But does he still have more fun?

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We’ve covered the fact that despite the nation’s much-vaunted Confucian respect for age, a glossy dye-job or even a straight up wig is standard issue for Chinese politicians.

Of course, the same thing is true in the West to a certain extent, but it seems like even the least likely people are getting in on the act:

There has been speculation for a while that Boris’s fabled mop may have had a touch of the Marilyn Monroe to it. Last year, celebrity hairdresser Heinz Schumi claimed it was a ‘forgery’. ‘I’m telling you, it’s bleached,’ he told the Daily Mail. ‘I went to see him give a speech, and when the spotlights shone on his hair, it was kind of orangey — it doesn’t go light enough. Also, when hair is bleached, the follicles are broken so you manipulate it how you like — this is what Rod Stewart did, so I am absolutely certain he bleaches it.’

Yet no confirmation had ever come from Boris as to whether this was true. Indeed his own father told the Mail that it was ‘100 per cent nonsense’. ‘I remember when he was born in New York, I nipped off to get a pizza and when I returned he was swaddled with all the other babies — but quite distinguishable by this shock of white hair. So I can reassure the nation, it’s quite genuine,’ he said.

Well, now it seems the truth has emerged. In today’s Sunday Times Magazine, during an interview with Tim Shipman, Boris admits that he does in fact rely on the bottle. When conversation turns to Boris’s ‘bird’s nest of platinum hair’, he is keen to point out that ‘This is the real thing. It’s all natural.’ But when pressed as to whether or not he dyes it, he admits that ‘Yes’, he does. As Tim puts it, it is ‘real but enhanced, a little like the public personality.’

Link.

Rumour also has it that Boris deliberately musses his hair up before going in front of the cameras. Gotta protect the trademark, after all.

 

 

Look alikes

The Atlantic just mapped the most urgent conflicts for the forthcoming year. Here you go:

Atlantic conflict map

Compare and contrast with this gag that did the rounds of the internet a while back:

tragedy world map

And yes, it is reasonable for a US publication to have a focus on things that are going to affect the US. As the Atlantic itself explains:

The countries in red below represent all conflicts that were assessed as either highly likely to occur/intensify or high-impact, meaning the contingency could threaten the U.S. mainland, spark U.S. military involvement because of mutual-defense treaty commitments, or endanger the supply of strategic U.S. resources.

It still made me giggle, though.

Un qui aime et un qui se laisse aimer

So, the whole Trump-Putin bromance thing. What’s that all about?

Brokeback Mountain

No, not that.

During Russian President Vladimir Putin’s marathon annual news conference on Thursday, the controversial leader heaped praise on Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, calling the candidate “tremendous,” “very bright,” and “talented without any doubt.”

By Thursday evening, Trump had released an equally warm statement that would seem to belie the current state of affairs between Russia and the United States:

“It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond.

I have always felt that Russia and the United States should be able to work well with each other towards defeating terrorism and restoring world peace, not to mention trade and all of the other benefits derived from mutual respect.”

Link.

It’s not the first time that Trump has expressed his admiration for Putin. And, counter-intuitive though it may seem, it’s a solid electoral strategy on his part. We know that people who like maverick, nationalist, right wing populist leaders are remarkably colour-blind when it comes to nationality.

What Trump is effectively saying here is “If I was President, I’d be just like Putin.”

He wouldn’t, of course, which brings us to our second point.

Why is Putin apparently willing to play along with the charade*, providing Trump with an endorsement which he knows will play extremely well with his key electorate?

Well, it could just be that he thinks Trump would be a lousy President and he’s looking forward to eight years of playing against the US on a low difficulty setting. But then, if the Obama administration has taught us anything, it’s that Hillary Clinton’s terrible at foreign policy too. Realistically, there’s little to choose between them.

However, if you’re going to have to face off against one or other of the two then Trump is by far the better bet. Why?

Because he’s predictable.

This may seem like an odd thing to say about someone whose success is based on being a wacky eccentric, but this is, in fact, what will make his foreign policy easy to anticipate and counteract.

The foreign policy of the Obama administration has been more or less impossible to predict, as the Nobel Peace Prize committee will testify. Even with benefit of hindsight, it’s difficult to explain. Not because it is being designed by the mind of a subtle and devious chess grandmaster (as the Atlantic seems to believe) but because it isn’t. There’s no unifying intelligence behind it. Instead, it’s the product of thousands of wonks, pollsters, bureaucrats and diplomats all focused on their own particular bugbears and all screaming at once “YOU HAVE TO DO THIS AND YOU HAVE TO DO IT NOW.” The level of entropy in the system is such that no one, not even the individual at the top, is capable of working out the direction in which it will lurch next. Just like no computer is sufficiently powerful to predict the evolution of chaotic systems, no foreign opponent – however smart – can predict what Obama will do next, largely because neither he nor anyone else in the system knows. There’s every indication that Clinton would be exactly the same.

Trump, on the other hand, tends to ignore advice and go his own way, and outwitting one guy is far easier that outwitting total randomness.

As for which option is best for the US as a whole, I couldn’t possibly say.

*If you want an idea of how the Russian leadership really feels about Trump, try Russia Today.

Here’s the plan…

In a major personnel decision heading into his final year in office, Secretary of State John Kerry plans to appoint Chief of Staff Jon Finer to lead the Office of Policy Planning, the State Department’s in-house think tank, three administration officials told Foreign Policy.

The appointment will place Finer in direct control of a new staff tasked with offering unorthodox solutions to the secretary’s most intractable policy problems. At the same time, Finer will maintain his existing responsibilities as chief of staff, which means he will have to balance the day-to-day duties of running Foggy Bottom with the crafting of U.S. policy.

The move comes as the White House leans harder on the State Department to generate fresh ideas to resolve the civil war in Syria, a slow-burning catastrophe that has resulted in at least 250,000 deaths, millions of refugees, and the global growth of the Islamic State.

“This very much follows the Jake Sullivan model,” said a State Department official, referring to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s decision to put her deputy chief of staff in a dual-hatted role as director of Policy Planning.

Link.

What’s interesting here is the sudden resurgence of the word “planning”.

There’s a gag in an old episode of Dad’s Army involving Captain Mainwaring attempting to teach the platoon how to make Molotov cocktails for use against German tanks. The process is a complex one involving a sort of production-chain operation in which one soldier takes responsibility for each stage – one to fill the bottles, one to insert the wick, one to light it etc. etc. At the end of the explanation, Private Walker raises a hand to ask a question: “While we’re doing all this, what’s the tank going to be doing?”

It’s interesting that just as the world is becoming a more chaotic and less US-dominated place, the Obama administration – and particularly the State Department – seems to be developing an increased faith in planning as a concept.

It seems to speak to a desperation to retain at least an illusion of control. Even during the heyday of central state planning – and even in the most thoroughly communist regimes – it went without saying that the field of defence and foreign relations would be left outside the remit of the central planners. The reason for this is obvious: both are entirely contingent upon the choices of outside actors.

Now, the Obama administration has already had a lot of trouble as a result of foreign policy plans not working out as expected, which brings us to a second anecdote.

Years ago a psychologist carried out an experiment (which I would link to if I could find it) that involved giving volunteers pictures of cancerous and non-cancerous cells and tasking them with coming up with a set of heuristics for identifying cancer. The kick in the teeth was that the pictures had, in fact, been labelled randomly. Instead of realising this or concluding that identifying cancerous cells was impossible, however, the volunteers came up with ever more complicated sets of instructions for identifying cancer as more slides were given to them. Humans, it turns out, love patterns to the extent that they’re capable of finding them even where they don’t exist, and don’t deal well with randomness.

Taking this on board, it’s hardly surprising that the State Department’s response to poor planning is more planning. By having more data, more money, more Harvard grads and more work, we can get closer to the ordered ideal that exists in our imagination. Michael Munger refers to this as “unicorn governance”:

Go ahead, make your argument for what you want the State to do, and what you want the State to be in charge of.

Then, go back and look at your statement. Everywhere you said “the State,” delete that phrase and replace it with “politicians I actually know, running in electoral systems with voters and interest groups that actually exist.”

If you still believe your statement, then we have something to talk about.

This leads to loads of fun, believe me. When someone says, “The State should be in charge of hundreds of thousands of heavily armed troops, with the authority to use that coercive power,” ask them to take out the unicorn (“the State”) and replace it with “George W. Bush.” How do you like it now?

Link.

This blog has argued in favour of embracing uncertainty before. Having a plan is a comfort, but it’s not necessarily a solution…

Michael Leunig Here's the Plan

 

The Jihad of Abu Waf-Waf

Diesel the dog

As you may have heard, a police dog was killed during some of the raids against suspected terrorists’ homes in Saint-Denis, just North of Paris.

Possibly surprisingly, given the French reputation for only caring about animals when they’re well-roasted and swimming in red wine sauce, the demise of the dog, Diesel, has attracted a great deal of internet emotion.

#jesuisdiesel Tribute to you, who sacrificed yourself for us #RIPDiesel

@PNationale @jesuischien #JeSuisChien (I am a dog) #JeSuisChienne (I am a bitch – no, really) Tribute from my kitty to Diesel: “je suis Diesel!”

But there have also been a lot of jokes:

Wanted: this cat has been radicalised and is suspected of being the brains behind the killing of Diesel #SaintDenis #JeSuisChien

Abu Waf Waf Al-Kelbi claims responsibility for the attack in St-Denis and declares war on all doggy apostates

(Waf is what dogs say in France.)

Abu Shapotté of the terrorist group Salam Kitty has declared that “this is only the beginning” – report by Ibnou Nyan Cat #JeSuisChien

“Shapotté” sounds like the French for Puss-in-Boots.

This is war #abu miao…

Paris attacks dog joke twitter

@sofianemv17 A Syrian pet passport was found at the scene of the crime

Paris attacks twitter dog joke

@HamzaAchel Most cats are peaceful, don’t treat them all like terrorists

In my hood they be shouting Allah Akbar when they heard about the police dog… #JeSuisUnChien

See also: Cats of Singapore, Cats of Singapore, Part II

Doing it wrong

Another one for the “not Asia” files, but I couldn’t resist, particularly since it’s an ancient post on body language that gets me most of my hits here.

If you’re reading this from the UK, you’ll probably already have seen that photo of George Osborne.

Yeah, that one.

Guido, however, has an explanation:

This rather odd photo of Osborne standing on stage before his speech yesterday is doing the rounds, with less kind elements of the Twitterati suggesting that he looks a bit weird. Guido can offer an explanation behind the ungainly pose. Top storytelling and speaker coach Peter Botting reveals:

“The broadening of the shoulders, the slow breathing and pumping his chest out, standing with his legs apart for stability and on the balls of his feet – it’s a confidence thing he is using to get himself in the zone – ready for his speech.” 

And you thought it was just because Thea liked him to do it like that. Method behind the madness…

Which is a fair point. They’re all good tips. But – and I in no way wish to cast doubt upon Mr. Botting’s storytelling abilities – here’s the thing: it shouldn’t be obvious to the audience that that’s what you’re doing. And it certainly shouldn’t look like you’re about to participate a in ski-jumping event.

Want to see some people doing it properly?

Royal Family

Prince Philip gets a lot of flack, but by God he receives it with excellent posture. No one can stand in one place like the Duke of Edinburgh. Always a pleasure to watch.

Whenever Putin walks away from something

True story. And you know why? Because he stands up straight.

Actually – it’s the balls-of-the-feet thing that’s most observable here. You’ll occasionally even notice him bounce up and down once or twice, which I believe is a judo thing. (In martial arts they say that you should just be able to slide a single sheet of paper underneath – take note George.)

Of course, the second he sits down it all goes to hell and he’s slouching all over the shop with his legs wide apart like a long-lost cousin of Boris Johnson’s, but ho hum, you can’t have everything.

Junichiro Koizumi yasukuni

Junichiro Koizumi. Actually, I could have picked pretty much any Japanese politician here. They’re generally much less agressive in their posture than leaders from other countries, but they’re so precise about it that it has a similarly intimidating effect. Which is not something you often hear said about a man wearing toe socks.