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!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Just saying ...

You know, for every photo of Tony Blair cuddling Colonel Gaddafi that's out there, there are five or six photos of Nelson Mandela doing the exact same thing. If I were the script editors of That Wasn't The Week That Was, I might have slipped one or two of those into the mix and done something actually shocking, rather than spending a whole hour yukking it up about BAe.
41 comments this item posted by the management 2/25/2011 08:25:00 AM

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


I like it when people make clear, definite, time-limited predictions. And that's what Niall Ferguson has done. In six months' time, Egypt will be dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, and will adopt a hostile policy toward Israel. Thanks Prof F. We'll come back and see how you get on.

Via Melanie Phillips, in whom I detect an increasing note of despair. Now, apparently, Orthodox Jews are (by her standards) tolerant of anti-Semitism and Israelis are insufficiently pro-Israel. Who is left? Sarah Palin, I guess.

Britain is apparently in the grip of a geopolitical Tourette's syndrome, and a pathologically uncontrollable spasm of hatred and lies. But this is also a symptom of the death throes of Western civilisation. I guess MP is relying on the British all dying before they can get their act together to do anything about their uncontrollable hatred; that's the only explanation I can think of for why she continues to live in London and to work for a British magazine and for Radio 4. I must say I admire her courage, although surely anyone who agreed with her would consider it a bit foolhardy to stick around.
65 comments this item posted by the management 2/22/2011 12:27:00 PM

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Arseholes think strategy, professionals think tactics

With respect to the "arseholes theory of authoritarian governance", see the detailed guide to arraying your troops and arseholes. Jamies point about control of the streets is very well made - people are coming up with all sorts of theories about why the Egyptian troops didn't use violence to drive the protestors away, but these don't seem to be generalising to Yemen or Bahrain, whereas the simple explanation (that they didn't because they couldn't) does.
4 comments this item posted by the management 2/17/2011 08:08:00 AM
The Youtube of Poetry

Combining, as it does, a healthy disrespect for the law relating to copyright, with some of the most horrifyingly asinine comments you will read today.
3 comments this item posted by the management 2/17/2011 03:37:00 AM

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

From "we will bury you" to "lend us a fiver"

Via Henry, an absolute treasure trove for fans of lachrymose self-pitying xenophobic bollocks. Apparently poor old Ireland is now the vassal of the fat and stealthy Germans, and their collaborationist friends the French. And this is going to be more unpleasant than being ruled by the British. What Ireland needs, in a rather curious and unpleasant metaphor, is a diplomat who knows how to skin a live cat. Hey, do you know another thing about those bloody Germans? They're apparently also racists who drink too much beer.

Not anyone's finest hour I think. They're wrong about the position of the Irish in the Nazi racial classifications too, by the way (oh, yes, they do go there!). The Irish, Welsh and other Celtic-speaking countries were indeed a couple of rungs below the English, but certainly not on the same level as the Poles. Eastern Europeans were really very very low on the scale.

Obviously it's a terrible editorial, but I have a certain sneaking sympathy for them. It really cannot be easy to go from champions of Europe, handing out advice to everyone else, to borderline vassal status. It was traumatic enough for England to lose the Empire, and we had forty years to wean ourselves off it, plus we remained a solid G5 country. The only remotely comparable experience I can think of is Russia, going from superpower to global joke in the space of five years.


18 comments this item posted by the management 2/16/2011 02:33:00 AM

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Libel reform quiz!

"Truth is an absolute defence". But is it? No. Can readers construct a plausible example of a case in which you could libel someone by only saying true things about him? Answer to come in comments.
31 comments this item posted by the management 2/08/2011 02:32:00 AM

Monday, February 07, 2011

From the department of potentially rather apropos metaphors

This statement is of course full of nonsense, but "1+1=11" is really just the same species of empty boosterism that has people giving 110%. Rather, this bit caught my eye:

Far from changing our editorial approach, our culture, or our mission, this moment will be for HuffPost like stepping off a fast-moving train and onto a supersonic jet. We're still traveling toward the same destination, with the same people at the wheel, and with the same goals, but we're now going to get there much, much faster.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Huffington Post/AOL merger. A supersonic jet, piloted by a train driver.

Update: AB, in comments, points out that this supersonic jet, with its untrained pilot is still heading for the original destination, ie a train station (yes, there are lots of airports which have train stations but these are typically served by normal local services rather than high-speed rail). Frankly this is sounding a lot more like a terrorist attack than any normal journey.
18 comments this item posted by the management 2/07/2011 11:39:00 PM

Friday, February 04, 2011

Format revamp suggestion

I was also watching the Noreena Hertz trainwreck on Question Time and it reminded me of my idea for livening up this horribly tired format.

Basically, the whole thing should be conducted in the Watchdog studio, in front of its ranks of desk-researchers who would be looking things up in the background as the show went on. Then, you would dedicate the last ten minutes of every program to David Dimbleby reading out a short summary of the lies and misrepresentations made by each panellist in the preceding hour.
11 comments this item posted by the management 2/04/2011 02:09:00 AM

Thursday, February 03, 2011

A brief note on nuke economics

It is not actually the up front investment that makes nuclear power schemes so unattractive to private capital - it's the back-loaded cleanup liability. This is an unusual kind of risk (most investment projects have an initial investment, then a period of profits, then end), and its risk of a quite toxic kind - you know it's there and that it's big, but it's way out in the future and almost impossible to estimate. This is why the nuke industry, when angling for government support (but I repeat myself) usually focuses on some guarantee of the cleanup liability. Since putting this on the public balance sheet doesn't actually make it go away or make it any less unattractive, I find myself slightly gratified that one consequence of the now-dying post-Thatcher free-market consensus is that it made nuclear power development in the Anglosphere more or less economically impossible.

Bottom line is that poorly regulated nuclear plants are quite dangerous and very expensive; well-regulated nuclear plants are very safe and very very expensive. Trying to square this circle is the root cause of most nuclear industry bollocks.
74 comments this item posted by the management 2/03/2011 12:33:00 AM

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Arseholes, considered as a strategic resource

Why didn't the Egyptian army fire on the demonstrators. Because they had learned how to be nice from the American army?. I think not. Looking at the TV pictures, the Egyptian Army didn't start anything because they didn't get on the streets early enough, and by the time they had, the crowd had got so big that I would imagine the phrase "torn limb from limb" might have been drifting through a few minds.

Numbers make a difference. An invading army can take over a city quite quickly; partly because an invading foreign army can usually be reasonably sure that all the guns are pointing in the same direction, partly because an invading army has physical momentum and has worked out ahead of time where it is marching to, but mainly because the population of an invaded city are usually not on the streets in anything like the numbers seen in Egyptian cities. Even a tank[1] is surprisingly little protection once it has stopped moving[2] and is surrounded by a mob. I saw pictures on the news yesterday of a tank crew sitting around at the edge of a square in Cairo - I have never in my life seen the crew of a tank looking so small and vulnerable. People are still talking about the army as if it was in control of the situation and for the moment at least, it just isn't.

And so that brings me to a useful piece of advice for any readers who are aspiring dictators, one that the Communists knew, Suharto knew, but that some modern day tyrants seem to have forgotten. There is always a level of civil unrest that outstrips the capability of even the most loyal and largest regular armed forces to deal with. In all likelihood, as a medium sized emerging market, you will have a capital city with a population of about five or six million, meaing potentially as many as three million adults on the streets in the worst case. Your total active-duty armed forces are unlikely to be a tenth of that. When it becomes a numbers game, there is only one thing that can save you.

And that is, a reactionary citizens' militia, to combat the revolutionary citizens' militia. Former socialist republics always used to be fond of buses full of coal miners from way out the back of beyond, but the Iranian basijs are the same sort of thing. Basically, what you need is a large population who are a few rungs up from the bottom of society, who aren't interested in freedom and who hate young people. In other words, arseholes. Arseholes, considered as a strategic entity, have the one useful characteristic that is the only useful characteristic in the context of an Egyptian-style popular uprising - there are fucking millions of them.

This is my advice to any aspiring dictator; early on in your career, identify and inventory all the self-pitying, bullying shitheads your country has to offer. Anyone with a grievance, a beer belly and enough strength to swing a pickaxe handle will do. You don't need to bother with military training or discipline because they're hopefully never going to be used as a proper military force - just concentrate on nuturing their sense that they, despite appearances, are the backbone of the country, and allowing them to understand that although rules are rules, there are some people who just need a slap. The bigger and burlier the better, but when the time comes they'll be fighting in groups against people weaker than themselves, often under cover of darkness, so numbers are more important than anything else. The extractive industries are indeed often a good source, as are demobbed veterans (Zimbabwe) or the laity of an established religion.

I think this is my new rule for assessing the stability of any dictatorship around the world, and I am on the lookout for any Francis Fukuyama style book contracts. The key factor in determining the survival of repressive regimes isn't economics, religion or military success. It's arseholes.

[1] Can I make it clear at this stage that if it turns out to be the case that the vehicle in question (a Warrior) is not technically a "tank" for some obscure reason of military terminology, any attempt to explain this to me will be resisted viciously with the comment delete button. It has tracks and a fucking gun.

[2] If you are sitting around on a street corner in Cairo in your tank, you have to open the hatches or you will get too hot; even the minority of tanks which have air conditioning systems will run out of fuel to run them eventually. If you open the hatches, you are no longer in a heavily armoured and invulnerable battle vehicle - you are a bloke sitting on top of a van.
105 comments this item posted by the management 2/02/2011 12:57:00 AM

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

On comparative advantage

Fact: every year, China produces six hundred thousand engineers

Fact: China has never once produced a single decent television game show

Doesn't this make you think there might be something very, very wrong about our officially announced educational priorities, if the object of said priorities is indeed "to remain competitive" in global markets with China?
20 comments this item posted by the management 2/01/2011 02:44:00 AM

Just noting in passing, that by the D^2D standard metric of societal violence, the NI72c unit[1], the Iraq Body Count database reached a level of 4,043 violent civilian deaths in 2010, which is almost exactly 1.0 NI72c. Even though the IBC database definitely undercounts violent events (probably by a lesser amount now than during the horror years of 2006/7), this would definitely correspond to an underlying civilian violence rate of less than 3.5 NI72c, which is the murder rate in Jamaica during a non-election year in the 1990s, and which I would regard as the absolute worst level of violence consistent with any kind of normal life at all.

Now that the Iraqi conflict is coming to an end, it is worth looking at the period 2003-2010; during this seven year period, proportionately 3.5 times more civilians are listed in the IBC index as having died than during the 30 years of the Northern Ireland conflict - the true numeraire is very likely to be more than ten times.

[1] Scaling per-capita violent death rates so as to match up to the 250 deaths coded as "civilian" in the Sutton Index for the Northern Irish conflict in 1972, the worst year of the Troubles.
2 comments this item posted by the management 2/01/2011 01:38:00 AM

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