Horror Show

I had plans to write a post for the end of October with this Halloween-themed title, but it serves just as well for the end of the whole year. The seamless transition from war in Ukraine to the events in Gaza that month were enough to leave anyone aghast, but as time has gone on it’s been clear that different people are aghast about different things.

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31 December 2023

Extremely Online

One of the founders of Substack, the mailing list and personal website hosting and monetizing provider, has rejected a recent petition for the site to moderate and remove openly Nazi content (via Mefi).

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25 December 2023

The Real World

An Australian economic commentator has pointed out that Japan has bucked economic orthodoxy to become “a model of Modern Monetary Theory”:

Japan is the crazy uncle at the economic Christmas barbecue, laughed at pityingly and ignored, while we all get on with discussing serious matters, like the Taylor Rule, which is the theoretical formula central banks use to calculate what interest rates should be for a given inflation and growth rate. But the truth is Japan’s doing fine, and is not crazy at all. Everyone’s happy, unemployment is 2.5 per cent and has been under 3 per cent for five years, politics is stable and polite and there’s no shortage of infrastructure or housing—house prices have been fairly stable for 30 years. … The Japanese government has owed more than 200 per cent of GDP for more [than] a decade but has been happily running massive budget deficits the whole time, no pressure to balance the books, either politically or economically … because the Bank of Japan buys most of [that debt], using freshly created money, to keep the interest rate low.

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25 December 2023

Modern Life is Rubbish

Mortgage rates in Britain are rising in the face of all economic logic and contributing to inflation going through the roof. Experts are being cancelled for criticising the government on Twitter. Police can do what they want to us. And we can now see the physical impact of austerity on the next generation: British five-year-olds are shorter than their European peers.

Two days ago, the prime minister avoided the vote on the Privileges Committee report on whether Boris Johnson lied to Parliament about Partygate. (Let’s see how this poll tracker shifts next week.) On social media, Boris backers have been trying to distract from the central issue of his lying to the House by focussing on the party aspect and again minimizing it all as “a bit of cake”, but the leak of a video filmed at a Jingle and Mingle party on 14 December 2020 has blown up that defence; now it’s “they were just letting off a bit of steam”, despite the invitations actually calling it a party. The fury from people who lost loved ones or had gruelling shifts on Covid wards at the time isn’t going away. This heartbreaking clip from a BBC Radio 4 call-in last week should be played to every last one of the minimizers.

Oh, and the WHO didn’t say that the pandemic was over, despite the British press reporting that it did.

21 June 2023

Explosive Reads

Russia blew up the Kakhovka Dam in Ukraine on 6 June (archive), although Russians crowing about it online changed their tune within hours and blamed Ukrainians themselves (yeah, right). Timothy Snyder provided useful guidelines for writing about the attack. The impact on the people of the area is almost too devastating to contemplate.

A couple of books over the past year have helped make everything clearer for me around Russia and Ukraine. The first was Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe by Norman Davies, a history of countries that used to exist but no longer do; learning about the changes in Eastern European borders over the centuries was particularly helpful. The second, which I read more recently, was Masha Gessen’s The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, tracing the changes there since the Cold War through the eyes of half a dozen individuals. This was outstanding; when the book ended I wished the narrative could have kept going past its publication date of 2017. Some contemporary reviews quibbled with its conclusions or said it was a bit over the top, but from the vantage point of 2023 it was bang on.

21 June 2023

The King’s Bling Thing

I hadn’t meant to watch the Coronation, but a few minutes before 11 a.m. yesterday idly looked up what was happening when and realised that the ceremony in the Abbey was about to start. So I switched on the TV out of curiosity, and we all marked the hour or two of history that otherwise would have passed us by.

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7 May 2023