exciting ventures: buying sports teams, his luxurious yacht, finding WWII shipwrecks, funding a pop culture museum. But he was able to do those things because he made the lives of tens of millions of people better off by selling them or their employer a product that made their lives simpler or more enjoyable.
Microsoft is often held up as a model of a company that seeks both profitability and making a positive contribution to society. But companies are profitable because they have an impact on the world, and the charitable giving or agenda-driving is not the way Paul Allen, Bill Gates, and other entrepreneurs primarily benefit society. Producing goods and services that make the lives of consumers better is the primary benefit to society. We shouldn't lose sight of that.


Sunday, October 14, 2018
 
The future of #NeverTrump and conservatism
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat says post-Trump Trumpism will change conservatism and briefly explores some ways it might happen. The new conservatism means some "conservatives" will move to the Democrats or (more likely) become centrist independents. Douthat correctly says that not all #NeverTrumpers are the same, but an intellectually important group of the past four decades (neoconservatives) will almost certainly not fit into a party that is more nationalist and less enthusiastic about free trade:
But an important group of NeverTrumpers identified with the right on a very specific set of issues — support for the 1990s-era free trade consensus, Wilsonian hawkishness, democracy promotion — that are unlikely to animate conservatism again any time soon no matter how the Trump presidency ends. These intellectuals and strategists aren’t particularly culturally conservative, they’re allergic to populism, they don’t have any reason to identify with a conservatism that’s wary of nation-building and globalization — and soon enough, they won’t ...
People in this camp will remain interesting, as converts and apostates often are. But observers trying to imagine what a decent right might look like after Trump should look elsewhere — to thinkers and writers who basically accept the populist turn, and whose goal is to supply coherence and intellectual ballast, to purge populism of its bigotries and inject good policy instead.
I'm not optimistic that the post-Trump Trumpism of conservatism is going to easily shuck its nastier elements, but getting rid of the Jennifer Rubins and Max Boots might actually help. Douthat doesn't make this point, but a Trumpist movement that does not feel the need to pushback against what were once called RINOs, might not be as reactive and shrill. It might make debate within the movement possible without appearing like it is giving up on the broad goals. Again, I'm not optimistic, but it is possible. What that debate might look like is tackled in the current Time cover story by Sam Tanenhaus, who writes about "intellectuals working to build the intellectual scaffolding to support Trump’s movement long after he leaves power." Tanenhaus writes:
Too few in number to form a movement, they’re also young and as yet not well known, though some wield surprising influence. One reason is they have big ideas. Another is that they have taken a key lesson of Trump’s rise–the rhetoric of economic populism–and are trying to do the unthinkable: turn the President’s impulses into a constructive, long-term effort to reform the American economy. They count among them economists, law-school grads, magazine editors and former Tea Party activists.
Dispersed throughout Washington, clustered in Senate offices–on the staffs of Marco Rubio and Mike Lee, among others–and congregating at think tanks and in small journals, these insurgents are starting to find a warm welcome from a rising class of party voices, including Senators Tom Cotton, Ben Sasse and Tim Scott. They point as well to 34-year-old Representative Mike Gallagher from Green Bay, Wis., a Princeton graduate and former Marine captain who was elected in the Trump wave and promptly joined the leadership of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus ...
The new wave right is cresting in conservative media too. Not on Fox News or talk radio, but in idea and argument hatcheries. You can find its often erudite commentary in the American Conservative and Modern Age, the surprising left-right combinations thrown by the National Interest, in the almost wickedly contrarian American Affairs and on the website American Greatness.
A common thread is facing up to the challenges of globalization, and the fact that many working class Americans are being left behind. This is not merely an economic problem. George Will writes about Senator Ben Sasse's new book, Them: Why We Hate Each Other — and How to Heal, which also touches upon an under-appreciated problem: loneliness and social isolation. Will writes:
Repairing America’s physical infrastructure, although expensive, is conceptually simple, involving steel and concrete. The crumbling of America’s social infrastructure presents a daunting challenge: We do not know how to develop what Sasse wants, “new habits of mind and heart . . . new practices of neighborliness.” We do know that more government, which means more saturation of society with politics, is not a sufficient answer.
Which does not mean there are not political answers. And conservatives, like Sasse (and Douthat and Will) are in position to talk about the non-political solutions to this problem. But at the very least, future conservatives should be thinking about how to not make the problem of social isolation worse. There must be more to conservatism than tax cuts, being tough on crime, and foreign military adventures. If Donald Trump prods the Republican Party and conservative movement to be broader in its thinking and policy prescriptions, his presidency could be more transformative than, say, the makeup of the Supreme Court that many on the Right were hoping for. And more consequential.


Saturday, October 13, 2018
 
WWE Power Rankings
This is week 3 of my WWE Power Rankings, covering the WWE Universe (Raw, Smackdown, 205 Live, NXT, but not the Mae Young Classic or the Mixed Match Challenge). It'll be the top 13 with honourable mentions and then the bottom ranking for the worst performance/storyline of the week. Wrestling and promos are considered, looking at performance, entertainment value, and narrative. Tag teams may be considered as units or individuals, and be listed taking one or two spots. I'm changing the format slightly going forward. Instead of an honourable mention that is essentially #14, the honourable mentions will be personalities who got some consideration to make the list but came up short.
Worst: Lio Rush (Raw): I understand that as Bobby Lashley's hype-man, he was trying to generate heat for the heel-turn, but talking into the mic and over the speakers throughout a match was not merely distracting but annoying. I was tempted to not only fast-forward the match, but turn off the show. It is one thing to get the fans to hate the actors, but it's bad to get us to hate the show. Rush crossed that dangerous line. Big misstep here by the WWE.
Honourable mentions: New Day's (Raw): Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods had a quality opening match against The Bar at the Super Show-Down. The finishing move used by New Day (the backstabber double stomp) was incredible; Bobby Lashley (Raw) turned heel on Raw and a little unconventionally by beating up another heel, Kevin Owens, but this will help his character which has been a giant energy-suck as a face; Valveteen Dream (NXT), one of the best promos in the WWE, challenged Tomasso Ciampa to open NXT; Adam Cole and Pete Dunne (NXT) for being part of the one best matches of the year.
13. Kurt Angle (Raw). The still vacationing Raw general manager, Kurt Angle, beat acting general manager Baron Corbin in a Battle Royale of "international superstars" that no one had ever heard of, except the masked Conquistador, which has been played by various wrestlers over the years. When Corbin thought he eliminated all his opponents, the Conquistador entered the ring and after a few brief moves, threw Constable Corbin over the top rope to win a spot in the World Cup tournament to be held at Crown Jewel, the glorified house show/PPV next month. The Conquistador removed his mask to reveal himself: Kurt Angle. I think this sets up a Survivor Series contest between Team Angle and Team Corbin with the winner getting the job of general manager. It is this storyline and Angle's return to ring that put him on the Power Rankings, because his performance in the ring was wooden, even by Angle's standards (Last week: Not rated)
12. Cedric Alexander (205 Live): He may have lost the Cruiserweight title against Buddy Murphy at the Super Show-Down, but it was the best fight of the week and there is no dishonour in losing to Murphy in his hometown for his first defeat in a year. Alexander is one of the most exciting performers in the ring and he is strongly positioned to regain his title back on American soil. However, "four" days after dropping his title to Murphy in Australia, Alexander lost to Tony Nese on 205 Live. In an earlier promo, Alexander dismissed Mustafa Ali's concerns that he is returning to the ring too soon. The commentators referenced the travel schedule. If Alexander's only loss was to Murphy, he'd still be top five, but taking two defeats in a week after not losing a single's contest in a year signals weakness. That sets up an interesting story, even if we don't know what it is yet. (Last week: Not rated)
11. Tomasso Ciampa (NXT): Having the NXT championship on one of the great braggadocios is terrific. Having him out-promo the vain Velveteen Dream was wonderful. This better set up a title defense against the Dream, which is logical booking. Staring at the insane Nikki Cross as she interfered in the promo was just bonus. (Last week: Not rated)
10. Tony Nese (205 Live): Last week, he gave Johnny Gargano a run for his money on a special appearance on NXT. This week, he defeated Cedric Alexander. 'Nuff said. (Last week: not rated)
9. Roman Reigns (Raw): Right now, the Dogs of War v. Hounds of Justice is THE STORY in Raw. That storyline is a device for the Dean Ambrose story (see below) and Reigns and the others are playing the supporting roles well. (Last week: 6th)
8. Braun Strowman (Raw): Right now, the Dogs of War v. Hounds of Justice is THE STORY in Raw. Reigns, Ziggler, Rollins, McIntyre, and Strowman are playing their supporting roles well. Braun rates better than Reigns because 1) he caught Reigns by the throat as the Universal champ was going to superman punch the monster among men and 2) his bossing around Drew McIntyre & Dolph Ziggler to stop the bickering and get with the program, namely to help him win the Universal championship, sets up some potential storylines. (Last week: Not rated)
7. Dolph Ziggler (Raw): Dolph Ziggler got called out by his tag team partner for being the weak link in the Dogs of War and taking the pin at the PPV, but his team won the six-man tag team re-match Monday. It appears that Ziggler is being set up as the Dogs of War equivalent of Dean Ambrose, a possible turncoat on the team. That's not going to happen, but it's good storytelling. (Last week: 7th)
6. Charlotte Flair (Smackdown): Charlotte Flair beat Smackdown ladies champion Becky Lynch in Australia Saturday by disqualification. In a rematch three days later, they were both counted out after the former champ followed Lynch who tried to leave the contest for the second match in a row. After appearing weak for most the past month, Charlotte took out Lynch by spearing the fan-favourite heel through the video screens where the wrestlers come out. Seldom do fans get to witness such brutality in the women's division. The two face each other at the all-women's PPV, Evolution, later this month, in a last-woman standing match. (Last week: Not rated)
5. Seth Rollins (Raw): Great in-ring performance in two six-man tag matches that are part of the most important storyline in the WWE today, the teasing of Dean Ambrose's turn against The Shield. (Last week: Not rated)
4. Drew McIntyre (Raw): The Scottish Psychopath has planted the seed of doubt in Dean Ambrose's mind about his place in The Shield, he was a dominating presence in the ring during two six-man tag team matches in three days, and he pinned Ambrose in the match on Raw Monday night just one week after he beat Seth Rollins in an non-title match. McIntyre is a not only one half of the current Raw tag champs but a legit threat to both the Universal champ (Roman Reigns) and Intercontinental champion (Rollins). Not many people dominate both singles and tag matches, but McIntyre does. (Last week: 4th)
3. Dean Ambrose (Raw): Dean Ambrose is THE Raw storyline right now. He was part of the winning six-man tag team in Australia but took the pin two days later on Raw. He was convincing in leaving the ring Monday night as someone who did not know his position in The Shield. While the WWE is building this story as a possible betrayal, the actual story is Ambrose figuring out how he fits in with the Hounds of Justice, if at all. I predict WWE will keep in The Shield in the immediate future, but either way he's done a good job in and out of the ring telling this story. (Last week: 2nd)
2. Buddy Murphy (205 Live): Captured the Cruiserweight title in a phenomenal match in his hometown of Melbourne during the PPV Down Under. Murphy had moves that got fans in our house out of their seats in enjoyment. Bonus was the promo shot in Melbourne and played on 205 Live that explained he wasn't on the show this week because the champ does what he wants. (Last week: Not rated)
1. Ricochet (NXT): The North American champion pinned Pete Dunne in a triple-threat match that included Adam Cole. This contest was a half-hour long and no lull in the action. It was one of the best matches of the year, let alone the week. As always, lots of exciting moves, almost-pins, and nothing cheap. As Dunne was about to pin Cole to win the NA title, Ricochet came flying off the top rope with a 630 splash that Dunne could not evade. Ricochet gets the pin. But the highlight was Ricochet's double hurricanrana that flipped both Dunne and Cole off the top rope. (Last week: not rated)


Friday, October 12, 2018
 
Who's running for president
FiveThirtyEight's Perry Bacon Jr., looks at who might be running for the Democratic presidential nomination. He notes:
"The 7 Signs That Someone Might Be Running For President in 2020”: whether a candidate appeared at a political event in an early primary state (Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina), whether they were profiled for a major magazine, whether they campaigned for their party’s candidates for senator or governor, whether they released a book during this campaign cycle, and whether they’re being included in polls of the Democratic field.
Some of this is mutually reinforcing. Once a candidate begins campaigning in early primary states, they'll get included in national polls. Strange that neither Hillary Clinton nor Michelle Obama are listed at all -- both published books in the time between the 2016 presidential election and 2018 midterm period considered. Interestingly, septuagenarians Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden lead the field for number of indicators they check off.


 
Alternatives to the Kavanaugh effect to explain why GOP will keep the Senate
According to FiveThirtyEight, the Republicans now have an 80% chance of maintaining control of the Senate. The conventional wisdom is that this has something to do with Republican voters coming back home because of the Kavanaugh confirmation fiasco. Jay Cost presents another theory: Republican voters are just coming back home:
The historical context here is important. As we all know, Senate elections run in six-year cycles, which means that the seats up this year (collectively known as Class 1) have recently been up for reelection in 2012, 2006, 2000, and 1994. The 1994 election was a good year for Republicans. The party picked up a net of nine seats, in places like Arizona, Michigan, Maine, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee.
Six years later, in 2000, there was some payback. The Democrats netted four seats off the Republicans, claiming victories in Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, and a few other places. In 2006 things went from bad to worse for the GOP, as Republicans lost a net of six seats, with defeats in Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere. And 2012 was a cycle of lost opportunities, as Republicans failed to pick up some obvious targets and overall lost another two seats on net.
If you were keeping track in the above paragraph, you should have 9 – 4 – 6 – 2 = –3. In other words, over the last quarter century, the Democrats have outrun the Republicans by three seats in Senate Class 1. When we consider that, overall, the Republicans have run even or ahead of Democrats for total control of the Senate, it is clear that Class 1 has been the weakest link for the GOP’s Senate caucus.
This implies two crucial points. First, the seats that the GOP is defending this cycle are seats that it has typically won even when it is losing overall. In some places, such as Arizona, Tennessee, and Texas, that is due to the natural partisan tilt of the states. In Nevada, it is due to the fact that Heller is well known and a good fit for the state.
Second, the Democrats are defending seats that, to be honest, they have no real business holding in the first place. Republicans really botched their comeback effort in 2012, which yielded needless losses for the GOP in Indiana, Missouri, Montana, and North Dakota. Luck, such as it is, has consistently been on the Democratic side with Senate Class 1 for many cycles. But this time it doesn’t seem to be favoring the Democrats as much. That leaves them more vulnerable than they would be with any other Senate class.
Math and maps. Or math, maps and Kavanaugh. Or something else.
Consider that "voters" are actually discrete groups within different states with unique candidates, and not a single entity making up its mind about one decision. It's inaccurate to think the states behave as a bloc. In North Dakota, incumbent Democrat Heidi Heitkamp looks to be in trouble, at least in part due to Kavanaugh, but also because ND is a more Republican state. (This would reinforce Cost's argument, but perhaps Joe Manchin would win re-election in the Peace Garden State because he's more conservative, and not merely because he voted for Kavanaugh.) Democrat Claire McCaskill has fallen behind in polls, but statewide Missouri races always seem close. Maybe Republican Senator Dean Heller was a stronger candidate that previously assumed in Nevada. Former Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen's lead has disappeared, which might just be a result of voters in the state starting to pay attention to this race in the final month-and-a-half, whereas Bredesen led in early polls based on name recognition. Beto O'Rourke, media fascination aside, was never likely to win in Texas. Many of these races easily support Cost's argument, but align roughly with the Kavanaugh thesis. Or it just might be a bunch of unique races with distinct issues and personalities. Journalists and strategists impose narratives on elections, but such explanations obscure the fact that elections are the results of millions of people making millions of decisions for countless reasons.


Thursday, October 11, 2018
 
Plastic waste problem is over-stated and misunderstood
Ben Pile writes about the BBC propaganda piece Drowning in Plastic for Spiked-Online, noting that the "single-use" plastic products used by folks in the developed world do not end up in the ocean because we have proper waste management systems:
For places that can afford it, waste is very easy to deal with. The cleanest and most effective way of disposing of most waste is incineration, especially when it comes to plastic, which has a high energy content. The controlled burning of waste allows toxic elements to be captured and the useful energy component to be recycled as heat and electricity.
But this simple solution does not appeal to eco-miserablists. Indeed, the group most likely to raise spurious health and environmental objections to waste incineration is, of course, greens. It was greens that objected to the use of landfill and emphasised recycling. The consequences of this have been a substantial rise in fly-tipping and fires at recycling centres that spew thousands of tonnes of toxic smoke into the atmosphere, which are now a near daily occurrence in the UK. Meanwhile, we have to export a great deal of non-recyclable waste to be incinerated in parts of the world where environmental standards are lower.
In the rich West, banning straws and plastic begs is gesturism. Poor countries need development so they can afford to dispose of garbage properly:
Most plastic waste finds its way into the oceans when it is disposed of in places where poverty is the norm and local governments lack the resources to provide basic services like refuse collection and processing. In these places, waste of all forms is simply dumped in waterways.


Tuesday, October 09, 2018
 
Tokyo Olympics already cost three times more than projected and double estimates from 10 months ago
The CBC reports on the least surprising development in the world:
The price tag keeps soaring for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics despite local organizers and the International Olympic Committee saying that spending is being cut.
A report just released by the national government's Board of Audit shows Japan is likely to spend $25 billion US to prepare the games, and the final number could go even higher.
This is nearly a four-fold increase over Tokyo's winning bid in 2013, which the report said projected costs of 829 billion yen, or $7.3 billion at the current exchange rate of 113 yen to the dollar.
Tracking Tokyo costs is getting more difficult as work speeds up, deadlines near, and disputes arise about what are — and what are not — Olympic expenses. Complicated accounting also makes it difficult to figure out who pays for what, and who profits.
Last December, the Tokyo organizing committee said the Olympic budget was about $12 billion. So costs have doubled in less than a year. At this rate, the cost for the Tokyo Olympics will exceed $100 billion. I'm being facetious. Costs won't double every ten months. But costs have a way of spiraling out of control, especially when, as the IOC contends, non-Olympic spending is getting added to the totals. And that's why many of us have problems with cities hosting international events (World Cup is another): non-event costs get tacked on. Perhaps a city needs transportation upgrades, but then municipalities should be honest and fund them as part of on-going capital investments, not hide the cost as part of doing Olympic business. Some will argue that if hosting the Olympics gets important infrastructure built, so be it. But taxpayers/voters are sold the idea of the Olympics -- or whatever -- costing X, but get stuck with a bill for 3X or 4X; perhaps the voters/taxpayers would have rejected hosting the event if they knew the true cost of holding them. I hope Calgarians are taking note of the Tokyo fiscal fiasco.


Monday, October 08, 2018
 
Nobel Prize in Economics
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences to William Nordhaus and Paul Romer, two popular predicted picks in recent years. Last week I suggested Nordhaus was a frontrunner but had a hard time believing Romer would win for his (eccentric?) association with the idea of charter cities. I don't quite understand giving them the Nobel in the same year, and the suggestion by the RSAS seems a stretch:
William D. Nordhaus, Yale University, New Haven, USA, “for integrating climate change into long-run macroeconomic analysis”
Paul M. Romer, NYU Stern School of Business, New York, USA, “for integrating technological innovations into long-run macroeconomic analysis”
I guess the connection is enlarging "long-run macroeconomic analysis." Both are deserving winners, but I think they deserved separate recognitions, although Nordhaus could have shared the prize with any number of environmental economics specialists. The committee's background papers "Integrating nature and knowledge into economics" (eight pages) and "Scientific Background: Economic growth, technological change, and climate change," (52 pages) are worth reading.
The Washington Post's coverage nicely captures Romer's importance: "His research demonstrated the importance of investing in people and ideas to foster growth, when economists had previously believed that it was impossible to influence the rate of innovation in technology." Yet most of the coverage focuses on Nordhaus, who was the first to model the interplay of the economy and climate change and is considered the father of carbon taxes, probably because climate change is the more fashionable issue; heck, the same day Nordhaus wins an overdue Nobel Prize in Economics, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issues a report sounding the alarm that the world essentially has just 12 years to act on climate change. The New York Times story comes close to "and Paul Romer also won" in its coverage. So does the Daily Telegraph's story.
Tyler Cowen addresses both economists and provides copious links to and about both William Nordhaus and Paul Romer. It is hard to add anything to his extensive treatment. I highly recommend both lengthy posts and also suggest clicking on the links. Cowen also links to items not directly related to the reasons they won the Nobel Prize and I particularly like the understated description of Romer's "complicated tenure" as chief economist at the World Bank. I agree with Cowen's assessment that Nordhaus's "splendid and still-underrated paper ... on the economics of light." Today, graphics showing light concentrations are popular memes, especially with regards to North and South Korea; that's based on a Nordhaus insight.
Romer has been interviewed by Russ Roberts at EconTalk three times. I recommend his 2007 EconTalk interview about economic growth. They are all worth a listen if you enjoy economics podcasts. David Henderson will have his annual article on the Nobel winners in tomorrow's Wall Street Journal.


Saturday, October 06, 2018
 
Cowen predicts Nobel Prize in Economics again
Tyler Cowen, who has never correctly predicted a winner in the year s/he has won, gives it another try:
[T]his year I am in for Esther Duflo and Abihijit Banerjee, possibly with Michael Kremer, for randomized control trials in development economics.
Maybe they are too young, as Tim Harford points out, so my back-up pick remains an environmental prize for Bill Nordhaus, Partha Dasgupta, and Marty Weitzman.
Harford is right. Young economists do not win the Nobel Prize in Economics. RCTs have been an important contribution to the field of economics and Duflo and her husband Banerjee are deserving but while he is youngish at 57, it is very difficult to imagine Duflo winning it at 45.


Friday, October 05, 2018
 
WWE Power Rankings
Last week I started a WWE Power Ranking, covering the WWE Universe (Raw, Smackdown, 205 Live, NXT, but not the Mae Young Classic or the Mixed Match Challenge). It'll be the top 13 with an honourable mention when warranted and then the bottom ranking for the worst performance/storyline of the week. Wrestling and promos are considered, looking at performance, entertainment value, and narrative. Tag teams may be considered as units or individuals, and be listed taking one or two spots.
Worst performance of the week: Paige (Smackdown): Smackdown general manager Paige is a weak leader, often pushed around by wrestlers in the blue brand. Maybe not so much pushed around as easily convinced to change course. After last week's closing promo of Samoa Joe at the door of champion AJ Styles's house and the presumed threat to his family it presented, Paige had to act. She said the police were dispatched and nothing happened but still called it the most "dastardly" event in WWE history, which is something considering what has happened in real life (Chris Benoit's double-murder and suicide) and everything in Kayfabe (necrophilia, for starters). She then said she had no choice but to fire Samoa Joe. However, AJ Styles told her not to fire Joe because he wanted to take care of him at the Super Show-Down pay-per-view in Australia Saturday. Understanding none of this is real -- in fact, it is scripted -- threatening a co-worker's family is a criminal matter and firing offense, not something to be taken care of by the boys on their own. The general manager's ineptitude and weakness isn't meant to be part of the storyline, but it should be. It should be a firing offense. (Last week: not rated)
Honourable mention: Konnor (Raw): Kinda strange to see Chad Gable create a tag team with Bobby Roode only for the competitors to face Ascension's Konnor in back-to-back singles matches. The Ascension was okay in NXT but has been lost and buried in the big leagues. Konnor won both contests against Gable and Roode, and cleanly. Not sure what WWE is doing with this. My guess is that it's more about Gable and Roode than Ascension, but the fact that the face-painted tag team isn't losing, and Konnor is getting promo time, is a big plus for them. Let's give him his due while the winning lasts. (Last week: Not rated)
13. Authors of Pain (Raw): As I noted last week, the Authors of Pain were one of the most exciting things in NXT and have almost completely disappeared since moving to Raw in the shakeup in April. The best they do is win squash matches against local jobbers which only gets a team so far. Last week they held their own -- and at times dominated -- against The Shield. This week they attacked former tag champs B Team after Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel beat the Revival. Good move and it may be the beginning of a series of matches with an established Raw-level tag team. Wasn't thrilled with acting general manager Baron Corbin congratulating AOP after their post-match attack, but that probably indicates Corbin is eyeing something bigger for them which is only good. (Last week: 3rd)
12. The Miz (Smackdown): He joined the broadcast team to comment on the Daniel Bryan-Shelton Benjamin match and was his usual fantastic self on the microphone. After the match, he beat the snot out of Bryan outside the ring. This weekend the two face each other at the Super Show-Down with the winner getting a world championship match. The Smackdown beating is meant to weaken Bryan before the pay-per-view contest. Entertaining and meaningful, rather than boring and contrived like so many storylines right now. (Last week: Not rated)
11. Shelton Benjamin (Smackdown): If you don't include the Randy Orton-Tye Dillinger match that never officially started, there were three contests in this week's Smackdown go-home show that ran for a total of 22 minutes (over the two-hour show). Asuka defeating Peyton Royce in about 3.5 minutes was one of them, and a mixed-tag team contest with almost no storyline was another. That left Shelton Benjamin's contest with Daniel Bryan as the only real men's match. The storyline is that Benjamin called out Bryan on social media, whose nemesis The Miz called on general manager Paige to grant the match. The Miz joined the broadcast team for the match and that doesn't happen unless the visitor someone inserts himself into the contest. Benjamin, a former tag team and world champion, more than held his own against Bryan, but took advantage of The Miz distracting Bryan to win the match. It was a solid 10-minutes of wrestling with good kicks and counter-moves, with Benjamin getting his first televised victory since the shakeup in April. (Last week: Not rated)
10. Randy Orton (Smackdown): I have mixed feelings about putting The Viper on the list this week. I liked his attacks on Jeff Hardy, including the difficult-to-watch sadistic pulling of the earring-holes. I like the new legend-killer Randy Orton. But fighting Tye Dillinger seems to be both fighting below one's weight and broadening the definition of legend a little more than is necessary. If Orton is going to target legends, Daniel Bryan and A.J. Styles should top the list, not someone whose last victory on Smackdown was ... when? I don't remember. Still, the sadistic attack on Dillinger's finger, which implied it was broken, moves the character's story: not only is Orton taking on legends, he's taking out opponents. This would be much higher if his victim was someone other than Tye Dillinger. (Last week: Not rated)
9. TJP (205 Live): Really good match with Kalisto as part of TJP's feud with every luchador on the roster. TJP lost, but fought back after a fast Kalisto start. It always felt like TJP was going to win, especially after he kicked out of the pin following a late-match twisting sunset flip powerbomb. Unlike his other outings against other Mexican products, TJP didn't win but he still ripped off the lucha mask. Good feud (against a whole genre of wrestling?), great match. (Last week: Not rated)
8. Kalisto (205 Live): Great match and was victorious even if the win was cheapened by being a roll-up. I assume the next step in this broad feud is TJP finding a partner and facing multiple luchadors. (Last week: Not rated)
7. Dolph Ziggler (Raw): Solid match with Roman Reigns in a non-title contest, won by the reigning champion, which meant that the Hounds of Justice and Dogs of War sort of split their go-home show matches with a victory each (Reigns and McIntyre in their respective matches against Ziggler and Seth Rollins) and a disqualification (between Braun Strowman and Dean Ambrose). Ziggler looked like the weak link creating a very minor hint that he could be the odd man out (of the Dogs of War) rather than Dean Ambrose at the Super Show-Down. But Ziggler doesn't look weak losing to the champion. Most importantly, it was just a good fight between two of the more important characters on Raw. (Last week: 6)
6. Roman Reigns (Raw): See Ziggler, but Reigns won so he gets the edge. (Last week: Not rated)
5. Johnny Gargano (NXT): Great match with Tony Nese, who took part on NXT instead of 205 Live this week, probably the best wrestling all week. Gargano had some high-flying moves, Nese demonstrated his power, both sides sold well, and some terrific counter-moves. From a pure wrestling standpoint this was fun. There was no controversial ending or seeds for a feud, so this fight probably served no other purpose than to give Gargano a quality win because he's a terrific wrestler and his feud with Ciampa is over and he isn't part of any title scene. Thought this match could provide the reason for Gargano to be called up to 205 Live, but there is no obvious reason for him to face Nese again. (Last week: Not rated)
4. Drew McIntyre (RAW): Drew McIntyre beat Seth Rollins in a non-title match. Tag partner Dolph Ziggler interfered in the match as a distraction, but the Scottish Psychopath had the upper-hand throughout much of the contest. Some really good wrestling in the ring, including a number of new or rarely used counter-moves on both sides. Both did a great job, but McIntyre gets the nod for the rankings because he won. (Last week: 10)
3. Ruby Riott (Raw): Ronda Rousey has been phenomenal since joining the WWE in January. In the few televised and PPV matches she's had she's looked unbeatable. Really, who can beat Rousey cleanly? Nix Jax might be powerful enough but she was about to lose the title to Rousey in Money in the Bank when Alexa Bliss interfered with her cash-in. Charlotte Flair is almost certainly good enough to beat Rousey, but she's on the blue brand. Maybe Becky Lynch, but she's also on Smackdown. I don't see Sasha Banks or Bailey quite being up to the job. The fact is Rousey is going to dominate the women's division for some time, unless there is some kind of shenanigans. At least that's the way it looked until this week. Ruby Riott had Rousey looking weak in a non-title match in the go-home show before the Riott squad faces Rousey and the Bella twins in this weekend's pay-per-view. Riott was ultra aggressive and never relented in beating on Rousey. The champ stopped the assault at one point with counter-strikes but Riott regained the upper-hand. Suddenly, Rousey countered with one of her mega-powerful throws (she needs to learn to let up a little because in wrestling, unlike MNA, the opponent will help out) and patented armbar for a fast submission. Riott got four or five pin attempts on the champ and on one close two-count, I was convinced Rousey was going to lose. Give us more Rousey-Riott, sans the Bellas and Riott's squad. (Last week: Not rated)
2. Dean Ambrose (Raw): For the second week in a row, the Raw storyline has been almost entirely about Dean Ambrose’s place in The Shield and the question of whether he will turn on his brothers before or at the Super Show-Down in Australia this weekend. The storytelling has been very good and I’ve heard from a few people who thought I should have rated Ambrose first last week (or, at least near the top). Probably should have. The reason I didn’t is that most of the story was propelled by his antagonists Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler, and his allies, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns. This week, however, it was all Dean. There were still interactions between Ambrose and his Shield brothers, or Ambrose and the Dogs of War. I loved the part where acting general manager Baron Corbin gave Dean Ambrose a choice amongst title shots against Rollins or Reigns for the intercontinental or universal championships respectively, or a match against Braun Strowman. Ambrose chose Strowman, although historically The Shield has fought one another without incident when glory was on the line (Royal Rumble, for example). Other than from a narrative perspective, there was no need for Reigns and Rollins to “save” Ambrose in that match, but the interference provided predictable tension that the moody Ambrose would pushback against needing their help. The promos in the rest of Raw teased the possibility of Ambrose thinking about betrayal. I’m hoping for a swerve and Ambrose stays with the Shield for a few more months. There is room for that. For now, the will-he/won't he storyline continues, at least until this weekend’s “global pay-per-view.” And Ambrose is at the center of that storyline and doing a superb job. His typically brooding character tailor-made for a story about being torn between helping his long-time pals who ostensibly do not appreciate his contribution to their team and either going it alone in search of gold or joining the Dogs of War. Great storytelling but not the best thing about Raw this week. (Last week: 9th)
1. Elias (Raw): Elias came out with at least 45 minutes remaining and perhaps two matches (including a brief women’s contest) to go until the end of the show. He was joined on stage (in the ring, but it was a promo, so stage works) by Kevin Owens. Two great heals. Two great talkers. They’d do the mutual admiration society, insult the home-town crowd, and get ready for Owens to face Bobby Lashley, probably with a little banter with Lashley hype guy Lio Rush. What happened was amazing. Owens is good at getting heat. So is Elias. But when Elias insulted the Seattle fans with about the John Cena/Bobby Lashley tag team he and Owens will face in Australia make about "as much sense as a basketball team in Seattle," it began a symphony of boos that lasted seven minutes. Elias and Owens sat and enjoyed the shower of opprobrium and when they continued their banter, they had to yell to be (barely) heard over the speaker system. The smirk on Elias’s face showed he was both surprised and pleased with the heat they were getting. Every heel hopes to get this kind of heat. Nothing Rowdy Roddy Piper did got seven minutes of sustained boos. Insulting the local sports team is the cheapest way to get heat, but this was special, hitting a particular sore spot with the Seattle faithful. This will probably end up being one of my three favourite wrestling moments of the year. (Last week: Not rated)


 
Sorry I couldn't write, but life was happening ...
From the New York Times review of Life in Culture:
Nearly all the letters in “Life in Culture: Selected Letters of Lionel Trilling,” edited by Adam Kirsch, begin with apologies and small arias of explanation for delay. Most of these explanations have to do with course- and committee-work at Columbia University, where Trilling taught for most of his career. Sometimes the excuses were existential. My favorite appears in a 1951 letter, in which Trilling tells Norman Podhoretz that “nothing less than the totality of The Modern Situation, the whole of Democratic Culture, has kept me from writing to you.” Kids, do not try this excuse at home.
Love that. Trilling was a liberal and sometimes very nasty about conservatives (Podhoretz wasn't a conservative yet in 1951), but he was intelligent and a joy to read, as evidenced by his apology above. This is the sort of book I would have bought and read immediately upon publication but is now probably something I'll ask for as a gift and read when I get around to it. I hope Joseph Epstein reviews the Trilling letters; I'll be eagerly checking the Weekly Standard and New Criterion.
Sort of related to Trilling's excuse is something mentioned in David Warren's latest online essay: "As an old Czech friend used to say, 'Always, there is something going on. For this I do not need newspapers'." The totality of the whole modern situation matters much less when we ignore it. Today ended a three-week fast of the hardcopy editions of the four Toronto dailies. I already miss not getting them.


Wednesday, October 03, 2018
 
Nobel Economics Prize
Predicting the Nobel Prize for Economics is a mug's game. A few years ago Tyler Cowen noted he has not once been correct. In recent years, some deserving winners have passed away and the prize cannot be awarded posthumously (on top of the list is William Baumol, but there are others). Frankly, I cannot believe the committee never recognized Baumol for his cost-disease hypothesis and extensive work on the the economics of culture and on entrepreneurship. So here is who I think will win when the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel is announced in Sweden on Monday.
Two possible environment economics scholars probably top this list: Yale's William Nordhaus (modeling the economics of climate change) and Harvard's Martin Weitzman (wide range of environmental issues, notably maintaining diversity with his 1988 Noah's Ark Problem). I've thought Nordhaus was top of the list for the last few years. Some year I'll be correct. Nordhaus could win this on his own, but if Weitzman would be a co-winner with Nordhaus or another environmental economist.
Stanford's Robert Hall for his work on labour, recessions and unemployment. I'm not sure if his work with Alvin Rabushka on the flat tax will hurt him for consideration. But his work popularized the idea of labour turnover.
Harvard's Robert Barro (economic growth) and Harvard's Dale Jorgenson (productivity) will probably be on the shortlist.
These are three deserving winners who I do not think will garner serious consideration:
University of Chicago's Raghuram Rajan has done great theoretical work on corporate finance and good practical work as chief economist at the IMF and Governor of the Bank of India. But not a lot of economists who held important and influential government or international organization positions get recognized. There is an argument for that to change and that argument is Rajan. However, Richard Thaler, another Chicago economist, won it last year.
Stanford's John Taylor is a leading monetary-policy scholar but I assume the fact he was reportedly short-listed by Donald Trump for Federal Reserve chair doesn't help him. Most recently, his empirical research suggests demand-side stimulus doesn't work (questioning multipliers).
NYU's Paul Romer for his extensive work on economic growth. He is a former chief economist at the World Bank and is a promoter of charter cities (see his TED talk).


Tuesday, October 02, 2018
 
Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt at AEI
Authors Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt were at the American Enterprise Institute to talk about their new book The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure. Moderated by Jonathan Rauch and joined on the panel by psychiatrist Sally Satel, watching this video is a good use of 90 minutes. One of the ways in which the book is a little different than the standard complaints about the culture of victimhood is that they say "safetyism" does not actually help the students who want to be protected from different points of view because it does not teach the snowflake generation how to deal with conflict. Satel usefully expands on this point. Wrapping kids up in bubble-wrap does not protect them over time. The issue is less free inquiry than building resilience.
John Warner, a writer, editor, consultant, and educator, has "a million thoughts" on the book. It focuses on mental and physical health of students, and concludes, "Students have not been coddled, they’ve been defeated." His long essay is worth reading, too.


Monday, October 01, 2018
 
Appealing to identity
Three posts from George Mason University economists and one comment in a post from an economist nominally affiliated with the Mercatus Center which is affiliated with GMU, each of which address appealing to identity in discussions/debate: Bryan Caplan, Tyler Cowen, Cowen again, and Arnold Kling. I think they are all worth reading and thinking about, and if this topic really interests you, read Caplan's July post on identity and bigotry which provides further insights into his thinking. Caplan doesn't think highly of "appealing to your identity," which he describes as "a reason to discount what you say, not a reason to pay extra attention." I strongly agree with this sentiment. For Caplan, appeals to identity are not "epistemically respectable," because they hope to win an argument not by reason or logic, but by making the listener uncomfortable. Kling mostly agrees that appeals to identity are "a negative signal," because "Opening with 'Speaking as a ____' is a bullying tactic." That line seeks to not only make people uncomfortable and submit to agreement due that that discomfort, but to silence other voices as less legitimate or even illegitimate. Here's a counter-intuitive argument against the validity of statements that begin with "Speaking as a ____": one's identity biases the speaker and therefore should be discounted. While we are conditioned to think that the views of women matter most on women's issue or that the experience of blacks on race issues should be privileged in discussions about such issues, perhaps, instead, these people are too close to understand what is really happening. Or as Caplan says, "The more you identify with a group, the worse your myside bias normally becomes." At the very least, they are generalizing from their own experiences, which is an incredibly small sample size on which to base opinions. Caplan outlines some ways in which information about identity is necessary to convey other information or credentials, but " truth-seekers will acknowledge their identity casually to keep information flowing freely." Remember, Caplan (myself and presumably Kling) start off with the assumption that appeals to identity are not honest efforts at truth-seeking but a way to shut down half of the discussion.
I broadly disagree with Cowen's replies to Caplan but find wisdom in specific arguments and insights. For example, Cowen says:
If someone makes a claim you already disagree with, and that person comes from a different background in some manner, you should try to figure out why that person might see the matter differently. You should try harder, at the margin, precisely because the person is from a different background.
It is hard to disagree with that, and indeed discourse would be better if we all tried to do this a little more. It would be much better if we all accomplished this with some consistency.
Cowen also says a few things about which I have mixed feelings/thoughts. For example, Cowen also says:
If someone opens with “Speaking as a transgender latinx labor activist…”, or something similar, perhaps that is somewhat artless, but most likely it is relevant information to me, at least for most of the topics which correlate with that kind of introduction. I am happy enough with direct communication of that information, and don’t quite get [why one would] object to in that regard. Does the speaker have to wait until paragraph seven before obliquely hinting at being transgender?
Fair enough to a point, but Caplan says that such statements should be made casually, almost incidentally, and only in specific circumstances in which the identity provides unique information insights (I would add, with the proviso that an individual's experience is a small sample size and by definition biased). But as much as Cowen has a point, he is also clearly missing the larger one as he seems to think that identity is no different than a credential, like being an economist from GMU or a world-famous blogger or best-selling author. He seems to think that appeals to identity is a legitimate credential from someone lacking more mainstream ones. I don't think that is what appeals to identity are, or at least they are not quite analogous to credentials. Indeed, Caplan makes the argument that identity is not a credential. Most appeals to identity are from mere membership within a group and are not based on accomplishments -- and it would be difficult to claim that having ovaries and dark skin is an accomplishment rather than just a fact. The GMU econ professor has accomplished something (completing post-graduate studies, being hired by an economics department, presumably getting published in academic journals, etc...). The best-selling author wrote a book which a publisher that was worth printing and then was bought by a critical mass of people. But appeals to identity are not a credential based on accomplishment; they are credentials based on self-referential associations to a group. It is unclear why this should confer authority.
Which brings me back to the original point: they are often a bully tactic meant to silence non-members of the identity group of the speaker and therefore such appeals to identity are fundamentally undemocratic in trying to silence particular views or the views of particular people. The point is that members of any identifiable group should still be able to participate in discussion because they are human beings with a point of view; one hopes an insightful, intelligent point of view. It is progress that many more people can participate in discussions and have their voices heard considering there was a time, not long ago, that many could not (notably women and visible minorities). But the voices we hear must be of individuals who can reciprocate listening to the views of others. Appeals to identity politics too often deny this reciprocation and thus are unworthy of serious consideration in personal discussions or public debate.