ROBERT WRIGHT

Crisis, What Crisis?

More history, less hysteria

The Globe Pitches Left

Conspiracy alert.  Unseen forces are at work at the Globe and Mail.  Doug Saunders wants to take down the wealthy.  Charles Foran wants to demolish "the walls protecting careful constructions of dominance."  Margaret Wente now preaches about privilege.  Trevor Herriot proselytizes about believing in pie ("If you take too large a piece for yourself, someone else is going to go hungry.")  Not so long ago the Globe was Canada's answer to The Economist or the Wall Street Journal, an establishment paper only too happy to leave social-justice activism to other media.  Today we are witnessing a great migration—of classical liberals onto the shrinking island that is the National Post.

The Robot Debate

In 2013 the Guardian proclaimed that "the robot debate is over."  In fact, the question of whether robots threaten our humanity is in its infancy—trailing the "dirty little secret" that AI remains an elusive dream. Alarmists appear to have taken an early lead.  Columbia law prof Tim Wu thinks impersonation bots are so insidious that they should be outlawed as "enemies of mankind."  Prof Kathleen Richardson of De Montfort University, co-founder of Campaign Against Sex Robots, is actively recruiting grad students to the "abolitionist feminist" cause.  The robot threat is always imagined as ontological, but the solution is always political.  We do not need to be saved from our machines but from ourselves.

On Defective Genes

It is a painful and pathetic fact that whenever a new technology promises to safely correct "defective genes that cause inherited diseases," alarmist pundits are only too willing to invoke the spectre of "modern-day eugenics" and master-race scenarios heralding "global catastrophe."  (Remember Dolly, or stem cells?)  The latest cause for hysteria is the news that a team of American scientists led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov has successfully modified a human embryo using CRISPR techniques.  Mitalipov's top priority?  The eradication of cystic fibrosis and other lethal hereditary conditions.  A word to the alarmists: talk to people whose kids have perished from such maladies, or are doomed to do so.  Walk a mile in their shoes.

The Climate Crisis and JFK

It had to happen.  Writing in the Washington Post this week, veteran political analysts Larry J. Sabato and Philip Shenon managed to link the climate crisis to the JFK assassination.  Here's how.  The 1992 Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act mandated that thousands of files on the assassination and the subsequent investigation be released to the public in 2017, subject to the approval of the president.  But what if Donald Trump says no?  Many Americans "assume that if their government would not tell the truth about the murder of the president, it could not be expected to be honest about anything else—for example, human-caused climate change."  Breathtaking.

Alice Cooper's Mom

People who came of age in 1970s North America may recall the era as, well, morally lax.  Even now there is a hazy, Studio-54-styled nostalgia for the music scene in those years—particularly among septuagenarian rockers—that belies the seriousness of the infirmity, addiction, alcoholism, and violence that accompanied it.  No one is judging, of course.  But yesterday we learned that Alice Cooper owns an Andy Warhol masterpiece that he bought in the 1970s for $2500—and that it was his 92-year-old mother, bless her heart, who reminded him of it recently because she knew he'd been too wasted to recall it himself.  There's a lesson here.  Say no to drugs, kids, and always heed your mom.

On Anti-Americanism

Canadian historians spend a good deal of their classroom time deprogramming anti-Americanism—still very much a staple of our national psyche, to judge from op-eds like this one from yesterday's Toronto Star.  "War is complicated, something Americans have rarely been willing to concede.  They tend to see war as if it were the Super Bowl, a staged event with simple rules, omnipresent umpires and cameras, and frequent, scheduled breaks.  Everyone makes money."  There was a time, before Trump, before truthiness and the culture wars, when profs fretted about students' disengagement from the rigorous intellectual traditions of the West.  Such earnest handwringing seems almost quaint today.

Free Speech at Berkeley

Oxford professor Richard Dawkins has been a guest of KPFA radio in Berkeley, California, in the recent past.  Now he is persona non grata.  Dawkins has been uninvited to an appearance scheduled for August 9 because his "abusive speech" has "offended and hurt" religious believers.  Dawkins has responded with a sharp rebuke.  "I would seriously—I mean it—like to hear what examples of my 'abusive speech' you had in mind.  When you fail to discover any, I presume you will issue a public apology, which I will of course accept in a spirit of gratitude for what KPFA once was."  At 76, Dawkins is old enough to remember Berkeley circa 1964.  He shouldn't hold his breath waiting for an apology in 2017.

Korean Cold War

Koreans are facing a new Cold War—the escalation of an ossified politico-military stand-off that threatens to go nuclear.  Though you would never know it from cartoony Western portrayals of North Korea—"irrational, impossible to control, and therefore fundamentally dangerous"—the various actors in the region are playing out a terrible and terrifying history.  This is why South Korean President Moon Jae-in has offered to open a new dialogue with the North, and also why President Trump said in May that he would meet with Kim Jong-un "if the circumstances were right."  Time to dust off the old-fashioned (and much-disparaged) idea of détente.

Six Months In

Six months into the Trumpocalypse, Canadians have awakened to discover that the president's NAFTA demands are surprisingly tame, which is to say, a relief, requiring only a little tweaking from Canadian negotiators.  In the U.S., meanwhile, the Never Trumpers are drilling ever deeper into the Russia file, fine-tuning their impeachment strategies, and consoling themselves with the thought that the more sane Trump's policies appear, the more he will alienate his voter base and self-destruct.  We're lucky here in Canada.  Our politicians break their promises and it's no big deal.  Trump's "populist promises," on the other hand, "are starting to look fraudulent."

The E-Car Revolution

Big-city editorialists are so besotted with what they're calling the electric-vehicle revolution that they now write about it as a fait accompli.  It's the summer driving season—the perfect time to begin carbon-shaming the outliers: truckers, bikers, snowbirds, paramedics and firefighters, police, posties and couriers, farmers, campers, RVers and off-roaders, anyone with a long commute or a cottage or a distant family, anyone towing anything, people who like F150s, people leery about crashing into F150s, and more.  Forget about mere virtue signalling.  E-cars are about to become our defining social-class markers.

Liberal Defence Maneuvers

Linda McQuaig yesterday penned a saucy left-nationalist critique of the Trudeau Liberals' decision to boost defence spending.  She likened our PM to George W. Bush's "poodle" Tony Blair for allowing himself to be cowed by Donald Trump, and scolded Canadians who have taken it all in stride.  It's true that conservatives believe a rich sovereign country like Canada should pay for its own defence.  The main domestic pressure on Trudeau comes not from Tory hawks, however, but from progressives who want him to supplant Trump as the leader of the free world, or at least to continue to snub Washington on continental ABM schemes while quietly underwriting the European equivalent.

On "White Supremacy"

Two geography professors have recently co-authored an academic article decrying the persistence of “masculanism and white supremacy" within their discipline.  The impetus for the piece came from their "shared feelings of discomfort, frustration, and anger at the conduct of certain fellow scholars" whose misdeeds include "citation cartels" and the reproduction of "hierarchies of power" via "the interstices of capitalism, heteropatriarchy, colonialism, and whiteness."  North American newspapers have this week reproduced the profs' complaints, mostly uncritically, no doubt alienating geography majors who might be squeamish about abetting white supremacists on campus.