Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Democracy, eh?

That's from Parliament's petition page.

Laughter, lies and the War

1. Economists should try to make us laugh ...

2. ... after all, "Laughter is the ultimate psychosomatic symptom", says an interesting article here.

3. Why Trump's people lie.

4. Why do we keep mentioning the War? In summary: in England we love to talk about "the War", i.e. that entertaining/depressing/glorious construct we see in war films, 'Allo 'Allo, Fawlty Towers and so on. It's an endlessly charming little topic, full of dastardly Nazis (aka "Germans"), plucky "Brits" and a host of other entertaining characters who go by names such as "French", "Americans" and so on. Unfortunately, we use a set of very similar words to describe a real historical event and real people who live in real countries. That means that sometimes people get confused about whether we're talking about the sort of "German" who might say "vor you, Tommy, ze vor is ofer" or the real sort of German who might say "we would welcome a constructive negotiation about economic policy". You can see how people might get offended. Probably best to be more careful.

5. Don't let's forget the real War either. E.g., Eichmann, very interestingly discussed here (which includes this: "when a Nazi named “Baron von Killinger” is horrified by your brutality, it’s time to take a step back and evaluate whether you may have crossed a line").

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

That Brexit case (2)

The Court's own summary of the judgment is here. I told you so here.

My "probably" was a good indication that it would not be all one way, although I should confess that I only correctly guessed one of the dissenters.

Monday, 23 January 2017

A new Trump reader

1. Why a philosopher voted for Trump.

2. Resistance to Trump? Or just opposition? Why Trump is in great shape for 2020 (a tweetstorm) and advice for the Loyal Opposition to Trump.

3. Trump might be right; you might be wrong.

4. The media cannot think properly about Trump, but FiveThirtyEight might be able to.

5. What the King of Hawaii can teach us about Trump.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Why villains are British

... explained (to some extent) here, also telling us that Americans like a Brummie accent.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Friday, 13 January 2017

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Miscellaneous links

1. The moving sofa problem, familiar from Douglas Adams and given a mathematical formulation.

2. A good and fair interview with the intellectual Trump supporter Publius Decius Mus. "Before he began to speak, he held out an iPhone showing a picture of his family: if he was unmasked, he said, his family would suffer, because he works for a company that might not want to be connected to an apostle of Trumpism. // It is not necessarily absurd for Decius to suggest that he might suffer a fate like that which befell Brendan Eich, who resigned under pressure from Mozilla Corporation, the tech company he co-founded, after he was discovered to have donated to an anti-same-sex-marriage initiative." That is great fairmindedness from the author and the New Yorker.

3. New Zealand:"I lack space to eulogize Wellington, where the national library appears to surpass any analogous institution Australia can show, even if the airport houses mankind’s only known ceiling-suspended statue of Gollum."

4. The great Greggs robbery: "The 34-year-old also stole hot drinks sachets from an NHS Trust". Greggs and the NHS - has the man no shame?

5. How and why to use stereotypes in Bayesian reasoning (but please also consider why not).

6. Have you come across the phrase "evangelicalism’s subaltern counterpublics" before? If not, you might be interested in this piece on the collapse of American mainstream Protestantism.

7. Fake news?

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

What to expect from Brexit

Some thoughts prompted by the departure of Sir Ivan Rogers.

Here is a quick description of the circumstances that would lead to the best outcome from the Brexit negotiations: on the UK side, a political and diplomatic elite who have intellectually and emotionally bought into the case for Brexit and who have been preparing for it for years, all the brightest and best having spent years hoping and wishing for Brexit to happen and making detailed, together with a broader cultural and media elite who fervently wish for the negotiations to go well and who are prepared to lend a hand by producing the right kind of mood music and cheerleading to encourage the waverers and strengthen the resolve of the negotiators, and a populace beneath that wholly united behind Brexit, and cheerfully prepared to pay any price to make it happen; that combined with a European counterparty motivated only by magnanimity, one which has decided that the EU and the UK should be the best of friends, that the negotiations should create no bad blood but, on the contrary, that the terms of divorce should be so generous that the British might come to think that the EU is not so bad after all and truly is a beacon of sweetness and light in a dark world otherwise consumed with pettiness and rancour; and all of that combined with a profound and unspoken belief on both sides that restrictions on trade, whether on imports or on exports, are always and everywhere restrictions on the wealth and happiness of mankind.

Such a concatenation of circumstances is not wholly unrealistic. Something not a million miles from that must have lain behind the processes by which various dominions became independent from the UK. But it is clearly not the circumstances we are in.

If you start with that description of the first-best scenario then you can create a variety of second-best scenarios in which one or other element (a united populace, a generous EU) is missing. We are in none of those second-best scenarios either. We are some kinds of third best scenario in which we have some elements of the political and media elite, and a fair chunk of the populace, happy with Brexit. Given that background, if the terms of divorce are half-way acceptable then that would be a great achievement for our negotiators. The least we can do is to wish them the best of British.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Who were the baddies?

This is an interesting article about American Independence. It seems that in order to convince the American colonists, who were "the least taxed, most socially mobile, highest landowning, arguably most prosperous people in the western world", that they were so hideously oppressed by George III that they needed to fight a war about it, the leaders of the independence movement played on fears of the British supporting Native Americans, blacks and so on and other such dastardly deeds. I was perhaps unfairly reminded of this Mitchell and Webb sketch, the one in which two Nazi soldiers start to wonder if they are the baddies. At the very least, I think the modern British are pretty willing to see themselves as the baddies in any (non-WWII) historical war, and it's nice to see another point of view.

But is there any way of knowing what would have happened to Native Americans, blacks and so on if the Americans had lost the war? If there had been another rich north American colony that remained under British rule and gained its independence peacefully then I suppose we could carry out a comparison ...

Friday, 6 January 2017

Derek Parfit RIP

Forget all the sad deaths of 2016, 2017 has already seen the death of Derek Parfit.

The Times' obituary here is a good place to find out why you should care about Parfit. (He cared about you, but I don't think he would consider that a sufficient reason for you to care about him.) This is the New Yorker's profile of him. It is a tour de force, certainly, but it left me with not quite a bad taste but a funny taste in my mouth. One can imagine Bernard Williams laughing out loud at it.

If you have not read Reasons and Persons then you are missing - I was going to say "a treat", but that would be quite wrong - an intellectual feast.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

No Irexit! Or, how Cameron could have won the Brexit vote?

Or do I mean, no Ireleave?

This chap has an interesting take on what Ireland's attitude to the Brexit negotiations should be. He makes the good point that Ireland's interest in the matter is not the same as the rest of the EU's, and it should not just rely on a common approach. He makes two other interesting points.

First, an observation on how federalism works.

"I worry about the man who is negotiating for us: Monsieur Barnier. He has form. For example, in 2006, when he was an EU Commissioner, he wrote a report for the EU parliament that advocated scrapping countries’ consulates in other countries.

Under his federalist vision, the Irish consulate in Spain would be scrapped – so that if an Irish lad got a battering from the Guardia Civil, for example, there would be no Irish consulate to listen to his case and help him out. He also advocated in this report to close down all (Irish and other) consulates in non-EU countries and replace these with one EU consulate.

This is deep federalism, so much so that I noticed reading these reports that the word “country” is never mentioned. Countries are never referred to as countries, but as “member states”. It appears that even the mention of the word country by the EU Commission undermines the long-term federalist project.

Second, he has an idea for a strategy for EU membership for Ireland.

"This column has argued for some time now that we stay in the EU, but draw the line at the present EU. We shouldn’t embrace any further integrationist stuff nor sign up to any further federalist projects. This means doing precisely the opposite of the Brits. Rather than following the British out of the EU, we should vow never to leave it. The EU can’t kick us out. There is no mechanism. We should simply opt out of Mr Barnier’s plans. This means we have full access to the EU, but we don’t need nor want to go any further – not because of some cultural aversion, but because it’s not in our interest."

This, I think, is consistent with David Cameron's views (remember the opt-out on 'ever closer union'?) but a more bolshily-attractive way of putting that case. Instead of going to Brussels and crawling back with a pathetic re-negotiation, he could have said something like this: this is how our relationship with the EU is going to be from now on - no, no, no! to further integration of any kind; it stops now and it stops here; and if those Brussels bureaucrats don't like that then tough - what can they do? kick us out? It would have looked much stronger - avoiding the optics of having to beg Angela Merkel for scraps from her table - and it would have undermined the 'Take Back Control' message by being an overt act of being in control. The renegotiation conceded that the EU had the power; but simply making a declaration (no matter how empty it is in formal terms) would have done the opposite.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Happy New Year!

I was wondering on what note to start 2017 before coming across this, i.e. Jeremy Clarke in the Spectator on leaving beautiful France for the dubious pleasures of trains from Gatwick. Strikes just the right tone.