From the monthly archives:

August 2021

Last night’s sunset from Liverpool

Wirral sunset

Twigs and branches

by John Q on August 26, 2021

Another open thread, where you can comment on any topic. Moderation and standard rules still apply. Lengthy side discussions on other posts will be diverted here. Enjoy!

Climate and Covid

by John Q on August 26, 2021

Over the fold, an excerpt from my book-in-progress, The Economic Consequences of the Pandemic, adapted from an article coming out soon in Australian magazine Inside Story

Comments, criticism and (of course) praise welcome

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The Malayan Emergency

by John Q on August 24, 2021

In the wake of the US defeat in Afghanistan, I’ve reinforced my previous belief that outside powers (particularly Western democracies) are almost always going to lose in counter-insurgency wars of this kind. One of my earliest contributions to Crooked Timber covered this theme.

But what was the source of the confidence that wars of this kind could be won? One of the most important was the Malayan Emergency, in which Britain defeated a communist insurgency, supported mainly by impoverished Chinese workers on British-owned rubber estates. The tactics included a reprise of the concentration camps used in the Boer War (though of course they had to be renamed “protected villages”), which were copied by the French and then the Americans in Vietnam. Even after the Vietnam debacle, Malaya was presented as an example of how to get things right.

It’s true that the insurgents were defeated (though a smaller group resurfaced later). But their support base was a minority of a minority (neither the majority Malays nor the urban Chinese business class supported them), they were heavily outnumbered by British forces, and they had no neighbouring power to provide them with refuge and military support.

Morever, most of the demands that had mobilised nationalist support were realised anyway: Malaysia became independent, the British planters left and their estates were ultimately taken over by Malaysian firms. And, a few years later, Britain abandoned its commitments “East of Suez” and the SEATO alliance, modelled on NATO was dissolved. Malaysia didn’t go communist, but even the countries in Indochina where communist insurgents were victorious have ended up fully capitalist.

Despite all this, the British continued to treat the Malayan Emergency as evidence of their superior skill in counter-insurgency, up to and including the Iraq and Afghanistan disasters.

All of this has been derived from a limited look around the Internet. If anyone has better sources to point to, I’d be interested to find them. (Just as I finished, I found this which covers much of the same ground. It’s from a journal of the Socialist Workers Party – I don’t know exactly where they fit into the scheme of things these days)

Sunday photoblogging: ruined outbuilding

by Chris Bertram on August 22, 2021


A Great Day For Down! Done!

by John Holbo on August 19, 2021

I’ve been a neglectful Crooked Timberite – not keeping up old school blogging duties – but today I have something to share!

I’ve completed the initial story arc of “On Beyond Zarathustra”, consisting of “A Great Day For Down!” Parts 1 and 2. A mighty graphic novel, 120 pages! (More, when you add in fake “Peanuts”.) Please, feel free to check it out & share with anyone who might find it edifying or amusing.

I’ve been chipping away at the thing for years now. Goodness how time passes! (Comics is hard!)

I always wondered how Z could fly around, with his Eagle and Snake! I finally worked out the aerodynamics!

Easy birds – in this slow Summer

by Ingrid Robeyns on August 18, 2021

I promised those of you interested in Hilary Cottam’s Radical Help a booknote – but oh my goodness, I’ve been so slow this Summer. I guess I am not alone – if I can go by the stories of many (international) colleagues who are all very tired after trying to keep all balls in the air during the pandemic (in fact, with homelearning more balls than before). So I’ve tried to be foregiving to myself for missing various deadlines, including the self-imposed ones of the books I’d wanted to talk about here. I will get to chatting about that book before too long, but not this week.

In the meantime, I had to think of Crooked Timber while walking in the Belgian countryside two weeks ago – in particular to this photoblog by Chris in which he captured a swift in full action. I smiled when I saw these birds sitting, and though: I will make a picture of some swifts the easy way.

This Summer, with all the nasty events unfolding in the world (which leads to worries, sadness and anxieties, because it’s not easy to see how we can make a significant change), and with all the long-term fatigue from the pandemic, it seems so much better to try to take it the easy way. Ten more days, and then the third academic year in the pandemic will start.

Forever wars and frozen conflicts

by John Q on August 16, 2021

The chaotic scenes now playing out as the Taliban take over Afghanistan have unsurprisingly drawn comparisons to the collapse of the South Vietnamese government in 1975. But there have been many similar instances, though most were a little slower: the end of Indonesian rule in East Timor (now Timor L’Este), the French withdrawal from Algeria, and the earlier Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The common feature in all these cases is the attempt by an external (sometimes neighbouring) power to impose and then sustain a government of its choosing, usually in the hope that it will ultimately secure the support of the majority of the population along with international acceptance. The usual outcome is a long period of relatively low-level conflict, during which it can be made to appear that a successful outcome is just around the corner. In some cases, actual fighting ceases and is replaced by a ‘frozen conflict’, in which life proceeds more or less normally most of the time, but without any final resolution.

Very occasionally, these attempts succeed (the US invasion of Grenada is one example, and I expect commenters can come up with more). But far more commonly, the external power eventually tires of the struggle and goes away. Alternatively, frozen conflicts can continue more or less indefinitely, as with Israel-Palestine.
If successful interventions are the exception rather than the rule, it’s natural to ask why they are so popular? Certainly, the military-industrial complex benefits from war and lobbies for it, but the same is true of any activity that involves spending a lot of public money. Then there are psychological biases which seem to favor both starting wars in the expectation of an easy win and persisting when the conflict drags on.

But learning takes place eventually. After taking part in centuries of bloody conflict, all around the world, Europeans seem mostly to have tired of war. And in the US, weariness with ‘forever wars’ seems finally to be eroding the belief that armies can solve complex problems in other countries

Sunday photoblogging: Pézenas in time of COVID

by Chris Bertram on August 15, 2021


Twigs and branches

by John Q on August 14, 2021

Another open thread, where you can comment on any topic. Moderation and standard rules still apply. Lengthy side discussions on other posts will be diverted here. Enjoy!

Sunday photoblogging: Valmagne Abbey

by Chris Bertram on August 8, 2021


Zywicki vs Wade

by John Q on August 6, 2021

Back in the day, we at Crooked Timber had fairly regular exchanges with Todd Zywicki of the Volokh conspiracy group blog (which still exists, now hosted by So, I was interested to learn that he was taking his employer, George Mason University, to court over a requirement to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

The factual part of Zywicki’s case is that having had the disease and recovered he is already immune. More interesting is the claim that the requirement violates his right to privacy under the 9th and 14th Amendments to the US Constitutional. I Am Not A Lawyer, but this claim seems almost identical to that used in Roe v Wade, which seems certain to come before the Supreme Court soon. However, Zywicki’s brief does not mention what seems like the most relevant precedent.

My guess is that finding a majority willing to both reaffirm a constitutional right to privacy and second-guess the authorities on pandemic protection will prove too difficult. However, as Zywicki is asking for urgent relief we should find out soon.

Sitting in limbo

by Chris Bertram on August 4, 2021

I’m in the UK now, having spent the last (lovely) six weeks in France, an EU member-state with a much more functional government than we have. When we left for France in mid-June, it was on the UK government’s “amber list” and had just started admitting visitors from the UK with proof of full vaccination and a negative COVID test. To get such a test in the UK we had to pay £80 to a private provider. We also had to pay for additional travel insurance to travel to a country that the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office advises against travel to, the advice having rendered our existing travel insurance inapplicable. All went swimmingly on the journey out apart from a 30-second hiccup when a French border guard thought a different set of rules applied to us, requiring urgent reasons for travel, but a colleague set him right.

Our plan had been to stay in France until the UK government moved it to an easier category not requiring quarantine. But the opposite happened. Ostensibly because of a surge in the Beta variant in France, the UK moved the country to an enhanced “amber plus” category, requiring 10 day quarantine even for the fully vaccinated. This measure against France was quite inexplicable, since there were other European countries with higher incidences of Beta, and becauce the French cases were actually overwhelmingly on French islands in the Indian Ocean. Perhaps there were other, more political, reasons behind the change, or perhaps the British government is bad at geography but couldn’t lose face by backing down once the error had been pointed out? Who knows? Rumour has it that France will be taken out of “amber plus” this week, and that the fully-vaccinated will be allowed quarantine-free admission to the UK from France this week, as visitors from the US and most of the EU are. That’s no good to us. (And note this is at a moment when nearly all internal restrictions have been lifted in the UK.)
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