I’m a mom of three young kids. That means I like to have a glass of wine
with breakfast, lunch, and dinnernow and then. And since my kids seem to grow out of their clothes and shoes seconds after I’ve purchased them, I like to get a good deal on a boxbottle or two. Luckily for me, there is stiff competition in the wine industry, which means I can get wines from around the world at prices I can afford.
Yet with competition comes increased need to attract customers. And some companies are resorting to a new strategy: Alarmism.
Consider the recent suggestion by some wine companies that some corks are not just inferior, but dangerous. That might seem silly to some or just a lousy marketing stunt to others, but it’s a familiar and all-too-effective tactic used on moms who are constantly encouraged to police their homes for threats to their families.
December 5, 2016
December 4, 2016
Published on 3 Dec 2016
A big thank you to the project team: Archaeological Revival of Memory of World War I: Material Remains of the Life and Death in Trenches of the Eastern Front and the Condition of the Ever-changing Battlescape in the Region of the Rawka and Bzura (1914–2014).
The project is funded by the Polish National Centre of Science and implemented by the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology, Polish Academy of Sciences.
This is the first big video from our trip to Poland. In Bolimow, Polish archaeologists are digging in the former trenches of the Eastern Front. Here, the Germans used gas on a big scale for the first time. Polish soldiers were fighting each other on both sides of the front.
Published on Nov 28, 2016
The second installment of the documentary following the build of Canada’s new Auxiliary Oiler Replenishment Ship. Episode 2 follows the journey of Davie, its workers and partners from May to November 2016 as they build the largest ship that will operate in the Royal Canadian Navy fleet.
Chris Selley surveys the competition for federal Conservative leader:
Kellie Leitch has won the most headlines thus far, thanks to her store-bought populist appeal to suspicions about immigrants’ values and grievances with the political establishment. Campaign manager Nick Kouvalis is playing the media like a fiddle: at every mention of screening immigrants for “Canadian values” we squeal and writhe with high-toned outrage, incredulity and mockery. Kouvalis simply collates it, presents to the considerable majority of Canadians who think it’s a perfectly reasonable idea, and asks if they would support both the policy itself and the policy sticking in the craw of these jumped-up “elites.” The answer in many cases seems to be yes.
At the grownups’ table, however, a proper battle for the sanity and the soul of the Conservative Party of Canada has taken shape. Michael Chong reminds party supporters that a fiscally conservative party that claims to want to fight climate change should support market-based tools to get the job done — the simpler the tool (i.e., a carbon tax), the better. As leader, Chong could credibly hold a Liberal government to account for its less-than-pure commitment to carbon pricing and its inevitable failure to meet emissions targets.
Maxime Bernier reminds Conservatives that in 10 years, the party did almost nothing about Canada’s insane supply management systems. There is a constituency that believes a free market in dairy would of necessity pump our children full of bovine antibiotics, hormones and steroids. There is a much larger constituency that trusts Canada’s food safety system and would prefer cheaper groceries. If a conservative party can’t sell free markets when the upside is cheaper groceries and the downside is inconvenienced millionaire quota owners, it should close shop.
Bernier planted himself even more squarely in the Canadian policy mainstream with his recent proposal to reform the CBC as an ad-free broadcaster focused on “what only it can do” in a modern media market: he suggested more local programming, documentaries and foreign correspondents, “more programs about science, history, or religion.” He proposed a funding model like NPR and PBS, which rely heavily on private and corporate donations.
For the record, I don’t think carbon taxes are the way to go, as experience should tell us that governments rarely if ever bring in “revenue neutral” tax changes, and the carbon tax would end up being added to existing tax tools, rather than replacing them. I’m also on the record as being a fan of Mad Max for PM (although I’m not a Conservative, he’s the most libertarian mainstream politician since Laurier).
If the natural tendencies of mankind are so bad that it is not safe to permit people to be free, how is it that the tendencies of these organizers are always good? Do not the legislators and their appointed agents also belong to the human race? Or do they believe that they themselves are made of a finer clay than the rest of mankind?
Frédéric Bastiat, The Law, 1850.
December 3, 2016
Jay Currie was woken up at an ungodly early hour to talk on a radio show about the leaked portions of the Canada Marijuana Task Force Report. It’s apparently not good news for consumers but really great news for the existing favoured “legal” producers:
The leak itself is interesting and more than a little outrageous. The Report clearly favours Health Canada Licenced Medical Marijuana growers and many of those corporate grow shows are publically traded companies. Allowing the report to come out in dribs and drabs (because “translation”) could cause deep uncertainty in the public markets. The government should release the report, in toto, immediately.
Substantively, the Report apparently recommends that legalization efforts be directed at “getting rid of the $7-billion-a year black market. Sources familiar with the report, which is expected to be made public Dec. 21, say all the other recommendations flow from that guiding principle.”
It is not clear whether that “black market” includes the grey market of dispensaries and pot shops which has grown up in Canada and which continues to expand.
Using “legalization” as a weapon against the “black market” is pretty much the level of restrictive thinking I expected from the Task Force. Rather than seeing legalization as an opportunity to regularize the marijuana market, the language suggests a resumption of the war on drugs by other means.
The Task Force is apparently suggesting that the 40 Health Canada approved licencees remain the only legal source of marijuana and proposes that recreational pot, like medicinal pot, continue to be delivered by Canada Post. A nostalgic bow to the mail and a suggestion pretty certain to keep dispensaries and “Bob on the corner” in business for the foreseeable future. Here is a free clue for the Liberal government: recreational pot users are impulse buyers. As I say in my book, “The most common triggers for the decision is that, by their lights, a customer is running low on pot, has run out of pot or has been out of pot for some time but only now has the money to buy more pot.” In short, not likely to wait a week for Canada Post to deliver.
Published on Oct 22, 2016
What happens when you really try to put paper money doctrine into practice? And why would you put a gambler, womanizer, and fugitive criminal like the ironically named John Law in charge of running it?
David Warren notes an odd similarity:
The last generation of Communists in power, in the Soviet Union and elsewhere, suffered from a debilitating foible. They did not themselves believe in the ideology they were preaching. Their efforts were thus directed to getting around the realities their forebears had not anticipated. They thus became their own enemies, working against their own unworkable socialist principles, and in the course of their tireless if frazzled ministrations, the Berlin Wall came down.
Capitalism suffers from the same problem today. The principles of Adam Smith are not seriously believed by any of its nominal advocates. They are not even known. Nor could they be, for like Marx, Smith is not even read. I have derived pleasure, on many occasions, from pointing out to some ideological enthusiast for Capitalism, that its supposed author was refulgently opposed to joint-stock companies. Which is to say, to the form of business ownership that controls — oh, I don’t know — ninety-five percent of the so-called “private sector” economy today?
I observed that, apart from any consideration of morality (and he was, after all, only an amateur economist, but a professional Perfesser of Moral Philosophy), Smith believed that joint-stock companies were inefficient, because essentially bureaucratic. This is inevitable when ownership is separated from management. “Growth,” or Bigness, subtly replaces profit (both mercenary and non-mercenary) as the principal aspiration.
As a general rule of thumb, when you want to get something done, use the smallest possible organization to achieve your desired goal. I always found it a warning sign of future decline when small companies I worked for started to take on the trappings of bigger companies … when the bureaucratic rot began to set in. In some cases, just the transition to having an “HR Department” (rather than managers hiring directly) was enough to trigger bureaucracy growth and efficiency losses.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines transgender as ‘[d]enoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex’. It is a relatively new term. According to equality-law professor and trans activist Stephen Whittle, the term ‘transvestite’ was first used in 1910 by the German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, who would later found the Berlin Institute where the very first sex-change operations took place. ‘Transsexual’ was not coined until 1949; ‘transgender’ not until 1971; and ‘trans’, which is a very British term, not until 1996.
The first reported sex-change operation may have taken place at Hirschfeld’s Berlin Institute in 1931, but the procedure only became widely known after American Christine (George) Jorgensen travelled to Denmark in 1952 to undergo sex-change surgery. In 1954, following Jorgensen’s transition, US endocrinologist Harry Benjamin began using the term ‘transsexualism’ to describe a unique condition of sex and gender role disorientation.
Throughout the 1960s, transsexualism, and the clinical response to it, remained a contentious issue. Medical professionals in the US were largely opposed to the idea of offering sex-change surgery. A 1965 survey showed that just three per cent of US surgeons would take seriously a request for a sex-change operation. And yet, by the early 1980s, thousands of sex-change operations had taken place.
The Hopkins Hospital, affiliated with Johns Hopkins University, became the most prominent institution to offer transsexual surgery during the 1970s. Under the guidance of psychologist John Money, psychiatrist Eugene Meyer and plastic surgeon Milton Edgerton, the Hopkins Hospital utilised the ‘single theme’ method for diagnosing transsexuals. This involved determining whether or not the patient had an intense conviction to be the other sex.
But, as the rate of referrals increased, by the late-1970s, some of the negative after-effects of sex-change surgery became apparent. These included: medical complications, demands for reverse surgery and suicide attempts. Moreover, it was discovered that, due to the self-diagnostic nature of the ‘single theme’ method for determining treatment, some patients had learned what kinds of things they needed to say in order to receive surgery.
Hopkins Hospital eventually stopped performing the operations in 1979, after Jon Meyer, the chair of the sexual behaviours unit, conducted a study comparing 29 patients who had the surgery and 21 who didn’t, and concluded that those who had the surgery were no more adjusted to society than those who did not have the surgery. As Meyer told the New York Times in 1979: ‘My personal feeling is that surgery is not proper treatment for a psychiatric disorder, and it’s clear to me that these patients have severe psychological problems that don’t go away following surgery.’
While physicians and commentators argued over whether or not medical intervention benefited the patient, for some of those who chose to undergo treatment, it was a lifeline.
Naomi Firsht, “The Rise of Transgender: In the space of a century, transgenderism has become a mainstream concern”, Spiked, 2016-10-28.
December 2, 2016
The Dallas Cowboys visited Minnesota on Thursday night, bringing their NFL-best record and a ten-game winning streak. They left town with their streak still intact, but it came down to the last minute of the game to secure the win.
With Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer resting at home after emergency eye surgery, special teams co-ordinator Mike Priefer was acting head coach, to allow offensive co-ordinator Pat Shurmur and defensive co-ordinator George Edwards to concentrate on their respective areas of responsibility. The Vikings got a few key players back from injury, with wide receiver Stefon Diggs and cornerback Terence Newman both suited up for the game.
The game was very close from start to finish, which meant that minor miscues could have huge ramifications on the scoreboard. I missed most of the first quarter, but my Twitter feed provided all the “T.J. Clemmings is garbage” content during that time to assure me that things were back to their putrid normal on the offensive line. Cowboys quarterback phenomenon was shown to be merely human through most of the game, and his biggest contributions to keeping drives alive were on scrambles (aided by some pretty blatant holding on the offensive line, especially against Brian Robison).
Both of the Cowboys’ touchdowns came after a minor glitch gave Dallas an opportunity and they were able to capitalize. Other than that, the Vikings defence kept the lid on all game. One was a mistake in coverage, as Harrison Smith was too aggressive in covering Dez Bryant, and the second was a fumbled punt by Adam Thielen deep inside Viking territory.
Published on 1 Dec 2016
The fighting at the Somme is over – for now. The numbers of casualties on both sides is staggering and for what? Indy reflects on this epitome of WW1 battles. And at the same time 100 years ago the fighting in Romania was far from over. The four Central Powers were still on the move and it did not look good for Romania which only joined the war a few months ago. The situation in Greece became ever more complicated and increasingly violent too.
Ontario’s Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk has a few mild criticisms of how Kathleen Wynn’s government spends public money on infrastructure:
Over the next decade, the Ontario government plans to spend $17 billion rehabilitating existing infrastructure, mostly on roads and bridges, and $31 billion on new infrastructure, mostly on public transit — much of the latter in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. For some weary commuters, the promise of relief might be one of the few remaining attractions Premier Kathleen Wynne’s phenomenally unpopular administration has to offer — assuming, of course, they have some degree of confidence their money will be spent properly.
Page 496 of Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk’s latest report, released Wednesday, has something to say about that.
The scene: the Pickering GO station. Metrolinx was to build a pedestrian bridge across Highway 401. Not a herculean feat, one might have thought. Alas the winning bidder “had no experience in installing bridge trusses” — which is “something that a contractor constructing a bridge would be expected to know how to do,” Lysyk’s report dryly notes.
After the contractor “installed one truss upside down” — no, seriously — Metrolinx essentially took over the project. But it paid the contractor the full $19-million for the first phase of the project anyway. Then it gave the same contractors the contract for phase two — hey, it had the low bid! — and lo and behold they pooped the bed again, damaging glass to the tune of $1 million and building a stairway too wide to accommodate the planned cladding.
At this point, according to the Auditor-General, Metrolinx terminated the contract. It paid 99 per cent of the bill anyway. And later — no, seriously! — it gave the company another $39 million contract. “Metrolinx lacks a process to prevent poorly performing contractors from bidding on future contracts,” the report observes. Transport Minister Steven Del Duca said a new “vendor performance management system” would do just that, but one wonders why something so fancy-sounding was necessary to perform such a basic function. (Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins disputes the decision-making timeline in the report; according to hers, the contractor’s ineptitude was unknown when further work was awarded.)
Shikha Dalmia explains why Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi suddenly decided to kneecap his country’s money supply and cause massive economic disruption:
Modi was elected in a landslide on the slogan of “Minimum Government, Maximum Governance.” He promised to end babu raj — the rule of corrupt, petty bureaucrats who torment ordinary citizens for bribes — and radically transform India’s economy. But rather than tackling government corruption, he has declared war on private citizens holding black money in the name of making all Indians pay their fair share.
Tax scofflaw behavior is indeed a problem in India. But it is almost always a result of tax rates that are way higher than what people think their government is worth. The enlightened response would be to lower these rates and improve governance. Instead, Modi is taking his country down what Nobel-winning political economist F.A. Hayek called the road to serfdom, where every failed round of coercive government intervention simply becomes an excuse for even more draconian rounds — exactly what was happening in pre-liberalized India.
About 600 million poor and uneducated Indians don’t have bank accounts. Roughly 300 million don’t have official identification. It’s not easy to swap their soon-to-be worthless cash, which is a catastrophe given that they live hand to mouth. It is heartbreaking to see these people lined up in long queues outside post offices and banks, missing days and days of work, pleading for funds from the very bureaucrats from whose clutches Modi had promised to release them.
Modi hatched his scheme in complete secrecy, without consulting his own economic advisers or the Parliament, lest rich hoarders catch wind and ditch their cash holdings for gold and other assets. Hence, he could not order enough new money printed in advance. This is a massive problem given that about 90 percent of India’s economic transactions are in cash. People need to be able to get money from their banks to meet basic needs. But the government has imposed strict limits on how much of their own money people can withdraw from their own accounts.
This is not boldness, but sheer conceit based on the misguided notion that people have to be accountable to the government, rather than vice versa. Over time, it will undermine the already low confidence of Indians in their institutions. If Modi could unilaterally and so suddenly re-engineer the currency used by 1.1 billion people, what will he do next? This is a recipe for capital flight and economic retrenchment.
The fear and uncertainty that Modi’s move will breed will turn India’s economic clock back to the dark times of pre-liberalized India — not usher in the good times (aache din) that Modi had promised.
December 1, 2016
Pot, I’d like to introduce you to Kettle. Kettle, please meet Pot.
However, that’s not to say that Rolling Stone is wrong about this:
Last week, a technology reporter for the Washington Post named Craig Timberg ran an incredible story. It has no analog that I can think of in modern times. Headlined “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say,” the piece promotes the work of a shadowy group that smears some 200 alternative news outlets as either knowing or unwitting agents of a foreign power, including popular sites like Truthdig and Naked Capitalism.
The thrust of Timberg’s astonishingly lazy report is that a Russian intelligence operation of some kind was behind the publication of a “hurricane” of false news reports during the election season, in particular stories harmful to Hillary Clinton. The piece referenced those 200 websites as “routine peddlers of Russian propaganda.”
The piece relied on what it claimed were “two teams of independent researchers,” but the citing of a report by the longtime anticommunist Foreign Policy Research Institute was really window dressing.
The meat of the story relied on a report by unnamed analysts from a single mysterious “organization” called PropOrNot – we don’t know if it’s one person or, as it claims, over 30 – a “group” that seems to have been in existence for just a few months.
It was PropOrNot’s report that identified what it calls “the list” of 200 offending sites. Outlets as diverse as AntiWar.com, LewRockwell.com and the Ron Paul Institute were described as either knowingly directed by Russian intelligence, or “useful idiots” who unwittingly did the bidding of foreign masters.
Forget that the Post offered no information about the “PropOrNot” group beyond that they were “a collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds.”
Forget also that the group offered zero concrete evidence of coordination with Russian intelligence agencies, even offering this remarkable disclaimer about its analytic methods:
“Please note that our criteria are behavioral. … For purposes of this definition it does not matter … whether they even knew they were echoing Russian propaganda at any particular point: If they meet these criteria, they are at the very least acting as bona-fide ‘useful idiots’ of the Russian intelligence services, and are worthy of further scrutiny.”
What this apparently means is that if you published material that meets their definition of being “useful” to the Russian state, you could be put on the “list,” and “warrant further scrutiny.”