Category Archive • Blogging
December 21, 2004
David Tebbutt on blogging: "It's ridiculously like how the brain appears to work"

I am surely going to have more to say here about this gentleman, but for the moment, read this fascinating little aborted tangent, so to speak:

What I have discovered (hence all the links above) is that the intensely networked or linked nature of blogs is what gives it massive value – way beyond that of the internet generally. It's a case of following trusted chains – If A links to B and A is trustworthy, then B is likely to be trustworthy too.

Within an organisation, this is even more likely to be true. The trustworthy people will gain connections and the less trustworthy will be sidelined. It's ridiculously like how the brain appears to work. But I won't go there. Suffice it to say that I've spent a lot of my life thinking about things like this.

I really hope that he does "go there", some time Real Soon Now.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:25 PM
December 14, 2004
On not caring about the hit rate

I am enjoying Patrick Crozier's new blog a lot, which I think is basically because he seems to be enjoying it himself so much. He seems liberated, and he tells me that he is liberated.

He kindly gave me a mention recently, on the subject of how, at my two personal blogs, I don't concern myself with my hit rate. Patrick asks himself:

Should I have a counter?

I don't have to. Brian, for instance, doesn't. He reckons that it would just get him all obsessed by the hit rate rather than the more important business of writing stuff.

Actually, although I dare say this is exactly what I have said to Patrick over the phone a few times, that is not quite it.

It's not so much that writing is more important. It is more that hit rate conditioned writing is (a) hard work, and (b) different.

Partly I ignore my hit rate because, believe it or not, I do not now know how to count it, and learning this, as with learning anything computational, would be an effort, and an effort that I cannot be bothered with. Commenters: feel free to tell me all about how to do this, and all about how very easy it is. You will be ignored.

If bothering with my hit rate would be a small bother, doing writing of the sort that bothers about its hit rate every day, twice, would be, for me, just too difficult. I already write hit rate conscious stuff for Samizdata, and for this. I am even now busy trying to wangle other weekly and paid blogging gigs. Economically, fussing about the hit rate here wouldn't make sense. It would be too much like hard work.

My membership of the Samizdata team is the basis of whatever clout I have as a blogger, and hence a big part of why people with money to spend on blogging are willing to share some of it with me. But the stuff I fling up at my Culture and Education blogs has only to interest me. You do not like it? Skip it. There are plenty of other blogs.

But, for me, the most important but also elusive reason for doing writing that is hit-rate-indifferent is that such writing can sometimes, I believe, be rather good, and good in a way that might never get written if the hit rate was all the time at the front of the writer's mind.

Some of one's best thoughts can be provoked by stupid – even embarrassing – trifles.

For example, I used once to be embarrassed that I often have classical music on in the background when busy with something else, because, quite frankly, it makes very pretty aural wallpaper, if you happen to like the pattern, so to speak. Proper Music Critics, on the other hand, hardly let a year go by without doing some piece about the Deadly Availability of classical music, as if listening to great music as if it was dance music at a dance where you are not dancing were some kind of crime. When playing a Beethoven symphony, for instance, Official Behaviour says that you should drop everything, switch off the phone, set aside your computer keyboard, and solemnly park yourself in a chair in front of your hi-fi boxes as if settling down for a real live concert, and then listen with a solemn expression on your face and maybe even the odd drop of sweat rolling down your brow. Well bollocks to that. I just put on the music, and I drop everything only during those rare times when the music grabs me and refuses to be ignored. In other words (profound observation): hi-fi boxes reverse the social revolution that classical music went through at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and Great Musicians are back to being domestic servants.

Closely related to embarrassing is just plain dumb, and dumb is closely related to smart. I remember, in this connection, a delightful television programme done by pinko (and therefore non-mainstream) art critic John Berger, in which he got some children to look at a renaissance painting. The children spent a long time discussing whether the Jesus in the painting was a man or a woman. Berger said, and I agreed, that this is a very good observation, about that particular painting and about Christianity in general. I have never forgotten it. But how many times do you get Proper Art Critics giving the time of day to a notion like that? Well, nowadays they probably do it all the time, but I do not think they did so when that TV programme was first shown, about two or three decades ago.

The thing is, responding intelligently to "culture" is all about responding as you really do respond, rather than only as you feel you should and only as you have been taught to. Such shared decencies are not to be ignored of course. Not all the time. But much illumination is also to be found by listening every now and again to your inner twelve year old, who says, when confronted with, say, a crucifixion painting, something like: Cool! Blood! Special effects! And thereby puts his grubby finger on a truth about such paintings that is mostly considered too undignified to talk about.

In my particular case, responding as I really do respond can also mean something like ignoring the Probable Samizdata Majority View. For me, Jane Fonda, despite also being Hanoi Jane, was a terrific movie actress. If you genuinely think that Jane Fonda genuinely was not a terrific movie actress, fine, I can respect that. But if you say that she was not a terrific movie actress because she also sucked up to North Vietnam, then I say you are missing something, something which might illuminate the strengths and virtues of your enemy, something you might not want to think about, but which you should.

While I was writing this, I decided it would do for Samizdata. Then I changed my mind. Wasn't sure if it was good enough, or expressed tightly enough. Here, I don't have to worry about that.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:10 PM
December 01, 2004
Bunny Smedley on politics and art at the SAU blog

I have already today done a piece linking to two SAU blog postings. Here is another such link, this time to my friend Bunny Smedley's review of this book.

I particularly like Bunny's teasing out of the relationship between art and politics:


Part of the problem here may simply be a case of double standards masquerading as something else. Because Kimball regards art as having an autonomous existence beyond, if not actually above, the stuff of politics, he presumably further holds that if, say, a radical socialist and a High Tory were confronted with an elegant society portrait by Sargent, the two ought to feel more or less exactly the same thing in front of it – that the socialist, certainly, should not feel anachronistic resentment of the world of wealth and privilege reflected in it, or worry too much about gender inequality or sexual politics, or obsess about issues of patronage and power. The Left-wing lexicon of political correctness, in other words, should not be brought to bear upon what's actually there (as Kimball would put it) in the painting. To which most of us would, I imagine, as much out of visceral dislike of political correctness as anything else, nod sagely and say 'fair enough'.

But what if the positions were reversed? What if, for instance, the same two viewers were placed before The Death of Marat by Jacques-Louis David? Would it really be incumbent on the High Tory to bite her lip and admire the indisputable formal qualities of the work – while at no point condemning it as a highly proficient, highly regrettable slab of morally unpleasant agit-prop, in which the iconography of a Christian martyrdom is placed at the service, by one of its more creepy if technically competent foot-soldiers, of a murderous and contemptible political regime? David, after all, personally signed death-sentences for something like 300 people, which makes his celebration of the demagogue Marat even harder to stomach. And anyway, he didn't intend his work to be admired in formal terms – he intended it to persuade us to take a positive view of Marat, the Jacobins and the politics they espoused. Are we supposed to forget all that when faced with a strong composition and a brilliantly schematic use of colour? Are we really expected to treat it on equal terms with, say, the Louvre's great Van Dyck portrait of Charles I? Is it somehow wrong to mention Sargent's politics, but right to mention Richter's?

Kimball would, I think, say yes: 'enjoy the work, eschew the politics'. We've seen that already. But there is, surely, at least another possible conservative position, in which it would be possible to comment on the political content of a painting (whether that apparently intended by the artist, or apprehended by the viewer) from a conservative, rather than from a socialist or liberal position. And here it is striking that all the instances of the 'politicisation of art' cited by Kimball involve critiques emanating not from the Right, but from the Left. Boime, Derrida, Alpers, Pollock, Clark: the politics they bring to the enterprise of criticism are no more attractive when focussed on visual culture than they would be were they directed towards, say, solving the problems of poverty or confronting the realities of social hierarchy. Indeed, it is hard not to suspect that Kimball has done this not simply because virtually all such attacks come from the Left anyway, but also because his audience might not find a conservative political critique as patently fatuous and factitious as a politically correct one, which is to say Left-wing one, must invariably sound to them.

As I've said here before, the SAU blog is your fully fledged Culture Blog, in the exact way that this blog is not. Culture with a Capital C. I do bits of Capital C culture, but not in a very Capital C manner, and of course, I intersperse it with personal flummery and chit chat, and my photos of course, and lots of other small c culture titbits about flat screen TVs, computer graphics, and such like. I absolutely refuse to make any kind of lunge for Internet hegemony. This here is not Clapham Junction, let alone Grand Central Station. That's not what I'm trying to do, not what this blog is for. But the SAU blog has real possibilities along those lines.

2 Blowhards is probably, still, the Instapundit of Culture with a Capital C Blogs, but suppose the SAU blog were to have the occasional posting (say one in every half dozen or so) with loads of links in it, to other cultural bloggage (much as the 2Bs do), then they'd have themselves a real Capital C Culture Blog well placed to hegemonise in all directions.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:52 PM
November 12, 2004

I will now criticise Instapundit. Twice. I don't remember ever having done this before even once, so this is new territory for me. Perhaps I will be hunted down by goon squads and locked up in a basement at the University of Tennessee.

GlennReynolds.gifCriticism number one of Instapundit is this beyond-frightful picture of him that the Guardian has been using to decorate his recent columns for them. It looks like something contrived for Halloween, and confirms, whether by accident or by design, every Guardianista prejudice about the man that there is. He is nasty, sinister, stupid, ignorant, and if this was an old and cheap black and white movie (which is what it looks as if it was taken from) he would be dead very soon and deservedly so, in the course of trying and failing to do something sinister and nasty.

Either Instapundit chose this photo, in which case he made a big mistake, or the Guardian chose it, in which case they did a very clever thing. If the Guardian chose it, and if Instapundit tried to get them to use another, but they went with this picture anyway, then that is a story and it is a story that the rest of us would, I am sure, love to be told.

And the other criticism I have to offer of Instapundit is that whenever, as he occasionally does, he features a small picture on the right hand side of a posting, he almost always fails to separate the text from the edge of the picture. This results in writing, and particularly the little permalink blob, jamming itself smack dab up against the picture, as for example here, here, here, here, here. here. and here. Here, he either did it right or got lucky, almost certainly the latter. I am not nearly such a clever blogger as Instapundit, but in this particular matter I always do better, this posting being only one of many examples of my superior typographical skills to those of Instapundit when it comes to placing small pictures in my postings, on the right hand side.

In my case the secret is to insert this gobbledegook into the code which inserts the picture:

align="right" img style="{margin-left:10}"

There. That wasn't very hard was it. Well, of course, like everything in computerisating, it is easy if you know it and do it regularly, and totally bloody impossible if you don't and you don't.

More seriously, now that the Old Mainstream Media have been toppled from their perch (my thanks to Instapundit for the link), Instapundit is now New Mainstream Media. And it is the duty of the rest of us to see that he lives up to the high standards that are appropriate for his new and elevated station in life.

In particular, he now has to realise that appearances matter.

UPDATE Nov 13: Incoming email from Gregg A Howard:

Note that the Guardian photo was taken using the "Frankenstein flash" technique used by old chaw 'n' spit newspaper photogs on particularly heinous criminals. It involved holding the flash a foot or two below the lens and the perp's face in order to distort the features in a way much admired by city editors back in the 30's and 40's. (see attached) But surely its use here is simply a coincidence and has no bearing on how GR's opinions are viewed by those at the Guardian.


I don't know whether Howard concocted this composite picture himself or found it somewhere else. The former, I'm guessing, if only because if the latter he would presumably have said. Either way, my thanks.

UPDATE Nov 14:

I did concoct it myself. The photos were scanned from Bloodletters and Badmen (isbn - 087131-113-5).

I picked the book up at a library sale for 25 cents some years ago. When I saw the Guardian photo, the inference was immediate. The composite was simple using the five-year-old software that came with this computer. The other faces are those of Harvey Murray Glatman, William Heirens and Stephen Nash.

A few more emails like this, and this blog will start to become a real Culture Blog.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:55 PM
November 05, 2004
"… the ease with which people can post …"

I haven't had a quote-unquote type posting here lately. So here's a good one:

"And that’s another of my complaints with blogs in particular and the Web in general: the ease with which people can post and disseminate content."

Check out the context here.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:41 PM
October 22, 2004
On the tendency of Important Postings to never get posted

I am now going to do two postings, about two quite distinct subjects, one after the other, and if I don't feel free to hunt me down and shoot me. With a gun I mean, not a digital camera.

Subject one concerns a troubling syndrome which I have noticed in myself, and expect that others may recognise also.

There are many ways in which I mentally classify my various blogging efforts, but one subdivision is: important postings, and unimportant postings.

The unimportant postings are easy. I just do them. They aren't important, so it's not important for me to do them perfectly. I just bash them out and forget about them. Hey how about this! Interesting, yes? No? Oh well, I liked it. Blah blah blah. Finished.

But the important postings are difficult. These are the ones that make an Important Point. These must be got right. People must be made to agree with me about how important it is, so they must be written well, linked impeccably, and perhaps illustrated exquisitely. Result: again and again, these important postings don't get written at all.

So for example, last weekend, I went to see a play. That's right, I Got Out More, as I always tell myself I ought to, and actually saw a play, in a theatre, on a stage. True, it only involved one actor, and he was seated at a drab desk in a drab room, surrounded by junk and doing work that depended entirely upon electronic equipment, so the culture shock for me was not as total as it might have been.

But imagine if there had been lots of smartly dressed people saying Elegant things while sipping Elegant Drinks in an Elegant Drawing Room with Large and Elegant Windows! I would probably have died of the shock and had to be stretchered out.


So, anyway, I went to the theatre. So, this was my chance to do a Theatrical Review, immediately afterwards. Like they have here. Wow, I could be a real Culture Blogger!

However, this would have been an important posting. It would have been my debut here as a Theatrical Reviewer. It would have to have been dazzlingly written, to have made all its points (a) properly and (b) in the correct order and (c) other things I have now forgotten but which are just as important.

So, it never got written. Well, it got half written. But it didn't get wholly written and it didn't get posted. Until today, when, I have resolved, I will write it and I will post it. It is important that I write it and post it. However, it order to get it written and posted you and I both will have to resign ourselves to it being written and posted in the Unimportant Style, i.e. the way this posting was written. And posted. Facetiously, and perhaps with Too Many Capital Letterised Words, to name but two defects Among Many of the Unimportant Style.

Another feature of the Unimportant Style is Abrupt Endings.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:27 PM
June 09, 2004
Someone is paying me to write - and I need help

I have just wangled my way into a part-time but actual, real, show-me-the-money job, writing about intellectual property rights, for this recently launched new website-stroke-blog (at their website they call it a "website" so as not to frighten anyone) run by the Centre for the New Europe.

The Centre for the New Europe is run by a friend of mine, but despite that it is an old-school Think Tank, with an office, with a long, winding corridor with lots of different rooms attached to it, lots of computers crammed with databases, several photocopiers, numerous telephones. It holds meetings and organises events. If you play your cards right, it might even serve you a free lunch. It plans months and for some purposes years in advance. It has a Business Plan, full of Objectives, which to an extraordinary degree (i.e. sometimes) it actually achieves. Solitary maniac in bedsit attached to one computer ranting with extreme eccentricity three or four times per day about you-never-know-what-the-hell next (i.e. a blogger) it is not.

I am to do one posting for this new blog-stroke-website per week, and that leaves me no space to indulge in public self-education. My job is to help readers to educate themselves, about intellectual property, by plugging them into useful stuff, not by engulfing them in my own intellectual confusions. (Because frankly, I'm unclear where I stand on this issue.)

I have been hired because of my general blog "presence", and presumably because it is reckoned that I can write, rather than because of any special knowledge of IP. I will help to make this new blog work by linking to from Samizdata, and by reporting on interesting IP debates in the blogosphere generally, rather than by contributing anything very special or original myself. Me being me I am bound to mouth off sooner or later, but I aim to curb that tendency, certainly to begin with.

But I do need that IP self-education nevertheless, and I intend to use this blog (along with all my usual kind of stuff) to do some of that. As I get into the subject I will also do IP self-education at Samizdata, once I've arrived at some genuinely interesting questions.

So, what I'm saying is, I need, if any readers here are able to supply such things, links to recent IP debates and articles and discussions, in blogs and elsewhere (anywhere linkable to), with particular emphasis on recent. Heartiest thanks in anticipation. Even a tiny few useful links would be of immense value (only one posting a week, remember) and even if they don't have any visible consequences over at CNE-IP, they will still be valuable to me and will still be hugely appreciated.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:58 PM
June 06, 2004
Ah, incest ...

Nothing like a nice little perverse incentive, is there?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:14 PM
April 26, 2004
Testing testing

crowddetail.JPGOn the right, we have what is known as a thumbnail. But you probably knew that. And you probably also know that if you click on this "thumbnail" you get the whole thumb, in the form of another, much bigger picture, of which this little picture is but a small glimpse. The picture was chosen in some haste from the enormous picture pile on my hard disc. No doubt I could have chosen better, but the priority here was getting the procedure working properly, not aesthetics. It is of a crowd of tourists on the south side of the Thames, just downstream from Westminster Bridge. A little further downstream the London Wheel towers.

I have been taking Movable Type (and also Photoshop) lessons from the Dissident Frogman, who has been honouring my bit of the London blogosphere with his enlightening presence in recent weeks. Sometimes there is no substitute for face to face teaching and learning. My thanks to him, both for his wisdom, and for being willing to share it with me in my kitchen. It's one thing to see things working on someone else's computer. It is something else again to have it demonstrated, and then for you to learn it, on your own computer. So, merci beaucoup.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:40 PM
February 15, 2004
This blog is in a chart!

Could someone please explain what on earth is the significance, if any, of the fact that Brian's Culture Blog is featured in this chart? It is in the second column from the left, four down. And what does "Rb" mean? Rhubarb, perchance? I sense that this may be good news, but have no real clue. Aside from noting the number of and content of the comments and commenters here, I have never otherwise counted or analysed my readers, beyond looking in a mirror and saying: one.

My thanks to David Sucher – as he points out, my neighbour in the chart to the immediate left (and what does that mean?) – for alerting me to this.

I also looked at other neighbours. Dave Barry you will know about already, if you come here regularly. But how about this blog, immediately to my right, dedicated specifically to photography? I am greatly encouraged by the message that blurry is okay but fear that when he says "toy camera" he means one like mine. Lots of links to more photography.

And this is definitely what my elderly but ever polite mother would call, after a pause: interesting.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 07:50 PM
December 30, 2003
Fame versus fortune

My thanks to Patrick Crozier for steering me to this.


The fact that digital content can be distributed for no additional cost does not explain the huge number of creative people who make their work available for free. After all, they are still investing their time without being paid back. Why?

The answer is simple: creators are not publishers, and putting the power to publish directly into their hands does not make them publishers. It makes them artists with printing presses. This matters because creative people crave attention in a way publishers do not. Prior to the internet, this didn't make much difference. The expense of publishing and distributing printed material is too great for it to be given away freely and in unlimited quantities – even vanity press books come with a price tag. Now, however, a single individual can serve an audience in the hundreds of thousands, as a hobby, with nary a publisher in sight.

This disrupts the old equation of "fame and fortune." For an author to be famous, many people had to have read, and therefore paid for, his or her books. Fortune was a side-effect of attaining fame. Now, with the power to publish directly in their hands, many creative people face a dilemma they've never had before: fame vs fortune.

One of the most under-rated ways to organise your life, but one of the most widely practised and most effective (something I discovered while doing career advising and have since seen everywhere), is to work for money, and to do that old chestnut "what you love" not for money, but for love. That way what you love is not destroyed by the demeaning demands of others, and you approach your work without that frenzied involvement that often makes people do their work really badly. (I rather think that I owe part one of that previous sentence to a long ago piece by Michael Blowhard.) Blogging fits into that set-up really well. What that means for me is that for me, fame and fortune are two separate activities.

Patrick Crozier keeps asking me: "How can I make money while blogging, by blogging? Simple answer: I have no idea. Stop trying. Work for money. Blog for love, or fame, if that's your kick.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:10 PM
December 22, 2003
This blog posting opens globally now

Good piece in today's NYT about the trend towards big Hollywood blockbusters opening simultaneously all over the world rather than dribbling into separate national and regional markets over a period of months. This stops piracy, and cuts marketing costs. A staggered release starting in the USA stirs up interest elsewhere which is then met by the pirates if locals can't immediately see the thing in their local cinemas. A worldwide media blitz and a worldwide opening makes more sense.

And in the days of the Internet, serious media blitzes are almost impossible to prevent becoming worldwide.

Also, if Hollywood knows that the word-of-mouth – and the word-of-Internet – is likely to be bad, as was the case with Matrices 2 and 3, a worldwide release gets bums on seats everywhere in large numbers before the w-o-m and w-o-I kicks in.

Result? The latest Lord of the Rings movie took in a quarter of a billion dollars in its first five days.

The global village is getting ever more global.

It makes sense to me. We all saw Saddam captured at the same time, apart from Alice. People everywhere can all read the latest on Brian's Culture Blog as soon as I've done it. Why not LOR3?

(By the way, the w-o-m for LOR3 seems to be good. Jonathan Ross likes it, anyway. Personally I shall wait until it is out on DVD and then not see it on DVD either.)

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:15 AM
December 16, 2003
Alan Little on Fürtwangler and me on blogs being here tomorrow

Alan Little emailed me today about an interesting piece he has up at his blog about the unease he felt listening to – and liking a great deal – a Wilhelm Fürtwangler recording of Beethoven's Eroica Symphony, which was made in 1944 with the Vienna Philharmonic. However the points he raises struck me as being of more than merely "cultural" interest, as the date and the city has probably already suggested to you, so I linked to and commented on his posting at Samizdata.

I also thank him for linking back to a piece I did here, way back in September, about Hitler's love of classical music.

One of the things I most like about blogging is that your better bits have a habit of sticking around and being linked back to. Not by very many people, true, but the more I experience it, the more I disagree with the "here today gone tomorrow" complaint about blogging. In fact, I would say that the most important difference between being on talk radio (which I still do occasionally but did a lot more in the past) and doing blogging is precisely that blogs are not "gone tomorrow". At present most blogs have a far smaller readership than the audience of the radio stations I've chatted on, but the difference between readership and audience is, for me, all the difference. Talk is indeed gone, almost immediately. Writing can stick around, and the software that bloggers use ensures that at its best, that is just what it does.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:57 PM
October 30, 2003
Alice Bachini on the Great Modernist Paradise Revolution

Alice Bachini has been scratching about in her archives, and as a result I found myself reading this, again, about Modernist Architecture. It's terrific. Sample paragraph from near the end:

"However, the one thing that really did it for The Great Modernist Paradise Revolution was, bits of the buildings started falling down. This killed people. And when the wisdom of constructing blocks of flats out of plaster-of-Paris and old egg cartons began to be questioned by the normal folk at large, sadly and unjustly, even those architects who had used proper materials such as concrete were tarnished with the same brush by those idiotic general public morons without any understanding of Design Awards who don't know a Clean Line if its carrying its own mop and brush."

The inverted commas are there because this is an Alice send-up rewrite of a TV programme she'd just been watching.

One of the things anti-bloggists tell me is that blogs are here today and gone tomorrow. Electronic wrapping for virtual fish and chips. I don't agree. I think the archiving side of blogs makes it possible to pick out the diamonds from all the muck and shite, and put them in greatest hits lists, and generally treasure them for ever.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:28 AM
October 12, 2003
Blogging – telephone or CB radio?

I don't know how Natalie Solent came across this piece by Perseus, but I'm glad she did because I've been wanting to read a piece like this for some time, doing some crude number crunching for the entire blogosphere, but haven't come across one on my travels lately. I know it's navel gazing, but I happen to like the look of my navel now that I'm a blogger but still relatively new to it. I didn't realise, for instance, how much more of an impact Movable Type makes in the multi-reader blogosphere (where I hope I live) than in the nano-readership blogosphere (where it apparently hardly registers).

So, will blogging march forward to cultural prominence, or will it be forgotten?

It's surely the top of the blogosphere, or, to switch to the metaphor used by Perseus, the most visible bit of the iceberg, which will make the difference. If something replaces blogs and blogging for the likes of you, me and Instapundit, then blogging is doomed. I can't see that happening. I see blogging evolving a lot, and in due course changing out of all recognition, but I believe the tradition we've all now started won't be broken. But I would say that wouldn't I?

Blogging is surely already being replaced for all those teenagers with one entry per month until last June when it stopped altogether, and with no readership beyond (a diminishing number of) their friends and family. They'll want something more like mobile teleconferencing. Souped-up mobile phones, in other words. The kids will mostly jump straight to that, even as we bloggers find our own more evolutionary path towards something very similar.

A technology – or perhaps I should say something more like a "software pattern" – doesn't die out merely because a teenage fashion wave overestimates its possibilities and doesn't grasp its costs properly. Blogging doesn't immediately give you the readership of the New York Times, just because, theoretically (technologically), it could. To blog well enough to want to keep at it, you have to be able to write reasonably well and to want to keep at that, and be willing to build your readership from tiny to not so tiny to non-tiny enough to make a difference. Maybe most people could do that, but they don't want to.

Or, you have to be content with a readership scoring between tiny and not so tiny, which for this blog I'm happy with because my most important reader here is me. I'm the reader (I'll be rootling through my archives in five years time ever if no one else wants to) whom I most want to entertain with my stuff here, with the rest of you being welcome to read my culture-or-whatever diary over my shoulder. And again, most people aren't content with that kind of arrangement either. Ergo, the blogging kit, for most of the people who've bought it, ends up gathering dust in the virtual cupboard under the stairs. But I don't think that signifies.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:44 PM
October 05, 2003
An interesting blogging experience

I've just had an interesting blogging experience which I think throws an intriguing light on the subtleties of how specialist and generalist blogs interact with, compete with, and yet also help and feed into each other.

There's no doubt that my doubled-up specialist blogging obligations, here and here, have caused my other only semi- (blogging) obligations to suffer. I have written less for Samizdata of late than I would like to have. And have written hardly at all recently for Transport Blog or for Ubersportingpundit (even though I have automatic posting rights at those blogs also – I really must get back into the swing of posting at those, especially Ubersportingpundit, what with the Rugby World Cup, for which England are much fancied, fast approaching). So blogging here can definitely cause blogging elsewhere to suffer.

Sometimes, however, having a specialist blog outlet for something causes a piece to get written which might never have got done at all had there only been a big generalist group blog as an available outlet for it.

Over the last couple of days, I've written a big piece sparked off by me purchasing of a new digital radio. On the face of it, this piece was going to be pure self-indulgence: the boring details of Brian's domestic listerning habits, blah blah. Only the existence of Brian's Culture Blog, the entire purpose of which is for Brian to self-indulge, enabled this piece even to get started. Yet by the end of it, earlier today, I found that I had a really quite Good Essay under my fingers, and I thought, this could go on Samizdata. It's technological as well as musical. It throws a little light on all manner of commercial as well as artistic matters. There's a pop music angle, and there was even, at the end, an Internet angle, in the form of a sting in the tail of the tale about Downloading Music For Free Off The Internet, a subject of perpetual Samizdata fascination, because of the intellectual property debates we constantly have over there. So, to Samizdata the piece duly went.

Not only will the piece obviously get more readers there than here; I even reckon that there are people who will read it there, but who would not have read it here even if they'd come across it here. Why? Because a good reason to read anything is that others are reading it besides you. A piece about classical music etc. at Samizdata is a whole lot more significant than the identical piece about classical music etc. here.

So here was a case where my specialist blogging preoccupations actually helped me to write a piece for Samizdata.

I am now listening to BBC Radio Three on my digital radio, plugged into, as I explain at Samizdata, my regular CD playing kit. Fantastic.

And I'm listening to a wondrous performance of the Dvorak Piano Quintet, which is making more sense and more fun out of this piece than I've ever heard before. Fantastic, fantastic, fantastic. Sarah Chang and Ilya Gringolts (violins), Nobuko Imai (viola), Frans Helmerson (cello), Emanuel Ax (piano) – how's that for a line-up? Five players and five different record companies, according to my calculations. so good luck to anyone who tries to issue that as a CD in the next ten years.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:48 PM
September 13, 2003

The sheerly brilliant most winning defender of humankind, Alice Bachini, can now be found at a new address without underlinings in it. Which means that more people will be able to read her.

Which is nice.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:39 PM
September 09, 2003
Dogosphere picture

I found it here, after he'd linked to a Samizdata piece of mine which was based on this posting


He apparently got it from here.

I love the blogosphere.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:31 PM
September 04, 2003
Business card canvasses


Says BuzzMachine:

Hugh Macleod, the cartoonist whose canvas is the back of business cards, has turned his site into a cartoon blog: a cartoon a day, with comments. Love it.


Ditto. I got there by following Instapundit to BuzzMachine about something else.


Good stuff often appears that way, I find.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:43 PM
August 27, 2003
On changing how things are by starting with how they look

My friend Alice is battling away to make her blog look nicer. Good luck to her. And I feel that this is a quite profound comment on how a lot of us feel about the role of aesthetics in everyday life:

Yes, this is drivel. As soon as I get my new look, everything will change.

She's talking about the blog, not herself. But something very similar could be said about the relationship between how well you you talk and how good you look. (Improve your speaking by getting a new suit.)

Things are a shambles. But as soon as we can make them look nice, they will be on the mend. Start with appearances, and reality will follow. There is much truth in this.

In armies, a classic way (see the movie Patton starring George C. Scott) of turning loser soldiers into Real Soldiers is to start by making them look like Real Soldiers. Start with the appearance of things. Next thing you know, they'll feel like Real Soldiers, and before you know it they'll be Real Soldiers, and fighting like Real Soldiers.

Many – including me, here, I'm sure, often – speak of beauty and good-lookingness as being entirely separate from everyday Real Life and its struggles. Not so.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:45 AM
August 20, 2003

A great way to edge your profile in the blogosphere in the upwards direction is to do one of those links to a Samizdata posting that turns the bit where it says "TrackBack [0]" to "TrackBack [1]". Noticing such a circumstance (and making it go now to "TrackBack [2]") at the top of Dale Amon's posting about SpaceShipOne (which I have a soft spot for simply because it photographs so prettily), I backtracked my way to a blog called The Speculist, which is about the onward march into the wild blue future yonder of technology. Whenever Samizdata gets too gloomy about the European Union, income tax, UK gun control, etc., this will be one of the places I go for optimistic refreshment about life's possibilities.

My favourite posting there at present, edging the one about DNA computing into second place, is this one about Chinese human-rabbit hybrids.

Hollywood must be told about this. The pitch: The Fly, only instead of a fly it's a bunny. The Bunny! Jeff Goldblum with fur and whiskers (which he has already practised doing in the outstanding Earth Girls Are Easy), winning an Olympic sprinting medal and then disappearing into a hole in the ground. Maybe not.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:12 PM
August 18, 2003
The economics of CDs and DVDs

This Guardian has a story today about how the Internet, instead of wrecking the music industry, is reviving it, by forcing it to lower its CD prices.

But the economics of the Guardian piece is all over the place. Success is defined as total money spent, which, now that people are spending the same amounts of money on more and cheaper products, is holding up. Profits are falling, says the story, but that doesn't matter.

Oh yes it does. The record companies may be shifting their existing product at fire-sale prices, but these numbers won't encourage them to record new stuff.

For the time being, they can still make some money with their biggest selling pop artists. But the future of the music industry remains uncertain.

I've been noting the fall in classical CD prices for some time. I can't help noticing that sellers of CDs are now aware that one of my alternatives is to get hold of a copy of the CD in question by borrowing and copying it. The morals of this may be as wobbly as the Guardian's economics, but wobbly morals, unlike the grim certainties of economics, don't stop things happening. The basic, low-as-it-gets price for a quite decent but long available classical CD is just £. This compares very favourably with the bother of copying. That's what I paid, for example, for a very decent recording by Maria-Joao (sprinkle Spanish squiggles to taste) Pires, of Mozart's piano concertos 13, 14 and 23. Before ubiquitous CD burners, this would have set me back £3. at least.

It's the same with books. The price of books very exactly reflects the bother of photocopying from a legitimate copy, both in terms of how easy it is to get hold of a copy, and how easy it is to actually photocopy it. Not very, which is why remaindered books can still fetch several quid, despite their low tech nature – in fact because of it.

What's holding CD prices up, still, is that there are still plenty of listeners out there who can't be doing with this internet malarkey and still want to have an entirely separate system for music to the system they have for internet surfing or emailing or doing their homework. I'm one of these neanderthals. Soon we will all be dead. As we die, the Internet will gradually mutate into one vast, free, jukebox. For many it's that already. But not me. I like CDs. I like the idea of owning music, in the form of an object for each clutch of pieces. I feel about CDs what an earlier generation felt about LPs and what an even earlier one than that felt about 78s.

But I'm noticing that with movies my psychology is different. The knowledge that truly high definition movies for the home are yet to arrive, and the fact that a favourite movie does not immediately demand to be watched four more times (while a treasurable new CD demands exactly that), all make me less bothered about owning movies on DVD. If their purchase price resembles the cost of hiring, I'll buy. Over about twelve quid, forget it.

It doesn't help that DVDs come in ludicrously space-consuming boxes. At some point, I might seriously consider switching all the movies I do own on DVD into CD-type jewel cases. I mean, what nincompoop thought, after the electronics industry had sweated blood to get the info boiled down into a beer mat, that the way to package DVDs was to make them take up as much space as possible. I guess, what with VHS tapes, they were just addicted to big fat rectangles.

Plus, I suppose when they introduced DVDs they reckoned they'd charge forty quid for each one and that the average punter would own about twenty of them in his entire life.

But we punters are smarter than that. We know that the marginal cost of copying a movie is zero, near enough, no matter how many gazillions they may spend making the damn movies in the first place. We always knew, having watched the price of CDs drift downwards over the last two decades, that DVDs would soon move downwards too, and if they are still asking twenty quid for a favourite movie, to hell with them. We only buy a quarter as many of the damn thing. Ergo, DVD movie prices have plunged a lot more quickly than CD prices.

Soon there will be DVDs in the charity shops, just as there have long been quite decent CDs there.

The longer term future of both music making and movie making will become much more dispersed, and diverse. More will be done by people who just want to make music or make movies. Money will still be just as important, but in a different way. The typical customer of the new age will not be a passive listener or watcher, but an active creator.

A bit like blogging. We don't make money with our blogging. We are the customers – for bandwidth, for blogging software, for cameras and flash cards so we can decorate our blogs, for designers who can tart up the look of our blogs, for nicer screens, for nicer speakers to play each others' tunes.

The new age, in other words, will not be an age in which canned music and canned movies make the money. What will make the money will be the cans and the canning equipment. The instruments.

That's enough. Probably already too much. Sorry if it was all too boring and obvious.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:12 PM
August 03, 2003
Why Brian has his own blogs – further thoughts on the boredom issue

The discussion on my latest car parks piece here a couple of postings down has widened out, via the alleged boringness of talking about car parks, into the matter of being boring in general. David Sucher of City Comforts had this to say, a few hours ago:

As to your other point about the "boring" comment: I noticed it too and got the strangest sensation. I have seen such comments before in other fora. They puzzle me as the bandwidth on the web is essentially unlimited; don't like a post? Hit the "next" key. Why in the world would someone try to stop a conversation? When all they have to do is ignore it? I pondered making a response but as I feel very much a guest and newcomer on Samizdata, I decided to remain silent.

I read posts on Samizdata, Blowhards, Crooked, etc etc. – hey even "Brian's!" – and I pass many of them by as simply not of interest to me. In fact I would guess the majority of posts are – while most likely very intelligent and worthy – simply not something I have the energy on which to focus. In some caes I might even think them silly. I imagine that most of us feel the same way, except about different posts, of course. (Isn't there some expression about "free market of ideas"?)

But I would never even for a wild moment think of telling someone to cease a conversation. (Unless –maybe – I thought them offensive in racial, ethnic etc etc. sense.) So I was struck as a matter of "netiquette" by that remark. So the issue I suggest is broader than simply some people not being interested in parking.

Well, if I was Perry de Havilland, Lord High Everything of Samizdata, I just might think of telling one of us writers there something exactly like that. My niggle about that "boring" complaint about the car parks question wasn't me saying that being boring doesn't matter. Rather was it me saying, as David himself has also re-emphasised at CCB, that if you are interested in the way that cities and towns look and feel and work the matter of parking cars is most definitely not boring. But that doesn't mean that I don't worry about being boring, or think that being boring when blogging is not any kind of problem.

And David gets this too, as he proves with his reference to him being a "guest and a newcomer" to Samizdata, and as such, not someone who is entitled to barge in and yank the agenda this way or that, i.e. towards subjects that Samizdata's editors and core readership might reckon to be boring. Well, he may be entitled, but if he does this too obtrusively, he may not be liked.

In other words, there is another economics idea that affects blogs, besides the mere free market in ideas idea, beyond that is, the claim that you can post or comment whatever and however you damn well please. I refer to what the economists call transaction costs. If you go to a new blog, written by what seems to be a promising looking writer or clutch of writers, but after a week or so of reading everything they put there you decide that about four out of six of the posts you are reading there are (to you) boring, or maybe even more actively unpleasant in some way, this will definitely affect your willingness to hunt out those two (to you) better ones, and to keep on doing it. Life's too short and the blogosphere is too big. Blog bandwidth may be unlimited, but yours and mine isn't.

Perry chooses his Samizdata writers with care. If a new writer shows up there, you may be sure that much thought went into the matter of inviting him, and probably quite a few editorial guidance e-mails also.

I definitely feel a certain pressure, when composing stuff to put on Samizdata. That hit rate is not there to be abused for my merely private satisfaction, merely to get personal slices of beef off my nerdy little chest, however often it may seem that way. I post there with a conscious sense of duty – to inform, entertain, divert, and, let's face it, quite often to give that particular kind of reading pleasure that consists of a core readership having its prejudices confirmed.

All the above is part of why I believe in blogging in several different places, and in particular why I believe that some of these places should be mine to ruin, mine to bore in, places where what I'm interested in is what the readers are interested in and what the readers are interested in is what I'm interested in, by definition, because that's the deal. I want places where I can think aloud, drone on, repeat myself, contradict myself, worry away at bones of extremely specialised interest (I seem to be in meat metaphor mode today), and generally drone on and repeat myself. But, I don't want to do this where this is not the agenda.

Some writers are content to make the effort whenever they write (these two guys strike me as a perfect example of that), the way I do when I'm writing for Samizdata. But for me that wouldn't be enough. I love blogging. (Again, this is a sentiment that David echoes with a quote from another blogger who feels likewise.) There are things that I find myself saying, at my two Brian's blogs and at this one especially, which (a) I consider interesting, but which (b) I could only have found myself saying because the obligation to interest was suspended. This is my ego-blog. If my ego offends, stay away.

I wouldn’t dare put this posting on Samizdata. Maybe some of the readers there would like it. Maybe. (But if they like my ego that much, let them come here. They can do that, can't they?) But a lot of them would surely say to themselves, and very possibly to the now massive Samizdata comments subculture: puh-lease (not an Americanism that I care for but it's the kind of thing some of them like), not a(nother) boring blog posting about the potential or actual boringness of blog postings. Give me (see previous sentence) a break. And I do.

Maybe, because of the way that not having to be interesting can sometimes result in extreme interestingness, there are postings here that Perry and the Samizdata readers would have liked to be on Samizdata. But if I shovelled all this stuff onto Samizdata, and all my Brian's Education stuff, and all of my more occasional stuff here, or here, or (my most recently acquired blog outlet) here? … puh-lease.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:32 PM
July 30, 2003
Stephen Pollard on arts Festivals (and this despite Pollard's appalling linking system)

I've been busy today here already, and don't have much more time for culture blogging, so I will merely note the existence of a Stephen Pollard rant against arts festivals.

Stephen Pollard is too grand a personage to sort out his linking system to the point where it is not an incomprehensible piece of shit. I suspect the blog-ignorant designer of this other piece of shit that is to say pseudo-bloggery which the blogosphere pays even less attention to than it does to Pollard despite it being on an interesting subject to be the progenitor of the Pollard mess. I have had what passes for Pollard's linking system explained to me once before to the point where I made it work properly, but decent linking systems don't have to be explained – they work automatically. There's a a date, or maybe the word "permalink", and that's where the link is. Left click. Copy. Easy. This must be costing Pollard a Niagara of blog traffic. Damn this. I had written most of this piece before I remembered that linking to Pollard is a hideous recipe for grief. Memo to self: Ignore Pollard.

This piece about Festivals was first published in the Times, which is also deeply link unfriendly, so that's no good. So I suggest you either follow the primitive link above to the top of the Pollard blog and then scroll down until you get to the July 30th piece with "Festivals" at the beginning of the title, or else save yourself the bother and just take my word for it from the following quite long quotes:

Kevin Costner might have become a hero to a generation for believing in Field of Dreams that “if you build it, they will come”, but he was using his own money. The lesson of lottery funding is “if the arts establishment decides to build it, they won’t come”. The Life Force Centre, built beside Bradford Cathedral at a cost £5 million, closed in 2001 after seven months. It was projected to attract 40,000 people a year; in its first week it had 62 paying visitors. The Centre for Visual Arts in Cardiff was forecast to have 220,000 visitors in its first year. It managed 47,500 and closed in November 2001, after costing £9 million to build. The £15-million National Centre for Popular Music in Sheffield closed after 16 months in 2000. It was supposed to attract 400,000 people a year. Fewer than 90,000 went through its doors.

The annual summer festival season highlights the perversion of the original idea of festivals. The first recorded “festival” was the Workington Festival in Cumberland in 1869, which comprised a band and a choir. During the First World War, evacuees who were at school for only half a day were offered lessons in dance, poetry, painting and music in their spare time, and festivals were created for them to show off their new skills. Today, almost all trace of that genuine community purpose has disappeared and they are merely a further example of the arts establishment spending other people’s money on its own minority tastes.

The trouble with the Pollard approach is that, being so concentrated on all the various enterprises he opposes and wishes the ground to swallow up, it is too easily dismissable as being anti-art.

I note in particular that many of the enterprises Pollard complains about seem to have Asian names, so critics will probably insinuate, and possibly say outright, that the man is a racist.

So let me try to make that same point somewhat differently, that lots of Asian artistic activity, and "diverse" artsism generally, is state funded: I'm in favour of diversity in art, including and especially ethnic and cultural diversity, and that's why I want the state to stop funding it. Arts subsidies are bad for art.

On the other hand, and to make the point that he personally does like art, Pollard cunningly ends his piece – you can tell about the order in which the relevant reading and writing was done here, can't you? – thus:

I’m one of that guilty minority who has his pleasure paid for by other people. So yes, I benefit from all this largesse. But every time I set foot inside one of these institutions, with their self-perpetuating bureaucracies, their now mandatory “outreach” programmes (obfuscatory attempts to show how “relevant” they are), and their oh-so-desperate attempts to be “accessible” (a bizarre aim, since the only people who want access to a minority pursuit are the minority who want access to it), I know that I am taking part in a giant scam, in which a cultural elite extorts money from the rest of society so it can better indulge itself.

It’s time the rest of you pulled the rug from underneath my feet.

That would be a diversely designed rug of hideously pseudo-Asian design cunning enough to fool the bureaucrats involved but not at all cunning from an artistic point of view, made possible by a grant from the Rug Diversity Council, and a source of loathing to all the best Asian rug designers, who make a perfectly decent living by being funded by their customers.

That's enough for today. Calm down Brian. Take a few deep breaths and pick up the threads of what passes for your life.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:26 PM
I do love the blogosphere

Inspired by Jim of Jim's Journal's comment (on the subject of the movie Pushing Tin) on the posting immediately below, I have just done a piece for Transport Blog about transport based movies generally.

Jim, any chance you could be persuaded to go over there and elaborate on what your brother-in-law said about air traffic control?

Also, as another consequence of this to-ing and fro-ing, I read Jim's latest journal entry, and posted and commented upon a relevant bit of it here.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:50 PM
July 24, 2003
Blair In China

Today I had fun. In among various socialisings, I found myself writing a posting over at Samizdata. Blair equals Nixon, that was the thesis. Never mind if that's true, that's not what Brian's Culture Blog is here to argue about. My point is that when I had basically finished the piece, I needed a nice little witticism to end with, a small, self-mocking raspberry to sign off with. Nixon. Thinks: Nixon in China.

I ended up imagining another opera called Blair in China, which is about the Kelly Affair, with Scarpia Campbell (baritone) and Queen of the Night Cherie (soprano) and Someone Lyrical but Weak Tony (tenor). The things is, Blair has just been in China, and while Cherie and Tony were there they actually were singing, so the opera thing really fitted the situation beautifully.

Apparently they were all siinging the Beatles' old ditty When I'm 64 so I guess it would have to be an extremely comic opera.

None of the Samizdata commenters so far have given Blair In China a second thought. What do such people as these know of opera? But the idea gave me a prolonged chuckle. It's seldom that things slot together so nicely, and a lot of fun when they do.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:35 PM
July 15, 2003
Some more almost unrelated points

In my recent posting about the possibility of Michael Jennings joining me at this blog with occasional cultural postings (and I don't just mean about movies by the way, although he is very good on them), I overdid the point about how he might want to close down his personal blog altogether. And as if to emphasise the point he has a posting at his personal blog today that could not really have been written for any blog but his. It rambles over too much territory, and I don't just mean Australia. I mean subject matter. He goes from water resources to … well, his title is: Water resources, Australia's north, cricket, and what precisely is the point of Adelaide, anyway? I don't read all that Michael writes by any means, but this posting I found most entertaining, partly because I just did, and partly because as a libertarian I'm interested in any politicised, important resource (which cries out to be owned, I'd say), and I'm interested in cricket.

The point about the cricket is where it is about to be played. Two test matches (i.e. internationals) are coming up in Darwin and Cairns, Darwin being a first-time test venue. (Cairns I'm not sure about.) Here's hoping Bangladesh surprise everyone and make a fight of it.

I love the idea of specialist blogs, but it is essential that pieces like this are not made unwritable. And if personal blogs are what willensure such writing whenever it springs to the minds of writers, then on with personal blogs.

There's even a charming final twist, into yet more territory:

And just as an almost unrelated point, does anyone know of any city in the world other than Darwin that is named after a great scientist? The fact that we have one in Australia strikes me as extremely cool.

What and where would blogging be without such almost unrelated points?

Maybe what I'll end up doing is gradually converting this blog and my Education Blog into group blogs, and then have Brian's Bonkers Blog or whatever, where I put whatever I like about whatever I like whenever I like, connecting anything whatever that I feel like connecting to anything else whatever that I feel like connecting it to, and screw the universe if the universe doesn't take to it.

But later, eh? For now, this version of Brian's Culture Blog is quite bonkers enough to keep me satisfied.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 06:02 PM
July 14, 2003
Jennings on movies (again) – Jennings as a potential Brian's Culture Blogger – blogging as public emailing

I may or may not be going to a gathering of bloggers at the House of Commons this evening, so, if only not to have to worry about getting back in time to do something here before midnight, here's a quick link to another Michael Jennings movie piece, this time a dissection of the latest Hollywood mishandling of a comic-book theme.

One day soon, Jennings will get himself a paid job that is worthy of his considerable abilities. But, at this point, will he be able to sustain himself as a personal blogger?

I, meanwhile, may likewise become entwined with the real world in the months and years to come, and what may then become of my ability to blog daily? It is with this in mind that I am pondering trying to turn Brian's Culture Blog into a group effort (and ditto my Education Blog). Jennings might be worth asking.

The requirement's for fellow Brian's Culture Bloggers are: (1) You can in my opinion write well, (2) you are ideologically sympatico – I am doing this for political propaganda reasons, not just as a culture fan, (3) it would help if you didn't have identical cultural tastes to me, but that's not asking much. Jennings quite likes what he calls the "best" modern art, define pretty much in the way the official Modern Art art critics define best. This is not quite my attitude. So that's a plus. The advantage to Michael is that he could post here at will, but would not be burdened with the burden of having to post here everyday. Me ditto.

I know what you're thinking. Why couldn't he swallow me, instead of vice versa? Answer (one of many), because I use MovableType, and he uses that other thing. This way, he can become a completely MovableTypist, and can leave his blog as a Blogger archive. (Well, it's worth a try.)

And before anyone else says it, having a group blog named after someone called Brian is no problem, I've decided. After all Old Moore's Almanac is not entirely written by Old Moore. Alice's Restaurant, of the old hippy song fame, had other people eating in it besides Alice. ("You can get anything you want – at Alice's restaurant" as I recall.)

It's typical of me that I should send an email to Jennings in the form of a blog posting. I have not yet mentioned any of this to him face-to-face. But then again, I believe that blogging is all part of the breaking down of the private/public distinction. What's the worst he can say? No, get lost you fascist imperialist bastard. Big deal.

No doubt one day I will make something public that I really, really wish I hadn't. But it hasn't happened so far, and I'm over 50. My problem has never been getting people to stop prying, it has been getting people to pay attention.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:57 PM
June 21, 2003
Wanted – a libertarian-inclined team blog devoted to sport

One day I may put a slogan at the top of this which will say: "Culture means what Brian says it means."

So: Is cricket culture? It is today, here.

On the face of it the big story in English cricket right now is how well or how not so well the England team is doing. Today England thrashed Pakistan, with Marcus Trescothick doing most of the thrashing.

But the real cricket story in England now is the new twenty over competition. Side A thrashes about like a fish out of water for twenty overs, equals one hundred and twenty balls, and reckons on getting as near as it can to about two hundred. And then the other fellows have a go, and see if they can't do better. It's all over in half an evening. It can start just after your office closes, at 5.30pm, and be all over in time for supper. Apparently people are actually coming to watch this. Presumably it's because you can watch it, and still have a life. It's a good idea, I think.

This is new, and is yet another step away from cricket as our grandparents knew it. Jack Hobbs, Don Bradman, etc., used to wear only all-white costumes. These "Twenty20" guys wear brightly coloured pyjamas. Hobbs and Bradman kept a straight bat and batted all day and into the second day if they could. The pyjama gamesters flail away like baseballers. The old guys are classical music cricketers. Now they're popsters.

Okay I could go on, and I often do, but what I really want to say is that the libertarian-inclined blogosphere needs, in my opinion, a team blog about sports.

It's okay for me to say that today culture means cricket, but let's face it, if I said something like this every other day, my readers would fidget. Hey man, make up your mind. Is this artsy fartsy crap about paintings and stuff, or is it sports?

It could be that this guy is already running this team sports blog, and he just hasn't manage to hustle up a team to write for it. If so, I hereby invite him to get in touch. If not, then whoever does start such a sports blog, I hereby volunteer to join in, provided I'm welcome.

Why? Now we're back to libertarianism and the way we spread it.

Partly we spread libertarianism by taking non-libertarians and anti-libertarians to one side and beating them over the brains with our superior libertarian ideas until they beg for mercy and to be baptised.

But the other way is you go out and find semi-formed libertarians and just give them a bit of a polish. They're already, at the deep philosophical level, on our side, but they need to be kitted up with a few more words and arguments.

And I think that a lot of these semi-libertarians are sports people. Sure, we need to slug it out with our natural enemies with things like, oh I don't know, culture blogs. But we also need to trawl for the easy people, conversion-wise.

And the way you do this is by rounding up some ideologically sound people, but people who are bored with being nothing but ideologically sound, people like me, and tell us to rant away about sport day after day, mentioning why income tax rates should be slashed every now and again, but mostly writing about sport. Not just results, and who did what, and who should be picked to do what next week. I'm thinking background stuff, about the history of it all. Strange sports, like that thing they do in Spain with great big curved soup spoons, or like Gaelic football, or Ozzie rules, or the thing that old French men play in the town square that is presumably (it sounds like it) a cousin of Bowls. The place of sport in schools, sport as a trainer of character, which great politicians have been the best at sports, and which sportsmen have done best at politics. Why cricketers commit suicide so much, after cricket. You know, spreading the net. The role of sport in society.

As I say, if you have such a blog, or you've started such a blog, anywhere on earth, and you want me, I'm yours, every now and again.

If you are fascists or communists or Democrats or something, and trying to spread fascism, communism or Democratism, fine, you've every right to be that and to be doing that. I'm still interested, but not interested enough to write for you regularly. It's got to be a blog in approximate tune with me ideologically. Any offers?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:14 AM
June 16, 2003
Do blogs convert people?

I'm a libertarian, so I hope non-libertarians (or for that matter libertarians who come here for culture as more usually understood rather than for postings like this one) will forgive me discussing this question in a libertarian way. Most of the points I am about to make apply just as much to other sets of ideas ending in ism as they do to my ism.

Like Jonathan Wilde of Cattalarchy, I was intrigued by Patrick Crozier's posting at CrozierVision nearly a fortnight ago now, about how blogging helps (but perhaps doesn't help very much) to spread libertarianism. Since one of Patrick's constant recent themes in conversation with me has been that blog postings sometimes deserve to stick around longer than they actually do, I'm sure that he won't mind this posting of his being linked back to.

I suspect that, just as people often attach exaggerated importance to the particular arguments that converted them from what they used to be to what they are, something similar may apply to methods of communication. It used to be that books were the favourite way to encounter libertarian ideas, given that, then as now but a lot more so, libertarianism was not the daily fare of the mainstream printed or electronic media. Patrick wonders if blogs will ever convert people. My answer would be: give them time. Books didn't convert that many people into libertarians either, not per week, but over the years the numbers nevertheless accumulated. Now, I should guess, there are moments of illumination and conversion starting to happen to blog-readers, and surely with blogs also the numbers will start to pile up. There must surely have been quite a few conversions to libertarianism brought about by Internet chat rooms, simply because they've now been around a little longer.

Conversion seldom occurs only from books, or from blogs, or from any other exposition of the ideas concerned. There is the matter of reality to be considered also. Andy Duncan did a good piece in Free Life which describes the process well, as a to-ing and fro-ing between the passing political scene, and the reading of key books (such as, to name but one, Henry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lessson). And it is just the kind of piece that might convert someone to libertarianism, both directly through the ideas in Duncan's piece, or indirectly through the ideas in the books that Duncan cites, and potentially stears passing readers towards. Duncan's piece is polite, not sneering, about the ideas which Duncan at first held and then abandoned. It is not a "preaching to the converted" piece, even if it may be mostly the converted, such as me, who actually read it.

I found out about Duncan's piece not, as you might expect, from reading right through Free Life Number 44 until I got to it, when Sean Gabb first informed me about it. I didn't get that far. I found out about it because Duncan embedded a link to it in a samizdata comment where his name was at the bottom of the comment. Having liked Duncan's various comments I clicked on the "Andy Duncan" link, and got to his Free Life piece.

But, and here's my point, this piece by that Duncan was commenting upon was mostly not about libertarianism, except in passing. It was mostly about the confrontation/competition between Open Source Software and proprietary software of the sort sold by Microsoft – Linux v. Windows in other words. Both ought clearly to be allowed, but which is best? That was what most of the debate was about. (Anyone who was interested by my posting on that subject here should also read that samizdata posting, and especially the comments.)

This, it seems to me, is a big part of how blogging is now working its magic, ideologically speaking. Libertarians don't only have interesting opinions about libertarianism, they also know about other things. If you are interested in the Linux/Windows thing then you might well have found that Samizdata comment string quite interesting, even if the question "Linux, libertarian or what?" is of no interest to you, because it also involved discussion of such things as security, the merits or non-merits of Linux GUIs, and the rise of a big commercial presence in Linux-world.

I mean it about the same thing applying to other sets of ideas. Some while ago I did a samizdata posting about the impact of the printing press on Western civilisation, and I vividly recall how the most intriguing discussion I could quickly find on the Internet concerning the impact of the printing of the Bible in local languages rather than just in Latin was, appropriately enough, supplied by some Christians.

If I had been teetering on the edge of becoming a Christian (which I am not, but if …) this experience might have been the final prod that converted me.

The key to all this, it seems to me, is links. Much bloggage may be ephemeral and destined for oblivion. But from it you constantly find yourself linking to statements of principle and to more coherent arguments and expositions, many of which are themselves to be found in blogs.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:56 PM
May 25, 2003
Blogosphere stories – you get the picture

Ever wondered how a blogosphere story works? Like this:


Explanation here. Link from Instapundit.

I include this not because I like the explanation. I just like the picture. Nice colours. And if he's done it right, it shouldn't take people with primitive computers too long to load.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:20 AM
April 10, 2003
When this line starts to appear in movies we'll know that the blogosphere is here to stay

It's a tiny thought, but worth mentioning, maybe.

You know how, mostly in movies and sitcoms, but I dare say in real life too sometimes, people say "Get a room!" to couples who are being too public with their feelings of lust towards one another. Well, I predict that any year now, when movie and sitcom characters who are being too free and opinionated with their opinions, they will be told to "Get a blog!"

Apologies to you if you've already had it. Or worse, read it, or worse than that, written it, and worst of all, written it publicly.

It's a variant of an older insult: "You ought to be on the radio. Then we could switch you off."

And that, if you think about it, is one of the greatest benefits of the electronic media, of all kinds including blogging. All those who like something can go ahead and go on liking it, while nobody else need suffer.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:45 PM
February 05, 2003
"In real life it's a different story"

I promised myself my next posting here would be about Shakespeare or something. But then I saw this, which is very funny, and actually, even in a Shakespeare kind of way, quite profound.

Opening paragraph:

In the online world, I, Hankscorpio74, am known to be charismatic, tough, quick-witted, and tenacious as a copperhead snake. Like my namesake, Globex Corporation president Hank Scorpio, I am roguish and unflappable, possessing the confidence and flair of 20 men. Unfortunately, all of that changes when I drag my cursor down to "Shut Down" at the bottom of the "Special" menu. For all the admiration and respect I command in chat rooms, in real life, it's a different story. Oh, how I wish I were more like my online persona.

Me too.

My BCBlog persona reads Shakespeare constantly, pausing only to re-read Crime and Punishment. I read crap by comparison, most of the time.

But I do genuinely like to have classical music on, even if I don't listen to it properly a lot of the time. Future posting: How I like being able to shut Wagner up with one press of the finger when I've had enough Wagner and how he might not have liked that very much – "funny, yet strangely profound" Instapundit. (I wish.)

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 06:02 PM
January 18, 2003
In defence of specialist blogs

Assuming you ignore the comment from me checking that the comment machinery works, Steven Gallaher supplied the first proper comment on this blog yesterday. Thanks Steven. After saying nice things about it, he asked if perhaps the posting immediately below this one might more appropriately have been placed on my Education Blog, or even on Samizdata. And maybe that would have have made sense.

And now I've just done a posting about music teaching over at my education blog which might just as appropriately have been put here.

So the question does arise: if the boundaries between my two little blogs are so blurred – and they are blurred – why not just lump them together? Or, why not just fling everything onto Samizdata?

As to combining the education and culture blogs, pointing out the existence of the colour orange does not prove that there is no valid distinction to be made between red and yellow. There's a big overlap, but culture and education are nevertheless distinct concepts, each worthy of their own distinct attention.

I strongly believe in specialist blogs. Someone interested in education may be sufficiently diverted by the views of me and my friends on that topic to find a regular visit to my education blog worth the trouble, if only to find ammunition concerning what these wacky libertarians are saying about it. "Culture" is probably a looser term than education (and in future postings I intend to loosen it a lot more than I have so far), but nevertheless, similar considerations apply to that. Stir it all together, and I risk annoying educationists with my views on the movies, classical CDs, TV, paintings and architecture, and culture vultures with annoying references to British state schools and their travails and constant dronings-on about the glories of home-education.

As for those who want all these things stirred up, because they'll read anything I write, well, let them stir. Each blog is only a click away from the other (or it will be once I've got all that linking business sorted out), and I have no problem, as this posting shows, about cross-referring when it makes sense to do that. But to assume such devotion regardless of subject matter, from all my readers, would be excessive egotism such as even I shrink from.

There is an implied rebuke here, of all those political-personal blogs which have – or at any rate which promise – several more or less unrelated but nevertheless continuing threads of comment: heavy metal rock, Linux, and the infinitely fascinating behaviour of my dog, Goldwater – the denunciation of all enemies everywhere of the State of Israel, libertarian philosophy, and chocolate cakes – the goodness of guns, the badness of New Labour, Scrabble. These thread clutches often come in threes, with number three being an oh-so-artful and self-mocking descent from twin peaks of profundity to one shallow duck pond of (still quite profound – oh yes!) trivia. On old gag. Sometimes a mixture of themes of this sort is present, but not advertised at the top. The idea is that cake-persons will be dosed constantly with the truth about the Middle East, or some such propaganda coup combination. And indeed, if you happen to love the writer then you will want to read it all, the philosophy, the Middle East, the computer programmes, the dog, the cakes, everything. (In the case of the blogger I've just linked to it's more like: the philosophy, the Middle East, and nail varnish.) But the danger is that you may say to hell with it.

Blogs are not newspapers. Newspapers can be glanced over, and unwanted material can easily be navigated around. The headlines and the pictures draw you quickly to where you want to be. A newspaper is itself, and it is also a map of itself.

Blogs are not like that. Blogs are linear. They are not maps. Something you don't want to read gets in the way of what you do want to read. So if you have distinct kinds of things you want to say, keep the linear streams distinct also.

That's my hunch anyway.

Next question: going back to the idea of putting everything on Samizdata, do I not want very many readers? Do I not want to tell the Samizdata crowd (and it's quite a crowd compared to any trickle that materialises here) about the wonderfulness of string quartets? Well, I do, and I don't. It's complicated. And it will have to keep for later.

There have now been two consecutive bits of navel gazing here, so I promise to give that a rest for the next few postings.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:42 PM
January 17, 2003
A small attitude problemo

Soon after I got started writing for samizdata, I suffered a small tremor of – and I'm flailing about for the right kind of phrase – growth pain. Something like that. My pain was associated with, to resort to an ancient cliché, ceasing to be a big fish in a small pond (a libertarian activist in London) and becoming a small fish in a big pond (a blogger in the blogosphere). I got over it. I am now a blogger in the blogosphere. My problem was that at first I wasn't used to my altered status. My answer was to get used to it, which I did.

But somewhat to my surprise, I recently suffered a recurrence of this condition, in connection with running and writing for this, Brian's Culture Blog. The reason I was surprised was that I had suffered no such growth pains in connection with the other specialist blog I also run and write for, Brian's Education Blog. That all went smoothly, at any rate from the psychological point of view. One moment I was only writing for samizdata. Then I started Brian's Education Blog and started writing for that. And I carried on, and am carrying on. Some people seem to like it, while most of the world ignores it, which is just what I expected. No problemo, as samizdata boss Perry de Havilland would say.

But that transformation of my public status, from big blog contributor to big blog contributor plus small blog boss, happened smoothly because I was already acutely aware of my limitations as an education blogger. I have no children, and have very little experience of actual teaching as most people understand that word, that is to say of being paid to subjugate and dazzle rooms full of young educational conscripts. So already I knew that I was, and am, a very junior voice in that conversation.

But this culture blog thing has proved to be a very different experience. At first I thought: education? – culture? – what's the difference? I just sit down at the keyboard and start banging out culture, same as I've been doing education. No problemo. Well, the problemo is that until I seriously thought about it, during the last few days, I had been living in a false universe, a universe in which I was a leading cultural authority.

In my London libertarian social circle, there are many teachers of all imaginable levels of rank, to remind me of my limitations as an edu-blogger. But when it comes to "culture", I am one of a very few one-eyed commentators in the land of the blind. Most libertarians have their cultural tastes and can talk quite intelligently about them. Some of them even write quite intelligently about them. (I fully intend that this blog will link to just such writings on a regular basis.) But when it comes to "high" culture - the posh stuff, oil paintings, non-electronic music done with violins and cellos, posh novels of the sort they used to study at posh universities and I dare say to some small extent still do, Shakespeare, Milton, Michelangelo - well, who is there, in my circle, who has much of a clue? Sean Gabb for one, and he has two eyes, I would say. Maybe Antoine Clarke, who is bilingual in French and English, which gives him an edge. Some Eastern Europeans, who got taught more about English literature than we tend to get taught in England these days. And, er, that's about it.

More debilitatingly, even those of my friends who do know a bit about Michelangelo, Jane Austen, etc., have tended not to talk with me about such things, in any serious, "no you're wrong about that, he painted that before he painted that, you're muddling his Florence period with his Rome period" kind of way. (This, after all, is exactly the state of affairs that this blog is intended to help to correct.)

But now, writing for a culture blog, I enter a world in which a frighteningly large number of the citizenry actually know what a Koechel number is, or the exact circumstances surrounding Marcel Duschamp's urinal, or who were the most recent recipients of the Nobel Prize for Literature or the Turner Prize, and who will know at once if I have spelt "Koechel" incorrectly, which I dare say I have. Start a "culture blog", and some very scary and well-informed insects are liable to start buzzing around your head.

I dashed off that piece about late Beethoven string quartets a week or so ago, and felt very clever about it. And then it hit me. Christ almighty, there'll be people reading that who actually know as much about Beethoven string quartets as I do. More, in fact. Some of them may even have played in the things. I realised that from now on I was going to have to distinguish between matters of fact and matters of my own opinion with greater care.

The whole question of just what it means and does not mean to "know about" – to know lots of facts about – culture is, in particular, a very interesting one. It's not the same as knowing about science, for instance. Expect me to wield the insect spray from time to time. But I'll save all that for later. Suffice it to say here that I found that I needed a short period of mental adjustment before resuming my culture blogging, hence the hesitation which has surrounded the launch of this thing. It wasn't that I was too busy. My attitude was wrong. But my attitude has now, I hope, been sufficiently adjusted for normal service to begin.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:39 PM