Gleanings and Observations

News you might have missed:

A hotel and spa in Arizona has this item on its food service menu: Best Friend Protein Bowl, served with 5 ounces of Arizona prime beef or free range chicken with farro grains and mixed steamed vegetables and bottled water on appropriate petware. $18.

Britain’s Prime Minister, Theresa May, responding to a report that more than three million of her countrymen often or sometimes feel lonely, has appointed a Minister for Loneliness. The head of one British charity estimates that loneliness is worse for health than smoking fifteen cigarettes a day. The problem is faced not only by older people, but by university students who lock themselves in their rooms for days “because they feel rejected,” commented one nurse. This is obviously a market Mark Zuckerberg has overlooked: he wants to connect all the people in the world.

In Ethiopia trains on a new railway are operating at half speed because of the danger they seem to create for camels. Not because the animals designed by a committee are trying to slow down a competing means of transportation by a new competitor, but because the government doesn’t understand the power of incentives. According to the Economist the government reimburses the owners at twice the market price for each animal. One herder lost 15 camels in a particularly horrific “accident”. Another says his family lost 35 camels in a collision with a train.

Some things just don’t pass the smell test. In Holland two expert tasters rate the herrings at over 100 shops across the country. An economist was surprised when his local fishmonger rated zero. So he ran the numbers. One of the judges was also a consultant to the Atlantic Group, a herring distributor. Ben Vollaard, an economist at Tilburg University, found that whereas the overall average score of the stores was 5.5, those supplied by Atlantic rated 8.7. This was due largely to their superior scores on the subjective part of the test. Surely there is something rotten in the state of Holland.

Oxford students, led by members of the Rhodes Must Fall campaign, are demanding that the university repudiate its imperialist past by taking down Oriel College’s statue of Victorian imperialist Cecil Rhodes. The authorities are considering an alternative. They propose to erect a copy of the statue and invite students, including those attending on Rhodes scholarships, to write graffiti, including swear words, across it. One of the leaders of the Rhodes Must Fall campaign has accepted a £40,000 Rhodes scholarship to study law at Oxford.

Which is a reminder that the voting for the new hypocrisy award is now open. The nominees are:

Xi Jinping, who topped his performance of claiming world leadership in the fight to prevent climate change while at the same time having China finance the construction of 700 coal plants around the world. At his country’s annual Boao Forum for Asia-a sort of Chinese Davos-he “portrayed himself as a champion of free trade and world order” according to the New York Times, and a champion of openness. Three problems. First, when China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001 it promised among other things to open its insurance markets to international competition within five years. It recently repeated that promise. The world waits. Second, the call for openness ran into a bit of a problem when the distinguished audience found that access to Facebook, Twitter, and Google was barred by Chinese censors. Third, a rival for the award immediately appeared; Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund rose to say, “I congratulate you, Xi Jinping, . . . for the openness you have celebrated and advocated.” Sad that the world’s leading advocate of free trade is unaware that China’s barriers to trade are among the world’s most pervasive. If she is aware, then she surely is in the running for the sycophant of the year award.

The Moguls of Silicon Valley. Immediately after the 2016 election, Google executives gathered their troops, live and via whatever international communication came to hand, for an all-staff meeting to address “a lot of fear” that CEO Sundar Pichai sensed in the ranks. Chief financial officer Ruth Porat urged everyone to hug the person next to him or her-presumably without violating any company rules on harassment. All that the company stood for-ample visas for foreign workers to make up for shortages of American workers whose wages were depressed by Google’s agreement not to poach its rivals’ staff; relying on tax-payer subsidized renewable energy-was threatened. That was then.

Then came the Trump tax cuts, which would fatten the after-tax earnings of the company and lower personal taxes on the hard-working staff. Gary Shapiro, head of the Consumer Technology Association, of which Google is a member, told the press that Trump “has been great for business, and really, really good for tech . . . This isn’t Hitler or Mussolini here.” That’s a relief. More like Lady Bountiful.

Gavin Williamson, British Defense Secretary: It seems that two British citizens who fought for the Islamic State, during which service they tortured and killed Western hostages, including Americans, are being held by the Kurds. The British have stripped the men of their citizenship and don’t want them back in the United Kingdom. But they are insisting that the Kurds cannot turn them over to the U.S. authorities unless we agree (1) not to seek the death penalty, (2) to try them in civilian courts, and (3) not to take them to Guantanamo. Otherwise, the Brits will withhold evidence prosecutors here would need. Too evil to be allowed back into the country of which they were citizens. But the Brits will defend their rights as the British Defense secretary defines those rights – so long as they are made available in America, not in the U.K.