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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Tuesday, April 21, 2015
 
Epic rant
Deadspin is offering cash for anyone with uncensored audio of Cincinnati Reds' manager Bryan Price's rant against the Cincinnati Enquirer for accurately reporting the fact that the team's catcher was not with the Reds on Sunday. Apparently Price uses the f-word 77 times. Price is of the view that the hometown paper should not report details that might assist opposing teams. (Too bad, buddy, that's journalism.) Timothy Burke is more focused on the fact that the Gannet-owned Enquirer did not initially release the audio and when it did, only provided a censored version. That's too bad.
The best obscenity-filled manager rant still belongs to Los Angeles Dodgers' skipper Tommy Lasorda after Dave Kingman hit three homeruns against the Dodgers in 1978.


 
If it saves just one drop it's worth it
Tim Worstall points out that a bunch of nutters in California is petitioning against Nestle's Golden State water bottling activities. Worstall does the math and finds that the 700 million gallons a year Nestle and other companies take is just 0.005% of the state's total usage (38 billion gallons per day). He has unkind but not inaccurate words for those protesting Nestle.


 
Conservatives will out-breed Liberals
I hate most of this Kurt Schlichter Townhall column, "Sexy Conservatives Will Out-Breed Barren Liberals," but I liked this line:
And as far as liberal men go, well, just look at them. It’s hard [to] muster raw sexual energy when you think foreplay consists of sobbing to your life partner about how you can’t bear the weight of your undeserved phallocentic privilege.
The rest of the column is overly contemptuous and dismissive, both of which have their place, but it doesn't let up. Even though Schlichter has a point about the talentless Chelsea Clinton, by the time the author makes it, it's lost in the overly caustic bile. Ann Coulter would have done a much better job with the same topic but with just the right amount of derision.


 
Leishman reviews Gairdner's The Great Divide
Interim columnist Rory Leishman reviews William Gairdner's The Great Divide: Why Liberals and Conservatives will Never, Ever Agree in the April edition. A snippet:
Finally, in “Stage four,” this “equality liberalism” has been supplanted by “The New Synthesis: Libertarian Socialism.” Gairdner observes that instead of upholding the traditional principles of Judeo-Christian morality, most people in libertarian-socialist regimes insist upon “freedom of individual will for all things personal and private – especially those having to do with sex and the body, such as abortion rights, easy divorce, homosexual rights, contraception rights, transgender rights, pornography rights, gay marriage, and soon euthanasia rights and more, made available to all equally in the name of freedom, many of them subsidized or free of charge.”
At the same time, the will-o-the-wisp pursuit of equality of results in libertarian-socialist countries has led to the development of stagnant “tripartite states” where one third of the people is employed by government, another third subsists on significant annual government handouts and only the remaining third relies on productive, private-sector employment.


Monday, April 20, 2015
 
These shoes were made for campaigning
Turncoat MP Eve Adams tweets a picture of her shoes and challenges Finance Minister Joe Oliver, the Tory she will face in Eglinton-Lawrence if she wins the Liberal nomination: "Shoes which are NOT tax-payer funded. Any chance we can hit the sidewalk for a bit with those taxpayer-funded kicks?" That line of attack would normally be appreciated in these corners but Adams was the candidate who tried to claim the Davinci Salon and Spa and dry cleaning as campaign expenses. While grooming and dry cleaning are listed in the Elections Canada candidate's guidebook as legitimate personal expenses, they are capped at $200; Eve Adams claimed more than $900 in such expenses for reimbursement, not including childcare expenses.


 
According to the Conservatives it's okay to support the budget without seeing it, but not to oppose it
Second time today the Finance Minister has displeased me. Scroll down to the next post for my comments on the shoe-buying tradition for finance ministers.
An email from the Conservatives asking recipients to sign up to support the budget:
Tomorrow, I will stand before our Parliament and announce that, as promised, Canada’s books are balanced.
This is a great accomplishment, and the result of years of hard work. It could not have happened without the strong, focused, and experienced leadership of Prime Minister Harper.
Sign your name to share your support for this historic budget.
Thank you,
Joe Oliver, Minister of Finance
PS – Before they have even seen it, Justin Trudeau and his Liberals are already planning to vote against this important budget.
But the Tories are asking me to support the "historic budget" that I haven't seen.


 
I were finance minister I'd end this stupid tradition
The Canadian Press reports:
In keeping with a pre-budget tradition, federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver purchased a pair of new shoes Monday, opting for sneakers from the “New Balance” brand.
Oliver bought the black shoes, trimmed in Tory blue, at a store in north Toronto while a throng of journalists looked on.
I assume that the finance minister's office picks up the cost of the shoes. It is a cost ($80 to $250) that can be saved. The tradition makes no sense. The Tories like to say that the government is like households so it shouldn't run a deficit because families have to make ends meet. I don't know any family that goes out and buys new shoes when they sit down to plan the family budget.
It's horrible that my first thought was that New Balance Athletic Shoe, Inc must have donated to the Tories in exchange for the photo-op (except it is an American company so it shouldn't have).
And is Tory blue an actual hue?


 
Commutes aren't clean unless you walk
Earth Day Canada tweets: "Do you buy carbon offsets when you fly, like M.P. @ElizabethMay? Celebrate #EarthDayEveryDay with a clean commute." But the flight still produces the same amount of carbon. Carbon offsets don't cleanse a commute, they cleanse the conscience.


 
The senior's vote
The Huffington Post's Althia Raj tweets: "Approx 70% of all seniors vote, CARP spokesman Susan Eng says at meeting of seniors group laying out election demands." But seniors don't vote as a bloc, even if they do tend to vote more for the Conservatives. Which raises another issue. Eng was on the left in Toronto city politics in the 1980s and early 1990s. Why is she heading a group that purports to represent seniors who tend to hold right-of-center views?


 
Greek default
Tyler Cowen riffs on Finanical Times columnist Wolfgang Münchau's musings on Greek default:
As Wolfgang Münchau suggests (and I think many agree), Greece should default to the IMF but stay inside the eurozone, or alternatively the IMF can just let Greece off the hook. The economics of that argument make sense. But does the IMF have enough embedded political capital to let Greece off the hook, when they deny credit to much poorer countries? Does the IMF have enough capital and credibility to relieve Greece of that debt, and then return to its previous policies of simply not accepting any defaults? What about the poorer countries in the eurozone — poorer than Greece — who do not receive comparable breaks? How is this all supposed to work? Or is it simply asking too much of the IMF?
We are about to learn how much embedded political capital is in the IMF. I say 70-30 this cannot work, it is too late to suddenly turn the IMF into what it ought to be, one problem of many being that the United States simply has not cared enough.
Tim Worstall has some thoughts at Forbes.com about Greek defeault and Greek exit from the euro. Worstall admits biases (that I share) against both the euro and European Union, but says that either could happen and would be desirable, but neither are necessary. As Cowen indicates, the issues are larger than Greece and are more about institutional failure than the policy and economic failures of any particular country. Worstall focuses on the EU rather than the IMF:
I’m also along with the straight majority view that either a default or at the very least a haircut on Greece’s debt burden is a sensible idea. When a debt burden can’t be paid the sensible thing to do is to cut it rather than try to impose some vast amount of unproductive pain and suffering. With a company this is bankruptcy (and it’s the defining feature of well operating capitalism to have a swift, possibly even brutal, system to deal with the inevitable failures) and with a country it’s some form of sovereign default and or debt haircut. That’s just what has to be done and if it wasn’t for this pesky euro that’s what would have been done with Greece three and four years ago.
The major worry was, of course, contagion.
Avoiding default or a haircut at all costs to protect the euro/EU has only caused more pain and with no payoff. A few years ago, C. Fred Bergsten and Jacob Funk Kirkegaard of the Peterson Institute for International Economics had a policy brief on containing the Greek crisis which began: "At each critical stage of the crisis, both Germany and the European Central Bank have demonstrated they will pay whatever is necessary to preserve the euro area and avoid defaults." So far it has worked, but bond yields suggest the markets don't believe they will forever. Worstall is probably correct to predict a "mistake" ending this all:
What I think is actually going to happen is that someone, along the line, makes a mistake. Some slip between what was meant as a bargaining position and what is thought of as a red line and Greece then slips into Grexit as the banking system falls over.
And then what? Delay -- avoiding tough decisions, including a debt haircut early on -- have only raised the stakes of political and policy failure. As GoldCore says (via Zero Hedge):
Contagion is an increasing concern. The IMF's Poul Thomsen warned “Nobody should think that a Grexit would not be without problems.” Bank “holidays” and capital controls are likely.
It is highly unlikely that the ECB has enough "buffers in place."


 
PC election
The National Post's Jen Gerson is trying to make the case that the Alberta provincial election has been about "nothing" except pie and penis. In fact, the voters seem ticked off with Jim Prentice's budget that hiked taxes and promised more tax hikes in the future. Some voters might also be upset with the effective decrease in government spending on some core programs (a multiyear freeze cuts the per capita costs of programs). There is also the track record of recent Progressive Conservative governments which has been none too impressive. Even if these issues aren't being talked about by the leaders and columnists, they are what this provincial election is about.


 
If the Conservative Party did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it
Two recent examples from Gods of the Copybook Headings on how the Conservative government looks a lot like the opposite of a Conservative government:
Exhibit A:
The Government of Canada has provided the Willow Creek Cowboy Poetry and Music Society with $2,000 in funding through the Building Communities Through Arts and Heritage program in support of the 15th edition of the Willow Creek Gathering.
John Barlow, Member of Parliament (Macleod), announced this today on behalf of the Honourable Shelly Glover, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages.
Exhibit B:
Rodney Weston, Member of Parliament (Saint John), on behalf of the Honourable Shelly Glover, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, today announced that Symphony New Brunswick is benefiting from a boost of $143,571 to its fundraising efforts through the Symphony New Brunswick Foundation.
Those excerpts are from government press releases bragging of spending money on local projects that as David Akin once observed, should be funded by the property taxes of locals.


 
Good grief
Will sustainability be the new climate change?


 
Balanced budget laws
They are often bogus and allow easy ways around running a budget deficit. Here is an example from New Jersey in a Washington Post story about Chris Christie:
Although Christie has balanced the state budget for five years — as required by New Jersey law — he has resorted to many of the financial maneuvers used by some of his predecessors: reducing state payments to pension plans, shifting money out of trust funds dedicated for specific purposes and borrowing to patch chronic budget gaps.
Read that sentence again: there were balanced budgets that had chronic budget gaps. And how is government borrowing to patch a gap different than running a deficit?
Or is this just sloppy reporting? Possible, but many states resort to such tricks and gimmicks to "balance" the budget.


 
Highest grossing US restaurants
Celebrity Net Worth has "100 highest grossing independent restaurants in America." The highest grossing restaurant takes in as much as the next two combined. Also, Las Vegas has more in the top 20 than New York City, although the Big Apple has more in the top 100. Also, very few restaurants are in California outside of San Francisco on the list.
(HT: Marginal Revolution)


Sunday, April 19, 2015
 
Finance!
Faith Goldy tweets: "Russia gives Greece $, which Greece uses to repay IMF, which uses the Greek $ to fund a loan to Kiev, which uses the IMF loan to pay Russia."


 
2016 watch (14-year rule edition)
Jonathan Rauch wrote in National Journal in 2004:
With only one exception since the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, no one has been elected president who took more than 14 years to climb from his first major elective office to election as either president or vice president.
George W. Bush took six years. Bill Clinton, 14. George H.W. Bush, 14 (to the vice presidency). Ronald Reagan, 14. Jimmy Carter, six. Richard Nixon, six (to vice president). John Kennedy, 14. Dwight Eisenhower, zero. Harry Truman, 10 (to vice president). Franklin Roosevelt, four. Herbert Hoover, zero. Calvin Coolidge, four. Warren Harding, six. Woodrow Wilson, two. William Howard Taft, zero. Theodore Roosevelt, two (to vice president). The one exception: Lyndon Johnson's 23 years from his first House victory to the vice presidency.
Wait a minute: zero? Right. The rule is a maximum, not a minimum. Generals and other famous personages can go straight to the top. But if a politician first runs for some other major office, the 14-year clock starts ticking.
"Major office" means governorship, Congress, or the mayoralty of a big city: elective posts that, unlike offices such as lieutenant governor or state attorney general, can position their holder as national contender.
It has held since. Notice this rule is for winning the presidency, not either party's nomination.
Rauch says that "2016 is a hard test for the 14-year rule as Jeb and Hillary are both stale and fresh candidates are weaker."
(HT: David Frum)


 
Rae: let's not talk about coalition ...
Until after the election. Don't voters deserve to know about the possibility of the parties cooperating either formally or informally? Why is former NDP premier/former Liberal leader Bob Rae suggesting that voters should not have this information? Why is he against transparency?
Justin Trudeau in his book Common Ground notes that many Liberal voters distrust the NDP on economics and would vote Tory before voting NDP (p. 260). That's the voters, of course. Party people -- MPs, advisers, staffers who would get nicer offices working for ministers -- might be more open to a coalition. Those Liberal voters who would rather switch to Conservative than NDP over economics, especially considering the importance of "the economy" to voters, deserve to have a clear and honest discussion of the possibility today. Can't help but think that Justin Trudeau's approach to accepting a coalition with the NDP is like Barack Obama's approach to same-sex marriage: of course he's in favour of it, but he can't let people know about it now. (Recall that Obama opposed SSM in 2008 but few people in politics and the pundit class believed him even if voters might have.)
Rae is right about two things. He says, "there will not be a coalition before the election," which is both obviously true and completely irrelevant. The issue if coalition after the election. Rae also admits it's bad politics when he notes that Stephen Harper had "field days" attacking the Liberals and NDP over the possibility of a coalition in the past. The Liberals, especially leader Justin Trudeau, talk a lot about transparency. For the sake of transparency Trudeau should spell out his precise plans in terms of all forms of cooperation and, if serious about his words this week that he is ruling out a coalition, pledge not to enter one. There is plenty of wiggle room because there are non-coalition forms of cooperation, but the Governor General can take into account a politician's promise now when determining whether to accept a coalition or cooperation agreement later. If Trudeau breaks his promise, Governor General David Johnston can, and should, refuse to appoint Junior or any member of his party as prime minister.


 
Texas about to join majority of America
Only six states do not allow open carry, wither with or without a permit. Texas is about to join the 44 states. Said it already: surprised Texas wasn't among the 44 open carry states. The remaining five will be: California, New York, Florida, Illinois, and South Carolina.


 
Helicopter parenting deleterious to kids' health
Ross Pomeroy at the Newton Blog makes the case against over-parenting based on the social science research:
Letting kids be kids is something that seems to be happening less and less these days, replaced by overprotective "helicopter" parenting (so called for parents who incessantly "hover" overhead). While parenting could once be as simple as telling kids to "do their homework" and "be back in time for supper," today it's hallmarked by child locks, tracking devices, never-ending praise, and enduring parental oversight.
Ironically, all that extra attention seems to benefit parents far more than children. Helicopter parents report living happier and more meaningful lives than hands-off parents. Contrast that with a plethora of studies examining the effects of overbearing parenting on kids: A study from Ohio State University found that excessive praise can cause children to develop over-inflated egos and narcisstic tendencies later in life. College students with controlling parents report significantly higher rates of depression and less satisfaction with life. Another survey found that students with helicopter parents have reduced psychological well being and are more likely to use anxiety medications.
Overprotective parenting isn't always salubrious for kids' physical health either. For example, many parents commonly withhold potentially allergenic foods from their young kids, lest they by some chance suffer a severe reaction. But, as landmark research published earlier this year demonstrated, preventing kids from eating those foods may be contributing to the rise in allergies! According to the CDC, food allergies among children increased approximately 50% between 1997 and 2011. Hyper-parented kids also exercise less and are more likely to be bullied.
What's strange is that all this worry about the safety of our children has arisen during one of the safest times in history to be a child growing up in the developed world.
All of this is good, but two words of warning and a final comment.
First, social science isn't science even if the research seems pretty persuasive.
Second, perhaps children are safer today partly because of helicopter parenting. That said, crimes against children are declining at a time when most other crimes are declining, too. We also live in an age of incredible information and basic common sense that leads us to eschew risks at the margins that can have enormous advantages which have nothing to do with helicopter parenting (for example putting truly dangerous household items out of the reach of children).
If helicopter parenting truly does increase the happiness of parents, that is a real advantage that could outweigh the extra work that does not provide real advantages. But would it lead to increased happiness if they were cured of their ignorance that all their work and expense at best makes no difference and, at worst, could be harming their children?


 
Parody or real (Hookers for Hillary edition)
I hope this isn't falling for a parody, but it appears that the Bunny Ranch Sex Workers in Las Vegas have endorsed Hillary Clinton for president. It's probably real but less about politics than advertising for the Bunny Ranch. Brilliant and good for them. As marketing it's brilliant. As politics, it's questionable. The prostitutes support HRC for four reasons including her "foreign policy experience" and "protecting health care reform," but the fourth reason is economics. The hookers explain:
*Prevention of a return to supply side economics
Bill Clinton presided over the most prosperous time in Bunny Ranch history, which coincided with a tax increase on the wealthiest Americans such as brothel owner Dennis Hof. The Bunnies recognize that thriving economies are built from the bottom up, where the vast majority of their clients originate. A return to relying on the disproven theory of trickle-down economics would only serve to exclude the vast majority of hard-working Bunny Ranch clients from having the discretionary income to enjoy with their favorite Bunny.
(HT: @CharterLaw)


 
Steyn on Donnie Brosco
To mark Al Pacino's 75th birthday which is nearing, Mark Steyn reprints his review of the actor's last good movie, Donnie Brasco (1997). A snippet:
Brasco is a gangster movie, but in a vaguely post-modernish yet just-the-right-side-of-annoying way, both transcends and comments on genre: Al Pacino as Lefty, a sagging minor mafioso, and Johnny Depp as Donnie, the undercover Fed who wins his confidence, are sort of playing at gangsters, trying to be the kind of hoods they've seen in movies. Lefty is punctilious about gangland's courtly etiquette and the proper use of gangster vernacular; Donnie explains in great detail to his FBI colleagues the various meanings with which a hoodlum can imbue the phrase "Fuhgeddaboudit"; on the other hand, Donnie's wife, unaware of what he does for a living, is mystified by the way her college-educated husband is suddenly going around saying "dese" and "doze".


 
Parody: Clinton team strategizes about Chipotle trip
Funny video from Above Average: "Hillary Clinton's Chipotle Order."
My favourite part: "Nate Silver says chicken is the most popular."


 
Cost of Harvard tuition in 1938
$420 per year, via Classic Pics.


 
Long-term decline in murder rates
Our World in Data has a graph that shows centuries-long trend to lower homicide rates in five European countries/regions: England, Italy, Scandinavia, Germany/Switzerland, and Netherlands/Belgium. And here's the chart. Notable drop in Italy: in 15th century, murder rate of 73 per 100,000 is down to 0.9 per 100,000 today.


Saturday, April 18, 2015
 
Bellow's beginnings
My advice to wannabe writers is be a good reader. And if you are not a good reader by the time you are in university, it is probably too late.
Zachary Leader, author of The Life of Saul Bellow: To Fame and Fortune, 1915-1964, has a good article on the author's formative years in The Guardian, including Bellow's pre-teen years:
In Chicago he was part of a precocious circle of high-school intellectuals mad for literature, for politics, for philosophy. The writers they read fell into three broad categories: 20th-century American novelists, 19th-century European (including Russian) novelists and philosophers, and political theorists, chiefly Marxist. The American writers he most valued were linked in their resistance to what Bellow calls “the material weight of American society”, a weight that pressed on him directly through his business-minded father and brothers, for whom he was “a schmuck with a pen”. The Russian influence, both in literature and political theory, was especially strong. “As an adolescent I read an unusual number of Russian novels,” he told an interviewer, “I felt it was the Heimat you know.” “The children of immigrants in my Chicago high school ... believed they were also somehow Russian,” he wrote in a 1993 essay, “and while they studied their Macbeth and Milton’s L’Allegro, they read Tolstoy and Dostoevsky as well and went on inevitably to Lenin’s State and Revolution and the pamphlets of Trotsky.” By nine, Bellow was “a confirmed reader”, having gone through all the children’s books in the local library and graduated to the adult section, where he began with Gogol’s Dead Souls. The breadth and maturity of his early reading in Chicago is astonishing. A lodger in the Bellow household recalled seeing him at the kitchen table reading War and Peace and The Possessed at the age of 10. Almost from the start he was serious about his reading, and he remained so throughout his life, for more than 30 years spending two or three afternoons a week teaching and discussing influential works of literature, philosophy and political theory with colleagues and graduate students at the University of Chicago. Gore Vidal described Bellow to me as “the only American intellectual who read books”.
I am usually dubious of stories like this, but there seems to be enough witnesses to confirm the author's autobiographical claims. Whether it is precisely true or true enough makes little difference in supporting my advice to those who want to write for a living (aside from my advice of "don't!").
I am many years removed from reading fiction, but Bellow was my favourite 20th century American author and most of what I think I know about both American Jewry and Chicago comes from his novels and essays.


 
We live in an age where parody is not possible presented as legit commentary
BBC interviewed guy who chastises Star Wars for racism, homophobia, and misogyny. Godfrey Elfwick is brilliant. You can follow him on Twitter.


 
Government at work
In London, England, emergency workers watch boy drown in pond as friends frantically tried to save his life. A journalist, who also watched, reported: "There were police officers and paramedics and firefighters on the bank just standing there watching while the boys dived under." Natalie Solent also reports that a fireman who heroically saved the life of woman from drowning could face disciplinary action for violating procedure.


 
Maybe we shouldn't ever do anything lest someone be offended
The Daily Caller reports:
An administrator at the University of California, Santa Cruz issued an apology to students after some of their peers made the “poor decision” to include Mexican food at a space-themed event on Tuesday.
In an e-mail sent out to students at UC Santa Cruz’s Stevenson College, Carolyn Golz said the planners of the residential community’s College Night program “made a poor decision when choosing to serve a Mexican food buffet during a program that included spaceships and ‘aliens’, failing to take into account how these choices might be perceived by others.”
“We would never want to make a connection between individuals of Latino heritage or undocumented students and ‘aliens,’” Golz insists, and she is “so sorry that our College Night appeared to do exactly that.”
According to the e-mail, Golz says the inclusion of Mexican food at an event featuring aliens as part of the theme “demonstrated a cultural insensitivity on the part of the program planners and, though it was an unintentional mistake, I recognize that this incident caused harm within our community and negatively impacted students.”


 
None dare call it an oligarchy
Gary Hart in Time: "If the presidency were to pass back and forth between two or three families in any Latin American nation we would call it an oligarchy."


 
'Texas set to approve open carry of handguns'
I thought they already were an open carry state. Wall Street Journal via Fox News if you are interested. The headline finishes with "seen as win for gun-rights activists," but I prefer to think of it as a defeat for gun-control activists.


 
2016 watch (Carly Fiorina edition)
Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina obviously has presidential ambitions. Why else was she visiting New Hampshire?


Friday, April 17, 2015
 
Sometimes you get to sit back and enjoy
The CBC reports: "Canadian author Margaret Atwood and singer-songwriter Sarah Harmer are voicing complaints about the Conservatives' proposed anti-terrorism bill, asking Liberal MPs from their communities to vote against it." It doesn't matter, of course. Adam Vaughan and Ted Hsu might find the courage to not show up for the vote, but in Canadian politics you follow the leader. And even if a handful of Liberals were to oppose C-51, they are powerless to stop it consider the Tory majority. The sad thing for Vaughan is that if he ran for the NDP last year and won, he'd be voting against C-51; it doesn't matter that Adam Vaughan is the MP for Trinity-Spadina, it only matters what colour the riding is on the electoral map. But it can be fun watching the Left go after each other.


 
Craft beer digression into elitism that leads to a critique of a critique of Harper abandoning fiscal conservatism
Ready?
Craig Calcaterra has some thoughts about elitism and snobbery before linking to a list of craft beers at Major League Baseball stadia. He begins listing certain hobbies -- immersing oneself in college football for the fall, watching "the latest big Sunday evening prestige TV drama," or squirrel hunting as a kid in West Virginia -- and noting that they all involve some snobbery. By definition every hobby is a minority pursuit. Calcaterra writes:
This isn’t about snobbery necessarily. It’s really a function of the fact that all hobbies, interests and passions are, to some degree, pursuits of the minority. For any given thing you like or do, more people don’t know about it or don’t care about it than do. That’s just how society works. The long tail, and all.
Sometimes we’re aware of this dynamic. That’s when it can be snobbery. Like, say, the fan of the indie band who knows and takes pride in the fact that you probably haven’t heard of them and it makes them feel superior. Or the classic rich guy who likes rich things and just can’t abide something common.
But usually we’re not operating like that, I don’t think. Sure, we may have started in on a new interest based on some appreciation of its exceptional (to us) nature — getting into punk because “screw those jocks!” or getting into fine wine because “I’m rich and I can!” — but once you’re in the scene, as it were, you just sort of get immersed and like it for its own sake. You don’t constantly live with a feeling of “this is MY thing” pride. Unless you’re a jackass, and really, most of us aren’t jackasses. We just get into what we like and then let the bubble form.
All of which is a VERY long way of getting to the subject of craft beer. There is a stereotype of craft beer “snobs,” looking down their nose at people who drink Budweiser or whatever. And, yes, those sorts of people do exist. I’ve met a few of them. Folks who, for some reason, can’t shut up about what they don’t like as opposed to simply enjoying what they like. But most craft beer people — and I’d say I’m one of them, even if I’m not in the upper echelons of craft beer cliques — just like the beer. They may have gotten into it based on some elitist impulse, but that passed a long time ago and now it’s just about liking stuff you’ve come to like and not defining yourself by reference to what you hate. That’s a key distinction that I think is lost on most people. Both those inside any given subculture explaining their passion or those living outside that subculture, criticizing the subculture.
Defining oneelf with a "this is MY thing" pride (as Calcaterra puts it) is off-putting to people outside your tribe, and sometimes to people inside it. It's true of craft beer drinkers, wine snobs, fans of the latest popular show, wearers of specific designers, and activists who define themselves by their causes whether it be conservatism, libertarianism, environmentalism, feminism, or pro-life.
All this bring me to Michael Taube's column in the Toronto Sun in which the former speechwriter to the Prime Minister complains that Stephen Harper is not sufficiently fiscally conservative and tries to explain why. He misses the mark and it's precisely because he is approaching it as a consciously self-defined fiscal conservative. Harper is not as fiscally conservative as some in his base might want but it isn't just about winning election campaigns, it's about the complexity of governing. Ideology shouldn't define a human being. It is a guide. A shortcut way of thinking about the world. But it does not, or at least should not, dictate every action. Ideology is not policy. Ideology can guide policy, but there is always tension because policy must take into account the real lives of human beings in a way that ideology often does not. Governments, unlike pundits and bloggers, do not have the luxury of living in the theoretical world in which ideology, even the better ones like fiscal conservatism, get to trump real-world considerations. It's the poetry of campaigning, the prose of governing. Harper probably doesn't define himself as a conservative anymore because he has a truly elite "this is MY thing" pride. He is a prime minister.


 
Trudeau and the progressive base
Jamey Heath, an NDP strategist who has been an advocate of progressives cooperating to defeat the Harper Conservatives, is not happy with Justin Trudeau ruling out a coalition. Writing in the National Post he notes that many on the Left are uniting behind a single progressive candidate, but for that to work, the Liberals need to look like they will be cooperating with the NDP (or others). More importantly, Heath says, the Trudeau Liberals can benefit from this strategy. Junior, he says, is "all take and no give when it comes to the progressive base." It is an excellent column that also expresses frustration with those on the Left who haven't spoken up against Trudeau's comments.


 
2016 watch (Geriatric Democrats edition)
The Washington Examiner's Byron York on the likely Democratic field:
There are five Democrats who have either declared or are thinking about running for president. Three — Joe Biden, Bernard Sanders, and Jim Webb — will be over 70 years old on Inauguration Day 2017. Frontrunner Hillary Clinton will be nine months short of 70. Only Martin O'Malley, who will turn 54 a couple of days before the 2017 swearing-in, has not reached retirement age already.
Reagan was about a month shy of his 70th birthday during his first inauguration. Biden, Sanders and Webb would all be the oldest president if they got the nomination and won, HRC would be the second oldest.
By comparison, York notes the Republicans:
The average age of the Republican field is far below the Democrats, with every candidate younger than Clinton. The most senior is Jeb Bush, who will be 64 on Inauguration Day. Scott Walker will be 49; Marco Rubio will be 45; Ted Cruz, 46; Rand Paul, 54; Chris Christie, 54; Mike Huckabee, 61; Bobby Jindal, 45. Although Bush is in the older range, they're all in the career sweet spot to win the White House.
Jeb Bush would be the fourth oldest president if he won the nomination and general election (behind Reagan, William Henry Harrison, and James Buchanan).
It's a little curious that York didn't mention Senator Elizabeth Warren. She's about a year older than Bush, so comparably a spring chicken in the Democratic field.
If the Democrats don't win, they can go with youth next time. Chelsea Clinton is already 35. She could run this time if her mother wasn't standing in the way.


 
'It’s time to stop subsidizing fossil fuels'
Bjorn Lomborg, head of the Copenhagen Consensus think tank that looks at the opportunity costs of various interventions to determine the most efficient way to help the largest number of people in the developing world, writes in the Globe and Mail:
Each year, the world spends $548-billion subsidizing fossil fuels, according to the International Energy Agency. That’s $548-billion that could have been spent much better.
Fossil fuel subsidies are concentrated in the developing world. In Venezuela, you can typically get gas for less than 10 cents a gallon ...
A disproportionate share of the subsidies goes to the middle class and the rich – after all, they are the ones who can afford a car in poor countries. And the subsidies make fossil fuels so inexpensive that consumption increases, thus exacerbating global warming ...
Our analysis by economists Isabel Galiana and Amy Sopinka shows that phasing out subsidies for fossil fuels would be a phenomenal target. It will slash waste, reduce inequality, and cut CO2 emissions. The economists estimate that every dollar spent (you still need to help the most vulnerable to energy access) will create benefits for society and the environment of more than $15. The billions of dollars that governments could save from phasing out fossil fuel subsidies could be spent on providing better health, education and nutrition, which could benefit hundreds of millions of people.
He says phasing out fossil fuel subsidies should be one of the next development goals of the United Nations.


 
Trudeau should coalition with Harper: Globe columnist
John Ibbitson in the Globe and Mail: "A coalition? Why Trudeau has more in common with Harper than Mulcair." Ibbitson claims: "Under Mr. Trudeau’s leadership, the Liberals on most major files have become virtually indistinguishable from Stephen Harper’s Conservatives." This is too cute by half and presumes that Junior is being honest with voters when he says he won't raise taxes on the middle class (whoever they are) or corporations. Yes, Justin Trudeau's policy of letting the provinces deal with so-called climate change policy is what Prime Minister Stephen Harper is allowing to happen, but the former would push for it harder. Yes, Trudeau backs Keystone XL, but not the other pipelines. Yes, the Liberals supported C-51 but they have promised changes. It's a bit of stretch to say that the Liberals do not support the NDP's daycare scheme when Ibbitson admits they are silent on it, and even that isn't totally true: the party also supported a national system of monitoring and standards for child care at its 2014 biennial convention. Ibbitson says, "Ideologically, then, it would make far more sense for a minority Conservative government to seek the support of the Liberals on a case-by-case basis, than for the NDP and Liberals to seek common cause." It's a bit much to suggest the Grits and Tories are ideologically sympatico -- more like on a particular set of policies, the Liberals, absent their own clear platform have defaulted to positions closer to the Tories than the NDP. That might not be true once the party platform is out.
Ibbitson says, "it profits the NDP leader to remind the 60 per cent of Canadians who want to see the back of Mr. Harper that the NDP is prepared to do whatever it takes to oust the Tories, but Mr. Trudeau won’t go along." That's not quite true, either. At this time Trudeau says he won't go along with the idea and he says that for two practical reasons: it might scare away coalition-wary voters and he has to look like he's trying to win the votes of all progressive Canadians. A formal or informal coalition could be worked out after the election depending on the results, a point that Ibbitson makes based on the vote percentage. The seat count will matter, too. If the Tories win a minority but still have 150-160 seats, it would be hard to justify ousting them. If, on the other hand, the Tories win 135 and the Liberals 130 and the NDP hold most of the rest, there is a much stronger case for the left-wing parties to defeat a Conservative government quickly and ask the Governor General to appoint them government, or seek government immediately after the election.
But there is another possibility that Chantal Hebert raised on the At Issue panel last night on the CBC: the Liberals might like being in a position where the NDP have to decide when to pull the plug on the government and then go for a majority in the next year or so. Although Hebert didn't say this, one advantage of this strategy is that it would allow Trudeau to have some more time to win over Canadian voters that might consider him unready for the job quite yet. Andrew Coyne referenced the backroom boys in the party, and that, too, raises an interesting angle. Keith Davey and Mitchell Sharp are no longer around and Trudeau doesn't listen to Senator David Smith and its unclear if John Rae and Eddie Goldenberg are even in the picture anymore. Who knows what the new generation of Liberal advisers like Katie Telford and Gerald Butts will counsel Junior to do. (And will he listen?) Jean Chretien would almost certainly push for some form of cooperation between the Liberals and NDP as would current Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and probably former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty. Most of the Liberal premiers are probably in the same camp. There will be tremendous pressure for the Liberals and NDP to work together to prevent another Harper ministry.
And absent a crisis in which a unity government would clearly be in the country's best interests (think World War I and Robert Borden's Unity Government), there is simply no reason to ponder a Conservative-Liberal coalition. Except to fill column space.


Thursday, April 16, 2015
 
Government gets in the way of helping the needy
From Hit & Run: "This week MySanAntonio reports on a fully licensed food truck operator arrested cited because they used a vehicle other than their licensed one to give food away to hungry homeless in San Antonio's Maverick Park." Bureaucrats and cops suck.


 
North Korea
Tyler Cowen briefly examines North Korea Confidential: Private Markets, Fashion Trends, Prison Camps, Dissenters and Defectors by Daniel Tudor and James Pearson, and notes "The basic message is that North Korea is far more (black) marketized — and more corrupt — than most outsiders realize."


 
Sustainability
George Will's column today is on the sustainability movement in academia, which he describes as being like a fundamentalist religion:
Like many religions’ premises, the sustainability movement’s premises are more assumed than demonstrated. Second, weighing the costs of obedience to sustainability’s commandments is considered unworthy. Third, the sustainability crusade supplies acolytes with a worldview that infuses their lives with purpose and meaning. Fourth, the sustainability movement uses apocalyptic rhetoric to express its eschatology. Fifth, the church of sustainability seeks converts, encourages conformity to orthodoxy, and regards rival interpretations of reality as heretical impediments to salvation.
Furthermore, "Sustainability, as a doctrine of total social explanation, transforms all ills and grievances into environmental causes, cloaked in convenient science," and is thus an all-purpose excuse to plan and ration. In other words, it's cover for progressives to do what they've always wanted and which the larger public, until sufficiently scared by fearmongers in the environmental movement, resisted.


 
The Fed and prediction markets
Scott Sumner has a post on the Federal Reserve creating GDP prediction markets to help them make forecasts. He concludes:
Sometimes when I travel to DC I meet Congressional staffers, who ask me how they could help. Here's one good area. It would be great if we could get some important Congressional figures to go on record as supporting the concept of the Fed setting up prediction markets to ascertain useful market forecasts, which could help make monetary policy more scientific. The cost is trivial and the potential benefits are huge.
PS. In my view it would be better if Congress said it was OK with them, but up to the Fed. Why not have Congress mandate these markets? I think as soon as you go down that road things get very politicized, and people become much more worried about a loss of independence. I find it hard to believe that the Fed wouldn't want to do at least a pilot study, if they had a clear go-ahead from Congress.
The Treasury, Sumner says, could also benefit from futures markets in GDP growth.
Related, last year BuzzFeed had an excellent article on prediction markets: "The Fall Of Intrade And The Business Of Betting On Real Life."


 
2016 watch (Chris Christie edition)
Hot Air's Allah Pundit on New Joisey Governor and presumptive 2016 GOP presidential aspirant Chris Christie who says he will enforce federal drugs laws in states that have okay marijuana:
When it comes to deciding whether marijuana’s too dangerous for the citizens of a state to sell, he’ll happily trump your state legislature and local PD. And to think, they call him a big-government Republican.
The weird thing is, as Allah Pundit observes, is that Christie is to the left of most Republicans on the issue of drugs. So he's likely over-correcting with this new position, which polls indicate, is out of step with even most Republican voters.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015
 
New book on economic Freedom, entrepreneurship, and economic growth
Don Boudreaux has edited a new book from the Fraser Institute, What America’s Decline in Economic Freedom Means for Entrepreneurship and Prosperity and has a post about it, including the five chapters (authors and titles) at Cafe Hayek:
1. Liya Palagashvili, “Entrepreneurship, Institutions, and Economic Prosperity”
2. Russell Sobel, “Economic Freedom and Entrepreneurship”
3. Robert Lawson, “Economic Freedom in the United States and Other Countries”
4. Roger Meiners & Andrew Morriss, “Special Interests, Competition, and the Rule of Law”
5. Clyde Wayne Crews, “One Nation, Ungovernable? Confronting the Modern Regulatory State”
The book comes out this week.
Today, the Fraser Institute released a Research Bulletin, "Entrepreneurship, Demographics, and Capital Gains Tax Reform." The authors argue that Canada's highish capital gain taxes discourage start-ups. They say this is imperative because 1) small, new businesses are a key driver of growth and employment, and 2) as Canada ages, older risk-averse Canadians are less likely to start up new businesses, therefore impeding economic growth.


 
Headlines that would be impossible 10 years ago ... for so many reasons
The Daily Mail: "German ISIS rapper threatens his home nation with a Charlie Hebdo-like attack in music video filled with horrific footage of beheadings and executions."


 
2016 watch (GOP edition)
Conservative Review's Robert Eno has a balanced look at Senator Marco Rubio but this tidbit is very important more generally:
Conservative Review contributor Steve Deace may have said it best on Facebook ... : “All you need to know about the GOP establishment -- it tried to defeat the first three Republicans to announce their presidential campaigns in their U.S. Senate primaries.”
The GOP is a "next-in-line" party but it is also a party whose base is moderately conservative. That bodes well for someone like Jeb Bush and is a problem for Rubio, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz.


 
2016 watch (HRC edition)
Bloomberg's Megan McArdle: "Hillary Clinton Isn't Inevitable." In fact, McArdle is bearish on Clinton for a number of reasons: she's old, she probably can't bring many more women voters over to the Democrats but probably won't bring out the black vote like Barack Obama, there could be a recession in the next year that will hurt Democrats, she carries some Obama administration baggage, she's got Clinton baggage, a desire for change that makes it unlikely Democrats will win three presidential elections in a row, and much more. McArdle questions the "emerging Democratic majority" thesis but there are structural advantages in the Electoral College that Dems have. But the best point might be, as McArdle says, "she's not a particularly good candidate."


 
Victory for the old farts in baseball
Los Angeles Dodger Yasiel Puig, one of the most exciting and excitable young players in the game, famously flips his bats after homeruns. It is purely energy as he insists it is not to show up anyone. But the scolds of baseball finger wag about the young whipper-snapper's lack of respect and now Puig says he will try not to flip his bat anymore. I'm with Craig Calcaterra that this is "tragic." Let Puig be Puig. Someday, says Calcaterra, he'll grow out of it because he'll get older or worse and with age or deterioration of skill it will become unseemly. But it will be him, like flipping his bat now is him. Instead, he's trying to please people who just can't enjoy the great game of baseball unless it's played "the right way" which more often than not is the way they wrongly remember it being played in the good old days.