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!

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Hurray for New Math, New Math

Meanwhile over in Bizarro World, I am saying:
LAST WEEKEND the Pope gave a warning against treating religion as a "consumer product� in which one picks and chooses the bits one likes. Though irretrievably atheistic, I have every sympathy with him.

Dear me, I am a little bit pompous over in Bizarro World, aren't I?

In related news, Oliver appears to have been reading a couple of textbooks in the higher mathematics:
When mathematicians speak of set theory, no one suggests they be required to give equal time in class to those who dispute that the next number in the set �one, two, three� is �four�.

I have checked this with two (2) mathematicians, one of whom is a Chartered Mathematician and I bet you didn't know there was any such thing. Both of them confirm that the set {"one", "two", "three"} does not have a member which is "four".[1]

[1] Perhaps Oliver is confusing it with the set {"one", "two", "three", "four"}[2]. It's a common mistake but you would have thought the Times subs would have picked it up. In Bizarro World.
[2] More specifically, the ordered set, but now you're just being pedantic.
0 comments this item posted by the management 8/31/2005 03:34:00 AM

Friday, August 26, 2005

Justified and Ancient

(posted here for various reasons of convenience. Also the Crooked Timber comments policy is to avoid pointless flamewars about Middle East politics whereas the D^2D comments policy is "kick out the jams, mofos". I don't even always delete blatant comment spam because it makes the site look more popular).

Brad DeLong and Jeff Weintraub are trying to have a civilised debate over whether The Left are treacherously undermining our war effort by accident or on purpose. Sorry, guys, include me out of the "civil and measured" part of this. Not so long ago I was talking in the context of George Galloway about the kind of rhetoric that comes close to being the sort of thing that a decent Millian liberal would want to see banned; well, in my book raising dolchstosslegende is right up there too. Jeff Weintraub appears to be explicitly saying that in his view, many people on the liberal Left in America in the 1950s were actually partisans of the Stalinist cause, that naming, shaming, ostracising and blacklisting them was the right thing to do and that we ought to do the same thing today with people who might be sympathisers of The Terrorists. He is a professional philosopher so no doubt he will be able to come up with a watertight explanation of why this isn't McCarthyism, but I for one won't be buying it. So forgive me my gentle readers if the essay below tends toward playing political dirty pool; I feel that when someone is claiming that there is a fifth column of decadent liberals within our midst, the governing rules are not so much Marquess of Queensbury as WWF Hardcore.

So anyway. Brad 'n' Jeff are all on about the distinction between "explaining" terrorist atrocities and "justifying" them, with Mr Weintraub claiming, (on the basis of what look to me to be very flimsy interpretations of partial quotes taken out of context from Normblog) that a very substantial proportion of antiwar liberals who claim to be doing the former are actually being dishonest because they really mean the latter.

This is one hell of a claim to make. Let's be clear about this; he's not just deciding to abandon the normal convention that when we're having a political argument with someone, we do them the courtesy of assuming good faith. That would be bad enough, but the fact of the matter is that this isn't just one of your Internet games. Under currently proposed UK legislation, "justifying terrorist violence" is "unacceptable behaviour" which could get you deported if you're an immigrant. It's clearly not far off being a criminal offence in the UK, so throwing around accusations of "justifying terrorism" is not at all the sort of thing that anyone can shrug off lightly.

So it's not something that ought to be discussed with hypothetical examples and stipulations. Instead, let's take a case where it is agreed by all that some people are engaged in the business of "explaining" while others are "justifying" and see what we can learn about the distinction. I'm sure there are many such cases, but here's one that occurred to me.

You see, there is this country called Israel, and it has an army called the Israel Defense Forces. And from time to time, the Israel Defence Forces do things which, taken as single actions on their own, would look to be very bad indeed. Things like shooting children for throwing rocks. Or like bulldozing people's houses because a family member committed a crime somewhere else. But when they do these things, they do them for reasons.

Now there are basically three points of view that people take toward the controversial activities of the IDF. Some people regard them as "wholly inexcusable" and deny that there is any explanation, excuse or justification possible for them. I think that people who say that are being intentionally blind to the facts. Some people, like me, believe that what they're doing is basically morally unacceptable, but that it hardly takes place in a vacuum, that they are for the most part reacting to a situation not wholly of their own making and who knows, maybe if it was me and my countrymen getting blown up by suicide bombers, maybe I'd be a lot more sympathetic to what they do. And then finally, there are plenty of people, not me, who think that the IDF are justified in acting as they do, that the Palestinians have brought their troubles on themselves and that bulldozing houses and shooting kids with rocks can be the right thing to do if you are acting in national self-defence.

[there will now be a short pause during which everyone who was composing a sentence in which they accuse me of claiming that there is moral equivalence between the Iraqi insurgents and the IDF, may quietly fuck off]

I think we have here something that throws quite a lot of light on the distinction between "justifying" and "explaining" things. What Jeff Weintraub apparently believes is that in the case of Iraq, there are a lot of people who are claiming to have the sort of views about the Iraqi insurgents that I have about the IDF's use of bulldozers, but who actually have the sort of views that the proprietors of Little Green Footballs have about the IDF's use of bulldozers.

A somewhat unfair and tendentious analogy? Well yes, but it wasn't me that started it. In any case, we can take this a bit further. One thing that we know about The Left is that one of its favourite activities is pointless infighting over minor details of analysis. Certainly, in the context of Israel, whenever I make a remark which expresses my own point of view explaining the excesses of the IDF, it is not difficult to start a vehement argument with people who think I ought to be moving further in the direction justifying them, or further in the direction of unequivocally condemning them. This is because, on the left, there are plenty of representatives of all three points of view on this issue.

On Iraq �? Not so much. The argument is entirely between "explain" and "unequivocally condemn". You will search far and wide (you will find something in the end, but it will not be an easy search) to find examples of one person on the liberal left excoriating someone else on the liberal left for not giving the Iraqi insurgents enough of the benefit of the doubt.

Now this might be because there is a massive, Left-wide tacit agreement to all keep shtum so that we can get away with our clever deception. But the problem with asserting this is that it is visibly ridiculous. The Left has never been able to sustain a united front on any issue in the past and has always succumbed to the narcissism of minor differences of emphasis. A much more plausible explanation is that there is no criticism of mainstream "explanation" of the insurgency from the point of view of people who give the insurgents more credit, because there are (to a rounding error) no such people.

In other words, my contention is that the fact that the question of active apologism for the Iraqi insurgency isn't a topic of vicious internecine fighting among the mainstream liberal left (in the way that active apologism for Palestinian terrorists is), this is decent evidence that there is next to no genuine apologism for the Iraqi insurgency on the liberal left. Stab-in-the-back, how are ya.
0 comments this item posted by the management 8/26/2005 06:19:00 AM
Some questions have easy answers

It just struck me that I know the answer to at least one question which surely must have puzzled at least a few people with respect to the Social Security debate in the USA.

Q: Why are the "administration costs" so much higher for private sector pension plans than SS? Isn't it at least a little bit strange for a government program to have so much lower deadweight cost than a private sector one?

A: "Administration costs" is a euphemism; most of the difference between the cost of SS and the cost of a private pension plan is the commission paid to the adviser who sold the plan. These commissions are quite material and the costs are, of course, borne by the consumer in the final analysis (as I used to point out to graduate trainees, retail customers have to bear the cost of everything in the financial sector as they are the only ones who go out and work for a living).

There you go. If anyone else has a couple of "easy answers" like this, post 'em on your blog.
0 comments this item posted by the management 8/26/2005 12:06:00 AM

Friday, August 19, 2005


Well, if Mohammed won't go to the mountain, the mountain sometimes has to come to Mohammed. Now that I'm unable to go over and pick fights with Harry's Place, they're being very accomodating in coming over here to pick fights with me. Marcus has decided to open up a third phase of the International Law Wars in the comments on my George Galloway thread below. I think he comes out of it very badly really but maybe you lot will be able to explain to me why I'm wrong. It all gets quite bad-tempered so it's pretty entertaining.
0 comments this item posted by the management 8/19/2005 06:24:00 AM

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Fuck off, the lot of ye

Following John B's example I have decided to alienate and annoy my entire readership by sticking up for a bunch of people who are about as unpopular as it is possible to be; the Jewish settlers in the Gaza Strip.

Why do they need to be evicted from their houses? Presumably they have been told that the Palestinians are in charge now and have decided to take their chances. If they are being chucked out because the Palestinians' first act as masters of their own destiny is to want them chucked out, then do the Palestinians really have the right to ethnically cleanse their territory in this way? If they are being chucked out because the State of Israel doesn't want the long-tailed liability of having to defend them at some future date, then is this really any way to run a railroad? Surely a more sensible way of going about the problem would be to tell them that the IDF was no longer at the other end of the phone, that they would have to comply with local laws, that local courts in future would probably take a more draconian line on the practice of shooting random Arab youths who happened to wander past their compounds and that there was a reasonable social welfare system for them back in Israel if in light of the above they decided to chuck in their cards. Perhaps I am a hopeless optimist about the feasibility of a multiethnic state in the Middle East but it does seem a bit much to legislate against even trying one. What am I missing here? Update: quite a lot, apparently, see comments.
0 comments this item posted by the management 8/18/2005 11:25:00 PM

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Banned again

Gosh how disappointing, after having been specifically promised that this wouldn't happen because they found me "entertaining" (although also "boring" so I suppose I should have realised that the entertaining thing would only ever be a passing fad). I think it's because of this bit where I mildly remonstrate with an attempt to smear Haifa Zargana[1] as a collaborator with Saddam. Oh well I dare say I shall recover.

I have been doing a few more constructive things around the blogs though, of which perhaps more anon.

[1]Who appears to me to have a number of quite bizarre political views but who does not seem to be guilty of the specific charge she is accused of here.

Update: I have just been told that I am not banned, although I get exactly the "You are not allowed to post comments" message that I got on each of my four previous bans. This might possibly be some sort of technical snafu but at present I am not inclined to expend much effort in finding out.

Update Update: Of course I'm bloody banned, I can't believe I fell for that. Apparently though, it's only a game and I shouldn't take it too seriously when people call me a twat behind my back and don't let me respond.
0 comments this item posted by the management 8/17/2005 08:43:00 AM

Friday, August 05, 2005

Aroond the bloags

Recently I ve been ... arguing Millian liberalism over at the Sharpener (btw, sorry lads for turning your comments section into a secondary theatre of Harry�s Place), sticking up for Eurocrats chez Abiola and talking various bollocks at John�s site. Although rather frighteningly, probably not lowering the average quality there as SBBS has a bit of a loon infestation at present.
0 comments this item posted by the management 8/05/2005 06:31:00 AM

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Two falls, two submissions and a knockout

(posted here because I'm having temporary techie problems with CT)

With the inevitable Barthesian logic of a good wrestling show, Gorgeous George Galloway has made suckers of us all. After bringing a smile to the stoniest of faces when he took apart Norm Coleman and gang, he's gone on a tour of Al-Jazeera territory, with some frankly unforgivable rhetoric (I've watched the footage and can confirm that in this specific instance, the translation is accurate). I have always known that Georgeous Gorge was going to end up being an embarrassment to the antiwar movement and here you go.

To be honest, listening to these orations, my reaction was that this is on the absolute cusp of being the sort of thing that a decent, liberal society ought to be chucking people in jail for. The issue is the language; a charitable interpretation might be that GG has allowed his own gift for turning a fiery phrase to combine with the hyperbole beloved of Arab literature ("a thousand curses, etc, etc) to quite dangerous effect. A less charitable interpretation would be that, like Enoch Powell with his River Tiber, he knows exactly what he's fucking doing and doesn't care. It is entirely possible to express the opinion that the current status of Jerusalem and Baghdad is problematic without saying a) "your beautiful women are being raped by the foreigner" or b) "your rulers are doing nothing to protect your beautiful women". If this was said in the UK, I would guess it would be exactly the sort of thing that would be captured by the incitement to hatred laws (either racial or religious depending on whether he's going on about Islam or specifically Arabs). I'm not a great fan of those laws, so I wouldn't necessarily support such a prosecution, but I would certainly regard it as a misfortune he'd brought on himself.

This is entirely compatible with Millian liberalism, by the way. If someone wants to express the vilest of views, they ought to be entitled to do so in the same public fora as the rest of us. But always with the caveat that you're not allowed to directly incite violent or socially destructive behaviour. You can preach from the pulpit or publish in your newspaper that group X are the spawn of Satan and that God abominates their presence. But when you start wheeling out the metaphors and stirring up the crowd, then you've crossed a line my friend; the line between trying to convince people by argument and trying to force them into your view of the world by things that are not arguments. Galloway isn't speaking truth to power on Al-Jazeera like he was in the House of Representatives; he's speaking untruths to the powerless. And if you're doing that, you mind your language or you start undercutting the basis of your right to free speech. This is hardly a first offence too, but it's the most egregious one I've seen (the "wolves" comment that got him chucked out the Labour Party was of a piece, but less obviously likely to stir up terrorist violence). This bugger ought to have been kept at arms' length from the get-go and now that he's won his seat and made the anti-war points, I would suggest that the rest of the RESPECT (George Galloway) coalition might want to consider whether the parenthetical part of their party's name is on balance worth the trouble he causes.

Sigh. I don't really blame GG for this; it would be pointless to do so, like getting angry with Ravishing Rick Rude for pulling out a pair of brass knuckles while Hulk Hogan's arguing with the referee. The pantomime has to play itself out and that's and end to it.
0 comments this item posted by the management 8/03/2005 11:27:00 AM

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