Friday, September 18, 2020

Written long before Coronavirus, fits very well with Coronavirus


Worried about the status of his ski-season European gabfest invitations


Saturday, September 12, 2020

Coronavirus observation

We are where the WHO feared back in February that we would be if widespread mask-wearing became a major plank of pandemic strategy: masks have a become a substitute, not a complement, for other pandemic precautions formerly known as social distancing. Public health measures have targeted the more obvious non-distancing arenas (e.g. restaurants) but all sorts of social consumption and social leisure activities have popped up in their place -- not to mention the Veblen intersection of those two activities: conspicuous consumption. 

"But we're wearing masks!"

Hope you're all geared up for a winter of home-schooling.

Al Qaeda agrees that 9/11 was about Israel

Mike Pence at the White House Israel / Bahrain recognition announcement

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Mr. President, I can think of no more fitting tribute to the heroes that were forged on this day 19 years ago, and all the heroes that were forged on battlefields ever since, than to see this peace agreement announced today. 

Saturday, September 05, 2020

Outside avocado toast land

Excellent Wall Street Journal article on successful corporate adaptations to Coronavirus concludes:

Christy Johnson, who left her job as a consultant at McKinsey when her daughter was born, said many talented professionals are overlooked because they can't work 60 to 100 hours a week out of offices in New York or San Francisco. She started Artemis Connection, which provides business strategy advice to midsize companies, to tap this underutilized pool. All 40 of her employees work from home, from California to Wisconsin to Turkey. 

"If you go to nonurban areas, there's amazing talent hanging out," she said.


Saturday, August 22, 2020

Fighting the last war


The Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi and his delegation packed into a meeting with Donald Trump and his delegation at the White House on Thursday. No masks, and just two women at the table. 

Photo via Iraqi PM's website -- transparency!

Thursday, August 20, 2020

If it ain't broke

Wall Street Journal,  reporting on the perfect segue from Paul Ryan's vacuous "deficit hawk" political career:

Paul Ryan, the consummate Washington negotiator, is trying his hand at another kind of deal making, jumping into the rush on Wall Street toward blank-check acquisition companies.

The former House speaker will serve as chairman of a vehicle known as Executive Network Partnering Corp., which will seek to raise roughly $300 million in an initial public offering, people familiar with the deal said. That figure is subject to change based on demand. 

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Claude Rains in Dublin

 The Google photo album from Berlin D2, the Dublin "restaurant" that was discovered to be a raucous drinking establishment, is hilarious. Check out the "Soup of the Day."

Friday, August 14, 2020

Pilgrimage Diplomacy

 Donald Trump, explaining his breakthrough agreement with the UAE and Israel yesterday --

This deal will allow much greater access to Muslims from throughout the world to visit the many historic sites in Israel — which the Muslims want to see very badly and have wanted to see for many, many decades — and to peacefully pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is a very special place for them.

There is lots for Palestinians to worry about in this deal, but this particular point is up there. If Israel is able to present the deal as broadening access of Muslims to Al-Aqsa, that could be a useful distraction from the restricted access of Palestinians to Al-Aqsa. Ultimately, it could be a front for isolating the Palestinian capital behind the security barrier: after all, Muslims will have more access to the Old City, right?

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The sociology of News


Niklas Luhmann, The Reality of the Mass Media (1996) --

Apart from reports about norm violations, there is also a preference for the extraordinary (the 'alligator in local gravel pit' sort), which take normally expected circumstances as their point of reference and are perhaps better assigned to the entertainment sector.

[previous Luhmann post]

Sunday, August 09, 2020

It's not about language

Andrew Roberts in the Wall Street Journal, reviving the Anglosphere idea, in this case, Canada, Australia,  New Zealand,  UK:

They are, moreover, racially diverse, multicultural countries with a long history of working together, including the period when their military collaboration was, in 1940-41, the sole force on the planet that resisted Nazi totalitarianism. 

Leaving aside the bigger problems, even purely technically, this is wrong.  Greece never stopped resisting, and was never fully conquered. 

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Fox offers to rebuild henhouse

 Lebanon National News Agency --

the Iranian ambassador said that "the support of the Islamic Republic of Iran to Lebanon will continue, not only through the provision of humanitarian aid in terms of medicine, medicine and foodstuffs, but also will include the restoration of Reconstruction in the port, the damaged buildings, and everything that can be provided to support the people and the government in Lebanon. "

Friday, August 07, 2020

The Beirut unknowns


One of the many aspects of the Beirut port disaster. This is the list of deceased issued by the Ministry of Health. There are still at least 13 unidentified bodies, and that doesn't include the victims not yet found. 

Breaking the law

Simon Kuper in the Financial Times from 3 weeks ago, and now only more relevant --

Trump has helpfully uncovered bits of the American system that need fixing fast. What were unwritten norms before him could now become laws. All future presidential candidates should be obliged to divest their assets, release their tax returns and report foreign attempts to meddle in an election. Presidents should lose their power over federal prosecutors, and over inspectors-general who act as watchdogs of cabinet departments. Presidents shouldn’t be allowed to pardon criminal associates like Roger Stone.

This is a critical point: norms need to become laws. Much of American political reporting is driven by adherence to, and supposed breaches, of norms. Maybe in some past time, this had a real enforcement quality to it, as the norms had a critical mass of acceptance. 

But two things happened. 

First, the appeal to norms became more absurd as conservative media learned how to play the game. Norms as ridiculous as: presidents shouldn't wear tan suits, shouldn't drink orange juice in diners, and shouldn't have their own e-mail servers became scandal cycles -- the last one potentially altering an election. 

Second, Trump showed that you could blow through any conceivable definition of norms and still win elections. The icing on this particular cake: he's now planning to make what would have been his Republican convention speech on the grounds of the White House, an obvious violation of the "norm" about co-mingling campaign and official roles ... and that's it. Pundits will huff and puff, but it will be consequence free.

Make norms into laws. Then Trump would be Breaking the Law. 

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Quote of the Day

Ben Smith, New York Times --

But the American media plays a bizarrely outsize role in American elections, occupying the place of most countries’ national election commissions. Here, the media actually assembles the results from 50 states, tabulates them and declares a victor. And — we can’t really help ourselves — the media establishes the narrative to explain what happened.

This fact is poorly understood outside the USA, and sometimes even within it. 

Also poorly understood, and interacting with the above, is that the USA does not have a directly elected President. but that's for another day. 


The ship of state may be sinking, but the New Yorker will always use the diaeresis --

Is the Postal Service Being Manipulated to Help Trump Get Reëlected?

The Marxist Club dilemma (Groucho version)

Gerard Baker, today's Wall Street Journal --

As our cultural, media and corporate chiefs deliver their social and political wisdom from their redoubts in New York’s Hamptons, Palm Beach, Fla., and the greener pastures of the San Francisco Bay Area, America’s cities have been ravaged by successive predations of lockdown, disorder and violence.

Gerard Baker, from his July 2017 interview, in the White House, with the Trumps:

TRUMP: Well, then you have to go and decide on what [healthcare] plan you want, which way you’re going to go. You want to decide on is it repeal or repeal and replace. If it’s repeal and replace, which one do you want to go? Which form of existing conditions? I mean, there’s many things. But once you’re in there, then you can really negotiate. This is actually the heart, though. Once you’re there, you can, you know, Gerard — oh, say hello. 

IVANKA TRUMP: Hi, Gerard. How are you? 

BAKER: Oh, hey. How nice to see you. How are you doing? 

IVANKA TRUMP: I heard you were here. I wanted to come by and say hi. (Cross talk.) How is your Arabella?

BAKER: Oh, very — (inaudible). She just got back from Costa Rica. She was there for two weeks. And how’s — and how’s yours? 

IVANKA TRUMP: Oh, very good. (Inaudible.) 

BAKER: It was nice to see you out in Southampton a couple weeks ago.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

If only the Tsar knew

New York Times --

Far from a strongman, Mr. Trump has lately become a heckler in his own government, promoting medical conspiracy theories on social media, playing no constructive role in either the management of the coronavirus pandemic or the negotiation of an economic rescue plan in Congress — and complaining endlessly about the unfairness of it all.

This is an increasingly popular pundit / political reporter narrative about Trump: that somehow, the head of state and government is isolated from governing. It allows everyone else -- the Cabinet, the appointed officials, the Congressional leadership, governors who depend on the federal government playing its role, and media who report on it -- to absolve themselves from blocking, speaking up, or walking out as the country stumbles through a disaster. 

The USA is experiencing a systemic, structural failure, and the fantasy that it's just one malevolent detached leader, an inverse of the benign Tsar who just didn't know what was going on in Russia -- is part of the problem. 

People were slow to realize the narrative that was being set up in 2016 -- yes, Trump is horrible, but so horrible that Hillary will win, therefore we can concentrate on her flaws. We know where that got us. Don't fall for another version of it in 2020. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Quote of the Day

Chemi Shalev, Haaretz --

In recent weeks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly spread word of his intention to call snap elections. In the latest version of his unattributed leaks, November is the target date, in close and even suspicious proximity to the November 3 elections in the United States. Perhaps Netanyahu envisages a joint heroic leap with U.S. President Donald Trump into the abyss, a la Thelma and Louise.

Joe Biden, do not pick Susan Rice as your VP nominee

Susan Rice, 16 January 2017 --

We were able to get the Syrian government to voluntarily and verifiably give up its chemical weapons stockpile.


A great detail in the New York Times obituary for Peter Green --

Mr. Green’s main instrument in Fleetwood Mac was a 1959 Les Paul Standard, known as Greeny, that had one pickup installed in reverse, creating a distinctive tone because it put the instrument’s two pickups magnetically out of phase. After leaving Fleetwood Mac, he sold the guitar to the Irish rocker Gary Moore; in 1995, Mr. Moore made an album of Mr. Green’s songs called “Blues for Greeny.” The guitar is now owned by Kirk Hammett of Metallica.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Bobos of Summer

Janan Ganesh in the FT Weekend (subs. req'd)

The corollary, of course, is a view of summer as the vulgarian's season, good for socialising but not real intimacy, for surface pleasures but not the life of the mind.  

It's an excellent rumination on the low cultural esteem in which summer is held, especially in the mid-upper latitudes (both income and geographic). 

There is more that could be said. On any question of elite consumption patterns, it's always worth heading back to Veblen's The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) and sure enough the great man has a ready quote:

Time is consumed non-productively (1) from a sense of the unworthiness of productive work, and (2) as an evidence of pecuniary ability to afford a life of idleness. But the whole of the life of the gentleman of leisure is not spent before the eyes of the spectators who are to be impressed with that spectacle of honorific leisure which in the ideal scheme makes up his life. For some part of the time his life is perforce withdrawn from the public eye, and of this portion which is spent in private the gentleman of leisure should, for the sake of his good name, be able to give a convincing account. He should find some means of putting in evidence the leisure that is not spent in the sight of the spectators. This can be done only indirectly, through the exhibition of some tangible, lasting results of the leisure so spent — in a manner analogous to the familiar exhibition of tangible, lasting products of the labour performed for the gentleman of leisure by handicraftsmen and servants in his employ.

In other words, as wealth grows while the old means of signalling status decline -- titles, castles, land, huge household staffs, banquets -- it's only so far that visible spending will get you. For the time that the well-off person is not engaged in conspicuous consumption (Veblen's famous coinage), he has to be able to show that, even then, he was consuming his leisure in a way that others with whom he's competing for status would have trouble replicating. 

Thus, for the upper middle class, summer is useless. The most visible manifestation of a leisurely summer is ... a tan. Which anyone can get, from a cheap holiday, or a bottle. Of course you could try to up the ante with the "beach bod," but that's a dangerous arena of competition for Bobos, because it's vulnerable to competition from other classes through luck, effort, or wealth, and in any event, increasingly prone to bourgeois guilt as a goal. 

As Ganesh indicates with a hygge example, winter is much, much better for conspicuous leisure than summer. All sorts of refined wealth signalling are possible through activities, decor and culture, more than access to sun alone will allow. 

The final, almost cosmic, irony is that it was those winter conspicuous leisure types who brought Coronavirus from the Alps to all over Europe, and beyond, and ruined summer for the rest of us. 

[Previously on Veblen: his "epic troll" (as the kids say) of dog owners]

Friday, July 24, 2020

Quote of the Day

Dr Ashish Jha, Harvard Global Health Institute, quoted in a Wall Street Journal article on how Europe has kept coronavirus under control compared to USA:

"When I look at Europe, there is no single, best way: There are lots of ways," he adds. "There is no magic formula, but they all begin with taking the virus seriously and not having debates about inane things."

Monday, July 20, 2020

A campaign foretold

New York Times, 1 September 2013 (yes, 2013), headline Campaign Journalism in the Age of Twitter by the great David Carr (died far too young, aged 58) --

What does this all mean for the next election? Liz Sidoti, national politics editor for The Associated Press, loves social media’s ability to reach and involve audiences, but she is less fond of what it is doing to the political press corps that is feeding the beast. “I worry that reporters are so busy looking after the bells and whistles that they need to on social media that they are not working as finders of fact, asking the tough questions and doing the analysis,” she told me. Mr. [Peter] Hamby suggested that politicians who came of age in the Twitter era — Gov. Chris Christie, Gov. Martin O’Malley, Senator Marco Rubio and others — will have an advantage over Hillary Rodham Clinton, who relies on a command-and-control approach in which information is carefully doled out and any journalistic offenders are disciplined. “I wonder if the machinery of Clinton-world, the layers of staff and ’90s-era wise men, are prepared to deal with the next generation of Instagramming journalist, social media natives who fetishize authenticity,” he said.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

It's not over till it's over

New York Times, 6 November 2016. Yes, 2 days before the election:

And they [Trump campaign staff] know that his chances of winning the election are iffy: Perhaps their best hope, the F.B.I. inquiry into Mrs. Clinton’s email server, fizzled on Sunday with no charges or revelations. But they maintain that there is unseen money and muscle behind Mr. Trump’s political operation — and a level of sophistication that outsiders, and people who have run traditional campaigns, cannot fully appreciate. At times, however, that is hard to detect. Over a cheeseburger, fried calamari and an “Ivanka Salad” at the Trump Grill in the basement of Trump Tower last week, several aides flipped open a laptop and loaded the popular website, which allows users to create their own winning electoral maps. For 10 minutes, they clicked through the country, putting Democratic-leaning states won by Mr. Obama four years ago, like New Mexico and Colorado, into Mr. Trump’s column. Their analysis seemed more atmospheric than scientific. “You can go to Pennsylvania,” the campaign’s digital director, Brad Parscale, said, referring to a state that polls show favors Mrs. Clinton. “You can almost slice the excitement with a knife. You can feel it in the air there.” And even as early-voting returns indicated a surge for Mrs. Clinton, they tried to reassure themselves, over and over, that nobody finishes stronger than Mr. Trump, comparing the wisdom of his political judgments to Babe Ruth pointing his bat to the stands to predict where he would hit a home run. Back on his plane, heading into the campaign’s final weekend, Mr. Trump reclined in his leather chair and refused to entertain any suggestions that his unorthodox, unpredictable and now uncertain campaign for the presidency would end in defeat. “I’m going to win,” he said.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

That crazy guy who's spending all his money in San Antonio

As with the previous post, looking at how Trump was perceived as a candidate is ... interesting. Here's a summer 2016 New York Times discussion of how Republican insiders thought he was a lost cause and they need to conserve their money for Congressional races:

The party is in turn providing much of the fund-raising expertise and technological backbone, including up-to-date donor lists and systems that will send roughly a billion emails by Election Day. A third of the party’s digital team is now embedded at the San Antonio firm that formerly built websites for Mr. Trump’s properties and is now leading his campaign’s online efforts. Payments to that firm, Giles-Parscale, amounted to $8 million in July, most of which was paid out for online advertising to reach grass-roots supporters and donors, according to party officials. “The R.N.C. has built the most efficient and effective ground game in the party’s history,” said Lindsay Walters, a party spokeswoman. “No other campaign, committee or organization has been doing this for as long as we have. We are the infrastructure for the entire G.O.P. ticket. And the Trump campaign has embraced that.”

Giles-Parscale was the then obscure firm, identified by Jared Kushner and run by Brad Parscale, managing the campaign's digital strategy. Subsequent events made them look like geniuses. 

A kinder, gentler Tweeter

New York Times, 5 October 2015 --

Mr. Trump has called Arianna Huffington, the liberal website publisher, “unattractive both inside and out”; described Bette Midler as “extremely unattractive”; and declared that President Obama had guaranteed “you won’t see another black president for generations.” Asked about his judgment in sending those messages, he defended all but one: his mockery of Ms. [Kim] Novak. “I would have preferred I didn’t send it,” Mr. Trump said. “That was done in fun, but sometimes you do things in fun and they turn out to be hurtful, and I don’t like doing that.”

Friday, July 17, 2020

Electoral polarisation or polarising elections?

In last week's Polish presidential election runoff, Andrzej Duda got 10,440 648 votes and Rafal Trzaskowski got 10,018,263 votes. The percentages are 51-49. 

The explanation of this result concentrated on highly plausible factors like rural / urban, culture, party, and of course potential unfairness in terms of stance of state media and the incumbent government. 

But in fact, this knife edge result is strange. It's a bit remarkable that Poland is just 210,000 individual decisions apart on ostensibly fundamental issues (the number of voters that had they switched from Duda to Trzaskowski, it would have changed the result). 

The 2016 USA presidential election was even stranger, because of the thresholds caused by the electoral college. Looked at in terms of impact on electoral college margins, there were around 80,000 critical votes

In both countries, lots of people (around one-third in Poland and nearly one-half in USA) did not vote. 

So is it that Poland is really divided almost exactly 50:50 on the issues at play in the election, or that the election itself sets off its own dynamic that sorts the voting public (not the overall public) into these balances of power? 

We tend to think of elections as reflecting societal divisions, which they certainly do. But the messier possibility is that elections aggravate them. The median voter may be a very noise-susceptible voter. 

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Quote of the Day

A mask is but a sum of lines; a face, on the contrary, is above all their thematic harmony. 

Roland Barthes, The Face of Garbo (1957). 

They Know

New York Times, evening of 10 July

Friday, July 10, 2020

Farewell then, Russian bounty "scandal"

Re-upping our April post on the futility of outrage cycles based on upstream intelligence.  Trump is a horrible president. We don't need partial leaks of fragmentary intelligence to insider reporters looking for red meat to toss to Putin-phobic rolling news audiences to know that. 

How others see us

Peter Beinart's much-discussed Jewish Currents article in which he converts himself to a one-state solution for Israel / Palestine --

The reasoning is intuitive. In divided societies, people are more likely to rebel when they lack a nonviolent way to express their grievances. Between 1969 and 1994, when Protestants and the British government marginalized Catholics in Northern Ireland, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) killed more than 1,750 people. When the Good Friday Agreement enabled Catholics to fully participate in government, the IRA’s violence largely stopped.

Adopting this terminology, Catholic participation in government was implemented in 1973-74 ("Sunningdale") but was done in by Unionist opposition and a weak Labour government that wouldn't stand up to them. The edifice collapsed and was painstakingly rebuilt first through a renewed acceptance by Britain of a role for Ireland in Northern Ireland (the Anglo-Irish Agreement, 1985) and then through the GFA to which Beinart refers -- which was Sunningdale 2.0.

The issue was not the lack of mechanism for marginalized Catholics to participate in the political system. There were many issues, among them opportunism and cynicism within (not between) the communities, the reluctance of Britain to deliver what it had committed, and the reticence of Ireland to trigger a disastrous conflict. By 1997, the blockers and spoilers of 1974 and 1985 were the ones doing the deal to share power, and the violence tapered off. But that was less about a novel formula to share power, and more about the right circumstances for a deal that had been available for 25 years. That analogy leads the Israel / Palestine discussion in a very different direction. 

How others see us

Austrian newspaper Wiener Zeitung doesn't hesitate to use class descriptions of Irish politics, the context being Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe elected as president of the group of eurozone finance ministers --

Der 45-jährige Politiker der bürgerlichen Partei Fine Gael ist seit Juni 2017 Finanzminister seines Landes und war vorher unter anderem Verkehrs- und Europaminister.

bürgerlichen means bourgeois.

If it's any consolation, they describe Fianna Fáil the same way. 

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

In case you're wondering who orders those really expensive wines

Wall Street Journal on Wirecard #2 Jan Marsalek:

 In the early 2010s, he celebrated a personal business success with an extravagant lunch in Munich, asking the sommelier to open dozens of high-end wine bottles for a taste, according to a friend who attended. The bill was more than €100,000 ($112,000). 

Saturday, July 04, 2020

There is always a Tweet

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Coronavirus: why the advice on masks was botched

Because from February to April, the public policy elites who opposed universal mask wearing could not overcome their class consciousness.  They thought that if they advised everyone to wear masks, there would be a frenzy of infeasible N95 mask demand.  Because that's what their upper middle class circle would do. In fact,  cloth masks emerged on their own, and saved far more lives than the elite focus on ventilators. 

Friday, June 26, 2020


Frank Lampard (Snr), right, headed out on the field at Maine Road, Manchester City's ground, 21 March 1970, when West Ham stunned City who were otherwise having a fabulous season.

Frank's son, Frank, oversaw Chelsea's defeat of Manchester City last night, handing the title to Liverpool. The arc of history is ... weird. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Song in Honour of the latest DNA research findings about Newgrange

Side note: let's check back in 2 years as to how many of the media-friendly extrapolations about who is buried in the Boyne Valley neolithic tombs have stood up to scrutiny. It may be an Irish Pharaoh, but as the song says, it was hundreds of years before the dawn of history, and nobody know who they were or what they were doing. 

Thursday, June 18, 2020

He's read 25 books about Saudi Arabia

The Financial Times on West Bank annexation:

 "Netanyahu was surprised to hear how angry he [King Salman] was," says one foreign ministry official. "He had been told by Kushner that the Saudis were under control." 

Dictator loses election

That's the New York Times print edition for 17 June. Someone maybe realized that with the original decree powers having been proclaimed by elites as the end of democracy in Hungary, a headline saying that the end of the decree period was the end of democracy might be a stretch. So the current web headline is Hungary Moves to End Rule by Decree, but Orban’s Powers May Stay.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Why do Trump's past tweets predict his current behaviour?

A film plot:

A post-Apocalyptic future, caused by the presidency of Donald Trump. A desperate band of survivors builds a time portal where a message can be sent back before November 2016 to warn us about Donald Trump.

The problem: the portal is not for people. It has to be a piece of code, programming, a virus (if you will). And because of the Apocalypse, the only device for which our future heroes have the needed coordinates is ... Donald Trump's iPhone. 

So the message that is sent back in time is a series of Tweets appearing to come from Trump, but in fact are the warnings to our 2013-16 selves about what a future President Trump would do. 

But just like in The Terminator, the future forces of evil are not idle. They too can send back one piece of code to foil the plot to avert our disastrous future.

That code is ... a leak of Hillary Clinton's e-mails. 

Friday, June 12, 2020

Friday afternoon quality post

[Previously in this series]

The New York City disaster

The Wall Street Journal has a superbly-reported story on what went wrong with the Coronavirus response in New York City and State. It's subscription only and we're not excerpting. You'll come away with a very different perspective (worse) of Andrew Cuomo than you might have had from media coverage; your perspective on Bill de Blasio will be about as bad as you would have expected. The article should also be another nail in the coffin of the Spring 2020 ventilator hype -- as it explains, ventilators were at best a red herring, and at worst, might have actually killed people, because they were pushed into use without adequate staffing, supplies, or knowledge of how best to use them for patients that already had very poor odds by that point. 

Film recommendation

With the current events in the USA, which have spilled over to many other countries, it's tough to diversify from the grimness of the news. One form of escapism that's actually usefully relevant as well: watch, or re-watch Black Panther. Its resonant quote, near the end, from the dying villain Erik, completes its rumination on the relationship between Africa and America .... in the form of a really good "fantasy" film:

Just bury me in the ocean, with my ancestors that jumped from the ships  ... because they knew death was better than bondage.

Sunday, June 07, 2020

Playlist for the week that social distancing died (2)

Playlist for the week that social distancing died (1)

For cat people only

From Veblen's The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899), discussing pet ownership as a form of wealth-signalling --

In the case of those domestic animals which are honorific and are reputed beautiful, there is a subsidiary basis of merit that should be spoken of. Apart from the birds which belong in the honorific class of domestic animals, and which owe their place in this class to their non-lucrative character alone, the animals which merit particular attention are cats, dogs, and fast horses. The cat is less reputable than the other two just named, because she is less wasteful; she may even serve a useful end. At the same time the cat’s temperament does not fit her for the honorific purpose. She lives with man on terms of equality, knows nothing of that relation of status which is the ancient basis of all distinctions of worth, honor, and repute, and she does not lend herself with facility to an invidious comparison between her owner and his neighbors. The exception to this last rule occurs in the case of such scarce and fanciful products as the Angora cat, which have some slight honorific value on the ground of expensiveness, and have, therefore, some special claim to beauty on pecuniary grounds.

Saturday, June 06, 2020

Band name apt for the day

The song is pretty good too.

Eventually they troll themselves

Despite years of evidence that what's happening before one's eyes is indeed happening (Russian military and espionage operations overseas), media outlets still feel compelled to go to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and their wretched mouthpiece Maria Zakharova for a "balancing" quote in their reporting. As if the limits of that methodology were not already clear, we now have, via the New York Times, in the context of an alleged ricin plot in Prague:

The claim that Russia itself was responsible for fabricating the poison plot story — denounced as a “sick fantasy” by Russia’s Foreign Ministry when it first surfaced in April — added a bizarre new twist to an episode that has roiled already strained relations between Moscow and Prague.

As the story explains, the "sick fantasy" ricin story was a hoax, instigated by a Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs employee. 

Sultan Man Bad


ISTANBUL - Turks streamed outside on Saturday for their first weekend without a coronavirus lockdown in nearly two months, the day after President Tayyip Erdogan suddenly scrapped a stay-at-home order.


Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced a new peace initiative for Libya in Cairo on Saturday, flanked by the eastern Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar, whose 14-month offensive to capture the capital, Tripoli, collapsed this week.  ...  For more than five years, rival parliaments and governments in the east and the west have engaged in a stop-start conflict. Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russia have provided support Haftar, but that backing has been outweighed in recent months by Turkish military backing for the GNA.

[previously in this series]

He's due to stop doing it

This is simple textbook regression to the mean fallacy. With randomness in the data, high observations are more likely -- purely for probabilistic reasons -- to be followed by lower ones, and low observations to be followed by high ones. 

It should be embarrassing that such a basic statistical error keeps being repeated, and to a large audience. 

Friday, June 05, 2020

What we know now about flattening the curve

Great (free link) Financial Times weekend look at the experience of Rosenheim in Germany where things looked grim at the beginning of the pandemic but as with Germany overall, success:

In the end, though, it never came to that: Rosenheim always had enough ICU capacity. That was partly due to a grim truth about Covid-19: at least half the patients artificially ventilated died within four to five days, some of multiple organ failure — a phenomenon that has been seen in many other hotspots. This meant beds were freeing up more quickly than expected.

Much of the early focus on number of ventilators in country X, and having that drive policy, was misplaced.

New White House compound -- exclusive photo

Above, President Trump (right) takes Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko on a tour of the American Presidential Palace at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW, partly under construction. Jared Tower (formerly the Washington Monument) can be seen in the background. 

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

There is always a Tweet

The above, from the New York Times TV critic, was tweeted 2 weeks ago -- before Trump's sudden interest in walking to Christian churches.  

Saturday, May 30, 2020

In Honour of MAGA NIGHT

Sultan Man Bad

Previously in this series.

No wonder Angela Merkel doesn't want to come to Maryland

Photo illustration from Bild of what's possible under Germany Coronavirus restrictions.

Bobos in Limbo

Wall Street Journal, Weekend Edition

Monday, May 25, 2020

Resistance is futile

That man in Ankara

Unpopular opinion: Turkey is currently (1) the only hope for an external criminal investigation of what happened to Jamal Khashoggi, (2) the only government willing to put its force where everyone's mouth is in terms of defending the internationally recognized government of Libya, and (3) the only thing standing between Bashar al-Assad and a mass casualty all-out offensive in northern Syria. 

But OK, Sultan Man Bad. 

For future reference

There is a lot of excellent journalism lately. Too much to absorb in one go.Two articles, among many, that will be worth a repeated read. 

First, the Financial Times (free link) on the missing weeks for Chinese President Xi Jinping: there are some indications that he should have known from 14 January, or even from 7 January, that the coronavirus was already a pandemic. What exactly he knew, when he knew it, and his actions throughout the 2nd half of January and early February are extremely murky.

Then there's this stellar Washington Post article on Trump's European travel ban -- introduced far too late, and so botched in its announcement and  implementation that it may have made things worse than not having a ban. 

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Strict Rules of Golf

New York Times

A Terrorist Horror, Then Golf: Incongruity Fuels Obama Critics 
By Peter Baker and Julie Hirschfeld Davis Aug. 21, 2014

Of course, Trump's tweets from that era now serve almost as a taunt of what a President Trump would get away with.

But what's the excuse of the political reporters who entertained these lines of criticism?

The Grand Unified Theory of Nate Silver

Nate Silver has a circular definition of "news."

What causes an indicator to move? News. How do we know it was News? Because an indicator moved. 

This issue had seemed to be confined to his political analysis.

But now he's doing the same thing on the Coronavirus. There was one example a few weeks ago where he stepped right up to the edge of the Regression to the Mean fallacy, to explain a group of states outcomes that were "stuck in the middle," with an associated epidemiological concept of "partial herd immunity."  In other words, states where not much "seemed" to be happening -- no News. 

Now here is again talking about a "plateau" which can arise if R (the reproduction rate) is approximately equal to 1.

Here's the problem. If R=0.99, infections decline. And R=1.01, infections grow. And these are exponential processes. There is no plateau. 

So why does he do this? Because if R is approximately equal to 1, according to the "media," there's no clear "news" to explain the variation in levels, so he cobbles together a story about levels and changes -- which is the road back to the Regression to the Mean fallacy. Hair of the average dog that bit him, many times.  

UPDATE 25 MAY: He keeps doing it. This thread is textbook example of Regression to the Mean fallacy. He's selecting states based on high deaths, and claiming that they will head to a "plateau" based on some theory about reactions to R. And if it doesn't happen -- he'll say that there was "News!"

Friday, May 22, 2020

Those Ikea furniture names are getting more annoying

BBC News website

Mr Nasty, Mr Nice

Secretary General of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, offers a "moderate" interpretation of wild statements coming from Tehran --

in the context of the conflict with the entity of Israel, with our indication that we are not asking to throw anyone at sea, but we demand the return of those who came from the countries of the world and occupied Palestine to return to their countries.

The times that are in it

End of Ramadan prayers at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, with social distancing. There would normally be thousands of people in this area at all times of day and night.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Phoenician Farce

Reuters on the Boston arrests related to the Carlos Ghosn flight from Japan to Lebanon --

U.S. law enforcement learned Peter Taylor had booked a flight from Boston to Beirut departing Wednesday with a layover in London and he was arrested by U.S. marshals as was Michael Taylor.

Among the many questions: how can it be that jetting off to Beirut via London in the middle of a pandemic is still a thing?

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Monday, May 18, 2020

Song of the Day


Sure, we're in some kind of partial Apocalypse, but this is always great.

There is always a Tweet

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Cairo constraints

From Mike Pompeo's 2019 Cairo speech --

And as we seek an even stronger partnership with Egypt, we encourage President Sisi to unleash the creative energy of Egypt’s people, unfetter the economy, and promote a free and open exchange of ideas. The progress made to date can continue. I also applaud President Sisi’s efforts to promote religious freedom, which stands as an example for all leaders and all peoples of the Middle East. I was happy to see our citizens, wrongly convicted of improperly operating NGOs here, finally be acquitted. And we strongly support President Sisi’s initiative to amend Egyptian law so that this does not happen again. More work certainly needs to be done to maximize the potential of the Egyptian nation and its people. I’m glad that America will be a partner in those efforts.

Lina Attalah would like to avail of these words. 

Saturday, May 16, 2020

The New York City coronavirus disaster in one sentence

Gail Collins, New York Times --

Banning flights from Naples doesn’t really have the same appeal as cracking down on Wuhan.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Crossover appeal

Care packages distributed by the Gente Nueva drug cartel in northern Mexico, which bear an image of Osama bin Laden.

Photo via Omnia


Flatten the truth

Chris Giles in the Financial Times is a must-read on how flatten the curve to "protect the NHS" became: if you're going to die, make sure you do it at home, or in a nursing home -- just not in a hospital.

That story is broader than the UK, and the emerging protests against shutdowns are better seen in that light than in the antics of a few media-baiting protestors. 

Saturday, May 09, 2020

Weekend film recommendation

The FT's Robert Shrimsley on how we're back to the 1970s is great. He mentions everything being shades of browns and greys. This is something that Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy conveyed perfectly. The film is also a great depiction of how a bureaucracy could tear itself apart on the basis of a Russian intelligence operation, but that kind of thing can't happen anymore. 

Smaller might be better

Financial Times interview with  Antonella Mei-Pochtler, the businesswoman leading Austria's pandemic recovery strategy:

 “We’re a small country, but we can learn from everybody and we do not think that we know everything ... There is an inborn arrogance of large countries who think no other country is like them . . . small countries tend to learn much more from each other. We are much more open, to looking right, left, up and down,”

Friday, May 08, 2020

Best Coronavirus I ever had

People Magazine, October 2016 --

In an unearthed interview from 1997, Donald Trump claimed he was a “brave soldier” for avoiding STDs during his single years in the late ’90s. “It’s amazing, I can’t even believe it. I’ve been so lucky in terms of that whole world, it is a dangerous world out there. It’s like Vietnam, sort of. It is my personal Vietnam. I feel like a great and very brave solider,” Trump said in the interview when Howard Stern asked how he handled making sure he wasn’t contracting STDs from the women he was sleeping with.

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Regression to the mean

This tweet and the associated thread is such a perfect variation of the famous statistical fallacy. Silver looks at a change in cases and relates them to the initial level, inserts some semi-causal views about why the levels vary, and then declares that there is a group in the middle that's "stuck." Once average, always average.

The problem is randomness. Random things (e.g. superspreaders, accidents, things we still don't know) will move states around these categories over time. And with each of those moves, people will come along with new ex post rationalizations for why a particular state is low or high -- and again to seek explain a group "stuck in the middle." It's also the road to leads to inventing epidemiological terms like "partial herd immunity."

It's easy to be fooled by randomness when you forget it's there. 

Monday, May 04, 2020



They were an issue in Ireland up to the early 1980s. In some houses, they probably still are an issue.

Anyway, Ireland (thankfully) has several cohorts that have never had to think about chilblains. Until now.

They are a mysterious Coronavirus symptom in some cases (New York Times). 

Sunday, May 03, 2020

Rorschach meets Luhmann

What does this photograph show?

If your lens on the world is social media in western Europe or North America -- also known as the Valley of the Squinting Tweeters -- it shows too many people and too large groups in a park on a sunny Coronavirus-era day.

What it actually shows in people in Jamwon Hangang Park in the megacity of Seoul. And as the associated Yonhap story comments, they are complying with social distancing. Koreans -- with major success in mitigating Coronavirus and a tradition of messaging about responsible behavior (Robocar Poli!) see an orderly scene in the photograph. But change the caption to a western city, and someone will be along soon enough to declare evidence that no one is complying with social distancing. The reality of social media.

Saturday, May 02, 2020


Al Qaeda in the Upper Peninsula. 

Thursday, April 30, 2020

How did Coronavirus get to Russia?

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Pulitzer / Nobel confusion

Why did Donald Trump have the Nobel Prize on his mind when his tweet-storm today seems like a reference to the Pulitzer Prize, not the "Noble" Prize?

One possibility -- and at the risk of looking for too empirical an explanation: because yesterday, he phoned the current holder of the Nobel Peace Price, Abiy Ahmed, the PM of Ethiopia. Trump is obsessed with this prize, at least back to Barack Obama getting it. And the wires got crossed between his briefing for his Addis Ababa phone call yesterday and his rage today. 

Imagine a board stamping on a basketball hoop -- forever

A hoop in a public recreation center -- mainly used by children -- in Washington, DC.

Exclusive to all newspapers: those Kim Yo-jong headlines in full

Kim Yo-jong: Gen X Millennials gets their first dictator

Out with Bourgeois Bohemian, In with Preppy Proletarian: The Kim Yo-jong Style Guide

Running the Workers Party by Day, Magic in the Kitchen in the evening: Kim Yo-jong's scallion pancake recipe

Dennis Rodman: that time I was at a reception with Kim Yo-jong

From Swiss Chic to Hanoi Hipster: Our travel reporter follows the footsteps of Kim Yo-jong

Game of Thrones Gangnam Style: How Kim Yo-jong outmaneuvered the generals to secure the legacy of her beloved brother

Outrage as Kim Yo-jong accused of "cultural appropriation" over K-pop themed promotional video

Marie Kondo: what we can learn about home organization from Kim Yo-jong

(continues until next 50,000 notch in Covid-19 fatalities)

Net Material Product

The White House statement on the "meeting on the Elbe" (the handshake of American and Soviet troops at the river in 1945) is fascinating. Given the current state of USA - Russia relations, it will be read for every clue of influence. Particularly interesting is the pivot from the front lines to the workers --

We also recognize the contributions from millions of men and women on the home front, who forged vast quantities of war materials for use around the world. Workers and manufacturers played a crucial role in supplying the allied forces with the tools necessary for victory.

It's the hammer and sickle -- without the sickle. Where are the Great Patriot Farmers?

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Quote of the day

Holman Jenkins, Wall Street Journal:

Novel pandemic diseases are not a black swan. Our lockdown response was a black swan. 

Friday, April 24, 2020

The DTs

Goodbye to the Port and Brandy, to the Vodka and the Stag, To the Schmiddick and the Harpic, the bottled draught and keg. As I sat lookin’ up the Guinness ad I could never figure out How your man stayed up on the surfboard after 14 pints of stout. [Christy Moore]
THE PRESIDENT: Right. And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning. Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that. So, that, you’re going to have to use medical doctors with. But it sounds — it sounds interesting to me.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Word of the day


Defined as rule by a class associated with the Spectator (UK) Magazine.

Usage spotted in Robert Shrimsley's excellent discussion (Financial Times) of how the Covid-19 choices are getting embedded in the UK's version of the culture war:

...  a claque of the government’s media outriders clustered around the Spectator magazine, an outfit whose diaspora also includes Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, and his chief strategist, Dominic Cummings. One lockdown sceptic, Toby Young, a Gove ally and associate editor at the magazine, has set up a website to argue that the lives saved are being overvalued and the costs understated.  Both Mr Johnson and Mr Cummings are less hawkish and worry premature easing may lead to a second peak and more economic damage. But the instincts of the Spectocracy are often aligned and find favour with this government.

Monday, April 20, 2020


Iran's Coronavirus crisis is so urgent and requires so much focus and relief from other countries that ... emoji condolence guy, foreign minister Javad Zarif, has time to visit Bashar al-Assad today.

At least there's more social distancing in this photo than during the late-March visit to Bashar of the Russian Minister of Defence Sergei Shoigu.

How did the Coronavirus get to Moscow anyway?

Photo via Fars. Note: it's not clear why Fars published some photos featuring no masks and some with masks

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Crisis playlist

Bored children will suddenly spring into activity singing along with this one.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Learned nothing, forgotten nothing

Buried by the coronavirus, and maybe it would be have been buried anyway, the New York Times detailed some serious errors in the 2016 US government surveillance of people in the orbit of the Trump campaign, and in a parallel, a possibility -- obvious to followers of George Smiley -- that the infamous Steele dossier on Trump was itself a Russian disinformation campaign:

Such ties created a risk that the Russian intelligence services deliberately planted misinformation in Mr. Steele’s network. Complicating matters, however, is that Mr. Steele was trying to understand what Russian intelligence services were doing with regard to the Trump campaign. He would seemingly need his sources to be in contact with people with connections to those services or the Kremlin who were in a position to know what was going on.

In other words, the Steele dossier was raw intelligence. He was talking to people, shady people who knew other shady people, writing down what they said, presenting an assessment of it -- but it was up to others to draw conclusions from the layers of shadiness.

The problem is that his approach presumed patience, and instead it got short-circuited, with upstream intelligence work finding its way directly into the public domain.

This is not a new problem.

In 2002, upstream intelligence on Saddam Hussein's possible WMD program found its way to Dick Cheney.

In 2013-14, upstream intelligence on Libyan Islamist groups found its way to House Republicans looking for dirt on Hillary Clinton.

And now, in 2020, upstream intelligence on Chinese research labs and its late 2019 public health situation is finding its way to the media, and in turn feeding an (understandable!) hope among liberals that it can be used against Trump.

The problem with the last approach should be evident with the previous three instances. Upstream and raw intelligence and surveillance is all about indirect information, informed speculation, and tentative assessments. It's not designed for instant conclusions. If there were instant conclusions, you wouldn't need the analysts in the first place.

Any attempt on a China Knew Therefore Trump Knew "scandal" is not going to end well. It will be a circus of operatives, memos, "leaked" reports, opportunists, grifters, insta-experts, and cranks.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Coronavirus is the Bourgeois Plague (4)

Arlington Virginia, via Arlington Now--

“Obviously a lot more people are home all day,” Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services spokesman Peter Golkin told ARLnow. “They’re cleaning out more than usual, listening to their inner Marie Kondo as they stare at the walls and what’s piled up in front of them. They should indulge themselves with the couch and ARLnow and a few books and put off the big clean-ups for a few months.”

[Previously in this series]

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Monday, April 06, 2020

Royal stare > Mask

King Abdullah of Jordan meets the Minister for Industry and Commerce to discuss food stocks.

Photo via Petra

Sunday, April 05, 2020

It's not just Trump

The Munich Security Conference took place during 14-16 February 2020. This is one of the biggest ground-truthing, thought-leading, direction-of-travel setting, VIP blabbing events of the year. Even emoji condolence guy, Javad Zarif, was there!

Although everyone's talking points had Cover-der-Arsch references to Coronavirus, the virus was discussed as a mainly China issue that would pose risks if it escalated elsewhere.

In fact, the virus had by then taken root in northern Italy -- with a respectable theory out there that Patient Zero for the Italian outbreak actually occurred in ... Munich in January. Bonus idiocy: Zarif was there yukking it up with the media when the virus was rampant in Iran!

But maybe it's not fair just to focus on the pretty vacant thought leaders at one Munich conference.

Eventually we will get some accountability on the pandemic, at least in terms of who knew what and when. And in that accountability, the decision of European countries to allow the Alpine ski season to continue all through February is going to look like total madness.

It takes a huge level of cognitive dissonance to know that the virus was in northern Italy, and yet not wonder whether it might already be all over the Alpine regions, with hundreds of thousands of ski vacationers, including school children, passing through the regions -- regions that also happen to be Europe's economic heartland. Far more than attendees at one or two sporting events, which get all the media attention because they are easier to focus on, this was a critical phase of the transmission.

With this level of haven't-a-clue leadership in Western Europe, is it any wonder that no one is getting too agitated about Viktor Orban?

Photo: MSC Müller

Friday, April 03, 2020

To rebel is justified

After a tumultuous event in such and such a country, a pundit will usually step forward to say "Where is [this country's] Nelson Mandela?"

So for China, where is China's Deng Xiaoping, the leader who will emerge from a previous Communist Party cohort's wreckage and right the ship?

Quote of the Day

Marshall McLuhan, The Media Approach to Inflation, New York Times, 21 September 1974:

The new economic situation, in which the game is to anticipate events at every turn and at every level, using the interval between the present and the coming events as if this interval were a tangible thing, this new situation in comparison with the older nuts-and-bolts economy presents a contrast somewhat similar to the "old journalism" and the "new journalism." The old journalism had aimed at the objectivity by "giving both sides at once." The new journalism seeks, rather, to immerse the reader in the total situation, using the resources of imaginative fiction to provide a multileveled experience.The new journalism is quite prepared to urge that "news" is necessarily a form of fiction or making. In the same way, the new economy is based on information and gaps and promises, and precisely to the degree that the new economy is based on the simultaneous, it fosters, invites,demands the rule of the anticipatory, the role of the hunter that the blow must strike where the quarry will be.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Competing risks

Important point from FT Health --

High rates of childhood vaccination against preventable diseases will be difficult to sustain with prolonged social distancing.

Coronavirus is the Bourgeois Plague (3)

Golf and Tennis comply with social distancing requirements.

[previously in this series]

Good instincts

Real time news reporting like this one from CNBC in Davos in January deserve a renewed focus given where the world is now.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Drive our cars

One of the cultural changes that has been slow to happen under the Coronavirus is the revitalization of car culture. Sure, you're not supposed to be leaving your house for any reason, but you're not violating the spirit of the restrictions by getting into your own car with your own family members and driving around indefinitely.

In that sense, western countries are headed to where Saudi Arabia has always been -- the car an extension of the zone of freedom that otherwise only existed inside your house. And with the trend in oil prices, it might even be that fuel prices are headed to about the same level as Saudi Arabia.

Above, a video from nearly a decade ago that celebrated / gently mocked this feature of the country.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Crisis playlist

When you need to evoke an alternative mood to cope with the pandemic.

Behind the wheel of a large automobile

De facto ruler of Abu Dhabi, Mohamed bin Zayed, gets the inaugural coronavirus test at a new drive-through testing facility in Abu Dhabi.

Photo via UAE News Agency (WAM).

Quote of the Day

From The Anthropology of Epidemics 1st Edition by Ann H. Kelly, Frédéric Keck, Christos Lynteris, (published just over a year ago!) -- the chapter by Carlo Caduff:

Today’s mass media fascination with the next pandemic is partly due to the fact that it operates as corroboration of the mass media’s own discursive problematic: the necessity of creating and maintaining a constant sense of newness. The function of mass media communication, according to Niklas Luhmann, is to simultaneously ‘generate and process irritation’. Invested in the production, circulation, and consumption of irritation, mass media communication stimulates ‘the constantly renewed willingness to be prepared for surprises’. The trope of the next pandemic, in this sense, is a fertile ground for the mass media and its discursive problematic.

No surprise that a reference to the great Niklas Luhmann kicks off the analysis.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

In the long run, we're all recovered

National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper abstract --

Andrew Atkeson. No. 26867 This note is intended to introduce economists to a simple SIR model of the progression of COVID-19 in the United States over the next 12-18 months. An SIR model is a Markov model of the spread of an epidemic in a population in which the total population is divided into categories of being susceptible to the disease (S), actively infected with the disease (I), and recovered (or dead) and no longer contagious (R).

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The Gambler at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Donald Trump's ostensible bid to have the country reopen by Easter makes perfect sense. If you're familiar with what bankruptcy does to incentives.

A bankrupt firm has an incentive to take the riskiest gamble possible.

It already owes people more than it can pay. That's what being bankrupt means.

So if the gamble goes badly, it owes even more than it can pay. Nothing changes.

But if it wins, and wins big, it gets to pay all those pesky creditors off -- preferably when they've already agreed to take less -- and the firm is suddenly liquid again and keeps all the excess.

It's why countries generally try not have bankrupt firms hang around too long. The payoffs, as Nassim Taleb might say, are yuuugely convex, and that's often not a good thing.

Especially when we the people are the roulette wheel. 

Saturday, March 21, 2020

The Apothecary at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Well, Juliet, I will lie with thee to-night.
Let's see for means: O mischief, thou art swift
To enter in the thoughts of desperate men!
I do remember an apothecary,--
And hereabouts he dwells,--which late I noted
In tatter'd weeds, with overwhelming brows,
Culling of simples; meagre were his looks,
Sharp misery had worn him to the bones:
And in his needy shop a tortoise hung,
An alligator stuff'd, and other skins
Of ill-shaped fishes; and about his shelves
A beggarly account of empty boxes,
Green earthen pots, bladders and musty seeds,
Remnants of packthread and old cakes of roses,
Were thinly scatter'd, to make up a show.
Noting this penury, to myself I said
'An if a man did need a poison now,
Whose sale is present death in Mantua,
Here lives a caitiff wretch would sell it him.'
O, this same thought did but forerun my need;
And this same needy man must sell it me.
As I remember, this should be the house.
Being holiday, the beggar's shop is shut.
What, ho! apothecary!
Enter Apothecary
Who calls so loud?
Come hither, man. I see that thou art poor:
Hold, there is forty ducats: let me have
A dram of poison, such soon-speeding gear
As will disperse itself through all the veins
That the life-weary taker may fall dead
And that the trunk may be discharged of breath
As violently as hasty powder fired
Doth hurry from the fatal cannon's womb.
Such mortal drugs I have; but Mantua's law
Is death to any he that utters them.
Art thou so bare and full of wretchedness,
And fear'st to die? famine is in thy cheeks,
Need and oppression starveth in thine eyes,
Contempt and beggary hangs upon thy back;
The world is not thy friend nor the world's law;
The world affords no law to make thee rich;
Then be not poor, but break it, and take this.
My poverty, but not my will, consents.
I pay thy poverty, and not thy will.
Put this in any liquid thing you will,
And drink it off; and, if you had the strength
Of twenty men, it would dispatch you straight.
Image: Emmet Walsh in the 1996 Romeo and Juliet. And here's Trump's remarkable medicinal tweet