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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Thursday, May 28, 2015
The NDP are tied or ahead in most recent federal polls. But as former Chretien pollster Michael Marzolini of Pollara Strategic Insights tells the Canadian Press (deep, deep in the story), voters are not yet engaged in the campaign for an election scheduled for October 19. So aside from questions of representativeness when just a tiny percentage of people contacted by a polling company actually answer them (1-2% for IVR, 5-10% for polls by an actual person), there is a question about the meaningfulness of the responses at this point. I'm sure Frank Graves and Lorne Bozinoff can tell you why their polls are meaningful five months before election day and three months before the Writ is dropped and the real campaign gets underway, but they are wrong. Just wrong. Full of shit wrong. That's a double whammy: a tiny response rate and unengaged means that the sample isn't meaningful. At all. Regardless of what these bullshitting pollsters tell us. There is another option and its that only the very engaged are responding to pollsters, who are more likely to be partisans, but then the sample is heavily skewed, making the poll unrepresentative of the voting population (probably).

Sowell's ideas for graduation gifts
Thomas Sowell has suggestions for "The Best Gifts For College Graduates," which includes books, journals, and newspaper subscriptions (advising both the New York Times and Investor's Business Daily). Two of the three books Sowell suggests to continue the education of soon-to-be-former-students:
The recent publication of "American Contempt for Liberty" a hefty, 417-page collection of columns by economist Walter E. Williams, would be an excellent choice.
For many college graduates, this book would be virtually an education in itself, covering many issues and presenting many perspectives they have never encountered before, in this era of academic lockstep thinking on social issues.
How often will most college students have seen Social Security exposed as "The National Ponzi scheme," as one of professor Williams' columns does in plain, hard-hitting English? Or see minimum-wage laws examined in terms of their actual results, rather than their pious rhetoric?
Another book that would open the eyes of most of today's graduates to a world they have never encountered or conceived is "Life at the Bottom" by Theodore Dalrymple. It shows the actual effects of the welfare state on the way people live their lives. It is not a pretty picture, but inexperienced young people need to become acquainted with realities, after years of hearing high-sounding theories.
The fact that "Life at the Bottom" is about low-income whites in England, living lives remarkably similar to the lives of blacks in American ghettos, means that it cannot be dismissed as racism, the way American promoters of the welfare state evade responsibility for the social disasters they have created.

Cameron's reformist agenda
The Wall Street Journal is (mostly) happy with British Prime Minister David Cameron's long-overdue reforms:
David Cameron laid out his second-term agenda in the Queen’s Speech on Wednesday, and it seems the Prime Minister means to use his Parliamentary majority to chart a course toward some overdue conservative reforms.
Start with Britain’s labor market. Under new legislation offered by Mr. Cameron and his Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, public unions would face higher barriers to strike. At least half of union members—imagine that—would need to vote in a strike ballot, and for essential public services, such as health and transport, 40% of all members would need to support a walkout. Mr. Javid also wants to change trade-union rules so members who want their dues to go toward political causes must opt-in, rather than contribute by default.
Mr. Cameron also is pressing ahead with welfare reform. The government is proposing to cut the total benefits a nonworking family can receive to £23,000 from £26,000. Working-age benefit rates will be frozen for at least two years. This builds on one of Mr. Cameron’s first-term successes, as a previous round of benefit cuts and a focus on shifting more recipients into work boosted employment.
Also on the agenda is regulatory reform that Mr. Javid believes will save British businesses £10 billion in compliance costs by 2020. But whether this as-yet to be specified reform amounts to some cosmetic streamlining of a few rules or more serious red-tape cutting remains to be seen.
But they are not pleased with what they think is insufficient progress on taxes:
But the government also has its blind spots. One is tax policy. After cutting the corporate rate to 20% from 28% and the top personal rate to 45% from 50% in his first-term success, Mr. Cameron seems to have abandoned the effort. Instead, his main “cut” would be an adjustment to income-tax brackets to shift more low- and middle-income households onto a lower rate. That leaves more money in private hands but doesn’t fundamentally improve incentives to save and invest.
I'm not so sure this is so bad. Lowering thresholds is the same as lowering rates for many at the low end of any bracket. Some estimates have more than 100,000 Britons being taken out of the 40% bracket. That's good. More money in private hands is the goal.

'Separation of campaign and state'
George Will notes Bradley A. Smith's paper "Separation of Campaign and State" in the November 2013 George Washington Law Review in his most recent column about campaign finance laws and limits on political speech. Will concludes:
The phrase “a wall of separation between church and state” is from Thomas Jefferson, not the Constitution. But, says Smith, the metaphor’s aptness “flows from the document’s structure and purpose.” So does the propriety of a wall between campaigns and government: It is simply impermissible for the government to regulate the debate that determines if the party controlling this or that portion of the government will retain control.

Throwing in the towel
National Review managing editor Jason Lee Steorts: "An Equal Chance at Love: Why We Should Recognize Same-Sex Marriage." At Five Feet of Fury, Kathy Shaidle says of the new Advocate-like NR: "Standing athwart history shouting, ‘F*** me up the butt!’."

2016 watch (WTF edition)
For some reason, former New York governor George Pataki is going to enter the Republican presidential nomination contest today. This, apparently, is not a joke.

2016 watch (Rand Paul edition)
Rand Paul continues to say that the GOP sucks. In his new book, Taking a Stand: Moving beyond partisan politics to unite America, the Kentucky senator and GOP presidential hopeful, says: "Right now, the Republican brand sucks. I promised Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, that I would stop saying the GOP sucks, and I will (except for this last time)." It will be hard to win the nomination of a party that one is actively insulting. Even if the party deserves those insults.

2016 watch (HRC edition)
Washington Free Beacon: "Stunning Lack of Diversity at Hillary Clinton Campaign Events." Andrew Stiles opines: "the roundtable events she has hosted since announcing for president on April 12 have been, for the most part, excruciatingly white." The brief analysis of various photos is amusing, including "profoundly white" and "white and slightly ginger."

Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Only a statist could believe this
Steve Paikin quotes Dalton McGuinty (quoting Bill Davis): "It's been said that the most interesting day in the private sector can't touch being premier on the dullest."

It's about time
HuffPo reports:
The Board of Internal Economy will soon ban parliamentary staff from using compensatory leaves or paid vacation to go work on an election campaign, The Huffington Post Canada has learned.
The board is likely to take the decision during its meeting next week. The Tories and the Liberals will band together against the NDP’s opposition, sources said.
Seems like a loophole that should have been closed long ago.
And here's a little secret about the salaries of people who work for politicians: they are a little inflated because most of their bosses expect their political staff to work on their campaigns for free.

2016 watch (Rick Santorum edition)
RealClearPolitics's Rebecca Berg on former Senator Rick Santorum's non-running start:
In spite of his success in 2012, Santorum starts this election cycle as perhaps an even greater underdog, with anemic support in public polling and facing more competition than before — in particular in Iowa, where Santorum must perform well to be viable.
The Republican field, considerably broader and more competitive than in 2012, is stacked with candidates who might take a bite out of Santorum’s conservative base, and evangelical Christian voters in particular, including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who won the Iowa caucuses in 2008, and Sen. Ted Cruz.
And Santorum does not only face a more intense face-off for voters in Iowa, but also for top aides and activists. Already, much of Santorum’s former Iowa crew has fanned out among other campaigns ...
Santorum “has lost the backbone of some of his key Iowa supporters,” said one former campaign aide.
The same is true of some Santorum’s former national organization.
Former runners-up in the GOP often become the next cycle's frontrunner, but not this time.
But not being a frontrunner now doesn't mean that Santorum has no chance to win. His populist campaign against both Big Government and Big Business could resonate with swing voters, and his Blue Collar Conservatism has a lot of hokey economics and nostalgia but it contains politically potent appeals to the working class.
All that said, someone who appeals to blue collar workers and is from Pennsylvania has vice presidential candidate written all over him.

End energy subsidies
The Economist: "Energy subsidies gobble money. They also kill people and cook the planet." The magazine reports:
Blunders in economic policymaking abound, but among the worst are energy subsidies. They stoke waste, squeeze other spending, enrich middlemen and help the comfortably-off more than the poor, who use little energy.
Include the cost of pollution and the bill is even higher. A new IMF working paper puts it at a stonking $5.3 trillion, or 6% of global GDP—more than all government spending on health care. The+ biggest subsidies are in the poorest countries (where they can reach 18% of GDP) and the lion’s share goes to coal, the dirtiest fuel, which no country taxes properly. By contrast, renewable energy subsidies (mostly in the rich world and not covered in the IMF paper) amount to a mere $120 billion, and would vanish if fossil fuels were taxed fully. The biggest subsidiser of fossil fuels is China at $2.3 trillion, followed by America ($700 billion), Russia ($335 billion), India ($277 billion) and Japan ($157 billion).
Big numbers bring big headlines. In this case, they also introduce much greater margins for error. The common and strict definition of subsidies is “pre-tax”: directly intervening to keep a price artificially low. On that basis, the cost of fuel subsidies is an order of magnitude lower, at $333 billion.
Let's be clear: with energy subsidies the government is helping the well-to-do and contributing to pollution.

Question answered
Scientific American asks, "How Smart Should the President Be?"
Me: More so than the current one.

NDP offer rejected, but why did they make it in the first place?
CTV reports:
Expense claims from NDP MPs who have yet to repay millions in alleged improper satellite office spending will be denied by House of Commons administration, CTV News has learned.
Sources say that following a failed attempt by the party to negotiate payment, the House will begin to collect funds from NDP MPs July 1. Administrators will collect the money by refusing to cover future expense claims.
The NDP’s offer -- 10 per cent of what was owed -- was too low, so it was rejected, sources say.
The House will start collecting the funds from individual MPs, who were ordered to repay a combined $2.75 million in taxpayer money following a ruling by the Board of Internal Economy.
Question: if the NDP think they have done absolutely nothing wrong and they are concerned that the Board of Internal Economy acted like a kangaroo court, why give the mini scandal credence by offering to pay back 10% of allegedly misused expense?

Significant incremental change in India
On the first anniversary of Narendra Modi’s center-right government in India Rupa Subramanya writes in Foreign Policy about the significance of the Prime Minister's seemingly modest reforms:
Modi’s meteoric rise seemed to signal an end to all that. But a year on, both supporters and critics of the Modi government contend that his approach to economic reforms — especially on land, labor, and capital — has been measured and gradual, too slow for the gung-ho supporters who imagined he’d be another Margaret Thatcher, gleefully slashing one welfare scheme after another. His government instead now projects a message of moder­­­­­­­­­ation. Arvind Subramanian, a former International Monetary Fund economist who is now the government’s chief economic adviser, coined the term “incrementalism” to describe the approach to economic reform.
In some areas, such as reforming India’s arcane and restrictive labor laws, which make it difficult for firms to fire workers, “incrementalism” is an accurate description. Only recently has the central government initiated a process of public discussion around reforming labor laws — a process that some powerful states oppose and which promises to play out over the coming year or more.
However, those who claim that Modi is fundamentally an incrementalist, have missed the real significance of a crucial — and far more radical transformation — that’s quietly underway.
This transformation involves the conversion of in-kind entitlement-based welfare schemes into cash transfers , much greater fiscal devolution from the central government to state governments, and a phased replacement of welfare giveaways with social insurance that has stricter conditionalities like schemes in advanced economies such as the United States. Furthermore, there’s a shift in the central government’s own spending priorities toward infrastructure development. If successful, this package of measures will fundamentally change India’s welfare state and the relationship between the central and state governments in India’s federal set-up.
It’s hard to understand just how radical this transformation is without realizing how ingrained paternalism and giveaways from the government are in the post-independence Indian psyche and political economy. Whether it’s a right to 100 days of paid employment for agricultural labor (which in the past has mostly involved unproductive activity like digging holes in the ground) or a creaky and corruption-ridden public distribution system (which entitles people to a certain amount of free grain from government-approved stores), everything has revolved around patronage flowing from the central government down to the states, to the districts and to the local communities that receive these handouts. Often, the end recipient must kowtow to a local official or pay a bribe, and much “leakage” occurs along the way.
If Modi is successful, this chain of patronage will be broken and individuals in need will simply receive money directly transferred to their bank accounts.If Modi is successful, this chain of patronage will be broken and individuals in need will simply receive money directly transferred to their bank accounts. The poor will no longer need to participate in a transactional client-patron relationship with a local official.
Many western observers do not understand how far India has to come to undo its socialistic past, and how far it has moved already.

Nash bargaining
Forgot to mention this in the John Nash memorial post, from an Investor's Business Daily editorial:
He also came up with Nash bargaining — which deals with the perception of "fairness" as individuals, not central planners, see it. In a Nash bargain, each person chooses his own best interests are — such as when an employer and employee agree on what a fair wage is. This is something to consider in the current battles over the minimum wage.

Jays in bottom third of MLB
Grantland's Jonah Keri explains why:
Forty-seven games into the season, Jays starting pitchers rank 28th in the majors in park-adjusted ERA and last in park-adjusted fielding-independent pitching. The young pitchers experiment has failed miserably so far, and the team with the longest playoff drought in baseball sits in last place in the AL East.
It's hard to look at the Toronto Blue Jays and not see what is the worst team in the AL East.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015
There's no idiot like a Layton
Mike Layton tweets about the Ontario government legislating an end to the teacher's strike: "We'd all like to see a resolution, but what lessons does suspending democratic rights of teachers send to students?"

2016 watch (Bernie Sanders edition)
We should all cheer on Bernie Sanders' quixotic presidential campaign. Who else is going to come out against deodorant? The Free Beacon reports:
Self-proclaimed socialist and progressive favorite Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) laments the idea that Americans can choose between “23 underarm spray deodorants” as children go hungry under President Obama’s economy.
“You don’t necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants when children are hungry in this country,” Sanders told John Harwood in an interview posted Tuesday.
Sanders will make his official campaign Democratic presidential announcement alongside the Ben and Jerry’s cofounders in Burlington on Tuesday.
Two points.
Sanders could just as easily have condemned a society that produces 23 flavours of upscale ice cream while children go hungry.
The variety of deodorant -- or even any food -- is irrelevant to whether children go hungry ... unless one wants a command-style economy in which the state directs resources (inefficiently).

The Great Stagnation: no sign of abating
Tyler Cowen notes a Financial Post article that reports "Globally, the rate of growth decelerated to 2.1 per cent in 2014, compared with an annual average of 2.6 per cent between 1999 and 2006," and that output per worker is declining. Cowen says, "I am on record as predicting that the great stagnation will end, but so far it doesn’t seem like it is happening."

'Is Shawn Simoes a scapegoat?'
ProWomanProLife's Jennifer Derwey on Shawn Simoes being fired from his Hydro One job for his role in the FHRITPing of Shauna Hunt:
We’re all appeased by the outcome: Man says vulgar thing, man is punished. But men do say vulgar things, a lot in my experience, and sexual harassment takes place in nearly every workplace I’ve ever been in or heard of. This is a problem, is it not? Violence against women? Misogyny? Is firing Shawn Simoes going to fix all that? I think French theorist René Girard would argue that it simply calms us back into accepting the culture and the society the way that it is, but leaves it ultimately unchallenged and unchanged. If Simoes is a scapegoat, “scapegoat” does not mean he’s innocent, simply that he’s fulfilling the role of being punished in order for the social order to continue unchanged.

Nine global warming tipping points
Earlier this month the Daily Caller listed nine times in the past quarter-century that alarmists warned that if something wasn't done about global warming, it would be too late to stop it. Chicken Littles should be called out more often on their apocalyptic predictions.

Perhaps the best bracket ever
xkcd has what is not a traditional bracket (three-way contests, a four-way contests, a number of byes into the third round, etc...) of famous people.

The air war begins
Toronto Sun columnist David Akin notes that there are less than 150 days until the federal election and the attacks ads are already airing. He summarizes the four new ads:
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair enjoys coffee, water, has a beard and is a nice guy from a middle-class background.
The Conservatives think Justin Trudeau could be prime minister one day but he’s just not ready for prime time this fall.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper stays up late working hard at his desk to protect our economy and to protect us from terrorists.
If you have kids, Trudeau will give you more money for them than either Harper or Mulcair.
Gerry Nicholls writes in his Hill Times column this week that the Tories should beware of going overboard attacking Junior, not because it could backfire but it could lead a stampede to the NDP, which could gain enough strength to beat the Conservatives. Nicholls says:
This is why Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s overall supreme strategic mission must be to keep the NDP and Liberals in a kind of equilibrium, maintaining a situation where the progressive vote is roughly split between two left-of-centre parties of more or less equal strength.
Hence, while Harper is probably happy that his attacks against Trudeau might be working, he also realizes that if they start to work too well, it will hurt his own party.
So if the Liberal polling slide continues, we might see the Conservatives recalibrate their attack strategy and direct their fire away from Trudeau and toward NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair.

Gillespie on Grayson
Nick Gillespie likes a lot of Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson's political positions, but thinks he could be a more effective politician if he were less of a jackass.

Rick McGinnis on Tomorrowland and it's green flaw
Rick McGinnis at The Megaphone:
Laurie’s speech – and the whole clanking ecogeddon conceit – sits astride the film like a colossal choking bolus, a sour, finger-pointing jeremiad that kills the hurtling action dead, and forces anyone who doesn’t worship the gospel of Green and its sackcloth truisms abruptly out of the story and into an eye-rolling frenzy.
If you’re looking for some kind of internal logic, give up now. Our loss of faith in the future and the technology that was supposed to take us there is the tragic condition that Bird and Lindelof make their film’s foundation. And yet the same technology that harvests energy and improves crop yields, enables travel at once-implausible speeds and makes cities denser yet healthier places to live than they ever were is the villain that robbed us of that future.
Ponder this message for a minute, and then wonder that no one who read Tomorrowland’s script ever drew a red line through Laurie’s big scene and said, “OK – right here. You’ve lost me.”
There is, to be sure, a great film – still unmade – about our loss of faith in a better world we imagined so fervently in the shadow of two world wars. But a new kind of faith – the gospel of Green and all of its logic-busting assumptions – has clouded reason and, almost like collateral damage, ruined what could have been a great little film about wonder and optimism and scientific inspiration.

Most universities don't keep stats on sex crimes on campus
Because, as Tim Worstall points out, that's the job of the police. Universities don't keep stats for thefts and murders, either.

Monday, May 25, 2015
Can't wait to see the NDP, Liberals argue against lowering GST
The National Post's John Ivison:
For a party that was elected in 2006, after promising to cut the reviled goods and services tax by two percentage points, what could possibly have more resonance than pledging to trim the GST by another point?
Conservative sources suggest the measure has been discussed internally, though it’s not clear that any decision has been taken.
Joe Oliver, the finance minister, has said a Conservative government would cut more taxes if re-elected. Speaking in Toronto last week, he was asked if federal taxes were now as low as they can go.
“I think we could do more,” he said, pointing out that debt servicing costs will decline as a percentage of expenditures in the coming years.
Of course, Ivison's story could be incorrect. Or the Conservatives might only be discussing this. Economists generally favour consumption taxes over income taxes, but the right way for conservatives to think about taxes is that the fewer and the lower, the better.

Teaching history
Joe Queenan has an essay on his children leaving school and it's worth reading, especially if you are a parent. This about the teaching of history will ring true for every child who is bored to tears by the lame way in which the past is presented to students:
My kids hated cant and they hated lies. They hated the bloodless, inanimate way history was taught to them. At dinner every night, they would pump me for the real truth about history, not the dreary, politically correct twaddle they were taught in school.
They wanted to hear about the Holy Innocents, about St. Lucy, about the Golden Horde, about the time a young French archer fatally wounded Richard the Lionhearted, and on his deathbed Richard the Lionhearted said, “Don’t do anything nasty to that feisty little kid,” and his generals said “OK.” And then, about five minutes after King Richard died, they flayed the kid alive.
They wanted to hear about Alexander the Great, Lady Godiva, Judas Iscariot, Erwin Rommel and unexpected nuances in Apache torture methods. They didn’t want to hear that the Iroquois lived in longhouses and respected women and had a governmental structure that exerted a profound influence on Thomas Jefferson. They wanted to hear about what the Iroquois did to their French Jesuit captives.
It should be added that the Catholic Church does itself no favours by eschewing lessons on the saints, many of which went through the most unpleasant trials and tribulations to prove their faith.

Advice on where to travel
Tyler Cowen's advice: the United States, western Europe, the major Asian cities, Mexico. Some people will consider his advice useless, but you have to read Cowenese to understand what he's saying. Cowen generally favours cities over rural areas but (rightfully) says that southwest United States (Utah to Grand Canyon) is "perhaps the world’s most compelling natural beauty, plus a good look at real American culture along the way." The comments are good, including advice on priorities before work and marriage make certain types of travel more difficult, and beginning travellers should stick to the cities (there is just more there).

Glen McGregor thinks he has some gotcha against C.D. Howe Institute & Catherine Swift
Glen McGregor tweets about some perceived double standard and gets called out on it by Aaron Wudrick of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. There are any number of reasons that Bill Morneau's speech at the Liberal convention (and widely seen as a potential Liberal candidate) when he was the chairman of the board of directors at the (non-partisan) C.D. Howe Institute is different than Catherine Swift, a member of the board speaking out in as an observer in a completely different capacity are very different things. Swift does not speak with the authority of the C.D. Howe Institute behind her -- in fact, the story that McGregor links to doesn't mention her affiliation with the think tank -- but rather two other organizations of which she is part: Working Canadians and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (of which she is the chair). McGregor thinks he exposed some kind of double-standard on the part of the C.D. Howe Institute, but what he really points to is a pair of completely different situations.

Polls aren't the problem. Our stories about them are. (Khadr edition)
The National Post: "Canadians can’t seem to make up their minds about Omar Khadr, and decision to grant him bail: poll." The paper reports:
A new poll by the Angus Reid Institute shows Canadians are evenly split over the recent decision to grant Omar Khadr bail while he awaits an appeal of his conviction in the United States for war crimes.
And while just over half of Canadians believe Khadr still poses a potential threat, almost the same number believe he has “served his time.”
It wasn’t that long ago that almost half of Canadians — 46 per cent — told the same pollster they supported the notion of indefinite imprisonment to prevent homegrown terrorism ...
“They cannot find consensus … whether this is a reformed young man who means what he says around doing right and how he doesn’t harbour violent tendencies or radicalized tendencies anymore.”
The point that Canadians have or haven't made up their (collective) minds is a common trope in reporting about polls but that isn't usually correct. The fact that Canadians are divided means that a theoretical Canadian mindset has not coalesced around a single position -- not that it ever does. The idea of consensus is illusory. If even 10% of the population holds a minority view, that is still about 3 million Canadians, a not insignificant number that is about equal to the population of Toronto or combined populations of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. And we shouldn't be surprised that the country is about evenly divided on a contentious issue. As much as some people like to talk about a Canadian ethos, outside of the broadest (and meaningless) values, we are a diverse people who value and prioritize different things (tolerance, equality, liberty, security, order to name but a handful). The best proof of this in the ARI poll is the divergent opinions on Khadr when broken down on partisan lines.
The poll also finds that 40% of respondents are "unsure" if Khadr was treated fairly. That is an astonishingly high number of people without an opinion and perhaps it suggests that people do not know that much about the case, or they just don't care. It also means that about six in ten people do have an opinion (33% said Khadr was treated fairly, 28% said he wasn't), so the majority were still able to make up their mind about how the former child soldier was treated. It is also possible that fair and unfairly were insufficient options with some segment of the population thinking he was treated too leniently.
This is not to blame the reporter for framing the narrative on the poll this way; in fact, if anything the reporter is merely serving as a stenographer for the Angus Reid Institute who frames the story around the poll as one of Canadians unable to decide what they think about the case. It's sort of sloppy but all-too-common; instead of treating issues as complex matters in which there are diverse opinions, pollsters (and reporters) insist on treating Canadians as a single entity when it comes to public opinion. That's wrong.

Driverless car revolution
Samizdata's Patrick Crozier has a good, brief post on driverless cars and how they will change transportation. Crozier has a brief introduction (the recent news of four self-driving car collisions mostly ignored that human error was the cause of the accidents), followed by a series of questions. It is important to note that autonomous vehicles 1) are probably closer than we realize unless government regulation stalls or prevents their implementation, and 2) are going to change who is driving, by changing transportation and car culture. That is, self-driving cars could affect train and bus systems, as well as the notion of car ownership (maybe) and car design (for sure). Our lack of imagination leads us to believe that driverless cars will just be like our current cars but automated. That seems short-sighted and narrow-minded. As I have noted before, the unasked question is about liberty: if driverless cars are so much safer and more efficient, how will the state permit human-driven cars to continue operating.

2016 watch (SEC primary)
The Washington Post reports on the effort to make a Super Primary of southern states (broadly defined) right after Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. The idea would be to help a conservative "to rack up delegates early," because "strategists say a Southern primary has the potential to buoy a more conservative candidate and be a challenge for candidates considered too moderate or too affiliated with the establishment." But are these cats going to be herded? Mississippi is likely to go March 8, a week later in order not to get lost in the massive block vote. Florida and Texas -- to employ the sports metaphor -- are powerhouses expected to hold their primaries in late March, and the Louisiana caucus is not expected to be held earlier than usual (and on a Saturday) to accommodate the SEC primary. So the SEC idea might break down before it gets off the ground. That said, Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Virginia might be enough (along with the late February South Carolina primary) to achieve its goal of assisting the non-Establishment, more conservative candidates.

2016 watch (HRC running mate watch)
Apparently Julian Castro, the secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, is considered the frontrunner to become Hillary Clinton's running mate. The Daily Caller reports:
Because of his age — 40 — and his Hispanic heritage, Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio, is considered to be an appealing vice presidential candidate on Clinton’s 2016 ticket. Though he denied Sunday that Clinton is considering him for the ticket, earlier this week, former HUD Sec. Henry Cisneros said that Castro was an early favorite.
It doesn't hurt that Castro is publicly defending Hillary Clinton in the Benghazi email scandal.

2016 watch (Joe Biden edition)
Carl M. Cannon on why Joe Biden -- and not Hillary Clinton -- could be the Democratic candidate in 2016, and that wouldn't be the disaster (or joke) many think it could be:
Unlike other Democrats I could name, he hasn’t amassed a personal fortune. He’s a public servant committed to public service. As vice president, he’s been exceedingly valuable to Obama, on politics and policy. I’ll cite two examples.
Remember when the intransigence of House Republicans and the petulance of Senate Democrats—and the president himself—threatened to take the country over a “fiscal cliff” in 2013? Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell called Biden, his former and longtime colleague, with a simple question: “Does anyone down there know how to make a deal?”
There was, and once Obama tasked his vice president with getting it done, a deal happened. It’s called governing, and Joe Biden knows how to do it.
He’s savvy on politics, too. The prevailing wisdom holds that Bill Clinton rescued the Democrats’ 2012 humdrum nominating convention in Charlotte with a stemwinder that pumped up the delegates. But Biden is the one who may have actually saved that convention four months earlier when he blurted out his support for same-sex marriage on “Meet the Press.”
“I think you may have just gotten in front of the president on gay marriage,” his communications director told him afterward. This was true, but after Education Secretary Arne Duncan did the same thing on “Morning Joe,” the president realized that the Democrats’ days of having it both ways on gay marriage were over.
White House officials didn’t know it then but Biden may have saved the convention. Delegates would have raised hell over this issue in Charlotte. Some would have walked out over it. That would have been a bigger news story than Bill Clinton’s speech.
I'm not convinced that Cannon is correct. But it is an interesting take.

Sunday, May 24, 2015
Psychiatry readings of the week
David Gratzer describes his "Reading of the Week" project:
Every week, Dr. Gratzer picks a reading — usually a research paper or an article — from the world of psychiatry.
The Readings are distributed widely, including to all University of Toronto psychiatry residents (as an official project of the Postgraduate Education Office).
This project receives no funding from the pharmaceutical industry; indeed, this project receives no funding.
It has been available to the UofT residents for a while and others in the medical community, but only recently became open to the public. I highly recommend it. Gratzer's most recent Reading of the Week is Atul Gawande's New Yorker essay "Overkill" on overtreatment, an important topic for health care professionals and under-valued issue in public policy. Gratzer highlights an important line from Gawande's piece: "Unnecessary care often crowds out necessary care, particularly when the necessary care is less remunerative."

John Nash is dead
See from Yahoo! that John Nash, the Nobel-prize winning mathematician, has died in an automobile accident in New Jersey. Nash has a measure of fame because of the movie A Beautiful Mind. That mind helped advance game theory with the Nash Equilibrium (that's what his Nobel Prize in Economics was for). Here's the Khan Academy lesson on the Nash Equilibrium, a six-minute video that is recommended for everyone. Nash just recently won the Abel Prize for mathematics. Bloomberg has a good obituary. I assume that Tyler Cowen will have something shortly.

Washington in a nutshell
George Will on Senator Tim Kaine's effort to craft a Congressional "authorization for use of military force" to limit executive power and notes:
As Obama’s war strategy collapses, he should welcome company during his stumble through the gathering darkness. As always, however, his arrogance precludes collaboration with Congress. And Congress, knowing that governing involves choosing, which always involves making someone unhappy, is happy to leave governing to him.
When some regular people (and fewer pundits) talk about governing for the common good, they miss what really motivates politicians: winning and holding power. For presidents that power comes as close to absolute in a democracy as possible so why share it. For congressmen and senators, who understand their power is extremely limited, that just means winning re-election (proximity to power or stepping stone to power) so the primary motivation for actions is blame-avoidance (a lot like the reasons baseball managers and football coaches make sub-optimal decisions).

Creative success leads to unethical behaviour. Or perhaps better reasoning.
Pacific Standard reports:
Refining earlier research, a newly published study finds innovative people are indeed more likely than most to cross ethical boundaries—but only after they have been engaged in creative work. According to a research team led by Ke Michael Mai, a creative frame of mind enables one to come up with compelling justifications for bad behavior.
Here's a counter-intuitive thought: perhaps what many of us consider unethical is not really wrong and creative people, once they begin to see outside-the-box, can understand that seemingly unethical behaviours can, in fact, be justified.
I'm not saying that's true. But let's challenge the conventional wisdom.

Class and race
David Frum tweets: "Key sentence in R Putnam 'Our Kids': 'The racial gap within classes has narrowed, while the class gap within races has widened'." American pundits talk incessantly about race and largely ignore class, which Rick McGinnis argued a few months ago in The Interim is an important way of looking at society and that this can be done in non-Marxist terms.

Saturday, May 23, 2015
Why do people think this is a good line of attack on Harper?
Author and NDP candidate in Toronto Centre Linda McQuaig tweets: "First he hides in closet when Parliament under attack, now #PMHarper to hide from 10 million Cdns who want to see him debate. What a coward." Protecting the prime minister during a terrorist attack on Parliament is wise, not cowardly. Would be true regardless of who the prime minister was.
Also, as Brian Lilley notes, Thomas Mulcair has agree to five debates (plus more if possible), Stephen Harper four, and Trudeau just two. Who is the coward hiding from debates? (Hint: it's the gaffe-prone one who can't debate.)
(HT: Small Dead Animals)

France wants supermarkets to give expired food to charities for the poor
That would be the honest Guardian headline: "France To Force Big Supermarkets To Give Unsold Food To Charities."
(HT: Blazing Cat Fur)

Conservatives are not immune to being infatuated with celebrities
Matt K. Lewis has a good short piece at the Daily Caller about the Josh Dugger scandal (really, is it a scandal?) and what it says about the Right and its infatuation with celebrity. Lewis says:
What I am going to do is zero in on what struck me as an especially interesting, if largely unrelated, sentence in the Washington Post’s coverage of the story: “Duggar was running a used-car lot before he became the new face of the Family Research Council.”
How does this happen? I’m not suggesting that someone who runs a used car lot in Arkansas can’t eventually become the executive director of a group like FRC Action. But is that where you start? Shouldn’t you maybe, I don’t know, work for a social conservative outfit before being promoted to essentially running one?
It is understandable that in a celebrity-obsessed culture, the Right looks for the occasional hero from the entertainment world. Like their shows, be thankful they highlight some of our issues, but don't put them on pedestals.

Nicholls on Justin Trudeau's debate prep
Gerry Nicholls imagines what debate preparation with Junior must be like:
CONSULTANT: Justin let’s begin our debate rehearsal, I’ll play the part of the moderator, and ask you some practice questions OK?
TRUDEAU: OK, but who am I playing? When I was teaching drama class, I always made it a point to emphasize the importance of knowing your character.
CONSULTANT: You’re playing you Justin. Remember this is a rehearsal for the leadership debates. It’s very important.
TRUDEAU: Got it. So what’s my motivation in this scene? Actually, never mind, I’ll just wing it improv-style. Go ahead and ask away.

There's no such thing as a perfect electoral system
The CBC reports: "Canada's former chief electoral officer sees a new pre-campaigning style emerging thanks to Canada's first fixed-date election this fall, with recent conflict over leaders' debates just one consequence of the new system." Politicians, who create the system in which they operate, will always game it. Always.

Friday, May 22, 2015
'Civil asset forfeiture: The reform issue that’s sweeping the nation'
I hope so. Logan Albright at
However, because of the political capital held by sheriffs’ offices in many states, local reforms have proven difficult. Moreover, a process called “equitable sharing” allows states to circumvent their own laws by bringing in federal agents and splitting the proceeds from seized assets. Fortunately, federal lawmakers have not been blind to the problem, and Sen. Rand Paul has introduced the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration Act to curb asset forfeiture abuses nationwide.
It’s rare that an issue can bridge party lines and unite people across the country, but civil asset forfeiture is so obviously dangerous to liberty, so easily abused, and the stories of its victims so relatable to the average person, that we can all imagine ourselves targeted unjustly.
Civil asset forfeiture would only be allowed to stand if the stereotypes of the two major American political parties were true: the Republicans as mindlessly tough-on-crime thugs and the Democrats as knee-jerk government-loving statists. I assume that civil asset forfeiture will remain a major problem for the foreseeable future because those stereotypes are correct, but I'd love to be proven wrong.

I'm for getting rid of the tampon tax
The Conservative government has endorsed the NDP idea of getting rid of the "tampon tax" which is actually just the fact that the GST/HST applies to feminine products. Left-wing politicians, egged on by identity feminists, have taken up this cause as discriminatory and they have brilliantly marketed their cause as targeting a product that most women can't avoid using. Whatever. Let's get to root causes and eliminate the root of the tampon tax: let's get rid of the GST/HST, and cut spending accordingly.

Reason enough to vote Tory
The Globe and Mail: "Conservatives would likely cut more taxes if re-elected, Oliver says." The Globe reports:
“I think we could do more,” Mr. Oliver replied. He noted that Canada’s debt in relation to the economy is low by international standards and will shrink from about a third of GDP to one quarter by the end of the decade. Mr. Oliver did not comment on the potential impact of rising interest rates on federal finances.
“So, as the debt declines and as debt payments decline as a proportion of expenditures, there’s more opportunity to provide tax relief and to provide other benefits to businesses and to Canadian families and to the Canadian middle class,” he said.