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

Semi-detached

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

Syria

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.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Thought for the weekend

Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times:

A recent trip to Dublin reminded me that political arrangements need not determine all human affairs: Ireland and Britain are more alike now than a century ago, when they were part of the same state.

President uses murky intelligence to make rash decision

Financial Times explains the finance minister imbroglio in South Africa --

Mr Zuma pressed ahead with firing his finance minister despite mounting opposition after the recall, including from the South African Communist party, the ANC’s allies in government, which said it had objected to his plans when he told its leaders on Monday. The president cited an intelligence report to accuse Mr Gordhan of plotting to undermine him, the SACP said on Thursday.

Luckily, outside Africa, there aren't any Presidents who are reading half-baked intelligence reports and jumping to unwarranted conclusions based on them.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Mixed Metaphors

Mark Durkan of the SDLP strikes notes of scepticism in a question to Brexit Minister David Davis on the Great Repeal Bill:

The great "download and save until delete" Bill will actually lead to a carnival of reaction, when, alongside the so-called bonfire of red tape, we will see Ministers competing in a demolition derby to reduce various rights and environmental protections. It is also a charter for dilution before devolution. Does the Secretary of State recognise that for some of us to trust Tory Ministers with the "holding and moulding" powers that he wants to give them would be like asking Attila the Hun to mind our horse?

Unexplainer journalism

Zack Beauchamp in Vox explaining Brexit implications -- shield your eyes:

The Schengen Agreement requires that every EU country agree to let citizens of other EU countries live and work within its borders. This led to a large influx of EU migrants to the UK, especially after poorer post-communist countries joined the EU in 2004. 

A correction got posted, but it's still a botched explanation of post-2004 intra-EU migration

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Quote of the day

Edward Luce in the Financial Times:

Mr Trump invited Carryn Owens, the Navy Seal's widow [from Yemen AQAP raid], to watch his address to Congress last month. She received a two-minute standing ovation from lawmakers. That emotional interlude garnered more airtime than anything on Africa's famine before or since. It was deemed by many in the media to be Mr Trump's most presidential moment.

Preposterous Quote of the Day

Jacob Rees-Mogg with a question to Theresa May during her Article 50 statement to the House of Commons:

Does my right hon. Friend recall the words of Francis Drake:

"There must be a begynnyng of any great matter, but the contenewing unto the end untyll it be thoroughly ffynyshed yeldes the trew glory"?

I wish my right hon. Friend good luck and good fortune in her negotiations until she comes to true glory and is welcomed back to this House as a 21st century Gloriana.

Brexit Special

One of the telltale signs of the behind the scenes drafting that went into Theresa May's formal Brexit letter is its avoidance of pairing the terms "deep and comprehensive." Instead, the letter three times refers to wanting a "deep and special" partnership with the EU, while twice also saying it wants a "comprehensive" partnership.

So why not just say "deep and comprehensive?"

Because that has particular meaning in EU trade deal nomenclature: Deep and Comprehensive agreements are what the EU signs under association agreements with countries like Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and potentially Tunisia and Morocco. That's not quite the glamour list that the Bad Boys of Brexit had promised.