Thursday, January 28, 2021

The afterlife

Saudi Arabia Future Investment Initiative press statement --

Others scheduled to participate include ...  Lord Grimstone of Boscobel; Minister for Investment at the UK Department for International Trade; ... and Anthony Scaramucci, Founder & Managing Partner of SkyBridge Capital.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

He also is Mermaid Man in one Spongebob episode

A classic detail from the superb FT recounting of the last year in Brexit: 

To while away the tedious hours in Brussels, Frost and his exhausted team would sip whisky at the UK ambassador's ­residence. "There was one night we were discussing our favourite Batman — Frosty could only think of Adam West," says one British official. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Irish Blood, English Heart

From the truly bizarre White House 1776 report, where it sounds like reactionary American conservativism meets rant overheard at Irish bar in Washington DC --

British monarchs not only disputed one another’s claims to the throne but imposed their preferred religious doctrines on the whole nation. Gruesome tortures and political imprisonments were common. The Puritans proclaimed a “commonwealth” which executed the Anglican king. The executed king’s son proceeded to supplant the “commonwealth,” but because his brother was suspected of being Catholic, Protestants expelled him in the so-called  "Glorious Revolution" of 1688 that installed the Protestant monarch of the Netherlands and his wife as England’s king and queen.

Monday, January 11, 2021


There was an article briefly posted on the White House website which purported to blame state-level Covid-19 related business restrictions for the bad payroll numbers in December. The article has disappeared (here's the busted link). Blaming states for their attempted mitigation of uncontrolled spread  of a virus whose impact was constantly minimized by the President is ... interesting.  

UPDATE: It's reposted, but the headline message has been changed. The headline does not blame the states ("December job losses driven by state-enforced shutdowns"), it is now attributed to industries. 

Friday, January 08, 2021

Late to the party

There is attention of the "that's unexpected!" variety on the Wall Street Journal editorial calling for Donald Trump to go, preferably via resignation. The problem is, the editorial is rubbish.  It's not worth line by line analysis. But it starts: 

The lodestar of these columns is the U.S. Constitution.

But then it goes on to complain that some people say the 6th of January events prove he was unfit for office all along. Which it rebuts by reference to the 63 million votes that he got in 2016. Except that ... Hillary Clinton got more votes! If the metric is votes, he wouldn't be in office in the first place. So you can't say that your lodestar is the Constitution and what about his millions of votes -- they are constitutionally irrelevant.

The Constitution does not have a fit and proper test for the Presidency. So conduct in office surely matters -- that's what impeachment is there for.  So now their complaint is that the Democrats "abused the process" in 2019. Remember how the constitution is their lodestar? It says nothing about something "abusing the process" by applying it -- it's for Congress to decide what merits impeachment. 

The most that they can bring themselves to say about Ukraine is Trump was "ham-handed." But the only reason it didn't translate into Senate conviction is that some Senators (most notably Susan Collins) decided that he had learned his lesson from it. Which his phone call to Brad Raffensperger showed otherwise. 

This editorial is more about easing the consciences of people jumping off the Trump bandwagon at this late stage. But there's no way such a logical shambles has broader significance. It's not news. 

Monday, January 04, 2021

Putting the ME in media

Just one of the astounding exchanges in the Trump Georgia election phone call (transcript via Wall Street Journal) --

MR. RAFFENSPERGER: Well, Mr. President, the problem that you have with social media, they can – people can say anything. 

PRESIDENT TRUMP: No, no, this isn’t social. This is Trump media. It’s not social media. It’s really not. It’s not social media. I don’t care about social. I couldn’t care less. Social media is big tech. Big tech is on your side, you know? I don’t even know why you have a side, because you should want to have an accurate election. And you’re a Republican.

Sunday, January 03, 2021

Quote of the Day

Ludwig von Mises, Liberalism (1927):

This is the function that the liberal doctrine assigns to the state: the protection of property, liberty, and peace. The German socialist, Ferdinand Lassalle, tried to make the conception of a government limited exclusively to this sphere appear ridiculous by calling the state constituted on the basis of liberal principles the "night-watchman state." But it is difficult to see why the night-watchman state should be any more ridiculous or worse than the state that concerns itself with the preparation of sauerkraut, with the manufacture of trouser buttons, or with the publication of newspapers. 

Context: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is proposing a new layer of eligibility proof and associated penalties for when a vaccine is given out of "priority." The night-watchman state would seek to vaccinate as many people, as quickly as possible.  

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Burgundy over blue


It's truly Peak Telegraph that on the day before True Brexit, the sub-headline about Gibraltar doesn't spell Schengen correctly. Maybe it's the shock before the delayed realization that, like Northern Ireland, Brexit has put another EU neighbour in the driving seat regarding a border. 

Bonus points for the NHS-bashing. 

Image: screen capture 3.25pm before the hideous Pay-for-Outrage flash page takes over. 

Add to reading list

The New York Times article today about the unfolding process of realization in China a year ago about Coronavirus as the political instinct clashed with the scientific is interesting and has some new details. But in substance, it's very close to a lengthy Financial Times investigation from over 2 months ago. The FT article also involved some riskier local reporting, as a note at the end indicates. And both articles agree that there is a critical 2 weeks in the middle of January where President Xi is missing in action, which may also be the critical 2 weeks in scaling the virus up to a pandemic. 

Quote of the day

From an excellent Financial Times article on structural challenges of polling, Scott Rasmussen:

"Public pollsters are like bartenders that serve another shot of whiskey to a customer who shouldn't have it," he says. "I would hope that some analytical sites and political sites would display a little less certainty about what the polls [show]." 

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Economics not politics

DUP MP Sammy Wilson in the House of Commons Brexit trade and cooperation agreement enabling legislation debate today:

When it comes to a choice between joining the Irish Republic—a small nation which will bob about in the future storms of economic chaos—and being anchored to the fifth-largest economy in the world, which will prosper under Brexit, I believe that that choice will be an easy one for the people of Northern Ireland. 

That's a risky anchor for a  Unionist position. For one thing, it's a prediction that could be wrong! 

Monday, December 28, 2020

New variant stupidity

There are a growing number of countries saying something along the lines of: we have found Covid-19 infections traceable to travel from the UK and the new variant therein (VUI – 202012/01, B.1.1.7 lineage). Such a country is therefore admitting or claiming one or more of the following:

  1. Their system for ensuring no arriving travelers from UK are infected does not work.
  2. Their system for quarantining such travelers does not work.
  3. They have the ability to conduct a test for the Covid-19 variant discovered in the UK
  4. They have compared whatever test they ran on the suspected imported case with other Covid-19 variants already present in the country.

If you believe all that, we're glad 2020 hasn't crushed your optimism. 

UPDATE 29 December: If you want a model of the opposite of the above sloppiness ("we found the UK variant in a cluster with someone recently arrived from the UK!"), it's the press release issued by the office of the Governor of Colorado today, describing the first case of the variant in his state. It uses the scientific name for the variant, never refers to it as the "British" or "UK" variant (only that it's the same variant), notes the absence of any travel history of the victim, and precisely describes the test. 

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Brexit according to George, Ringo, Paul, and John

Or, the Beatles and their subsequent individual careers -- a Brexit-themed playlist. We've posted a few of these selections before, but the ideas keep accumulating! Links to Youtube. Chosen for their unintended topicality, lyrics about England's place in the world, intimations of sudden change, and spasms of doubt. 

The Ballad of John and Yoko

Helen Wheels (Paul McCartney and Wings)

Goodnight Vienna (Ringo Starr)

Penny Lane

Awaiting on You All (George Harrison)

Cold Turkey (John Lennon / Plastic Ono band)

Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey (Paul McCartney)

Back in the USSR

Give Ireland back to the Irish (Paul McCartney)

God (John Lennon)

Revolution 1

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Reading the EU UK Trade Agreement

 Page 535 (underline added) --

With respect to Investment liberalisation – National treatment and Regulatory framework for Legal services – Obligations: The EU: Treatment granted pursuant to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union to legal persons formed in accordance with the law of the Union or of a Member State and having their registered office, central administration or principal place of business within the Union, including those established in the Union by investors of the United Kingdom, is not accorded to legal persons established outside the Union, nor to branches or representative offices of such legal persons, including to branches or representative offices of legal persons of the United Kingdom. Treatment less favourable may be accorded to legal persons formed in accordance with the law of the European Union or of a Member State which have only their registered office in the Union, unless it can be shown that they possess an effective and continuous link with the economy of one of the Member States.

That seems highly significant for companies established in Northern Ireland and doing business in the Republic. 

Quote of the Century

Winston Churchill in the House of Commons, 16 February 1922 --

Then came the great War. Every institution, almost, in the, world was strained. Great Empires have been overturned. The whole map of Europe has been changed. The position of countries has been violently altered. The modes of thought of men, the whole outlook on affairs, the grouping of parties, all have encountered violent and tremendous changes in the deluge of the world, but as the deluge subsides and the waters fall short we see the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone emerging once again. The integrity of their quarrel is one of the few institutions that has been unaltered in the cataclysm which has swept the world.

Of course, this is a too-much cited quote and it's Churchill in his cranky reactionary Unionist phase. But ... he had a point, and if you change his reference from World War 1 to the pandemic and change Fermanagh and Tyrone to just about anything, he has a point again.

Example: Twitter is apparently outraged, again, that Gal Gadot is Israeli. And that Man U "dropped points" against Leicester. And some other third thing.

The speed with which people want to get back to regular aggro service, with the pandemic still raging, is amazing. 

Word of the Day

Reading the extended sea area forecast, as one does, one learns that there is something called a piteraq wind! Good Scrabble word. 


Friday, December 25, 2020

Brexit trade deal

There is a contradiction at the heart of the deal. In the outline of the deal that has been made available -- not the deal itself -- there are several references to how what has been agreed between the UK and the EU is better than in any other trade deal.

Which may be true.

In which case, the challenge of Brexit becomes even clearer. Because, if this deal is so much deeper than any other trade deal out there, then it's going to be impossible for the UK to conclude a trade deal with another partner which compensates for the market access that it has lost by leaving the Single Market and switching to a free trade deal -- as good as it is - with the EU. 

What other country or regional club, without the history of close integration with the UK, will be willing to grant a similar deal? 

Friday, December 11, 2020

Shakespeare's Henry V, St Crispin's Day Speech, Brexit Version

Scene: The English camp on the M20 in Kent, bound for #Dover or #Folkestone, and on to France.


O that we now had here

But one ten thousand of those men in England

That do work from home today!


What's he that wishes so?

My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin:

If we are mark'd to tariff, we are enow

To do our country loss; and if to trade,

The fewer goods, the greater share of quotas.

God's will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.

By Gove, I am not covetous for turbot,

Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;

It yearns me not if men my garments wear;

Such outward things dwell not in my desires:

But if it be a sin to covet control,

I am the most offending soul alive.

No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England:

God's peace! I would not lose so great an honour

As one man more, methinks, would share from me

For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!

Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,

That he which hath no stomach to this traffic jam,

Let him depart; his passport shall be blue

And euros for convoy put into his purse:

We would not wait in that man's company

That fears his fellowship to be stuck with us.

This day is called the feast of No Deal Brexit:

He that outlives this day, and comes home ever,

Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,

And rouse him at the name of BROCK.

He that shall live this day, and see old age pension,

Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,

And say 'To-morrow is No Deal Brexit:'

Then will he strip his sleeve and show his Kent Access Permit.

And say 'This paperwork I had on No Deal Brexit day.'

Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,

But he'll remember with advantages

What lay-by feats he did that day: then shall our names.

Familiar in his mouth as household words

Boris the king, Gove and Dominic,

Priti and Nigel, Rishi and Arlene,

Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.

This story shall the good man teach his son;

And No Deal Brexit Day shall ne'er go by,

From this day to the ending of the world,

But we in it shall be remember'd;

We few, we happy few, we band of lorry drivers;

For he to-day that looks for the nearest toilet with me

Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,

This day shall gentle his condition:

And gentlemen in England now a-bed

Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,

And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks

That queued with us upon No Deal Brexit day.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Significance of every word understood

From the Moroccan version of the King M6 / Trump phone call regarding the various normalization initiatives --

In his capacity as Chairman of the Al-Quds Committee of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, His Majesty the King underlined the need to preserve the special status of this city. The Sovereign also insisted on the respect of the freedom to practice religious rites for the followers of the three monotheistic religions, as well as the respect of the Islamic character of Al-Quds Asharif and Al-Aqsa Mosque, in accordance with the Al-Quds/Jerusalem Call signed by His Majesty the King, Commander of the Faithful, and His Holiness Pope Francis, during his visit to Rabat on March 30, 2019.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Saved you a click

Here's the Al Arabiya story from last month which contains significant details that seem to be confirmed by Saturday's New York Times revelation of a carefully timed hit on senior Al Qaeda leader Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah ("Abu Muhammad al-Masri") in Tehran in August. It's a reminder of the deep Egyptian roots of old-guard Al Qaeda. 

Sunday, November 08, 2020

How the Four Seasons Total Landscaping fiasco happened

1. The Hatch Act is suddenly being enforced: White House staff couldn't work on the campaign post-election legal strategy.

2. The Trump campaign is flat broke and most campaign staff and contractors are wondering if they'll get paid -- no one there available to help (example). So ..

3. Rudy was on his own. He asked an intern to find a venue. Rudy hasn't seen Philadelphia other than through a limousine window in 25 years, so he remembered that there was a Four Seasons on the Parkway at 18th Street, with a parking area and overhang facing the Parkway. And he wasn't going to spend the money on a hotel function room. So he decided to gamble on showing up at the hotel and having the news conference either right outside, or if asked to move, he would go to Logan Square across the street, either of which would convey the needed degree of "classiness."

4. So he told the intern, give everyone the address for the news conference as the Four Seasons Philadelphia, the one in the city near I-95. Make sure it's the address rather than the name of the hotel, since we haven't arranged anything directly with the hotel.

5. The intern had never been to Philadelphia, Googled the description, and found what looked like a Four Seasons fitting the description. Especially as, since the Four Seasons is no longer in the original location, the intern would have been stumped by how Rudy described it (it's now called The Logan Hotel). Rudy wouldn't know it, but the Four Seasons has moved to the new Comcast tower (the Technology Center) a few blocks away. A short distance, but no longer fitting the description on the Parkway, across from Logan Square.

6. At some point, they realized the mistake, but before they could reverse course, Trump had mistakenly tweeted the hotel as the venue, and they knew it would be be obvious they were trying to get access to a hotel grounds without paying. So they toughed it out.

UPDATE: Whatever about the facts of what happened, you won't read a better cultural analysis of the event than in the Financial Times by Joy Lo Dico

Saturday, November 07, 2020


 How it started

How it's going

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

Election 2020

Everyone probably has their own version of how an unexpected election outcome merely confirms their existing opinions. So with that pinch of salt, our existing opinion: Pundits and pollsters have failed to grapple with the role of polarization in elections, and especially the role of elections in driving polarization

Would Americans have been as polarized by Coronavirus if it was not an election year? 

The fact that pollsters have now major misses two USA presidential elections in a row is a warning sign that should be familiar to social scientists -- you think you are undertaking a statistically scientific estimate of some fixed underlying parameter, but the very circumstance that makes you want to estimate that number is also causing that number to be fluid! 

Another way to say this. Pollsters and polling analysts (one in particular) tend to think about "news" as something that causes a measurable shift in opinion. But there is no plausible "news" that explains what is emerging in the election outcome. It is more that the election result is itself news about the level of polarization.

To be slightly more technical, polarization is endogenous. It can't be measured by polling, because the polling is correlated with a cause of polarization.  

Election 2020

It looks like all those Trump Country articles and books should have been reported not from diners, but from Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. 

Monday, November 02, 2020

Quote of the Day

Spurs boss Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports (after win over Brighton) via BBC sport

First of all it's three points. When teams with more power and history, one of the top six let's say, has a difficult match against the others it is always analysed as the top team not playing well. It is time to give credit to these guys. Not just to Brighton, the majority of the teams. They are getting better, they are very well coached, the difference in quality of players between the teams is not huge. The game is very difficult for us, we beat a good team and it was very difficult.

If he's correct -- and we think he is -- then much of what dominates analysis of the Premier League is a total waste of time. The tendency to view the "Top 6" versus any other team  in terms of "dropped points," "slip-up," calls for the head of the manager, etc is a relic. The teams are close in quality. The edge is a bit of skill and a bit of luck, not some business as usual from the Alex Ferguson days. 

Sunday, November 01, 2020

Song of the Day


It's allegedly a Donald Trump favourite, specifically on account of the video.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

The distortion of politcs

This morning on CNN's State of the Union with Jake Tapper, interviewee is White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows --

MEADOWS: ... your Web site is talking about, well, now we think the spread is coming from small social groups and family groups. First, it was large groups. Now it's small groups. Now... (CROSSTALK) TAPPER: It's coming from all sorts of places. It's coming from all sorts of places, because the pandemic is out of control. 

MEADOWS: That's exactly the point. So, here's what we have to do. We're not going to control the pandemic. We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation areas... (CROSSTALK) 

 TAPPER: Why aren't we going to get control of the pandemic? 

 MEADOWS: Because it is a contagious virus. Just like the flu, it's contagious.

With full credit to Jake Tapper for getting and pursuing the key quote "We're not going to control the pandemic" -- there's nothing about the federal government Coronavirus strategy in that quote that we did not already know. Trump has said as much on multiple occasions, and it could discerned from actions, or the lack thereof. 

But, if the same statement had come from Meadows in a "leak," "tape," or similar format that would have lent itself to the screaming headline "REVEALED" treatment, it would be massive "news." While a factual statement to this effect is simply another hour in the news cycle. 

The divergence of meaning of plain English statements depending on whether or not the statements are seen as political is bizarre, and has itself been part of syndrome that made Coronavirus worse than it had to be.