Friday, 30 June 2017

Some links to read

The linking theme here is, I suppose, social justice, but please bear with me.

1. I’m Glad the Dyke March Banned Jewish Stars. Just in case you are short of things that will seem inexplicable to future generations.

2. Against Murderism. As it happens, I'm not a murderist but ....

4. The Bank of England says "We find that the immigrant to native ratio has a small negative impact on average British wages." Oh and (surprise surprise) the minimum wage destroys jobs. In Seattle "The losses [from an increase to the minimum wage] were so dramatic that this increase “reduced income paid to low-wage employees of single-location Seattle businesses by roughly $120 million on an annual basis.” On average, low-wage workers *lost* $125 per month. The minimum wage has always been a lousy income transfer program, but at this level you’d come out ahead just setting a hundred million dollars a year on fire. And that’s before we get into who kept vs lost their jobs." And the same thing is true in Denmark too:

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Age segregation

This, I thought, was well-said:

"If you brought people from 300 years ago or 3,000 years ago to live among us now, if you dropped them out of a time machine, I think the first thing that would stun them is just simply our material abundance and our tools, and especially our digital tools. We have more built stuff than anybody in human history by huge magnitudes. I don’t think you could possibly arrive here and not first be surprised by our material abundance.

But if those folks stayed with us for a while, 30 days later, that would wear off, and the thing that would be most striking to people from other times and places living among us is how age-segregated we live. It is a really, really weird thing to allow our 17-year-olds to believe that the world is mostly made up of 17-year-olds. It’s strange, it’s not healthy, and it’s not true, and that’s the way we raise our kids. They are hyper, hyper age-segregated.

As the father of 15- and 13-year-old girls, I get that the pure slight of a 13- or 15-year-old girl really hurts. But it’s not really enduring if you have any wisdom. Right? If your 13-year-old knows 60-year-olds and 75-year-olds, and they’ve been through a lot of life experience, another 13- or 15-year-old girl saying something trite and mean to you, it’s water off a duck’s back if you have any perspective.

I don’t think we’re serving our kids very well by allowing them to live these hyper age-segregated lives. And that’s closely connected to the core driver of our perpetual adolescence category, which is that our kids don’t know the distinction in their belly, they don’t feel the distinction between production and consumption. They know aging through grades in school as their productive work time, and then the rest of life is just different forms of consumption. That’s really unsatisfying and it’s really unfair to them.

Again, this book is not a blame-laying book, but if I were laying blame in this book —

COWEN: And he’s not. [laughs]

SASSE: — I would not be blaming millennials. I would be blaming we parents and grandparents that we’re not helping think with our kids about the fact that we’re not celebrating scar tissue with them. Scar tissue is the foundation of future character, and they are able to persevere, and they need to develop a work ethic. They just happened to live at the richest time and place in human history, and so they live a life that’s almost entirely separated from productive work environments. That’s never been the case of anybody who’s ever grown up before, that they didn’t grow up around work.

One of the most basic things that makes you happy in life is thinking that you’re needed. My work, our work is needed. Not “Does my back hurt at the end of the day?” or not “Do I think I get paid enough money?” or not “Is there some annoying person three cubicles away who talks too loudly on his or her phone?” But when I leave home on Monday morning or whatever day you begin your workday or workweek, “Do I think anybody needs me?” If you think that, if your work matters to somebody, if you have a meaningful way to contribute to your neighbor, you’re basically going to be happy.

And if you don’t have that, you’re almost certainly not going to be happy. And right now, we’re raising our teens segregated from work, and therefore, segregated from any clear sense that they’re needed now or going to be needed in the future, and that ends up feeling a lot like cotton candy. It’s pretty Peter Pan–like and pretty miserable.


One last point: When I was a college president, we used to host these dinners for donors at our house. We would do these rolling salons of 8 and 10 and 12 people all the time. And one of the questions that my wife and I started to ask people, and it was fun if you were talking to a 45-year-old or an 85-year-old: “How do you recognize whether or not a kid or a grandkid is mature?”

And one time we were hosting this party, and this woman said, “Oh, that’s easy. For a boy I know for sure. If a boy is old enough that I would trust him to be alone with my baby for 90 minutes, such that he might have to change a diaper during the time he’s there, he’s a man. And if he’s not, he’s still a child.” And all these 30-year-old guys around the table started squirming in their seats . .

For some reason this put me in mind of Harry Potter. Harry Potter's life is not strictly age-segregated (how old is Hagrid? Dumbledore? Voldemort?) and his work matters - it's needed. Is part of the reason for the success of the books something to do with that? 

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

You're bright - so you are more likely to get things wrong

Not everything, of course. Just the basic scientific or statistical facts necessary for having informed political views. I'll believe what you say about skin rashes, but not about anything controversial. In fact, I'd be better off finding someone much less bright to tell me the facts about, say, Brexit or global warming.

From the conclusion:

"The reason that citizens remain divided over risks in the face of compelling and widely accessible scientific evidence, this account suggests, is not that that they are insufficiently rational; it is that the that they are too rational in extracting from information on these issues the evidence that matters most for them in their everyday lives. In an environment in which positions on particular policy-relevant facts become widely understood as symbols of individuals’ membership in and loyalty to opposing cultural groups, it will promote people’s individual interests to attend to evidence about those facts in a manner that reliably conforms their beliefs to the ones that predominate in the groups they are members of. Indeed, the tendency to process information in this fashion will be strongest among individuals who display the reasoning capacities most strongly associated with science comprehension. Thus, improving public understanding of science and propagating critical reasoning skills—while immensely important, both intrinsically and practically (Dewey 1910)—cannot be expected to dissipate persistent public conflict over decision-relevant science."

Monday, 26 June 2017


"The English have twenty-five ways of saying “sorry” and they don’t mean one of them." That's from Barry Humphries, mostly talking about Australian English.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

These Brexit negotiations

You may recall that, in the 19th century, poor old China got beaten up from time to time by Western powers in opium wars and so on. The Western powers then forced treaties on the defeated China - the 'unequal treaties' - that were widely resented and are remembered with indignation to this day.

What made these treaties so disliked? Wikipedia has a helpful little article. Notable elements were (a) the payment of reparations and (b) extraterritoriality, i.e. allowing foreigners in China to live and be tried by their own laws rather than local Chinese ones. There were also rules about tariffs and so on that granted trade advantages to the victorious Westerners.

Why do I raise this? Well, the clue is in my title. What are the most high-profile parts of the Brexit negotiations? (a) Reparations - sorry, I mean, the exit bill - and (b) the rules on EU nationals in the UK (and vice versa) after Brexit. (Let's leave aside trade advantages for the moment.)

This exit bill!, you may say. Why, it's nothing like when China lost wars and had to pay money to Britain, or when Germany lost WWI and had to pay money under the Treaty of Versailles! No, of course not. It's a bit like .... Um, a bit like what? A bit like the money the UK charged its colonies for their independence? No, in fact upon independence, "Britain [...] agreed to give £50m (about £850m, or $1.1bn, in today’s money) in aid to Singapore over five years.[...] Malaysia [...] got £25m in similar circumstances. Malta [...] got £51m over ten years."

What about extraterritoriality? That's where the EU nationals debate come in. If you read about the EU's reaction to May's offer on citizens (see here, for example), you will see a fair and decent offer from the UK, met with the comment that Jean-Claude Juncker says it is "inconceivable" to him that the ECJ could be locked out of any judicial role in the future treatment of EU citizens in the UK. Just think about that for a moment. Juncker thinks it is "inconceivable" that a foreign court should not be in charge of deciding who can live in a foreign country. As if the British court could decide the laws applicable to its citizens in China.

OK, OK. The Brexit negotiations are not the same as the Treaty of Nanking. Of course not. But there is a serious point here. From the British point of view, I think the model for the Brexit negotiations is independence negotiations. The various options range from the independence of a colony to the independence of Ireland or potentially Scotland. At the back of a lot of British minds, I would suspect, is the idea that the UK and the EU should end up like Ireland and the UK: on close and friendly terms, perhaps cheering on each other's football teams if our own fails to qualify for the World Cup. A certain generosity of spirit from the larger entity is called for, the idea of charging the smaller one a fee for its independence seems odd, and extraterritoriality is simply bizarre.

Clearly the EU has a different model in mind. Perhaps different experiences of decolonisation or domestic separatist movements explains this. But in its desire to punish the UK for Brexit (see this blog passim), the EU is in danger of creating resentment where friendship could be found.

China had been around for a lot longer than the UK, and it has outlived the unequal treaties. The UK has been around for a lot longer than the EU, it has a higher fertility rate and it has a way with historical memory (there's a coin in my pocket right now commemorating what happened in 1066). I'd be a little more ready to conceive the inconceivable if I were a Luxembourger.

Thursday, 22 June 2017


"Cartoons of Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, routinely depicted her as a grotesque vision of an Orangeman – in the case of the Times cartoonist, Peter Brookes, an Orangeman with heavy stubble: it was a 21st century take on those notorious 19th century Punch images of the cringing Catholic Irishman with a stovepipe hat and shillelagh, except this time the targets were Protestant and Unionist. ...

"Foster is, in fact, a member of the Church of Ireland who happily drinks alcohol and only joined the DUP in 2004. She spent the day before the election in Messines, Belgium with the outgoing Taoiseach Enda Kenny, commemorating a WWI battle in which unionist and Irish nationalist soldiers fought side by side. When necessary, she has attended local events alongside the Sinn Fein MLA Sean Lynch, a former close comrade of the late IRA man Seamus McElwain, whom Foster believes attempted to murder her policeman father and succeeded in wounding him. How many armchair pundits have had to negotiate such a complex past and present? ...

"Yet journalists ... lambasted its opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage as proof that it was politically irredeemable – while neglecting to point out that the DUP’s abortion policy is exactly the same as that held by the SDLP, Labour’s sister party in Northern Ireland ...

"There has been a sense that secular England is really having an argument with the remnants of religious England, feverishly using the DUP as a proxy – while not being quite bold enough, yet, to raise these differences of opinion in the same aggressive style with English Catholics or British Muslims."

More here.

There's more to it than the religious angle. Of course the DUP gets a bad press in England. Working class white Protestant unionists are in the Venn-diagram intersection of doom: no one (at least no one who is anyone) will stand up for them. So please read the link if you have aspirations to being fairminded.

What can we learn from the 2017 General Election?

Here are 4 quick thoughts.

(1) As I pointed out in my earlier post, both May's Conservative Party and Corbyn's Labour Party won a lot of votes - a lot more than those parties won under earlier leaders. So it's a fair inference that what they were offering was more popular than what earlier leaders were offering. And what were May and Corbyn offering that their predecessors were not? Being keen on (or at least fully reconciled to) Brexit, and being antipathetic to neoliberalism ("The economic programmes in the manifestoes of both Conservatives and Labour were, effectively, anti-neoliberal programmes"). That's the new centre ground of British politics - it's in a very different place from the Blair/Cameron centre ground.

(2) Consistently with the success of the Conservatives and Labour, note the failure of the LibDems. The LibDems were: embraced by The Economist! the clear anti-Brexit option (and indeed the only such option in most places)! so thoroughly modern-liberal-metropolitan that leading it is incompatible with having traditional Christian beliefs (see Tim Farron)! the obvious alternative (for informed voters) to extremists like Corbyn and May! Surely that was an appealing package to many? Well, they lost 44,000 votes between 2015 and 2017 (despite an increase in turn-out), and they've lost almost 4 and half million votes since 2010. The LibDems - firmly planted in the old Blair/Cameron centre ground -  will have their work cut out in getting to the new centre ground. Or do they prefer their current small but comfy niche?

(3) The traditional media have lost their powers. If Brexit were not proof enough, what about Corbyn? Jeremy Corbyn was the most consistently reviled and ridiculed political leader since Iain Duncan Smith. He was ridiculed by his own side. Do you remember TrainGate, for example? He was widely regarded as being unelectable even by the Guardian. Here's Owen Jones at it. His own MPs (and Labour MPs must be regarded as a pretty good example of a left-wing elite) tried to get rid of him. Some people now regard the BBC as having a right-wing bias (!) because of the way it appeared to dismiss Corbyn. But none of that mattered. He picked up his game a bit, and offered a whole load of attractive policies that (a) had not been offered before (or at least not for a long time) and which (b) appealed to a large number of people, and that got him a lot of votes despite everything the newspapers said and the broadcast media implied.

(4) Corbyn really is quite like Trump: they are both populists, both older guys who attracted support from sections of the electorate not reached by their predecessors, who succeeded despite opposition from traditional media and their own parties - and who both get fewer votes than their less exciting but more qualified female opponents.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Vignettes of Britain today

"When 18-year-old Megan McGowan told her family she was a Conservative, it was much harder than when she came out as bisexual.

Megan’s parents had been completely fine with her sexual orientation. Her mother, Linda, sent her a text: “Your father and I would never judge you, or anything you do. Unless you become a Tory or a mass murderer. Well, even then we probably wouldn't judge you.”

And then there's Mark, happy to support UKIP: "Mark had always been suspicious of the European Union. His grandfather was a Latvian refugee who had fled his homeland when it was annexed by the Soviet Union. “He was always like: ‘Protect your own country and never give in to something bigger,’ because he’d seen his country being absorbed in something bigger without its choice.”"

More from these young people here.

And then there's this slightly older chap: "To be a political leader - especially of a progressive, liberal party in 2017 - and to live as a committed Christian, to hold faithfully to the Bible's teaching, has felt impossible for me.
... we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society."

That's Tim Farron.

Invite Megan, Mark and Tim to your dinner party - I suspect they would get along with each other at least.

Friday, 16 June 2017


If you are interested in Amazon (the company) then you will want to read this and this.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Something on politics

First, here's my betting slip.

But I'm not going to claim that I had any particular insight before the event. 

Second, preliminary thoughts on the numbers.

(1) May won huge numbers of votes. The Conservatives won over 13.6m votes in total. That compares with Cameron's 11.3m in 2015 and Cameron's 10.7m in 2010. That is a huge number of votes. It's nearly up there with John Major's record 14m in 1992. It's more than Tony Blair's 1997 landslide based on 13.5m votes. It's way more than Blair in 2001 or 2005. That really is a cracking result. That is a lot of individual people ticking the Conservative box. And 1992 is a long time ago: lots of those voters have died. May really has persuaded new people to vote Conservative.

(2) But, like another female politician in an English speaking country who won loads of votes but not much love, winning lots of votes is sometimes not enough. What won mega-majorities for Thatcher and Blair - and a nice little majority for Cameron - is the opposition being weak and/or divided. The Alliance helped in the 1980s. In the 2000s, the Tories knew they were beaten. UKIP, the SNP and the Greens helped Cameron in 2015. 

(3) Corbyn does not know he is beaten, and he has managed to coalesce an anti-Tory vote. UKIP has collapsed. The Greens and the SNP have fallen back hugely. Corbyn also won huge numbers of votes - not far off 13m votes. You could say that Corbyn is a bigger vote-winner that late-stage Blair. A fairer comparison is with Brown's 8.6m or Miliband's 9.3m. That's a lot of people ticking the Labour box.

(4) Corbyn and May are both very good at persuading people to vote for their parties. That is an ambiguous sentences. It's meant to be. They are each, I would suggest, good at persuading people to vote for the other party. Thatcher crushed opposition. Blair disheartened and demoralised it. Cameron charmed his way past it. But both Corbyn and May inspire it. 

(5) That is what my Facebook feed has shown me (i.e. a lot anti-Tory stuff, often quite openly vituperative). That is what my impression of Corbyn tells me (to give a personal opinion, he is a not fit and proper person to be Prime Minister - either Miliband, Yvette Cooper, etc etc pass that test. He does not). There is plenty to fire up the opposition to either main party. But you win majorities by dividing the opposition, not uniting it.

Third, the way forward. I have no views at present on the short term. In the medium term, Corbyn and May have each shown they can't win a majority: both parties would be better off ditching their leaders, and the fact that May has 'lost' and Corbyn 'won' probably helps the Tories here. I think Blair (in his prime) could have beaten May, and Cameron (in his prime) could have beaten Corbyn. The next party to form a proper majority is going to be the one that can persuade its opponents that there is no reason to hate it, in the way that Blair and Cameron managed. 

Nothing to do with politics

There will be plenty of politics to come. But now for something different.

1. "First shark attack on surfer in UK waters leaves man with small cut on his thumb". That's the headline. Bu wait! There's more: "Mr Thomson also suffered a “sizeable bruise about three inches across”."

2. Sticking with the UK, try this guy. Dip in and out from time to time. You'll learn things about London, and transport, and your life will be more pleasant.

3. There's London. And then there's Scotland. Your money goes further in one of them: "Fancy buying this "opportunity to create a garden flat" in West Hampstead [or the] ancestral seat of the Gordon family, descendants of the Earls of Sutherland [with] six bathrooms, a library, chandeliers, a sun terrace, and a wine cellar. Plus, crucially, it's already been built."

4. This is what the old Soviet Union looked like.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

More on Hard Brexit - why de Gaulle was right

So, as promised, this is my explanation for why the leaders of the EU have been so ready to accept the UK's Brexit referendum result and so reluctant to offer a soft Brexit.