Sveinbjörn Þórðarson


Across the pale parabola of joy, into the warm embrace of /dev/null.

"He who can destroy a thing, controls a thing"

15.1.2020 kl. 17:46 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

"He who can destroy a thing, controls a thing."

- Paul "Muad'Dib" Atreides (Obligatory Dune reference)

Lately I've read lots of articles on the escalating tension between the US and Iran, but remarkably few commentators have drawn attention to Iran's ability to cripple global oil trade. It would be trivial for them to mine the narrow Straits of Hormuz. Around 20% of all traded oil and some 35% of all seaborne oil shipments pass through the straits aboard enormous, highly vulnerable tankers. Even if Iran's military capabilities were miraculously nullified and the mines somehow cleared, the cost of insuring the tankers would skyrocket, driving up oil prices globally.

Iran could also use its long-range missiles and/or other methods to destroy major oil refineries and vital desalination plants on the Arabian peninsula, with ensuing chaos and shortages.

Even if the US were not still dependent on oil from the Middle East, all its major allies and trading partners are. The global economy needs a steady flow of oil from the Middle East, and the US economy is dependent on the global economy. War with Iran is madness any which way you look at it. The spikes on this hedgehog are too sharp.


Perennial Prussian Advice

10.1.2020 kl. 04:23 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

The Prussian general Kurt von Hammerstein may have made one of the most insightful observations of all time. This stuff is perennial:

I divide my officers into four groups. There are clever, diligent, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined. Some are clever and diligent — their place is the General Staff. The next lot are stupid and lazy — they make up 90% of every army and are suited to routine duties. Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the intellectual clarity and the composure necessary for difficult decisions. One must beware of anyone who is stupid and diligent — he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always cause only mischief.


The US and Leadership

9.1.2020 kl. 14:59 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

This is a very, very good point (old article from 2012):

The assassination strategy the US pursues is interesting, not in what it says about the US’s foes, but what it says about the American leaders... American leaders are obsessed with leadership because they lead organizations in whose goals no one believes. Or rather, they lead organizations for whom everyone knows the leadership doesn’t believe in its ostensible goals. Schools are led by people who hate teachers and want to privatize schools to make profit. The US is led by men who don’t believe in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. Police are led by men who think their jobs are to protect the few and beat down the many, not to protect and serve. Corporations make fancy mission statements and talk about valuing employees and customers, but they just want to make a buck and will fuck anyone, employee or customer, below the C-suite... Making organizations work if they’re filled with people who don’t believe in the organization, or who believe that the “leadership” is only out for themselves and has no mission beyond helping themselves, not even enriching the employees or shareholders, is actually hard. People don’t get inspired by making the C-suite rich. Bureaucrats, knowing they are despised and distrusted by their political counterparts, and knowing that they aren’t allowed to do their ostensible jobs, as with the EPA generally not being allowed to protect the environment, the DOJ not being allowed to prosecute powerful monied crooks, and the FDA being the slave of drug companies and the whims of politically-connected appointees, are hard to move, hard to motivate, making it hard to get to anyone to do anything but the minimum.

So American leaders, and indeed the leaders of most developed nations, think they’re something special. In fact, getting people to do anything is difficult, and convincing people to do the wrong thing, when they joined to actually teach, protect the environment, make citizens healthier, or actually prosecute crooks, even more so. Being a leader in the West, even though it comes with virtually complete immunity for committing crimes against humanity, violating civil rights, or stealing billions from ordinary citizens, is, in many respects, a drag. A very, very well-paying drag, but a drag. Very few people have the necessary flexible morals and ability to motivate employees through the coercion required.

So American leaders, in specific, and Westerners, in general, think that organizations will fall apart if the very small number of people who can actually lead, stop leading. But that’s because they think that leading the Taliban, say, is like leading an American company or the American government. They think it requires a soulless prevaricator who takes advantage of and abuses virtually everyone and is still able to get people to, reluctantly, do their jobs.

Functioning organizations aren’t like that. They suck leadership upwards. Virtually everyone is being groomed for leadership and is ready for leadership. They believe in the cause, they know what to do, they’re involved. And they aren’t scared of dying, if they really believe. Oh sure, they’d rather not, but it won’t stop them from stepping up.


Ye did it again

13.12.2019 kl. 14:54 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Ah, poor ol' Britain, ye did it again. Somewhere in a wood-panelled Georgian back office in London, the bloviated, pasty-faced, middle-aged stuffed shirts are laughing, exchanging chauvinist jokes and toasting: "Gentlemen! To Evil!"

The draw of the British Conservative Party never ceases to amaze me. It is such an unabashedly evil political party, packed with people of such obvious turpitude, that its electoral success can only be accounted for by the deficient moral character of some 40% of British voters.


How to behave in a British pub

26.11.2019 kl. 19:20 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

"How to Behave in a British Pub": Hilarious US Army WWII Training Film from 1943.

"[These are] men and women ... who don't drink for the sake of drinking but for the company."

Well, that has certainly changed! But one can hardly blame the poor British for turning to the bottle. Forty years of Thatcherite neoliberalism have turned their country into a horribly dysfunctional, dystopian basket case.



12.11.2019 kl. 21:20 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Þegar frelsaðir bandarískir þrælar voru sendir til Líberíu á 19. öld gerðu þeir strax heimamenn, sem voru jú þeldekkri, að sínum eigin þrælum og komu á laggirnar kerfi keimlíku því sem þeir höfðu þurft að þola vestanhafs, nema með sjálfa sig sem „hvítu“ yfirherrana á plantekrunum.

Við Íslendingar máttum þola gerræði og rányrkju annarra þjóða á okkar fiskimiðum svo öldum skipti en nú, þegar við erum rík og þróuð og komumst upp með það, beitum við aðra sömu fólskunni.

History is an account of the exploitation of man by man, except sometimes it's the other way around.


Flugvallarblaðið Economist

5.11.2019 kl. 01:15 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

The Economist er flugvallarblaðið mitt. Það er hvort sem er svo hræðilegt að vera á flugvöllum og í flugvélum að ég get alveg eins gert það verra með því að pirra mig á einfaldri og barnalegri heimsmynd The Economist, blaðs sem stendur iðulega þarna í rekkanum á flugvellinum í Lundúnum. Jú, Oxbridge PPE strákar mínir, þetta 0.1% hrap í hagvexti í Gana í ár var einmitt út af því að greyið fólkið hefur ekki opnað markaði sína nægilega fyrir erlendri fjárfestingu...


In Our Time

4.11.2019 kl. 20:02 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Just about sums up Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time podcast:

in our time

“You have, I know, read Dostoevsky?”

31.10.2019 kl. 12:35 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Yugoslav communist Milovan Đilas' chilling account of confronting Stalin about the Red Army's mass rapes in Eastern Europe at the end of WWII.

“I explained to him that it had not been my intention to insult the Red Army, but I had wished to call attention to irregularities of certain of its members and to the political difficulties they were creating for us. Stalin interrupted: ‘Yes, you have, I know, read Dostoevsky? Do you see what a complicated thing is man’s soul, his psyche? Well then, imagine a man who has fought from Stalingrad to Belgrade - over thousands of kilometres of his own devastated land, across the dead bodies of his comrades and dearest ones. How can such a man react normally? And what is so awful in his amusing himself with a woman, after such horrors?”

Unnecessary propensity

24.10.2019 kl. 04:06 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Probably the finest poem ever composed about Iceland, by Megas back in 1972. The rough English title would be "Ingólfur Arnarson's unnecessary propensity for finding things.". [Ingólfur is traditionally regarded as the first Norse settler on the island.]

My loose (and obviously imperfect) translation of the lyrics is as follows:

Ingólfur was the name of the man who, long ago,
found and settled Iceland and built a homestead
and the politicians celebrate him in speeches
and one can see where his statue stands upon the hill.

But what sustains the people of this land?
Do you know what it is? To me it’s a mystery.
For fire and ice wages war on the folk of this country
but worst of all, though, is the cursed cold in the night.

And so I drink to this land, and its people, and all that
and to the braves who have struggled and died there
We remember Ingólfur Arnarson in our feasts
but we wish that his ship, it had sunk.


Um óþarflega fundvísi Ingólfs Arnarsonar

Ingólfur hét hann sem endur fyrir löngu
Ísaland fann og nam og bjó sér þar ból
og stjórnmálamennirnir minnast hans í ræðum
og menn geta séð hvar hann stendur uppi á Arnarhól

En hvað er það sem verndar viðkomu landans?
Vitið þér hvað það er? Mér er það hulið
því á landsmenn og konur herja eldar og ísar
en allra verst er þó bannsett næturkulið

Því segi ég skál fyrir Fróni og Fjölni og allt það
og fyrir þeim snjöllum sem þar hafa skrimt og hrokkið
við minnumst Ingólfs Arnarsonar í veislum
en óskum þess að skipið hans það hefði sokkið



21.8.2019 kl. 17:19 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Moderate Carthaginian solution

20.8.2019 kl. 00:26 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

After reviewing a broad range of historical works on the US Civil War (what we Icelanders call "The Slave War"), I'm firmly convinced that it would have been better for everybody living today if the North had pulled a moderate Carthaginian solution at the end of the war: Hanged ALL the top dogs for treason, dispossessed and exiled all major slaveholding landholders, distributed ALL their land to poor whites and former slaves in small portions, and stomped a big, fat, industrialised Northern boot repeatedly on the South's culture and economy.


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