Culture means whatever Brian Micklethwait says it means.  
Category Archive • This Blog
January 31, 2005
Picture problems

The bit of Movable Type that uploads pictures seems to have stopped working. It says that the picture is uploaded, but says it is size: 0 bytes, and asks if I want this file to be a LINK. No, I want it to be a photo, you moron machine.

Anyone know what this could be about?

I was going to post some pictures of Jackie D, photo-ing food, but that will have to wait.

A bad day here at Brian's Culture Blog.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:35 PM
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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:

RapeoftheMasters.jpg

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
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November 16, 2004
More comment trouble

The comment thingy is, as of now, and as helpful emailers have pointed out to me, refusing to supply a Turing Number, only a red cross.

This is, I am told by my Blog Software Guru, being attended to. He doesn't think it should take him long.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:15 PM
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September 23, 2004
Comments are now (with luck) working

With luck, and as already reported at my Education Blog, the Comments Gremlin has been slain. I will add a few comments to this posting, as I did there, but basically, everything now seems to be working. It may rudely demand that you type in a new number, despite you already having typed in one very carefully, but the signs are that it has been cured of its very disagreeable habit of eating comments without leaving so much as a verbal crumb.

My apologies for the extreme delay in sorting this out.

If anyone does get any more comments eaten, please try to add another, complaining about this. If it misbehaves again, I am anxious (if not eager) to know about it.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:36 PM
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September 01, 2004
Back ... after a fashion

I'm back, but only just. A week ago I was having dreadful Internet Connection problems (see below), and just half an hour ago I thought they were back, rather than me. But as of now, things seem to be working. So, further posts should soon follow. But maybe not as regularly as I would like.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:33 PM
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August 28, 2004
Internet connection trouble - ignore

Sorry about this pseudo-resumption of business. I am just testing that I can post following an internet connection disruption. Carry on having a nice August.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:28 PM
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August 01, 2004
Blogging pause

Yes, I'm going to take a rest. For the last I don't know how many days, I've been putting something up here every day. For the next month, August, I am releasing myself from this self-imposed obligation. Things may appear here during August, occasionally. But how often, or even at all, I cannot now say.

I will do a posting on September 1st explaining what happens then. I will probably then resume daily posts, but perhaps not. But, I will definitely resume in one way or another.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:03 PM
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March 18, 2004
A daily posting

I have another very busy and complicated day today, and this posting, which I now expect to be rather feeble, may be all that I manage. However, I have become ever more convinced that almost anything in any one day is better, for a blog that usually contains something every day, than nothing in any one day. Even if all I were to put were this bit of writing so far, that would still be something. That's how strongly I now believe in daily postings here.

And that is actually all, for now. Maybe more later today. Maybe not.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:40 AM
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January 20, 2004
Temporary interruption of comments and installation of random number system

Last night I was obliged, temporarily, to switch off the comments system here. This blog, and my other blog too, came under severe automated comment attack. (This posting is an adapted version of one that has just gone up there as well.)

There were several hundred comments in the space of a couple of hours. I was out late and only got home an hour into the process. All the comments have been cleared out, and a random number system has now been installed, like the one already in use for the comments at Samizdata. New comments are trickling in as per usual, so there doesn't seem to be any great problem with this.

My deepest thanks to Perry de Havilland of Samizdata, and especially to the Dissident Frogman, for their prompt and excellent assistance. First, the crisis was stemmed. Then the solution was put in place which ensures that this particular crisis can't happen again.

Quite what the cultural lesson of that is, I don't know. That my bit of the culture seems to work? And maybe some random thoughts about the immense utility of random numbers, despite seeming only to be an artistic fancy when first thought about?

I'll leave it to commenters.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:14 PM
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October 29, 2003
New look

Most people wouldn't see it. But the readers of Brian's Culture Blog are an aesthetically sophisticated lot, and some at least of this elite will be asking themselves now: "Has there or has there not been some sort of a change in the way this blog now looks? I can't quite put my finger on it, but something about this place is different." Etc. etc. Quite right. Well spotted, those of you who did. Things have indeed changed here, visually.

But the content is unaltered. The only immediate practical consequence is that comments on ancient posts can now be accessed whereas before they couldn't, for some reason that I still don't understand. It is therefore more worth commenting on recent posts than it used to be, because others will be able to access your comments for ever and be amazed by them, instead of just while the post lasted on the front page.

My deepest thanks to the genius who did all this for me (and this as well don't forget). I hope some time soon to gather my thoughts on the subject of the aesthetics of blogs and to present some of them here. This is a subject concerning which I felt it improper for me to comment until now.

One opinion about aesthetics I am already sure of is that whereas I hope you like the new design, I am confident that if you don't like it but have tended to enjoy reading this stuff, you will be back, and will put up with the look. On the other hand, newcomers who love the look but don't like the content will probably not return very often, if at all.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:00 PM
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October 02, 2003
Testing testing

hahn2.jpgThis is a picture of the outstanding young violinist Hilary Hahn, partly because I think she is outstanding, but mainly because I'm trying to get text alongside a picture and not just above it or below it, and Hilary Hahn's picture seemed like a nice idea, what with her looking so good in it.

The hiatus in Hahn's website activity is presumably because she has recently switched from Sony Classical to Deutsche Grammophon, for whom she has recently recorded a CD of the two Bach violin concertos, the double violin concerto, and the violin and oboe concerto. I've not heard this, but have heard all her earlier Sony records, and all are excellent.

Michael Jennings suggested something, which eventually, after I had tried several different places to put it, worked. Definite progress. So far so good. But now I want to be able to insert a wider margin between the picture and the text at the side. Can that be done with simple html commands? Or do I have to modify the original picture and put a blank bit to the right of it? That seems rather clumsy, and surely there's a better way. And unless I am mistaken, and that's been known to happen with me and matters computational, there already a little tiny margin around the picture now. On the preview I've been looking at, the picture is a bit in from being entirely properly aligned. That's not good. That's not how pictures in blogs are supposed to be. They are supposed to be LINED UP.

Don't be surprised if this posting does strange things, like change a lot, and/or disappear. Comment if you like, but take nothing for granted.

UPDATE: Actually saying what you did, exactly, means that it is liable to happen again instead of say what you did, so I will just say that I tried what Alan said for the margin right thing, after a hiatus working out what the hell he'd said exactly, and it worked, just as I wanted it to.

For the benefit of Alice I put something along the lines of %&_)$+)marginrightoverabit^&*)andlinethepictureupontheleftyoumoronicmachine$^%&*)&*^. So try doing that.

Micklethwait's law of how hard computing is say: everything hard until you know - then everything easy.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:27 AM
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September 25, 2003
Frogmanization

See here for what's due here. And see here for what Alex Singleton thinks about it all.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:07 AM
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August 03, 2003
Family photos and a blog service warning

Real photographers set up the shots they want and get them. I just snap away, and if I snap away enough, which is mostly to do with remembering to recharge the batteries a few hours before going wherever it is – that's the key variable, I sometimes get lucky. For some reason, if you recharge a rechargeable battery and then leave it for a few days, all the electricity dribbles out of it.

Anyway, I had another trawl through my personal pix, and found these snaps of my elder brother Peter, looking very weathered and Checkovian, on Christmas Day 2001 I think it was. He's a book dealer by trade. In fact it was he who got me my copy of this book.

pete2b.jpg

That one, above, catches the kind of person I feel Peter to be, eccentric but not in any way hostile. I like that treescape in the background, which is also eccentric but not hostile. We were all indoors, but Pete was seated in front of one of those big suburban windows that stretches all across the room and backs onto a patio.

pete1b.jpg

And that one is for if Pete ever decides to polish up his piano playing and make a CD of some piano sonatas. If that sells well, I have more pictures of Pete for the covers of follow-up issues of further piano pieces.

More seriously, what a profound difference all these family snaps make to our lives! I really treasure the old black and white relics from my nineteenth century ancestors, and I have let it be known that my family may do what they like with their furniture, but that if they die and let their photo albums get trashed, I'll kill them.

I also have a few good pictures of my mother. She was very coy about it. Maybe she thought that being willing to pose nicely for photos meant that she was a show-off or something. I had to put my camera down and give her a big speech about how posterity, at any rate the bit of it that we share, was really going to want to know what she really looked like. Now, assuming that my hard disc and back-up CDs don't let me down, it will. Assuming it cares. If not, the Internet probably has some communal ancestor dump where such unappreciated treasures may be deposited.

PS: I am about to have this blog transferred from wherever it is to wherever it's going. I'm being helped, as I think you can tell. I have clever friends and all should be well, but just in case this goes blank and unobtainable, or perhaps obtainable but with no additions, for three days or so, that will be what it is. I haven't been killed by someone taking exception to my views on Modern Art, or if I have, that was pure coincidence.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:57 PM
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June 09, 2003
Weirdness

I don't know why, since I have deleted all trace of the Cool Cat below from this Blog at the input end, two identical versions of the posting seem as I write this, still to be there, at the reading end.

I think it must be my "server"? It is very slow for all the blogs based there just now. That must be something to do with it.

Don't be surprised if this posting materialises more than once also.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:51 AM
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May 13, 2003
Blogging on holiday

I can't be sure, but suspect that while I have managed to maintain volume here during the last week, I have not managed to maintain quality. There are several reasons for this. First, I have had only limited access to a computer, and to an unfamiliar one at that. Second, I have not had access to my normal diet of cultural stuff. Usually, what I attend to is the output of the cultural media: DVDs, TV programmes of various kinds, and books, including books with art-type illustrations. Here in France, I have the two or three books which I took with me, none of them very cultural, and very occasional bouts of TV that are of my hosts' choosing rather than mine, together with a determination in any case not to spend much of my time here watching TV.

My third excuse is the one that caught me by surprise, and which I have only now starting to think about. At home, internet time is fixed cost and unlimited. This means that surfing time is plentiful and ideally bloggable thoughts (i.e. thoughts provoked by reading other blogs) occur to me constantly. When they do, and if they strike me as good enough, then I am already where I need to be, at my screen. Here, blogging time is scarce, and I have either to arrive with something beforehand or else to think of something quickly when at the screen. It's not that my hosts are hovering behind me, waiting to do their scarce little burst of surfing, although there is much work that my hostess in particular is now busily ploughing through, and I must wait until that is finished for the day before I even think of taking my turn. It is simply that I no more want to spend lots of time blogging than I want to spend lots of time watching TV.

Blogging, I am finding, is an anti-social habit, at least the way I've been doing it. Michael of the 2 Blowhards (I'll do the link later) has been kind enough to say of me that I do a great deal of blogging. Well, I've failed utterly to contribute anything to Samizdata. My one posting to that had to take the form of an email, and that either didn't get through or was considered unworthy. And my stuff here and at my other place (link, see above) has been very average in quality, I fear.

I've also (see my other place) been watching motherhood at close quarters, and have been witnessing for myself that combining motherhood with getting anything much else done is a herculean task. Tomorrow I return home with a much enhanced feeling of respect for Natalie Solent and for Alice Bachini. I understand that Natalie has recently earned plaudits from no less a personage than Mark Steyn, and Alice's stuff I've always loved.

They do motherhood and blogging. All I've been doing is taking a holiday and blogging. They make their blogging work. All I could manage was to wait until I get home.

Still, I do have some pretty pictures from my travels, and maybe I'll show you some of them when I get home. Maybe, more to the point, I'll get back home and resume doing this stuff, approximately speaking, properly.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 08:49 PM
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May 08, 2003
Blogging battles in foreign parts

I am fighting with an alien computer just now, and I have put a posting up here which I intended only for my education blog, and it still seems to be here despite all my frenzied efforts to delete it. So if the entry below this one is about my goddaughter's school, please ignore it. If, on the other hand it is about architectural modernism, that's correct, and in that case, ignore this entry.

The basic problem is these damned little pads which laptops have, instead of mice as nature intended.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 08:19 PM
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April 18, 2003
I am out to dinner

... and I won't get home before midnight, so this is me doing today's post, about I don't yet know what. I have acquired a rich treasure trove of information for my Education Blog (sorry can't manage links because I'm out to supper and don't have blah blah blah) but nothing especially cultural. So, this posting is about nothing at all. Goodnight for now, and I'll get back to you when I have something to say.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:32 PM
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April 15, 2003
Changes warning!

If you get some strange experiences today, with this blog doing a succession of strange alterations, do not be amazed. I am trying to achieve some changes, and that means it's working.

As a result of my consultations today, I may get a posting about the aesthetics of blogs. This one is a muddle, especially the archives, and I hope that this will be corrected Real Soon Now.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:54 PM
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April 05, 2003
New rule: at least one posting here per day

I've decided to try an experiment. As of today, I'm going to start posting something on Brian's Culture Blog every day.

All the talk amongst my blogging friends is of how they don't want to get burned out and blogged out and exhausted and depressed, and of how necessary it is for them to take a week or two off from blogging from time to time. But I've been asking myself which depresses me more: Having to put something up every week day (the rule I've set myself and so far stuck to over at my Education Blog)? Or: My infinite powers of procrastination here, which result in nothing going up here at all for days and days? No contest. It's the total absence of any posting rule here that has failed, while the one-per-week-day rule at BEdBlog has worked well. This is where I have temporarily become blogged out, not there. To be sure, there have been days when rather feeble posts have been stuck up on BEdBlog ten minutes before midnight. But often quite good posts have been stuck up there, ten minutes before midnight, and now I'm going to try the same thing here.

Be warned though. I am liable to allow myself seriously feeble postings here, rather than merely the rather perfunctory ones I sometimes commit over at BEdBlog. To put it another way, Brian's Culture Blog is liable, on some days, to resemble the kind of blog that this brilliantly funny blog (count the comments) is extracting the piss from, only for real.

The only other caveat is that this rule is not set in concrete the way the BEdBlog rule is. Or if it is set in concrete, it's in the rather crumbly, cheesy concrete that Russian communism was made out of.

So. Some culture. I am now listening to Brahms' Violin Concerto, played by Gil Shaham, accompanied by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Claudio Abbado (DGG full price). It is very nice. It is all the nicer for me having got it at half price at my favourite second hand classical CD shop, Gramex in Lower Marsh, just the other side of Waterloo station. Strange how cheap potent music is.

There. You see. Dead profound. It's working already.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:44 PM
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March 08, 2003
Wanted: a Movable Type blogeek

… And talking about blogging-about-blogging - see immediately below - I am aware that the aesthetic appearance of this blog is a shambles, as is that of my other one. This is a particular embarrassment when you consider that design is one of the things I'm most interested in writing about here. I am sorely tempted to just write out a big cheque to Sekimori, who did the Samizdata redesign when it moved to MT, and have them fix everything up looking pretty. But a lot of work would be involved in telling Sekimori what exactly I wanted, because I don't yet know that properly.

I use Movable Type simply because Samizdata does, and that's how I got started with blogging. So what I want is an MT geek who lives in London who can sit down alongside me at my computer and sort it all out with me. That way, I can work it out as we go along.

(By the way, this is the sort of reason why work will never be done entirely in people's separate homes or offices by the seaside. The very thing, new technology, which is supposed to be the means of making all work into work-at-a-distance is one of the biggest reasons why we will still want a lot of our work not to be work-at-a-distance. Making technology work better, in new and at first unfamiliar waqys, is what modern work is now, pretty much. And you can't do that without regular hands-on meetings.)

Anyway, how would this magical non-worker-at-a-distance be paid? Well, ideally, he would be so pathetically grateful for all the gratitude I would pour all over him – here, at my education blog, and at Samizdata (which has a hit rate of about 2,000 per day and rising) – that he'd be willing to pay for the privilege of helping me, and displaying his logo on my blogs. (He's the kind of person who knows how to display logos.) But I realise that this may be too much to ask, so I would certainly be willing to talk money of the sort that would flow in his direction. About the same amount in total as Sekimori would cost - a couple of hundred quid? - but with extra face-to-face service added.

I already know people who can do this kind of thing for me. And they do, occasionally. But they are too busy doing other things, like earning a living, blogging for themselves, or disappearing for long periods to non-London places, which is no good at all. I need someone who lives in or near London and who can be summoned at a few days notice. I need someone who needs to get out more, not someone who already does get out.

Here is something that might encourage such a blogeek to present himself to me. I don't want to spill any secrets here, but let me just say that I have intelligent friends who are now talking around the matter of how to make proper money out of blogging. So, target blogeek, think of helping me - for some money but not for much - as a career move.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:38 PM
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March 07, 2003
Rachel Lucas on the Silent Reader and Adam Reed blogging about blogging

If you want to know what my attitude is to posting things here on Brian's Culture Blog, then have a read of this piece by the now rested Rachel Lucas. Her attitude to what to post and when to post is pretty much mine, although days with five rants will be rare here. The equivalent in my case seems now to be very long meandering pieces with very long meandering titles – three proper postings in one, you could say.

Rachel Lucas is particularly good on the "silent reader" phenomenon. The Silent Reader reads, doesn't comment, doesn't email, probably doesn't have his or her own blog, but just has a chuckle or a think, and then gets on with regular life. The (non- because now I'm telling you) secret of blogging, I'm convinced, is to have an imaginary Silent Reader for whom you write, and not to be put off by commenters who to begin with may not be at all what you have in mind. Then what happens is that Silent Readers do in due course assemble who are just like your imaginary Silent Reader, only for real.

A few days or weeks ago, I promised myself that I would ease off on the blogging-about-blogging stuff here, and concentrate on Art, Architecture, Music, etc. Blogging is part of culture, and this is supposed to be my most self-indulgent and anti-anal-retentive blog operation, but I didn't want blogging-about-blogging to get out of control.

But then Adam Reed, an academic who is going around interviewing bloggers, got in touch again, and we had another conversation in which he focussed especially on the exact sort of stuff that I'd been promising myself to write less of. So there you go. As Rachel Lucas says, just put what you want, and people who are interested in that will be interested. That way you'll be content, and will keep going contentedly.

None of the above applies to my Education Blog, where the rule of me having to put something up every week day is working out, so far, really rather well. A little something every day fits in well with education, I find. (That is how to teach maths to children, for example.) My Silent Reader over there likes this rule also.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:40 PM
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February 24, 2003
Big ideas and how to have them – target readers – and the silliness of the sound in Star Wars

Reading this piece by Alice today (the archiving is up the spout, so just go there and scroll down) has only made me that bit more confused, because everything she says about the wisdom of having long term goals and hanging on to them is true, but I'm still struggling to clarify the long terms goals I have for Brian's Culture Blog. Alice told me yesterday that she thought that as soon as this blog was going, it would just pour out like something horrible from the rear end of an unkindly fed farm animal (not her words but that was the thrust). Yet it hasn't happened. Maybe this is the turning point. Don't know. What am I trying to achieve here? Okay so I know about Mies van der Rohe (see below). But who else cares that I know and what I know about such persons? What am I trying to do?

Is it spreading libertarianism by proving that we libertarians are dead cultural really, and don't only like Star Wars and heavy metal? But the more I think about this, the less I care about it. It really doesn't matter if libertarians only like Star Wars. What matters is whether they (we – and that might be a clue, that I put they instead of we) are right about how the world should be.

So is it me trying to prove that I like other things besides Star Wars? Actually I don't much like Star Wars at all, any more. I find now that I can't allow myself to get excited about movies where sound is portrayed as travelling through a vacuum. The people who made these movies (or the people who told George Lucas how he was going to have to make these movies, or whatever) were not, when they started out, being serious. It's one thing to get something wrong because you forgot it, or didn't realise that people in those days never wore clothes like that, or that the date of that was whatever it was rather than what you said. It's quite another to get it wrong on purpose, and not care, the way they did with all the noises in Star Wars. But so what? Who cares what I think of Star Wars? Why on earth do I think it matters?

One thing I do know is that it's not me in general, because I in general am writing all kinds of things for other blogs, even as I still struggle with this one.

Tip for writers, which I am now trying to apply to myself. When you are suffering from writers block, which in a moderate form is what is afflicting me here. Try to get it clearer in your mind who you are writing for, and what you are trying to say to them. For example, when I was only writing pamphlets for the Libertarian Alliance, I would often get this wrong to start with, and find that I couldn't write whatever it was. Then I would refocus on my audience, and restate to myself what I wanted to say to these particular people, and when that was done, suddenly out it would all come, and the job would have its back broken in about an hour and a half.

It often helps, when writing something, to actually put at the very start who you have in mind as your target readership. If you are writing for hardcore libertarians, and trying to say something to them, then put that. If, on the other hand, you are aiming the piece at the "intelligent layman", again, put it, and if the hardcores get bored with all the obvious things you are saying to these uninitiates, tough, you've already dealt with that. Once you've put that, you can then get on with writing for the people you are writing for.

But who are my target readers here? I don't yet have it clear in my mind.

Maybe I'm the target reader. Maybe that's the obvious point I'm missing here. Maybe all I really want is a diary that I can read in ten years time, to tell me what I was thinking about just now, and to hell with the rest of you people. Maybe that's the story here.

Final thought. I recently read what I thought was a very good book about How To Have Ideas (called, if I remember it rightly: How To Have Ideas – something along those lines anyway). It said that you have ideas by first doing lots of good but open-minded thinking, where you struggle as best you can to lay out the problem, and to hurl as many notions down on the table that might be steps towards an answer.

Then, and this was the intriguing bit, you forget about it. You think about it, then forget, and do something else. And then, in its own seet time, the answer to what you were previously agonising about presents itself to you.

I'm still at the hurling of ideas onto the table stage with this blog. And maybe that's what I should do for the next few weeks, just fling postings up here, written in all kinds of different modes and aimed at all kinds of different fantasy target audiences, until suddenly – ping!!! – I get it clear what I'm doing.

Anyway, enough for now. That may or may not have helped, but the How To Have Ideas book said that at this stage in the process, all ideas are okay, however confused or however seemingly wrong.

I've just read the first comment from "emma" on Alice's piece, and she says more pithily something a lot like what I've just said.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:44 PM
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February 05, 2003
Another picture

Bear with me. I'm just checking that I (approximately) know how to do this picture stuff.

usaflags.jpg

So far so good.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 06:57 PM
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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 clichι, 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
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January 03, 2003
Lift off? - I hope so

After much to-ing and fro-ing it looks as if BRIAN's Culture Blog is finally arriving at lift-off.

As is usual with me starting a blog (see my early mumblings for my Education Blog) my early postings will be no more than throat clearing, establishing the channel of communication, achieving a degree of rapport - but without saying anything much. I'll be checking that it works, that the comments work, that I know how to delete things, add things, edit things, and other whatnottery.

But don't worry. There'll be plenty of Grand Cultural Pronouncements in the days, weeks, months and years to come.

One thing you must understand though. My samizdata duties are just that, duties. And I am putting stuff up on my Education Blog on every week day, and not infrequently at the weekend also. But this thing will be added to only when the mood strikes. It will be up to me and the other BCBlog regulars to alert the blogosphere in general to any flashes of brilliance, as and when they strike, if any of us thinks it has, given that a large number of regulars seems an unlikely result of my creative attitude.

Which is not to say that I won't post lots of stuff day after day, merely that if I do that will be me being whimsically productive, not dutifully productive.

Well, that will do for now. As I said, just clearing the throat really.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:14 AM
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