Wednesday Night #1955

Written by  //  September 4, 2019  //  Wednesday Nights  //  Comments Off on Wednesday Night #1955

[The] test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.
— F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Crack-Up”, February 1936

We are looking forward to Cleo Paskal‘s return this evening and to a lively discussion of the Modi government, especially recent actions in Kashmir.

In Poland on Sunday, the outbreak of World War II, eighty years ago was commemorated. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier asked for Polish forgiveness saying at a ceremony in the Polish town of Wieluń, where the first German bombs fell,”far too few” Germans knew the town’s history today. Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans marked the war’s outbreak at a ceremony in Westerplatte, a peninsula where Nazi German forces attacked a Polish military base 80 years ago.
Timmermans, who is Dutch, in his speech praised “the incredible sacrifices by Polish soldiers … who fought for six years to bring liberty to all of us.” He added: “I say this in gratitude on behalf of the European Commission and the European Union as a whole. But I also say this on behalf of the Dutch nation which was liberated, in part, by Polish soldiers.”
However, WW2 commemorations expose differences at heart of Europe
Trump’s last-minute decision to cancel his trip and send the vice-president, Mike Pence, in his stead (The Trump-sized hole in Warsaw’s wartime commemoration), along with German chancellor Angela Merkel’s last-minute decision to attend, means there was less potential for grandstanding speeches on Sunday. But in Poland and across Europe, a bitter debate continues to rage on what lessons to draw from the second world war.
Trump’s decision to stay home to monitor the progress of Hurricane Dorian would have been understandable had he actually done anything constructive, but the image of him playing golf two days in a row at his personal club over the weekend enraged his critics. And to top it off, he sent a message of congratulations to Poland (Trump Congratulates Poland for the Catastrophe of Its Invasion by Germany)

It is hard to pay attention to anything other than the live-from-London political psychodrama:
By early evening (ET) it was announced that Brexit Vote Goes Against Boris Johnson, and He Calls for an Election
Earlier on Tuesday, the Guardian reported that “Boris has lost his working majority in the House of Commons. A number of MPs against no deal came together across party political lines to try to stop it happening. They submitted a motion for an emergency debate to Commons Speaker John Bercow, and if successful, they will bring forward a bill that would force the prime minister to ask for Brexit to be delayed until 31 January, unless MPs approve a new deal, or vote in favour of a no-deal exit, by 19 October. More on Boris, Brexit & Britain

On the other side of the globe, the protests in Hong Kong have not diminished.
UPDATE: Hong Kong’s Carrie Lam formally withdraws extradition bill that sparked mass protests
(AP via Toronto Star) The announcement, live on television, came after Reuters reports on Friday and Monday revealed that Beijing had thwarted an earlier proposal from Lam to withdraw the bill and that she had said privately that she would resign if she could, according to a leaked audio recording.
“Lingering violence is damaging the very foundations of our society, especially the rule of law,” Lam said in her address on Wednesday.
Violence is rising on both sides after 3 months of protests. Over the weekend, Masked protesters wreaked havoc on Hong Kong airport and trashed railway station, forcing desperate travellers to head to city on foot.
The extensive reporting on the protests was almost overshadowed by reports (backed up by video) that [Carrie Lam] says she would ‘quit’ if she could, and fears her ability to resolve crisis now ‘very limited’
According to Australia’s, a Tuesday editorial in Xinhua states that China will put an end to the situation before October 1, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. “The end is coming for those attempting to disrupt Hong Kong and antagonise China.”

China – U.S.
Trump’s trade war has led to a historically weak Chinese currency — and a new study shows that the impact could spread globally
Time to revisit the Diplomatic Community session of mid-August with Jeremy Kinsman and Larry Haas on the topic.

Hurricane Dorian: as many as 13,000 houses severely damaged or destroyed in Bahamas Hurricane Dorian is expected to hurt cruise lines. Here are one analyst’s forecasts for how much profits will suffer. We like the suggestion that cruise lines send ships to the Bahamas to offer emergency accommodation and services
The National Hurricane Center warned in its 8 p.m. update on Tuesday that within the next 36 hours, most of the Southeast coast, from Jupiter in central Florida all the way to Surf City, N.C., faced “a danger of life-threatening inundation, from rising water moving inland from the coastline.” Storm surge warnings were posted for that whole region, with watches for areas on either side.

Leaked Draft of U.N. Climate Report Says Warming Oceans Are ‘Poised to Unleash Misery’
By 2100, the draft states that “annual flood damages are expected to increase by two to three orders of magnitude.” That means flood damages will increase either 100- or 1,000-fold — in a world where king tides are already causing cities like Miami to flood on a regular basis, and where Indonesia just announced announced a new inland capital because Jakarta is sinking. By 2050, low-lying cities and small island nations will face “extreme sea-level events” every year.

Sheer madness:
Texas gun law changes took effect one day after the deadly shooting near Odessa and Midland The laws open more opportunities for Texans to have firearms and store ammunition in public places.
After Walmart announced it would end handgun sales, discontinue sales on certain types types of ammunition and ask customers to not openly carrying firearms, the NRA tore into the “shameful” changes and accused the company of succumbing “to the pressure of the anti-gun elites.” The good news is that the grocery chain Kroger has followed Walmart – let us hope more major retailers will follow.
Harry Potter books removed from Catholic school ‘on exorcists’ advice’
Pastor at St Edward junior school in Nashville says JK Rowling’s use of ‘actual spells’ risks conjuring evil spirits

Good viewing
Douglas Lightfoot
advises: “We have just released our film, Nobody’s Fuel – an engineer’s guide to saving the planet. It is available on YouTube at :
It is also available at
He notes: “We have recently noticed that Michael Moore is backing a film critical of renewable energy. We believe Nobody’s Fuel would make an excellent primer for audiences, before this film’s debut.”

We hope this innovation will be picked up by major investors – the applications in so many places (think refugee camps) are vast.
Montreal teens create backpack that transforms into a shelter for the homeless – Armed with materials they bought at their local hardware store, Jones and Vutrano created a two-kilogram backpack that transforms into a shelter.

Good reads
An unusually long editorial from the NYT
Trump to Miners, Loggers and Drillers: This Land Is Your Land
From Alaska’s Tongass National Forest to Minnesota’s Boundary Waters, the Trump administration wants to despoil, not preserve, America’s resources.

Being Back: Foreign Policy as a Campaign Issue
When Justin Trudeau summed up his foreign policy in 2015 with the message to the world that Canada was back, the world—including the players who didn’t like it or didn’t care—knew what he meant. Since then, he’s been tweet-targeted by Donald Trump, sealed a major trade agreement with Europe and faces a crisis with China. Longtime senior diplomat Jeremy Kinsman looks at the politics of foreign policy four years later.

The Other Brother Duo That Brought Us the Modern GOP
Before the Kochs, there were the Pews.

We recently circulated the following to our economists and received lively feedback.
Ricardo Hausmann:  Don’t Blame Economics, Blame Public Policy
Engineering and medicine have in many respects become separate from their respective underlying sciences of physics and biology. Public-policy schools, which typically have a strong economics focus, must now rethink the way they teach students – and medical schools could offer a model to follow.
It is now customary to blame economics or economists for many of the world’s ills. Critics hold economic theories responsible for rising inequality, a dearth of good jobs, financial fragility, and low growth, among other things. But although criticism may spur economists to greater efforts, the concentrated onslaught against the profession has unintentionally diverted attention from a discipline that should shoulder more of the blame: public policy.

We find some of the statements disturbing, if not offensive, but this warrants reading.
This Is Your Brain on Nationalism
The Biology of Us and Them
To understand the dynamics of human group identity, including the resurgence of nationalism—that potentially most destructive form of in-group bias—requires grasping the biological and cognitive underpinnings that shape them.
Such an analysis offers little grounds for optimism. Our brains distinguish between in-group members and outsiders in a fraction of a second, and they encourage us to be kind to the former but hostile to the latter. These biases are automatic and unconscious and emerge at astonishingly young ages.

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