Thursday, April 30, 2020

How did Coronavirus get to Russia?

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Pulitzer / Nobel confusion

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

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

Imagine a board stamping on a basketball hoop -- forever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Net Material Product

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

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

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

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Quote of the day

Holman Jenkins, Wall Street Journal:

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

Friday, April 24, 2020

The DTs

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

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Word of the day


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

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

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

Monday, April 20, 2020


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

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

How did the Coronavirus get to Moscow anyway?

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

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Crisis playlist

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

Friday, April 17, 2020

Learned nothing, forgotten nothing

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

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

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

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

This is not a new problem.

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Coronavirus is the Bourgeois Plague (4)

Arlington Virginia, via Arlington Now--

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

[Previously in this series]

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Monday, April 06, 2020

Royal stare > Mask

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

Photo via Petra

Sunday, April 05, 2020

It's not just Trump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: MSC Müller

Friday, April 03, 2020

To rebel is justified

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

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

Quote of the Day

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

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

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Competing risks

Important point from FT Health --

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

Coronavirus is the Bourgeois Plague (3)

Golf and Tennis comply with social distancing requirements.

[previously in this series]

Good instincts

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