Sobering Thoughts

Comments on politics, the culture, economics and religion by Paul Tuns -- in short, everything about the human endeavour from a non-hyphenated conservative perspective. I am Toronto-based writer and editor, whose articles, columns and reviews have appeared in more than 35 publications. I am editor-in-chief of The Interim, Canada's life and family newspaper, author of Jean Chretien: A Legacy of Scandal and a regular contributor to the book pages of the Halifax Herald.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014
 
Flag burning
Ray Heard tweets a stupid meme. Apparently some people are upset with rioters burning the US flag.
Flag burning is stupid, but so is being upset at flag burning. If soldiers fought for "our rights" certainly those rights include speech and expression -- like burning a flag.


 
Low information looters
Steve Sailer on how the Left is responsible for the post-Ferguson riots:
Months of egging on the mob in Ferguson, Missouri by the Obama Administration, the Democratic Party, and the national media in order to goose turnout in this month’s midterm elections have culminated in the Night of Undocumented Shopping ...
The executive branch, the Democrats, and the press had flogged the narrative of yet another white racist killer stalking baby black bodies to enrage low information potential voters. To their credit, large numbers of respectable black voters stayed home on election day, perhaps depressed that this latest media obsession over white male racist violence had once again turned out to be a factual fiasco.
High memory voters -- white, working middle class voters who worry about crime and the disintegration of American society -- will remember the post-Ferguson riots are going to vote Republican in 2016.


 
Governing vs. gridlock with intention
Jay Rosen has an excellent piece on strategy for the Republican Party that counters the popular narrative that Republicans need to use the next two years to prove they can govern. I lean toward the Republicans providing good policy to show they deserve power: the White House and both houses of Congress. But there is merit in the political argument that the GOP can put forward legislation that will be filibustered or vetoed, and then go to the American public in 2016 with a clear alternative to the failed agenda offered by the Democrats.
The problem with Rosen's argument is that it makes politics an end in itself; that the only point of elections is to get elected. However, the United States has real problems and while I'm dubious that government can solve them, at the very least the state needs to stop adding to the mess.
That said, Rosen makes a great observation about the media in general, when he says of the trope offered by political reporters that the Republicans need to do X; Rosen calls it "a reporter’s wish masquerading as an accepted fact." That is too often true, not just in this particular case.
(HT: Newmark's Door)


 
When Obamacare meets illegal immigrants: shocking but not surprising
The Washington Times: "Obamacare offers firms $3,000 incentive to hire illegals over native-born workers." The Times reports:
Under the Affordable Care Act, that means businesses who hire them won’t have to pay a penalty for not providing them health coverage — making them $3,000 more attractive than a similar native-born worker, whom the business by law would have to cover.


 
Obama and his immigration Executive Order
In the pages of the Wall Street Journal, William Galston of the Brookings Institute assures us: "History may judge the president unwise, but he is on firm ground going back to FDR." Well, fuck, that's as good as constitutional.


 
'What if Our Money Were Designed to Celebrate Science Instead of Presidents?'
Wired.com on Travis Purrington's Basel School of Design (Switzerland) master's thesis on global currency redesign:
The familiar faces of Lincoln, Jackson and the rest are gone, replaced by a more colorful set of images. Purrington wanted to introduce imagery that had to do with systems, rather than dated iconography, because that’s really what money is about. It’s the connecting synapse between a huge number of systems that keep our country churning day by day. Each of the bills (Purrington’s redesign includes the $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100 notes) has two very different sides: one side is a muted, Escher-esque drawing of a technical or scientific subject matter. The other side has a colorful, real world manifestation of the black-and-white reverse.
For example: one side of the $10 note sports an illustration of a bucky ball. Its other side has a drawing of gleaming skyscraper. The $50 note has a labyrinthine drawing of a circuit board; flip it over, and there’s an astronaut’s helmet, reflecting a view of the space station. “I wanted to play on things that we might not always think about, like neurons being involved in farming or agriculture,” Purrington says of his $5 bill design.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014
 
NYC community gardens are dangerous
The New York Post reports:
Herbs and vegetables grown in New York City community gardens are loaded with lead and other toxic metals, a startling state study shows.
Tainted vegetables — some sold in city markets — were found in five of seven plots tested, according to data obtained from the study by The Post through the Freedom of Information Law.
Most of the root vegetables sampled far exceeded safe thresholds for lead, with the most toxic being a carrot at the Hart to Hart community garden in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
It contained 1.95 parts per million of the toxic metal — nearly 20 times the level considered safe, according to state Health Department data.
Take that, hipsters.


 
Against political dynasties
Kevin D. Williamson:
Political offices should not be handed down through families like heirlooms, or bequeathed to wives like life-insurance benefits. About 50 widows have been elected or appointed to their late husbands’ House and Senate seats over the years. They have not, for the most part, been a terribly impressive group, though Mary Bono Mack was a reliable legislator who might have remained in office had she not been married to what her rainbow-bedecked Palm Springs constituents considered the wrong half of Sonny and Cher.
Wives ascending to their husbands’ congressional offices have, for the most part, had the decency to wait until they died, but not so Deborah Dingell, who takes over her husband’s former seat in January. John Dingell Jr., the longest-serving member of Congress in history, has been representing environs west of Detroit for nearly 60 years, since the Eisenhower administration. (The vagaries of redistricting have put him in three different districts over the years.) He inherited the seat from his father, John Dingell Sr., who was elected to it in 1932. Mrs. Dingell, who was in diapers when her husband was first elected to the House, just turned 61 a few days ago, and appears to be in excellent health. If she serves 18 years in the House — a fraction of what her husband did — then the Dingells will have had a stranglehold on the office for a century. Dingell rule, which already has lasted longer than did the Austro-Hungarian Empire, will have lived longer than did the Aztec Empire.
Hillary Clinton seems singularly unqualified for the job of president were it not for her famous name:
The career of our recently retired secretary of state has been an odd one: a feminist icon whose main role in life has been that of accessory to her husband, whose understanding of sex roles is as thoroughly traditional as Warren G. Harding’s. Jeb and George W. Bush may have been born into political dynasties, but each proved himself as an excellent governor before seeking the White House or contemplating it. Herself, on the other hand, has had many opportunities to show her quality: in the Senate, where she was a mediocrity, and as secretary of state, where she presided over the serial disasters of the Obama administration’s foreign policy.


Monday, November 24, 2014
 
Regulation nation
The Daily Caller: "White House Quietly Releases Plans For 3,415 Regulations Ahead Of Thanksgiving Holiday." A total of 189 rules will cost at least $100 million.
In related news, the Competitive Enterprise Institute reported: "The Federal Register Topped 70,000 Pages Today." 70,052 to be exact.


 
New York Times: 'A Deep 2016 Republican Presidential Field Reflects Party Divisions'
I would say diversity instead of division, but that wouldn't fit the paper's narrative. The Times article says there is no front-runner and that is because (as no one appears willing to explicitly acknowledge) the Republican Party's so-called divisions reflect a base that is not as uniform in its political priorities as the Democrats. I'm not convinced this is as much of a problem as many pundits and certainly most strategists think it is.


 
Government by a thousand cuts
Reason TV: "America's 3 Most Fee-Ridden Cities" in which Walter Olson makes the provocative observation that "Government is not just a revenue source. It should be an engine of justice." That's because cities and counties will find a way get their money frm citizens. In some jurisdictions, 40 percent of municipal revenue is collected in fines and fees.


 
Steyn on Obama's New Democratic Voter Strategy immigration policy
Mark Steyn:
All western immigration systems are problematic, thanks mainly to chain migration. But, unlike Australia's or Canada's, America's now explicitly exists to favor the unskilled and ill-educated over high-value economic contributors. Or as Daniel Greenfield puts it:
Immigration requires opportunity. We still have it, but less of it than we used to. Our immigration system is not based on opportunity. It's based on a migratory flow of Democratic Party voters.
Which will have catastrophic, transformative consequences. Last Thursday Obama didn't just proclaim himself king, he proclaimed the rest of you guys peasants. That's why it was necessary to do it a few days after the election - just to rub it in.


 
Journalism!
Five Feet of Fury points to a stunningly magnificent New York Times correction.
My reaction: it sometimes seems that it is the only job of editors at major papers today to write the corrections for when their reporters file complete bullshit and its runs. It should be noted that the editors didn't catch the untrue story in the first place.
My second reaction: journalists who get fooled by satirical websites should lose their jobs.


 
'What is a conservative?'
I generally find "What is a conservative?" columns boring, but G. Tracy Mehan III's American Spectator post on what Evelyn Waugh can teach modern American conservatives is a worthwhile read. Waugh could teach modern Canadian conservatives something, too. This is also vital to remember: "A distinction must be made between conservatives and Republicans who are not always the same."


 
Cowen's best non-fiction of 2014
Isn't it too early for "best of the year" articles and posts? I think so.
Tyler Cowen's list of best non-fiction books of 2014 (non-economics) is up. There almost no overlap among his best books of the year and books I've read which is strange considering that he inspires a disproportionate share of my non-Canadian politics/history reading. Jurgen Osterhammel's The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century has moved to the top of my list of to-read books although at nearly 1200 pages I doubt I'll find the time anytime soon. This was not a great year for new books, especially in sports writing (which Cowen doesn't cover) or public policy. Cowen does list the notable economics books of the year (on which there is complete overlap) although he did not include Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.
Most of my reading this year was older Canadian history and political science, and the works of Stephen Leacock. Off the top of my head, I don't think I read more than maybe 15-20 new books.


 
The unread Piketty
Deirdre McCloskey has a long review of Thomas Piketty which, if you aren't tired of Piketty's Capital in the Twentieth Century yet is worth reading. But his is worth highlighting and is relevant even if you don't care about the economics of inequality:
Readers of a certain age will remember Douglas Hofstadter’s massive Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (1979), which sat admired but unread on many a coffee table in the 1980s, and rather younger readers will remember Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time (1988). The Kindle company from Amazon keeps track of the last page of your highlighting in a downloaded book (you didn’t know that, did you?). Using the fact, the mathematician Jordan Ellenberg reckons that the average reader of the 655 pages of text and footnotes of Capital in the Twenty-First Century stops somewhere a little past page 26, where the highlighting stops, about the end of the Introduction. He proposes that the Kindle-measured percentage of a book apparently read, once called the Hawking Index (most readers of A Brief History stopped annotating it at 6.6 percent of the book), be renamed the Piketty Index (2.4 percent).3 To be fair to Piketty, a buyer of the hardback rather than the Kindle edition is probably a more serious reader, and would go further.


 
'More Redistribution, Less Income'
A Wall Street Journal editorial goes over recent economic numbers and concludes:
The main lesson in these statistics is not about dependence on government. Rather, it is a verdict on Obamanomics. Presidents who put reducing inequality above increasing prosperity end up with less growth and opportunity that benefits everyone, and thus with more inequality.


Sunday, November 23, 2014
 
McGinnis reviews Jason Reitman's Men, Women & Children
Rick McGinnis in The Interim:
To be sure, there are ways that the world of 2014 is different from that of 1994, but if we want to say that it’s worse and blame it on social media, the truth is that there’s simply more access to what has troubled us, and not that we’ve somehow invented new problems and vices.
I couldn’t help thinking about this while watching Men, Women & Children, the latest film from director Jason Reitman (Juno, Up In The Air,) a film explicitly about the “new world” created by social media and – perhaps not coincidentally – the biggest box office bomb of the season. Set in a typical American suburb, it’s the story of a quintet of families whose relationships are either strained or enabled through texting, gaming, Facebook, Tumblr, online porn or dating sites ...
There’s too much about social media to say in a single column, so I’ll be exploring it all a bit more in my next column, but there are two things Men, Women & Children put onscreen that show Hollywood making socially conservative points quite against their will. The first is the most tragic story in the film – that of Chris, emotionally crippled by a surplus of online porn before he’s old enough to vote, a condition apparently so common in Hollywood – a place where the line between porn and mainstream moviemaking has been unguarded for years – that it’s woven without question into a story about the quotidian middle class.


 
Why The View doesn't work
PJ Media's Ed Driscoll on problems at The View and the show's tanking ratings:
The formula for a successful TV talk show isn’t that much different than the formula for a successful TV sitcom or drama, and has been the same since the medium took off in the 1950s. (That’s why they call it a formula.) A network talk show casts an appealing straight-shooting everyman and surrounds him with wacky, offbeat sidekicks for leavening. In the 1960s, the boyish Johnny Carson was flanked by big drinking heavyset Ed McMahon and the psychedelically-attired Doc Severinsen. In the 1980s, long before he became churlish and partisan in his dotage, David Letterman was a fratboy variation on the same theme, another Midwestern everyman, this time with postmodern zaniness swirling around him. Fictional TV has long used the same formula, with Star Trek’s JFK-esque Captain Kirk surrounded by the pointy-eared Spock and Mencken-esque Dr. McCoy. Happy Days had clean-cut WASP Richie Cunningham, surrounded by Fonzie the Italian greaser and Ralph Malph the class cut-up. And M*A*S*H ran for a million years with Alan Alda’s Hawkeye character surrounded by oddball characters such as Radar, Klinger, Frank Burns, etc.
The View was a distaff variation on the same formula, with Barbara Walters the veteran journalist and everywoman surrounded by zany offbeat showbiz types such as the caustic Joy Behar, loony conspiracy theorist Rosie O’Donnell, and the far left Whoopi Goldberg. With Walters now retired, there’s no center of gravity to the show, no one to reign in the lunatics inside the asylum.


 
I'm surprised it's taken this long
The College Fix reports, "Elon University has dropped the term “freshman” from its vocabulary and replaced it with 'first-year,' a move made official this fall and implemented in everything from its website to orientation workshops." You would have thought that rampant political correctness on campus would have addressed this serious injustice two decades ago.


 
Rent-seeking bastards at Unilever
Reason's Baylen Linnekin: "Hellman's Sues to Protect Its Mayo-Monopoly." Why does the Food and Drug Administration define what can be legally called mayonnaise?


 
Will on Rockefeller
George Will says be glad that Barry Goldwater beat Nelson Rockefeller in 1964's GOP presidential primaries, and more importantly, that Goldwater's ideas won in the Republican Party:
Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman — Rockefeller served both in significant offices — urged him to become a Democrat. A longtime aide said, “He wasn’t a liberal. He was a problem solver.” But Rockefeller insisted, “There is no problem that cannot be solved.” So he was a liberal, with a progressive’s reverence for “experts.” He gave the impression, his sympathetic but clear-eyed biographer says, of having “more ideas than convictions.”


Saturday, November 22, 2014
 
'In any area where judgment was required, Cosby chose very poorly'
That is Tyler Cowen's comment on The Bill Cosby Collection that is on display at the National Museum of African Art. Overall this is Cowen's judgement:
The works by lesser-known creators are mostly sentimental junk with lots of gloppy paint and hackneyed historical themes, or perhaps a maudlin portrait of some kind.
My hypothesis is simple: in any collecting area where price is a sufficient statistic for quality, Cosby did well by paying top dollar, or at least by letting himself be “mined” by his buyer agent, who probably had a financial incentive to pay top dollar. In any area where judgment was required, Cosby chose very poorly.


 
Jonah Goldberg on Obama's incredible stupidity
Jonah Goldberg:
[M]y jaw dropped when I heard Obama’s reaction to the beheading of Peter Kassig.
“ISIL’s actions represent no faith,” Obama said, “least of all the Muslim faith which Abdul-Rahman adopted as his own.”
Abdul-Rahman was Kassig’s Muslim name, which he adopted only while being held captive by Islamists. Perhaps the conversion was sincere, though I suspect Kassig did it to stay alive and certainly under duress and I can begrudge him it. Either way, there’s something disgusting about using Kassig’s Muslim name in order to score a propaganda point.
It’s even worse when that propaganda point is so incandescently stupid.
As Mona notes (and as I argued here), no one except Barack Obama thinks it’s a revelation that the Islamic State kills Muslims. No Kurd, no Shia, no moderate Sunni stays in his home when the Islamic State is at the gates, and says “Hey, we’re Muslim and Muslims don’t kill Muslims. We’ve got nothing to worry about.”
But it’s the phrase “least of all the Muslim faith” that is truly infuriating. Least of all? Really? So other faiths are more implicated in this atrocity than Islam? Which ones? Does he really mean to be suggesting that while the Islamic State’s actions “represent no faith,” if we have to assign blame, Islam is the least culpable? Could a team of rhetoricians, theologians and logicians working around the clock in some Andromeda Strain bunker beneath the Nevada desert come up with an argument that puts even a scintilla more blame at the feet of, say, the Lutherans or Quakers? On the one hand we have a bunch of dudes who shout “Allāhu Akbar!”, memorize the Koran, and rape and murder in the name of the Islamic State. On the other hand, we have a grab bag of Buddhists, Jews, Seventh Day Adventists, and Southern Baptists. And the one faith least implicated here is Islam? Really.


 
Time for another green revolution
Norman Borlaug, one of the greatest human beings to ever serve his fellow man, led the first green revolution, in the late 1960s and '70s, when green referred to agriculture and the advances in (especially wheat) farming helped feed the growing global population. As I noted when Borlaug died, he proved Malthus wrong.
The Wall Street Journal talks to the person who is trying to engineer the next great agricultural step forward:
Robert Zeigler is an environmentalist, but he is also a plant scientist. And that has led him to question the motives of an environmental movement that opposes genetically modified crops despite overwhelming evidence that they are safe.
As director general of the International Rice Research Institute, Mr. Zeigler is pushing the development of “golden rice,” a genetically modified variety that began in the lab about two decades ago. Geneticists inserted a gene into the rice plant that allows it to produce beta carotene, which makes its grains yellow.
Because the human body converts beta carotene to vitamin A, golden rice has the potential to dramatically improve the lives of millions of people around the world, particularly in Africa and Southeast Asia, where vitamin A deficiency is an especially common malady that can cause blindness and increases the risk of death from disease. Children are particularly vulnerable ...
It if not particularly baffling that the modern green (environmental) movement is anti-genetically modified food if their real motivations are not really protecting the environment but opposing human flourishing (freedom, free markets, private property) and even human itself.


 
Is this a parody?
The Karl Marx credit card.


 
Thought provoking
In a Deadspin article about ESPN write Keith Law's Twitter exchange about evolution with former baseball pitcher Curt Schilling, someone commented: "I would be very interested to see what a crowd-sourced bible would look like." I would love to see a gifted writer who was not anti-religion write a parody crowd-sourced bible.


Friday, November 21, 2014
 
Advances in teleportation
Alas not teleportation of any larger than photons, but still significant. Popular Mechanics reports:
NASA scientists have traveled a new record distance in a strange frontier: quantum teleportation. They used this weird phenomenon to transmit information 15.5 miles via fiber optic cables and with a dash of quantum entanglement ...
The new record shatters the previous record of just under four miles via optical cable.
This will have massive implications for encryption.
It is a longshot that it could lead to discoveries that might end up advancing teleportation of something larger than elementary particles.


 
Cost of Thanksgiving dinner
Mark J. Perry of the American Enterprise Institute notes that according to the American Farm Bureau Federation the inflation-adjusted "cost of a Thanksgiving dinner is 1.3% cheaper than last year, 21% cheaper than 1986." The amount of time the average person must work to earn the money to pay for the dinner has held steady for some time. The average turkey dinner will cost just under $50, but just over $30 if you shop at Walmart. Perry concludes:
The fact that a family in American can celebrate Thanksgiving with a classic turkey feast for less than $50 and at a “time cost” of only 2.39 hours of work for one person (and only $32.64 or 1.58 hours of work for Walmart shoppers) means that we really have a lot to be thankful for on Thanksgiving: an abundance of cheap, affordable food. Compared to 1986, the inflation-adjusted cost of a turkey dinner today is 21% cheaper, and 26% cheaper measured in the “time cost” for the average worker.


 
Same-sex marriage and segregation are not comparable
Gay libertarian Scott Shackford in Hit & Run on Gary Johnson, former New Mexico governor and 2012 Libertarian Party presidential candidate:
Johnson responds that he doesn't believe there should be workplace discrimination against gays, referencing racial segregation and civil rights laws from the 1960s. Jeff specifically asks if there should be laws preventing employers and businesses from discriminating against gay workers or customers. Johnson says the discrimination should be legally prohibited: "There has to be an awareness, and there has to be consequences to discrimination. And there should not be discrimination. This is America."
Unpacking this as a gay libertarian: The first and most obvious observation is that Johnson, like many people who make this comparison, ignores the fact that segregation wasn't entirely voluntary. Much of it was mandated by government. Segregation was law. This is not to downplay that there were certainly many businesses and powerful forces in the private sector that supported, wanted, encouraged, fought to maintain segregation, and instituted it well beyond what the laws demanded. The laws wouldn't have existed if rich and powerful white people didn't want it in the first place. But it's important to note that segregation laws restricted freedom of association by prohibiting it.
The refusal of states to recognize same-sex marriage is again a government-ordered mandate. It has nothing to do with whether individuals or churches or businesses acknowledge the legitimacy of gay marriage. No business serving wedding needs has been forbidden from providing goods and services for gay couples, regardless of whether the state recognizes the marriage. But making private businesses provide these services by government order restricts the right of freedom of association by demanding it ...
I hate the concept of ranking victimization, but the level of private discrimination against engaged gay couples absolutely pales to the culture created by racial segregation. Being denied a wedding cake by one shop out of several choices is not the same as being shut out of entire neighborhoods and centers of commerce. There are many private solutions to the issue of gay couples being denied services, and businesses who engage in discrimination get significant negative attention and publicity. In fact, the relatively small number of cases of consumer discrimination shows how much has society changed primarily from cultural evolution. Undoubtedly a gay couple looking for a bakery to make them a wedding cake in the 1990s would have faced many more rejections ...
We have to have more than the indignity of being rejected by a baker of photographer in order to justify legally forcing these businesses to give up their freedom of association.
I highlighted this to counter the oft-heard argument that the gay rights movement is like the civil rights movement of the 1960s. It isn't.
Shackford's larger point is that libertarians need to defend many liberties (freedom of speech, conscience, association, private property) and not just same-sex marriage. It is odd that a supposed libertarian standard-bearer like Johnson would abandon these other principles so easily to uphold same-sex marriage. It isn't very libertarian; but it very political.


 
Do you really want these people teaching your kids?
Hit & Run: "Little Boy Suspended for Pointing Finger Like a Laser Gun." First, a finger cannot be confused with a real gun. But even if the 10-year-old had a real laser gun ... oh never mind. Remember this isn't an isolated incident; schools routinely suspend elementary school children for weaponizing items like hands or pop tarts. Also remember that this isn't a lone teacher acting; a teacher usually brings the student to the principal for discipline, thus indicating at least two (so-called) adults thought it was a good idea to suspend the student. As Hit & Run's Robby Soave says, "How paranoid of gun violence do you have to be to consider an imaginary ray gun some kind of threat against other students?"


 
'Free speech is so last century. Today’s students want the "right to be comfortable"'
Brendan O'Neill in the (London) Spectator: "Student unions’ ‘no platform’ policy is expanding to cover pretty much anyone whose views don’t fit prevailing groupthink." Of the Stepford Students he met at Oxford, he writes:
Their eyes glazed with moral certainty, they explained to me at length that culture warps minds and shapes behaviour and that is why it is right for students to strive to keep such wicked, misogynistic stuff as the Sun newspaper and sexist pop music off campus. ‘We have the right to feel comfortable,’ they all said, like a mantra. One — a bloke — said that the compulsory sexual consent classes recently introduced for freshers at Cambridge, to teach what is and what isn’t rape, were a great idea because they might weed out ‘pre-rapists’: men who haven’t raped anyone but might. The others nodded. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Pre-rapists! Had any of them read Philip K. Dick’s dystopian novella about a wicked world that hunts down and punishes pre-criminals, I asked? None had.
Of course, it isn't just the universities. Earlier this week, Mark Steyn wrote about "A World Stripped of Contraries."


 
It's Friday!
Stephen Colbert sings "Friday" with Jimmy Fallon and The Roots. I like this more than I should.


 
Not The Onion
Via Blazing Cat Fur, Salon is worried about "carbon paw prints."


Thursday, November 20, 2014
 
Buffalo snow storm in pictures
The Washington Post has a gallery of 62 photos. My favourite is #38.


 
A liberal dissents on Obama immigration EO
Damon Linker in The Week: "On immigration, Obama is flirting with tyranny." Linker writes:
Now let me be completely clear: I'm all in favor of immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for immigrants already living in the United States. I think the refusal of the House Republican majority to pass an immigration reform bill — or, really, to do much of anything at all — over the past two years is a disgrace. I fear that with the GOP now in control of the Senate as well, Washington may well grind to a standstill — and that this heightened level of dysfunction in the nation's capital may well redound to the benefit of Republicans, who use disgust at Washington as fuel for their anti-government furies.
That's bad.
But what Obama is proposing is worse. Much worse.
The rule of law is far more about how things are done than about what is done. If Obama does what he appears poised to do, I won't be the least bit troubled about the government breaking up fewer families and deporting fewer immigrants. But I will be deeply troubled about how the president went about achieving this goal — by violating the letter and the spirit of federal law.
To grasp precisely what's so galling about Obama's proposed actions, it's necessary to reflect on the nature of executive power and its permanent potential to become despotic.
I assume that the potential to become despotic, or at least bypass Congress on important issues, is why Republicans, who will probably win back the White House some time, care little to press President Barack Obama on the blatant misuse of the Executive Order.


 
(The beginning of) 21st century relationships
Craig Calcaterra tweets: "At a bar. Patron hitting on attractive bartender by offering to let her have his Netflix password. This is really happening."


 
#torontostreetcarsex
That actually a thing on Twitter right now.


 
Obama's immigration Executive Order makes him The Boss
John Kass in the Chicago Tribune: "Obama Plays Boss of America on Immigration." Kass writes:
Some critics call Obama a monarch. Others say he acts more like an emperor. Still others prefer the old-fashioned term king.
As President Barack Obama prepares to lay out what he can do within his "lawful authority" to improve the immigration system, Congressional Republican leaders brace for a showdown. (Nov. 20) All these are royal positions and involve flowing purple robes and bejeweled crowns of the sort worn by that creepy Burger King in TV commercials. But for years Obama has gone out of his way to inform supporters and critics alike that under our system of divided government — a system developed by our founders to protect the liberty of all Americans — the president can't very well use his executive powers to make up laws just because he feels like it.
Couldn't do whatever he wanted until he does.


 
Professional cuddling is not prostitution
The Independent reports on a Portland, Oregon woman who charges $60 per hour for cuddling, which includes "hair strokes, hand-holding, and a plethora of different cuddle positions." It isn't adult-oriented in any way says "professional cuddler" Samantha Hess. The headline says she had 10,000 customers the first week, but the story says she received 10,000 emails in one week. To service 10,000 customers in a week, she would have to cuddle each person for one minute, without sleep, and then she'd have an hour and 20 minutes for herself.


 
Executive orders by president
FiveThirtyEight has the complete list of presidents and the number of Executive Orders per year in office. Not surprisingly, Franklin D. Roosevelt tops the list, and they were most commonly employed from Teddy Roosevelt through Harry S Truman. But not all EOs are equal; some expand congressional intent, others defy it.


 
The opportunity cost of fighting climate change
Bjorn Lomborg does not doubt anthropormorphic climate change. But he does doubt the benefits of spending large sums of money fighting it. Writing in the New York Post, Lomborg points out that the $3 billion President Barack Obama is committing to combatting global climate change could be used to save 30 million children from dying of malnutrition or 3 million people from malaria. For $3 billion, however, there is only a miniscule delay in global warming. And that assumes global warming is 1) happening, 2) man-made and thus preventable, and 3) harmful. But spending $3 billion on nutrition or anti-malaria programs will definitely save people.


 
Stupid rules/changing culture
Lenore Skenazy at Free Range Kids discusses trying to pick up her niece after an emergency evacuation. Skenazy is the emergency contact for her niece who happened to be substitute-teaching at the school that day:
I went to sign her out (evacuation is considered early release and requires sign out) and I was refused — by my coworkers and friends who have known me a decade. I was informed that they could not release my niece to me, despite her mother’s written consent in the form of emergency contact release, because they hadn’t spoken to her mother.
What is the point of an emergency contact if it isn’t “someone to call when you can’t reach the parent/guardian”? What if the emergency were that her parents were in a serious car accident?
This is an extension of the bizarre cell phone culture that we live in that assumes all people are reachable at all times.
Skenazy's broader point is that many institutions, especially schools, are so rules-based that common sense and plain human decency are scuttled to abide by the regulations. It's dumb. And inhumane and unhuman.
But the point of how our expectations about always being able to reach others is also important (says the guy who gave up his cell phone in 2001).


 
Warren Kinsella might run in the 2015 federal election
Kathy Shaidle has the must-read post. Will he nursing-home-cat his own nomination?


 
Demolishing an old house
Rick McGinnis has charming pictures and a nice essay on tearing down a tiny house in his neighbourhood. One can feel nostalgic for the old homes and the people who lived there and still welcome the (often necessary) change that requires demolishing these relics. From the McGinnis essay:
Cities always change. If you don't enjoy this essential fact about urban life, you probably shouldn't live in one. They might get better or they might get worse - and your definition of "better" or "worse" might not be the same as mine, of course - but life in a city is never static. And more often than not each wave of change is heralded by heavy construction equipment ...
Watching an excavator at work demolishing a house is truly remarkable, no matter what you might feel about the work at hand. The man at the controls began by taking tiny bites out of the roof, like a kid eating the white from the middle of a crusty roll. With the teeth of the bucket, he'd delicately pull off bits of siding and nudge roof beams away from the neighbour's wall, then with the enormous weight of the steel jaws, he began pulverizing the contents of the house, punching them into the basement.
The fourth and fifth pictures are likely to elicit very different feelings about tearing down the "quaint" house between two new, larger houses. One is charming, a home where someone lives, the other is derelict, waiting for the excavator.


 
2016 watch (Karl Rove on the field)
In the Wall Street Journal Karl Rove looks very briefly at 23 potential candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, a list that curiously does not include Mitt Romney. Isn't Romney a more credible candidate than Allen West or George Pataki?
The list of nearly two dozen candidates brought this thought to my mind: what is the over/under for formally declared candidates in 2016 for the Republicans? And for Democrats? I'm going with seven and three respectively.


 
Thinking about inequality
John H. Cochrane, professor of finance at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, has an excellent column about inequality in the Wall Street Journal. It covers a lot of issues surrounding inequality. A snippet:
Americans stuck in a cycle of terrible early-child experiences, substance abuse, broken families, unemployment and criminality represent a different source of inequality. Their problems have proven immune to floods of government money. And government programs and drug laws are arguably part of the problem.
These problems, and many like them, have nothing to do with a rise in top 1% incomes and wealth.
Cochrane's main point is that inequality fuels demands for redistributionist programs which politicians like because it increases their power. Public choice theory tells us that politicians do not put the public interest before their own self-interest, whether it be votes or prestige or the exercise of power.
Power begets more power:
Cronyism results when power determines wealth. Government power inevitably invites the trade of regulatory favors for political support. We limit rent-seeking by limiting the government’s ability to hand out goodies.
So when all is said and done, the inequality warriors want the government to confiscate wealth and control incomes so that wealthy individuals cannot influence politics in directions they don’t like. Koch brothers, no. Public-employee unions, yes. This goal, at least, makes perfect logical sense. And it is truly scary.
Tongue-in-cheek, but perceptively, Cochrane says that instead of taxes and the redistribution of wealth, there are alternative policies:
Is eliminating the rich, to eliminate envy of their lifestyle, really the best way to stimulate savings? ... If lifestyle envy really is the mechanism, would it not be more effective to ban “Keeping Up With the Kardashians”?
Anyway, Cochrane's wide-ranging column is provocative and a handy primer on the inequality issue.


 
States face fiscal crisis
Investor's Business Daily editorializes "States In Danger As Pension Underfunding Of $4.7 Trillion Threatens Their Fiscal Health." According to a report from State Budget Solutions, the per person liability across the U.S. is more than $15,000. IBD says:
But not all states are equal: Three big, heavily unionized, mostly Democratic states account for 30%, or $1.4 trillion, of the pension underfunding — California, Illinois and New York. Because of chronic mismanagement and the power of public sector unions in these and other states, millions of citizens face a grave financial risk they might not even know about.