Politics

The dreary quarrels of Northern Ireland re-emerge

Wednesday, 11 January, 2017 0 Comments

In a time of global turbulence, when we should be focused on issues that will affect stability and prosperity, Northern Ireland threatens to divert attention with a crisis fueled by, well, fuel, and headlined “Cash for Ash”. The bizarre Renewable Heat Incentive scandal is exposing the old tribal antagonisms and the brittle peace is endangered. Nothing new, however. Let us pause for a moment and go back a century to Winston Churchill describing the aftermath of World War I:

“The position of countries has been violently altered. The modes of thought of men, the whole outlook on affairs, the grouping of parties, all have encountered violent and tremendous change in the deluge of the world. But as the deluge subsides and the waters fall short we see the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone emerging once again. The integrity of their quarrel is one of the few institutions that have been unaltered in the cataclysm which has swept the world.”

High Dive The integrity of that quarrel is central to the latest novel by Jonathan Lee. High Dive centres on an event that took place at the Grand Hotel in Brighton on 12 October 1984. Then, the Provisional IRA terrorists group attempted to assassinate Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her cabinet, who were staying at the hotel for the Conservative Party conference. Although Mrs Thatcher narrowly escaped injury, five people were killed including a Conservative MP, and 31 were injured, by the long-delay time bomb planted in the hotel by the IRA.

Jonathan Lee’s book doesn’t offer an analysis of violent Irish republicanism or Tory party politics, but it excels in describing the particulars of the English hospitality trade. Lee, like so many members of the writing class, harbours some sympathy for the “rebels”, but the reader should be aware that the characters in his novel are no idealists. More than three decades after the Brighton bombing, the antagonists of Northern Ireland have turned their dreary, squalid feud into an industry that supplies their claques with cash from ash and other combustibles. The integrity of their quarrel is endless.


The Fable of Edward Snowden

Tuesday, 3 January, 2017 0 Comments

Book of the Year? It’s a bit premature at this point to be talking about annual awards but How America Lost Its Secrets: Edward Snowden, the Man and the Theft by Edward Jay Epstein will be a contender for the title come the end of 2017.

How America Lost Its Secrets: Edward Snowden, the Man and the Theft Epstein gave the world a preview in the Wall Street Journal on Friday and the subhead encapsulated the story: “As he seeks a pardon, the NSA thief has told multiple lies about what he stole and his dealings with Russian intelligence.” Snippet:

“The transfer of state secrets from Mr. Snowden to Russia did not occur in a vacuum. The intelligence war did not end with the termination of the Cold War; it shifted to cyberspace. Even if Russia could not match the NSA’s state-of-the-art sensors, computers and productive partnerships with the cipher services of Britain, Israel, Germany and other allies, it could nullify the U.S. agency’s edge by obtaining its sources and methods from even a single contractor with access to Level 3 documents.

Russian intelligence uses a single umbrella term to cover anyone who delivers it secret intelligence. Whether a person acted out of idealistic motives, sold information for money or remained clueless of the role he or she played in the transfer of secrets — the provider of secret data is considered an ‘espionage source.’ By any measure, it is a job description that fits Mr. Snowden.”

He’s a thief and a traitor, is Mr Snowden.


Person of the Year: Peter Thiel

Monday, 19 December, 2016 0 Comments

The speech Peter Thiel gave at the Republican Convention in Cleveland could have been written by legions of other critics of the elites who have misgoverned the US since the 1980s. Thiel, the billionaire investor and Facebook board member, is the only eminent Silicon Valley figure who publicly supported Donald Trump during his election campaign. He’s disruptive and a natural contrarian with a talent for making rewarding bets. He was a co-founder was PayPal and he was the first major investor in Facebook, and his wager on Mr. Trump will place him in a key position to formulate a tech policy for the new administration. Here’s what he said in Ohio in July:

Good evening. I’m Peter Thiel. I build companies and I’m supporting people who are building new things, from social networks to rocket ships. I’m not a politician. But neither is Donald Trump. He is a builder, and it’s time to rebuild America.

Where I work in Silicon Valley, it’s hard to see where America has gone wrong. My industry has made a lot of progress in computers and in software, and, of course, it’s made a lot of money. But Silicon Valley is a small place. Drive out to Sacramento, or even just across the bridge to Oakland, and you won’t see the same prosperity. That’s just how small it is.

Across the country, wages are flat. Americans get paid less today than ten years ago. But healthcare and college tuition cost more every year. Meanwhile Wall Street bankers inflate bubbles in everything from government bonds to Hillary Clinton’s speaking fees. Our economy is broken. If you’re watching me right now, you understand this better than any politician in Washington D.C.

And you know this isn’t the dream we looked forward to. Back when my parents came to America looking for that dream, they found it right here in Cleveland. They brought me here as a one-year-old and this is where I became an American. Opportunity was everywhere. My dad studied engineering at Case Western Reserve University, just down the road from where we are now. Because in 1968, the world’s high tech capital wasn’t just one city: all of America was high tech.

It’s hard to remember this, but our government was once high tech, too. When I moved to Cleveland, defense research was laying the foundations for the internet. The Apollo program was just about to put a man on the moon–and it was Neil Armstrong, from right here in Ohio. The future felt limitless.

But today our government is broken. Our nuclear bases still use floppy disks. Our newest fighter jets can’t even fly in the rain. And it would be kind to say the government’s software works poorly, because much of the time it doesn’t even work at all. That is a staggering decline for the country that completed the Manhattan project. We don’t accept such incompetence in Silicon Valley, and we must not accept it from our government.

Instead of going to Mars, we have invaded the Middle East. We don’t need to see Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails: her incompetence is in plain sight. She pushed for a war in Libya, and today it’s a training ground for ISIS. On this most important issue Donald Trump is right. It’s time to end the era of stupid wars and rebuild our country. When I was a kid, the great debate was about how to defeat the Soviet Union. And we won. Now we are told that the great debate is about who gets to use which bathroom. This is a distraction from our real problems. Who cares?

Of course, every American has a unique identity. I am proud to be gay. I am proud to be a Republican. But most of all I am proud to be an American. I don’t pretend to agree with every plank in our party’s platform; but fake culture wars only distract us from our economic decline, and nobody in this race is being honest about it except Donald Trump.

While it is fitting to talk about who we are, today it’s even more important to remember where we came from. For me that is Cleveland, and the bright future it promised. When Donald Trump asks us to Make America Great Again, he’s not suggesting a return to the past. He’s running to lead us back to that bright future.

Tonight I urge all of my fellow Americans to stand up and vote for Donald Trump.

“What’s striking about this speech,” wrote Trump nemesis Larry Lessig, “is, except for its references to Trump, how obviously true it is. Something has gone wrong in America. Growth is not spread broadly. Technical innovation is not spread broadly. We were a nation that tackled real and important problems. We have become a nation where — at least among politicians — too much time is spent arguing over the petty. ‘Who cares?’ about which bathroom someone uses — which coming from a gay libertarian must mean, ‘it’s none of your business.’ The wars of the last generation were stupid. We need to focus on building a ‘bright future’ that all of America can share in.”

Peter Thiel’s book, Zero to One, makes for stimulating reading, and it should be read by all journalists because it will help them understand the man who used his wealth to pursue, and eventually shut down, Gawker. Now, he’s an important adviser to the Trump transition team and he certainly had a say in the decision to invite the leaders of the major tech companies to last week’s meeting at Trump Tower. The love fest that existed between President Obama and Silicon Valley is definitely over, but Silicon Valley celebrates disruption and Peter Thiel, our Person of the Year, is a serious disruptor.

Peter Thiel


Donald Trump, Political Innovator

Friday, 2 December, 2016 0 Comments

“The next US president, Donald Trump, seems to be a textbook political innovator. During a period when his party was quite up for grabs with many contenders, he worked his crowds, taking a wide range of vague positions that varied over time, and often stepped over taboo lines. In the process, he surprised everyone by discovering a new coalition that others had not tried to represent, a group that likes him more for this representation than his personal features.”

Says who? Says Robin Hanson, associate professor of economics at George Mason University and a research associate at the Future of Humanity Institute at of Oxford University. So, does the election of Donald Trump herald the Apocalypse? Not quite, says Hanson, who argues that disruption does not mean End Times:

“Many have expressed great anxiety about Trump’s win, saying that he is is bad overall because he induces greater global and domestic uncertainly. In their mind, this includes a higher chances of wars, coups, riots, collapse of democracy, and so on. But overall these seem to be generic consequences of political innovation. Innovation in general is disruptive and costly in the short run, but can aide adaptation in the long run.”

Robin Hanson clearly believes that innovation is good for the body politic and he offers these words of comfort to the anti-Trump factions in their time of grief and denial:

“So you can dislike Trump for two very different reasons, First, you can dislike innovation on the other side of the political spectrum, as you see that coming at the expense of your side. Or, or you can dislike political innovation in general. But if innovation is the process of adapting to changing conditions, it must be mostly a question of when, not if. And less frequent innovations are probably bigger changes, which is probably more disruptive overall.”

All that’s from “Trump, Political Innovator,” which Robin Hanson posted on 17 November on his excellent blog, Overcoming Bias. It’s included in the Rainy Day blogroll.


Christopher Hitchens on the Castro Dynasty

Sunday, 27 November, 2016 1 Comment

“If we cannot yet say that Castro is dead and we cannot decently say ‘long live’ to the new-but-old Castro, we can certainly say that the Castro era is effectively finished and that a uniformed and secretive and highly commercial dictatorship is the final form that it will take.”

So wrote the late, great and greatly-missed Christopher Hitchens in August 2006. The focus of “The Eighteenth Brumaire of the Castro Dynasty” was Raúl Castro’s fatigued take over of the family enterprise: Cuba. “The even more grotesque fact that power has passed from one 79-year-old brother to a ‘younger’ one who is only 75 may have assisted in obscuring the obvious,” noted Hitchens, acidly, and added, “As was once said of Prussia, Cuba is not a country that has an army but an army that has a country.”

As the world waits for the final form of this commercial dictatorship to pass let’s recall what W. C. Fields said: “All roads lead to rum.”

Bacardi rum


The Revenge of the Deplorables

Monday, 14 November, 2016 0 Comments

Deplorables: Nounified, pluralized form of deplorable, an adjective meaning “lamentable, very sad, grievous, miserable, wretched” and usually used in reference to events, conditions, or circumstances. The adjective is derived from the Latin verb plorare, to weep or bewail.

That definition is provided by “Chief Wordworker” Nancy Friedman on her Fritinancy website and she goes on to explain that the most topical use of the word occurred during remarks by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on 9 September at the LGBT for Hillary Gala in New York City.

That was then. Now, Bloomberg View columnist Clive Crook is writing that the “Deplorables” are having a moment. Snippet:

“If you can’t manage genuine respect for the people whose votes you want, at least try to fake it. However, forgive me if I go further. It really ought to be possible to manage some actual respect. The complaints that Trump is addressing deserve better than to be recast in caricature then dismissed with contempt… Elite opinion admits of only one answer: People are more stupid and bigoted than we ever imagined. Without denying that there’s plenty of stupidity and bigotry to go around, I think it’s more a matter of elite incompetence. Elite opinion heard the rebels’ complaints, but instead of acknowledging what was valid, it rejected the grievances in every particular and dismissed the complainers as fools or worse. The elites weren’t deaf. They were dumb.”

And blind, too.


Matt Oczkowski is the Trump data king

Saturday, 12 November, 2016 2 Comments

From Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight to The New York Times’ The Upshot to the Clinton campaign’s own numbers crunchers, it seemed a formality that Hillary would win the White House. Why, even last Friday, her campaign manager Robby Mook was rejoicing in the so-called “Clinton coalition” of early voters he believed were leading her campaign to victory. Matt Oczkowski saw a different picture.

Note the name: Matt Oczkowski. He wad the “Director of Product” for president-elect Donald Trump’s data team, and he’s the man wot won it, in many ways. While the triumphant pollsters and pundit were unable and unwilling to comprehend anything but a Clinton win, Oczkowski kept modelling and his data suggested a different outcome. During the final 10 days of the campaign, he detected subtle changes in his polling. Then, when early voting stats started coming in, his team saw a decrease in black turnout, an increase in Hispanic turnout and an increase in turnout among those over 55. Oczkowski reworked his models and saw Trump’s path to power take shape. In the Rust Belt states of Ohio, Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin, the rural vote told the story. “The amount of disenfranchised voters who came out to vote in rural America has been significant,” Oczkowski told CBS. The rest is history.


How to Win an Election with Cicero

Monday, 26 September, 2016 0 Comments

It is being reported that the television audience for tonight’s debate at Hofstra University in New York between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump could top 100 million. At this point in the US presidential race, many voters will have made up their minds but there is always the chance that one of the candidates might say or do something tonight that could influence the media’s interpretation of the debate. And it is the media that will decide the “winner” and the “loser”.

Whatever the reading of the debate, however, the battle will continue tomorrow. With the polls suggesting that the outcome is too close to call, it’s all to campaign for, which means it’s time to consult Cicero.

In 64 BC, the great orator Marcus Tullius Cicero ran for consul, the highest office in the Roman Republic. He was 42 and successful, but he was not a member of the ruling elite, and that was a major disadvantage. Still, he had a trump card, so to speak: the Commentariolum Petitionis, or “Little Handbook on Electioneering,” which some historians believe was written by his brother Quintus. Regardless of the authorship, the writer knew his Roman politics, which sound remarkably familiar.

How to Win an Election: An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicians by Quintus Tullius Cicero was translated by Philip Freeman and published in 2012 by Princeton Press. Snippets:

  • Running for office can be divided into two kinds of activity: securing the support of your friends and winning over the general public. You gain the goodwill of friends through kindness, favors, old connections, availability, and natural charm. But in an election you need to think of friendship in broader terms than in everyday life. For a candidate, a friend is anyone who shows you goodwill or seeks out your company.
  • There are three things that will guarantee votes in an election: favors, hope, and personal attachment. You must work to give these incentives to the right people. You can win uncommitted voters to your side by doing them even small favors. So much more so all those you have greatly helped, who must be made to understand that if they don’t support you now they will lose all public respect. But do go to them in person and let them know that if they back you in this election you will be in their debt.
  • You must have a wide variety of people around you on a daily basis. Voters will judge you on what sort of crowd you draw both in quality and numbers. The three types of followers are those who greet you at home, those who escort you down to the Forum, and those who accompany you wherever you go.
  • You desperately need to learn the art of flattery — a disgraceful thing in normal life but essential when you are running for office. If you use flattery to corrupt a man there is no excuse for it, but if you apply ingratiation as a way to make political friends, it is acceptable. For a candidate must be a chameleon, adapting to each person he meets, changing his expression and speech as necessary.
  • Keep the doors of your house open, of course, but also open your face and expression, for these are the window to the soul. If you look closed and distracted when people talk with you, it won’t matter that your front gates are never locked. People not only want commitments from a candidate but they want them delivered in an engaged and generous manner.

Cicero famously defeated Catiline, but he made many enemies during that race for consul and both he and his brother, Quintus, were murdered two decades later during the strife that accompanied the fall of the Republic and the rise of the Empire.

Cicero


Donald’s Rainy Day

Thursday, 18 August, 2016 0 Comments

“Like a lot of anxious people, I’ve been obsessively watching all the forecasts, predictions, and computer models, hoping for a break in this feverish political season,” Barry Blitt says. Blitt’s cover for the new issue of The New Yorker is the fifth featuring Donald Trump since he announced his candidacy. Given that this blog is inspired by the the idiom of putting (something) aside for a rainy day, it deserves inclusion here.

New Yorker

“Here comes that rainy day feeling again
And soon my tears they will be falling like rain
It always seems to be a Monday
Left all the memories of Sunday
Always standin’ here before the clouds appear
And took away my sunshine
Here comes that rainy day feeling again.”

Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway


The Johnson Factor

Thursday, 14 July, 2016 1 Comment

The main point of The Churchill Factor by Boris Johnson, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, is that one person can make all the difference. Snippet:

“Churchill decides from very early on that he will create a political position that is somehow above left and right, embodying the best points of both sides and thereby incarnating the will of the nation. He thinks of himself as a gigantic keystone in the arch, with all the lesser stones logically induced to support his position. He has a kind of semi-ideology to go with it — a leftish Toryism: imperialist, romantic, but on the side of the working man.”

Boris Johnson The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History

The Churchill Factor


Instant indignation impact

Monday, 11 July, 2016 0 Comments

This is an era of instant indignation impact. People now spend hours online each day searching for videos, photos and stories about “injustice” and then instantly share them with others. The result is increased indignation impact. Social media has changed the rules and the playing field has not just been levelled; it’s been paved over. The antiseptic output from traditional media outlets has been replaced by raw, unedited, personal input reports from the front lines that have an immediacy that intensifies their emotional impact. This makes them more effective at triggering outrage and makes us more vulnerable to emotional manipulation.

The paradox is that many people would like their police to be militarized when confronting terrorists, but unarmed when confronting protesters. But what happens when the peaceful protest in Dallas is joined by the armed warrior Micah X. Johnson? Wanting to have our cake and eat it has never made for good policy, however.

Baton Rouge