Saturday, June 24, 2017

Outrage of the Day, a fortnight ago

Remember when Twitter users were tapping furiously on the nearest glass screen about how the greatest outrage in London was a New York Times headline that London was "reeling"?


From Ben Okri's poem about the tower block disaster, in the Financial Times:

But if you really look you can see it, if you really listen
You can hear it. You've got to look beneath the cladding.
There's cladding everywhere. Political cladding,
Economic cladding, intellectual cladding — things that look good
But have no centre, have no heart, only moral padding.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Brexit clarity

The media and gullible opinionators spent a couple of days discovering that the DUP actually does want to leave the European Union Customs Union -- a policy clearly stated in their manifesto and evident for months beforehand in their remarks on Brexit. Lest there be any doubt, Nigel Dodds set them to rest in the Queen's Speech debate --

We have, of course, heard some debate today about membership of the single market and the customs union, and we have heard talk about special status for Northern Ireland within the European Union. Let me make this very clear. I believe that when people voted, in the European Union referendum, to leave the European Union, they voted to leave the single market and the customs union, and I believe that Northern Ireland, along with the rest of the United Kingdom, must do likewise. We must not find ourselves allowing borders to be erected between the island of Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom; that would be totally unacceptable. We must be imaginative, flexible and pragmatic in ensuring that there is an open border, as frictionless as possible, between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. There are ways—sensible ways that have already been discussed —of ensuring that that can be made to happen, and it is in the interests of the Irish Republic and the European Union, as well as those of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, to make it happen. The great advantage with which we start is that everyone is saying that—apart from, I have to say, Sinn Féin, which is calling for special status within the EU for Northern Ireland. That has not been adopted or accepted by the new Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, by any of the parties in the Irish Republic, or by the EU negotiators. Everyone accepts that Northern Ireland’s priorities in relation to the land frontier must also be at the top of the negotiating priorities.

So: they want to leave the Customs Union, but they want a special arrangement for the "land frontier" with the Republic of Ireland to save them from the logic of that preference. Unfortunately, there are fools in Dublin who believe that the Irish government should step aside from the EU negotiation framework and give the Paisleyites what they want.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Opportunity Knocks

Financial Times on UK government formation:

The DUP's tough approach to negotiations has raised eyebrows in Westminster; one person familiar with talks labelled the party "short-termist fools".

Remember,  the Tories are at the mercy of Paisleyism because of an unnecessary election called on the basis of opinion polls. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Trucial Taunt

The UAE Ambassador to the USA had a prime spot in the Wall Street Journal op-ed page last week to lay out their side of the story in the dispute with Qatar. In Monday's paper, his Qatari counterpart has a letter in response ($). It's brutal --

... Surely his excellency also remembers that the U.A.E. was singled out in the 9/11 Commission’s report for its role in laundering money to terrorists, and that Emiratis, not Qataris, were among the hijackers who flew planes into the Twin Towers. ... he fails to mention that the U.A.E. financed the military coup that overthrew Egypt’s first democratically elected government, and that the U.A.E. allegedly bankrolled the coup plotters who attempted to overthrow the elected government in Turkey. ... It has become clear that the current campaign against Qatar is not about terrorism, Al Jazeera or any of the other issues highlighted by the boycotting nations. It is about Qatar’s independence, which some apparently view as a threat. We would like our brothers in the GCC to know that we are a threat to no one. But they should also understand that Qatar is a sovereign nation, and that we will not be bullied.

The dig about the alleged UAE rule in the abortive Turkish coup is particularly significant. This isn't going to end well. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Ian says out

Quite predictably, there is a "news" frenzy around the ostensible revelation that the DUP wants to leave the European Customs Union as part of Brexit -- even though this was clearly stated in their manifesto and has been mentioned by their MPs in the House of Commons for months beforehand. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Tough Republic

Nicholas Macpherson in the Financial Times:

But whereas Ireland managed to reduce its gross public debt from 86 per cent to 75 per cent of national income between 2010 and 2016, Britain's public debt carried on rising: from 76 per cent to 89 per cent.  In short, Britain never experienced austerity.


Wall Street Journal on the case of newly sanctioned ISIS operative Oussama Atar:

His extraction from Iraq wasn't only because of a humanitarian campaign because of his alleged chronic illness—which later turned out to be false—but also because the Belgian intelligence services sought to recruit him as a source given his contacts in the Moroccan-Belgian community, according to an official familiar with the probe. "The Belgians promised the U.S. two things—to never give him a passport and to put him under 24-hour surveillance. They failed on both accounts," the official said.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Gulf memories

New York Times, September 23 1990 -- 2 months after the disastrous all-round miscalculation that was the Saddam invasion of Kuwait:

The American strategy, carried out primarily by the State Department but approved by the White House, was based on the assumption that Iraq would not invade and occupy Kuwait. President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, who assured the Bush Administration that Mr. Hussein would not invade, argued that the best way to resolve an inter-Arab squabble was for the United States to avoid inflammatory words and actions. Some senior Administration officials said the strategy was also rooted in the view that Washington - and most of the Arab world - probably could live with a limited invasion of Kuwait, in which Iraqi forces seized bits of Kuwaiti territory to gain concessions. ''We were reluctant to draw a line in the sand,'' a senior Administration official said. ''I can't see the American public supporting the deployment of troops over a dispute over 20 miles of desert territory and it is not clear that the local countries would have supported that kind of commitment. The basic principle is not to make threats you can't deliver on. That was one reason there was a certain degree of hedging on what was said.''

Ireland 1 Italy 0

New York Times on Gianluca Tonelli's sometimes uphill struggle to bring pastrami to Tuscany --

But now he felt down about Italy, its economic prospects and culinary closed­mindedness. His dream, he said, is to put the truck on a boat to Ireland. “Nobody knows pastrami there,” he said, adding that it was a nation full of open­minded people, fiscal benefits and less cuisine elitism. “In Ireland the food is great until they cook it.”

Sunday, June 11, 2017


The Saudi Press Agency is providing more details (meaning more than zero) on the phone call today between 2nd Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in which Qatar was clearly discussed. There is no official US account, so far, of the phone call. 

One quintile to rule them all

Important article by Richard Reeves in the New York Times Sunday Review: the problem in American politics and social dynamics is not the Top 1 percent, it's the Top 20 percent. Besides the fact that we completely agree, Reeves doesn't note one additional point: The Pundit Class is in that Top 20 percent. 

They'll never have lunch on Massachusetts Avenue again

Bloomberg News --

The government of Qatar, blockaded by its neighbors and singled out for supporting terror in recent days by President Donald Trump, has hired the firm of former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft for services that could include lobbying, according to disclosures released by the Justice Department. Qatar is paying Ashcroft’s firm $2.5 million to represent it in connection with its efforts to combat global terrorism and comply with U.S. money laundering and counterterrorism financing regulations, according to the four-page contract filed under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires lobbyists for foreign clients to disclose information about their activities.

The tone of the news coverage seems to be, here we go again, the Qataris splashing out the cash on Washington lobbyists. But the actual news is that they were able to find any Washington lobbyist to represent them, given the squeeze being applied by the much deeper-pocketed alliance against them. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have written a lot of cheques to think tanks and pundits over the last 15 years, far more than Qatar.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

American Strategist in London

From May Co-Chief of staff Nick Timothy resignation statement assessing the campaign: 

It also failed to notice the surge in Labour support, because modern campaigning techniques require ever-narrower targeting of specific voters, and we were not talking to the people who decided to vote for Labour.

He means Jim Messina, the Obama campaign consultant expensively hired by the Conservative campaign. 

You'll never beat the Irish

In the Wall Street Journal ($), Ben Zimmer with a reminder that the now-common term Whataboutery, often seen as a Russian media/ troll tactic, actually originated in a different era, from the opinion section of the then troll-free Irish Times --

On Jan. 30, 1974, the Irish Times published a letter to the editor from Sean O'Conaill, a history teacher from the town of Coleraine in Northern Ireland. Mr. O'Conaill wrote of "the Whatabouts," his name for "the people who answer every condemnation of the Provisional I.R.A. with an argument to prove the greater immorality of the 'enemy.' "

Three days later, in the same newspaper, John Healy picked up the theme in his "Backbencher" column, citing Mr. O'Conaill's letter. "We have a bellyful of Whataboutery in these killing days, and the one clear fact to emerge is that people, Orange and Green, are dying as a result of it," he wrote.

The DUP and the Customs Union

It's relevant -- and fun -- to lay out the loony positions that the DUP has adopted on social issues over the years. But it's important not to lose sight of the DUP's stated position on Brexit, because it's central to the tension of their support for a government also reliant on Scottish MPs. The DUP wants to leave the Customs Union. They also want a frictionless border with the Republic of Ireland, but the issue is whether those two aspirations are compatible. Commitments in their manifesto include --

Progress on new free trade deals with the rest of the world 
Comprehensive free trade and customs agreement with the European Union 
Northern Ireland established as a hub for trade from Irish Republic into the broader UK market. Customs arrangements which facilitate trade with new and existing markets
 Jurisdiction of European Court of Justice ended and greater control over our laws restored

The aspiration to non-EU trade deals, special arrangements for Irish trade with the UK, and being outside the ECJ are all incompatible with membership in the Customs Union. Word games around this conundrum need to be watched closely in the coming months.

Incidentally, along with the dream of a hard Brexit that died yesterday, so did the dream of West Brexit i.e. Ireland following the UK out of the European Union, as explicitly demanded by West Brit trolls and coyly advocated by the opinion pages of the Sunday Business Post. With Britain now far more likely to stay in the Customs Union and probably even the Single Market, there would be zero logic for Ireland to have asymmetric trade relations with the UK compared with other EU member countries trade relations with the UK. 

Friday, June 09, 2017

Quote of the Day

Edward Carson in the House of Commons debate on the Government of Ireland Bill in the fateful run-up to World War I and suspension of Home Rule --

I say this to my Nationalist fellow countrymen, and, indeed, also to the Government: you have never tried to win over Ulster. You have never tried to understand her position. You have never alleged, and can never allege, that this Bill gives her one atom of advantage. Nay, you cannot deny that it takes away many advantages that she has as a constituent part of the United Kingdom. You cannot deny that in the past she had produced the most loyal and law-abiding part of the citizens of Ireland. After all that, for these two years, every time we came before you your only answer to us—the majority of you, at all events—was to insult us, and to make little of us. I say to the leader of the Nationalist party, if you want Ulster, go and take her, or go and win her. You have never wanted her affections; you have wanted her taxes.

England's Difficulty is Ireland's Opportunity

There is understandable unease about a DUP tail wagging the Tory dog in the formation of a minority Tory government. But there is a lot more good news than bad news in last night's results:

First and foremost, the Tory right/ DUP dream of a Hard Brexit is dead. The Conservative MPs now have an influential group of Scottish MPs sitting among them that will push for soft Brexit, and the Tories barely had the votes even before to dodge the controversial issues like Single Market and migration.

Second, there's a limit to what the DUP can extract from the Tories as a price for support. They are tied to a power sharing agreement with Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland, and the UK is a party to that agreement. If the Conservatives make too many concessions to the DUP for Westminster support, they will be destabilizing the intricate arrangements for running Northern Ireland.

And finally: is it really SF's position that on a Brexit deal vote within the next 20 months that would involve a hard border in Ireland, they would not take their seats and vote against it? Given the dramatic changes in electoral politics in the last couple of years, are they sure that a policy designed for 1918 is still the right one? 

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Irish Parliamentary Party

This evening might be a good time for Sinn Féin to reconsider its abstentionist policy in the UK House of Commons. Especially given that the DUP could otherwise have the balance of power. 

The world's saddest excuse

Financial Times election eve analysis including for UKIP:

The Eurosceptic party says its anti-immigration message is being taken more seriously after the terror attacks of the last fortnight, but it still faces what one party official called the "egregious partisanship of the Tory-supporting newspapers".

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Gulf Blowback

David Gardner in the Financial Times on the Qatar diplomatic crisis:

The absolute monarchies of the Gulf are not like, say, the Hashemites in Jordan, where the late King Hussein could run through 56 prime ministers in 46 years, useful scapegoats for misfired policies. The Al Thani are a dynasty as much as the House of Saud. They cannot be laid off without weakening dynastic legitimacy all around.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Quote of the Day

Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times on the closing days of the UK election campaign:

It is an unseriousness abroad, a failure to leave behind the Home Office itch to land favourable tabloid headlines, even when it comes to the highest matters of state, that augurs badly for her premiership. The overall impression from the past seven weeks is of a nation protected by the best of its citizens, and governed by merely the best available.

Monday, June 05, 2017

There's always a previous Trump tweet

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Explain this to a time traveller from 2001

That would be a Taliban Twitter account suggesting to President Trump, in a way that he might find convincing, that it's time to pack in the war begun 2 months after 9/11. The latest disasters in Kabul might also be a good time to recall that there's still no satisfactory explanation for the bomb explosion which killed the UAE Ambassador, among many others, in Kandahar in January. 


Reuters interview with head of the armed forces of Colombia, General Juan Pablo Rodriguez --

"Stabilization is very complicated, very difficult. Colombians have to understand it will take time." Rodriguez said. "I would say at a minimum in ten years we will be able to see how we've done and see more concrete results."

And that's a 10 year timeline for security results within his own country. Project accordingly for insurgencies with lots of cross-border interventions on all sides, and you get a sense of what to expect for the Middle East. 

UK election

With a week to go, a few unstructured thoughts.

One question is prompted by the narrowing of the Tory lead according to the polls. What's striking is the extent to which the Tory campaign mimics the mistakes of the Clinton campaign against Trump: assuming that the ostensible awfulness of Corbyn was sufficient of itself without having to make a positive case for their own leader, and underestimating the power of a simple but resonant slogan: Make America Great Again, meet For The Many, Not The Few. Indeed, the aping of the Clinton mistakes is so striking, it's almost as if the Tories have a Democratic "strategist" working for their campaign!

Another issue is the dementia tax. In the post-mortems on the small Tory majority, that will be seen as a pivotal moment in the campaign. How did they commit such an unforced error? For one thing, they found themselves the wrong side of how the public thinks about fairness relative to bad luck.

May clearly thought that the switch from Cameron's maximum out-of-pocket on old age care to a guaranteed minimum level of assets that you'd be left with after old age care was a winner, on the logic that rich people would have a more open-ended liability. But Cameron (who, yes, will still go down as the worst PM in British history over Brexit) did have an intuitive sense that people want a limit on how bad things can get for an unlucky family -- and would place a higher weight on that than level of wealth.

When it comes to such uncertainty, people apparently prefer a bad deal (things can get no worse than X) to no deal (you won't lose everything)!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Quote of the Day

From the FT blockbuster examination of the scale and scope of UK treaty renegotiation after Brexit:

For Mr Chizhov, the potential for bureaucratic overload has echoes of another time and place — Soviet Russia. "Brexit means Brexit is a very interesting expression," says the Russian ambassador, referring to Prime Minister Theresa May's mantra on exit. "It reminds me of Leonid Brezhnev saying, 'the economy should be economical'."

Monday, May 29, 2017

Revenge is a dish best served frothy

Since there's a thriving business now in analyzing every interaction of European leaders with Donald Trump, here's another: during her appearance in Bavaria at which she delivered her bleak assessment of the G7 summit, she also drank beer. The British media were apparently too busy with Diane Abbott's hairstyle to notice, since normally any choices of women leaders are subject to massive scrutiny.

But anyway, the point is -- Trump doesn't drink. For a would-be alpha male like Trump, she was sending a message.

Photo: Der Spiegel.

Democracy sells, but who's buying?

Wall Street Journal --

CARACAS, Venezuela— Goldman Sachs Group Inc. GS 0.48% bought about $2.8 billion in Venezuelan bonds that had been held by the oil-rich country’s central bank, a lifeline to President Nicolás Maduro’s embattled government as it scrambles to raise funds in the midst of widening civil unrest. The New York-based bank’s asset management division last week paid 31 cents on the dollar, or about $865 million, for bonds issued by state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela SA in 2014, which mature in 2022, according to five people familiar with the transaction. The price represents a 31% discount on the trading Venezuelan securities maturing the same year.

Note the Goldman Sachs trade strategy: for European democracies in 2008 and after, buying their bonds at knock-down prices associated with massive losses being passed on to taxpayers. But for imploding Venezuelan petro-socialist autocracy, that same knock-down price is better than the zero they should be getting, and keeps them in power.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Desert tensions

Reuters --

A United Arab Emirates government minister on Sunday warned that an alliance of Gulf Arab states was facing a major crisis and he said there was an urgent need to rebuild trust. Anwar Gargash, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, made his comments on Twitter less than a week after Saudi Arabia and the UAE signaled frustration at Qatar. Its state media published purported remarks by Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani criticizing Gulf rhetoric against Iran and suggesting strains between the emir and U.S. President Donald Trump ...  Gulf countries have made no official comment on the rift, which emerged after Trump's first visit to Saudi Arabia and his meetings with Arab and Muslim heads of state since he took office. But a war of words had escalated between Qatari media on one side and Saudi and Emirati media on the other.

Remember, the Saudi Arabia part of Trump's overseas travels is the segment of the trip that's perceived as a success. But even there, he seems to have left dissension in his wake,by taking ill-thought out positions on disputes within the region.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Quote of the Day

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, 2011 film version --

Percy Alleline: The Minister agrees with me that too many secrets are blown around here. Too much failure, too many scandals, too little solid intelligence. 
Roy Bland: Percy does have a point, 
Control. We should be fighting communism, not each other. 
Percy Alleline: Well, we're losing our reputation. Our partners.
Control: [scoffs] Your bloody Yanks!

He won it on a horse

Financial Times on the Manchester atrocity with the least convincing cover story so far --

Abedi’s father Ramadan, in an interview with the Associated Press before being detained by Libyan security forces, denied his son had ever been to Syria.However, he did say he had visited Libya a month and a half ago, and returned to Manchester only after winning a cheap ticket to perform a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. It is unclear exactly when he left the country.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

It's not just Trump

BBC --

The home secretary (Amber Rudd) adds that it was "irritating" that details about the investigation were leaked abroad. Some information on the case has flowed from the US. She says she has been "clear with our friends" that leaks should not happen again. 

UPDATE: Whoever the US intelligence leaker is, they are giving the big scoops to the New York Times.

Quote of the Day

Nicholas Macpherson in the Financial Times on the unsurprising -- but depressing -- embrace of Joseph Chamberlain by the May Tories --

Henry Campbell-Bannerman, Liberal prime minister between 1905 and 1908, and JM Keynes probably provide the most fitting epitaphs to Chamberlain’s career. The former said of him that he used “the foolishness of the fool and the vices of the vicious to overwhelm the sane and wise and sober”. The latter described him as a “fanatical charlatan”. It is a wonder that such a man can continue to have any influence today.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017


If anti-Semitism is the original sin of the mass killer, misogyny is not far behind. 

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Quote of the Day

Via Vincent Boland in the Saturday Financial Times:

Peter Leary, the author of Unapproved Routes, a new book about the border, says: "The interesting thing about the Irish border is that it was never designed to control the movement of people, but of things — cattle, guns. On an island-wide basis, it seemed to make sense to the people who created it, but that is much less the case up close. The closer you get to the border, the more complicated it becomes."

Friday, May 19, 2017

A friend in need

Irish Times Suzanne Lynch, part of the Irish-only chorus of criticism of Enda Kenny's St Patrick's Day visit to Washington DC --

Rather than stand up to Trump, the Taoiseach was surprisingly obsequious. He decided to invite Trump to Ireland – and while this has been spun as a given, it was a choice. He didn’t have to – German chancellor Angela Merkel for example didn’t invite him back to Berlin. It’s all the more peculiar given that the Taoiseach will no longer be in situ if and when the visit takes place. The bonhomie and banter displayed between the two men was excruciating – the contrast between Merkel’s formal dignified body language when she met Trump the following day and the back-slapping of the Irish couldn’t have been starker.

New York Times Peter Baker on how foreign leaders and diplomats have learned to indulge Trump --

Ms. Merkel invited Ms. Trump [Ivanka] to Germany to join a panel on women’s entrepreneurship. Ms. Merkel has also learned the value of simply staying in touch. While her meeting at the White House with Mr. Trump included an awkward photo opportunity that suggested coolness, she has kept in regular contact. When she planned to travel to Saudi Arabia last month, she called Mr. Trump first, ostensibly to ask his advice — counsel that after 12 years in office she hardly needed from a diplomatic novice.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The 5PM phone call

There are many inexplicable things about the Trump presidency, but among the most -- simply from a self-preservation perspective -- is why Trump was so slow to react to the obvious legal danger he was revealed to be in by the House intelligence committee hearings on March 20, when James Comey told the world -- and him -- that there was an investigation into his campaign's links to Russia. At that point, Trump should have lawyered up and quarantined himself from any further Russia entanglements. Instead, perhaps out of a belief that the whole thing was a creation of liberals and FAKE NEWS, he dug deeper. That's 2 months more of perilous utterances, and 2 months lost time in dealing with anything else. If he can't react to things in plain sight, how will he react to anything that requires perception and nuance?

Chris Cornell

Many fine Soundgarden songs, but one of the best was not on an album: this from the Singles soundtrack, here a live version.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Diplomatic Impunity

In the wake of the violence yesterday outside the Turkish ambassador residence in Washington DC, commentators seem surprised that non-American security personnel could be brazenly operating on the street,  in this case the security team of President Erdogan. Anyone surprised should look at the case of Orlando Letelier.

UPDATE: There's also a precedent from President Erdogan's visit to the Brookings Institution last year.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Brexit delusions, American style

William McGurn is a former George W. Bush speechwriter and very much a "respectable" pundit writing for a big-name opinion page, that of the Wall Street Journal. Here's part of his pitch for a Trump approach to Brexit, linked to the President's impending international visit --

By negotiating a model free-trade agreement with Britain, the president would boost Mrs. May’s chances of getting a better trade deal for Britain out of the EU.

Britain cannot negotiate a trade deal with any non-EU country as a member of the EU. That's not anyone's opinion, it's a simple fact, embedded in its membership. Thus his recommendation only makes sense if he envisions Britain crashing out of the EU without a trade deal, and then negotiating one with the USA before the EU in order to somehow extract a "better deal" with the EU. That's the kind of thinking that exists in influential circles in the USA, perhaps even with the ear of an impulsive President.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Never doubt Angela

Has there been a more wrong international politics narrative over the last three years than the claim that Angela Merkel (CDU) is facing imminent electoral doom over whatever is her latest "controversial" policy? North Rhine-Westphalia election results via FAZ (yes, that newspaper that British journalists can't read). 

Song for the Trump era

The song is actually from 2008 but its relevance has only increased.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Detour from the stepping stone

Irish Leader of the Opposition Micheal Martin mansplaining to EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier during his visit to the Dáil (lower house) last week --

It is important for Mr. Barnier to understand that Ireland’s approach to Europe and to international commitments is deeply intertwined with our national identity. Last year, we marked 100 years since the most important founding event of our Republic. The nationalism of the Rising of 1916 and the Proclamation of Independence is a generous one. It defines the Irish nation as having diverse elements and seeks a State which works with others. Our republican Constitution, adopted in 1937 at a dark moment in world affairs, goes even further and explicitly recognises the role of international law and co-operation. We have no nostalgia for a lost empire and no wish to assert superiority over others. We have never sought to stand apart from the world, jealously guarding the right to say no to everything. We fully understand that only when states work together they can secure peace, progress and prosperity for their people. That is why we will remain active and constructive members of the European Union.

Note first that his version of Irish history skips from 1916 to 1937. His next milestone is 1972, when Ireland's EEC membership referendum passed by 83:17 -- a date that in his telling, was the one year anniversary of the death of Sean Lemass, whom he gives the credit for the idea of joining the EEC!  Ireland joined the EEC in 1973, but he can't bring himself to mention a year that Fianna Fail was not in power. (Had he decided to go further in terms of milestones, he would have gone for 1998). Anyway, here's eminent historian Ronan Fanning's assessment of that 1937 constitution --

The paradox inherent in the 1937 constitution is that its architect designed it more as an end than as a beginning: its purpose was not to inaugurate a brave new world but to drop the curtain on the old world of the Irish Free State. Published on 1 May, approved by the Dáil on 14 June, endorsed by referendum on 1 July, it came into effect on 29 December 1937. It affirmed the Irish nation's ‘inalienable, indefeasible, and sovereign right to choose its own form of government, to determine its relations with other nations, and develop its life, political, economic, and cultural, in accordance with its own genius and traditions’ (art. 1) and declared that ‘Ireland is a sovereign, independent, democratic state’ (art. 5) whose head of state would be a president elected by direct popular vote to hold office for seven years (art. 12). Again de Valera shrank from the straitjacket of the republic, preferring to name the state ‘Éire’ (‘Ireland’) rather than ‘Poblacht na hÉireann’ (‘The Republic of Ireland’). This ambiguity, like the external relations act of 1936, wreathed Ireland's relationship with the commonwealth in a haze of uncertainty designed to deter British retribution that might entail the loss of rights of Irish-born citizens in Britain or, even worse, their enforced repatriation and the closure of the safety valve of emigration. When the name of the state was changed to ‘The Republic of Ireland’, moreover, as de Valera explained to the 1937 Fianna Fáil ard fheis, he wanted ‘to see it in operation, not for twenty-six counties alone, but for the whole thirty-two counties’ (Moynihan, 331). He also hoped that even a vestigial commonwealth link might make it easier to end partition in order that, as he naively explained to the British, ‘when Northern Ireland came in, the contact with the crown which they valued so highly should not be entirely severed’ (Fisk, 63).

Micheal Martin thus operates in a world (at least for public consumption) where pre-1937 Ireland couldn't engage in its own international relations. That's not true. Ireland signed a full international treaty on trade with Portugal in 1929 and in any event, the Free State had been successfully pushing to the limit the powers that it had in the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 and the evolving powers of all the Dominions.

The final irony is that, as Fanning explains, Dev couldn't actually write the Constitution that Martin claims he wrote because he feared that the Free State was too dependent on Britain to withstand a rupture of economic links. That constituency has resurfaced in the antics of the closet West Brexiters. Afflicted with Dev's vagueness on The Irish Question, Martin really needs to say if he thinks, as the West Brexiters do, that Ireland needs to conduct its own Brexit negotiations with the UK. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Photo of the Day

In the photo (by Mark Henle from the Arizona Republic), Obama-era Attorney General Loretta Lynch gives a speech on community policing in Phoenix, 28 June 2016.

So now you ask: how can this possibly be the photo of the day, for any day?

Because at the airport after giving that speech, she had a chance meeting with Bill Clinton, and that set off a cascading series of events, the latest of which is James Comey's sacking yesterday (Comey initially inserted himself into the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation because he believed that Lynch couldn't appear impartial after that meeting).

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Brexit supporter "had inconsistent opinions"

Financial Times review of the Pink Floyd show at the Victoria and Albert Museum --

The feeling that Pink Floyd had already lost their relevance by the end of the 1970s is dealt with crisply and summarily, with a replica of Johnny Rotten’s infamous “I Hate Pink Floyd” T-shirt. A notice informing us that Rotten subsequently confessed to loving the group seems a little po-faced; whatever the charms of punk were, intellectual consistency was not among them.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Quote of the Day

Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times:

If Mrs May irradiated all currency and gold reserves rather than hand over a pound to the EU, some genius would say how well it played with the crucial retired East Anglian home-owner demographic. This is the political class at its most inane. The problem is not the prime minister's failure to rise from electoral tactics to the national interest, but ours.

The Irish addendum to this is a noisy group of eejits centred on the Sunday Business Post opinion pages would claim that the latest act of May madness is further proof that Ireland cannot trust the EU and must negotiate directly with the Tory government. 

Sunday, May 07, 2017


Beside the fact that Donald Trump choosing Saudi Arabia for his first foreign visit is revealing in its own right, there are various signals (e.g. the remarks of the Saudi foreign minister in Washington DC when the visit was announced) that the visit will lead to another run at the "Arab Peace Initiative" as a potential solution to the Israel-Palestine issue.

This initiative certainly makes for "sounds reasonable" reading, but the origins of this initiative need to be remembered: it emerged in 2002, 6 months after 9/11, with eyes in the White House already looking at Iraq, and needing something that could realign Arab opinion given the centrality of the Palestinian issue up to that point.

And then some strange things happened. Tom "Air Miles" Friedman wrote one of his fantasy memo columns, published 6 February 2002, a letter from George W. Bush to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, King Abdullah of Jordan, Bashar al-Assad, and Hosni Mubarak, and the rest of the Arab League. That list of addressees tells you something.

Anyway, Friedman's fantasy memo proposed that Israel would withdraw to its pre-1967 lines in exchange for full recognition by the Arab world. There was some murkiness about what would happen to the displaced Palestinians, but that was glossed over.

Friedman then published a more famous column 2 weeks later, from Riyadh, where Crown Prince Abdullah (RIP) flattered his visitor by implying he was so clairvoyant about Saudi thinking that he must have broken into his desk -- because Abdullah was about to propose exactly what Friedman wanted at the Arab League summit in Beirut the following month. That proposal became the "Arab Peace Initiative" and the basic outlines have remained the same over the following 15 years.

Yet its provenance does merit some scepticism about its viability. From the appearances of the time, it was an idea that went from a New York Times opinion column into a proposal of monarchs and dictators while suiting the interests of the Saddam-obsessed White House. Donald Trump is not one for subtlety and nuance, but someone maybe should tell him where the peace deal that he's about to champion came from. 

Saturday, May 06, 2017

The singularity

On Macronleaks: normally we'd embed this tweet (via Le Monde) but that would be needless additional visibility for its denizens: a photo at a "Cinco de Milo" event featuring key propagator of the Macron campaign e-mail dump, Trumpist Jack Posobiec, with Milo Yiannopoulos (yes, that Milo) and an operative in the charming SlavRight movement, the bridge between Putinism and the western hard right. 

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Arabian Madness

We noted a few days ago the obsession with the sight of Angela Merkel's hair during her visit to Saudi Arabia -- an obsession, that is, for the Anglophone conservative media (Telegraph, Mail, Fox News).

Now there is a new twist. A highly predictable coalition of Russian twits, Islamophobes, and general purpose Arab haters is circulating an obviously photoshopped picture of Mrs Merkel's hair allegedly pixelated during Saudi TV coverage of her meeting with the King. Since there were widely available pictures of the meetings circulated by official Saudi news agencies and TV, it takes around 5 seconds of effort to establish that it's fake. 

Saudi Arabia of course has serious social problems. But for unclear reasons, it goes through spells as the Twitter troll army's Outrage Du Jour, facts be damned.

Logan's Run Economics, Again

The Wall Street Journal online editorial page for Thursday. Three editorials stacked on top of each other.

The first advocates for the US House Republican healthcare bill which makes it easier to exclude people with pre-existing conditions from the health insurance market.

The second celebrates the demise of a proposed tax on sugary fizzy drinks in Santa Fe.

The third celebrates the demise of a federal requirement that chain restaurants publish calorie counts on menus.

It's almost as if conservatives want working class people to be overweight, pre-diabetic, and not contaminating the debate about healthcare!

[Previously in this series]

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

The conservative central planners

Wall Street Journal editorial page angry at scare stories about pre-existing conditions --

This debate is also distorted by a misunderstanding of health risks. The actuarial probability that a healthy person will become sick is already priced into premiums, meaning it is true insurance for unknown future health outcomes. People with pre-existing conditions don’t need insurance—they need help paying for expensive treatment that is already known. High-risk pools are a fairer and more equitable solution to this social problem, rather than hiding the cost by forcing other people to pay premiums that are artificially higher than the value of the product.

Friedrich Hayek, The Use of Knowledge in Society (1945)  --

One reason why economists are increasingly apt to forget about the constant small changes which make up the whole economic picture is probably their growing preoccupation with statistical aggregates, which show a very much greater stability than the movements of the detail. The comparative stability of the aggregates cannot, however, be accounted for—as the statisticians occasionally seem to be inclined to do—by the "law of large numbers" or the mutual compensation of random changes. The number of elements with which we have to deal is not large enough for such accidental forces to produce stability. The continuous flow of goods and services is maintained by constant deliberate adjustments, by new dispositions made every day in the light of circumstances not known the day before, by B stepping in at once when A fails to deliver. Even the large and highly mechanized plant keeps going largely because of an environment upon which it can draw for all sorts of unexpected needs; tiles for its roof, stationery for its forms, and all the thousand and one kinds of equipment in which it cannot be self-contained and which the plans for the operation of the plant require to be readily available in the market. 

The WSJ perspective, which is widely shared by Congressional Republicans, is that healthcare is easily manageable problem that pesky liberals complicate. In fact, in sweeping aside concerns about adverse selection, moral hazard, and the constant flows of people through various health categories through more or less predictable events, they're the ones engaged in the Hayekian delusion about the simplicity with which this market can operate. 

Monday, May 01, 2017

Even Basil Fawlty could translate that headline

The FAZ story from Saturday that only arrived by pigeon post today.

Is Gisela Stuart not answering the phone?

This is the same Tim Shipman (now political editor of the Sunday Times) whose Telegraph story on the 2008 Obama transition was so, er, imaginative that the internal Obama team reaction was "Not even sure how to react to this article, since there's almost nothing in here that's accurate."

UPDATE: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has taken pity on the Anglophone media and posted the entire story online. The hacks will still need to know how to use Google Translate. 

There is no word in German for Schadenfreude

It is likely that the blinkered British media do not see the irony in being flummoxed by the FAZ story about the Juncker May dinner,  having reveled in the dubiously sourced and tendentiously interpreted version of the Merkel Trump meeting just a few weeks ago.

UPDATE: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has taken pity on the Anglophone media and posted the entire story online. The hacks will still need to know how to use Google Translate.

Woman "meets man"

Angela Merkel meets Saudi King Salman yesterday in Jeddah (beneath a particularly large portrait of King Abdulaziz). As usual, in contrast to the media frenzy around the dress code of American and British VIPs in the Kingdom, the German media seemed to have survived Mrs Merkel wearing a typical outfit. The indispensable Saudi Press Agency does report on the handshakes --

Then, she shook hands with Prince Saud bin Abdulmohsen bin Abdulaziz, Special Advisor to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques; Prince Khalid bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz, Advisor to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques; Prince Dr. Mansour bin Miteb bin Abdulaziz, Minister of State, Cabinet s Member and Advisor to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques; Prince Miteb bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, Minister of National Guard; ministers and senior officials. The King shook hands with members of the official delegation accompanying the German Chancellor.

Both countries are apparently doing well after these momentous events,

UPDATE: While the German media were busy covering Brexit, the sartorial freakout about Merkel's visit is in ... the Telegraph and Fox News!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Quote of the Day

Daniel Davies in the Financial Times with a financial sector perspective on Barack Obama as a for-fee speaker:

You don't pay $400,000 a speech because you want to hire President Obama — you pay it because you want to be the kind of guy who can hire President Obama.

Man "doesn't want to do something"

Ireland's culture of "controversy" reaches its reductio ad absurdum (RTE) --

Retailers who sell highly-realistic imitation firearms (RIFs) say they are opposed to any new law making them look less like real guns ... By far most controversial of all the options put forward by the Department is to sell only RIFs which are coloured pink or blue or some other shade, as is done in the UK, which might make them look more like toys and less realistic; in theory making them less useful to criminals. However, Mr Talbot said the retailers and players would be against that suggestion. He said it would do untold damage to the retailers’ business and the many facilities around the country running assault course sports.

The ability to spin any issue as being of crisis-worthy proportions for some interest is a key element of the country's dysfunctional politics. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Channel Tunnel Vision

Andrew Roberts in the New York Times Sunday Review --

If he does win, Mr. Macron will inherit a sclerotic, underproducing, overtaxed, absurdly bureaucratic, highly partisan country with a huge security problem. Napoleon was able to cut through all of those same problems by manipulating public opinion through a controlled press, muscling through votes in a largely appointed Parliament and simply imposing diktats once he became emperor of France in 1804. He could do this because he differentiated between a “popular revolution” led dictatorially by him and a “democratic revolution” dependent upon free and fair elections.

Andrew Roberts last year (Telegraph) on Brexit --

The popular uprising campaign was therefore not like the Poll Tax riots of 1990 but much more firmly in the mainstream of the long British tradition of legitimate peaceful protest. In this way, too, it was a more impressive achievement than the French Revolution, soaked as that was in blood. This popular uprising has toppled the established order without calling upon the tumbrel, the scaffold and the guillotine. It will secure its place in history as a result.

So when Britain changes its course, it's because of the wonder of an average person revolt. When France changes course, it's because of a manipulated media, a compliant Parliament, and rule by decree!

Curse of Trump

President Trump at his love-in with the National Rifle Association on Friday --

And, by the way, I want to thank, really, Heritage. And I want to thank also all of the people that worked with us. Where’s Leo? Is Leo around here? Where is he? He’s got to be here. Where is he? He has been so good. And also from Heritage, Jim DeMint. It’s been amazing. I mean, those people have been fantastic. They’ve been real friends. (Applause.)

He was referring to Jim DeMint, President of the Heritage Foundation, who is about to be sacked

Friday, April 28, 2017

Do the same results hold for Prime Ministers?

National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 23337 entitled Queens by Oeindrila Dube and S.P. Harish --

Are states led by women less prone to conflict than states led by men? We answer this question by examining the effect of female rule on war among European polities over the 15th-20th centuries. ... We find that polities led by queens were more likely to engage in war than polities led by kings. Moreover, the tendency of queens to engage as aggressors varied by marital status. Among unmarried monarchs, queens were more likely to be attacked than kings. Among married monarchs, queens were more likely to participate as attackers than kings, and, more likely to fight alongside allies.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Brexit spillover

Financial Times --

European leaders are preparing to recognise the potential for a united Ireland” within the EU, confirming that Northern Ireland would seamlessly rejoin the bloc after Brexit in the event of a vote for Irish reunification. In a step that may stoke concerns in Britain that Brexit could hasten the fragmentation of the UK, diplomats are planning to ask leaders of the EU’s 27 post-Brexit member countries to endorse the idea in a summit on Saturday. It would allow the province to follow the example of German reunification in 1990 and reflect the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which ended decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.

Besides signalling the momentous nature of what's at stake, this should shut up -- but of course, won't -- the noisy brigade in Ireland who claim that the government is somehow "not preparing" for Brexit. Everything that they've been demanding that can be done within the scope of Ireland's EU membership is being done. It might be time for them to admit that it's that scope which is the real issue for them.

Quote of the Day

Chris Giles in the Financial Times on the broader context for current UK election policy debates --

These are all important questions, but cannot be answered unless Britain decides the sort of country it wants to be. We are stuck in the middle without low US tax rates, without German public services and without even Italian productivity levels. Once, this compromise seemed to satisfy the public. That is no longer true. The public become angry with politicians who contemplate higher taxes, are furious that public services are under such pressure and become incandescent if anyone suggests productivity-enhancing reforms that involve building projects near their homes or foreigners improving the dynamism of the economy.

With a couple of twists, this is also Ireland -- a key twist being that the tax revenue from overseas multinationals somewhat softens the tradeoff between taxes and services.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Bobo lottery

Henry Farrell has a very good post looking at the debate about Barack Obama's first big fee-for-speech engagement, at Cantor Fitzgerald. Since it's oblique and ultimately unverifiable what exactly is being traded in these 6 figure gigs, an alternative sociological explanation for why Obama is doing it may be warranted: it's because he's a Bobo, and like the classic Bobo, he suffers from Status-Income Disequilibrium, as defined by David Brooks --

There are two sides to the status-income equation. On one end is the Monied Class, those with plenty of dough who can use it to acquire status. But I am concerned with the Titled Class. Historically, when we think of the Grand Titles, we think of Prince, Duke, Earl, and Baron. But in the age of meritocracy, the Grand Titles are Senior Fellow, Editor in Chief, Assistant to the Secretary. Or titles that include an employer's name -- the New York Times, the White House, Knopf -- in which case it scarcely matters which position the individual holds. The Titled Class has always resented and secretly envied the Monied Class. But for journalists, writers, and politicos, the pain now is acute. Until recently, a person who went into, say, the media understood that he or she would forever live a middle-class life. But now one need only look at Cokie Roberts or David Gergen to see that vast wealth is possible. Once it becomes plausible to imagine yourself pulling in $ 800,000 a year, the lack of that money begins to hurt. Furthermore, the rich used to be remote. An investment banker went to Andover and Princeton, and a radio producer went to Central High and Rutgers. But in the new media age, the radio producer also went to Andover and Princeton. The schlumps she wouldn't even talk to in gym class are bond traders on Wall Street with summer houses in East Hampton. The student who graduated from Harvard cum laude makes $ 85,000 as a New York Times reporter covering the movie business. The loser who flunked out of Harvard because he spent all his time watching TV makes 1.2 million selling a single movie script.

Barack Obama is in the titled class. All those academic qualifications, plus being an ex-President. But he's in the milieu of the monied class. As Brooks says in another rumination on the same topic, if not treated, that can lead to Sublimated Liquidity Rage. But a couple of these speeches plus a book deal -- problem solved. For him. For the rest of the Bobos, peering through that curtain to the front of the plane while the agitation grows behind them in steerage, the class conflict remains an open wound. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Quote of the Day

Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times on Emmanuel Macron --

The way back to power need not involve decades of self-examination in harrowing Davos anteroom symposia with titles such as A New Synthesis of the Progressive Centre. It can happen in a flash with the arrival of a class act.

Electoral rents

Bloomberg News --

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May has hired President Obama’s former deputy chief of staff Jim Messina for her election campaign, reuniting the winning team behind David Cameron’s unexpected victory two years ago. Messina and his colleagues arrived in London on Monday to begin work on May’s bid to secure a bigger majority for her Conservative Party and a fresh mandate for her vision of Brexit, a person working on the campaign said ....  Messina previously worked as President Obama’s deputy chief of staff for operations in the White House and served as campaign manager for the Obama 2012 re-election bid. Last year, he advised Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who took charge of a minority government in October. 

Another UK election, another season of imported strategists with special sauce and hocus-pocus, and another reminder of the need for a second look at the role that these strategists played in handling liberal causes in the US, given the evidence that, actually, their modus operandi is that you've got the money, I've got the time.

There is always a previous Trump tweet

Sunday, April 23, 2017

French election tweet-style summary

When the people are given more than 2 choices, they make better choices.

UPDATE 1: If a week is a long time in politics, two weeks -- the runoff campaign -- is an eternity.

UPDATE 2: A Macron profile from 4 years ago, with a projection of his rapid rise*:

Jacques Attali fait plus simple: président de la République dans vingt ans.

*over 20 years.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Herding and converging

On the eve of the French Presidential election (and doubtless to be repeated in June for the UK General Election), Nate Silver's hypothesis that pollsters are herding -- finding ways to be close to the polling average rather than where a pure application of polling methodology would take them -- is getting a lot of prominence.

There's one aspect of this theory that does not get enough scrutiny: it's not just a claim that pollsters herd close to the average, but they are more likely to do as the election date approaches. Key question: how close is the "end?" Consider for example the application by Léopold Mebazaa of Silver's hypothesis to the French polls. He uses a cutoff date of 25 February to determine whether the polls started to converge, on the basis that there were some big moves around that time (e.g. the Fillon indictment) that altered the race. But Le Monde notes that the analysis does not depend on that date -- you could pick a wide variety of dates and the polls would appear to be converging. That suggests that there's more than one thing going on.

For the purposes of this post, we want to zero in on the choice of date being based on assessment that big things were happening in the campaign around that time. How do we know they were big things? Because the polls moved! Thus the analysis is claiming that the polls became less variable after a date when they had responded a lot to news, which raises questions of when pollsters would be chasing the average and when they wouldn't -- after all, if each pollster knows of a "big news" event, why would be trying to stay close to a previous average?

Thus, the herding claim rests on a circularity that is inherent to the way Silver analyzes polls -- it says nothing about which kinds of news causes a move in the polls. You can analyze poll numbers to the Nth degree, but if you don't have a theory of how the public is filtering news into a poll response, it will only take you so far.

UPDATE: The herding claim doesn't fare well. The polls were converging to a very accurate prediction of the outcome!

Friday, April 21, 2017

When the noise becomes the signal

Financial Times on Tory election strategy:

Tory officials say that Sir Lynton and his campaign colleagues discussed on Thursday a blog by Nate Silver, the US elections statistician, who said that UK polls were "terrible" and that the UK snap election was "riskier than it seems".

Sir Lynton's tactics are not new. At the 2015 election he presented David Cameron as a bulwark of stability against the risk of another left-leaning coalition, depicting Ed Miliband as weak and at the mercy of the SNP's Nicola Sturgeon.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017


The Democratic Unionist Party Nigel Dodds with an intervention during the House of Commons debate on the June election motion

... Secondly, on Brexit, Northern Ireland’s position is different from that of the rest of the United Kingdom. That has been made clear in the Government’s paper, which recognises our special circumstances. 

A few sentences later in the same intervention --

Finally, this election will provide clarity on the big issue of how this country is to go forward. It will provide clarity on the Union that really matters: the Union of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Again, the people of Northern Ireland will have a clear choice on that issue. They will have a clear choice on whether to rally round and state firmly that they want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom or to go down the route presented by Sinn Féin, whose Marxist-Leninist concept of a republic has been rejected even by most of those who accept its nationalism. They reject the party’s economic outlook. The only way to support the Union is to rally behind the Democratic Unionist party on 8 June.

Notice his irony-free claim that Northern Ireland needs a special treatment in the Brexit negotiations, but that it absolutely is in a single Union with Britain! Dodds also showed no awareness that Theresa May had called an election partly because she concluded that even the slavish loyalty of the DUP to the Tories in parliamentary votes was just not enough of a boost to her 17 seat majority to actually matter. 

Crush the rebellion with one swift stroke

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Quote of the Day

Eric Trump, in an interview with Ireland's Sunday Independent, on the Trump-owned gold course in Doonbeg County Clare --

I don't discuss these things [North Korea] with the administration, no different that I don't discuss business with him, but he [Donald] is very firm and will not jeopardise the safety of the United States or the rest of the world for a lunatic who is in power. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

One question, implicit answer

Andrew Sullivan yesterday ponders the ethnic dimension of United's re-accommodated passenger --

Asian-Americans, like Jews, are indeed a problem for the “social-justice” brigade. I mean, how on earth have both ethnic groups done so well in such a profoundly racist society? How have bigoted white people allowed these minorities to do so well — even to the point of earning more, on average, than whites? Asian-Americans, for example, have been subject to some of the most brutal oppression, racial hatred, and open discrimination over the years. ...  What gives? It couldn’t possibly be that they maintained solid two-parent family structures, had social networks that looked after one another, placed enormous emphasis on education and hard work, and thereby turned false, negative stereotypes into true, positive ones, could it? It couldn’t be that all whites are not racists or that the American dream still lives?

Andrew Sullivan three years ago (and really, continuously since 1994), digging down to the core of what he believes about The Bell Curve (prompted by an onslaught from Ta-Nehisi Coates) --

It was only by reading – and checking – the actual data in The Bell Curve that I discovered what my educators had withheld from me. These differences really do exist; they exist outside the black-white paradigm (for example, the resilient IQ differentials between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews); the bell curve for Asian-Americans is higher on the IQ level than whites; and these differences are not entirely dismissed by accounting for socio-economic class or culture ... What the very title of the book refers to is a distribution curve, which proves that on the limited measure of IQ, many many African-Americans have far higher IQs than many, many whites, but that the bell curve peaks at a higher level for whites and even higher for Ashkenazi Jews and Asians.

Thus, when he's in Bell Curve mode, high-achieving Asians happen because they have higher IQ, and that in turn becomes a shield against the claim that it's only about whites having higher IQ than blacks, because after all, some Asians have higher IQ than whites. But when he's looking to score a point about social mobility not being intrinsically unfair to blacks, he drops the IQ angle and now Asians are more successful because of culture!

Quote of the Day

Kevin Gardiner, creator of the term Celtic Tiger, comments in an Irish Times article on the way the term took off --

“It made people cut corners and rely a little too heavily on the cliché. I am wary of how these phrases develop a life of their own and lead to short cuts. They make people views things in a less careful way and may contribute to some of the animal spirits – to use the phrase from [economist John Maynard] Keynes – and the circus around the phrase can have a little bit of an impact,” he said.

A similar analysis could be applied to the term Brexit.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The convergence

For an exhibit of this phenomenon, take a look at the Twitter feed of supposed leftist, occasional Assad visitor, and Member of the European Parliament Javier Couso. It's equal parts denialism and government propaganda on Syria and Venezuela. 

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Bashar's sarin stash

The case for the Lavrov-Kerry Pact in which Syria agreed to give up its chemical weapons after the regime attack on Ghouta in 2013 was not only that all weapons were given up, but also that Syria signed the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Obama officials are now being quoted along the lines of We always knew that the regime hadn't declared its entire stock, and might even still be running a chemical weapons program.

If only the Chemical Weapons Convention had a process whereby a signatory could be challenged to an inspection in the face of doubts about its compliance.

Er ...

Article IX

8. Each State Party has the right to request an on-site challenge inspection of any facility or location in the territory or in any other place under the jurisdiction or control of any other State Party for the sole purpose of clarifying and resolving any questions concerning possible non-compliance with the provisions of this Convention, and to have this inspection conducted anywhere without delay by an inspection team designated by the Director-General and in accordance with the Verification Annex. 

9. Each State Party is under the obligation to keep the inspection request within the scope of this Convention and to provide in the inspection request all appropriate information on the basis of which a concern has arisen regarding possible non-compliance with this Convention as specified in the Verification Annex. Each State Party shall refrain from unfounded inspection requests, care being taken to avoid abuse. The challenge inspection shall be carried out for the sole purpose of determining facts relating to the possible non-compliance.

Why didn't the Obama administration seek such an inspection?

West Brexiters and The Rock

Since actual arguments for #Irexit (Ireland leaving the EU) can't pass the laugh test, a proxy argument has emerged from similar sources that Ireland is not doing a good job in the negotiations for Brexit. Leave aside the basic legal flaw in this argument -- Ireland is in the EU and can't conduct its own negotiations. Being deployed is the case of Gibraltar and how it's dealt with the draft EU negotiation guidelines --

After the United Kingdom leaves the Union, no agreement between the EU and the UK may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between the kingdom of Spain and the UK.

This leads to claims such as in the Sunday Brexit Business Post today by Mary Regan that

Spain's diplomatic coup makes our own deal with the EU look fairly passive.

It's a bogus comparison.The core point is that Spain already has a veto over Gibraltar's future relations with the EU because once Gibraltar is outside the EU, Spain can completely close the land border, as it did prior to 1986. It could also make travel by air to the territory impossible. Post-Brexit, Gibraltar would simply be a non-EU British Overseas Territory, a Falklands-on-Med, and its relations with the EU would be only as good as London could get as an add-on to its exit deal. And given the choice between, say, slightly better EU market access for London financial services and a slightly more open land border for Gibraltar, which would the UK take?

Then there's the fact that the Spain-Gibraltar frontier currently is a hard border in Brexit terminology, because it has customs checks. Thus Spain can ratchet up from hard border to closed border to get what it wants. The Republic of Ireland has an open border and wants to keep it that way, and would only hurt itself by threatening something else.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

[Fake News] Arab Scientists perfecting Shariah in London!

In the currently fevered Islamophobic environment, it's not beyond possibility that this photograph will be circulating as proof of the ever-growing influence of Shariah law, showing that there's now a "Shariah lab" in London. It's actually a cancer research facility supported by the Emirate of Sharjah

Quote of the day, 2009 edition

Christopher Caldwell in the Financial Times assessing the intellectual legacy of Samuel Huntington, who had died at the end of 2008 --

Anyway, the west's increasing entanglement with Islam has not been the result of an increasing enmity. On the contrary. Viewed from Orthodox Christian civilisation, in Chechnya, Bosnia and Kosovo the west took the Muslims' side. It is curious that the west has shown so little inclination to ask whether it did not perhaps back the wrong horse. Western policy towards Islam did considerably more to produce Vladimir Putin than it did to produce Osama bin Laden.

Huntington's provocative (and easily decontextualized) observation that "Islam has bloody borders" perhaps needs a step the other side of the line to be recast as "Russia has bloody borders." With today's news that the perpetrator of the Swedish truck attack was Uzbek, following close on the heels of the news that the St Petersburg metro bomber was Krygyz, it seems that the legacy of the USSR's breakup and the forces it unleashed needs to be considered as much as the usual focus on the Arab world.

Friday, April 07, 2017


Two observations.

1. Russia is not above blanket denials of any behind-the-scenes support to nefarious allies while at the same time deciding that those same allies have become a tad inconvenient, leading to mysterious terminations. See most recently the case of Mikhail Tolstykh ("Givi").

2, Much like Trump calling for an investigation of classified materials that he could declassify at a moment's notice, Russia is calling for an investigation of a chemical weapons attack that if accusations are true, was launched from an airbase where Russian personnel are present. 

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Never mind Brexit, who won Jexit?

Why is Theresa May wearing a long coat on departure from Amman, Jordan, when Jordan is already in its late Spring weather pattern with highs in the mid-20sC? One style for Glasgow and another for the Middle East!

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Truth in advertising

French Presidential debate, closing question to all the candidates: How will you bring the French people together?

Opening sentence of response from Nathalie Arthaud, the Trotskyite candidate:

I do not want to bring the French people together. 

Not helping

Prediction: the US government response to the Syrian regime chemical weapon attack on Idlib will be to also bomb Idlib.

And that is not anything to do with Trump. It is a pattern set under Barack Obama.

UPDATE: The US has one feasible and credible punitive response to the use of chemical weapons in Idlib -- it could suspend its bombing of ISIS. That imposes direct costs on the Assad regime while saving lives of civilians caught up in the ISIS areas. 

West Brexit

Occasional columnist in the Toronto Globe and Mail and Irish public sector pensioner Ray Bassett is interviewed by the Irish Times --

Bassett says that he advised that Ireland should strongly support the then British prime minister David Cameron’s attempts to negotiate a new relationship between the UK and the EU before the Brexit referendum. “And I was told that wasn’t it, we had to show we were 100 per cent behind the EU,” he says. “I thought it was madness what we did – row in with Juncker and all those people.”

David Cameron's EU "new settlement" negotiations were first and foremost with his fellow heads of state in the European Council of Ministers, and especially with the eastern European members who had a big stake in any deal on migration curbs. European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker had an important but hardly central role on those negotiations. But he was the UK tabloid hate figure in those negotiations and aftermath. It's thus revealing that Bassett goes straight to his name in giving his view of that period. 

Monday, April 03, 2017

Not safe for workers

Lest there be any doubt, this tweet summarizes our views on #Irexit, the notion being peddled by a motley crew that Ireland should leave the European Union.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

London on Tiber

Andrew Sullivan in New York Magazine, borrowing without attribution from David Goodhart, and both with an indirect nod to Enoch Powell:

And unlike America, Britain, a small island, does not have a long history of mass immigration. Far from it. For centuries its population remained almost unchanged. In point of fact, Britain now gets more immigrants in a single year than it did in the entire period from 1066 to 1950. But when Prime Minister David Cameron asked Angela Merkel for some kind of brake on this unprecedented influx, he was told to go jump in the Channel. Meanwhile, mass immigration from non-EU countries has already transformed British culture at an extremely un-British pace. The most popular name for baby boys in Britain is now … Muhammed. It turns out, as Ben Schwarz elaborates, that there will not always be an England, at least an England as anyone before the 21st century would have understood it.