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, February 28, 2007

Irregular Secret Society Blogging - The Supreme Tribe of Ben-Hur

"The Supreme Tribe of Ben-Hur" sounds like it might be quite an interesting and racy organisation - perhaps one of the Jewish-American crime syndicates that caused so much trouble in turn-of-the-century New York, or the paramilitary wing of "Jews for Jesus" or something. In fact, while fascinating in its own way, the STB-H was rather more prosaic in nature; it was basically a life assurance company.

It was founded in 1880, which was close to the high point of the fraternal society boom in the USA. It's interesting to me because it was actually a spin-off deal; the novel "Ben-Hur" by Lew Wallace had recently become a hit, and although the licensing industry was in its infancy, American capitalism was already far enough advanced for a couple of promoters to buy the secret society rights to the novel from its author.

Weird huh? It's one of the little ephemera of 19th century finance that there were such things as "secret society promoters" in the USA at this time. Recall that there was no Social Security at the time, and certainly no welfare state. The USA had also not really developed any equivalent of the Equitable Life Assurance Society or the Scottish mutual societies. There were a few life assurance firms, but they did not have much presence in the West and tended to be quite up-market in terms of the clientele they served.

Instead, life assurance for the working man was typically provided by fraternal organisations. The Odd Fellows (descendants of the journeymen's organisations which succeeded the medieval guilds early in the development of capitalism) were the biggest fraternal benefit society, but there were lots of others, often organised on industry or similar lines - the Elks, Eagles, etc.

These fraternal organisations provided benefits to their members - basically, everyone paid a monthly subscription and the society then paid sickness and death benefits on behalf of all. They tended to founder somewhat because they didn't make sufficient use of actuarial science to calibrate the benefits (and of course, they were terribly vulnerable to the effects of an aging membership, which is why so many of them no longer exist), but in their early days at least, they provided a useful service.

The secret society aspect came in partly in order to exclude non-members from gaining benefits, and partly because this sort of thing was very fashionable in the USA at the time. There was a general fascination with rituals and secret societies, and a really well-written set of initiation rites, or a unique selling point like an association with a popular novel, could really give a boost to a fraternal benefit organisation. Going into the twentieth century, many of them set up proper life assurance companies to handle the financial side, but kept the secret society aspect going alongside. (here's a description of the initiation ritual of what was by then called the "Ben Hur Life Association". Note the number of patriotic loyalty oaths - these were also very standard for American secret societies of the period)

And so it was that the Supreme Tribe of Ben-Hur came into being - they were strongest in Indiana, which was one of the most secret-society-joining states of the Union (at one point, 25% of all adult males in Indiana were members of the Ku Klux Klan!). They never really made much of a mark on history, other than in the Supreme Court case of STB-H vs Cauble, which established an important point about federal jurisdiction in class action lawsuits, and a rather nice building in Crawfordsville, Indiana. The society struggled on and might still be in existence today, though its life company changed its name to "USA Life Insurance" in 1988 and became a commercial company. But they never did anyone any harm as far as I can see and I have something of an affection for their slightly odd story.

Secret Society Trivia Quiz!: Whose ancient mystic secrets did the "Ancient Mystic Order of the Bagmen of Bagdad" swear to preserve, and why is it so hilarious that they vowed to never defile the chastity of womanhood?
10 comments this item posted by the management 2/28/2007 06:42:00 AM

Monday, February 26, 2007

Honourable exceptions

Quite, and quite. I can only add that with the honourable exception of Camden Council, nobody has taken away my bins for weeks. It's a disgrace. I'm really suffering here - with the honourable exception of egg and chips, I didn't have any breakfast either. In fact, with the honourable exception of those people whose job it is to do something, and the only conceivable people who might have done it, hardly anything gets done around here. "With the honourable exception". Learn it and use it. It's an excellent way of maintaining a point of view that has been proved wrong fewer than three times.
14 comments this item posted by the management 2/26/2007 10:53:00 PM

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Aroond the blogs

Of course, all this legal kerfufflery has rather obscured the real issue raised by the whole Guido/Bloggerheads contretemps, which is to say: who did what when in Angola in the 1980s? An astonishing piece of offtopic thread diversion here.

In similar vein, in the comments at Baggage Reclaim, me and a couple of the Little Atoms progressive humanist tendency are sorting out this messy business about the Enlightenment. I think we were about 40% of the way there when real life intervened; I'll make sure to give you all the heads up if and when we finally get it dusted.
5 comments this item posted by the management 2/18/2007 01:30:00 PM

Friday, February 16, 2007


If you want to read that Guido Fawkes Guardian article from 1986 it is really easy to find it on Google. I suspect that it will always be pretty easy from now on in to find it on Google as Guido has (perhaps unknowingly) initiated a game of "whack a mole" with whoever keeps posting it on anonymous blogs. I am not posting a link, on the basis that anyone who hasn't got the wit to find the thing themselves is probably best off not getting posession of potentially libellous information, and I daresay that various individual websites posting it will be up and down like a fiddler's elbow, while the general morphological feature that "it is really easy to get that Guido Fawkes article on Google" will remain constant. If you don't know what I am talking about then you are similarly better off not knowing.

"Metastasis", for those who have better things to do than look it up on Wikipedia, can be loosely defined as "the reason that a cancer surgeon's favourite surgical tool is not a fucking baseball bat".
7 comments this item posted by the management 2/16/2007 12:51:00 AM

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Local Boy Made Good

Wow, check it out:

"Stephen Pollard is chairman of the European Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism, a new think-tank that will be launched soon"

Frankly I'm amazed. I'd always thought that Pollard was a bit of a spare prick, but I'd clearly underestimated him. Now he's Chairman of the European Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism (when it launches), and you can't argue with that. I mean, not just the British institute - I'm seeing branch offices on the Champs Elysees here, maybe a representative in Milan, all reporting back to the central staff on the top floor of 50 St Mary Axe. And Stephen Pollard is Chairman of the whole thing - quite literally at the top of the tree. Wow. Surely that's got to be ... what, £200k a year, minimum? That's the going rate for an important job like this. I wonder if he'll give up his Times columns?

It just goes to show how wrong you can be. It reminds me of Peter Cuthbertson. "That boy will never amount to anything", we all thought and now he's a Senior Fellow at the Taxpayer's Alliance(I think this makes him the youngest Senior Fellow since Harold Wilson became one at Hertford College Oxford). It doesn't half make one feel like a failure oneself.


5 comments this item posted by the management 2/13/2007 01:45:00 PM

Friday, February 09, 2007

Jesus fucking Christ, what happened here?

Wow, the blog looks even worse now I fucked around with the template under "New Blogger". Does that massive great Soviet-style all-caps title piss you off? It makes my eyes hurt. I think I'm gonna keep it.

There is an economic rationale for this - I am exacting a psychic cost on all my readers with this dreadful design, in order to provide a signalling equilibrium, so that my comments box will only get readers who are interested in the subject. It's like a bar that puts on a band and then sticks a cover charge on - the idea is not so much to make money off the door, as to screen out people who aren't prepared to pay five bucks.

Update: No, it was just too fucking painful for me too.


11 comments this item posted by the management 2/09/2007 08:04:00 AM

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Private Service Announcement

If any readers have borrowed my copy of "The Economics Of Input/Output Analysis", I need it back please. Update: Fucking seriously guys, please.

In unrelated news, one of the sublime bittersweet pleasures of an English Sunday afternoon is to sit back, listen to "Any Answers?" presented by Jonathan Dimbleby and appreciate the unique timbre of the tiny sigh he makes as about half of the callers greet him with "good afternoon David" and he resigns himself to the fact that he has given up correcting them about five years ago. I don't think that they have a word for it in German.
4 comments this item posted by the management 2/07/2007 02:24:00 PM

Friday, February 02, 2007

Friday Secret Society Blogging - The Lost Lands League

I promised I'd do a bit of this in the New Year, although to be honest, every Thursday is going to be a bit of a stretch. This week, one that isn't actually in the Encyclopedia of Secret Societies, the "Lost Lands League".

The Lost Lands League were a fringe Welsh nationalist movement of the 1960s. They arose after the Free Wales Army had all but imploded after an unfortunate incident in which they showed up talking tough at a Sinn Fein rally in Dublin and as a result were donated the gift of a dozen Thompson submachine guns. Since they were for the most part farmers who enjoyed dressing up and marching about with shotguns and starter pistols, they were frankly fucking terrified of this proper, dangerous military hardware and they ended up dumping the lot in a bog. However, in doing this they set in train the course of events that ended up getting all the leaders collared[1] and the whole movement fell apart as the cadres tried, unsuccessfully, to convince the judge that they were just a drinking society and it was all a big joke.

A normal reaction might be to calm down on the dreams of independence for a while. But the Welsh have this way of increasing their ambitions even in the face of clear evidence that the original plan was wildly overambitious, and so the Lost Lands League was formed.

As the name suggests, the aim of the Lost Lands League was to recapture the ancestral Welsh lands which had been awarded to England in the fourteenth century. This might have had some basis in the case of places like Monmouthshire, Oswestry or even Shrewsbury. But the LLL also laid claim to the towns of Kidderminster, Tranmere and even Bristol and Crewe. Cynics with access to the sports pages of the Western Mail noted that there was an uncanny overlap between the territorial claims of the LLL and the fixture list for the Welsh Cup, which at the time was open to a number of English football clubs.

My source for this is Ian Bone's autobiography "Bash the Rich", in which he recounts having been invited along to a meeting of the LLL where they were planning an armed disturbance, despite being a Londoner. The assembled troops listened to a speaker who outlined the plan to symbolically occupy the town centre of a border town for a few hours in the middle of the day. He had set out maps, showing that the police presence was small and manageable, while the nearest Army barracks were forty miles away. It was only toward the end of the meeting when the blood oaths were being prepared that Bone found himself in the uncomfortable position of having to break the news to a comrade that the town in question was Hereford, and that both the maps and the plan appear to have omitted the fact that Hereford is the home town of the SAS. Half an hour later, they were all back in the pub.

[1] Dramatic license. Actually, the demise of the FWA was a rather more complicated story than that, but this post isn't about the FWA, it's about the LLL.
3 comments this item posted by the management 2/02/2007 08:01:00 AM

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