After a lengthy trip to British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest, and seemingly endless jetlag, it is time to get back into the blog the way a pianist warms up. With some finger exercises.
Therefore, in no particular order…
The First Presidential Debate
This was a dismal affair.
I won’t comment about it, except to identify the howler of the night. No, it didn’t come from Trump, because although he uttered a great many lies and factual errors, most of them were consequence- and substance-free.
The worst lie of the evening was when Clinton twice blamed the global financial crisis on the Bush-era tax cuts and “trickle down” economics. Of all the liberal attempts to blame the GFC exclusively on free-market policies, this is the most absurd yet. There is absolutely no plausible chain of economic logic that can take you from tax cuts to housing bubbles. Even someone as economically ignorant as Clinton must know this.
Even worse was the fact that Trump was too dumb to call her out on this, just as he was too stupid to respond to her attack on his hoping for a house price collapse to benefit from the buying opportunity. The correct response, in both cases, would have been to point out the policies that led to the collapse, policies on which the Obama administration has been doubling down while Clinton applauds.
The sparring over Brexit has begun, even though the Brits have still not triggered Article 50.
It is very clear already that the fantasy of the Brexiteers, that they would be able to maintain access to the EU market without having to accept the free movement of people, is not going to materialize. As predicted by myself and others, the formerly communist EU countries have said clearly that they will block any deal that gives the UK access without retaining the free movement of people. And, since each member of the EU has a veto over the final agreement, this threat is entirely credible.
Although this has been the clear position of the formerly communist countries for a long time, I have only recently heard an argument for its economic, as opposed to political and negotiating, logic. A Polish economist recently noted that the only way for a Polish barista or construction worker to export his or her services to the UK is to move there physically. Therefore, it would be unfair to allow a UK manufacturing worker or banker to export his or her products and services into the EU freely while denying the same opportunity – through physical movement – to the Polish barista or construction worker.
This is important because, although there is raw power at the bottom of most negotiations, there is also the need for an intellectual fig leaf. And this is a pretty good one.
During the Republican debates, I was often tempted to write something about Ted Cruz. I could never fully understand why he was so hated. Sure, his religiosity is nauseating, even though – given his wacky parentage – it may actually be fairly sincere. And his speaking style frequently lapses into gag-worthy rhythms, particularly when he is shooting for earnestness. But he is obviously a smart guy and, on the issues, he was far from the worst among the Republican candidates. So, why was he so hated?
Well, with his endorsement of Trump, I now know why. As The Wall Street Journal pointed out in a recent editorial, Cruz is just too flagrantly opportunistic for his own good.
This is why The Economist recently quoted the former spokesman for his campaign as saying “I’m just trying to get this Cruz sticker off my car.”
Greg Ip from the WSJ recently had an article about a referendum in Washington State to introduce a carbon tax to fight climate change. I am in favor of a revenue-neutral carbon tax for the reasons I explained earlier.
A revenue-neutral carbon tax is precisely what is being proposed in Washington, leading to the headline in Ip’s article “A Carbon Tax Pitch That Doesn’t Hurt Growth.” However, this is the very reason why the proposal is being opposed by many on the left. In Ip’s words:
The resistance [to the referendum] comes not just from the usual opponents on the right, but even more strikingly from the left. The reason: Many environmentalists see climate change as an opportunity to remake the economic order. They want to use carbon taxes to fund renewable energy and green technology and bolster the incomes of workers and communities they say are most hurt by climate change. Whatever the merits of these goals, the effect is to equate climate policy with bigger government, which makes it harder to achieve broad-based support.
They just can’t help themselves.
If you ever had any doubts about the fundamental ineptitude of the Republican Party, then its failures with Asian-Americans should put these to rest.
The WSJ recently ran an article about the parties’ attempts to woo this ethnic minority, which although diverse is the fastest growing in America.
The article points out that as recently as two decades ago, Asian-Americans voted solidly Republican. In 2000, however, Al Gore won their vote by 14% and in 2012, Obama garnered 73% of the Asian-American vote versus 26% for Romney. Polls show Trump losing big among Asian-Americans.
It is hard to imagine an ethnic group more fundamentally inclined to a small-government, self-reliance, family-oriented and strong-defence message than Asian-Americans. Particularly when, as I have pointed out before (see “The Model Minority” here), leftist policies are clearly producing discrimination against Asian-Americans in things like higher education.
There are clear parallels here to the tortured relationship between the Republican Party and the Jewish community. I think that it is because, in both of these cases, the Republicans have been inept enough to allow the Democrats to paint them as generically opposed to minorities. This is quite an accomplishment when we are talking about the party of the Jim Crow south demonizing the party of Abraham Lincoln.
Proof that The Beatles are Overrated
I have long felt that The Beatles are massively overrated. Listen to their music and lyrics. Pure drivel.
I now have proof. Apparently, an artificial intelligence program has recently become the first to write a song. The article describes the song as “a catchy, sunny tune reminiscent of The Beatles.”
Logical mistake: this doesn’t prove that the AI program is “pretty good” as the article claims. It only proves that The Beatles are pretty shitty.
During my recent trip, I spent some time in Montana. There is a lot to like:
Tesla and Autonomous Driving
While covering long distances on interstate highways, I thought how nice it would be to have something like Tesla’s autonomous driving to take control in the wide open spaces. But then I also thought how a Tesla, with its limited range and refueling ability, would have been the absolutely last car that I would have wanted on this trip.
This is another idiocy of the Tesla value proposition, like the zero-emissions car with a “Ludicrous Mode” that allows it to go 0-60mph in 2.8 seconds, burning through tire rubber and battery charge as it does so.
A fundamentally silly vehicle produced, unprofitably, by a conman whose day of reckoning is fast approaching. And now Musk is talking about colonizing Mars when he can’t even design intelligent rear doors and seats in his SUV. What a pretentious ass, much beloved by the many kindred souls in Silly-Con Valley.
Trump’s Not-So-Blind Trust
This is another case where it is hard to tell if Trump is stupid or he thinks we all are.
When questions have arisen about potential conflicts of interest with his businesses if he is elected, Trump dismisses these by saying that he will create a “blind trust.” This is a time-honored method for elected officials to deal with this issue. It actually works, at least reasonably well, when the investments are in liquid securities which can, at least in theory, change the minute after investment decisions are handed over to the trustee. However, it doesn’t work when your investments are a bunch of high-profile buildings and businesses with your name splattered all over them, any sale of which would be widely reported.
In other words, there is absolutely no way for Trump to be unaware of, and therefore indifferent to, his investments during any presidency, unless he liquidates everything and converts his investments to portfolio holdings. Which he obviously has no intention of doing.
So, I ask you, is he stupid? Or does he think we are? Or some combination of the two?
Some Cultural Recommendations
The movie Hell or High Water is amazing and fully deserving of its 98% rating by Rotten Tomatoes. The dialogue is excellent and the two “buddy” relationships – one of the copy side, one with the robbers – are beautifully developed. Jeff Bridges, playing the lead copy, just gets better and better with age. In this one, he reminded me of the equally great Tommy Lee Jones in No Country for Old Men, both playing grizzled veteran cops too smart for their surroundings (although much less so in the case of Bridges, whose half-Indian, half-Mexican partner is his perfect foil). The movie also makes a fascinating book end with Bridges’ performance in The Last Picture Show, a film he made 45-years ago with an equally bleak presentation of small-town Texas life.
If there are any tennis fans who haven’t read Open, the autobiography of Andre Agassi, then you must do this immediately. An amazing life story, extremely well written. I am now tempted to read Pete Sampras: A Champion’s Mind, but I fear that it will be thin gruel after Agassi’s book. Sampras versus Agassi was a classic rivalry of opposites that played a huge part in Agassi’s career and life. This book also confirmed me in my opinion that tennis by far the most interesting major sport, in large part because it is almost uniquely one-on-one. Agassi talks at length of the “loneliness” of tennis, even more so than boxing, where at least your opponent is close up.
The HBO series The Night Of is starting out superbly. John Turturro is great as the washed-out lawyer seeking a moment of glory and redemption, and Riz Ahmed (who was superb in the absolutely hilarious Four Lions, which I have recommended before) is the hapless victim who, the series is now starting to hint, may not be as doe-eyed innocent as he appears. I love the back story of Turturro’s eczema. It seems to be telling us that as Ahmed and his family are getting screwed over by the American legal system, the medical system is doing the same to Turturro.
Weybridge, United Kingdom
I Wish That I Had Said That…
“Liberals have ominously relabeled themselves ‘progressives,’ forsaking a noun that had its roots in ‘liber,’ meaning free. To progress is merely to go forward, and you can go forward into a pit,” by Lionel Shriver, the novelist who wrote the very creepy We Need to Talk About Kevin.
“Christopher Hichens is to the Catholic Church and Mother Theresa what Michael Moore is to a ham sandwich: relentless, unstoppable and without fear. We love Christopher Hichens,” by Penn Jillette, in his Showtime documentary series Bullshit. Proving that there is no justice in the world, Hichens is now prematurely dead, while the Catholic Church just re-wrote their own rules to make Mother Theresa a saint prematurely.
“There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences,” by P.J. O’Rourke, the humorist
 This is the article in the Lisbon Treaty that gives the rules for a country exiting the EU.