Friday, May 31, 2019

Israeli politics: All-Media Apology

[Idea from Private Eye]

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
An Apology

In common with all other media outlets in recent months, we may have given the impression that Benjamin Netanyahu was in some way a political genius who was a worthy victor of the Israeli general election. Headlines such as "He's David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, and Moshe Dayan rolled into one," "Bismarck of the Middle East," "Election victory is equivalent of Six Day War for Bibi" and "Is Bibi the Messiah?" might have reinforced the view that were in some sense in awe of Mr Netanyahu's skills. 

We now realize, in the light of the collapse of government formation and a new election in September, that Bibi is in fact somewhat incompetent and prone to exaggeration and motivated mainly by the narrow self interest of him and his family. Our headlines this week such as "Bibi and wife headed to adjacent jail cells," "35 seats when 61 needed for majority returns to haunt Bibi" will, we hope, go some way to correcting any misunderstanding to which our thousands of previous news stories and opinion articles may have given rise.

Leader of "Israel Our Home" Party, Avigdor Lieberman
An Apology

In common with all other media outlets in recent months, we may have given the impression that Avigdor Lieberman was in some way a dangerous ultra-nationalist who represented the worst of Israel's shift to the right. Headlines such as "Back in the USSR," "Lieberman demands all Arabs move east of the Tigris river," and "He wants nothing more than to crush the Church of the Nativity under the wheels of a Russian tank"might have reinforced the view that we in some sense viewed Lieberman as a bizarre byproduct of Soviet migration to Israel who was determined to start an all-out war to expand Israel in every direction.

We now realize, in light of the collapse of coalition negotiations due to Lieberman's insistence on inclusion of the Orthodox in a conscription law, that he is in fact the true custodian of a secular Israel. Our headlines this week such as "Lieberman the toast of Tel Aviv" and "Get a White Russian for The Dude Lieberman" will, we hope, go some way to correcting any misunderstanding to which our thousands of previous news stories and opinion articles may have given rise.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Quote of the Day

Speech today on the anniversary of the Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon in 2000, by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah:

Imagine if there had been no resistance in Lebanon, and if there had been no liberation in 2000,  one would have thought that if the Israeli occupation army still controls our land in southern Lebanon to a minimum today, would not we now have seen Mr. Trump guide southern Lebanon or a large part of southern Lebanon to the government of the enemy, as given by Jerusalem and as given by the Golan, as the West Bank will give it and as given by its predecessors in 1948? 

Is he wrong? 

Sunday, May 19, 2019

New exploding turban cartoon outrage

That's a caricature in Saudi newspaper Okaz accompanying an opinion article discussing Iran's possible motives in the still murky attacks on Gulf shipping in the waters off the UAE. 

Quote of the Day

From the film BrĂ¼no --

For the second time in a century, the world had turned on Austria's greatest man just because he was brave enough to try something new.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Quote of the Day

In FT weekend,  John McTernan reviews a few Corbynism books:

[Labour] Centrists had forgotten the old motto of the Labour party's organisation department — "The Victory of Ideals must be Organised".

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Bad breeding

Prior to the Kentucky Derby tweeting, the last time Donald Trump had shown this much interest in horses was when he was dabbling in the anti-vaccine cesspool. 

Bobos in Dublin

The New York Times Sunday Travel section hails the authentic cocktail bar scene in Ireland --

The growing popularity of craft cocktails has spread well beyond Dublin, and its rise could have stifled the unfussy fun of Ireland’s bar scene. And yet, the opposite is true. Instead of a gruff doorman with a clipboard outside a cocktail bar, visitors can expect the warm welcome, conversation and personality inherent to Ireland’s best pubs at this new generation of bars. “What Irish people tend to hate is pretension,” said Stephen Teeling, the distillery co-owner, adding that such affectations crept in during the country’s economic boom years, “but it’s not us.”

Ireland's (pre-2009) economic boom is to Ireland what the 2003 US invasion of Iraq is to "anti-establishment" posers everywhere -- everyone defines themselves in terms of not being that sort of thing, even when by an objective standard, they're doing something just as ridiculous (tripping over themselves to buy €15 cocktails, or supporting Baathist dictators, respectively).

A pint of Guinness will cost about half of one of these cocktails, and it's still your only man. 

Saturday, May 04, 2019

Bobos in Belgrade

Branko Milanovic --

When I arrived in the United States, coming from the worker-management world of Titoist Yugoslavia, I was somewhat surprised how Americans took the strongly hierarchical, quasi dictatorial relations in the business world as fully “normal”. I was half expecting that workers would have a say in the choice of their “managers” (actually, for a long time, I could not even figure out who exactly is a “manager”) but of course they did not. The promotions were made by cooption or even direct appointment of lower echelons by the higher echelons. And of course, the management was selected by the owners themselves. So the system was entirely top-down: the top selected the down it liked to have. It was remarkably similar to the political system from which I came. There too the Central Committee coopted its new members; these selected their replacements and so forth down to the lowest level of Communist Party cell. Formally speaking, American companies were organized like the Communist Party. In both cases, to paraphrase Bertold Brecht, the leadership selected their employees, or their citizens. In one case the dictatorship was in the social sphere, in another in the work sphere.

This point is important. There is a further implication. The similarity of the Communist Party and American companies was reflected in the shared emergence of a managerial class; these were very complicated entities without internal market signals, and it takes a lot of managerial capacity to run such organizations. And those people emerge as a class with their own interests.

"The New Class" as the Yugoslav dissident (eventually) Milovan Djilas labelled them.

There is a lineage from the realization of 1950s Communism that something new had emerged, to noticing the same feature of large corporations in "the West," to the rise of an upper middle class in Europe and North America organized around credentials, consultancy / management / professions, to the Peak Bobo presidency of Barack Obama. And the backlash, the reveling in ignorance and the ostensible appeal to "physical" work of Donald Trump and his fellow strongman populists. Who are neither strong, nor populist, but anyway. 

Keynes on Electability

As US political pundits work through their "learned nothing, forgotten nothing" antics for another election cycle, presidential candidates are being assessed in terms of their "electability," meaning some sense of for whom a typical voter is likely to vote. Here's Keynes from Chapter 12 of the General Theory on the problems with that approach --

This battle of wits to anticipate the basis of conventional valuation a few months hence, rather than the prospective yield of an investment over a long term of years, does not even require gulls amongst the public to feed the maws of the professional; — it can be played by professionals amongst themselves. Nor is it necessary that anyone should keep his simple faith in the conventional basis of valuation having any genuine long-term validity. For it is, so to speak, a game of Snap, of Old Maid, of Musical Chairs — a pastime in which he is victor who says Snap neither too soon nor too late, who passes the Old Maid to his neighbour before the game is over, who secures a chair for himself when the music stops. These games can be played with zest and enjoyment, though all the players know that it is the Old Maid which is circulating, or that when the music stops some of the players will find themselves unseated. 

Or, to change the metaphor slightly, professional investment may be likened to those newspaper competitions in which the competitors have to pick out the six prettiest faces from a hundred photographs, the prize being awarded to the competitor whose choice most nearly corresponds to the average preferences of the competitors as a whole; so that each competitor has to pick, not those faces which he himself finds prettiest, but those which he thinks likeliest to catch the fancy of the other competitors, all of whom are looking at the problem from the same point of view. It is not a case of choosing those which, to the best of one’s judgment, are really the prettiest, nor even those which average opinion genuinely thinks the prettiest. We have reached the third degree where we devote our intelligences to anticipating what average opinion expects the average opinion to be. And there are some, I believe, who practise the fourth, fifth and higher degrees.

Les Etats-Unis, Douze Points

This year's Eurovision Song Context, hosted in Tel Aviv, will in all likelihood be the first to be watched, or at least tweeted about, by an American president.