Thursday, December 31, 2020

Burgundy over blue


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

Bonus points for the NHS-bashing. 

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

Add to reading list

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

Quote of the day

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

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

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Economics not politics

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

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

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

Monday, December 28, 2020

New variant stupidity

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Brexit according to George, Ringo, Paul, and John

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

The Ballad of John and Yoko

Helen Wheels (Paul McCartney and Wings)

Goodnight Vienna (Ringo Starr)

Penny Lane

Awaiting on You All (George Harrison)

Cold Turkey (John Lennon / Plastic Ono band)

Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey (Paul McCartney)

Back in the USSR

Give Ireland back to the Irish (Paul McCartney)

God (John Lennon)

Revolution 1

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Reading the EU UK Trade Agreement

 Page 535 (underline added) --

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

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

Quote of the Century

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

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

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

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

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

Word of the Day

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


Friday, December 25, 2020

Brexit trade deal

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

Which may be true.

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

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

Friday, December 11, 2020

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

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


O that we now had here

But one ten thousand of those men in England

That do work from home today!


What's he that wishes so?

My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin:

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

To do our country loss; and if to trade,

The fewer goods, the greater share of quotas.

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

By Gove, I am not covetous for turbot,

Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;

It yearns me not if men my garments wear;

Such outward things dwell not in my desires:

But if it be a sin to covet control,

I am the most offending soul alive.

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

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

As one man more, methinks, would share from me

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

Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,

That he which hath no stomach to this traffic jam,

Let him depart; his passport shall be blue

And euros for convoy put into his purse:

We would not wait in that man's company

That fears his fellowship to be stuck with us.

This day is called the feast of No Deal Brexit:

He that outlives this day, and comes home ever,

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

And rouse him at the name of BROCK.

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

Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,

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

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

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

Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,

But he'll remember with advantages

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

Familiar in his mouth as household words

Boris the king, Gove and Dominic,

Priti and Nigel, Rishi and Arlene,

Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.

This story shall the good man teach his son;

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

From this day to the ending of the world,

But we in it shall be remember'd;

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

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

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

This day shall gentle his condition:

And gentlemen in England now a-bed

Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,

And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks

That queued with us upon No Deal Brexit day.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Significance of every word understood

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

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

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Saved you a click

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

Sunday, November 08, 2020

How the Four Seasons Total Landscaping fiasco happened

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 07, 2020


 How it started

How it's going

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

Election 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Election 2020

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

Monday, November 02, 2020

Quote of the Day

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

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

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

Sunday, November 01, 2020

Song of the Day


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

Sunday, October 25, 2020

The distortion of politcs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 18, 2020

They never learn

Steve Bannon has managed to get himself back into the US politics legacy and social media slipstream, while on bail for fraud charges, through an interview that he gave to that widely watched American news outfit ... Sky News Australia. In other words, a platform that has no distribution in the USA, and an interview that took place during the sleeping hours of most of the USA. But of course, it's that Bannon guy who's doing what looks a TV interview somewhere with an outfit that has "news" in its name, and the polarization-industrial complex has been stuck for material this weekend -- so it's News!

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Quote of the Day

Janan Ganesh in the Saturday Financial Times, with an innovative redeployment of the famous Yeats poem --

The falcon can hear the falconer, it seems.

His underlying argument: the media exaggerate the degree of dissent about more restrictive Covid-19 public health measures. 

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Creative destruction

As if millions of hipsters suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced:

Wall Street Journal on the restaurant industry restructuring -- Yet many other chains say now is a time to get more aggressive. Olive Garden’s parent, Darden Restaurants Inc., is looking into expanding in urban areas including Manhattan where rents were previously too expensive to justify growth.

In touch with the people

Palestine News Agency (WAFA) --

President of the State of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, today, Saturday, congratulated the Chairman of the Labor Party, Chairman of the State Affairs Committee of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, Marshal Kim Jong Un, on the anniversary of the founding of the Korean Labor Party. In his telegram, [Abbas] valued the long-standing historical supportive role that the Korean Labor Party plays for the peoples who struggle for freedom and independence, and on top of that is its support for our people's legitimate struggle for freedom, independence and sovereignty over our Palestinian land, with East Jerusalem as its capital. The president expressed his confidence in President Jong Un's supportive stances towards the achievement of this noble goal, wishing the existing historical friendship between the two countries and two peoples and his party further development and advancement.

Quote of the Day

Ludovic Hunter-Tilney in the Financial Times on Eddie Van Halen:

The guitarist announced himself to the world on an instrumental track called "Eruption", an aptly titled masterclass in baroque fretwork pitched somewhere between Bach and Jimi Hendrix.  

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Eddie Van Halen


There's of lot of brilliant Van Halen but this song -- Chicago Blues fused with Van Halen's blistering raucous California hard rock -- is right up there among the best.

Saturday, October 03, 2020

The White House is Heathers


Deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger, who oversees the National Security Council, was among the earliest and most consistent mask wearers in the White House. He was previously mocked behind his back by some staffers for wearing a mask at work, one person familiar with the matter said.

New photo of White House Amy Coney Barrett reception


Actually it's the 1751 print Gin Lane by William Hogarth. But the print and its context is a good representation of the incredulity of the behaviour at the White House this day last week, and indeed for the months since the pandemic started. 

Transferred from en.wikipedia; transferred to Commons by User:NotFromUtrecht using CommonsHelper.




This was the warning sign. This day last week, the White House sent a special flight to South Bend to pick up the Barrett family and take them to the White House for a day of events related to the Supreme Court nomination. The ceremony and the optics were being prioritized -- during a pandemic. Touchdown Jesus became Touchdown Coronavirus. 

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Weapon of Wealth Destruction

Saddam Hussein and Donald Trump have a key area in common. Saddam didn't want to cooperate with the UN weapons inspectors, because he feared a public finding that he didn't have weapons of mass destruction: his ability to intimidate enemies would be gone. Donald Trump didn't want to cooperate with the wealth inspectors -- the Internal Revenue Service -- because he feared a public finding that he didn't have any wealth (as the New York Times tax returns revelations show). His ability to impress signifier-susceptible voters would be gone (James Poniewozik wrote a book about this). 

Friday, September 25, 2020

It's too late for a fence

Back in March and April, when there was a lot of bewilderment about the coronavirus, Tomás Pueyo introduced the vivid terminology of The Hammer and the Dance for the sequence that would be needed to get the pandemic under control. Even if the prescription was never exactly followed, it's a useful way to describe a cluster of severe measures early on, and then a more protracted phase of adjustments after that. Pueyo has now written a New York Times sequel calling for a "fence" -- based on the apparent movement of the virus from country to country and around cities and counties within a country. So if we restrict these kinds of movements, we restrict the virus. 

Maybe. But consider the following. We're now almost 10 months into the pandemic. The virus is everywhere. When we see new infection surges, these aren't infection surges from travel. They're local surges from social activity, aggravated by non-compliance with social distancing. The "fence" would have to be within a city to be effective, and there have to be at least a minimal consensus about what behaviour needs to be restricted on the infected side of the fence, and how this would be enforced (Madrid clearly lacks both at the moment).  

The ultra environmentalist mantra -- "we are the virus" -- is true. There is no possible fence, except the one that magically moves around with us, the zone corresponding to social distancing. But social distancing became uncool in June. And there seems to be little willingness to adopt it again, across all age groups. It's going to be a long winter. 

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Virtue of Parliament

There are many odd aspects to the "Kent Access Permit" revelation in the House of Commons today, although whether it's actually surprising depends on how much attention you were paying to "experts" about Brexit. But among the odd things: Michael Gove didn't even mention the permit in his opening statement. It was only revealed as part as a response to a follow-up question from Damian Green:

Damian Green (Ashford) (Con) I can assure my right hon. Friend that the so-called Saxon wall on the Ashford site is in fact a myth: it is not Saxon and it is not holding up work. The prospect of 7,000 trucks queuing to cross the channel will send a chill through my constituents, because we know the disastrous effect that has on all the roads in Kent. I very much support my right hon. Friend in his work to prepare the road haulage industry for the end of the transition period, but may I ask about the Government’s own preparations and specifically the smart freight system that he mentioned, which is essential for the smooth running of traffic across the channel? Can he give a guarantee that that system will be fully up and running and operational from January?

Michael Gove My right hon. Friend makes a number of very important points, and I am grateful to him for clearing up the point about archaeology, which I failed to address in my response to the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves), but his expertise in this area is greater. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that we want to avoid the level of congestion that this reasonable worst-case scenario sets out, and he is also absolutely right that that requires people to work together. It requires not just the haulage industry, but in particular those goods exporters who commit goods to haulage to be ready in time. Part of that is the smart freight system, which has been developed and is being shared with business. We want to make sure that people use a relatively simple process to get what will become known as a Kent access permit, which means that they can then proceed smoothly through Kent because they have the material required. If they do not have the material required, through policing, ANPR cameras and other means, we will do our very best to ensure that his constituents are not inconvenienced.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Could not happen today

From Studies in World Christianity / Volume 25, Issue 3 / The Origins of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in the United States: Early Developments in Indiana and Michigan and the Reactions of the Ecclesiastical Authorities by Valentina Ciciliot --

In the spring of 1973, Fr Michel Dubois, a priest from Belgium, was introduced to The Word of God charismatic community in Ann Arbor, Michigan, as someone who had come from Europe to experience the Catholic charismatic renewal in person. He stayed with community members in their homes, attended prayer meetings, met with a variety of small groups and participated in seminars. Only at the end of his approximately five-day visit did he reveal to everyone his true identity: Cardinal Léon Joseph Suenens, archbishop of Malines–Brussels and primate of Belgium, and one of the four moderators of Vatican II. Few in the community knew who he was, and his plan for anonymity worked well enough that he was able to have a personal encounter with this new movement in the US, known at that time as Catholic Pentecostalism (later it was widely known as the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, hereafter CCR).

Why, you ask, is the proprietor of this blog looking up this kind of stuff? Because while Republicans seem to be trying to bait Democrats into making Amy Coney Barrett's Catholicism an issue, it's the charismatic part that's going to be interesting if that ends up as a line of questioning. 

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.