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, August 31, 2018
Creating a right-wing Facebook or Twitter won't work
Felix Salmon writes at Axios about why it will be difficult for a self-consciously right-wing social media website, or left-wing social media website for that matter. There are four main reasons:
Most people are not primarily political animals, not even now, in the age of Trump. Instagram has become a runaway success precisely because it contains almost zero political content. Almost nobody wants to join an explicitly political social network.
There's no sport in spreading right-wing memes without triggering the libs. That's the whole point!
If the right abandoned Twitter and Facebook, it would lose its ability to complain about censorship. It would be much easier, then, for the platforms to say "if you don't like it here, why don't you just leave."
Financially, a new political social network is a non-starter. Many people have tried to create alternatives to Twitter and Facebook (remember Ello? Peach? Mastodon?); none of them have got off the ground, because they can't reach the necessary scale. That includes Gab, a Twitter for conservatives which has failed to create traction.
As Axios's Dan Primack says: "It's one thing to change the channel from CNN to Fox, but quite another to leave the platform where friends/family post their baby pictures, plan events, etc. Some of us may live our real lives within partisan echo chambers, but most don't."

Thursday, August 30, 2018
We have a surfeit of politics
Buzzfeed's Ben Smith on the problems with "insider" journalism -- the minutiae of the "game" of politics like staff changes, internal polls, and gossip. It gets a little rambly (that isn't a word, but should be) and gets to an important insight: "A Brazilian editor once told me that you could tell his country was in political crisis because everyone was talking about politics all the time. In a normal country, nobody cares about politics." Politics is better when there is less of it and it matters less. I think this phenomenon of total politics is tied to another problem: politics being a zero-sum game in which there are 100% winners and 100% losers. This isn't healthy for the polity or voters. It certainly doesn't lead to good politics. All of this comes with the proviso that for the vast majority of people, perhaps even the majority of voters, politics is at most a minor distraction, if not something that is completely ignored most of the the time (say, outside the closing weeks of an election campaign). But for too many people, especially those who check their twitter for political news more than once a day, politics is an unhealthy obsession.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018
Cowen interviews Claire Lehmann of Quillette
The most recent Conversation with Tyler (Cowen) is with Claire Lehmann, an editor at Quillette. It is worth reading in its entirety or listening to (or both).
My favourite question for people is "what is a big issue you have changed your mind on in the last few years and why?" Few people have satisfying answers. (Liberals who fancy themselves open-minded often say they have difficulty thinking of any substantial issue on which they changed their mind, while libertarian-minded conservatives or conservative-minded libertarians often have quite a few depending on the trajectory of their intellectual/philosophical journey.) Cowen asks this question of Lehmann:
COWEN: What would you say is an issue you’ve changed your mind on?
LEHMANN: I changed my mind on issues to do with the welfare state and inequality, and whether inequality is the right metric to be looking at, or social mobility. I change my mind on that issue quite a lot, and it’s . . .
COWEN: In which direction?
LEHMANN: Just backwards and forwards. I might think that inequality is an important topic that we need to focus on reducing, and then I might listen to another argument and think that it’s poverty that should be the central metric that we should be looking at, and inequality doesn’t really matter.
I find arguments on both sides of that debate to be compelling, and I don’t really know where I stand, but I know that I change my mind on that issue quite a bit.
Here is another excerpt:
COWEN: Let’s say you were in charge of the Anglo-American world, and you could make one change in education, broadly defined so that we would produce more good writers. What would that be?
LEHMANN: I would defund departments that encouraged students to use too much postmodernist jargon. I would clear out a lot of the studies courses—cultural studies, gender studies, critical race studies.
Not that the content shouldn’t be taught, but a lot of these schools really train students in poor writing techniques, using opaque jargon to express ideas, and not putting emphasis on clear thought, logical thought. I would clear them out, just stop funding altogether.
COWEN: When you see writing under a pseudonym or Anonymous, do you think, on average, it’s better writing or worse writing than writing with real names on it?
LEHMANN: I actually think it’s probably better writing.
LEHMANN: More fearless.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018
Post-Brexit free trade
The (London) Times reports that the Theresa May government has announced a free trade agreement with a group of south African countries that will take effect after Brexit:
Theresa May announced that Britain’s first post-Brexit trade agreement would be with African nations as she committed the UK to providing an extra £4 billion of investment in the continent’s economies.
On the first day of her three-day African tour, the prime minister said the government intended to carry over the EU’s economic partnership agreement with Mozambique and the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), which consists of South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho and the tiny kingdoms of Namibia and Swaziland ...
She said an additional £4 billion of investment aimed to pave the way for at least another £4 billion from private sector financing, as part of the government’s ambition to become Africa’s biggest foreign investor in the next four years.
The trade deal is a free trade agreement which is believed to be worth around £10 billion a year. It will become effective the moment Britain leaves the EU and will mean that UK shoppers will continue to be able to buy South African wine, tea and fruit at similar prices.
The Independent poo-poos the announcement saying it is merely a rollover of an existing agreement and that the benefits are negligible in the grand scheme of British trade:
Last year, Britain exported £2.4bn worth of goods to the six African countries included in Ms May’s deal - just 0.7 per cent of the value of its exports to the EU and the rest of the world combined, which were worth £339bn.

CBC discovers people don't like paying more for consumer products
CBC: "Shoppers angry over Walmart charging more for plus-size clothing."
Not sure why this is a story now. Walmart has done this for years. Actually, I'm not sure why this is a story at all. This story illustrates two basic truths.
1. 4XL clothes take a lot more material than even a large. More material could mean higher costs. Higher consumer costs could also be a reflection of increased demand from a increasingly obese population and/or scarcity for larger sizes in department stores (as opposed to specialty big and tall shops). In other words, market forces are at work.
2. Customers prefer lower prices. Larger shoppers comparing clothes in the same bin or hanger see they are paying more for what they consider the same product are not going to be happy paying more.
There is another truth -- and I say this as a size 3XL customer: many people who don't like paying more for larger sizes can do something about it. I prefer high-calorie treats and not exercising more than I prefer paying $10 instead of $12 for plain t-shirts. If the complainers the CBC talked to were more self-aware, I'd guess they share these preferences. Or perhaps they prefer complaining.

'No deal' Project Fear
The Sun reported yesterday:
Smug Eurocrats believe Britain would face such a chaotic meltdown within the first week of a no deal Brexit that it would have little choice but to return to the negotiating table.
Senior diplomats told The Sun that Brits would face “no flights to and from the UK, no ships, no economic activity and no financial transactions” if we failed to agree a deal before we leave the bloc next March.
One ambassador predicted the chaos for businesses and ordinary people in the UK would get so bad the situation would quickly become untenable for the Government.
And a senior EU official said Brussels negotiators were banking on it being such a disaster that the “cycle of negotiations and the political dynamics will be taken over by the real world”.
Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg called the scenario EU-establishment wishful-thinking.

Monday, August 27, 2018
I should be back tomorrow
Busy week with convention (from afar) and work (paper went to bed today). Relaxing tonight by taking the family to watch wrestling live (enjoyed by three pre-teen/teen girls, pair of 20-something boys, and both parents). Tweeting resumes Tuesday.

Friday, August 24, 2018
'Multi-planetary humanity'
Tyler Cowen considers the reasons for settlements on other planets (travel, scarcity on earth, military reasons, religiously motivated movements) and does not consider any of these rationales overly compatible with liberty or equality. He concludes, "interplanetary settlements, whatever their other virtues, will not do much for liberalism or liberty." Settling space, says Cowen, is not like settling America:
America developed to be as free as it did (at least for some people) mostly there was so much free land. Living standards were relatively high, and moving further westward was always an option. It is hard for me to think of an interplanetary version of the same condition. Easy exit and free resources don’t seem to go well together with the concept of space settlement.

Project Fear: No Deal (sperm edition)
The (London) Times reports on official predictions of sperm shortages if there is no Brexit deal:
Couples hoping to conceive through artificial insemination could face delays obtaining donated sperm if Britain leaves the European Union without a deal, according to an official paper.
Technical documents released by the government revealed additional red tape for sperm importers could be among the surprise consequences of a messy divorce from the EU.
The UK imports significant quantities of donated sperm, with more than 3,000 samples imported from Denmark last year and a small number from other European countries. About 4,000 samples were imported from commercial sperm banks in the US ...
Leaving the trade bloc without a deal would mean the UK is no longer part of the EU directives on organ donation and tissues and cells, which cover material including human sperm, eggs, embryos and transplant organs.
The technical paper warned: “UK-licensed establishments working in this area, such as hospitals and fertility clinics, would continue to work to the same quality and safety standards as they did before exit, but some would need new written agreements with relevant EU establishments.”
It added that British organisations would need to make such an agreement with their European counterparts before continuing to import or export tissues or cells.
The paper said it hoped this would be “for the most part a minimum burden on industry” and suggested that organisations use their existing import agreements from suppliers outside Europe as a template.
Does Britain need a post-Brexit version of "lay back and think of England" for men?

Thursday, August 23, 2018
Not The Onion
The Federalist reports:, an online provider of basic health information, has elected to sideline science in favor of feelings by announcing that the terms “vagina” and “penis” are not inclusive enough to the trans community. In order to make sure that everyone in the LGBTQIA cannon feels included — a seemingly unachievable goal with each new letter added to the acronym — Healthline released a statement describing some new trans-friendly terms that have been added to the LGBTQIA safe sex guide.
They feel that many transgender males (born female and identify as male) prefer to call their vaginas “front holes” or “inside genitals” whereas transgender women (born male and identify as female) may prefer to use the terms “girl dick” or “strapless” when referencing their penises.
In a particularly poignant quote, Healthline made it very clear that they are not interested in basic biological facts when it comes to sex education, “Many individuals don’t see body parts as having a gender — people have a gender. And as a result, the notion that a penis is exclusively a male body part and a vulva is exclusively a female body part is inaccurate.”
But the body parts are biological facts, not "gendered" so a penis is a penis and a vulva is a vulva. You would think that a female who self-identifies as male and wants to pretend to have a penis would still call it a penis.
Healthline is not alone is employing the term front hole. Their statement explains:
“Front hole,” as another term for vagina, is also used by the National Institutes of Health, Human Rights Campaign, BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth journal, and Fenway Health in collaboration with Harvard Medical School, the National LGBT Health Education Center, and the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers.
Isn't the mouth also a front hole? I'm just saying the term might be confusing.
Healthline is going to be so inclusive, the Federalist reports, they are going to use both the proper (and apparently sometimes triggering) words and the new (and often confusing) terms:
After some heavy initial criticism of their language inventions, Healthline released a statement reaffirming that they will still be using the words “vagina” and “penis” in their literature in addition to their new “inclusive” terms.
I thought Healthline was a fake website at first; this and other articles seem like satire, but Wikipedia describes it as a competitor to WebMD.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018
'No deal' Project Fear
The (London) Times: "No-deal Brexit could leave hospitals with drug shortage, say NHS chiefs." The paper reports:
Chris Hopson, the group’s chief executive, said that “in the event of a no-deal or hard Brexit”, on the first day outside the EU “the entire supply chain of pharmaceuticals could be adversely affected”. He added: “Public health and disease control co-ordination could also suffer and our efforts to reassure, retain and attract the European workforce on which the NHS relies could also be jeopardised.”
Complete disruption on day one? In a way that affects care? How Brits adequately frightened yet?

First they came for the plastic bags. Then they came for the straws ...
Reason's Christian Britschgi asks, "will balloons be next?" He writes:
An anti-balloon movement is certainly blowing in the wind. In April of this year, the town of New Shoreham, Rhode Island, banned the "sale, use or distribution" of balloons; pop off one of these prohibited inflatables and you'll be looking at a maximum $200 fine. And New Shoreham isn't alone. According to the anti-balloon group Balloons Blow, the Massachusetts towns of Nantucket and Provincetown both ban the sale and use of balloons. (Provincetown's only applies to the helium-filled ones.)
A creeping number of Florida cities and counties have banned balloons entirely on publicly-owned beaches and parks over the past two years. Fines for violators in some localities can hit $250, although park police say they'll go with warnings for first-time offenders. Last year also saw the introduction of bills in Washington and New Jersey that would make it illegal to intentionally release balloons. New Jersey's legislation, which ultimately failed, could have fined folks $500 for intentionally releasing even a single balloon.
There is room for a broader discussion about throwaway culture that one might hope alters consumer behaviour, but the incremental assault on consumer preferences is a direct threat to liberty.
To be fair, the movement to ban balloons began more than three decades ago, so is not necessarily a natural consequence of the virtue-signaling municipal bans against plastic bags and single-use straws. But as Britschgi writes, "the obsessive focus on banning single-use plastic straws may have breathed new life into a dormant war on balloons." It is a useful reminder that when citizens let the government ban X because it seems a small intrusion, or worse, because it doesn't affect us, such movements to punish the use of relatively benign products and services inevitably grow because they are emboldened by their first success. Liberty is destroyed incrementally in free countries. And eventually, statist environmentalists and other so-called progressives will take away everything you like and enjoy. It is just a matter of time. Give them an inch of plastic and they'll take it all away.

Saturday, August 18, 2018
Tyler Cowen pointed to this presentation on populism by Peter A. Hall, Krupp Foundation Professor of European Studies in the Department of Government at Harvard. It's a pdf of slides, but one claim stands out (in part because it reinforces a slightly different version of my central thesis on populism): "The roots of populism lie, not in economics or culture, but in the interaction between them." My version is that some segments of voters can 1) suffer from a decline in economic well-being/status (different things), 2) reasonably believe their children might end up with a lower standard of living than they themselves had, or 3) feel their values/way of life is under attack, and there will be stability in traditional patterns of politics. But when two or three of these phenomenon occur to large swathes of the population, the political moment is ripe for political upheaval through the emergence of populist leaders or movements. This is not a judgement. Populist politics can be a rational and even necessary response for some groups of voters, and, I would more controversially add, be a necessary tonic to what ails politics more generally at any given moment.
Two of Hall's other theses are important: "Where populist causes or candidates win, it is always on the back of a broad electoral coalition" and "Populism has political roots in the convergence of party platforms – ‘no one is listening to us’." The latter is why I say that the emergence of populism can be a necessary and healthy response to problem in politics. When the main competitors in politics are too much alike, populism adds necessary differentiation to give voters choices and broaden the political debate.
There is an interesting essay to be written on a Canadian angle to one slide, "The Results are Creditor Vs Debtor Stand-Offs Played Out in Party Politics," which states that along with the rise of populist parties (which Hall mistakenly limits to right-wing populism in this slide, but not others), is the decline of the traditional center-left parties. So far, Canada seems immune to the political changes that the underlying economic and social changes are causing in politics elsewhere. It is possible that we are just late to the party. Or possibly, the political change has occurred and we did not notice. The Liberal Party of Canada, and Liberal Party of Ontario, are historically centrist parties, but have moved leftward under their most recent full-time leaders (Justin Trudeau nationally and Kathleen Wynne provincially). Perhaps Canada has already experienced the death of its traditional center-left party as the Liberals become much more explicitly left-wing, but because it kept its name, organization, and voters, the party membership, the media, and even the electorate failed to notice that the federal and Ontario Liberals are now fundamentally different parties.

Friday, August 17, 2018
The genome of rice was decoded in 2002 and of maize in 2009. Wheat has been trickier, but scientists have finally figured it out. After explaining the science of why wheat's genome is so complex, Ed Yong writes in The Atlantic:
“Whatever your views on a wheat-based diet, there is no escaping its importance in global food security,” says Alison Bentley, who was not part of the consortium. Bentley is the director of genetics and breeding at the United Kingdom’s National Institute of Agricultural Botany, and although she says that people have made huge progress in breeding wheat in the absence of a genome, having one will speed everything up.
Traditionally, it has taken a lot of trial and error to create new varieties of wheat that, say, tolerate cold or resist fungal diseases. “You throw things together and go through this long process of annual breeding in the hope that your variety has the right package of genes—and that takes years,” says Eversole, who grew up in Oklahoma as part of a farming family. But with a full genome at hand, breeders can identify the genes behind particular traits, and ensure that these are present in their crops. “The goal is to build a better breeder’s toolbox and increase profitability for growers,” she says ...
Researchers might also be able to more easily temper the dark side of wheat. Many people are allergic to glutens and other wheat proteins, leading to disorders like celiac disease, baker’s asthma, and non-celiac wheat sensitivity. Scientists have managed to identify many of the specific proteins responsible, “but until now, we couldn’t determine the genes that encoded those proteins,” says Odd-Arne Olsen from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. His team has now identified 356 such genes. Of these, 127 are new to science, and 222 were known but had been incorrectly sequenced.
The team also found that wheat produces more of the allergens behind celiac disease when grown at high temperatures, which suggests that baked goods might become more allergenic as the world continues to warm. But perhaps, by understanding the genes behind such allergens, breeders will be able to counteract that trend and create less-allergenic varieties.
More efficient yields and healthier wheats are going to happen overnight, but scientists (and thus farmers and consumers) are getting closer.

Thursday, August 16, 2018
How the state protects ensconced businesses
George Will writes about how the state protects existing enterprises at a cost to consumers by obstructing entrepreneurialism through "certificate of need" laws that require businesses demonstrate they should be allowed to provide a particular service because a community needs it (with evidence that it does not if there are already competitors that provide it). Will writes:
There are states where aspiring entrepreneurs must pay (application fees, lawyers) just to try to surmount the opposition of established businesses in order to get a CON entitling them to open a car dealership, operate a moving company, run a food truck or enter other areas of enterprise. And the audacity of economic interests clamoring for government protection from domestic competition seems to be increasing as the Trump administration, with tariffs and import quotas, practices crony capitalism to protect favored industries and companies from foreign competition ...
There are three important lessons from North Carolina’s CON mischief. First, domestic protectionism that burdens consumers for the benefit of entrenched economic interests (e.g., occupational licensing that restricts entry to professions for no reason related to public health and safety) is even more prevalent and costly than are tariffs and import quotas that interfere with international trade. Second, the sprawling, intrusive, interventionist administrative state — a.k.a. modern government — that recognizes no limits to its competence or jurisdiction is inevitably a defender of the entrenched and hence a mechanism for transferring wealth upward. Third, only courts can arrest the marauding of the political class when, with unseemly motives, it pretends to know more than markets do about society’s needs.
Will begins his column discussing the diagnostic imaging center owned by Gajendra Singh, who provides full-service X-rays, ultrasounds, and CT scans, and a limited number of MRIs. He would like to have full MRI services but cannot do so without jumping through the CON hoops the North Carolina government has erected. This not only limits Singh's ability to make a profit, but increases health care costs for thousands of patients (and their insurance companies) who are hostage to large hospitals and whatever they decide to charge consumers, which is often four to three times more than Singh charges (using rented magnetic resonance imaging machines). The problem is the multibillion dollar hospital industry doesn't like the competition and they are the tail that wags the dog of government.

This is my most retweeted/like tweet. Ever.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018
We should care about private companies' censorship
Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbe writes about the dangers of Facebook and other major corporations censoring content. Taibbe writes about a number of cases of absurd censorship following some organization's or individual's content being flagged for violating this or that principle. In most of the cases, the so-called offending party was reinstated. Then Taibbe turns his attention to the repugnant Alex Jones and InfoWars, removed by platforms such as Apple, Facebook, Google, and Spotify, and the politico-cultural moment that created the heavy-handedness:
After Trump’s shocking win in 2016, everyone turned to Facebook and Google to fix “fake news.” But nobody had a coherent definition of what constitutes it.
Many on the left lamented the Wikileaks releases of Democratic Party emails, but those documents were real news, and the complaint there was more about the motives of sources, and editorial emphasis, rather than accuracy.
When Google announced it was tightening its algorithm to push “more authoritative content” last April, it defined “fake news” as “… blatantly misleading, low quality, offensive or downright false information.”
Soviet-era author Isaac Babel once said the only right Stalin had taken away was “writing badly.” He was joking. Google was apparently serious about targeting “low quality.” What exactly does that mean?
It isn’t clear, but within short order, a whole range of alternative sites (from Alternet to Truthdig to the World Socialist Website) started complaining about significant drops in traffic, apparently thanks to changed search processes.
Within a year, Google bragged that it had deleted 8 million videos from YouTube. A full 6.7 million videos were caught by machines, 1.1 million by YouTube’s own “trusted flaggers” (we’re pre-writing the lexicon of the next dystopian novels), and 400,000 by “normal users.”
Subsequently, we heard that Facebook was partnering with the Atlantic Council — which, incidentally, accepts donations from at least 25 different foreign countries, including United Arab Emirates and the king of Bahrain, in addition to firms like weapons manufacturer Raytheon and my old pals at HSBC — to identify “potential abuse.”
Now that we’ve opened the door for ordinary users, politicians, ex-security-state creeps, foreign governments and companies like Raytheon to influence the removal of content, the future is obvious: an endless merry-go-round of political tattling, in which each tribe will push for bans of political enemies.
In about 10 minutes, someone will start arguing that Alex Jones is not so different from, say, millennial conservative Ben Shapiro, and demand his removal. That will be followed by calls from furious conservatives to wipe out the Torch Network or Anti-Fascist News, with Jacobin on the way.
We’ve already seen Facebook overcompensate when faced with complaints of anti-conservative bias. Assuming this continues, “community standards” will turn into a ceaseless parody of Cold War spy trades: one of ours for one of yours.
This is the nuance people are missing. It’s not that people like Jones shouldn’t be punished; it’s the means of punishment that has changed radically.
For more than half a century, we had an effective, if slow, litigation-based remedy for speech violations. The standards laid out in cases like New York Times v. Sullivan were designed to protect legitimate reporting while directly remunerating people harmed by bad speech. Sooner or later, people like Alex Jones would always crash under crippling settlements. Meanwhile, young reporters learned to steer clear of libel and defamation. Knowing exactly what we could and could not get away with empowered us to do our jobs, confident that the law had our backs.
If the line of defense had not been a judge and jury but a giant transnational corporation working with the state, journalists taking on banks or tech companies or the wrong politicians would have been playing intellectual Russian roulette. In my own career, I’d have thought twice before taking on a company like Goldman Sachs. Any reporter would.
Now the line is gone. Depending on the platform, one can be banned for “glorifying violence,” “sowing division,” “hateful conduct” or even “low quality,” with those terms defined by nameless, unaccountable executives, working with God Knows Whom.
The platforms will win popular support for removals by deleting jackasses like Jones. Meanwhile, the more dangerous censorship will go on in the margins with fringe opposition sites — and in the minds of reporters and editors, who will unconsciously start retreating from wherever their idea of the line is.
The most ominous development involves countries asking for direct cleansing of opposition movements, a la China’s search engine, or Tel Aviv’s demands that Facebook and Google delete pages belonging to Palestinian activists ...
The apparent efforts to comply with government requests to help “prevent the foment of discord” suggest the platforms are moving toward a similar surrender even in the United States. The duopolistic firms seem anxious to stay out of headlines, protect share prices and placate people like Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, who just said deleting Jones was only a “good first step.”
Americans are not freaking out about this because most of us have lost the ability to distinguish between general principles and political outcomes. So long as the “right” people are being zapped, no one cares.
But we should care.
The result of aggressive private censorship, at the behest of the mob or the state, is a deadening conformity that permits a narrow range of officially permissible viewpoints. Both the Left and Right have an interest in resisting this.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018
Denying human exceptionalism
Zoologist Jules Howard writes in The Guardian about a killer whale's "tour of grief," after a mother whale (J35) was seen holding her dead calf for nearly two weeks. Howard says it is wrong to use the vocabulary of human emotions to describe animal activity:
J35 must have been mourning, we think. She simply must have been. The problem is there is no way (yet) to scientifically test for sure that this is the case. Even with all the photos, there is still a distinct possibility that J35 may have just been confused. She may have even hoped her baby would revive. Pedantic (and blunt) as it sounds, if you believe J35 was displaying evidence of mourning or grief, you are making a case that rests on faith not on scientific endeavour, and that makes me uncomfortable as a scientist.
This might seem unreasonable and even brutally cruel to some readers but remember this behaviour has been documented only a handful of times and that, on the whole, the sea is not filled with killer whales displaying such extreme and dramatic behaviours each time a loved one dies. Compare that to human societies, all of whom undergo dramatic periods of social upheaval upon the death of friends or family. You are likely to have experienced it. You, the reader, may still be carrying the effect of death in your human heart. That’s actual grief. That’s actual mourning.
Am I being a pedant? Probably. But by loosely labelling these emotions willy-nilly in animals, I worry that we make two mistakes. The first is that we squeeze a whole range of animal behaviours into discrete categories of human emotion, thereby overlooking and failing to celebrate their unique brand of animal majesty. The second is that we dilute a real, powerful and observable human emotion by granting other animals the same emotions so freely without any scientific rigour.
Howard says it is possible that animals feel pain more acutely than human beings. Maybe. But he also argues it is a form of narcissism to view animal suffering through a human lens. I wouldn't go that far. But it is clearly a mistake -- or at the very least, completely unwarranted -- to anthropomorphize creatures from the animal kingdom, even in their moments of presumable suffering.

The high-tech jobs of the future
Salena Zito writes in the Washington Examiner about the natural gas industry in western Pennsylvania:
Thanks to an infusion of high technology driving the natural gas industry, it’s not just about dirty boots anymore – and it’s a good story. It’s a marriage of advanced technologies and dirt-under-your-nails hard work rarely told, because extracting shale is not a popular business politically.
Fracking, it turns out, is the one high-tech industry not embraced by politicians in Pittsburgh who are rushing to embrace the likes of Uber and Google.
Why? Because local progressive Democrats, very vocal climate activists, and the burgeoning Democratic Socialists of America party demand a wholesale repudiation of the natural gas industry. Local Democratic officials thus have to oppose fracking or risk losing in a Democratic primary.
Today’s natural gas industry isn’t the same petroleum job your grandfather or your father would have applied for. It not only attracts computer scientists, software engineers, mathematicians, and geologists to relocate to Western Pennsylvania from around the country, but it also provides careers for locals who thought those good jobs left for good when the coal mines and steel mills closed a generation ago.
As Zito explains, kids in the Pittsburgh area just want to make the sort of living that can support a family or near their ancestral families, and for companies that are not spoiling the land for "hunting, fishing, climbing, hiking, and camping." But the Left, with its focus on green jobs of the future and the creative economy, ignore the natural gas industry. As Zito notes, some local politicians that could benefit from a thriving industry that attracts investment and people, place allegiance to the national party over local interests.

Monday, August 13, 2018
So-called 'No Deal' Brexit a problem for EU, too
As noted before, "No Deal" Brexit is a bit of misnomer. Trade would be governed by an existing treaty (World Trade Organization rules), so there is a deal, just not a bilateral one between Brussels and Britain -- and that is what "No Deal" is shorthand for, as misleading as it is. It feeds on the fear of chaos that is expected to result when things aren't officially planned for.
No Deal Brexit has been pitched as a disaster for the United Kingdom, delivering unparalleled to a country that survived The Blitz. No doubt there will be challenges, perhaps genuine hardships. There should be no illusion that a No Deal Brexit would come with serious costs to the UK. But, likewise, there should be no illusion that Europe does not also suffer costs associated with No Deal. The (London) Times reports:
The immediate consequences of a “no deal” Brexit in March could be worse for the European Union than for Britain, senior Brussels figures have said.
Officials working for the European Commission have been given the task of drawing up contingency plans to be unveiled early next year in the event that Brexit negotiations collapse or fail to be ratified. Under the plans being co-ordinated by Martin Selmayr, the commission’s secretary-general, the EU would take unilateral measures to keep trade links open and aircraft flying immediately after a “chaotic” Brexit.
Concern is growing in Brussels, however, over whether EU institutions could act swiftly enough. In particular officials are worried that many decisions would require the unilateral endorsement of all member states as well as the European parliament. Moves would also have to be compatible with European treaties and could be challenged in the Court of Justice.

Friday, August 10, 2018
2020 or 2024 watch (Chelsea Clinton edition)
LifeNews reports: "Chelsea Clinton will be back in the spotlight Saturday during a pro-abortion rally opposing U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh." I'm not saying a citizen can't be a political activist without having presidential ambitions. But she is a Clinton. Running for president is what they do.

Project Fear was dead wrong
The Daily Telegraph's Ambrose Evans-Pritchard on the latest economic growth numbers from Europe:
It is official. Britain’s defeated, pauperized, and imploding economy somehow eked out faster growth in the second quarter than the mighty and ascendant eurozone. This was not supposed to happen.
I would not yet crack a bottle of our excellent Kentish sparkling wine. Goods exports disappointed badly. Services were lacklustre. The British people are running down savings and living beyond their means.
We should be doing better with the splendid stimulus of a weak pound (at last trading near its proper equilibrium rate, or the real effective exchange rate on the IMF metric).
But the fact remains that GDP growth in Brexit Britain still came in at 0.4pc, compared to 0.2pc in both France and Italy. The flash figure for the eurozone is 0.3pc. That will probably be the German tally as well.
The numbers are no cause for celebration. But this has occurred despite the uncertainty of what Brexit will look like.

Thursday, August 09, 2018
David Mulroney on Team Trudeau's foreign policy
Amidst the controversy over Canada and Saudi Arabia's diplomatic tiff, David Mulroney, Canada’s ambassador to China from 2009 to 2012, writes a good column for the Globe and Mail about the importance of words and listening, and where Canada comes up short:
We seem to be doing far more talking than listening, favouring a form of megaphone diplomacy that only seems to work with smaller countries that need our diplomatic support or our aid dollars. Yet we stubbornly favour broadcast mode even when it comes to major powers, something that contributed to our recent diplomatic debacles with China and India. We’re strangely reluctant to believe that our “values-based” foreign policy can come across as preachy, insensitive and interfering.
It’s safe to assume that, back in May, Saudi diplomats in Ottawa shared with their headquarters a widely circulated photo of Environment Minister Catherine McKenna high-fiving our ambassador to Ireland as they publicly celebrated the victory of the “Yes” side in Ireland’s recent referendum on abortion. Such a high-level Canadian intervention would have seemed unprecedented but for the fact that Prime Minister Trudeau had already inserted himself into the campaign.
We’re generating the perception among emerging powers that when we talk about human rights, we’re arrogantly insisting on the adoption of an agenda that reflects the worldview and biases of the secular West. Among our Western allies, we’re increasingly seen as dilettantes, promoting our values agenda because we have no real interests to pursue.
Canadians won't want to hear this, but the former ambassador says Canada is increasingly seen as a neocolonialist by emerging powers and a dilettante by our allies.
Mulroney says that Saudi Arabia is picking this fight with Canada because we are big enough to matter but small enough to punish, sending a signal to the rest of the world not to pushback against Riyadh. But we wouldn't be easy to punish if we had fully functioning and good relations with other countries, especially the United States, but also elsewhere (recall our frosty reception in Red China and India over the past year). Canada is increasingly isolated. Historically, we were more important than our size (economic, military strength) suggested because we were an important conduit to Washington or London, or under Pierre Trudeau, Beijing and a plethora of tinpot dictators. But in the highly globalized world that isn't divided by the bipolar diplomacy of the Cold War, Ottawa is less relevant. And as Mulroney makes clear, the irrelevancy is heightened by Justin Trudeau's foreign policy.

OMG! OMG! OMG! (Cowen's next book edition)
Tyler Cowen blogs:
The full title is Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals. I have been working on this book for about twenty years, and I recommend it to you all.
The book comes out October 16 from Stripe Publishing. Available at Amazon. Cowen sent an e-version of this book for those who pre-ordered his The Complacent Class in 2016. It was excellent. I assume there will be minor changes. It will be difficult to wait to read it in book form (which is superior to on screen).

Wednesday, August 08, 2018
Christopher Robin is a serious movie
John Ehrett, executive editor of Conciliar Post and a graduate of Yale Law School, writes in The American Conservative about the new family movie, Christopher Robin:
One thing’s for sure: Christopher Robin is a strange sort of movie, one that, unusually for risk-averse Hollywood, doesn’t clearly cater to a particular demographic. It’s a slow, elegiac film, largely taken up with long scenes of Christopher and Pooh talking about—I’m not kidding—the nature of the good life. And true to that sensibility, in this retelling Pooh occupies a space somewhere between Yoda and Socrates. He’s less interested in honey and pratfalls than in rekindling Christopher’s joy in being.
Christopher Robin is genuinely willing to let its hero mature. This becomes clear when it’s viewed alongside its closest analogue, Steven Spielberg’s Hook, which followed an adult Peter Pan who’d forgotten the ways of Neverland. In Hook, Peter’s “redemption” is largely accomplished through his return to the ways of childhood. In order to vanquish his foe, he must step back into the identity of Peter Pan, an emotional and spiritual regression. As a result, what’s meant to delight—Peter’s return—comes off as merely depressing.
Christopher Robin rejects that tradeoff. His odyssey is less a journey of personal self-discovery than a roundabout road to rejoining his family and to being the father that his daughter needs. The fundamental lesson of the film is that one can always embrace the essential values of the Hundred Acre Woods—gratitude, contemplation, and imagination—without sacrificing the wisdom learned in the crucible of adult life.
This is refreshing. Too many movies with troubled or incomplete adults fix them only when they find happiness in rekindling childhood immaturity (goofiness in Ehrett's words), which invariably assumes a flight from responsibility (jobs, family). Christopher Robin's message is that there are lessons learned in childhood that adults forget but would benefit from recalling. The key is incorporating those lessons into the world of adulthood and adult responsibilities, not devolving into children again.

Monday, August 06, 2018
Why doesn't gun violence in Chicago ever lead to calls for gun control?
National Review Online reports:
An unusually high number of what police claim were gang related shootings rocked Chicago this weekend. Since 5 p.m. on Friday, 63 people have been shot, ten fatally. In one particularly deadly conflagration, 40 Chicagoans were shot in less than 7 hours ...
“We know that some of these incidents were targeted and are related to gang conflicts in those areas,” said Chicago Police Chief of Patrol Fred Waller at a Sunday press conference.
Police said gangs took advantage of the warm summer weather as a majority of the shootings took place in large crowds gathered outside. In one such instance, reputed gang members fired into a crowd of mourners after a funeral, injuring eight people, including a 14-year-old girl ...
The youngest of the 63 victims was just eleven-years-old and fifteen of those wounded or killed were teens.
Is it because Chicago is Obama's hometown that the media and progressive activists ignore the violence, or the fact that the victims overwhelmingly share his skin colour?
Related, Remy's terrific video "How to React to Tragedy."

Sunday, August 05, 2018
More Project Fear
Last week, Brendan O'Neill, editor of Spiked-Online, wrote about how unhinged Project Fear has become:
Every day the fearful propaganda intensifies. One wakes wondering what unearthly horror our vote against the EU 25 months ago might now have unleashed. Gonorrhoea is the latest. If we leave the EU with No Deal, Britain will apparently become a 15th-century-style hotbed of such sexual malaise. ‘Brexit could lead to spread of infectious diseases such as super-gonorrhoea’, says a headline in the London Evening Standard, which was once a newspaper but is now a score-settling sheet for its current editor: arch Remainer and former chancellor George Osborne, who we turfed out of office with our vote for Brexit. Medical officials fear that a shortage of medicine in the event of No Deal will mean we won’t be able to treat knob rot. It’s almost Biblical. ‘Defy me and your genitals shall wither.’ Up next: plagues of locusts? Floods?

Saturday, August 04, 2018
Untraditional weddings
Tyler Cowen highlights an excerpt from a Wall Street Journal story on Star Wars-themed weddings:
Forget flower girls. Couples want stormtroopers throwing petals, and Vader leading the congo line.
I guarantee you that there will be more flower girls than stormtroopers at weddings this year, or any year.

Friday, August 03, 2018
Project Fear: The Sequel
Mark Carney is at it again. In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the head of the Bank of England is suggesting that leaving the EU without a deal would be dire. The Guardian reports:
Mark Carney has warned that the possibility of a no-deal Brexit is “uncomfortably high” and will lead to higher prices, as Theresa May prepares to meet the French president, Emmanuel Macron, for talks.
The Bank of England governor said both the UK and EU should “do all things to avoid” a no-deal scenario. He added that the banks had done the “stockpiling” and the country’s financial system was in a position to be able to withstand a shock that could result from the UK leaving the EU without an agreement ...
Pushed on what no deal would mean, he said “disruption to trade as we know it”, before adding: “As a consequence of that, a disruption to the level of economic activity, higher prices for a period of time.
“Our job at the Bank of England is to make sure those issues don’t happen in the financial system, so that people will have things to worry about in a no-deal Brexit, which is still a relatively unlikely possibility but it is a possibility, but what we don’t want to have is people worrying about their money in the bank, whether or not they can get a loan from the bank – whether for a mortgage or for a business idea – and we have put the banks through the wringer well in advance of this to make sure they have the capital.”
Fulfilling its role as amplifier of doomsday scenarios, The Guardian reports that General Sir Nick Carter, head of the armed forces, would not comment on reports that the "army was being put on standby for a no-deal Brexit – a situation in which troops could help deliver food, medicines and fuel."
The Evening Standard, edited by David Cameron's Chancellor of the Exchequer and lead Project Fear doomsayer George Osborne, led with Carney's worries about a spike in supermarket prices as trade with Europe slows down.
Notably, neither paper noted any criticism of Carney's comments. The BBC story reports in the fourth paragraph that Carney's statements were met with scorn by critics and then they packaged the critics as a sidebar. Still, it quoted two pro-Brexit MPs and a pro-Brexit economist. Jacob Rees-Mogg, head of the European Research Group, said: "Mark Carney has long been the high priest of Project Fear, whose reputation for inaccurate and politically motivated forecasting has damaged the reputation of the Bank of England." Iain Duncan Smith, a former Tory cabinet minister, explained that the so-called "no deal" option is really the World Trade Organization option (with established rules) and that Carney has "struggled to understand how this would work."
Leave it to the folks at Daily Telegraph to provide a sustained argument against Carney's fear-mongering. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard said "The Governor of the Bank of England made two Pinocchio assertions on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. One was categorically false; the other was sophistry dressed in pseudo-science." Suggesting that Carney had taken the "Kensington dinner party view," the BofE head simply stated an untruth when he said the UK was at the bottom of the tables for economic growth among the G7. Problem is, last year Italy had lower growth and it looks like France could fall behind the UK this year. As for Carney's comments about the sluggish post-Brexit economy, Evans-Pritchard, who generally has a pro-Carney disposition, provides context for the lacklustre economic performance:
The low-hanging fruit of the post-Lehman expansion had been picked. The UK had closed the "output gap". It was running into capacity constraints and hitting its speed limit. (Too low unfortunately, but that is a story of stalled productivity that occurred during EU membership and has nothing to do with Brexit.)
The purveyors of Project Fear warned that the Brexit vote would result in calamitous economic uncertainty and that the eventual leave would be far worse. In fact, the economic picture over the past two years is a mixed bag, more negative than positive, but not nearly as bad as Carney, Osborne, and others predicted. The actual Brexit will present difficult challenges, and some economic indicators and some industries and regions will be hit harder than others. But considering how egregiously wrong the Project Fear doomsayers were in 2016, perhaps they should be taken with a grain of salt in 2018 and 2019.
A mutually beneficial deal was possible, but it's too late for a negotiated outcome that doesn't punish the UK for the temerity of its voters deciding to leave the EU. It's too late for London and Brussels to negotiate British access to European markets on favourable terms without Britons acquiescing to the European Union's authority. It's too late because Prime Minister Theresa May always seemed more interested in political survival at home, needing to win whatever the current domestic Brexit battle was, than negotiating from a position of strength by clearly showing the UK was willing to leave the EU without a deal. Nearly 18 months after triggering Article 50, the May government seems finally willing to leave with (the inaccurately named) No Deal, but Brussels knows May's back is against the wall so whatever negotiations continue to take place provide the E27. The domestic political options seem larger than the realistic diplomatic options available. I'm with Conservative MP Craig Mackinlay (South Thanet - Cliftonville, Broadstairs & St Peters, Ramsgate, Sandwich and the Villages), who tweeted: "Increasingly WTO option is looking desirable. The more the EU say ‘non’ to everything we put forward, the #GlobalOption with its fully understood terms, trade facilitation agreement & codified customs rules looks best. Delivers the #Brexit referendum & projects UK’s soft power."

Thursday, August 02, 2018
Heatwave deaths and climate change
I was excited to read Spiked-Online's "Maybe this heatwave is just a heatwave," by Ben Pile. I was hoping for some stats to show that heatwaves are natural occurrences and not proof of climate change. Pile makes that point, but he makes a larger, more important one: because of technologies such as air conditioning and refrigeration, it is easier to survive a heatwave. A century ago during the London heatwave, Pile reports, "thousands of children perished from diarrhoea caused by consuming food and milk that had fouled in the heat." He argues that policies to reduce energy use by curbing these appliances, risks the progress we have made against nature. Pile writes:
There is no natural correlation between heatwaves and deaths; there are only thick policymakers who would rather energy was more expensive, so as to discourage the use of things like air-conditioners, on the basis that such energy usage contributes to climate change. Enter the technocrat head of adaptation at the UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC), Kathryn Brown. She appeared on Channel 4 News to suggest that people install tinted window film, and grow plants up the walls of their homes, to help defer the apocalypse.
The fact that institutions such as the CCC have so little to offer the public suffering in the heatwave should not be a surprise. The CCC was established under the Climate Change Act 2008, with a mandate to issue carbon budgets and policy advice to parliament. MPs were unable to decide for themselves how to ration carbon, and so, much as with the independence given to the Bank of England, they appointed technocrats to do the job rather than risk having the public influence such an important decision. Climate politics epitomises the gulf between the public and politicians, and the latter’s disdain for the interests, wants and needs of the former.
Similarly, the FT’s lofty opinion is that ‘unprecedented heat cannot be ignored’, and ‘extreme weather must spur action against global warming’. But the truth is that this heat is not unprecedented – the UK has suffered hotter. What is unprecedented is the protection we now have against extreme weather. From Spain to the US, populations have become less vulnerable to heatwaves, not more, as the climate alarmists claim. Wealth, it seems, not the ecological austerity that greens prefer, is the best defence against a changing climate.
The problems caused by heatwaves should be taken seriously, but not under the dangerously misleading rubric of climate change. It may be possible that global warming will increase the frequency and intensity of above-average temperatures. But the evidence shows us that resilience to extreme weather requires no armies of climate technocrats, no virtue-signalling zombie politicians, no vapid hacks at the BBC, FT and Guardian – it just requires progress. Indeed, it is the political class’s green ascetism that is now the main barrier to ensuring that extreme weather doesn’t have a dramatic impact on our lives.
We can live with global warming unless we risk human progress by adopting the policies green zealots urge us to enact to mitigate against anthropomorphic climate change.

The New York Times and its double standard on race-hate
The New York Times released a statement saying everything is chill with the hiring of Sarah Jeong, who has said terrible things about white people. I think the Times gets to hire whoever they want for their editorial board and that Jeong's repugnant tweeting falls within the bounds of standard progressivism in the United States today. Her tweets sound more like campus SJW slogans than arguments befitting someone working at one of the two most important American dailies, but they are not all that different than the views espoused by the editorial page or most of the voices on the comment pages of the Times (dead tree and digital). But the Left started this game of gotcha so the Right wants to play it. The problem is, once again the powers that be get to change the rules (or ignore them) when it is necessary convenient to do so, so there will be no scalp for the Right to celebrate.
The statement from the Times is pretty weak tea and is more a justification to their own side that might have had some trouble with Jeong's comments than they are answering any real flap over Jeong's new job at the paper of record. Having a "candid conversation" with the new hire is a bullshit phrase for "please don't be so damn blatant in your white hatred now that you work for the Times." And the excuse for her style -- mimicking the vitriol she faced online as a "young Asian woman" -- shouldn't fly even if it were true, and I don't think it is. Or as Glenn Reynolds says, her offensive rhetoric is the fault of white people. Charles Glasser, in that same Instapundit post, notes that Kevin Williamson sure didn't get the kid treatment Jeong is.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018
Project Fear was overblown
During the Brexit referendum campaign, Big Finance joined Remain politicians, many in the entertainment and corporate world, and the Bank of England in Project Fear. Project Fear offered exaggerated worst-case scenarios as confident analysis of what would happen if the plebes voted to leave the EU. It was dutifully amplified by many in the press. Many of the doomsday scenarios have not come close to fruition. Politico EU reports on how predictions of the collapse of British financial services -- The City -- would follow a vote for Brexit and, of course, the eventual exit from the European Union, have not materialized nor do they appear likely to:
The U.K. financial services sector could suffer as few as 5,000 job losses as a result of Brexit, according to a new estimate by the City of London Corporation — far lower than the industry had initially feared.
The figures come from an internal City report, to be released in September. In an interview with POLITICO, Lord Mayor of the City of London Charles Bowman said the analysis estimates that between 5,000 and 13,000 jobs will have gone by the U.K.’s leaving date of March 30 next year.
That is far lower than most previous estimates. In a widely cited report published in 2016, Oliver Wyman estimated that industry job losses could eventually be as high as 75,000 with banks and other institutions forced to move large numbers of staff to locations in the EU27. Xavier Rolet, the former chief executive of the London Stock Exchange, predicted job losses of over 200,000. But the Bank of England has estimated Day One job losses of around 10,000 in the case of a hard Brexit.
In the two years following the U.K.’s EU referendum though, the much-feared exodus of bankers and financiers from London has not materialized. Firms are moving some operations, including trading and back-office functions, to cities in the EU27 like Frankfurt, Dublin and Paris, but there hasn’t been an uprooting of banks’ entire presence from the U.K. to the Continent. Bowman said that so far, 1,600 jobs have been earmarked to move.
This is all good news, although some Remainers are probably miffed that Brexiteers will be exonerated (to a degree). There are problems, however, with worst-case scenarios being offered as likely outcomes even when they do not materialize. The most obvious is that it is a brazen attempt to manipulate voters through fear. But less obviously, it harms the status of experts and leads to cynicism of expert analysis, leading, in the the long-term, to less rational decision-making. When the experts are consistently wrong because of reckless, politically motivated "analysis" there will come the day when they are ignored. I believe Aesop had a fable warning about this.

Cowen's conversation with Dawson
Tyler Cowen's latest conversation (audio and transcript) is with one of his favourite people, Montreal-based autism researcher Michelle Dawson -- researcher, not advocate. It begins:
COWEN: So let me start with a very general question. If you ask what would be the most underrated, nonaccountable, and mysterious force controlling people’s lives, and I said that right now, it was actually something called the DSM, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which influences a lot of issues in the law — what insurance companies do, what hospitals do, when people are institutionalized — what would your reaction be to that statement?
DAWSON: I think that the DSM could be a very bad big deal to people who, for instance, are denied basic human rights or standards in science.
For people who are not situated like that — and that would be most people — the shortcomings of the DSM-5 will be offset by people in research and practice who have good standards, who understand that their job is to benefit people more than they harm them, who know how to read the scientific literature, and so on. So, it depends who you are and how you’re situated.
Also, you have to consider the larger context of what people see as influential or not, which might be very arbitrary at any moment.
I don't want to say that the conversation gets better from there, but it maintains a high level of insight and entertainment. I was especially interested in her comments about different intelligence tests.
Self-recommending, whether or not you are interested in autism.