Economics and similar, for the sleep-deprived
A subtle change has been made to the comments links, so they no longer pop up. Does this in any way help with the problem about comments not appearing on permalinked posts, readers?
Update: seemingly not
Update: Oh yeah!
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Just in passing
I think I speak for every bonus-earning banker in the country when I say a heartfelt "thank you" to Members of Parliament for pushing us far down into the relegation zone of the national shit-list. Through a combination of
a) fiddling the system for amounts that the average man in the street can understand (how big is a £3.4m pension pot? Can anyone really visualise that sort of money? But a £2k duck house, everyone can get a grip on that and see that it's wildly extravagant), and
b) offering such massive hostages for fortune by moralising in such a hilarious way when it was our necks on the block ("Court of Public Opinion", anyone?),
the membership of the Mother of Parliaments have well and truly established themselves as the benchmark for venality, thus conveniently pushing us off the radar screen. Thanks guys.
Update: I actually think that Anthony "You're just jealous" Steen has been rather hard done by. All the rest of them, when exposed to light, start blithering about "mistakes" and offering to pay back the money, thus demonstrating that they knew they were doing something shifty all along. Steen just fronts it out, telling us all to fuck off if we want our money back, thus demonstrating that he believed he deserved it all. Which makes him in a curious way, the most honest one of the lot of them; unlike, say, Hazel Blears, he never took any money he wasn't prepared to defend the taking of. Delusional, obviously, but honest.
this item posted by the management 5/26/2009 01:16:00 AM
Friday, May 15, 2009
"Built to last" vs "Built for a purpose"
This week I have been mostly reviewing David Aaronovitch's "Voodoo Histories" over at Aaronovitch Watch. In doing so, something struck me about a particular form of argument, advanced several times by Aaronovitch in his book on conspiracy theories, but also by various kinds of economist who want to downgrade the importance of antitrust policy and the ubiquity of cartels.
The argument's a variant of the "nobody could organise something so big; somebody would talk" theory. It specifically states that the number of conspiracies/cartels which have been proved to exist in the past, is evidence against anyone who believes in a conspiracy in the present, as they all "failed", and demonstrate that it's impossible to organise a big plan against the public interest without being found out.
Except ... what's the definition of "failure" here? My guess is that the people who organised MK-ULTRA, or the Gulf of Tonkin incident, weren't necessarily all that concerned about posterity. An awful lot of these conspiracies were "found out" long after the people involved had retired on full pension, with their medals and with the political objectives they aimed to achieve long since won.
An engineering maxim variously attributed to Ferdinand Porsche, Colin Chapman and others, holds that the perfectly designed Formula One racing car would be one that crossed the finish line one metre ahead of its nearest rival and then fell to pieces. On that basis, the perfect conspiracy was Iran/Contra - it was exposed roughly five minutes after it was no longer needed, and everyone involved was acquitted of the major charges. Job's a good 'un; Oliver North is still considered an American Hero by everyone whose opinion he gives a fuck about. Conspirators do not need to take a bridges-and-tunnels approach to designing their secrecy arrangements.
this item posted by the management 5/15/2009 06:46:00 AM
Idea for a DVD concept - "Star Trek - Virtual Girlfriend Edition"
OK, some of the previous sitcom ideas have been a bit ropey, but this one is pure gold for the nerd market.
Basically, it's an edition of the Star Trek DVD box set where as well as the usual commmentary track extras, you can select an option where a female voice periodically asks "Who's that? Why is he a baddie this time? What are diluvium crystals? Didn't she used to be in that other thing? This is boring. Let's watch 'Holby City'. Did you remember to put the bins out?" and such like. The idea is to a) give lonely nerds a little bit of the feeling of having some company and b) to remind them that having a girlfriend would certainly interfere with enjoying their Star Trek DVDs.
Initial test marketing to take place in Japan, obviously. I'm seeing Davina McCall for the voiceover, with an additional option for Jane Leeves.
this item posted by the management 5/15/2009 02:48:00 AM
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
The thing about silent masses is, they're awfully silent
Looking a bit brighter for that BNP election prediction that had me worried a few months ago. The polls are coming in, and BNP support is basically slap bang where it was in 2004 - about 4% in online polling and about 2% when people actually have to identify themselves face to face as a BNP supporter.
People seem to have a lot invested in the belief that polls underestimate the "true" support of the BNP. Last time round, they were polling 4% before the elections, but when the hidden masses were able to show their true feelings in the secrecy of the polling cubicle, their support soared to 5%. See comments on the first link above for a clear explanation of why the unwind of UKIP's 2004 spike in support doesn't really benefit the BNP - the class basis of the two parties is totally different, and while the 09-vintage BNP might arguably be a bit more coherent and better organised than 2004, the difference between Michael Howard's Tories and David Cameron's is night and day; the UKIP vote basically returns to its natural home in the Conservative Party.
Maybe I'm wrong or maybe I'm right on this one, but the data really isn't supporting the view that I'm wrong.
this item posted by the management 5/13/2009 05:23:00 AM
Monday, May 11, 2009
Moments in language
Melanie Phillips' latest post on the Spectator weblog is entitled "Another rancid dropping from the British camel corps". The phrase "camel corps" is meant to refer to pro-Arab British journalists. Is this acceptable? What would a parallel description of pro-Israel British journalists be, and can one think of one that wouldn't obviously be racist? I think this is eally quite disgraceful. Admittedly, I've picked it out of context, but the context is a bunch of other posts about defending intelligent design, ridiculing the possibility of global warming and accusing people of having an obsession with Israel.
Is this just unscrupulous nutpicking on my part? I don't think it can reasonably be so called. Melanie Phillips isn't a part-time blogger - her weblog appears on the site of the Spectator magazine, which has thus published the accusations that Sir Max Hastings has an "obsessive animus" against Israel and "a dysfunctional inability" to view Israel rationally. Her blog is listed alongside that of Martin Bright, Clive Davis and Alex Massie, all of whom are apparently happy to see their names alongside her (Alex Massie, in fairness, appears to regularly demur from her stranger outbursts and Davis rarely mentions other bloggers, but Bright, in particular, has described her as "worth reading" in the last two months). Although MMR denialism, intelligent design and the existence of a journalistic "camel corps" are all of them fringe views, Melanie Phillips is not a fringe figure. This is a bit worrying.
this item posted by the management 5/11/2009 11:44:00 PM
Q: If I know a few blokes who have their eye on a bank, and I know another bloke who's got some gelignite, and I put them in touch with each other, then when they go out together and rob a bank, am I guilty of conspiracy?
A: Basically yes. The charge would be "knowingly concerned". It's usually extremely difficult to make such a charge stick, however, as the "middleman" rarely leaves a paper trail and can always claim in court that he never realised that the two sets of bad lads were going to do something illegal.
Q: If I happen to know of a group of Cuba-obsessed nutters who have a massive grudge against the President, and I know a Cuba-obsessed loner who has a gun and a record of trying to assassinate people, and I put them in touch with each other, then when the lone weirdo assassinates the President, am I guilty of conspiracy?
A: Of course not, how on earth would you have known anything like that would have happened? The worst you could be accused of would be negligence, so better organise a cover-up anyway.
Q: By the way, why were you fucking around with far-right Cuban solidarity groups and mentally unstable Soviet double-agents in the first place?
A: I'm sorry, that information is classified.
(This, a "shorter" summary of Peter Dale Scott's "Deep Politics and the Death of JFK" is so far my greatest feat of precis. I am entering it in the Summarlympics).
this item posted by the management 5/11/2009 06:35:00 AM
Friday, May 08, 2009
Clive Crook has been to a symposium on a forthcoming book by Matt Ridley, applying his profound knowledge of evolutionary biology to modern economics, and particularly to the connections between excess testostorone and financial risk-taking.
Q: why is this hilarious?
this item posted by the management 5/08/2009 07:05:00 AM
Wednesday, May 06, 2009
Never underestimate the importance of careerism
Matthew Yglesias repeatedly and correctly banging his head against the general tendency of the USA to get played in its dealings with Pakistan, among other savvy client states:
"After all, United States pressure played an important role in easing the military out of power recently. But the American security establishment seems to have hit upon the slightly bizarre notion that the appropriate response to the Pakistan military’s unwillingness or inability to effectively provide security for the country is that we should welcome them taking over all government responsibilities. Call me skeptical.
Whatever you think of that, recall that our relationship with Pakistan is shot through with paradoxes. Rising Islamic radicalism helped convince Americans that we should keep Pervez Musharraf in power. The more the territory the Taliban seizes, the more money we give to the Pakistan government. And the background context is that there are many more Pakistani elites who speak English than there are American elites who speak Urdu or Punjabi; and many more Pakistani elites who have western educations than there are American elites who went to school in Pakistan. The United States is rich and strong, Pakistan is poor and weak. But Pakistani officials have a much greater ability to manipulate American officials than vice versa."
or to put it succinctly, as is my tendency:
Shorter Matthew Yglesias: The Pakistan desk in the US State Department is something of a career graveyard for people who aren't really headed for the top. On the other hand, in the Pakistani government, the Pakistan desk is one of the most important postings there is.
this item posted by the management 5/06/2009 01:41:00 PM
Big news for fans of Denis MacShane!!!
I can't believe I missed this one. Denis MacShane is going to be the new Chairman of the European Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism!!!!! Wow, it's extraordinary. To think that only a few months ago people had written MacShane off as a has-been-never-was New Labour rentagob with no other purpose than to show up on graveyard slot radio mouthing party loyalist talking points in the hope of getting his job back. And now here he is, taking over as CHAIRMAN (ie, in charge of the whole thing) of Steven Pollard's second most important thinktank, with Winston "Funky Broadway" Pickett as his sidekick (etc etc, all these jokes used before).
MacShane has immediately leapt into the new role, which is every bit as important to him as a pub in Newcastle with a chalkboard sign up promising free shots for women who showed their breasts. His first act as Chairman appears to be to promise that the big report which was meant to be delivered last September will be "published in the spring". Fuck you very much, btw, to the Department of Communities and Local Government inquiries office, which has steadfastly not answered a single one of my inquiries about this report.
I look forward to a new era of dynamism at EISCA. Iain Duncan Smith is now on the advisory board so things are clearly stepping up a gear.
 Victory!. Note that the campaign was actually spearheaded by MacShane's daughter, who's a student at the university there. This holds out the tantalising prospect that we are seeing the birth of a MacShane political dynasty.
Labels: intrinsically risible people, potemkin thinktanks
this item posted by the management 5/06/2009 12:27:00 AM
It's no longer Moroning In America
Good God, Michael Savage is on the Home Secretary's list of arseholes not welcome on these shores. American readers, come one, come all to this blessed isle, where Rush Limbaugh is hardly known and Michael Savage is not allowed at all.
Frankly, though, I have a great deal of sympathy for Savage's reaction. He is, to be clear, a horrific moron, and given to some of the most stupid and demagogic ranting I've ever heard in the back of a cab. But I don't believe he's ever specifically advocated violence, and the fact that nobody's dug up a specific instance on which he did so in the context of this ban confirms me in this view. And surely this ought to be the standard - being hateful and unpleasant is not in itself a crime.
It makes me suspect that quite a few of the Arabic names on that list which I don't recognise are basically Muslim versions of Michael Savage; belligerent ranting halfwits, but not actually violent people. The general vein of thinking that digs up passages from the Hamas Covenant and uses them as a reason to no-platform anyone anywhere with a six-degrees-of-separation link to the Muslim Brotherhood is not one of which I'm a fan, and its legal expression is bound to suffer from the equivalent of grade inflation over time.
this item posted by the management 5/06/2009 12:04:00 AM
Tuesday, May 05, 2009
Secret Society of the Week - the Prince Hall Masons
This is going to be a bit of an ongoing theme in Encyclopedia-of-Fraternal-Organisations-blogging, as the heyday of the fraternal lodge and secret society craze in the USA overlapped with the heyday of segregation. This week, a society that is still not without importance, although mainly in Liberia. Heavily abridged by me, and still one of the longest entries in the book ...
"In surveying Prince Hall freemasonry, one discovers first hand what effect racial prejudice and discrimination has had in American society, even among fraternal orders. For instances, PHF came into being because white Masons barred black citizens [...]
Prince Hall, a black man, was born in 1748 in the West Indies. In 1765 he came to the USA and soon became a clergyman in Cambridge, Mass. For some reason, he was intent on becoming a Freemason. Thus, in 1775 he courageously approached a British military camp in Boston [...] the British Army Lodge (Lodge no. 441) accepted him. On July 3, 1775, he opened a Masonic lodge of black men, dedicated to St John. This was the first black lodge in the United States [...]
[Hall] petitioned the Grand Master of Massachussets for a charter. His petition was rejected on the basis of color. Not too long after, he petitioned the Garnd Lodge of England for a charter and received it on September 29, 1784 [...], by 1808 the first grand lodge was formed, the African Grand Lodge of Boston, later known as Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachussetts.[...]
In spite of Prince Hall Masonry having received its fraternal legitimation from the same source that the white American Masons received theirs, white Masonic lodges have not only refused to recognize Prince Hall Masonry, but have often referred to it as "clandestine".
The statement made some years ago by Albert Pike, the leading Masonic spokesman, is frequently cited [...] "I took my obligations from white men, not from negroes. When I have to accept negroes as brothers or leave Masonry, I shall leave it. Better let the thing drift". [...]
Whenever attempts have been made (and there have been several) to recognize black Masonry, it has met with rebuff on the grand lodge level. For instance, in 1898 the Grand Lodge of Washington entertained the question [...] Although the report was favorable to the black Masons, stating that Prince Hall Masonry was legitimate, the Grand Lodge of Washington took no specific action relative to recognizing black Masonry. This rather innocuous report set off a flurry of condemnations [...] some of the grand lodges servered their ties with the Grand Lodge of Washington [...] Because the Grand Lodge of New Jersey has over the years tolerated the [black] Alpha Lodge, it has been censured [...] the Grand Lodge of Oklahoma severed its relations with New Jersey in 1940 - two years later, however, the ties were restored.
A number of white Masons, it must be noted, have over the years strongly disagreed [...] William H Upton, a former Grand Master of the Lodge of Washington, published a pamphlet, Light on a Dark Subject (1899) and Negro Masonry: A Critical Examination (1902) [...] The Grand Lodge of Massachussetts in 1947 gave a special committee report on black Masonry. While neither the committee nor the grand lodge formally recognized black Masonry as legitimate, it noted "The real opposition to Negro Freemasonry is rather social than legal". The report also noted that racial discrimination, practiced by so many American Masons, was inconsistent with the tenets of Freemasonry and that "we should practice our teachings" [...] Marshall Field, the famous Chicago businessman was initiated into a Prince Hall lodge in Chicago.[...]
With reference to the use of ritual, degrees, signs and oaths, the black Masons differ very little from the white lodges. In fact, the Scottish Rite degree ritual, from the first to the thirty-third degree, was given to the Prince Hall ANcient and Accepted Scottish Rite by Albert Pike. Apparently, Pike, who felt white Masons were to be segregated from the black members, did not see it amiss to supply the black Masons with his works.[...]
Prince Hall Freemasonry, it must be remembered, is over 200 years old. During these years the order has overcome a number of setbacks. The latest one confronting PHM is its membership decline. From 1900 to 1930 it probably experienced its finest decades. Then came the Great Depression, which sent memberships downward. The late 1940s and 1950s again brought increases to the black craft. Since the 1960s, however, memberships have been declining, a trend very similar to Masonry among white Americans. In 1976, the total American membership stood at 265,000.
True to the white traditions and "landmarks" of Freemasonry, PHM does not permit women to join. Women belong to auxiliary organisations [...]
This book was published in 1980, and Masonry in the USA was apparently still segregated. According to Wikipedia, 41 out of the 51 Grand Lodges in the USA now recognise Prince Hall lodges. Per this list, the Prince Hall Lodges of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia are not recognised by their home state's "mainstream" grand lodge, which makes 12 on my count.
By way of scale, the 1976 membership figure, after a decade and a half of decline, would have been as much as 4% of the adult black male population.
Next week: Something shorter. Possibly the Vasa Order of America.
 He means men, of course, not "citizens" - my edition of "Fraternal Organisations" was published in 1980, at the beginning of the non-sexist language crusade.
 A very nasty Masonic insult, it is to be presumed. The author of "Fraternal Organisations" is not clear why it might be applied to Prince Hall lodges, or why it might be considered a bad thing for a secret society to be clandestine.
 Much more to come on the subject of Albert Pike in the future.
 Whose company gave James O McKinsey of the eponymous management consultancy his big break, but that's another story
 His works? Pike wrote all the rituals of the Scottish Rite. Blah blah ancient tradition, but the actual words were all his own work. The literary appeal of Pike's rituals was one of the big selling points of the Scottish Rite as opposed to other forms of Freemasonry. The other big selling point was the link with the Shriners, but that really is a story for another week.
 This one possibly worthy of comment as Charleston, SC is the World Grand Lodge of York Rite Freemasonry.
this item posted by the management 5/05/2009 04:59:00 PM