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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Monday, December 22, 2014
Remembering Sir Joseph Flavelle
The Toronto Star's David Olive has a nice essay on Sir Joseph Flavelle, who is mostly remembered for being a Great War profiteer with his meat-packing company (which would eventually become modern-day Maple Leaf Foods), but should be better known as one of Toronto's great civic builders. Without Flavelle, neither the University of Toronto nor the city's downtown hospital system would have become what it is today, namely world-class institutions.
What Olive doesn't mention is that Flavelle was a lifelong supporter of the Conservative Party and after World War I became a fierce critic of government involvement in the economy, including social assistance, which he thought discouraged work. His opposition to government interference, however, did not prevent Flavelle from accepting an appointment in 1928 by Premier George Howard Ferguson to the Ontario Research Foundation, a public-private effort to advance industrial research. A good short introduction to this remarkable Canadian, including his extensive charitable involvement (especially through the Methodist church), is available in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography. If that interests you, I highly recommend reading A Canadian Millionaire: The Life and Business Times of Sir Joseph Flavelle by Michael Bliss.

'Media elite unplugged'
That's The Interim headline on the December column by Rick McGinnis. Or as Kathy Shaidle called it, "the revealing hypocrisy of the technocrats, who don’t let their own kids use the gadgets they sell you." McGinnis writes:
[Ross] Douthat reflects that it’s ironic – in a generic, workaday sort of way – that the people who work in industries (entertainment, the media) that retail stories and songs set in the post-family, post-Christian world of easy sex and deferred responsibility often live their own lives with standards of restraint and conventional morality that they’ve defined, by their own yardsticks, as “conservative.
“They get to profit off various forms of exploitation directly,” Douthat writes, “because sex sells and shock value attracts eyeballs. And then they also reap benefits indirectly – because the teaching they’re offering to the masses, the vision of the good life, is one that tends to ratify existing class hierarchies, by encouraging precisely the behaviors and choices that in the real world make it hard to rise and thrive.
“In this sense, one might suspect our cultural elites of being a little bit like the Silicon Valley parents who send their kids to computer- free schools (italics mine): They don’t mind pushing the moral envelope in the shows they greenlight and the songs they produce, because they’re confident that their own kids have the sophistication to regard Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus as amusements rather than role models, the social capital required to keep the culture’s messages at arm’s length.”
The column has much more to say about class, and the cultural values that the elite peddle but do not necessarily themselves embrace, a recurring theme in McGinnis columns recently.

That's sane
So the North Korean regime gets blamed for hacking Sony and Washington considers putting Pyongyang back on the list of terror-sponsoring states, and North Korea's dictator Kim Jong Un takes umbrage and suggests he will strike against both the apparatus of government and "the whole U.S. mainland, that cesspool of terrorism." Nothing says respectable global player who eschews the sorts of things that North Korea is accused of like vowing to strike an entire country. Meanwhile the Obama administration can do little to respond, with extensive economic sanctions already in place and there being little appetite for military action (including among Obama critics); re-designating North Korea as a state-sponsor of terror will also be difficult considering the State Department requires specific, linked, acts of physical violence. It is easy to attack the Obama's administration's weak foreign policy for North Korea's sabre-rattling, but it is nothing new and the country did the same thing when that George W. Bush was in office and its not like he was a wimp on the global stage. One can only hope that Kim Jong Un's threats are as empty as Kim Jong-il's were.

The limits of polls
The Canadian Press: "Federal polls show race is tightening but can’t explain the reasons why." Well, that's because whatever polls might tell you, they can't tell you why because no pollster asks enough questions to get to the reasons why thousands of people come to the partisan political conclusions they do.
The CP story quotes Paul Adams, a former political journalist and pollster, who (in the words of CP reporter Bruce Cheadle) warns "It's always easy to construct a narrative around why that might be, he added — but pundits and pollsters should be careful with such storylines." Sounds like what I've been saying in these parts for year. Pollsters and pundits often match shifts in the headline poll numbers and recent news headlines to come up with a story that makes some sense but which do not necessarily reflect what is happening. A focus group might capture the explanation for shifts in polling numbers, but the numbers themselves cannot.
The author gets to this point deep in the article, when Cheadle quotes Tom Flanagan, a former academic and Stephen Harper adviser:
"The parties won't have any polls showing anything different," he said in an interview. "I never saw any internal polls that had any magical insight."
Canadian political parties, said Flanagan, simply don't have the resources to conduct routinely the kind of massive surveys — samples of 10,000-plus respondents — that can pinpoint specific, number-moving issues and their demographics.
That will change in the immediate run-up to an election, when parties will poll heavily in order to lay out an advertising strategy and finalize their platforms.

Can't cut it
Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry recently wrote in The Week about "How academia's liberal bias is killing social science" and its a pretty standard complaint about the left-wing leanings of academics and how it affects research. The opening 'graph is worth reading and contemplating:
I have had the following experience more than once: I am speaking with a professional academic who is a liberal. The subject of the underrepresentation of conservatives in academia comes up. My interlocutor admits that this is indeed a reality, but says the reason why conservatives are underrepresented in academia is because they don't want to be there, or they're just not smart enough to cut it. I say: "That's interesting. For which other underrepresented groups do you think that's true?" An uncomfortable silence follows.
That's a fair, not facetious question. Perhaps conservatives don't have what it takes for a career in the academy. But perhaps that's true of many different groups in many different fields.

A doctor weighs in on the 'Home Alone' injuries
The Week talked to Dr. Ryan St. Clair of the Weill Cornell Medical College about the injuries sustained by the burglars in the movie Home Alone: "Diagnosing the Home Alone burglars' injuries: A professional weighs in." Dr. St. Clair on "handling a burning-hot doorknob":
If this doorknob is glowing visibly red in the dark, it has been heated to about 751 degrees Fahrenheit, and Harry gives it a nice, strong, one- to two-second grip. By comparison, one second of contact with 155 degree water is enough to cause third degree burns. The temperature of that doorknob is not quite hot enough to cause Harry's hand to burst into flames, but it is not that far off... Assuming Harry doesn't lose the hand completely, he will almost certainly have other serious complications, including a high risk for infection and 'contracture' in which resulting scar tissue seriously limits the flexibility and movement of the hand, rendering it less than 100 percent useful. Kevin has moved from 'defending his house' into sheer malice, in my opinion.

Let me rename this cartoon for you
XKCD's "Dirty Harry" should have been called "The upside of autism."

'Top 10 feminist fiascoes of 2014'
I didn't even click on the link but I did like Tyler Cowen's comment about it: "This is a good example of how media focus on events which raise or lower the status of particular groups, rather than focusing on events which actually impact human welfare."
Steve Sailer says 2014 provides a "rich harvest."

My dad used to complain I used too much punctuation
The Guardian: "Amazon 'suppresses' book with too many hyphens." The issue with hyphens -- or dashes, parentheses, semicolons -- is not how many but whether they are used correctly; well, not even correctly, but whether it obscures or enhances what the author is trying to say. But that should be an issue for the publisher and customer not the distributor. The problem with Amazon is that it can be the publisher and distributor.
Anyway, here is what The Guardian reports about Graeme Reynolds and his werewolf novel:
Then, on 12 December, Reynolds got an email from the internet retailer, which had apparently received a complaint from a reader “about the fact that some of the words in the book were hyphenated” (let’s not even wonder about who on earth would go to the trouble of emailing Amazon about this).
“When they ran an automated spell check against the manuscript they found that over 100 words in the 90,000-word novel contained that dreaded little line,” he says. “This, apparently ‘significantly impacts the readability of your book’ and, as a result, ‘We have suppressed the book because of the combined impact to customers.’”
If you like this sort of thing, make sure you read Reynolds' post about his dealings with Amazon.
I take a pretty libertarian view of grammar, punctuation, and even spelling. The point of writing is to communicate, so even if the author is technically wrong, if the reader understands there is no harm, no foul. (I take a less libertarian view when editing during my day job.) Regardless, this is not an issue for Amazon.
(HT: Tyler Cowen)

Sunday, December 21, 2014
The Peltzman effect
Greg Mankiw highlights two Wall Street Journal stories -- one about safety gear contributing to fewer traffic deaths while cities are trying to make the roads safer for pedestrians -- and notes, "As Sam Peltzman pointed out years ago, when cars get safer, drivers are less careful, increasing externalities on pedestrians."

Ontario PCs and early sex ed
Part of The Interim's cover story is online: "Tory Hopefuls Take Issue with Party’s Education Critic on Sex Ed." It is nuts that the Tory education critic is supporting the government on a major policy initiative. But it gets better (or worse, I guess).
We went to press before the latest development, as reported by LifeSiteNews: "Ontario Tories’ education critic: I backed Wynne’s sex-ed plans because unions told me they’re ‘necessary’." Why the hell is Garfield Dunlop, the Ontario Progressive Conservative education critic, getting advice from any union?

Christmas Music: 'Fairytale Of New York'
I had a room-mate in university that was a huge Pogues fan and we listened to "Fairytale of New York" a lot. I'm not sure if I've listened to an album by The Pogues in nearly 20 years although I listen to "Fairytale of New York" with some regularity. A few weeks ago The Guardian had an article about "Fairytale of New York" turning 25 this year (and includes this tidbit: "[Elvis] Costello prosaically suggested calling it Christmas Day in the Drunk Tank." Dave Bidini, whose National Post column is usually ignorable, says this weekend that it is a Christmas masterpiece. Here's "Fairytale Of New York" by The Pogues:

Trudeau's econ advisers
Justin Trudeau has added a Blackberry exec to his economic advisory team. Gods of the Copybook Headings observers: "Because it's a smart idea to connect a political lightweight with the most dramatic Canadian corporate flame-out since Nortel. I'm guessing Gerald Butts was on vacation this week."

Milton Friedman won
Justin Wolfers and Garett Jones tweet.

Fighting back against Obamacare
George Will has a column that can get a little technical on the legal/constitutional aspects of the states’ attorneys general fight against the Affordable Care Act (Obamcare), which comes down to this: they want the Supreme Court to read the law "unimaginatively" so that its precise words mean what they say. Doing so, and reversing the way the administration has been using the law to impose regulations clearly not spelled out in the law -- but almost certainly intended by its Democratic authors -- would gut Obamacare.

Lack of confidence in (true) liberalism
Kevin D. Williamson has a column on the Americans becoming all French, with surrenders to North Korea and Cuba*:
Liberal, open societies are always vulnerable to encroachments from illiberal forces with sufficient motivation, whether it’s the totalitarians in Pyongyang, the ones in Riyadh, or the ones in Cambridge, Mass. That’s especially true when elites lose their confidence in such liberal principles as free speech and freedom of conscience. As soon as you accept the premise that a person’s right to free speech (or a professor’s ability to conduct his class) is circumscribed by another person’s “right” not to be offended, then you have jettisoned principle entirely, and all that’s left is brute-force negotiation — a situation in which the partisans of liberty and humaneness always find themselves lamentably outnumbered.
* I don't think Cuba was a surrender and while I disagree with the decision Sony made many of the same people who complain the corporate giant caved would criticize them for putting profits ahead the safety of movie-goers had anything happened. Still, the larger point Williamson is making is true.

Nancy Reagan and Mr. T
I assumed Mr. T meant Denis Thatcher. It didn't.

What sex ed has wrought
Sarah's Scribbles. (HT: The DIY Courtier)
And I like the one about becoming an adult.

Buck on Cuba
Photographer Chris Buck on Cuba:
I visited there over Christmas in 1998 (as a Canadian) and ended up with mixed feelings about the place and the people. Much of it was beautiful, and many of the people warm, but ultimate I ended up seeing how trapped these people were - pretending to go along with the established system while barely concealing their working of the black market. It struck me as very sad; these were amongst the unhappiest people I’d ever met in my travels.
As Buck says, the thaw in the U.S.-Cuba relationship isn't going to fix everything in Cuba immediately, but it should, over time, help the citizens of Cuba. That isn't necessarily a victory for the Castro brothers.
Again, for those on the Right who think isolating Havana was working, two questions: 1) How long would the policy be maintained until failure is admitted and 2) How is it moral to add to the punishment of the people of Cuba, the very individuals that isolation is supposed to eventually help free? Moral preening is always off-putting, but it can be immoral when it puts politics ahead of real people.

A new study finds that heterosexual men more upset with infidelity than heterosexual women, bisexuals, and homosexuals. Instapundit says that is "exactly as evolutionary theory would predict" because "only heterosexual men risk being stuck raising someone else’s kid."

How to prove consent with 'yes means yes' laws
Ashe Schow of the Washington Examiner asked but did not get any answers from sponsors and supporters of "yes means yes" laws about how to ascertain when there has actually been consent. She concludes:
Outside of videotaping (which might also lead to legal problems), notary witnesses, signed contracts and Breathalyzers, a person accused of sexual assault simply cannot prove they obtained ongoing consent throughout the process of sex and did not rely on silence, past sexual history or their partner's (victim's?) use of alcohol. It is already conceivably possible for any sex act to lead to a rape accusation, but this standard narrows the potential proof one can offer for one's innocence. It requires evidence that is basically impossible to produce, provide, or even (as the lack of answers suggests) imagine.
Under this law, an accusation is as good as evidence. Does every sexual encounter need to be recorded and documented just in case some time in the future one person decides to call it rape? Under these policies, yes.

Worst NYC dining trends
The New York Post has "The 11 worst dining trends of 2014" and while some of it is New York-centric, they all sound about right, especially "Stupid hot dog tricks." Hot dogs are supposed to be wiener, bun, and mustard. That's it. If you are paying $12 for a dog, even in New York City, you are at the wrong place.

Saturday, December 20, 2014
Christmas music: Handel's 'For unto us a child is born'
For the next few days I will be posting some of my favourite Christmas music. Not all of it will be classical or religious, but we kick off with the best, "For unto us a child is born" from Handel's Messiah. While I prefer the version of Sir Georg Solti conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, this one of Sir Colin Davis conducting the London Symphony Orchestra is what I could find does justice to the majesty of the music.

Santa's elves and Santa's sleigh, modern edition
Via Politics and Humour.

About inequality
Economist Kevin Milligan was tweeting a Broadbent Institute graphic on wealth inequality, and he says: "I care about consumption inequality. I care about income inequality because it is decent proxy for consumption possibilities. But wealth?"

2016 watch (ostensibly the Jeb Bush edition)
Writing in the Fiscal Times Ed Morrissey says that Jeb Bush carries baggage, not only of the Bush name, but representing a previous generation of leadership and governance -- he was governor of Florida a decade ago. So Bush has problems, including not being with the party's base on a number of issues today and being unnecessarily antagonistic with them (such as saying Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush couldn't get nominated today, let alone Common Core and immigration). But there is a more important point, an implied point: elections are about status quo vs. change. Usually change means moving forward, but there are times when the change is nostalgic and voters want to embrace the past. The problem for Jeb Bush is that the electorate doesn't seem to want that change; it wants to move forward not backward, even Republicans. Morrissey notes that both candidates, Bush and Hillary Clinton, if early polls are to be believed, would represent the past.

Kathy Shaidle, poet
Blogger Five Feet of Fury links to Eve Tushnet reviews of her earlier work of poety, pre-9/11 and when she still smoked. I don't do poetry -- I just don't get it unless it's Rudyard Kipling or W.H. Auden -- but if you are so inclined, you should take a look. I for one, like the caustic Kathy but I understand why a certain kind of Catholic, even one who might generally agree, wouldn't want to read FFF.

Schools suck because we ask them to do too much
I get his satire, but isn't there some truth to this from "An open letter to America from a public school teacher" in McSweeney:
I had this ridiculous idea that art and music and drama and activity breaks would help my students grow. Maybe it was all those years of allowing my students to be creative. To think, I once had my English class produce a full-length play with original music and student-designed sets. I wasted weeks and weeks on that frivolous project. Sure, my students enjoyed it then, and okay, many of them still e-mail me and tell me that was the highlight of their high school experience, but I know now that if I had only had them sit in rows and practice for the ACT, if I had only given them short passages and had them tell me which of the five choices best described the author’s tone, they’d be so much more fulfilled in their lives.
After all, what did they really learn? How to access their imaginations? Developing original thoughts? Teamwork? I may as well have taught them how to file for unemployment.
Last year, our school district did away with our arts education classes. I was stunned along with the other misguided “professionals” with whom I taught. That was before I came to the stark realization that painting and sculpting and drawing might be nice hobbies to have, but they’re certainly not going to help adolescents as they compete for the jobs of the future.
Education as described in the letter sounds dreary. That's because schools are dreary, industrial-age institutions operating on a model that is a century-and-a-half old. (What is the grade system if not an assembly line.) Schools have to meet the demands of parents which are, in order (if not admitted): watch my kids and keep them out of trouble, prepare them for the "real world" of work, and prepare them for life by making them well-rounded citizens. Parents hand their children to schools for about seven hours a day, but once you take out lunch, recess, and moving from class to class (if your school is on rotary), they might have five hours of classroom instruction. School is largely about credentialing, a hoop through which people must jump to get to the next hoop so preparing students for the next hoop is what education has become. There isn't enough time to do everything so unless parents want a longer school day* the arts will fall by the wayside (or preparing students for the world of work will). The fact is most schools, and certainly most teachers, are not competent to both teach the facts necessary to pass standardized tests, inculcate a love of learning, and unleash the creative potential of their young charges, so asking teachers to do more than one thing is unfair to both teachers and students.
If you want your kid to explore music, drawing, or drama, dammit, do it yourself mom and dad. Or pay for the kind of independent school that has the competency (and resources, which are not always financial and are often simply being free of state-school rigidity) to do all the things you want your kids to do at school.
The problem with education is not simply teaching-to-the-test, but parental expectations. There are limits and trade-offs and sometimes it requires satire, such as the piece in McSweeney, to recognize it. There is an opportunity cost in every minute a student spends playing an instrument or practicing for a play, that is a minute less learning so-called practical skills or at least the info they'll need to pass tests and move on to the next grade (which, for all intents and purposes, is sometimes the limits to their practicality).
* I presume most parents would relish having kids in school for hours that matched their work schedules so I wouldn't want to give parents the (taxpayer subsidized) option.

About the Manitoba NDP's 'balanced budgets'
Earlier this week I suggested that the NDP in Manitoba were better at balancing the budget than NDP governments in Ontario and British Colubmia. Luc Lewandoski corrected this record via Twitter (in four tweets):
Just noticed your brief about NDP balancing budgets. It's a bit misleading with Manitoba's NDP too. Post-budget audits show that...
...As few as five or six years of the last fifteen have actually been revenue-over-expences positive. Several years they...
Raided the savings account begun after the MTS privatization (now depleting it) or raided a provincial Crown and had...
The Crown borrow in order to provide a Gov't budget-balancing dividend.
I thank Luc for this clarification.

'Pro-Tips: If You Have A Grad Student Home for the Holidays'
Via Kids Prefer Cheese, three really good pieces of advice on what to say/not say to grad students.

Friday, December 19, 2014
There's a lot of money in Minecraft
Business Insider: "The Creator Of Minecraft Outbid Beyonce And Jay Z For This Bonkers $70 Million LA Mansion." That's $15 mil less than the asking price for the 23,000-square-foot Beverley Hill mansion.

'Printing Cancer-Killing Viruses'
Alex Tabbarok points to a story about Cell biologist Andrew Hessel who is designing "viruses in software to attack a specific individual’s cancer and then using DNA Printers to create the viruses as a drug." It should be noted that this technology has not yet been tested on humans nor has it been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Still, it is an exciting frontier in regenerative medicine. Hessel also has an equally innovative business model: "I see the business model shifting away from the blockbuster-drug model of the pharma industry–getting the best product for the most people and charging the most for it–to more of a Netflix model, in which you might purchase a subscription for all-that-you-need medicine to manage your cancer." That, too, would be exciting. That said there is plenty of reason to be skeptical that he can deliver. But if not Hessel this time, it might be someone else doing something similar in the future.

If Ayn Rand reviewed children's movies
The New Yorker has a funny parody piece entitled, "Ayn Rand reviews children's movies" and while it is a bit of a caricature at times, I found some it laugh-out loud funny.

The most popular Financial Times stories of the year has a list of the 12 most popular stories from their publication on the year. I highly recommend all of them, but Tim Harford on Big Data stands out (#1)*, as does their in-depth critique of Thomas Piketty (#4). The Right will enjoy, and the Left should read, "The riddle of black America’s rising woes under Obama" (#10), and the Left will like and the Right could learn from the entrepreneur's curiosity in "FT interview with Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page" (#12).
* If you don't have an FT sub, you can read Harford's piece on his website.

Government pays for fake news to be distributed to real media
From Blacklock's Reporter: "Feds Pay $1.25M For ‘News’ Handouts To Media Editors." Reporter Tom Korski has the details:
Public Works Canada is awarding a $1.25 million contract to a publicist to distribute government-vetted “news” to publishers and radio and TV stations. The budget for handout “news” increased 25 percent from a previous contract. The department said it wanted to “inform and educate Canadians on public issues”.
The publicist, News Canada Ltd., said it gives editors handout stories free of charge bearing a “News Canada” credit – “just like Canadian Press,” said president Shelley Middlebrook. “We help distribute content,” Middlebrook said. “Journalists either pick it up or they don’t”; “Nobody pays to publish this. We follow Canadian Press-style rules of writing, and articles have to be marked as ‘News Canada’ just like CP.”
Handouts include standard 400-word newspaper stories for dailies and weeklies, and prepackaged broadcast items downloaded from the company’s website. Recent articles scripted for the Government of Canada and other clients include, “Supersize Your Tax Refund”; “Farmers Are Interested In The Environment”; “Food & Beverage Industry Raises the Bar On Nutrition”; and “Hey New Graduate, Check Out The Insurance Industry!” ...
Samples of pro-government TV handouts including one item lauding the Canadian Space Agency, including “interviews” with two officials; and another celebrating cabinet’s record on Aboriginal land claim settlements.
At least the Liberals didn't have to pay for the fawning treatment they got from the press.
I wonder whether any of the major media outlets will pick up on this? Or will they try to avoid embarrassment because some of their titles further down the corporate ladder -- a small city radio station or weekly newspaper -- were among those duped by News Canada?

Jack Kennedy, jerk
The Daily Telegraph has an article on President Barack Obama's (overdue) loosening of trade restrictions with Cuba, the island prison, so that travelers to Cuba will can now return to the United States with up o $100 worth of alcohol and tobacco products with them. The story includes this anecdote:
President John Kennedy, who implemented the embargo, famously ordered 1,200 hand-rolled Cuban cigars just hours before it went into effect. Legend has it that he waited for word that the cigars had been purchased before signing the order which meant his countrymen would no longer be allowed to buy them.

Graphic shows NDP government balance budgets
Nic Slater has a graphic on Twitter that (purports) to show that since 1980 half of NDP provincial governments have balanced their budgets or had a surplus. Only about a third of Conservative/Progressive Conservative provincial/federal governments and just over a quarter of Liberal governments. The problem is that the NDP governments in Manitoba and Saskatchewan weren't like the NDP governments in Ontario, British Columbia, and Nova Scotia. The Liberal governments in Ontario weren't like the Liberal federal governments of the 1990s. Ditto the federal Tories today and the Mike Harris government of the late '90s. The time frame is too broad and regional issues can come into play. But nice try to paint the NDP as fiscally responsible.

Shouldn't be blogging, should be writing
Re-starting big project. Announcement in a few days.

'Is String Theory About to Unravel?'
Good article on string theory at The Smithsonian mag by Brian Greene. Loved this line: "As Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg has said, the universe doesn’t care about what makes theoretical physicists happy."

A surprisingly good longread about pallets from Cabinet magazine by Jacob Hodes that I discovered through Tyler Cowen. Interesting throughout. (Then again, I'm the kind of guy who gets excited about container boxes -- photos like this one are basically porn to me.) Two interesting stats from just the first two paragraphs. First, Hodes begins by noting that "There are approximately two billion wooden shipping pallets in the United States." That seems like a lot, but probably isn't. That's about six pallets per American. Hodes concludes his second paragraph, "Studies have estimated that pallets consume 12 to 15 percent of all lumber produced in the US, more than any other industry except home construction." But what other industry would use so much wood? Not sure I would have guessed those numbers, but they seem perfectly reasonable. Most of the article is about how the excessive number of pallets left behind after moving goods created its own recycling industry. As I said, interesting throughout.
Highly recommended even if the author erroneously says "many experts consider the pallet to be the most important materials-handling innovation of the twentieth century." No that would be the container box, which is not only the most important materials-handling innovation of the last century, but probably one of five or six most important innovations ever. Trade connects people, and that's good.

Thursday, December 18, 2014
2016 watch (Romney edition)
The Washington Examiner quotes "one resident of Romneyworld" describing the source of Mitt Romney's support: "I don't really think you can objectively chalk it up to name ID. People are saying, 'He was right.' I think that has happened in so many different ways that people are looking at it with a fresh perspective." That seems an accurate description of both why Romney supporters think their man is popular and why so many Republican voters consider him the best candidate for 2016 (according to numerous polls). But that is his support now. Who was right in 2012 will not be the ballot question for Republicans in the 2016 primaries or the electorate in the 2016 general election.

'By now there is, believe it or not, a body of license-plate law'
George Will on the attempt by the Texas Department of Transportation to violate the free speech rights of Sons of Confederate Veterans by preventing them from having a state-sanctioned specialty license plate:
The Texas SCV’s design caused a commotion because the organization’s logo includes the Confederate battle flag. The Texas DOT committee that approves specialty plates approved the SCV plate — before it disapproved it because an official considered the plate “controversial.” The Texas Transportation Code says the state may refuse to create a plate “if the design might be offensive to any member of the public.” Yes, any.
Will says the case law favours the SCV.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014
McGinnis on White Zombie
Rick McGinnis has photos of White Zombie before they were big and a short write up, including this: "The band were playing the Apocalypse, the sort of amiable shithole of a club that you spend nights in for a couple of years and never miss when it inevitably closes."

'Guerrilla street art spotted in the Financial District'
BlogTO reports that an elephant sculpture in downtown Toronto was vandalized/improved. The comments analyzing the meaning of the prank are worth reading.

Year-end polls show Liberals ahead and the 2015 federal Canadian election
Canadian polling maven Eric Grenier:
EKOS put it at just a single point, with the Liberals at 32 per cent and the Conservatives at 31 per cent and the NDP trailing at 20 per cent. Forum, on the other hand, gave the Liberals 41 per cent support to 33 per cent for the Conservatives and just 17 per cent for the NDP.
It makes for a confused muddle as Canadians enter a year in which a federal election must be held by mid-October.
A Leger poll earlier this month shows the Liberals with a six-point lead.
What does this all mean? It is better for the Liberals to be ahead than behind, but the Conservatives have been better at getting their polling support up during election campaigns and their voters out on election day in the last decade. That trend could cease, but it's premature to assume that.
I still think the Liberals will tank when Canadians start really paying attention and Justin Trudeau gets his close-up with the electorate. A lot of Liberal support will disappear when people get to know Trudeau. Polls now are indirectly gaging the popularity of the Prime Minister, but what Stephen Harper does very well is make elections about the Liberal leader. My guess is that the shallowness of the Dauphin will come through during the intensity of an election campaign and Canadians will not see the leader-in-waiting they have been hoping for.
All that doesn't mean Stephen Harper cruises to another majority. It is possible that the NDP can hold or gain support and the Liberals improve just enough to bring the Conservatives back down to a minority. A lot can happen between now and election day. In the final days of 1992, nobody saw the governing Progressive Conservatives being reduced to a mere two seats in the 1993 election or the Bloc Quebecois forming the Official Opposition. In the Spring of 2004, despite the early revelations of the Adscam scandal, few people thought Paul Martin's Liberals would be reduced to a minority. In late 2005, when Martin was forced to face another election, the pundits assumed that despite the Gomery commission hearings into Adscam, the electorate would return a Liberal minority, because the voters had already "punished" the Grits by taking away their majority a year-and-a-half earlier; Harper's Conservatives won a minority government after an eight week campaign during which Jane Creba was shot in downtown Toronto on Boxing Day.
So it is possible that my prediction of the Conservatives maintaining power will be proven wrong. My point, however, is that polls that show the Liberals ahead today probably do not matter all that much, and not nearly as much as the election campaign and the dominant news stories of 2015 will.

2016 watch (Jeb Bush edition)
Powerline's Paul Mirengoff wonders if Jeb Bush is more like John McCain (2008) and Mitt Romney (2012) or Rudy Giuliani (2008) and Jon Huntsmann (2012). All were favoured by the Republican Establishment, but Giuliani and Huntsmann were deemed insufficiently conservative by the GOP base. Riffing on Nate Silver's latest political piece, Mirengoff thinks Bush falls in line with McCain or Romney. The analogies are not perfect, for as Silver says: "Bush has been more like Hunstman than Romney in explicitly critiquing the direction of his party. That may appeal to general-election voters, but it probably isn’t helpful to him in a Republican primary."

If you haven't completely tired of reading about the demise of The New Republic
Ryan Lizza, a former writer at The New Republic, has a long piece in the New Yorker about the demise of TNR. It probably isn't worth reading if you've read more than two articles about TNR already, but I quite liked this:
The editors were hardly opposed to giving greater attention to digital media, but they came to believe that Hughes was losing interest in the actual content of T.N.R.’s journalism and cultural criticism. “The only compliment [owner] Chris [Hughes] or Guy ever said about a piece was that it ‘did well,’ or it ‘travelled well,’ ” one of the staffers who resigned said. “If we had published Nietzsche’s ‘Birth of Tragedy,’ the only question would be, ‘Did it travel well?’ ‘Yes, Wagner tweeted it.’ ”

The Laffer curve turns 40
In Investor's Business Daily, Arthur Laffer talks about the "trade-off between tax rates and revenues" and the curve that bears his name. The actual concept is much older than 40, but the dinner at which Laffer, Jude Wanniski, Ronald Rumsfeld, and Dick Cheney talked about the Ford administration's 5% income tax surcharge occurred four decades ago.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Green Day?
Green Day is inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in its first year of eligibility. Puke.

Lone wolves
Mark Steyn:
At one level, the Aussie authorities screwed up the way the Canadian and US authorities screwed up: These jihadists are less "lone wolves" than, as Patrick Poole says, "known wolves". The Ottawa shooter, the St Jean killer, the Marathon bombers, the Fort Hood major, the pantybomber, all were known to the authorities. So was "Sheikh Haron": Aside from various earlier charges and convictions, he had been charged as an accessory to the murder of his wife, who died in a particularly brutal way, stabbed and set alight in the stairwell of her apartment building ...
Many more will be in the years ahead. It was striking that, even as the siege was beginning, the politico-media class were already firing up what Laura Rosen Cohen calls the "Lone Wolf Story Generator", isolating one man in his own derangement and separating him from any broader currents. Relax, it's not "terrorism" - those reports that it was an ISIS flag he was flying was wrong; it's just a regular ol' Islamic flag. But whoa, it's nothing to do with Islam, either.
I think there are "lone wolves" but they are still connected to a broader Islamic movement, and they are being urged to act on their own by ISIS and other terrorist leaders. So the lone wolf idea is accurate but misleading, and highly irrelevant.

The perfect 'I can't breathe t-shirt'
Is noted by Five Feet of Fury.

Cash instead of programs
Chris Blattman points to a Center for Global Development study that finds the state spends about twice as much educating a student in India than a private school -- and with worst educational outcomes -- and that concludes that giving families funding for education at the private school level and then giving the rest in cash or vouchers for food would be a highly beneficial program. Blattman says: "would people be better off with cash ... isn’t known for sure, but the evidence is building. I really think we ought to see massive policy experiments comparing public goods and services to cash, vouchers, or even a basic guaranteed income." There is not enough social policy experimentation, and its too bad it is almost always suggested for the developing world.
Charles Murray argued in favour of cash transfers to replace nearly all program spending, including education, in the United States in his 2006 book In Our Hands: A Plan To Replace The Welfare State.

Electric cars are not green
The Associated Press reports:
People who own all-electric cars where coal generates the power may think they are helping the environment. But a new study finds their vehicles actually make the air dirtier, worsening global warming.
Ethanol isn't so green, either.
"It's kind of hard to beat gasoline" for public and environmental health, said study co-author Julian Marshall, an engineering professor at the University of Minnesota. "A lot of the technologies that we think of as being clean ... are not better than gasoline."
The key is where the source of the electricity all-electric cars. If it comes from coal, the electric cars produce 3.6 times more soot and smog deaths than gas, because of the pollution made in generating the electricity.