Football-Crazy Iceland

Thursday, June 30th, 2016

Iceland, more than virtually any other nation on earth, is football crazy:

Yet for decades, it was a game denied to them for most of the year. The Arctic cold and scarce daylight made outdoor turf football impossible for eight months of the year. Most coaches were enthusiastic parents, and most pitches were rough gravel tracks that would take all the skin off your legs if you went down. Hallgrimsson shows us the pitch he grew up on in Heimaey. Goals with no nets. No markings on the pitch. It is the most basic footballing infrastructure imaginable.

In the early 1990s, Norway started building full-size indoor football pitches in the north of the country. The Icelandic FA sent a delegation there to investigate, and returned with its grand idea: a heated indoor “football house” in every town in Iceland.

The timing was fortunate. The economic boom had fuelled massive bank lending. Huge loans were available for infrastructure projects. The first football house was built near the airport at Keflavik in 2000, and over the next few years seven full-sized indoor arenas and hundreds of smaller all-weather pitches sprung up. There is an artificial pitch next to every school in the country.

One of the clubs to benefit was Breidablik, in the southern suburbs of Reykjavik. They built the country’s second football house in 2002, and now it has the most comprehensive youth setup in Iceland. A constant stream of taxpayer-funded minibuses rolls up at the entrance to bring kids – some as young as three – to training. They train 11 months of the year, up to six times a week.

“The accessibility is what sets us apart,” says Dadi Rafnsson, the club’s head of youth development. “You don’t have to drive far to find a good facility. It doesn’t cost very much to train. And everyone can play. We don’t pick kids out at 10 or 12. This is the problem with big academies. They choose too early.”

Multiply the success of Breidablik by seven or eight, and you have yourself a golden generation: a group of players who are not only the best technical footballers the country has ever produced, but who have all come through the same system. Four of Iceland’s Euro 2016 squad came from Breidablik, including Charlton’s Johann Berg Gudmundsson and Swansea’s Gylfi Sigurdsson, the team’s best player.

Along with the new facilities came new coaches. Breidablik alone has 31. There is one Uefa-qualified coach for every 500 people; in England, it is one in 5000. “Because we don’t have to pay for the facilities, we can spend the money on coaching,” says Rafnsson. “And coaching has now become a viable second profession. Also, when a player like Gudmundsson or Alfie Finnbogason does well abroad, we often get a fee.”

Thorsteinsson is quick to point out the role that Uefa and Fifa have played in the development of smaller nations. “This is overlooked by many when they speak negatively about them,” he says. “Sharing the wealth of football to the smaller countries has given us the financial support to grow.”


The current generation is the only one to have experienced both worlds: the character-building gravel pitches and the indoor greenhouses. Sigurdsson developed his toughness on frozen pitches in sub-zero temperatures and only spent a couple of years in the indoor halls before moving to Reading. The question is what happens when you get the first batch of kids who have known nothing of the old ways.

(Hat tip to Doug Lemov.)

Permanent Peace

Thursday, June 30th, 2016

Barry Latzer describes the cyclical theory of crime:

The optimistic view is that the late ‘60s crime tsunami, which ended in the mid-1990s, was sui generis, and we are now in a period of “permanent peace,” with low crime for the foreseeable future.

Pessimists rely on the late Eric Monkkonen’s cyclical theory of crime, which suggests that the successive weakening and strengthening of social controls on violence lead to a crime roller coaster. The current zeitgeist favors a weakening of social controls, including reductions in incarcerative sentences and restrictions on police, on the grounds that the criminal-justice system is too racist, unfair, and expensive. If Monkkonen were correct, we will get a crime rise before long.

Optimists point to the absence of factors that brought on the 60s crime boom: no immigration or migration of high-crime populations, no demographic upsurge in the youth population. They might also add: continued movement of minorities to the middle class, and no drug epidemics (like crack cocaine) among poor populations, which generate spikes in violent crime.

(The current heroin/opioid crisis is unlikely to produce significant violent crime so long as the drugs are cheap and the users relatively affluent. Drug and alcohol prohibitions produce violence in two ways: where distribution gangs compete for territory and kill one another, and where poor populations are unable to support their addictions, leading to robbery and other crimes to raise money.)

Open, Easy-Going, Almost Blissfully Innocent

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016

Iceland is open, easy-going, almost blissfully innocent:

There is very little violent crime and none of the visible bulwarks of authority that we quickly become accustomed to in bigger countries: police, soldiers, traffic wardens, security guards.

Instead, authority is more collective and understated. With no real class system, Icelanders more or less look after themselves. Multitasking is something of a national tradition. Goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson is a filmmaker who directed the video for the country’s 2012 Eurovision Song Contest entry. The current mayor of Reykjavik is a doctor and the guy before him was a stand-up comedian. And unlike Roy Hodgson or Antonio Conte or Joachim Löw, [national team coach] Hallgrimsson holds down a part-time job as one of Heimaey’s two dentists.


Wednesday, June 29th, 2016

John Derbyshire discusses assimilation — and absimilation:

The English word “assimilation” derives from the Latin prefix ad-, which indicates a moving towards something, and the same language’s verb simulare, “to cause a person or thing to resemble another.” You can make a precisely opposite word using the prefix ab-, which marks a moving away from something. Many immigrants of course assimilate to American society … Many others, however, especially in the second and following generations, absimilate …

Of the four men held responsible for the London terror bombings of July 2005, three were English-born. (The fourth immigrated at age five from Jamaica.) In December 2008, writing in, terrorism expert Patrick Poole noted that many U.S. citizens of Somali origin were leaving the country to train as terrorists in Somalia …

Assimilation, absimilation: If you let great numbers of foreigners settle in your country, you will surely get both.

Omar Mateen was second generation, and he absimilated away from American culture, Derbyshire notes:

Mateen Senior, first name Seddique, became a naturalized citizen in 1989 after coming to this country from his native Afghanistan in the early 1980s. I haven’t been able to discover what kind of visa he came in on. The leading possibilities are: (a) he came as a refugee, via the United Nations and our own State Department, or (b) he was performing some service to the U.S.A. against the Soviet forces then occupying Afghanistan, or (c) some close relative of his — or some person he persuaded to swear he was a relative — was performing such services, or was a refugee, and Mr Mateen got in on the family-reunification boondoggle.

It wasn’t likely an employment visa. Mr Mateen has been making a living selling life insurance since 1991. I don’t recall there being any critical shortage of life-insurance salesmen in the early 1980s.

Bearing in mind possibility (b) above, it’s possible that Mateen, Sr. risked his life to assist the U.S.A. with policy objectives in Afghanistan. This was the Cold War, remember; and as I remind younger listeners and readers, the Cold War was a very big deal, with nuclear annihilation in play. The Mujaheddin fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan were our allies. Islam was not at that point committing acts of homicidal lunacy in Western countries.

So it’s possible that Mateen, Sr.’s admission to the U.S.A. was justified even by the very strict Radio Derb standards — which, just to remind you, would allow permanent settlement to spouses and dependent children of U.S. Citizens, certified geniuses, persons who’ve performed some meritorious service to U.S. policy goals, a few Solzhenitsyn-type high-profile dissidents, and nobody else at all.

It’s possible, but is it likely? Not really. Quote from an authoritative website:

Prior to 1978, only about 2,500 Afghans lived in the United States. Between 1980 and 1996, more than 32,000 were admitted as refugees, along with 40,000 under regular immigrant visas, most as part of the family reunification program.

Afghan Immigration, (See also Encyclopedia of North American Immigration, By John Powell)

That’s 72,000 Afghans, exceedingly few of whom, I imagine, put their lives on the line for U.S. policy goals under the Soviet occupation. And it goes without saying that of those 32,000 refugees from the Soviet occupation, very few — quite possibly none at all — returned to Afghanistan when the occupation ended in 1989.

Some Cursed Law

Tuesday, June 28th, 2016

Coming of Conan the Cimmerian by Robert E. HowardRobert E. Howard’s Conan tales may be light entertainment, but they do successfully portray an alien worldview, as in this opening scene from Queen of the Black Coast, where our hero storms aboard a ship with guardsmen in hot pursuit:

“If we must travel together,” said the master, “we may as well be at peace with each other. My name is Tito, licensed mastershipman of the ports of Argos. I am bound for Kush, to trade beads and silks and sugar and brass-hilted swords to the black kings for ivory, copra, copper ore, slaves and pearls.”

The swordsman glanced back at the rapidly receding docks, where the figures still gesticulated helplessly, evidently having trouble in finding a boat swift enough to overhaul the fast-sailing galley.

“I am Conan, a Cimmerian,” he answered. “I came into Argos seeking employment, but with no wars forward, there was nothing to which I might turn my hand.”

“Why do the guardsmen pursue you?” asked Tito. “Not that it’s any of my business, but I thought perhaps—”

“I’ve nothing to conceal,” replied the Cimmerian. “By Crom, though I’ve spent considerable time among you civilized peoples, your ways are still beyond my comprehension.

“Well, last night in a tavern, a captain in the king’s guard offered violence to the sweetheart of a young soldier, who naturally ran him through. But it seems there is some cursed law against killing guardsmen, and the boy and his girl fled away. It was bruited about that I was seen with them, and so today I was haled into court, and a judge asked me where the lad had gone. I replied that since he was a friend of mine, I could not betray him. Then the court waxed wrath, and the judge talked a great deal about my duty to the state, and society, and other things I did not understand, and bade me tell where my friend had flown. By this time I was becoming wrathful myself, for I had explained my position.

“But I choked my ire and held my peace, and the judge squalled that I had shown contempt for the court, and that I should be hurled into a dungeon to rot until I betrayed my friend. So then, seeing they were all mad, I drew my sword and cleft the judge’s skull; then I cut my way out of the court, and seeing the high constable’s stallion tied near by, I rode for the wharfs, where I thought to find a ship bound for foreign parts.”

“Well,” said Tito hardily, “the courts have fleeced me too often in suits with rich merchants for me to owe them any love. I’ll have questions to answer if I ever anchor in that port again, but I can prove I acted under compulsion. You may as well put up your sword. We’re peaceable sailors, and have nothing against you. Besides, it’s as well to have a fighting-man like yourself on board. Come up to the poop-deck and we’ll have a tankard of ale.”

“Good enough,” readily responded the Cimmerian, sheathing his sword.

Made to Want Evil

Monday, June 27th, 2016

The world is run by a small, powerful, and extremely strange group of people, Bruce Charlton argues — and not strange in a delightfully eccentric way, either:

I noticed the headline recently that erstwhile child actor Elijah Wood had confirmed that the Hollywood upper echelons are rife with sexual depravity directed at children — drawing parallels with the revelations concerning Jimmy Savile as the focus of the same kind elite network/ conspiracy among the British Establishment at the BBC and other mass media, Government, the Royal Family, and apparently the legal system and senior police. There are also sporadic revelations of the same kind of thing scattered around the world elites more generally — enough to make a pattern — and a much more pervasive tendency among the dominant powers to excuse, de-prioritize, minimize, cover-up and forget this type of thing.

We have to join the dots here; and notice that the focus of activity seems to be on the means of mass communication — those jobs where people have influence on public opinion both directly (the hard sell via laws, regulations and advocacy) and (more insidiously) implicitly and covertly via subtle messages and denigration of the opposition and resistance (especially among serious Christians).

It looks very much as if ‘the world’ is being run by a small and powerful and extremely-strange group of people who are distinguished from ‘normal’ people by their positive and active attitude to what is regarded among the mass of ordinary and even wicked people as beyond-the-pale and the most depraved activity of all. For example, even among the most hardened and horrendous British criminal prisoners, such people are regarded as the lowest of the low. (Leading to the apparent-paradox that the highest-of-the high are morally the lowest-of-the-low; as was the situation with the Roman Emperor’s court under Tiberius when Jesus was born — and even more so with his successors Caligula, Claudius-Messalina and Nero.) Indeed, so rare and peculiar is this type of depravity that it appears to be substantially a calculated act of ultimate self-degradation and celebration of absolute evil: the kind of thing which seems to be a deliberate strategy of corruption of one’s own soul.

If so, we would be very wrong to regard the international elites as well-meaning but misguided/ incompetent — or indeed as being motivated by any of the ‘normal’ types of sinful human appetite such as greed and lust; we seem to be up against a group that are altogether more purely evil than this.

The obvious rejoinder is that if the world is ruled by such grossly wicked people, then why aren’t things much worse, and more obviously worse, than they are — given their power, why don’t they just implement evil by diktat?

My understanding is that it is the nature of the human condition that Men must invite evil into their hearts for evil to gain dominion. For evil to triumph, making people do evil things by coercion or incentives is not enough — people must be made to want evil. They need to be induced to embrace ‘moral inversion’; embrace evil as good. And this is altogether a trickier and more long-termist project than mere destruction of The Good — which will often induce a powerful opposite reaction.

And if it is desired to create a situation in which people choose to regard evil as Good — then clearly the means of mass communication are precisely where you most want to work — to make it such that the very imagination is subverted then inverted. It all makes a horrible kind of sense that the BBC and Hollywood have emerged as foci of this depraved sexual cultus — albeit the tip of an iceberg extending to embrace so many of the Western and Westernized ruling elite.

Unsafe Cars Can Save Lives

Sunday, June 26th, 2016

The London-based Global New Car Assessment Program tested seven cars made for the Indian market and handed five of them — the Renault Kwid, Maruti Suzuki Celerio, Maruti Suzuki Eeco, Mahindra Scorpio, and Hyundai Eon — a rating of zero stars out of five for adult safety. This leads Alex Tabarrok to remind us that unsafe cars can save lives:

These cars are very inexpensive. A Renault Kwid, for example, can be had for under $4000. In the Indian market these cars are competing against motorcycles. Only 6 percent of Indian households own a car but 47% own a motorcycle. Overall, there are more than five times as many motorcycles as cars in India.

Motorcycles are also much more dangerous than cars.

The [U.S] federal government estimates that per mile traveled in 2013, the number of deaths on motorcycles was over 26 times the number in cars.

Similar ratios are found in the UK and Australia. I can think of several reasons why the ratio might be lower in India–lower speeds, for example, but also several reasons why the ratio might be higher (see picture).

Indian Family on Motorcycle

The GNCAP worries that some Indian cars don’t have airbags but forgets that no Indian motorcycles have airbags. Even a zero-star car is much safer than a motorcycle. Air bags cost about $200-$400 (somewhat older estimates here a, b, c) and are not terribly effective. (Levitt and Porter, for example, calculated that air bags saved 550 lives in 1997 compared to 15,000 lives saved by seatbelts.) At $250, airbags would increase the cost of a $5,000 car by 5%. A higher price for automobiles would reduce the number of relatively safe automobiles and increase the number of relatively dangerous motorcycles and thus an air bag requirement could result in more traffic fatalities.


Saturday, June 25th, 2016

In 1945, Eastman Kodak suddenly received a flood of complaints from business customers who had recently purchased sensitive X-ray film:

Black exposed spots on the film, or “fogging,” had rendered it unusable. This perplexed many Kodak scientists, who had gone to great lengths to prevent contaminations like this.

Julian H. Webb, a physicist in Kodak’s research department, took it upon himself to dig deeper and test the destroyed film.


According to an article Webb would write in 1949 for the American Physical Society, the paper and cardboard used for packaging in the ’40s were often salvaged from wartime manufacturing plants where radium-based instruments were also produced. Radium is a naturally occurring radioactive element that can cause flecks of spots or fogging when “in intimate contact with (sensitive film) for a period several weeks.” During wartime, Kodak took precautions to avoid radium contamination. It moved packaging manufacturing to mills where Kodak had full control over the raw materials.

One of these mills was located along the Wabash River in Vincennes, Indiana; it specialized in producing strawboard, used as a stiffener board between sheets of film. When Webb investigated the mysterious fogging in 1945, he found that it originated not from the X-ray film itself but the packaging, which he tracked to this particular mill, and specifically, the production run of strawboard from August 6, 1945. After testing the radioactive material on the strawboard, he discovered — rather alarmingly — that the spots on the film were not caused by radium nor any other naturally occurring radioactive material, but “a new type radioactive containment not hitherto encountered.” What was this unknown radioactive material, he must have wondered, and what was it doing in southwest Indiana?


While he was studying the Indiana samples, Webb got word that a particular production run of strawboard from a plant in Tama, Iowa was also contaminated and fogging the Kodak film it carried. While Tama was 450 miles from Vincennes, there were striking similarities. The two production runs of strawboard had been completed within a month of each other. Tama’s radioactive spots also failed the radium test, meaning the cause was something else. Most telling, however, was that both mills sat next to rivers, with Vincennes on the Wabash River and the Iowa River cutting through Tama.

Webb found that the strawboard from both mills had a significant concentration of beta-particle radiation activity but little to no alpha-activity. (Beta-particle radiation can penetrate paper, human skin and are sometimes considered dangerous. Alpha-particle radiation is stopped by paper, easily absorbed and generally considered safe if not ingested). Additionally, photographic evidence allowed Webb to estimate the half-life of the artificial radioactive material he was seeking at approximately 30 days. The results corresponded to the presence of an artificial radioactive material he would later identify as Cerium-141, which is “one of the more prolific fission products of the atom bomb.”

Furthermore, Webb concluded there was no possible way the straw could be the carrier of the containment, since it was stored in warehouses (and not outside) for a considerable amount of time prior to being used. Had the Cerium-141 gotten directly into the straw, it would have decayed by the time the straw was processed, rendering the radiation hardly detectable. This brought Webb to a frightening explanation: The contamination came from the river water. Additional evidence would fall in the rain. According to Webb, “stronger activity occurred in the strawboard” after periods of heavy precipitation, establishing that the radioactive material was being deposited via precipitation and came from a far-flung place.

While it is unclear whether Webb knew about the Trinity test when he was conducting his research in 1945, his report from 1949 is unabashedly clear: “The most likely explanation of the source of this radioactive contaminant appears to be that it consisted of wind-borne radioactive fission products derived from the atom-bomb detonation in New Mexico on July 16, 1945.”

The problem came up again later:

On January 27, 1951, the first atomic detonation at the new Nevada Proving Ground took place. Days later and 2,500 miles away, a Geiger counter at Kodak’s headquarters in New York state measured radioactive readings 25 times above normal after a snowstorm. Declassified 1952 documents obtained by Popular Mechanics reveals that Kodak alerted the Atomic Energy Commission about this out of concern this testing would wreck its film just as had happened in 1945. The AEC responded that it would look into it, but assured Kodak there was little reason to worry, even allowing the company to issue a press release to the Associated Press stating that snow “that fell in Rochester was measurably radioactive…” but “there is no possibility of harm to humans and animals.”

In March 1951, a frustrated Kodak threatened to sue the U.S. government for the “considerable amount of damage to our products resulting from the Nevada tests or from any further atomic energy tests…” Finally the company and the government came to an agreement. The AEC would provide Webb, by now the head of Kodak’s physics division, with schedules and maps of future tests so that Kodak could take the necessary precautions to protect its product. In return, the people of Kodak were to keep everything they knew about the government’s Nevada nuclear testing a secret.

Terrorist Ritual

Friday, June 24th, 2016

ISIS has found a reliable way to span the gap between online support and physical action that isn’t easy to detect, John Robb suggests:

They accomplished this by building a formalized ritual that combines initiation (a self-planned attack) and a public pledge (a formal lifelong, irrevocable pledge of fealty to the Caliph), and acknowledgement (redemption, acceptance, and honor). It appears to work. For example, here’s what Omar Mateen said on one of his telephone conversations. Note how important the pledge is to Omar in this public record of the call.

Orlando Police Dispatcher (OD): Emergency 911, this is being recorded.

Shooter (OM): In the name of God the Merciful, the beneficial [in Arabic]

OD: What?

OM: Praise be to God, and prayers as well as peace be upon the prophet of God [in Arabic]. I let you know, I’m in Orlando and I did the shootings.

OD: What’s your name?

OM: My name is I pledge of allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of the Islamic State.

OD: Ok, What’s your name?

OM: I pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may God protect him [Arabic], on behalf of the Islamic State.

OD: Alright, where are you at?

OM: In Orlando.

OD: Where in Orlando?

[End of call]

The same process was seen a day later outside Paris by an attacker who killed two senior members of the police.

With this methodology in place, ISIS has the ability to bypass the security procedures that were effective against attacks from the remnants al Qaeda, and strike US and EU targets.

Harrison Bergeron

Friday, June 24th, 2016

Once you know the name Harrison Bergeron, you notice it regularly, because its satirical premise lends itself to frequent allusions these days:

The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.


Hazel had a perfectly average intelligence, which meant she couldn’t think about anything except in short bursts. And George, while his intelligence was way above normal, had a little mental handicap radio in his ear. He was required by law to wear it at all times. It was tuned to a government transmitter. Every twenty seconds or so, the transmitter would send out some sharp noise to keep people like George from taking unfair advantage of their brains.


He tried to think a little about the ballerinas. They weren’t really very good — no better than anybody else would have been, anyway. They were burdened with sashweights and bags of birdshot, and their faces were masked, so that no one, seeing a free and graceful gesture or a pretty face, would feel like something the cat drug in. George was toying with the vague notion that maybe dancers shouldn’t be handicapped. But he didn’t get very far with it before another noise in his ear radio scattered his thoughts.

By all means, read the whole thing; it’s short.

Weaker Grips

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016

Researchers from the Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina found that men and women under 30 have weaker grip strength than they did back in 1985:

The researchers asked almost 240 men and women under 30 — most 20 to 24 years old — to exert as much force as they could on a hand dynamometer, which measures grip force in pounds. On average, men’s hand strength decreased by 20 pounds, and women’s hand strength decreased by 10 pounds.

The culprit? Probably a combination of increased technology use at home and at work, and less manual labor. “As a society, we’re no longer agricultural or manufacturing,” Elizabeth Fain, an occupational therapist and lead author of the study, told NPR.

America’s Dying Shopping Malls Have Billions in Debt Coming Due

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016

America’s dying shopping malls have billions in debt coming due:

About $47.5 billion of loans backed by retail properties are set to mature over the next 18 months, data from Bank of America Merrill Lynch show.


Green Street estimates that several hundred malls could shut down over the next decade, with properties reliant on Macy’s, JC Penney and Sears at the most risk. Sales at department stores, once the engines that powered shopping centers across the U.S., have declined almost 20 percent since 2006, according to the firm. About 800 department stores would need to shut down to restore balance between sales and profitability, Green Street said in an April report.

Elite Disloyalty

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016

Megan McArdle ended up chatting with locals in Luton:

The Luton council estimates that “between 50% and 75% of the population would not have lived in Luton or not have been born at the time of the 2001 Census.” It is now minority white British, and only barely majority white.


As an American, this did not strike me as odd; this is what our cities have been like for centuries, particularly on the coasts. One group of immigrants moves in, creates an enclave, then gets rich, assimilates and moves out, making way for the next group that will throw a little of their food, their language and their customs into our vast melting pot. But this is not normal in most of the world. Nor is it necessarily welcome.

Most places in Britain are not like Luton, of course. But that’s not quite the point. Anti-immigration sentiment in the U.S. is often found in places that don’t have enormous immigrant populations, and wonks who proclaim this to be irrational seem not to grasp that those people may be looking at the places that have been transformed by immigration and responding with a fervent “No, thank you.” There’s a lot to be gained from globalism, the mixing of two or more cultures into something new. But something specific and local and much-loved is inevitably lost at the same time, and the people who feel that loss most keenly are the inward-looking people who stay in place, not internationalist elites.


Somehow, over the last half-century, Western elites managed to convince themselves that nationalism was not real. Perhaps it had been real in the past, like cholera and telegraph machines, but now that we were smarter and more modern, it would be forgotten in the due course of time as better ideas supplanted it.

That now seems hopelessly naive. People do care more about people who are like them — who speak their language, eat their food, share their customs and values. And when elites try to ignore those sentiments — or banish them by declaring that they are simply racist — this doesn’t make the sentiments go away. It makes the non-elites suspect the elites of disloyalty. For though elites may find something vaguely horrifying about saying that you care more about people who are like you than you do about people who are culturally or geographically further away, the rest of the population is outraged by the never-stated corollary: that the elites running things feel no greater moral obligation to their fellow countrymen than they do to some random stranger in another country. And perhaps we can argue that this is the morally correct way to feel — but if it is truly the case, you can see why ordinary folks would be suspicious about allowing the elites to continue to exercise great power over their lives.

It’s therefore not entirely surprising that people are reacting strongly against the EU, the epitome of an elite institution: a technocratic bureaucracy designed to remove many questions from the democratic control of voters in the constituent countries. Elites can earnestly explain that a British exit will be very costly to Britain (true), that many of the promises made on Brexit’s behalf are patently ridiculous (also true), that leaving will create all sorts of security problems and also cost the masses many things they like, such as breezing through passport control en route to their cheap continental holidays. Elites can even be right about all of those things. They still shouldn’t be too shocked when ordinary people respond just as Republican primary voters did to their own establishment last spring: “But you see, I don’t trust you anymore.”

Britain will never have a Mediterranean drinking culture

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016

The British are never going to have a Mediterranean drinking culture, Ed West argues:

One of the many things I prefer about being in France to England, along with the superior food, beautiful architecture and even more beautiful language, is their civilised attitude to alcohol — cheap, freely available and not used by the authorities as an excuse to constantly tell the population how horrible and rubbish they are.

So on one level the letter by medical experts urging the Government to take “bold action” by bringing in minimum prices for drinks should leave us cold. After all, as Christopher Snowdon points out (after reading his blog about the lies, mania and all around irrationality of the taxpayer-funded health campaigning industry, the term “health fascist” starts to look like an insult to Mussolini), Britain has the third-highest alcohol taxes in Europe.


But the major problem with the libertarian argument is that it tries to compare Britain with other countries, and therefore tends to mix up cause and effect. France has a relaxed attitude to drink because it doesn’t have Britain’s alcohol-related social problems (cirrhosis of the liver, yes, but that is less the concern of policymakers than street violence and wife-beating) — it’s not the other way around.

Slashing taxes on wine and beer would not make people in Glasgow and Belfast drink like Italians or Greeks. So far attempts to create a more mature drinking culture through relaxing closing-time laws (a maddening and infantilising restriction) have failed to do so.

Of course there are nudges that might encourage sensible drinking, such as incentivising people to eat with their alcohol, or to drink in inter-generational groups — although how the state can do this is another matter, beyond more blindingly obvious and patronising advertising campaigns — but it’s unlikely that this would make serious inroads into “booze Britain”.

It’s a cultural thing. Or perhaps not, for alcoholism is thought to have a strong genetic component, and the affliction often runs through families. Furthermore rates of alcoholism are known to differ between population groups — no one would suggest that cafés on Native American reservations start serving wine to create a “continental drinking culture” there. Likewise many east Asians are genetically incapable of drinking alcohol without feeling sick. Yet policymakers routinely ignore the likelihood that there is a genetic component to the northern European weakness for alcohol.


But at no point in history have northern Europeans, and the British in particular, been known to drink sensibly — as far back as the early medieval period, continental observers spoke with horror about the Anglo-Saxons and their hopeless drunkenness (indeed many English soldiers got drunk on the eve of the Battle of Hastings; I can’t imagine the sight of 9,000 heavily armed Normans would play well with a hangover). Further back, ancient Greek writers were shocked that the Scythians, the ancestors of today’s Ukrainians, drank their wine neat rather than mixed with water, as moderate Hellenes did.

Restoring Brazil’s Monarchy

Tuesday, June 21st, 2016

Royalists say the 49-year reign of Dom Pedro II was the most economically and politically stable period in Brazil’s history:

From 1824 to 1889, Brazil had only one constitution; it has had six in the years since. Many of the wealthiest and least corrupt countries on earth—such as Norway, Australia and Holland—are constitutional monarchies, they say.

The conservative, mostly bourgeois royalists express disgust at Brazil’s current leftist government and the social changes that have moved the country away from traditional Catholic values. “Without anyone to govern them, man falls prey to his own debilities,” said one speaker at the Monarchical Encounter.

“I’ve been a monarchist for my whole life, since I was in school and studied the empire of Dom Pedro II,” said Rodrigo Dias, a 34-year-old physician in Rio. “As a child I could not understand why we changed our way of government.”

Historians are quick to note that Brazil was the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery—Dom Pedro II was overthrown after he lost the support of elites angry about emancipation.


Dr. Dias and his counterparts believe Brazil would be steadier if its head of state didn’t have to descend into the partisan fray every four years to run for election. The king or queen would stand as a symbol of national unity and common values, while the dirty work of government would be left to a parliament led by a prime minister.

One of the group’s key theories is that a monarch, groomed from an early age to serve the country and all but guaranteed a lifelong mandate, would be less inclined to steal public money.

With many of Brazil’s top politicians ensnared in a corruption scandal, the monarchists don’t see any future royalty among the 35 registered parties. Most say the line of succession from Dom Pedro II leads to Dom Luiz de Orleans e Bragança, Dom Pedro II’s 78-year-old great-great-grandson.