Quotulatiousness

January 19, 2013

Which is preferable: pirates or bandits?

Filed under: Government, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:56

Tim Harford gives a history lesson while answering the question of which is better:

Consider two different types of bandit, suggested Olson: the roving bandit, who wanders around pillaging wherever he can; and the stationary bandit, who builds a castle and settles down to exploit a particular area. At first glance, one might think that a stationary bandit is the greater curse, because he’s always around. But not so: roving bandits are more dangerous because they have no reason to hold back. A roving bandit will take everything and leave you dead. The stationary bandit wants to come back and take more next week, and so will ensure you have the resources to keep going about your business.

Because you have everything to fear from the roving bandit, you are likely to take your own steps to avoid him — to hide, to place locks and alarms on everything, or to hire a group of seven samurai to protect you. Meanwhile, anticipating your counter-measures, the roving bandit will also spend resources on his counter-counter-measures. The cost of such arms races can be vast.

[. . .]

Besley and his colleagues reckon that costs of between $900m and $3.6bn were incurred in 2010 as a result either of pirate attacks, or efforts to deter or evade such attacks. Meanwhile the pirates took home just $120m over the same period. Now that $120m does seem to have had some beneficial effects on the pirates’ home ports, according to Anja Shortland, an economist at Brunel University. But piracy is an expensive way to get $120m into the hands of anybody.

There are signs that Somali piracy is on the wane, at least for now. But Somalia remains the poster child for a failed state. And a good working definition of a failed state is one that lacks a decent, long-lived stationary bandit. After all, once a stationary bandit feels secure in his tenure (“long live the king!”) he may do more than show restraint in his plunder: he may begin to invest in the prosperity of the region he dominates, building bridges, establishing a police force and drawing up laws. To maintain his power base he will have to hand out favours and ensure that prosperity is reasonably widespread.

Failing to charm

Filed under: Media, Sports — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:33

Is the real reason Lance Armstrong’s televised confessions failed to “redeem” him in the public eye just a lack of charm?

But by the standards we have come to expect in these things it was relatively candid, blessedly free of self-pity. He’d told a lot of lies. Now he was telling the truth. Yet if he was expecting this confession to stanch the flow of vitriol, it appeared to have the opposite effect.

Because if there is one thing we expect of professional cyclists, it is that they will compete fairly and stay clear of drugs. And if there is one thing we expect, no demand of our public figures, it is that they will tell the truth.

Oh really. Listening to all this high dudgeon, I was carried back to last September’s Democratic convention, and the rapturous reception given to Bill Clinton, the former president and noted perjurist in the matter of Jones v Clinton.

That may have been the most famous of his lies, but it was hardly the first. Clinton was well known as a liar — an “unusually good” one, according to Bob Kerrey, the former senator — long before he ever reached the White House. As early as 1992, the question posed by his candidacy, as defined by Michael Kinsley, was not is he a liar, “but is he too much of a liar?” By the end the lies and abuses of power had piled up so high that Christopher Hitchens was forced to title his scathing account of the Clinton presidency No One Left To Lie To.

[. . .]

So let us drop the pretense that we’re all so scandalized by Armstrong because he lied. Granted, he lied about cycling, rather than mere financial dealings or affairs of state. But the reason he is in such obloquy, and Clinton and Mulroney are not, is not because his lies were worse, but because he’s not as good at it: because he is not as charming — shall we say manipulative? — as they. Frankly, when it comes to conning the public, he is not in their league.

Anyone can pull a con like Armstrong’s. You just lie and keep on lying until someone catches you. It takes a master to keep the con going even after you’ve been caught.

Infighting among the factions of the Assembly of First Nations

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:57

In the Toronto Star, Tim Harper recounts the behind-the-scenes battles currently going in the Assembly of First Nations:

As he rode to a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper last Friday, Shawn Atleo’s Blackberry buzzed.

“Since you have decided to betray me, all I ask of you now is to help carry my cold dead body off this island,” the text message said.

It was sent in the name of Chief Theresa Spence, but those who saw the text believe it came from someone else in her circle on Victoria Island.

But they were certain about one thing — the timing, moments before he went into one of the most important meetings of his life, was meant to destabilize the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations and undermine his efforts at a meeting which many in his organization fiercely opposed.

The missive distilled two vicious strains coursing through the internal fighting at the AFN — the threats and intimidation under which its leadership is functioning, and the growing sense from some that the Attawapiskat chief, now entering day 38 of a liquid diet with the temperature dipping to -27C here, is being used as a pawn in an internal political struggle.

To attend last week’s meeting Atleo already had to leave his Ottawa office from a back door to get out of a building with angry chiefs trying to blockade him inside.

He would have to enter the Langevin Block for the meeting through a back door for the same reason.

There have been no shortage of charges, countercharges and denials within the organization over the past weeks and the truth in this saga is often elusive.

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