Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
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Category archive: Books
Incoming from Simon Rose, entitled “End of the World not happening tomorrow”.
What this means is that the End of the World CLUB MEETING is not happening tomorrow, because of a double booking mix-up of some sort. But for a moment there, I was wondering what mad prophecy Simon was taking it upon himself to contradict.
The End of the World Club is an up-market version of my Last Friday meetings. Despite its rather grumpy old man title, these meetings are very good, with excellent speakers. For instance there was that fascinating talk by someone who had lived through the Zimbabwe inflation.
And, I first came across Dominic Frisby when he addressed the EotW Club, about this book. Ever since Frisby spoke at my home, about his next book I have been hearing his voice on television, what with me being fond of TV documentaries. Here (click on that only if you want to hear noise at once) is what he sounds like. More Frisby audio info here.
Email me if you want to know more about these EotW meetings, and I’ll put you in touch with Simon Rose.
If the world ever does end, I want Frisby doing the voice overing for it.
I will, I am now sure (although I actually promise nothing), be writing more in connection with the talk that Christian Michel has just given at my home, but as of right now, I am too tired to do it anything like justice. All I will say about it now is that it was superb. (Read his sales pitch for the talk in this earlier posting here.)
But two bits of trivia about the evening occur to me to mention, both so trivial that I don’t have to have all my wits about me to mention them.
First, I made a particular resolution not just to provide satisfactory snacks to my guests but to actually open the packets of the snacks and putting the snacks in plates. In the past, I have found myself burdened, once my guests have departed, with unopened packets of party food. My surmise is that this is not because nobody wanted to eat any of these snacks. No, the problem is that people don’t like to open food packets, because that feels, and worse, may appear greedy. It’s like they want to eat all of them. Or maybe, that they are reluctant to open a new packet when they only want one of them. But, faced with a plate of biscuits or a big bowl of crisps, they will not hesitate to partake, if so inclined. It’s a little thing, but this worked well, I think.
And second, as usual, the exactly right number of people showed up. How do they know to do this? Last time around I was afraid that there would be too many. This time, for various reasons involving several semi-regulars happening to have other things on such as wedding anniversaries, I feared there might be too few. In the event, the number of attenders, both last time and this time was pretty much identical and just right. It always is. A Samizdata commenter, commenting on something I wrote there about this odd phenomenon, said that there is an explanation of it in this book, which I’m pretty sure I already possess. I must track it down. With luck, this posting will remind me to do this instead of forgetting about it.
I have plenty more to say about Alex’s PR Masterclass, and may even get around to saying it, Real Soon Now. Meanwhile, here is my favourite snap that I snapped at the launch of the book last night, at the office of Adam Smith Institute:
If you hold a book launch for a book called “PR Masterclass”, that launch had better be packed out, or you look like a prune.
It was. He didn’t.
As my talk deadline (tomorrow evening) approaches, further insights keep rearranging themselves in my brain.
Not long ago, I read Alex Singleton’s new book (he will be speaking at my home on Friday 31st of this month) about how to do P(ublic) R(elations). (Not so long before reading that book, I read another book in which PR meant, throughout, P(hoto) R(econnaissance). How the world keeps changing (see below).)
I don’t recall any of the facts in this book of Alex’s about how to do PR being any sort of shattering revelation. Rather was the book a relentless drip-drip-drip of what is called “commonsense”, that is, of facts which might well be true, which would make sense if true, and which are, in the opinion of one who knows, actually true, as opposed to some other equally commonsensical notions about these or those circumstances, which, in the opinion of the same expert, are not true. Yet Alex telling me all the things he knows about how to do PR hardly begins to turn me into a PR expert, even though I am now at least passingly acquainted with every important principle, or even fact, that he has gathered up during his PR-ing over the last few years, and furthermore now know (or think I know) where to look to reacquaint myself with all these facts.
What distinguishes Alex from me as a PR-er is that he not only has his facts right, but that he also has them, as the saying goes, “at his fingertips”. That is, he knows how to deploy the pertinent fact at the pertinent time, again and again. He makes connections between his facts, and knows, from experience, which fact matters at which particular moment. He has his facts properly arranged and cross-referenced, inside his head. He knows his way around his facts. All I have is an ill-remembered list of facts.
Trying to “make sense” (as I now am) of digital photography is like that. I already know everything about digital photography that I need to know, pretty much, as (I’m guessing) do you. The problem is making sense of what I know, of putting it all together and relating this fact to that fact, in a way that is slightly interesting and surprising, yet also true.
I now find myself thinking about digital photography as part of that wider historical change known by labels like: the Information Revolution. The Information Revolution kicked off, I would say, on May 11th 1844, when the first message between two different cities (Washington and Baltimore) was sent by electric telegraph. It is intrinsic to digital photography that it is photography that can be communicated.
The effect of the Information Revolution has been to unleash a succession of changes in the texture of everyday life, with each successive decade being defined by whatever stage the Information Revolution happened to have arrived at at that particular passing moment. Photography is both an example of such a change, and the means of recording and remembering and celebrating such changes. Photography remembers things like tablets and iPhones, just as in earlier times it remembered and still remembers big mobile phones, antique microphones, dance crazes, the social structure of successive pop combos, fashions in costume and make-up, and so forth and so on. (Photography also remembers successive iterations of the Industrial Revolution, like trains, cars, airplanes and wars.)
Photography remembers, among many other things, itself. Digital photography remembers, among even more other things, itself.
I’m reading Boris Johnson’s book about London. It’s good fun. I don’t know how much Boris is to be trusted about things like historical facts, but I doubt it is that bad, even though he is a politician.
The thing is, for years I’ve been looking for a brief history of London, but all the others seem to be too long, and too solemn, or worse, they exude literary pretension. I think I own this book, but have never been inclined to read it.
I’ve just finished the Chaucer chapter. I hadn’t realised quite what a swell Chaucer was. Him writing in English was a rather generous - or maybe rather patronising - gesture from a man whose first language was Norman French. It was during his lifetime that English supplanted French as England’s language. Johnson mentions the Black Death, of course, but not one of my pet theories about the Black Death, which is that the Black Death actually helped to cause English to take over, by killing half the royal administrators, who then had all to be replaced, because clearly the bureaucracy couldn’t get any smaller. That would be against the laws of everything. So, what remained of the teaching profession was sucked into the bureaucracy. At which point the English turned to home education. Guess in which language. But I digress.
I am greatly looking forward to reading about the time of the English Civil War, and then the stuff about John Wilkes, who is someone I keep hearing about but have never really got to grips with. I anticipate a good, quick, potted biography. I am expecting the arguments swirling around Wilkes to be a bit like those that now rage around the figure of Edward Snowden.
The book passes my basic test, which is that having started it, I find that I want to finish it. I am reading the book, despite merely needing to read other books.
In the shop (a remainder shop), I read the beginnings of the chapter on Shakespeare, and bought it on the strength of that. You can buy it for £2.82.
For about one second this posting appeared here. But then I realised it could just as well go there. So, there it went.
Now on display in the window of a local Oxfam shop, the one in Strutton Ground:
Here it is on Amazon.
(Further Amazon thoughts from me here. The weird thing about Amazon is that it seems, still, to be a hangover from the dot com boom bust era. It doesn’t make a profit, but still people want to own its shares. Explanations anyone?)
But back to the latest England Ashes tour, which has become another very tough one. Day One at Melbourne was hard going for England, not at all like their previous Day One at Melbourne. And you can bet Clarke remembered that day when he put England in this time around. This time over, he wanted to knock England over for something like 98, and end the day with Australia on something like 157-0. At least England escaped that. They didn’t do terribly badly, just not terribly well. All the England top five got starts. Only Pietersen got past 50. It won’t be enough. Australia will surely score quicker, get a lead, and win well, again.
Australia aren’t especially good, and England aren’t especially bad. But Australia are now definitely better in all departments, and with no interruptions or fluctuations caused by the weather like in England, they just keep on winning and England keep on losing, not just every match but pretty much every session. Oh well. Only a game.
England’s problem now is that the formerly great oldies (Cook, Pietersen, Bell, Anderson), are not yet bad enough to drop, and the newbies are not yet good enough. But, if they don’t drop the oldies, the newbies will never get good.
I am, as noted in the previous posting, reading Deidre McCloskey’s Bourgeois Dignity. At the join between page 350 and page 351, I learn this:
The second sons of British aristocrats, such as Richard Howe, had long joined even the technically demanding and bourgeois navy. They stood on the quarterdecks facing enemy fire, as aristocrats should, but their fellow offers were the sons of lawyers or of clergymen (such as Sir Frances William Austen, Admiral of the Fleet in 1863 and Jane Austen’s brother; and Sir Charles Austen, another brother and another admiral).
I did not know this, that is to say, I did not know (in particular) the bit in the brackets. That explains a great deal about the novel Persuasion, in which the best men are navy men, and the biggest arse is an aristocrat.
Jane Austen’s books are popular because, despite the way they look on television, they are precisely not unthinking celebrations of aristocratic privilege and excellence. Upwardly mobile traders are accorded dignity, and aristocrats who despise tradesmen for trading are in their turn despised by Jane Austen. Yes, Mr Darcy owns half a county, and Elizabeth Bennet falls for him when she first sets eyes on his gigantic stately home. But his aunt, Lady Catherine de Burgh, who despises Elizabeth for being related to tradespeople, is another pompous aristocratic arse (of the female sort), bested at the end by bourgeois Elizabeth Bennet.
By the way, McCloskey is a cricket fan.
Is this book … :
… the same book as this book?:
It turns out that they are the same book. Hannan:
But, are they precisely the same? I mean: same intro? Same preface? Any other small tinkerings? If the Yanks (maybe the Brits?) changed the damn title, what the hell else did they change?
I find this kind of thing intensely annoying. The whole point of reading something like a book, or watching something like a movie, is that you read (or watch) precisely the same object as everybody else. (This being one reason why I so particularly resent censorship. It prevents me, again and again, from seeing what others elsewhere are seeing.)
The best you can say about this muddle is that at least this/these book/books seem to be coming out at approximately the same time.
How we invented Freedom is nevertheless in the post.
I enjoyed reading this review of McBride’s book, by Guido, not least because it is a reminder of how capably Guido can do posh. His blog is deliberately tabloid, and he greatly admires the tabloid style. But, as I learned when he was still at the stage of occasionally contributing stuff to the Libertarian Alliance, way back when, this is not the only style he can do.
I just did a bit of searching for LA stuff he had written, and found my way to this (scroll down to page 8), from the turn of the century. It’s about how he wants to switch to a kinder, gentler libertarianism.
Does this photo tell us the direction the Great Climate Debate is going? I took it in Foyles, underneath the Royal Festival Hall, London, on September 2nd:
I put this up to entertain you, and also so that I can send a short email to Bishop Hill about it, rather than a long and annoying one. Because I’m guessing it might interest him.
The Bishop’s (as of now) latest posting concerns an article written by some academic CAGWers (CAGW = Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming), about how they can defeat their ever more annoying and persuasive “denier” enemies?
The answer to this conundrum is - you will never believe it - to be found in the realms of communication. Although Garud and his colleagues note that some observers think that communication is not enough, and point to such initiatives as the Climate Science Rapid Response Team (seriously!) that are already in place, they suggest that something called a ‘narrative approach’ might also be a part of the solution.
But that, as the Bishop well knows but Garud et al do not, is no solution to the problem the CAGWers have. The “narrative approach” is their problem. What the CAGWers have been doing is spinning a narrative and calling it science for the last quarter of a century and more, and now this narrative is unravelling, thanks to the efforts of people like Bishop Hill. This latest plan is for them to stop pretending that they aren’t doing this. That can’t work.
If the anti-CAGWers had relied on books like Michael Crichton’s State of Fear, which is one of the books in the above photo, to carry the main weight of their arguments, they’d have been utterly crushed.
LATER: Bishop Hill has linked to this, and there are comments there too.
Yes, there’s an amazing post, with an abundance of amazing photos, at the amazing Dark Roasted Blend, entitled Huge Semi-Submersible Ships. These ships are carrying loads so huge that most of the ships doing the carrying, while they’re doing it, are under water.
Why not? It’s like these ships are half ships, and half submarines. They never go completely under water. The conning tower, so to speak, where the crew does its job, remains permanently above water. But the rest of the ship is mostly under water, when doing its job, and utterly waterproofed against any waves that might go over the top of the tiny horizontal slice of ship that still remains above water.
That’s the USS Cole, damaged, being brought home for mending.
I am having a big ship phase, brought on by reading that book about shipping containers.
This is a short posting, just to make a note of some links that I have acquired, to things about Emmanuel Todd. Microsoft is in the habit of shutting down my computer without warning, and I don’t want to have to go hunting for them again.
Here is a review of a new book about America called America 3.0 (which I already have on order from Amazon), by James Bennet and Michael Lotus. This book includes some of Todd’s ideas about family structure by way of explaining why the America of the near future will be particularly well suited to the free-wheeling individualism of the next few years of economic history.
In this review, T Greer says:
I was delighted to find that much of this analysis rests of the work of the French anthropologist Emmanuel Todd. I came across Mr. Todd’s work a few months ago, and concluded immediately that he is the most under-rated “big idea” thinker in the field of world history.
Greer also makes use of this map, which first appeared in this New York Times article:
Slowly, very slowly, Emmanuel Todd is starting to be noticed in the English speaking world.
Bookshops are doomed, if my behaviour is anything to go by.
I treat them not as shops, but as showrooms. In them, I inspect potential purchases. Then I go home and see what Amazon will charge for anything I see that looks interesting.
A bookshop is not the only place for me to look for books of interest, but it is definitely one such place. The books in bookshops tend to be the more popular titles. This appeals to me for two reasons. First, popular titles tend to be quite good, and are seldom totally bad. Second, popular titles plug me into what the rest of middlebrow England is reading. I thus break out of the libertarian ghetto which I mostly inhabit when internetting. Even if a book is total rubbish, it’s still total rubbish that many are reading, and in that sense worth me reading.
When in bookshops, I used to jot down titles of interest. Now I merely take photos. Digital cameras are not just for taking pictures. They are also for taking notes.
Here are last Sunday evening’s notes, snapped in the big W. H. Smith at Victoria Station:
In each case, click on each picture to get to the Amazon spiel about it.
It may well be that, given Buy 1 Get 1 Half Price offers, one could, in this or that instance, get a better deal for this or that combination of books than one might on Amazon. But Amazon is the way to bet. You occasionally miss out on small savings with Amazon, but you quite often get larger savings, so you end up well ahead. In this case, the big Amazon bargain turned out to be the Bryson book, which cost 1p plus postage (= £2.81). All that is required is a little patience.
The most expensive of these books, even after Amazon had worked its price magic, was the one about 1216. But I still ordered that one. It sounds really interesting.
Great as the impact of Amazon has been on the new books market, I surmise that its impact on the not-so-new book market has been downright epoch-making. (That Bryson book is not so new, having been released in 2011.) Indeed, I surmise that Amazon has created a huge second hand book market where no such market previously existed.
But this too impinges on the bookshop business, because the big cost of books these days is as much reading time as reading money. If people spend time reading somewhat ancient books that they like, they have less time for the latest titles, as sold in bookshops.
A few years back, I got interested in Ian Rankin’s Rebus books. I read one, liked it a lot, and decided to read them all, in order. Why? Because, thanks to Amazon, I could. For a lot less than a fiver a go, I got Amazon to send me second hand copies of every Rebus I didn’t already have. I don’t see how I could have done this satisfactorily without Amazon.
See also: public libraries.
Also, impact of digital photography on trade, discuss. I’m thinking of how much easier it is to sell something to a stranger, by post, if you can cheaply show them a photo, or even several photos. Very cheaply. The marginal cost of digital photography is: zero. Impact of digital photography on trade: epoch-making. With books, you pretty much know what you will get. But, a frock? An item of furniture? Without even a photo, forget it. With photos, you’re in business. Which is more terrible news for shops.
As has already been reported here, I have been reading Pride and Prejudice on my Google Nexus 4 ultra-mobile computer-with-phone. And, in Chapter X of this book, I read this:
My highlighted version of that last sentence being:
“As for your Elizabeth’s picture, you must not attempt to have it taken, for what painter could do justice to those beautiful eyes?”
So, in Jane Austen time, painters “took” pictures.
I thought that was only photographers. There does seem, does there not?, to be something peculiarly apt about a photographer “taking” a picture. After all, you could only “take” a picture with one click of a mechanical button, as I just did of my Google Nexus 4 with my Panasonic Lumix FZ150, if the picture was in some basic sense already there for the taking, in its entirety. “Take” gets across the difference between photoing someone and painting a portrait of them, by which I mean “making” a portrait.
Perhaps this “take” usage, to describe portrait painting, declined when the painters stopped claiming to produce what we now call photographic likenesses, and, under the competitive influence of actual photography, began to “make” pictures of people, the whole point of and the whole justification of which was that a mere camera could absolutely not “take” such pictures. Such paintings are made, not taken. To accuse a painter of “taking” a picture would be to accuse him of adding nothing.