Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Heroes of the anti-establishment

From Russian Ministry of Defence website: Defenсe Minister of the Russian Federation, General of the Army Sergei Shoigu at a meeting with the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Myanmar, Senior General Ming Aung Hlaing.

That would be the same armed forces of Myanmar that engaged in massive forced displacement and ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslim population of Myanmar.

But this will do nothing to stop the adulation of Russia from a certain kind of free thinker who judges causes only by the roles of certain other countries in them.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Don't hold your breath

There was a news conference today in Riyadh to report on the progress in investigations by the Saudi Arabia/ UAE/ recognized Yemeni government coalition of incidents during coalition attacks in the Yemeni war resulting in civilian casualties. The only update given for the school bus attack in Saada earlier this week was that a team has been appointed to investigate. The rest of the news conference gave updates on other incidents, beginning with one that occurred on ... April 2015. The most recent land incident addressed was in September 2017, and the report concluded with the findings about the attack on three ships in Hodeidah harbour in May 2018. The conclusion in that last case was that the ships were booby trapped and a legitimate target, and in all other cases except one, the conclusion was that given the presence of Houthi forces around the incident, the attack was legitimate no matter who was killed. And in the single case of admitted error (an air-to-ground missile attack on a car), the excuse is that the error was unintentional, whatever that means. 

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Quote of the Day

In the FT Weekend, Arthur Beesley returns to Ireland to look at the state of the Catholic church on the eve of the visit of the Pope and the memories of JP2 in 1979:

As for that first splendid papal visit, [Mark Patrick] Hederman suggests that, rather than some kind of a high-water mark for Catholicism, it can now be seen more as an act of self-preservation by church leaders. "The hierarchy knew this was in decline, and so John Paul II was brought in as a kind of last-ditch stand to stop the dyke from bursting. So it wasn't as if it was a triumphalist display of Catholic Ireland at its zenith. It was that they knew."

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

There goes another trade deal

Boris Johnson, before his current burqa-bashing days, giving a Brexit-boosterish speech in Bahrain in 2016 --

I don’t know whether our Kuwaiti friends want to claim credit for all City Hall’s policies – including the popular cycle superhighways which we are now extending but when you consider that we have 20,000 Gulf students in London and they are very welcome may I say, as are their fees when you think the academic exchanges, the cultural exchanges you can see why London is sometimes called the eighth Emirate. I think I may have made that up myself, but we’re proud of it. And of course we get the ball back over the net in our own modest British way - Brits pay 1.7 million visits to the Gulf every year.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Quote of the Day

Financial Times, in the context of Jeremy Corbyn position on trade deals as influenced by Labour head of trade policy John Hilary:

A former trade policy analyst who worked alongside Mr Hilary during the 2000s said: "To call John's worldview Manichean would be to give it greater nuance and flexibility than was justified. In his mind there is only one mental compartment to put business or trade deals in, and it's one labelled 'exploitative capitalist bastards'."

Friday, August 03, 2018

But he'll make an exception for this one

Andrew Sullivan, whose silly season instincts are strong, has pounced on the Sarah Jeong "outrage." But here is describing his own writing philosophy -- in response to a charge of anti-Semitism:

I'm a writer who doesn't much care for political correctness, of policing discourse for every single possible trope or code that someone somewhere will pounce on as evidence of bigotry. I've gone out of my way as an editor and writer to stir things up - on race and gender and culture and sex - and I have never been one to worry excessively about the sensitivity of others.

Friday Night Slights

From Jeremy Corbyn's latest attempt to signal his position on tackling left anti-Semitism --

This has been a difficult year in the Middle East, with the killing of many unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza, and Israel’s new nation-state law relegating Palestinian citizens of Israel to second-class status.

Note that his definition of "Middle East" is within the territories of Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza strip. It appears, therefore, to not include Syria.

Which does make it much easier to describe why it was a difficult year in the Middle East!

Photo of the Day

Jordan's King Abdullah takes a meeting with French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, wearing his military fatigues.

via Petra

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Non-transitive haters

Reuters --

As tensions peaked last week, Israel shot down a Syrian warplane that it said had strayed into the Israeli-occupied Golan and warned Assad’s Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah reinforcements against trying to deploy on the Syrian-held side. But Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman sounded more upbeat on Thursday as he described an Assad win as a given. “From our perspective, the situation is returning to how it was before the civil war, meaning there is a real address, someone responsible, and central rule,” Lieberman told reporters during a tour of air defense units in northern Israel. Asked whether Israel should be less wary of possible flare-ups on the Golan - much of which it seized from Syria in a 1967 war and annexed in a move not recognized abroad - Lieberman said: “I believe so. I think this is also in Assad’s interest.”

It is going to be fascinating to see whether the self-styled contrarians who love Bashar al-Assad and hate Israel, and switch effortlessly between those two themes, will be able to reconcile themselves to Israel being, actually OK, with their beloved Bashar staying in power. If nothing else, easing the Israel hate in line with Bashar's modus vivendi would make their dual stances look a little bit less on the edge of anti-Semitic.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Hair of the Dog

Vladimir Putin meeting Russian diplomats on Thursday --

With all the difference in views, we agreed [with Trump] that Russian-American relations are in an extremely unsatisfactory state. In many ways, even worse than during the Cold War. Of course, it would be naive to believe that the problems accumulated over the years will be resolved in a few hours. But no one expected it.

Donald Trump at the post-summit news conference --

But our relationship has never been worse than it is now. However, that changed as of about four hours ago. I really believe that.


Wall Street Journal ($) with the processology of the Trump flight home from Helsinki --

Bill Shine, the newly minted deputy chief of staff for communications and a former Fox News executive, voiced concern that the White House needed to provide a new TV image so that networks would stop broadcasting images of Mr. Trump's news conference in Helsinki, a person familiar with the matter said.

Mr. Trump would heed that advice, making a televised statement from the Cabinet Room during a meeting with lawmakers that was originally supposed to be closed to the press. Mr. Shine didn't respond to a request for comment.

Which is a good example of the Fox News methodology and the role of visuals and assumed media laziness in it: TV will keep running the latest clip until ... they get another clip. Which would work fine if everyone was in "move on" mode. But Trump can't help himself, and Fox News is thus less able to help him. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

If only there'd been someone there to speak for Ireland

Kate Hoey, in the House of Commons yesterday, one of the three Labour defectors forming the Tory government majority on the soft-Brexit wrecking amendments --

The right hon. Gentleman [Sammy Wilson, DUP] is quite right; there seem to be an awful lot of people who do not really understand what goes on at the [Irish] border now. Why would anyone who supports Northern Ireland even think of voting against new clause 37 tonight? The new clause clearly puts it out there that we want Northern Ireland to be treated the same way as the rest of the United Kingdom, so in voting against it, people would actually be supporting the Republic of Ireland.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Occupy Montgomery County

New York Times profile of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh --

But as with any nominee, Judge Kavanaugh and his supporters are carefully shaping his narrative for the diverse Senate and the broader American public: his mother the judge, not his father the lobbyist; his parents’ early struggles, not their second homes in the Florida Keys and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore; his service as a children’s sports coach and a Catholic volunteer, not his participation in some of the most bitter partisan fights in recent times. They do not let on that Judge Kavanaugh is by legacy and experience a charter member of elite Washington: His family’s government-centric social circle, his two summer jobs on Capitol Hill, his White House service, his golfing at the capital’s country clubs, his residence in one of the richest suburban enclaves in America. Nor do they note that Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination is the culmination of a 30-year conservative movement to shift the judiciary to the right.

If you rely on liberal punditry for your world view, you might want to second-guess the Move along folks nothing to see here stance of those pundits on Richard Reeves' Dream Hoarders which was published around this time last year. Yes, we're repeating ourselves, but one topic that has been shuffled to the dark side of the moon is the path to high opportunity through the ranks of the upper middle class -- not the 1 percent -- and the political consequences thereof. 

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Question Point

Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times ($) theorizing that what makes a stereotypical "British" accent novel to the American ear is not the intonation per se, but the absence of uptalking/ upspeaking:

Upspeak in excess can be unlistenable. I have given up on an otherwise illuminating podcast about American politics because the hosts pile slanted sentence upon slanted sentence, sometimes ten in a row, each cresting a bit higher until the final words are lost on all but our canine friends.

He's too polite to say that he surely means the Vox Weeds politics podcast, a self-admitted den of Harvard-influenced uptalkers. 

Moscow Mailbag

Donald Trump might be feeling shy about asking Vladimir Putin to extradite the Russian agents named in Friday's indictment for the DNC hack. He had no such shyness in 2013 when he was demanding that Edward Snowden be extradited to the USA to face charges for the NSA leak, and he used multiple opportunities to link his demand for Snowden's return to Trump's own trip to Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant in November 2013. The above tweet is just one example. Incidentally, the Moscow trip is the one with the infamous allegation about that tape. But tape or no tape, can't Trump at least tweet a request for the extradition of the Russian government hackers?

Thursday, July 12, 2018

God Bless England

Donald Trump in the already infamous Sun interview --

We presented him with an England shirt when we interviewed him at the US Embassy in Brussels on Wednesday, ahead of the Nato summit. “Oh wow. I love gifts,” he said, happily obliging our photographer Paul Edwards by holding the personalised top up with a trademark grin. “You don’t hear the word England as much as you should,” he continued. “I think England is a beautiful name.”

Trump at the National Day of Prayer in May --

Jon and Richard, you are a living testament to the power of prayer. (Applause.) Your story reminds us that prayer changes hearts and transforms lives. It uplifts the soul, inspires action, and unites us all as one nation, under God. So important. And we say it here. You know, a lot of people — (applause) — they don’t say it. But you know what? They’re starting to say it more. Just like we’re starting to say, “Merry Christmas” when that day comes around. (Applause.) You notice the big difference between now and two or three years ago? It was — Paula, it was going in the other direction rapidly. Right? Now it’s straight up.

In his world, there are forbidden words like God, Christmas, and England, and that animates his politics, and no doubt, his supporters. 

That new Brexit plan in full

Er, that's it!

But seriously, that's figure 1 from the Brexit white paper chapter on institutional arrangements for the UK - EU relationship. An amateur Powerpoint chart with none of the boxes yet filled in.

Damascus Gate

The al-Assad / Maduro fanboys are so certain in their worldview that there's not much that could disrupt it, but one wonders if they ever do a moment's reflection on why, if Bashar al-Assad is so great, and Vladimir Putin is so great for supporting him, that Benjamin Netanyahu and Vladimir Putin seem well aligned on where things are headed? Above, Netanyahu popped into the Kremlin on Wednesday before heading to the England v Croatia match. 

Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy

If your view of American conservatism is that it's all driven by 1 percenters, then you're going to be a tad surprised that Brett Kavanaugh, Supreme Court nominee, is, in cash terms, broke. The incipient faux-scandal to cause a pothole for his nomination is that he's been running up revolving debt on a credit card to pay for, gasp, major league baseball tickets. But as we've gone hoarse (metaphorically) stating, if you think there's a political salience to the distinctive role of the upper middle class in American politics, then it's all completely unsurprising. Kavanaugh is asset-rich, cash-poor, and exhibit A for status-income disequilibrium, a Brooksian category with which much of liberal punditry refuses to engage. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018


Brilliant cinematography in From Russia With Love as the train journey from Istanbul through eastern Europe is conveyed through station signs and alphabets, with Zagreb being the first one in the Roman script. A subtle way to convey the diversity of what was then one country, Yugoslavia.

Bobos in minivans

Liberal pundits have their blind spots. None is more obvious at the moment than their ability to pivot from ridiculing attempts to draw attention to the upper middle class as a group politically relevant to America's polarization (see the reactions to Richard Reeves and David Brooks) to being outraged at favourable media coverage of Trump's US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh drawing from his professors at Yale and his carpool parent friends.

Of course, if you're an actual Marxist, it's easy: Kavanaugh is simply a bourgeois tool of the all-controlling 1 percent whose own views and lifestyle are inconsequential.

But without that lens, you're looking at the politics and trying to figure out: how is it that amid all the possibilities and Trump volatility, the Ivy Leaguer, the diligent Catholic school parent with his own upbringing of "deferred gratification" parents, and yes, the reliable carpooler, came out of the mix? The horrible possibility is that it's the political power of that class that keeps them in the top layers of government even with severe cross-currents below.

UPDATE: The Tiger Mom (Amy Chua) endorses Kavanaugh on the basis of her daughter's (a Yalie) successful judicial clerkship with him!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Up the Republic

Donald Trump, capping what rolling news endlessly hyped as his Supreme Court "reveal," referred to the Constitution as "the Crown Jewel of our Republic." Which reveals that he doesn't understand that two words in there are direct contradictions of each other. 

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Pictures came and broke your heart

Not that we needed proof of Donald's Trump co-dependence with cable news, but he woke up this morning, like every morning, expecting to be the dominant topic, and he wasn't. So he had to find a way to enter the drama. 

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Her darkest hour

Financial Times on latest Theresa May sales pitch for her still unseen commercial borders plan --

An EU diplomat said Mrs May was asking her European allies to put pressure on other European leaders and Brussels to make sure her Brexit white paper was not rejected out of hand when it was published next week. “She wants to ensure it is not shot down straightaway,” said one EU diplomat. “She doesn’t want to be fighting on two fronts.”

Is it really a good idea to be presenting your tactical problem to a group including Germany in terms of the difficulties of a two-front war? Of course, if she wants to take that analogy seriously, you pick the front where you can score the more rapid victory first.

Monday, July 02, 2018

Middle class drinking

Bild --

Am Samstagabend hatte Merkel Innenminister Horst Seehofer noch ins Kanzleramt eingeladen. Bei Wasser (Seehofer) und Wein (Merkel) versuchten sie, in ihrem erbitterten Asylstreit eine Lösung zu finden.

Saturday night, Angela Merkel met with her turbulent Interior Minister Horst Seehofer to discuss the asylum crisis.

He drank water. She drank wine. 

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Magic orb

From Saudi Press Agency, the oblique palace version of the Trump - Salman phone call which Trump says resulted in agreement that Saudi Arabia would raise oil production by up to 2 million barrels per day:

The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud received a telephone call from President Donald Trump of the United States of America. During the meeting, they discussed the distinguished relations between the two countries, as well as discussing developments in the region and the world. During the call, the two leaders stressed the need to make efforts to maintain the stability of oil markets and the growth of the global economy, and the efforts of producing countries to compensate for any potential shortage of supplies. 

There's nothing about 2 million barrels, and nothing about any specific commitment on any country to do anything -- producing countries could just as well refer to the United States!

Among other things, Trump doesn't realize that if he creates an expectation that there is a 2 million barrel per day increase coming, which does not materialize, the price of oil will go ... up!

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Princely stroll

William Windsor and Jordanian Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah take a casual-clothes walk through Jerash yesterday.

Photo via Petra.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Quote of the Day

Rana Foroohar in the Financial Times --

Two of the richest counties in America sit outside our nation’s capital, which is now stuffed with boutique hotels and top-notch eateries. There are 34 billionaires living within a 25-mile radius of the city. Even the fashion seems less dowdy to me that it used to be (though here I must be a superior New Yorker and say that it amazes me that you still occasionally catch women wearing toast-coloured stockings). All this might be good for those of us who must live or work in the beltway, but it’s terrible for making and enforcing good policy.