Saturday, February 14, 2015

Soaking The Rich

Jonathan Freedland writes about the Premier League's new television deal and how it shows that English football is now a global product that just happens to be in England. This is not really true.

It is certainly true that the new television deal is phenomenal at 5.1 billion pounds over three seasons it makes it the second wealthiest sports competition in the world. Only the NFL generates more cash and soon the 20th richest Premier League club will be able to outspend every club abroad apart from Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

However the important detail is that the new deal is for the domestic rights, not the global rights. It is the competition for UK pay television rights that is driving the growth, the foreign markets are an important bonus but they are not what is primarily funding English football.

Whether this shows that nothing else can drive subscription television in Britain or that British football supporters are very rich is an open question.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Beer Good, Dictators Bad

Something I hadn't realised about Brewdog when I did my unpaid advertising for them on Friday, is that in one important way they have in fact followed in my footsteps, by pointing out how unconvincing Putin's heterosexuality is:
A Scottish brewery has launched a ‘not for gays' beer in protest at Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay laws, and have even sent a crate to the Russian leader himself.
The limited-edition ‘Hello, My Name is Vladimir’ beer features a Warhol-esque impression of Vladimir Putin wearing make-up on its label and the satirical *not for gays small print across the bottom.
BrewDog, the brewery responsible for creating the ‘protest beer’ included the following description on the labels: “Hello, my name is Vladimir. I am 100 per cent hetero and will pass laws to prove it.
On the subject of the camp Cossack, negotiations with Putin over the war in Ukraine are a complete waste of time. Russia has broken every treaty it has ever signed with respect to Ukraine and its assault will only be stopped if the Ukrainians are given weapons to fight back. It is much like the wars in the former Yugoslavia in that regard, the peace treaties signed by Belgrade meant nothing until Croatia was given the resources to fight back.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Hipsterism And Beer

There is a lot to admire about the Scottish brewery Brewdog, the guys at Samizdata have previously celebrated Brewdog's glorious contempt for the nanny state and they do make some really good beer. Their growing chain of bars are also worth visiting, with quality beer, exceptionally good service and a relaxed atmosphere.

Yet I have to admit my enthusiasm for the purveyors of craft beers is very different from my antipathy for the real ale community. Partly that is because they are much more prescriptive about what constitutes a real ale, but that is not the whole reason. The similarities between real ales and craft beers are too great to pretend it is about taste. No at the end of the day I have to admit that I have hipster tendencies, craft beers are appreciated because compared to the real ale guys, they are cool, sophisticated and not in anyway  associated with people who aren't like this:

Culture Clashes Encourage Immigration.

It is good to learn something new and unexpected about a subject which you believed you had thought about it some depth. The economist Paul Collier's book about immigration, Exodus, revealed something counter intuitive but actually very logical about how immigration works:

All things being equal, more immigrants will come from cultures that integrate poorly into the host society than from those that integrate well. 
This is surprising but makes sense when considering it from the point of the migrant. It is known that the presence of a diaspora facilitates the ease with which people can settle in a country, so if a community integrates quickly into society there will be little or no diaspora with extremely close ties to the country of origin, which will slow down migration. This makes sense, there is no functioning Australian diaspora in the UK beyond first generation short term migrants because our cultures are so close that integration is nearly inevitable, on the other hand there is a distinct Bengali diaspora that acts as a magnet for further Bengali immigration.

The implications for immigration policy are profound, without either restrictions on immigration or some method of hastening integration, migrants will, over time, come from cultures that are hardest to integrate into society.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Guest Post- Jessica Valenti On "Why Are Men Always Committing Terrorism?"

Diana Ramazanova always dreamed of controlling her own destiny, but when she was growing up in Dagestan, she was told she should marry a man and support his ambitions. Today, many years after a move to Turkey that changed her life she has achieved her ambitions. By becoming Istanbul's first female suicide bomber.

Women are still scarce in the jihadi community: all of the 9/11 plane hijackers were men, few female radical preachers exist and none of the attackers who killed twelve priviliged rapists at Charlie Hebdo magazine were women. As shocking as it is, it can no longer be denied; many Islamic extremists are sexist.

Women currently make up less than 10% of Al Qaeda's senior membership and ISIS refused to even provide a breakdown of their senior leadership. Nor is the misogyny confined to the major organisations, an astonishing 98% of British Muslims would disapprove of their daughters joining ISIS, 1 in 4 female jihadis will experience rape, sexual assault or loud tutting, 20% of 50 is 10, 85% of boys were icky by a Feministing commissioned poll.

Nor are terrorists providing a safe space for women to work. Some estimates suggest that ISIS controlled areas of Syria and Iraq have levels of rape that are almost as high as US college campuses.

With few role models to inspire women like Diana, it may seem that the future of jihad is in patriarchal hands, but increasingly groups of young females are challenging the patriarchy and doing it for themselves, “Yes, initially many there was a good deal of scepticism about what we were doing,” Rovzan Dudaev 23 of the Chechen Black Widows, “so we built an organisation to support and nurture young girls who are interested in slaying degenerate infidel pigdogs for themselves,” With support and rigourous monitoring programmes it looks like the future of the caliphate my be in safe, female hands after all.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Quote Of The Day

Garry Kasparov:

The difference between a genius & a politician. Alan Turing invents a computer to crack encryption. David Cameron wants to ban encryption.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

On Not Publishing Islamic Cartoons

It is fully understandable that many publications have declined to print the cartoons of the prophet Muhammed both by Charlie Hebdo and by the Danish cartoonists. It is all very well for a semi anonymous commentator to argue that they should be courageous enough to publish them, but editors have to think about the risk not just to themselves but to their staff. Especially if they have foreign correspondents in Islamic countries.

The editor of the Jewish Chronicle, Stephen Pollard, has been very direct about why his newspaper would not publish the cartoons:
what right do I have to risk the lives of my staff to make a point? 
What is much more objectionable is denying the reason why they are not publishing them- the threat of lethal violence committed by Islamic extremists.

However other publications refuse to admit that they have been intimidated into not  publishing them, the Daily Telegraph's Will Heaven* argued on Twitter that "if terrorists killed a pornographer, we wouldn't publish porn", implying that it is for reasons of good taste not fear of violence that they won't print them.

This is disingenuous. When the newspaper covers stories featuring offensive images of Christianity such as the infamous "Piss Christ" the image is published so readers understand what the story is about.The same is true when antisemitic material is the subject of a report.The same is true of most news organisations.

In a way it also slanders the artists by telling readers that although the artists obviously did not deserve to be killed for what they have done, their work is obnoxious and perhaps deliberately provocative when that is often very far from the truth.

Some people were even claiming that the Danish cartoons were racist, which was a slur against the cartoonist but not one which is easy to refute when the images are hidden. This one for instance was actually critical of the newspaper's decision to run the competition but the artist is under a death threat for the rest of his life anyway.

By all means refuse to put your life on the line in order to publish cartoons, but be honest about the reason why.

* I use him as an example purely because I saw his tweets this morning, a lot of newspaper made similar arguments back in 2005.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Charlie Hebdo

The Charlie Hebdo massacre disturbs me more than most terrorist attacks I must admit, because unlike the slaughter of random people it is something that could make people change their behaviour to avoid. People will be ever more unwilling to satirise a religion that needs more satire than most.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

How People's Minds Work

I was supposed to meet someone today to let me in to see a building, after a while with no one showing up I asked my office to find out where he was. I was then told his explanation was:
I saw him, asked if he was Ross and he said "no" and then drove off.
It didn't occur to him that the person saying he wasn't me, was not in fact me.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

The Hungry Games

For some reason an upcoming Channel 4 comedy about the Irish Potato Famine is attracting criticism:
After creating uproar with its coverage of the unemployed in Benefits Street, Channel 4 is generating new outrage after commissioning a comedy series on the Irish potato famine, a tragedy thought to have cost a million lives.
The sitcom, called Hungry, has been revealed by Dublin-based writer Hugh Travers, who told the Irish Times that “we’re kind of thinking of it as Shameless in famine Ireland.”
 I say that it has attracted criticism but it may just be a couple of rent a quote busybodies but obviously it is delicate. It isn't that comedies set in bleak circumstances cannot work, Blackadder Goes Forth was hilariously scathing about the First World War and though I haven't seen it the film Life is Beautiful is a very well regarded comedy-drama set in a Nazi concentration camp. However when stepping on sensitive ground there is somewhat less room for error than elsewhere and if it goes wrong it could end up being the new Heil Honey I'm Home!:
a British sitcom, written by Geoff Atkinson and produced in 1990, that was cancelled after one episode aired. It centres on fictionalised versions of Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun, who live next door to a Jewish couple, Arny and Rosa Goldenstein.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Deep Roots

I am currently reading The Steel Bonnets by George MacDonald Fraser, which is a history of the border reivers- the violent and wild people who lived on the frontier of England & Scotland in the 16th century. The border culture is interesting both in itself and due to the impact it has had on the wider world. Both the Ulster Plantation and the slightly misnamed "Scotch-Irish" settlers of the USA's Appalachian backcountry derive mostly from the borderers.

I have not finished the book yet so will not attempt a review but one thing that did strike me was how many of the clans on the Scottish side of the border bear surnames which now crop up in the Scottish rugby team over the decades- Armstrongs, Beatties, Redpaths, Weirs and Irvines etc- reflecting that the region is the heartland of the Scottish game. Similarly a lot of the English surnames appear over and again among English footballers of North Eastern origins- Charltons, Milburns, Hendersons and Robsons among them.

There really is a very strong continuity of population in this country that goes back hundreds of years, with families often having lived in the same area over the course of many hundreds of years.

Friday, January 02, 2015

2015 Election Prediction

My prediction is that because this looks like the toughest election in the UK to predict in my lifetime, any predictions that are made will tend to reveal what the prognosticator in question wants to happen.

The US general election of 2000 is what I base this on, where Bush and Gore were "too close to call" for most of the year leading up to it and most liberal pundits predicted a narrow Gore win and most conservatives a narrow Bush victory. 

I'm inclined to go for a small Conservative majority based on the notion that 6 weeks of exposure to Ed Miliband will make the electorate realise they cannot risk putting him in charge of the country.

However I might be demonstrating the bias that I refer to by that prediction- there is certainly enough polling evidence to sustain any prediction from a solid majority for either Conservatives or Labour, or a breakthrough by insurgent parties like UKIP, the SNP and perhaps the Green Party- and in any case using one piece of evidence to make a prediction (Miliband's popularity) means I'm probably overlooking other evidence.

So the only safe prediction is that the Liberal Democrats will suffer.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Ties That Bind (Pubs).

An overlooked story of 2014, overlooked by me at least, is the decision by MPs to partially untie pub landlords from the pub companies. This will allow landlords to buy beer at the market rate and to have their rents assessed independently. It seems like a good idea but there are more fundamental problems for the pub industry, namely:
  • The smoking ban- it won't be reversed and it hasn't been bad for all pubs but for the spit & sawdust type backstreet boozer it remains a problem.
  • The pubcos overinvestment in property. When property prices were shooting up from the 1990s to the 2008 crash it didn't matter too much whether pubs were profitable because the value of the properties was rising fast enough to ensure that on paper the pub companies were loaded. After the crash they realised the flaw in that plan.
  • The quality of people becoming landlords is not great, mostly because hardly anyone who understands what's involved would want to to do it. It's almost impossible to make money as a tenant so only fools rush in to take them over. Also going to the pub a lot does not mean you are well suited to running one.
  • The quality of people running pubcos isn't great- the firms aren't rapacious capitalist exploiters, but edifices that are teetering on the brink of collapse who can't afford to take long term decisions without having serious cash flow problems today.
  • Tax on beer, even during the midst of the great recession the tax on beer has reason inexorably.
Until all that is sorted out then it will remain a very risky business to get involved in.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Communism Pretty Much Sucks

A couple of statistics about Germany:

Among more than 600 members of management and supervisory boards at Germany’s 30 largest companies, fewer than a dozen lived in the German Democratic Republic when the Berlin Wall fell on Nov. 9, 1989. Many of them are politicians or labor union officials, not executives.
That is 2% of the nation's executives from an area that makes up around 20% of the population.
The rapid productivity gains eastern workers made after reunification have stalled: they are still only 76% as productive as western ones. That is partly because the east German economy is concentrated in less productive industries, like construction and agriculture. But even in others, like finance, eastern workers have made smaller productivity gains than westerners.
Unless there were major regional economic  differences between the east and west of Germany before World War 2, and as far as I'm aware the east wasn't considered notably poorer, it illustrates just how much an atrocious political idea can deplete the human capital of a country. That the legacy of communism is still so pronounced more than 25 years after it collapsed is a pretty damning indictment of the system.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Who Believes This Crap?

Perhaps we should get Sabrina Rubin Erdely to investigate these claims:

Detectives are investigating three alleged murders as part of an inquiry into historical child abuse, the Met Police has said.
Officers made a public appeal for information relating to Dolphin Square estate in Pimlico, south-west London.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Steve Rodhouse said no confirmed identities or bodies of victims had been found.

I will actually astonished if this doesn't turn out to be another baseless scare story like the satanic abuse mania in the 1980s or the campus rape obsession that's sweeping across the USA at the moment.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Quote Of The Day

In the comments under an article about Russia's economic collapse, one commentator writes:

Stuck for a present for the Nashi in your life? Why not not him one of these stylish new Russian wallets?