So when are you going to let me in?


One of our cats, who sometimes thinks that using the cat-flap is beneath her dignity and comes onto the kitchen windowsill demanding to be let in. She has clearly been reading PG Wodehouse, who argued that the reason cats have such a superior attitude is that they know that the ancient Egyptians worshipped them as gods.

How not to lose a referendum (or elect Donald Trump)

Good advice from Wolfgang Munchau in today’s FT.

Here’s a summary of his Five Rules:

  1. Do not rely on opinion polls

  2. Do not double down when you’ve lost. Come to terms with the fact that

    “an insurrection of sorts is under way against financial globalisation and its institutions.”

  3. Do not insult or provoke the voters.

    “After the Referendum, the losing side kept on pointing out that pro-Brexit supporters were older and on average less educated. Hillary Clinton’s infamous depiction of half of Mr Trump\s supporters as deplorable fits the same category. The more you insult the other side, the more you end up driving undecideds into their camp.”

  4. Beware of provocation e.g.

    “make sure that former European Commission presidents do not offer their lobbying services to large US investment banks, as just happened with José Manuel Barroso and Goldman Sachs.”

  5. Do not scare the voters.

    “Project Fear was a disaster in the UK. If your median voter’s income has stagnated for more than a decade, they are not going to be scared by the threat of a recession….The problem with scare stories is that they no longer work with unpredictable electorates. More often than not they are also not true or vastly exaggerated.”

Great stuff. I’ve lost track of the number of discussions I’ve been in since Brexit in which some or all of these five rules are routinely broken.

Policy-based evidence

Geoffrey Wheatcroft, writing in The New York Review of Books on Tony Blair’s letter to George W. Bush on July 28, 2002, which contained the declaration: “I will be with you, whatever.”

It has taken some people a long time to grasp this. The story falls into place when those words are read in conjunction with the Downing Street Memo written in the greatest secrecy five days before Blair’s promise of fealty, in which Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service, reported on his recent talks in Washington. “Bush wanted to remove Saddam,” the memo said, “through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”

Quote of the Day

“In watching the campaign coverage this year, I’ve sometimes had the same distressing feeling I felt in the run-up to the war in Iraq — that we in the media were greasing the skids to a bad outcome for our country. In the debate about invading Iraq, news organizations scrupulously quoted each side but didn’t adequately signal what was obvious to anyone reporting in the region: that we would be welcomed in Iraq not with flowers but with bombs. In our effort to avoid partisanship, we let our country down.

Nick Kristof, writing in the New York Times.

Just imagine…

Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, has been thinking aloud:

Imagine it is 2020. The director of the CIA requests an urgent meeting with the US president. The reason: North Korea has succeeded in making a nuclear bomb small enough to fit inside the tip of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the continental United States. The news soon leaks to the public. High-level meetings to devise a response are held not just in Washington, but in Seoul, Tokyo, Beijing, and Moscow as well.

This scenario may seem unreal today, but it is more political science than science fiction. North Korea just carried out its fifth (and apparently successful) test of a nuclear explosive device, doing so just days after testing several ballistic missiles. Absent a major intervention, it is only a matter of time before North Korea increases its nuclear arsenal (now estimated at 8-12 devices) and figures out how to miniaturize its weapons for delivery by missiles of increasing range and accuracy.

It is difficult to overstate the risks were North Korea, the world’s most militarized and closed society, to cross this threshold…

Yep. Which is just another reason for being worried about a President Trump.

Q: What do we want? A: mobility, not cars.

This morning’s Observer column:

I’m looking at two photographs of the main street of the small town in which I was born. Both are taken from the same vantage point – looking up the hill to the T-junction at the top. The two photographs are separated by nearly a century: the first was taken in the 1930s, the second sometime in the last few years.

Topographically, the street remains largely unchanged: it’s a straight road with two- or three-storey shops and houses on either side. But the two photographs show completely different streets. The 1930s one shows a spacious thoroughfare, with people walking on the pavements on both sides of the street: here and there, two or three individuals stand in the road, possibly engaged in conversation. The contemporary photograph shows a narrow, congested gorge. The pavements are crowded with pedestrians, but there are no people on the road. In fact, in some places, one cannot even see its surface.

Why the difference between the two photographs? You know the answer: cars, vans and traffic. Both sides of the contemporary street have got lines of parked vehicles, effectively reducing the width of the road by 12ft. And there’s a traffic jam, which means that even the vehicles that aren’t parked are stationary.

This picture is repeated in millions of towns and cities worldwide…

Read on

Missing the Zeitgeist


Christopher Caldwell has a sobering piece in the Financial Times which helps to explain why US mainstream media have been so discombobulated by Trump’s success: they’ve paid no attention to Fox News for all the time that the channel has been broadcasting. But way back in 2009, the then Executive Editor of The New York Times, Jill Abramson had warned her colleagues that they were insufficiently tuned in to “the issues that are dominating Fox News”. Needless to say, nobody listened.

Caldwell’s analysis is acute and perceptive. “Fox News’s competitors, with a few exceptions like Abramson”, he writes,

always sold it short. They were wrong to. Fox News succeeded because it was brilliant enough to identify a market failure, not because it was sleazy enough to cause one. Murdoch, Ailes and those who build up Fox News did so by identifying a group of news consumers who were being ignored by news producers. It is only now, in the election season of 2016, that we can see how dire a problem this snub revealed, not just for the media but for the whole political system. It was a sign than the informed opinions of the broad public had ceased to count in American political and social life.

The Fox News people understood that you can’t solve this problem by being “more objective”. When it is being ignored by elites, the broad public prefers opinions to facts — because while everyone has opinions, as the saying goes, facts are increasingly things that get handed down by experts. In short, Fox News bet 20 years ago that the “objectivity” of a nation’s elites could be a kind of bias. The past year’s events in the US show that it has won that bet.

It’s a good piece which, of course, also makes one reflect on the UK. I suppose you could say that, for us, the tabloid press constituted our own version of Fox News.