Quotulatiousness

August 18, 2015

Donald Trump’s immigration “policy” proposals

Filed under: Americas, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Megan McArdle found herself coming back to the phrase “bag o’ crazy” when she tried to make sense of Donald Trump’s immigration proposals:

To be fair, he does have some practical positions. Some of them will be controversial, like criminal penalties for people who overstay temporary visas. Some of them are theoretically feasible, but wildly expensive, such as tripling the size of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement staff, and stepping up detentions and deportations.

Then there are the less practical ideas, which are — well, there’s a reason I got stuck on “bag o’ crazy.”

Most notably, Trump is promising to end birthright citizenship and get Mexico to pay for building a giant wall across our nearly 2,000-mile border. He also adds bizarre promises like a temporary halt on issuing any green cards at all until the domestic labor market recovers and a “refugee program for American children” aimed at getting foster kids into better homes.

This is not a serious policy document. Ending birthright citizenship would require a Constitutional amendment, which would never pass Congress, much less the three-quarters of the state legislatures required to ratify it. The difficulty of this task is exceeded only in the difficulty of getting Mexico to pay for a 2,000-mile wall that Mexicans have no interest in.

But critiquing Trump on the basis of his policy fantasies sort of misses the point. The precise reason that people like him is that his campaign is completely unmoored from underlying realities.

Every election season, candidates release white papers outlining what they will do when they take office. Those policy papers inevitably have a bunch of magic asterisks where the candidate has substituted heroic assumption for plausible numbers. These heroic assumptions do the bold and necessary work of hiding the costs of their rosy promises from voters. For example, Obama’s promise that his health care plan would save the average family a bunch of money, and also, never include a legal mandate forcing them to buy health insurance.

While those policy documents always have a certain … let’s call it a “muscular optimism” — they’re ultimately at least weakly tethered to the plausible. Viable Republican presidential candidates do not promise that on their first day in office, they will repeal Roe v. Wade. Democrats do not claim that they will provide universal preschool education for a net cost of $5. That’s just unrealistic.

But a broad swath of American voters are hungry for those sweet little lies. Or big lies. These voters don’t want some guy who crafts a policy agenda that could actually be enacted, some triangulated plan that could get past the American system’s checks and balances. In Dave Weigel’s terrific piece on a Trump rally in Flint, Michigan, two quotes, from two different people, stand out:

    “Being a businessman, he knows the ways around. I don’t think he’d go to Congress and ask. I think he’d just do it.”

And:

    “I compare Donald Trump to Ronald Reagan. He lets people know what he’s going to do, not what to ask for.”

This is, of course, a completely inaccurate picture of how government works. But they’re sick of how the government works.

August 17, 2015

“#Gamergate summarized in one impossibly perfect tweet”

Filed under: Gaming, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

It’s always awkward when you see (and publicize) something that seems to perfectly encapsulate your opponent’s position turns out to be nothing of the sort:

This afternoon multiple bomb threats were called in to a Society of Professional Journalists debate about GamerGate. I’ve been passed the remarks my fellow panellist, AEI scholar and feminist academic Christina Hoff Sommers, was planning to make.

A video game journalist from Vancouver recently took to Twitter to draw attention to a Tweet sent by a gamer: The gamer had tweeted: “I fucking swear — they get rid of Huge Boobs, I’m gone.” For this journalist those 11 words captured the essence of the gamer crusade. The hypermasculine dudebro attitude –— the crude objectification of women. It’s all there. Or so it seemed to him. As he put it: “#Gamergate summarized in one impossibly perfect tweet.”

But as is often the case with media accounts of GamerGate – the facts don’t really fit the narrative. First of all, the author was not talking about video games, but rather efforts to censor images of buxom ladies on Reddit. But more importantly — the author of the tweet is a young woman named Alison. Alison is a lesbian gamer who apparently enjoys gazing at images of busty women. For me, it is the game journalist’s tweet, not Alison’s, that is emblematic. It is an impossibly perfect illustration of a serious flaw in contemporary journalism: the narrative matters more than truth. The Rolling Stone’s apocryphal story about a gang rape at UVA is frequently cited as the classic example of narrative over-reach. But the press literature on GamerGate is strikingly similar.

According to dozens of media stories, #Gamergate is a nightmarish cabal of right wing males who will stop at nothing to keep women out of gaming. Comparisons with hate groups, lynch mobs and terrorists are not uncommon. In reality Gamergate has support from hundreds of thousands of rank and file video game enthusiasts from all over the world and across the political spectrum. Gamers identify with GamerGate for different reasons. A recurrent theme is consumerist – gamer journals are toadies for the game companies and need to be replaced by authentic critics, they say. Another — and the one that drew me into the world of gamers — is impatience with cultural scolds who evaluate games through the lens of political correctness. Are there some bullies and lunatics on the fringes of GamerGate? Yes there are. It’s the internet.

Media stories have focused on the female critics who have received hateful messages and even death threats. Those messages and threats are deplorable, but what the journalists typically fail to mention is that no one knows who sent them. Furthermore, those who defend Gamergate (males and females) have received hate mail and death threats as well. Too many in the media are addicted to a simplistic damsel in distress storyline — but inconveniently there are distressed damsels on both sides of the GamerGate controversy. The best data we have on on-line threats, a 2012 Pew Study for example, suggest that men, not women, are the primary targets.

Food fears and GMOs

Filed under: Environment, Health, Media, Politics, Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Henry I. Miller and Drew L. Kershen on the widespread FUD still being pushed in much of the mainstream media about genetically modified organisms in the food supply:

New York Times nutrition and health columnist Jane Brody recently penned a generally good piece about genetic engineering, “Fears, Not Facts, Support GMO-Free Food.” She recapitulated the overwhelming evidence for the importance and safety of products from GMOs, or “genetically modified organisms” (which for the sake of accuracy, we prefer to call organisms modified with molecular genetic engineering techniques, or GE). Their uses encompass food, animal feed, drugs, vaccines and animals. Sales of drugs made with genetic engineering techniques are in the scores of billions of dollars annually, and ingredients from genetically engineered crop plants are found in 70-80 percent of processed foods on supermarket shelves.

Brody’s article had two errors, however. The first was this statement, in a correction that was appended (probably by the editors) after the article was published:

    The article also referred imprecisely to regulation of GMOs by the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency. While the organizations regulate food from genetically engineered crops to ensure they are safe to eat, the program is voluntary. It is not the case that every GMO must be tested before it can be marketed.

In fact, every so-called GMO used for food, fiber or ornamental use is subject to compulsory case-by-case regulation by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of USDA and many are also regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during extensive field testing. When these organisms — plants, animals or microorganisms — become food, they are then overseen by the FDA, which has strict rules about misbranding (inaccurate or misleading labeling) and adulteration (the presence of harmful substances). Foods from “new plant varieties” made with any technique are subject to case-by-case premarket FDA review if they possess certain characteristics that pose questions of safety. In addition, food from genetically engineered organisms can undergo a voluntary FDA review. (Every GE food to this point has undergone the voluntary FDA review, so FDA has evaluated every GE food on the market).

The second error by Brody occurred in the very last words of the piece, “the best way for concerned consumers to avoid G.M.O. products is to choose those certified as organic, which the U.S.D.A. requires to be G.M.O.-free.” Brody has fallen victim to a common misconception; in fact, the USDA does not require organic products to be GMO-free.

QotD: Totalitarian movements as a substitute for religion

Filed under: History, Politics, Quotations, Religion — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

If twentieth-century history teaches us anything, it’s that political religions spell trouble. Soviet Communism, Italian Fascism, and Nazism aren’t just called “political religions” by scholars today. In all three cases, observers at the time recognized and worried about the movements’ religious natures. Those natures were no accident; Mussolini, for instance, called his ideology “not only a faith, but a religion that is conquering the laboring masses of the Italian people.”

One reason that observers saw the great totalitarianisms as religious was that each had its idol: Mussolini in Italy, Hitler in Germany, and Lenin in Russia, followed by Stalin. Take Grigory Zinoviev’s description of Lenin: “He is really the chosen one of millions. He is the leader by the Grace of God. He is the authentic figure of a leader such as is born once in 500 years.” Stalin’s cult of personality was far more developed and sometimes explicitly idolatrous, as in the poem that addressed the despot as “O Thou mighty one, chief of the peoples, Who callest man to life, Who awakest the earth to fruitfulness.” And in Italy, writes the historian Michael Burleigh, “intellectual sycophants and propagandists characterised [Mussolini] as a prodigy of genius in terms that would not have embarrassed Stalin: messiah, saviour, man of destiny, latterday Caesar, Napoleon, and so forth.”

To point out these words’ uncomfortable similarity to the journalists’ praises of Obama is not to equate the throngs who bowed down to totalitarian dictators with even the most worshipful Obamaphiles. But the manner of worship is related, as perhaps it must be in any human society that chooses to adore a human being. The widespread renaming of villages, schools, and factories after Stalin, for example, finds its modern-day democratic parallel in a rash of schools that have already rechristened themselves after Obama, to say nothing of the hundreds of young sentimentalists who informally adopted the candidate’s middle name during the presidential race. Even the Obama campaign’s ubiquitous logo — the letter O framing a rising sun — would not have surprised the scholar Eric Voegelin. In The Political Religions (1938), Voegelin traced rulers who employed the image of the sun — a symbol of “the radiation of power along a hierarchy of rulers and offices that ranges from God at the top down to the subject at the bottom” — from the pharaoh Akhenaton to Louis XIV and eventually to Hitler.

Benjamin A. Plotinsky, “The Varieties of Liberal Enthusiasm: The Left’s political zealotry increasingly resembles religious experience”, City Journal, 2010-02-20.

August 16, 2015

Wanted – challenging university education that won’t actually challenge any of my beliefs

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Megan McArdle wants those (university) kids to get off her lawn:

If you’ve reached that crotchety age I’m at, you may be as mystified as I am by the kids these days — especially by how they’re behaving on campus. I get the naive leftist politics and the wildly irresponsible partying; those things have been staples of student life for hundreds of years. I even understand the drive toward hamfisted censorship of views they don’t like. […]

What I don’t understand is the tenor of the censorship. When I was in college, people who wanted to censor others were forthrightly moralistic, trying to silence “bad” speech. Today’s students don’t couch their demands in the language of morality, but in the jargon of safety. They don’t want you to stop teaching books on difficult themes because those books are wrong, but because they’re dangerous, and should not be approached without a trigger warning. They don’t want to silence speakers because their ideas are evil, but because they represent a clear and present danger to the university community. If the school goes ahead and has the talk anyway, they build safe spaces so that people can cower from the scary speech together.

Are ideas dangerous? Certainly their effects can be. Ideas like “Asbestos sure makes good insulation” and “Bleed patients to balance the humors” racked up quite a number of fatalities. But of course, the ideas themselves didn’t kill anyone; that was left to the people who put them into practice. The new language of campus censorship cuts out the middleman and claims that merely hearing wrong, unpleasant or offensive ideas is so dangerous to the mental health of the listener that people need to be protected from the experience.

During the time when people are supposed to be learning to face an often hard world as adults, and going through the often uncomfortable process of building their intellectual foundations, they are demanding to be sheltered from anything that might challenge their beliefs or recall unpleasant facts to their mind. And increasingly, colleges are accommodating them. Everything at colleges is now supposed to be thoroughly sanitized to the point of inoffensiveness — not only the coursework, but even the comedians who are invited to entertain the students.

August 14, 2015

Toronto discovers the Streisand Effect

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

I was in the break room at work the other day, and happened to see our local 24-hour TV newsfeed was discussing a hateful hate-peddling hate-monger who’d just arrived in Toronto. A shorter blurb was running in the elevator monitor, as I discovered when I went downstairs for lunch. While I’d heard of Roosh V. before, I wasn’t aware that he was so well known to the Toronto media. Richard Anderson explains how Toronto’s media reactions to Daryush Valizadeh have been like a multi-million dollar gift of free advertising:

Rather than being a raving misogynist Valizadeh espouses an odd amalgam of traditional gender roles and casual sex advice. Very little of what he writes would have been considered terribly controversial even twenty years ago. His criticisms of feminism are pretty much standard conservative fare albeit expressed in a more colourful and direct manner. He might not be your cup of tea but he’s hardly the second coming of Caligula.

Displaying the self-righteous puritanism that is characteristic of modern feminism, a petition has been set-up at Change.org, complete with out of context quotes, demanding that Valizadeh be driven from Canada. This is being done on the grounds of our old friend hate speech. Apparently coaching awkward young men on how to pick up women in bars is now a crime in modern Canada.

Some of Valizadeh’s sexual advice is tacky or creepy. It would, however, take a Pollyanna’s understanding of human sexuality to find it either hateful or angry. What we are seeing is not criticism being directed at an individual for espousing somewhat recherché views, it’s an electronic lynch mob attempting to silence dissent from the feminist consensus.

Until this recent controversy Valizadeh was an obscure figure outside of Manosphere. Now thanks to these tin eared feminist campaigners he has been given millions of dollars in free publicity. It’s a classic example of the Streisand effect. Instead of shutting Valizadeh down they’ve elevated him into a kind of cult hero status that is only likely to increase in the months ahead.

Protecting college students from the slightest potential offense

Filed under: Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In The Atlantic, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt look at how universities are turning themselves inside-out in an attempt to protect their students from ever being confronted with words, thoughts, or images that might possibly offend them:

Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law — or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia — and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.

Two terms have risen quickly from obscurity into common campus parlance. Microaggressions are small actions or word choices that seem on their face to have no malicious intent but that are thought of as a kind of violence nonetheless. For example, by some campus guidelines, it is a microaggression to ask an Asian American or Latino American “Where were you born?,” because this implies that he or she is not a real American. Trigger warnings are alerts that professors are expected to issue if something in a course might cause a strong emotional response. For example, some students have called for warnings that Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart describes racial violence and that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby portrays misogyny and physical abuse, so that students who have been previously victimized by racism or domestic violence can choose to avoid these works, which they believe might “trigger” a recurrence of past trauma.

Some recent campus actions border on the surreal. In April, at Brandeis University, the Asian American student association sought to raise awareness of microaggressions against Asians through an installation on the steps of an academic hall. The installation gave examples of microaggressions such as “Aren’t you supposed to be good at math?” and “I’m colorblind! I don’t see race.” But a backlash arose among other Asian American students, who felt that the display itself was a microaggression. The association removed the installation, and its president wrote an e-mail to the entire student body apologizing to anyone who was “triggered or hurt by the content of the microaggressions.”

August 13, 2015

The unlikely appeal of Donald Trump

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

What is the explanation for the meteoric rise of Donald Trump’s fortunes in the Republican race? It’s certainly not his hardcore conservative beliefs, for he clearly doesn’t have too many of those. It’s not his “everyman” story, because he’s far from having experienced anything like an actual “everyman” life. What could possibly account for his current popularity? (I mean, aside from being pretty much antithetical to the “establishment GOP” … that’d be crazy talk.) In The American Interest, Walter Russell Mead takes a swing at defining what it is that Trump appears to be offering to the disaffected plurality (majority?) of would-be Republican voters:

Is The Donald a populist candidate? Our friend Glenn Reynolds argued in Sunday’s USA Today that the rise of Donald Trump is best understood as a populist event — “an indictment of the GOP establishment and, for that matter, of the American political establishment in general” and “a sign that large numbers of voters don’t feel represented by more mainstream politicians.”

Over at the Washington Post, Daniel Drezner, another friend, disputes Reynolds’ interpretation of Trump, arguing that though “there’s definitely something to this”, “on closer inspection this isn’t really a straightforward populist story, for two reasons.” The first is that “the policy preferences that Trump is pushing aren’t all that popular.” The second is that Trump, rather than emphasizing his solidarity with ordinary people, makes a point of flaunting his tremendous wealth and privilege at every possible opportunity in outrageous ways.

But Reynolds is right and Trump is very much a classic populist — in the following sense. Populism isn’t always about taking majority positions or cultivating economic solidarity with non-elites. In some populist movements, specific policy positions that don’t always or even often have majority support gain energy by hooking up with generalized dissatisfaction with elites and the status quo. Late 19th- and early 20th-century populism, from a policy standpoint, put a lot of stress on agrarian issues and crackpot economic ideas that, though there weren’t any opinion polls at the time, don’t seem to have had majority support. So while, as Drezner points out, hard-line immigration enforcement may not be particularly high on the agendas of a majority of voters, Trump can use the issue to signal his contempt for the establishment — and voters pay more attention to the tune than to the lyrics.

Last week, Megan McArdle tried to explain “The Donald” as being the “Ron Paul” of this election cycle:

For me, the high point [of the Republican debate] came when Donald Trump announced that he had made a donation to Hillary Clinton in order to … get her to come to his wedding. Where to begin with such a statement? I have known brides and bridegrooms who cherished a vulgar belief that weddings have a three-figure admission fee, in cash or kind. But outside of romantic comedies, I have never heard of an American wedding in which the payments ran the other way. Trump touts himself as a dealmaker, but if this is an example of his negotiating prowess, do you really want him in charge of your international treaties? “I’m afraid I won’t even consider withdrawing our troops from your border unless you also allow me to give you a billion dollars, a weekend for two at the Maui Hilton, and a personal guided tour of the White House!”

When I pointed this out on Twitter, a Trump fan of indeterminate sincerity tweeted back “Wake … up, sheeple!”

How did this man get onto the stage? And how can we get him off, given the apparent passion of his base, who flood online polls with support for The Donald? He and Bernie Sanders are giving me flashbacks to those heady days of 2007, when a rash mention of Ron Paul’s name in a column, much less criticizing his somewhat tenuous grasp on monetary economics, was good for hundreds of comments and emails, assuring you that Dr. Paul was going to be the next president of the United States because he was FINALLY offering Americans a REAL ALTERNATIVE. (Ron Paul supporters favored ALL CAPS so that you would UNDERSTAND that they were SERIOUS ABOUT CHANGE, or perhaps because the RON PAUL COMMEMORATIVE KEYBOARDS they had bought had some sort of TERRIBLE MALFUNCTION.)

Donald Trump is not going to be president. Bernie Sanders is also not going to be president. Their appeal to their supporters is precisely the reason they are not going to be president. Every few years, a large number of Americans need to learn the same lesson: The reason you don’t hear the solutions that you want coming from the boring, scripted, mainstream politicians who get elected is that the solutions that you want do not appeal to the majority of your fellow countrymen.

Update: Fixed the link to Walter Russell Mead’s article.

Update the second: Mark Steyn takes some heat for his perceived support of Trump:

I’ve had a ton of mail objecting to my “support” of Donald Trump which we’ll try to run some of it in the days ahead. But, for the record, I’m not “supporting” him. As I said to John, the Republican nominating process has failed in the last two cycles, and thus, five months before any actual votes are cast, watching someone disrupt a racket that can use all the disruption it can get is hugely enjoyable. I mean, he’s touched the third, fourth, fifth and every other live rail in American politics, insulting Hispanics, veterans, menstruating women – and the more juice that shoots through him the stronger he gets. He’s discarded every convention of American politics, which, given that it’s the conventions of American politics that have made us the brokest nation in history, is something to be cheered. He’s the richest guy in the race, but he’s not spending a dime – because while the single-digit candidates kiss up to the big donors and blow through a fortune on the usual tedious “I was born the son of a mailman” ads – Trump is sucking up all the airtime between commercial breaks for free. He’s making a mockery of the consultant class, and what’s not to enjoy about that? For as long as it lasts.

August 11, 2015

The range and striking power of the Card and Krueger study

Filed under: Business, Economics, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

At Coyote Blog, Warren Meyer explains how one particular economic study wields far more influence in the fast food/minimum wage debate than any other similar study:

Pick a progressive on the street, and in the unlikely event they can name any economic study, that study will probably be Card and Krueger’s study of the effect of a minimum wage increase in New Jersey. Sixty bazillion studies have confirmed what most of us know in our bones to be true, that raising the price of labor decreases demand for that labor. Card and Krueger said it did not — and that a minimum wage increase may have even increased demand for labor — which pretty much has made it the economic bible of the Progressive Left.

What intrigues me is that Card and Krueger specifically looked at the effect of the minimum wage on large chain fast food stores. In this study (I will explain the likely reason in a moment) they found that when the minimum wage increased for all businesses in New Jersey, the employment at large chain fast food restaurants went up.

So I wonder if the Progressives making this ruling in New York thought to themselves — “we want to raise the minimum wage. Well, the one place where we KNOW it will have no negative effect from Card and Krueger is on large fast food chains, so…”

By the way, there are a lot of critiques of Card & Krueger’s study. The most powerful in my mind is that when a minimum wage is raised, often the largest volume and highest productivity companies in any given business will absorb it the best. One explanation of the Card & Krueger result is that the minimum wage slammed employment in small ma and pa restaurants, driving business to the larger volume restaurants and chains. As a whole, in this theory, the industry saw a net loss in employment and a shift in employment from smaller to larger firms. By measuring only the effect on larger firms, Card and Krueger completely missed what was going on.

Great artists (reluctantly) explain their work to moderns

Filed under: Humour, Media, Politics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

John Seed forces some great artists of the past to describe their work as if they were modern artists:

“If the great European artists of the past were alive today, what kinds of statements would they need to write to explain and justify their work?”

This summer I asked myself that question over two dozen times for a small, humor book that I have been developing. I hope you will find the sampling of seven statements below funny and even a bit poetic. Five of them were written specifically for Hyperallergic and two are from my new book.

Great art explained - da Vinci
Great art explained - Delacroix

H/T to Never Yet Melted for the link.

QotD: The Environmentalist religion

Filed under: Environment, Media, Politics, Quotations, Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Environmentalism does indeed tell its adherents “what to eat” (pesticide-free organic food, preferably grown nearby to cut down on trucking) and “how to travel” (by public transportation or, better yet, bicycle). But it also lays down rules on nearly every aspect of life in a consumer economy: how to wash your clothes (seldom); how to wash yourself (take a shower, not a bath, and use a low-flow showerhead); how to light your house (with fluorescent bulbs); how to choose your TV (look for the Energy Star logo!); how to go to the bathroom (with high-efficiency toilets and recycled paper); how to invest, clean, sleep, and dress (in environmentally friendly companies, with nontoxic chemicals, on sheets made of “sustainable fibers,” and in clothes made of the same); and even how to procreate (Greenpeace has issued a guide to “environmentally friendly sex”).

Think about the life that a truly conscientious environmentalist must lead! Compared with it, the devout Muslim’s five daily prayers and the pious Jew’s carefully regulated diet are a cakewalk. What the British historian Alfred Cobban wrote about totalitarianism — that it “takes the spiritual discipline of a religious order and imposes it on forty or sixty or a hundred million people” — applies perfectly to environmentalism, except for the part about imposition. And there, one might give Jonah Goldberg’s answer in Liberal Fascism: “You may trust that environmentalists have no desire to translate these voluntary suggestions into law, but I have no such confidence given the track record of similar campaigns in the past.” Recycling mandates come to mind, as does the federal law that will impose silly-looking spiral lightbulbs on us all by 2014.

There’s also a close resemblance between the environmental and biblical views of history, as the late novelist Michael Crichton pointed out in a widely reprinted speech. “Environmentalism is in fact a perfect twenty-first-century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths,” Crichton said. “There’s an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there’s a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all.” That judgment day currently assumes the form of various global-warming disasters that will happen unless we immediately perform still more rituals. Never mind that the science so urgently instructing us to reduce carbon emissions — thus hobbling economic growth and prosperity around the world — is so young, and so poorly understood, that it can’t explain why global warming seems to have stalled over the last decade. Far more persuasive is the argument from faith: we’d better repent, because the End is nigh.

Barack Obama doubtless tapped into environmentalists’ spiritual longings when he accepted the Democratic presidential nomination. “Generations from now,” he proclaimed, “we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth.” Italics mine; grandiloquent prophecy his.

Benjamin A. Plotinsky, “The Varieties of Liberal Enthusiasm: The Left’s political zealotry increasingly resembles religious experience”, City Journal, 2010-02-20.

August 9, 2015

Bob Rae then, and Bob Rae now

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

I missed when Colby Cosh started writing for the National Post a while back, and only just remembered to pick up the RSS feed for his column, so this one is nearly a month old (I’m hoping that the Post has given up on their goofy licensing idea for bloggers, which was why I stopped reading or linking to the paper when they introduced it):

Ever since May, when Alberta raised the orange flag of rebellion and keelhauled its Progressive Conservatives, we have heard much about the danger that Rachel Notley will turn out to be another Bob Rae. Every time I have heard this, I have asked myself a question: which Bob Rae?

I know they mean the callow young Rae who, as premier of Ontario, blew up the welfare rolls, fiddled with rent control and pay equity while the treasury hemorrhaged and struggled tumultuously against NAFTA. But what, I wondered, if Notley turned out to be more like Liberal-elder-statesman Bob Rae, who is often a more eloquent defender of markets than just about any Conservative politician one can name? (Fine: I’ll spot you Maxime Bernier.) The older he gets, the more explicit Rae becomes about his Damascene conversion to the primacy of economic competitiveness.

In May, Rae wrote a little-noticed article about Notley that was essentially a warning: don’t be me.

“Keeping spending on operations (health care and education in particular) in check has been the greatest challenge for social democratic governments around the world,” Rae wrote. “From the Labour government in the U.K. in the seventies, to the travails of François Hollande in France, the examples are legion. It ain’t easy.” The heavy sigh is almost audible.

“Government can’t defy gravity,” Rae added, taking what unreconstructed socialists would now call a “pro-austerity” position. “There’s a limit to what any government, of any stripe, can borrow, tax and spend.… The laws of economics are not exactly like the laws of physics, but reality has a way of rushing in.”

When it comes to Rachel Notley and the New Democratic Party, the truth is that Alberta, nauseated by the banana-republican habits of its PC caste, took a conscious gamble. Notley put forward an economic platform with a minimum of utopianism, and upheld the icons of relatively successful, fiscally austere prairie New Democrats: Roy Romanow, Gary Doer.

Robert Conquest’s historical vindication

Filed under: History, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

David Warren on the late Robert Conquest:

[Robert Conquest’s] grand works of historical investigation — The Great Terror (1968), documenting the incredible extent of Stalin’s purges; and, The Harvest of Sorrow (1986), surveying the catastrophic effects of his collectivization — were books of remarkable ambition; of bold conception and real consequence. Other writers had (often at the cost of their careers) reported upon Soviet failings. But they had done so in ways modest enough to be ignored, or dismissed by the fashionable Left as “biased.” The broad, massive, systematic nature of Conquest’s researches was something new. It cracked even the faith of many diehard Communists. The history he told fit together; it was all meticulously sourced; it was overwhelming. There was, as it rose on the horizon, too much to deny.

Yet others could still simply block it out. For people believe what they want to believe, and may resolutely look away from what they do not want to see, or even chute the cocksure laugh, in the face of the mounting tsunami of evidence that finally washes them away.

Conquest was also a light or minor poet, and verse translator, of skill, talent, and integrity. He moved, privately, more in literary than in political circles. His closest friends were such as Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin; another was Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

He was no ideologue, and judging by the way he burned through wives, not a moralist either. Outwardly, in the tiny glimpse I had of him, he was not passionate or irascible. Inwardly, he was surely “driven.” But I would count him as a detached artist, working in a rather unusual modern genre: the author of elaborately proven epics of debunkment.

It was not Conquest, incidentally, but Amis who proposed that the revision of The Great Terror, published after the Berlin Wall fell, should be re-entitled, I Told You So, You Fucking Fools. But Conquest was content with, A Reassessment. He presented his facts emotionlessly. This magnified his impact, as historian. When he had a provocation to offer, that he was entirely unable to resist, he would put it safely into verse form, so that it wouldn’t be noticed.

August 8, 2015

Election issue – the Netflix tax, “much ado about nothing?”

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Michael Geist looks at the major federal party leaders’ reactions to discussion of a “Netflix tax”:

As part of the digital strategy discussion, I stated that questions abound, including “are new regulations over services such as Netflix on the horizon?”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper addressed that question yesterday with a video and tweet in which he pledged that the Conservatives will never tax digital streaming services like Netflix and Youtube. Harper added that the Liberals and NDP have left the door open to a Netflix tax, but that he is 100% opposed, “always has been, always will be.” Both opposition parties quickly responded with the NDP saying they have not proposed a Netflix tax and the Liberals saying they have never supported a Netflix tax and do not support a Netflix tax.

So is this much ado about nothing?

Not exactly. First, there are groups and provincial governments that support a Netflix tax or mandated contribution to fund the creation of Canadian content. These include the Ontario and Quebec governments along with many creator groups. Earlier this year, I obtained documents under the Ontario Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act that showed that the Ontario government spent months working toward a recommendation to expand the regulation of new media, including Canadian content requirements and increased regulation of foreign online video providers.

Second, while the Liberals and NDP have not proposed a Netflix tax, they have called for requirements that online video providers disclose revenues, Canadian content availability, and subscriber numbers to Canadian regulators. This is a very soft form of regulation that Netflix and Google have rejected as beyond the power of the Broadcasting Act. Providing information to allow for more informed regulatory analysis does not seem particularly unreasonable, but the companies unsurprisingly fear that that analysis could ultimately lead to calls for more regulation or payments.

Third, the real Netflix tax is the prospect of a levying sales taxes on digital products such as music downloads or online video services. It was the Conservatives that raised this possibility in the 2014 budget, launching a consultation on the issue that garnered supportive comments from companies such as Rogers, which noted that Canadian-based online video services such as Shomi operate at a disadvantage since they collect GST/HST, but Netflix does not. With many countries moving toward some form of digital taxation (as I noted in a January 2015 column on the issue, the real challenge lies in the cost of implementation), it seems inevitable that Canada will do the same in order to level the playing field and recoup a growing source of revenue. The Conservatives would presumably seek to differentiate between a generally applicable sales tax and a tax or fee targeting online streaming services, though many may feel it is a distinction without a difference.

August 7, 2015

Canada to hold longest election campaign in living memory

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

For those of you not familiar with Canadian politics — and unless you’re a Canadian why would you be? — the longest election campaign since the 19th century kicked off on Sunday, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper went to the Governor General’s office to request that parliament be dissolved. This is going to be a long, long, gruelling political death-march. Eleven whole weeks of politicians bloviating, TV talking heads pretending to interpret every twitch in the polls, political candidates of all shades from light pink to deepest red popping up at every possible gathering of more than three people to beg for votes … it’s going to be awful.

Over at Gods of the Copybook Headings, Richard Anderson provides the early scorecard on the leaders of the major federal parties:

In his infinite cruelty the PM has imposed upon the Canadian people, who never did him any harm, a formal eleven week election campaign. The longest since 1872. Much of Canada still wasn’t part of Canada in 1872. After eleven weeks of politicking those regions might be thinking of leaving. British Columbia we will miss you dearly. Newfoundland much the same.

Lest we complain the status quo remains. As Ronald Reagan once observed status quo is Latin for the mess we’re in. Our particular mess has a dull and worthy quality befitting our national character. This brings us to the vital question: What is Election 2015 about?

Is it about Justin Trudeau’s fitness to rule the nation? No, because nobody in their right mind thinks the Dauphin is fit to rule. He’s a front man for those shrewder than himself. If current polls are to be trusted it appears that Canadians are not keen on a Gerald Butts government.

Perhaps it’s about Thomas Mulcair and his ability to lead. Can you, the good and sensible people of our fair Dominion, imagine yet another Quebec lawyer as ruler of all the Canadas? And if you can hold that mental picture, while still holding your lunch, have you thought carefully about who is part of Team Mulcair? However astute and moderate a PM Tommy might turn out to be he will need build a cabinet. Have you seen the timbers of the NDP caucus lately? […]

Canadians, it is understood, are creatures of habit. We likes what we likes. There is a tendency for the electorate to plunk for the bank manager candidate. The safe pair of hands who won’t screw things up too much. As a people we generally avoid Messiahs or Rabble Rousers. It offends our sense of proportion. We want someone clever enough to deal with basic problems but sensible enough not to wreck the place between elections. In our long national history we have deviated from this common sense approach just once. Way back in 1968 we took a wild and daring risk. The result was fifteen years of Pierre Trudeau.

Bill Davis, perhaps the most quintessential of Ontario politicians, famously attributed his success to a simple formula: Bland works. Stephen Harper is our bland candidate. Beneath the bad hair cut the enormous brain continues to plot. It plotted the Canadian Right out of the political wilderness. It plotted Canada away from the disaster of an Liberal-NDP-Bloc Coalition. Nimbly has it darted us through the shoals of the world economy. He ain’t great but he’s better than what else is on offer.

This October my fellow Canadians let us be boring. Let us be sensible. Let us be bland. It’s what we do best and why, whatever happens over the next eleven weeks, Stephen Harper will probably still be running the joint for years to come. All hail the new Mackenzie King.

« Newer PostsOlder Posts »

Powered by WordPress