Category Archive • My culture
January 17, 2005
How the English accent sounds to Americans

I've never actually been to the USA, and Alice Bachini clears up something for me about the USA that has always puzzled me.

Here is what Alice says about that rude guy on the telly who denounces aspiring pop singers, and makes them cry. He is now big in the America, apparently, but they think he's an American.

… The difference between the UK and the US is, if you're famous in America people will assume you are American, even if the way you speak says otherwise. They'll just make up an obvious explanation. An English accent is not English, it's just a disdainful and rude version of American. …

Alice goes on to say that this means she is sunk, but that is not what concerns me, what with me not being Alice and what with me being an uncaring swine. No, what concerns me is the way that obviously English people occasionally show up in American movies, apparently playing Americans. They have American parents, and went to American schools. Yet they turned out English. And Americans don't seem to have any objections to this bizarre arrangement, because they are the ones making and watching these movies. Now all is clear. Americans think that these English people are Americans, but disdainful and rude.

Mind you, when I first encountered an American who talked the way Lloyd Grossman talks, I thought he was taking the piss out of my accent. (This was long before Lloyd Grossman himself had occurred.) Since he was doing this in England, this struck me as a very odd thing for him to do. But it turned out he was an American, from somewhere near Boston, i.e. from the exact same place as Lloyd Grossman. Then when Lloyd Grossman started babbling away on the telly, I said: hah! I know that weird voice. I've heard that before.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:57 PM
January 12, 2005
The public and the private
I don't tend to have quotes of the day here, but if I did, this might be today's:

Private life in the public eye seems doomed these days, but life out of the public eye fares little better.

Read the rest of that, about the break-up of Jennifer Anniston and Brad Pitt, here.

To me one of the most interesting things about Being Alive Now has, and for quite a few decades, been the way that the hitherto sacrosanct distinction between the private and the public is getting blurrier every day.

Another of my favourite quotes concerning this odd relationship now concerned what it was like having a private negotiation with Dr Henry Kissinger when he was having one of his bursts of shuttle diplomacy. And yes, that "shuttle" did rather suggest that a mere Boing 747 was too slow for the Flying Doctor and he had to have a spaceship.

Here's the quote:

A conversation with Dr Kissinger at such a time was about as private as the inside of the Eiffel Tower.

Not bad, I reckon. It's one of mine, although I don't believe I ever got around to making it public, no matter how you define that these days.

The point being that once a secret that anyone cares about gets public, it's everyone's, i.e. not a secret any more. If you're Pitt or Anniston, everyone feels entitled to write what they think about you, and entitled or not, they do.

Compare and contrast, as they say, the time – not so long ago – when the fact that the President of the United States, no less. was stuck in a wheel chair was concealed from public view, for year after year after year. Amazing.

Or how about this? - quoted today here:

A Texas computer consultant said he stumbled upon photos of a silver-blue Z06 on the Internet and posted them that afternoon on a Corvette online discussion forum he frequents. Five days later, on Nov. 14, two men from Securitas, GM's contract security firm, knocked on the door of his Houston home demanding to know who gave him the pictures. He said he refused to let them in, and their parting shot was "We’ll see you in court."

As soon as the security men left, the 36-year-old computer consultant, who requested his name not be used, posted details of the visit from the "two goons," as he described them, on two Corvette Web sites. He also posted scanned images of their business cards.

… which is where I first encountered it this morning, and more to the point for the purposes of what I am saying here, here.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:05 PM
October 31, 2004
Billion Monkey turn green!

I wasn't at the north London Halloween soirée at which this hideous apparition was to be observed.


My thanks to fellow BM Michael Jennings, who was there.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:25 PM
June 06, 2004
Ah, incest ...

Nothing like a nice little perverse incentive, is there?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:14 PM
May 28, 2004
Michael Jennings on why more and more movies now open everywhere at the same time

Michael Jennings has another of his fascinating blow-by-blow accounts of business in Hollywood lately, this time about this year's "Summer Movie Season". (He explains what that means.)

He makes many interesting points, as he always does in these pieces (which could well end up as a quite successful book, it occurs to me). I've not yet read all of this posting, but have already been especially diverted by the trend Michael notes, towards Hollywood movies being released at the same time all around the world:

One other thing that has been happening this year is what is often called "day and date" international programming. Traditionally, films were released in the US first, and would be rolled out throughout the rest of the world over a period of months. This is now happening less and less for big movies. Films are being released on the same weekend in most major markets. There are two reasons for this. The first is that Hollywood as always is afraid of piracy. Certainly they are losing some money to pirates. Once upon a time I was frequently offered illicit CD and VCDs and VHS tapes when walking down the streets of Asian cities, but if I wanted them in developed countries they would be harder to find. These days I cannot walk down Oxford Street in London without encountering someone selling illicit DVDs of movies current in the US that have probably not been released in the UK yet. Releasing movies in large swathes of Europe and Asia on the same weekend as in the US certainly reduces the window in which this activity is profitable, and this is the main reason given for the fact that there are now simultaneous worldwide releases.

But in reality this is more of a symptom than the cause.

The fact is, the world is rapidly becoming one global media market. …

Michael then digresses to the anachronistically chaotic problems faced by TV signals when trying to gain acceptance for themselves in countries which, technically, they can reach with ease, but which are political defended against them. But that is, as I say, a digression. The big picture story here is globalisation.

… Traditionally movie producers have managed to segment advertising campaigns and everything else into these national markets, but it is working less and less. Publicity campaigns now cross borders at high speed. Teenagers in Australia know by Friday afternoon whether a movie just released in the US is any good. People read reviews from foreign newspapers' websites. If there is a delay between release in the US and release elsewhere, the media buzz may have died by the time the fim gets there. People on British websites such as this one might be writing for largely American audiences, and it is counterproductive if the movies they are talking about are two months old in American terms. All this means that segmented national releases no longer work. And Hollywood is learning to deal with that. (If simultaneous worldwide releases are going to happen, one of the chief problems is expense and logistics. It costs a lot to strike that many prints of celluloid, and getting them around the world is expensive and time consuming. Thus this trend is also an impetus for digital distribution and projection systems to come into being to facilitate this that is not really there for the domestic market. This is particularly so in rapidly developing countries where there are no large networks of existing conventional cinemas already. And indeed we are seeing this, particularly in China, where quite a large network of digital cinemas has been built in the last couple of years).

In any event, this makes writing about the summer movie season much easier for me, since I can now see most of the movies at the same times the Americans do. Of the first five big summer releases this year, four of them have or will be released in the UK within two days of the release in the US. …

I like living in this kind of world, and resented the previous one, where Hollywood stars would turn up on our chat shows and have to wrench their tired minds back to their previous movie but three. And I bet the stars prefer the new world order too. This way, they only have to do their marathons of chit-chatting for the media just the once for each movie.

More importantly, I like the idea of a world in which I have that bit more in common than I used to have with a random guy I meet who lives in China or Turkistan. We already have some things in common of course, most notably major historical events, like 9/11, or, from an earlier time, the assassination of President Kennedy. We have the big sporting events, of course, like the Olympics and the soccer World Cup. The Millenium happened at more or less the same time everywhere, which was also fun. But "history", and also sport, tends to get editorialised locally. I like the idea of an entire movie, with its particular point of view, being shown everywhere, un-"explained" by local middle men.

Of course, so far, these Global Movies have all been made in America. But interestingly (and I can't recall where I've been reading this because I've been reading it in all kinds of places – maybe Michael Jennings has talked about it too) these Global Movies are almost as much of an attack on indigenous US culture as they are on everyone else's culture. All slam bang action, and "universal" themes, with no excessively local references to confuse the Turkistanians.

Nevertheless, for all its dangers of lowest-common-denominator vapidity, I like the idea of a global fuss being made about a movie, even a bad movie, at the same time everywhere. That way I can have a nice little chat with a Turkistanian tourist in London about why, no, I won't be bothering with the latest Tom Cruise either.

Of course "Globalisation" has been gradual, and has been going on for a long, long time, at least since the electric telegraph was first got going in 1842, and this is just another little step in that long, slow, faltering trend, with its numerous local and localist interruptions and counter-reactions (stimulated into existence by the very fact of Globalisation). Nevertheless, as the Jazz Man on the Fast Show says: nice. (What's the Fast Show? Never mind, it's a local thing we have here.)

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:33 PM
March 27, 2004
Global villagers

A friend of mine was about to dine with a friend of mine, and friend 1(F1) was within about five minutes walk of the home of F2 where he was to dine, but realised he didn't know exactly when F2 was expecting him. F1 had a mobile phone with him, but didn't have F2's number. He did have a number for another friend of mine, and more to the point of his, F1's, so he rang F3 on F3's portable. F3 was quickly able to give F1 F2's number. F1 could then ring F2, and find out when he needed to arrive.

mcluhan.jpgAnd now here comes the "cultural" bit. F1 and F2 were both in London, SW1. But at the time all this went on, F3 was in Prague.

The man on the right is called Marshall McLuhan, who, to the best of my knowledge, coined the phrase "Global Village", although maybe it was some other guy, and he merely made the phrase famous.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:29 PM
March 26, 2004
A lost Filofax and a man with tattoos

Busy day today, for two reasons. First, I have a Brian's Friday to get ready for, and second, last night I lost my Filofax (and yes I still use a Filofax) and spent the first half of the day first looking for it, and then wokring out where I had left it. I worked it out eventually. I had left it at Sloane Square tube station, on top of one of the public telephones there.

I had a couple of hours to think about what I would do if my Filofax was permanently lost, and it was an interesting experience. Here, I soon realised, was a potential enforced opportunity to do what I have been meaning to do for years, which is decide who my significant others really are, and archive everyone else. Also, it would be an opportune moment to work out what everyone's up-to-date emails are.

It turned out that simply by sitting down with a bit of paper, starting with the few phone numbers I already know, I would have a decent shot at reconstructing my life within, say, two hours. It's amazing, when I think about it, how well my friends seem to know one other. Not surprising really, when you consider that everybody knows everybody at about six removes, or whatever it is.

tattoo.jpgThe other vaguely cultural thing that happened in connection with all this was that the first London Transport person I spoke to at Sloane Square tube was a scary looking individual with his arms (revealed because of his sleaves being short or rolled up, I forget which) covered entirely in lurid tattoos, and no doubt other parts of him too that were concealed.

I have always associated tattoos with criminality, or at least lowness of life. But this man could not have been more courteous and helpful. Perhaps when he was a teenager, this man did some questionable things, but judging by his demeanour towards me, those days, if they ever happened, were now long gone, and he is now a pillar of society. (That picture isn't him, because the person in the picture has no tattoos on his arms.)

I guess men covered in tattoos are no now more of a threat to civilisation than men sporting long hair were in 1980.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:39 PM
March 17, 2004
Clinking glasses and learning more about my camera

This is a blatant quota post. I have been out and about all day, doing things, and then out all evening attending a sparkling dinner party, at which I sparkled, which is to say I drank some alcohol. So, I am under time pressure, and under alcohol pressure. Expect foolishness, and typographical and other kinds of errors.

I learned two things of a cultural nature today, one concerning alcohol, and the other rather duller. Start with the alcohol thing. Why do we drink each other's health by clinking our drink glasses together. Apparently the practice dates from the times in our past when guests were liable to be poisoned by their hosts with spiked drinks. When you "clinked" your glass with that of your guest you really banged into it, and fluids were exchanged between the two glasses, or tankards, or whatever. This ensured that you would drink a sip of anything you had arranged for your guest to drink. So the link between touching glasses and health is more intimate than I had realised.

Also, the French people present (there were French people present) said that when clinking glasses you must make eye contact. If you don't this means you are a shifty person. This is apparently a recent French fashion, and it is now de rigueur (sp?).

That could all be lies, and maybe they were pulling my leg, but I think it's an interesting clutch of information.

And the other thing I learned of a cultural nature today, I learned by mistake. I was out taking photos, and I had the camera set in the "view pictures already taken" mode. But I mistook it for "take another picture" mode and tried to zoom in on the scene I was photo-ing. And the camera promptly zoomed in on the picture I had already taken, and proved will to move the picture also from side to side, in accordance with encouragement from the arrow buttons. How about that! Well, I'm glad about this. I am learning new stuff about my Canon A70 every time I use it.

Also, I now remember, at the sparkling dinner party, one of the sparkly guests wanted to borrow the camera, and she switched it to movie making mode. Which I kind of knew I could do, but didn't really know know, if you know what I mean.

Good night and sleep well. No links in this posting. I sparkled way too much to attempt that.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:32 PM
March 14, 2004
Ceefax photos

Warning: this post stretches the meaning of the "culture", but: see above.

I had to put these pictures somewhere, and the truth is that it is a whole lot easier sticking pictures up at your own blog than anywhere else. None of that do you actually want pictures?, how big shall I make them?, how do you centre them? nonsense.

I suppose I could pass these things off as pictures of where I blog, of the sort that are buzzing about the blogosphere just now. Thus:


Okay, so there's the computer screen on the lower right, and above there's lots of gunk too brightly light by the, you know, lights, and on the left, that would be …? A TV set perhaps? But what story does it tell? Let us look closer.


Yikes on a bike.

That was the actually decisive moment. Lara c Flintoff b Hoggard 0. At that point it was all over. So, I know you want to know how it all finished. Well basically, this was what happened:


… which meant the following:


Note the brightness of the lettering, and the strangely disturbing, even nihilistic black background. These images capture the profoundly evanescent nature of media imagery in our modern technological society, both in the obsolescence of the technology being used, and in the fundamental emphemerality of the message being conveyed. Plus, the Windies got a right stuffing.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 06:16 PM
November 10, 2003
The time of the Multiple Remotes

Now that we live in the historic epoch – which got under way early in the nineteenth century with photography – of Recording, we can look back at the archives of earlier decades and chuckle at those transitional technologies which had only just been devised, but not perfected. Each decade has its characteristic signature gadgets, starting with those cameras, on tripods and with the photographer hiding under a blanket. Model T Fords. Telephones in two separate bits. Propeller driven aeroplanes. Black and white televisions. Vacuum cleaners the shape of giant Swiss Rolls. Ancient tape recorders with giant wheels of tape that you had to cut with scissors. Gramophone records. Portable telephones the size of shoe boxes. Giant genuinely floppy floppy discs. VHS videos and TV screens that stick out at the back are beginning their descent into the same memory banks.

Time was when it was very hard to notice these things in the historic record. We can see the battles and the kings and the queens, the opening up of continents and the industrial revolutions. Spotting the subtle changes in things like eighteenth century tea kettles and coal scuttles and fifteenth century butter churns and pig sties is harder. But now these kinds of details have also become easy for us all to remember, when we see them in the photographs and the newsreels and the ancient TV shows.

So here now is an image that will, I suggest, do a lot to define the very particular moment of domestic history that we are now living through:


A decade ago, none of us had so many of these damned things. In ten years time, the mess will probably have been sorted out. But now – just now – this is a small but definite thing which pinpoints our little moment in history. We now live in The Time of The Multiple Remotes.

Let me itemise these particular remotes for you, for they are mine, and I have just photographed them for you. From left to right as we look: (1) The television, (2) The video, (3) The tuner/amplifier component of my medium fi system (4) The compact disk player, ditto, (5) The digital box attachment to the television, (6) The DVD player, (7) The digital radio that has replaced the (analogue) tuner bit of the tuner/amp. I dare say there'll be more in the years to come.

But I don't really have to spell it all out for you, do I? You probably have just such a collection yourself. I live alone, and my collection adds up to a single control panel, albeit a rather complicated and unwieldy one. All my Remotes occupy the same shelf on my desk.

But pity the families. There, the Remotes move hither and thither like a litter of unruly puppies.

The relationship of the father of the modern family to his various Remotes is a metaphor for his entire life. When a modern man has a family, his life is no longer his own, and because of the multiplicity of all those Remotes, the very "control" which they are supposed to supply slips from his hands. When there was only one Remote, he was its Lord and Master, but not any more.

Luckily he doesn't have time to pay careful attention to all the electronic message receivers and displays these magic wands supposedly command for him, but which actually behave towards him more like a barrier. He has more important things to attend to.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:19 PM
October 15, 2003
The return of BBC4

Never have I more enjoyed a close-up picture of an elephant's bottom ejecting elephant crap. I'm referring to the joyous moment when, having switched on my TV last night just after 7pm, I switched over to BBC4, where an elephantine David Attenborough show was just getting going. And BBC4 worked. BBC 4 had previously come, and then gone, and for months now, it's been gone. But Michael Jennings dropped by yesterday.


Although he was unable to do anything to the TV aerial on account of the door (to the communal roof to which the TV aerial is attached) being locked, Michael did do some downloading magic which, it is now clear, did the trick. For the few hours before that happy, crappy moment, I had to make do with Michael's claim that it "should" work, and we've all heard "should" from techies haven't we? – to be followed quickly by doesn't. Only this time it was did. Long may it last. BBC 4 is the most cultural of the free digital channels, so this is a most happy development.

Michael also contrived for my TV to spout forth all the digital radio programmes. So there we go. I wait years for a digital radio, and then suddenly two arrive.

To be less frivolous, this story illustrates the value of (a) Other People, and (b) Cities, which contain such a great choice of Other People to choose from and to cultivate, so that when you want your TV set to work better, you can pick an Other Person to do it for you.

You can't do things like this nearly so easily in the countryside.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:31 PM
September 10, 2003
Culture posting elsewhere

Well, I've had a busy blogging day, but not here. There must be a few people who read me here but nowhere else, but actually I've had quite a bit of a loosely cultural sort to say on Samizdata today, it just so happens. This posting, and this one, are both about the way that communications technology intersects with the way we live our lives.

The first is about the mismatch between written hand-outs from the minders of politicians about what their masters are about to do, and the mismatch that sometimes happens between this written account – often printed as accomplished fact by the newspapers – and what actually transpires. The fact that it is now getting ever easier to collect up and distribute (i.e. spill) the private beans and compare them with the clunky old printed record version of events all adds to the drama.

The second is about the relatively recent pestilence of phone calls from "direct marketers", to use the most polite phrase available.

And then I did a brief posting referring to the Saudi Arabian Barbie ban, and another one about oriental efforts to challenge Microsoft Windows.

All loosely describable as cultural. But then, most things are, if you are short of a culture posting.

If I was a stylish blogger like Michael Blowhard instead of the egomaniac that I am, this posting would link to other people's stuff, the way this posting does, for instance.

In among it, my music of choice (when the damn telephoners weren't interrupting me) included a fine disc of Mendelssohn string quartets by the Sorrell Quartet on Chandos. (£3 from Neil and his trolley in Lower Marsh, just the other side of Waterloo Station. Open from mid-morning until early afternoon. (Around half past two seems to be soon enough.)

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:43 PM
July 28, 2003
On the difference it makes to be watching things alone

James Lileks has a lovely description today in his Bleat, about watching the movie Devil in a Blue Dress, which is particular good about the particular joy of watching the thing on a computer, and being able to freeze frame, and internet search for the details of a movie that was shown being shown, in the original movie. Lileks describes all that better, so read him.

What all this also points up, it now occurs to me, is that watching a movie on your own is also a different experience again. If you are watching on your own, you can decide two minutes in that you don't want to watch it after all. You can freeze frame to take incoming phone calls, you can freeze frame if the ball game playing silently on your TV (the DVD being on your computer screen) suddenly springs to life with a big home run, or in my case a wicket or a burst of dramatic slogging. You can just freeze it, and make yourself a cup of coffee.

Now that DVD players and TVs are so very cheap, more and more people are presumably watching movies on their own.

Which leads on to another point, which is that if you watch a movie on your own you don’t have to justify your choice to anyone. You can watch porn, or old Scharzeneggers. I can watch soppy High School Romances or Fred-and-Gingers or tapes of recent England rugby triumphs – while also doing something like blogging – and if other people think that's daft or tasteless or ridiculous, fine, they can watch something else and simultaneously do something else. Unlike me, Lileks is a family man, but he also likes his time alone to watch his preferred stuff.

Personally I value this aspect of home viewing far more than I value a million dollars worth of high techery to do the sound and fury of Terminator 5 at the cinema, or for that matter the equivalent kit for five hundred quid for all the family to watch at home, when that also arrives, which it may already have done for all I know or care. My "home cinema" is plenty big enough for short-sighted little me, given than it is only twenty inches away from my eyes.

Narrowcasting, I think they call this.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:41 PM
June 04, 2003
Alice has been tidying and I have thought of a new word clutch

There was another of Alice Bachini's literature-disguised-as-waffling pieces yesterday that I enjoyed reading, and it is very cultural, under the surface, as it were. She's been tidying her house. Why, she asks herself, has she been tidying her house?

Why do visual aesthetics matter? Well, (for a popular and irrefutable start-off) for the same reason that art, music, beauty, sex and love matter. Because they are pleasing, and enjoyable, and make us happy, and happy people are nicer and better at doing good things and living wonderful lives. If you don't believe me, try putting on a tape of what it's like to have tinnitus all day every day. Or vandalising your possessions with a spray-paint-can and a Stanley knife. Or surrounding yourself only with things you find visually repulsive. The more hours you have to spend in such an environment, the harder it will be for you to get good things done while feeling great. Surroundings matter. Beauty makes people feel good.

I tried to write some complicated comments about this, to do with the falling standards of cleanliness of my class, which is the well educated but badly paid and downwardly mobile class and the fights back when it comes to raising its clever children class. But I don't think you can generalise about these (us) people. Some of us became scruffs in hovels, in about 1965, in a sudden puff of dust. I did. But others rose effortlessly out of the detritus in 1978, and have lived lives of effortless cleanliness ever since.

I do think, however, that in some minds there is a link between dirt and poverty, and between poverty and virtue. The deduction that follows from that is not hard. That could be a new word: dirtue. And: dirtuous. We've all been in dirtuous houses. Anti-globalisation demos are: dirtuous. Yes, we have a new word clutch.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 06:08 PM
March 27, 2003
Registering the impact of the Internet from an unfamiliar angle

The Internet, or at any rate my corner of it, is misbehaving just now. I assume that it's the war, and the huge surge of Internet traffic that the war has triggered, and the various rearrangements that have been made in response to this surge.

My long term faith in the Internet as one of the most important things now happening in the world is unshaken, but let's just say that, from where I sit, the thing still has some way to go. Computers are always frustrating when they don't work. This is because when they do work, which let's face it is most of the time, they do miracles.

I spent last weekend in Poland, at a Libertarian Conference in Krakow, and I've already put up three postings (this about Auschwitz, and this and this about Polish education) concerning and deriving from my stay there, in Krakow. And what a lovely city Krakow is by the way, untouched at its jewel of a centre by the Second World War. What happened was that the Russians, smarting from their bad press in connection with how they handled Warsaw, went round, but left a gap for the Germans to escape through. Which the Germans did escape through, despite Hitler's stand-and-die orders. Thus was Krakow saved.

But back to the Internet. Why all of a sudden am I taking it upon myself to expound the obvious, namely that the Internet is very important? Well, having been at that conference, I can now add something.

You know how you spot changes in a place by not living there, but just visiting from time to time. I live in London, but if I want to know what the big changes in the appearance of London are, I ask people who only drop by occasionally, like me visiting Paris (because it's Paris) or Bratislava (where I have friends). Has London got any cleaner lately, or busier, or noisier, or prettier? I ask visiting friends to tell me. I don't know.

I've spoken at plenty of other conferences at various times over the years, but not at an exactly similar one. Well, it's over a decade since I have actually spoken at one of these Libertarian International conferences, apart from the one last autumn in London, which is a different experience and thus doesn't quite count for these purposes. Going to Tallin, or Norway, or Brussels, is not like staying in London and attending one of these conferences, but it is like going to Krakow for one.

And in Krakow it hit me. There I was, talking away about how I wanted libertarians to think, and in particular to think about "culture". And there was this little clutch of young Polish faces staring intently at me, like baby rodents surprised by a nature documentary camera team. And it felt important. It felt like it mattered what I said, and that what I said might count for something, and maybe quite soon. Why? Because the Internet has now empowered people like this. I was no longer placing a long-odds bet that what I was trying to persuade these young people to think about might eventually count for something, when one of them became a professor or a cabinet minister. People like this could immediately, if what I said had any effect, go to their rooms or their internet cafés and register this effect by typing it into their computers, just as I'm typing now.

It was the huge time gap between going to Krakow and going to the previous foreign part that I went to to participate in one of these things that caused me to register this transformation so strongly. Thinking about it, the last of these conferences I journeyed to was in Tallin, in 1991, over a decade ago. The Internet was then but a gleam in the eye of a few Americans, who in any case regarded it as a substitute for good writing rather than a vehicle for it and whom I therefore ignored. As far as I was concerned, the thing did not exist, and thus people like me and like those who typically attend Libertarian International conferences had no direct means of telling the world how we felt and thought about things. Bothering to even talk at such an event was an act of faith, that eventually something would come of it. Now, no such faith is needed.

That sense that any half-intelligent libertarian hack had to have circa 1990, namely that he could well be wasting his time, has gone. I dealt with this fear by simply shutting it out. Others dealt with it by doing something else that made more immediate sense. Now, mouthing off like this does make sense. Just as with that talk I gave in Krakow, you never know who might be listening or what they might make of it, and make of it immediately.

We still might lose, but at least we can go down fighting. The people who show up at those conferences may still be fairly lowly folks, but I no longer fear that any of them are merely people into whom ideas go, there to die. Even the lowliest of them can say things around a dinner table which could show up the next morning in some Internet pronouncement, such as this one. The Internet has blown away the stink of defeat.

I'm not saying that having the run of the New York Times op-ed columns is no better than writing Brian's Culture Blog or Brian's Education Blog, or writing for Samizdata. I know my place in the pecking order and it is a lowly one. But it exists. I have my little attic room in the city, and the key to my own front door. I can enter, sit down, and say what I like. And so can all my friends. We don't have to beg any more.

My team is no more likely to win than ever it was. I and my lowly libertarian friends are empowered, but so are hundreds of millions of others. But thanks to the Internet, I am now part of the conversation. I'm no longer just yelling incoherent noises from the touchline, and hoping against hope that occasionally my voice will be heard above the din. The chasm, to pursue this sporting metaphor, that is fixed between the player and the fan, no longer applies to what I do. I'm kicking things around too.

I've known all this for years, of course. Why else would I have become a blogger? But in Krakow last Sunday I saw these same old facts from an unfamiliar angle and in an unfamiliar place, and they jumped out and bit me. This stuff really is as big as printing. You knew that anyway, I know, but I'm telling you again.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:21 PM