Reading list for Friday, July 29, 2016: Open vs. closed, liberal smugness, and doomsday prepper manuals

The new political divide

“Farewell, left versus right,” reads the subtitle in this Economist article. “The contest that matters now is open against closed.”

I agree with the Economist’s stance, which is made clear in this excerpt:

Start by remembering what is at stake. The multilateral system of institutions, rules and alliances, led by America, has underpinned global prosperity for seven decades. It enabled the rebuilding of post-war Europe, saw off the closed world of Soviet communism and, by connecting China to the global economy, brought about the greatest poverty reduction in history.

A world of wall-builders would be poorer and more dangerous. If Europe splits into squabbling pieces and America retreats into an isolationist crouch, less benign powers will fill the vacuum. Mr Trump’s revelation that he might not defend America’s Baltic allies if they are menaced by Russia was unfathomably irresponsible (see article). America has sworn to treat an attack on any member of the NATO alliance as an attack on all. If Mr Trump can blithely dishonour a treaty, why would any ally trust America again? Without even being elected, he has emboldened the world’s troublemakers. Small wonder Vladimir Putin backs him. Even so, for Mr Trump to urge Russia to keep hacking Democrats’ e-mails is outrageous.

The smug style in American Liberalism


South Park poked fun at liberal smugness ten years ago in their episode, Smug Alert:

…and Vox’s Emmet Rensin writes that the wages of all this smugness is Donald Trump. You see it in articles like Gawker’s Dumb Hicks are America’s Greatest Threat, the clever mockery of the right that the Daily Show and The Onion produce, and the question we ask over and over again: Why are these people voting against their own self-interest?

The Smug Style of American Liberalism will be a challenging article for some people to read, but it’s an important one. It’s not a call to compromise values or back down on issues for the sake of going along to get along, but for empathy. Rensin hits the nail on the head when he writes:

It is impossible, in the long run, to cleave the desire to help people from the duty to respect them.

It’s too easy to live in our own bubbles and associate with people who are pretty much just like us, and that makes it easy to forget that everyone thinks they’re the good guy:

Confessions of a former apocalypse survival guide writer

One thing you’ll learn in this article is the value of writing to your audience:

The first time I bid on a freelance job to ghostwrite a doomsday survival guide, I was only asked one question: Did I have experience writing for middle-aged Republican men?

And of course, there’s a Florida angle:

I didn’t know anything about the client, let’s call him Dimitri, other than that he lived in Florida, and that he had about $600 for me if I could pump out 100 pages on how to survive the end of the world. The only way to make a living on writing projects at these prices is to do them quickly. In some cases, freelancers are asked to “spin” extant books—that is, to essentially copy the structure and content of those books but to make them new enough to reasonably (and legally) market them as new products.



Book of the day: “Are you there, Russia? It’s me, Donald.”

are you there russia - its me donald


The one on the right is a sleep specialist

the one on the right is a sleep specialist

Here’s a screen capture from Ici Radio-Canada Télé, the French version of CBC Television, the big public TV broadcaster in Canada. The title in the “lower third”, Améliorer le sommeil, means “Improving sleep”.


The year 1998, captured in a single photograph.



Florida of the day: You had one job


Here’s a newly-painted “SCOHOL” crossing in Deltona, Florida. I was always under the impression that those crossings were painted using a single stencil containing the complete word, but it would appear that they’re done by laying out single-letter stencils side by side. Still, it’s nice to see that they lined up the letters properly.


Florida of the day: It’s the 25th anniversary of the Pee-Wee Herman incident

pee-wee herman mug shot

Photo via The Smoking Gun. Click to see the source.

On July 26, 1991, Paul Reubens — better known to the world as Pee-Wee Herman, and at the time, host of a popular (and surreal) Saturday morning children’s show — was arrested for partaking in a form of onanism in a pornographic cinema in Sarasota County, Florida, a 90-minute drive south of my place.

For you younger readers: in the days before home internet, never mind home broadband internet and wifi, there were generally two ways to watch porn in 1991:

  • By renting or buying a videotape (DVDs were still 4 years away in 1991) from an adult video store
  • Going to a movie theatre that showed porn

That’s right, kids, once upon a time, the only way you could watch porn — and perform any ancillary activity — was in a public place. This started to change in the 1980s with the rise of video playback devices (first VCRs, then DVD players) and speciality cable TV channels, but even in 1991, XXX theatres were still a viable option for porn consumption.

The incident provided comedians of all stripes with lots of material. David Letterman remarked “Hey, Pee-Wee, have you never heard of a VCR?” and I remember the alt-rock station in Toronto dedicated this song to Pee-Wee every time they played it:

I also remember his appearance on the 1991 MTV video music awards after the incident, where he asked a very forgiving audience “Heard any good jokes lately?”

The Smoking Gun has commemorated this event today. In an age when all the porn you can eat is available on a device that fits in your free hand, the Pee-Wee Herman incident wouldn’t even have happened, and my 2016 sensibility is leading me to wonder why the cops would even bother looking for a non-crime like masturbating in an adults-only legal business that showed films specifically made for that sort of thing.


This ill-advised “hot lesbians” ad promoting Canadian vs. Saudi oil is real, and not a parody by “The Onion”

in canada lesbians are considered hot

My 13 year-old self would’ve thought “Advertising GENIUS!”.

In Canada lesbians are considered hot!” says the promotion that appeared on social media channels yesterday. “In Saudi Arabia if you’re a lesbian YOU DIE!


You may be surprised to learn that this ad is not the creation of a horny, heterosexual 13 year-old boy, but a purported adult named Robbie Picard, who also happens to be gay.

top us oil import countries

Many of my American readers, if asked where the U.S. imports most of its oil from would answer “Saudi Arabia”. They’d be wrong: the country from which the U.S. imports the most oil is its neighbor, Canada. In fact, Canadians provide Americans with almost 4 times the oil as the Saudis.

where the oil sands are

Most of Canada’s oil is in the Canadian province of Alberta, which sometimes gets called “the Texas of Canada”. The oil is contained in the Oil Sands, one of the world’s largest deposits of bitumen, a molasses-like form of petroleum, which is stuck in a lot of sandstone that’s been broken up to varying degrees.

oil sands before after

The Oil Sands are a great source of energy, profit, and jobs as well as a great source of environmental destruction. For the former, check out these then-and-now photos of Calgary, Alberta’s largest city. If you want to see the latter, just do a Google image search for “oil sands canada”.

ethical oil cover

Faced with growing concerns about the environmental effects of oil and oil production, conservative political activist, right-wing crank, and failed low-budget Roger Ailes wannabe Ezra Levant helped popularize the term “ethical oil” as a way to refocus the debate away from environmentalism and towards human rights. This is odd, considering Levant’s own battles with the Alberta Human Rights Commission and gleeful willingness to publish false stories about Muslims.

Like Levant, Robbie Picard is also a promoter of the Oil Sands who uses the ideas behind “ethical oil”. Picard is an openly gay, Métis (having both European and First Nations ancestry) man who’s considered to be the unofficial ambassador for Fort McMurray, a city located in the heart of the Oil Sands (it’s also been recently devastated by an incredibly huge forest fire). Like many people who live there, he came seeking his fortune in the oil industry. He was profiled just earlier this month in Alberta Oil.

Picard used to be associated with the I Love Oilsands campaign, but split off from that group to become independent, and now promotes the Oil Sands in the Canada Oil Sands Community Facebook group, which has about 14,000 followers.

When interviewed about the controversial promotion, Picard said:

“When I say lesbians are hot, I don’t think there is anything wrong about saying that,” he said.

“I think all lesbians are hot and I’m not opposed to putting a picture of two guys up there. It was just to strike up a conversation. I find anybody is hot. I think two women kissing is hot. I think that something that is part of the fabric of our city — that we can do whatever we want in our country — that is hot.”

Geez, not even Paris Hilton uses the word “hot” that much:

The National Post article on the matter ends with this quote from Picard:

“Some people really love it, some people are very upset. A lot of middle-aged white guys are the most upset, girls are laughing. It had a bigger response than I anticipated, but my intention was never to offend or objectify anyone. I’m going to have to think about what I’m going to do next.

Yeah, you might just want to do that, Robbie. There’s an argument to be made for spending oil money that enriches a place like Canada rather than Saudi Arabia, but the horny frat-bro man-child approach isn’t the right way to go about it.