Thursday, February 28, 2013

Don't tempt her

A bit of banter during questions to the Prime Minister about today's Eastleigh by-election and comparisons of the Conservative candidate to Sarah Palin --

John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): Recently, large numbers of my constituents have taken a great interest in political campaigning in the neighbouring county. My belief is that it is always best when local people have a strong independent voice, particularly if they are in favour of controlling immigration, making welfare fairer and an in/out referendum. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that the people of Eastleigh would be well advised to vote for Maria Hutchings tomorrow? 

The Prime Minister: I thank my hon. Friend for his hard work and for the ingenious way he managed to get that question in order—[Interruption.] 

Mr Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) should not keep yelling from a sedentary position “Sarah Palin”. She at least is not a candidate in the Eastleigh by-election.

Pot, meet Kettle

Micheál Martin, Leader of Fianna Fail -- the party that every 20 years runs Ireland into the economic ditch --  in Belfast:

However they (Sinn Fein and DUP) remain two parties deeply committed to their own interests. Just as they happily exploited the risks for peace taken by others in the early years of the process, their approach to all issues remains, to this day, primarily motivated by party interests.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Chasing that corporate hotel target audience

In 10 minutes of exposure to CNN International, one hears Richard Quest describe Italian political populist Beppe Grillo as "far left" -- which will come as news to anyone familiar with Italy's communist tradition -- and then sees in heavy rotation an investment promotion ad for Zurich which (a) doesn't seem like the kind of place that needs to promote more rich people going there and (b) seems to think street artists with a Fushigi ball would be part of the selling point.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Random Rock and Roll

In this blogger's opinion, the best Led Zeppelin performance on the Celebration Day concert is the song they'd never done live before, For Your Life.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Not Russian dolls

How do these 2 sections of the same G20 statement following the meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors in Moscow fit together? --

We agree that the weak global performance derives from policy uncertainty, private deleveraging, fiscal drag, and impaired credit intermediation, as well as incomplete rebalancing of global demand. Under these circumstances, a sustained effort is required to continue building a stronger economic and monetary union in the euro area ...

We reiterate our commitments to move more rapidly toward more market-determined exchange rate systems and exchange rate flexibility to reflect underlying fundamentals, and avoid persistent exchange rate misalignments and in this regard, work more closely with one another so we can grow together ..

Latter offer not applicable in Ireland, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy etc ..

Plus ça change

The essence of Italian football in a single scoreline; image from Gazzetta dello Sport.

[previous instance of transcendence in a Serie A result]

Saturday, February 16, 2013

In the long run we're all science fiction

The Wall Street Journal editorial page draws conclusions from the Russian meteor and the near-miss of the asteroid --

These odds of a future collision with the unpredictable heavens certainly raises a question about our Apocalyptic worries here on Earth. The fashionable end-of-world fear of recent years has been global warming, which Al Gore tells us will be catastrophic based solely on computer modeling. But an asteroid crash is capable of inflicting more damage in an hour than climate change could in two or three hundred years. We're all for studying the climate and doing what can be done within economic reason to cope with temperature changes. But if it's catastrophe we want to avoid, maybe the marginal dollar is better spent searching for the space rock that we know is eventually headed our way so we can prevent it.

Thus rather than cope with things that are actually happening, we should be spending money to deal with things that might never happen and/or we might not be able to prevent.

If there really is some probability worth worrying about that Earth could be seriously damaged by an asteroid, then maybe large projected budget deficits are not such a big deal!

Incidentally, the logic of the WSJ editorial suggests that it was written by Holman Jenkins.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

That joke isn't funny anymore

Martin Peretz writes in the Wall Street Journal opinion pages of his unhappiness with the direction of The New Republic, of which he was owner and/or editor-in-chief for 25 years. His complaint: the magazine under him was "liberal" and now it's "left." The difference? --

We were for the Contras in Nicaragua; wary of affirmative action; for military intervention in Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur; alarmed about the decline of the family. The New Republic was also an early proponent of gay rights. We were neoliberals. We were also Zionists, and it was our defense of the Jewish state that put us outside the comfort zone of modern progressive politics.

Actually it was probably episodes like Andrew Sullivan's The Bell Curve issue that put the magazine outside the comfort zone of progressive politics. The other point is that much like many mixed-up conservatives, Peretz could never come to the terms with the fact that the President who was giving them most of what they said they wanted was Bill Clinton. Then the Clinton hatred morphed into Gore hatred, and they got George Bush. They've never forgiven everyone else for that. So now it's one man writing a "Cancel My Subscription" letter, except that he's got a platform in the Wall Street Journal to do it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Holy Roman Empire

Politically conservative Catholic intellectual George Weigel offers advice for the next Pope in the Wall Street Journal opinion pages --

When China finally opens itself fully to the world, it will be the greatest field of Christian mission since the Europeans came to the Western Hemisphere.

So China should open up to Catholicism so that millions of people can be converted from Buddhism and Confucianism to Catholicism? What could possibly go wrong? Indeed, since he tells us that the opening up of the New World was basically a Catholic expansion project, how could anyone possibly see any downsides to this scenario?

He [the new Pope] must help an increasingly deracinated world—in which there may be your truth and my truth, but nothing recognizable as the truth—rediscover the linkage between faith and reason, between Jerusalem and Athens, two of the pillars of Western civilization. When those two pillars crumble, the third pillar—Rome, the Western commitment to the rule of law—crumbles as well.

It seems to be obligatory on the Right to imply an intrinsic link between democracy (Athens) and religion (Jerusalem/Rome).

There's just one problem, if you've got the Catholic spectacles on. Athens is Orthodox.

Amid all the talk of Chinese expansion and evangelical consolidation, Weigel couldn't be bothered paying any attention to the Church's Great Schism. Could it be that a Church hierarchy which finds way to ensure the centre cannot hold -- while in search of the next bunch of converts -- is part of the problem?

Call back the hounds

At the US Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to send Chuck Hagel's nomination as Secretary of Defence to the full Senate, John McCain balks at how far the innuendo against his former Senate colleague has gone, epitomised by Senator Ted Cruz.

UPDATE: The New York Times does a round-up of Cruz transgressions.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

It's not the Hotel California

The UK government has published specially commissioned legal advice regarding the status of an independent Scotland in terms of EU membership. It finds that such a Scotland would be a new state that would not inherit the legal personality or entitlements of the UK and thus would have to negotiate EU membership from scratch. There's no right to clone treaties. One of the cases that the report uses to buttress its arguments is the creation of the Irish Free State from the UK --

First is specific precedent. The majority of cases in the 20th century demonstrate that continuity of one state rather than dissolution is the norm. Significant examples include the UK/Ireland (1922), British India (1947), Malaysia/Singapore (1965), Pakistan/ Bangladesh (1971–72), Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) (1990–91), Ethiopia/Eritrea (1993), Serbia/Montenegro (2006) and Sudan/South Sudan (2011). The case of Ireland is the only direct example of the formation of an independent state from a territory within the UK ... A second factor relates to the institutions supporting a new Scottish state and how this would be affected by separation from the UK. Some constitutional background is necessary for an understanding of this important issue. In the UK, the Westminster Parliament is sovereign and the body of law enacted by it forms the basis of the UK’s law and practices. At the time Scottish independence became operative, UK parliamentary sovereignty would continue to apply unchanged in the remainder of the UK. The UK Parliament’s jurisdiction would no longer extend to an independent Scottish state.  The laws passed by the UK Parliament would therefore continue to apply in the remainder of the UK as before, unless they were altered by Parliament itself in the course of enacting Scottish independence. This is what happened when the Irish Free State was formed from within the UK in 1922 (an arrangement that allows Ireland to continue to use some UK legislation to the present day). It would be open to an independent Scottish state to continue to apply some or all of the body of reserved laws passed by the UK Parliament, unless and until the Scottish Parliament decided to repeal them. However, an independent Scottish state could not unilaterally retain functions of UK institutions in relation to Scotland, as discussed below.

The view that the 26 counties had unambiguously checked out of the UK in 1922, with UK parliament legislation applying in the Free State only by choice, is very different from the usual histrionics that surround the more rabble-rousing elements of Irish nationalism. In particular, the grandiose claim of Bertie Ahern and his intellectual enablers that the UK claimed sovereignty over the Irish Republic until 1998 is by this reckoning total rubbish.

Scylla and Charibdis

“As far as its banking sector is concerned, Cyprus is halfway between Ireland and Iceland,” says one Berlin official. Ireland’s banking sector was eight times the size of the national economy when it imploded, Iceland’s more than 10 times.

Calling it halfway between the two doesn't really capture the constraints that come from being in the Eurozone, as Cyprus is. Unless the Eurozone is considering a radical change in policy, Cyprus is Ireland. Incidentally, also in that article is the idea that Cyprus could be the first country in which depositors in rescued banks might not get all their money back. Ireland has already raised that prospect.

The other Irish crash

David Gardner in the Financial Times (subs. req'd) on Pope Benedict's abdication --

The clearest sign that Pope Benedict’s Vatican was too obtuse to measure up to the torrent of outrage came from Ireland, once the most Catholic of countries, and from Enda Kenny, its devoutly Catholic prime minister. Calling the Vatican bureaucracy elitist, dysfunctional and narcissist, the taoiseach said “the rape and torture of children were downplayed or ‘managed’ to uphold instead the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and ‘reputation’.” While the Pope has regularly expressed contrition for what happened, and not just in Ireland, had he really wanted to send a signal he could have made a cardinal of the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, who has courageously campaigned to bring the full extent of the abuses to light. Instead, like Pope John Paul, Benedict has continued to make cardinals of like-minded prelates, especially from the secretive and reactionary Opus Dei organisation.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Double entry bookkeeping

Governor of the Bank of Italy, Ignazio Visco, speaking at a conference in Bergamo and revealing details of a central bank loan to the scandal-plagued Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS) --

Si tratta di un prestito, computabile nel patrimonio di vigilanza, concesso dallo Stato a un costo particolarmente elevato e crescente nel tempo. L’intervento è stato deciso l’estate scorsa per consentire a MPS di adempiere alla raccomandazione dell’Autorità bancaria europea di costituire un buffer patrimoniale eccezionale e temporaneo, ben oltre i requisiti minimi regolamentari, per far fronte ai rischi derivanti dall’ingente portafoglio di titoli pubblici.

Paraphrased, the European Bank Authority said that the bank was subject to high risks because of its large portfolio of Italian government bonds, so the solution was boost its capital via a loan from the Italian government.

So because of the risks of being tied so closely to the government, it had to be tied even more closely to the government.

Photo: AC Siena, sponsored by MPS, at last week's victory over Inter Milan.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Scary women on television

National Review's Rich Lowry on the Superbowl half-time show --

Beyoncé dressed like she was headed for a shift at the local gentlemen’s club, and put on a show that was an all-out assault on the senses. She was stunning and athletic, as well as tasteless and unedifying.

Rich Lowry just over 4 years ago on Sarah Palin's Vice Presidential debate performance --

I’m sure I’m not the only male in America who, when Palin dropped her first wink, sat up a little straighter on the couch and said, “Hey, I think she just winked at me.” And her smile. By the end, when she clearly knew she was doing well, it was so sparkling it was almost mesmerizing. It sent little starbursts through the screen and ricocheting around the living rooms of America. This is a quality that can’t be learned; it’s either something you have or you don’t, and man, she’s got it.

Don't edit yourself

One sentence from the self-taped Vicki Pryce conversations with her then-estranged husband Chris Huhne --

"They (journalists) are pressurising me all the fu**ing time. I can't even get home without having people outside my fu**ing door whether it's to do with your fu**ing man or whether it's to do with your fu**ing points," Pryce shouted.

An Asset to the Abbey

From the Irish government report about the Magdalen Laundries, Chapter 20 discusses how the laundries were able to partially sustain themselves by getting public and commercial laundry contracts even though the women in the homes were unpaid. In a 1950s case, a commercial laundry in Limerick complained that a Magdalen laundry had won a public contract through undercutting by not paying fair wages, even though this was specified as a requirement of the contract. The laundries and the government took the view that subsistence for the women in the laundries counted as fair wages. In the course of correspondence between the aggrieved commercial laundry and the Department of Defence was this letter (page 730) --

We are in receipt of your letter of 16th inst. We cannot offer any evidence of the non-observance of Clause 15 of Conditions of Contract beyond the well known fact that the Good Shepherd Convents particularly the Good Shepherd Convent of Limerick are Institutions for the reception of delinquent women who work in the laundry during their period of incarceration, without payment of wages. We are further aware that the Good Shepherd Convent of Cork which is a kindred Institution is forbidden to tender for this Contract, owing to above facts. If however the Superior of the Good Shepherd Convent Limerick has signed the Conditions of Contract including Clause 15, stating that she pays Trade Union rates of wages to workers of the Convent laundry, we have nothing more to say. 

1950s Ireland: if Mother Superior has signed a statement that is transparently untrue, there was not much point in questioning it.