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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Category archive: The internet

Thursday February 11 2016

C’est Magnifique:

image

Paris has been casting about for exciting new buildings.  That one was rejected, but le www can soon put that right.

After a long period of imposed timidity, the architecture of Paris is coming back to life.

That modern house perched on the top is inspired.

It’s London envy, I think.  All those French people under thirty who can only find work in London, going to London, and then reporting back that (a) London is cool, and that (b) a lot of this is down to its recent Big Things.  So, make some Grand Choses for Paris.

My theory of why it was turned down.  That what this wondrous Chose proves is that if people were allowed to do exactly what they like, in cities like Paris, it would be magnifique.  To put it another way, this wondrous thing makes planners feel unnecessary, and they really don’t like that.

It is strangely lacking in colour, but again, this is easily correctable.  Perhaps the monochromeness of it all is to make the architects feel more necessary.

Saturday February 06 2016

Today I have been what passes with me for busy.  By this I do not mean that I have been doing anything along the lines of work, of benefit to others.  Oh no.  But I have been paying attention to a succession of things, all of which involved me not being in much of a state to do anything else.

There was a game of cricket, there was a game of rugger, and a game of football.  England defeated South Africa.  England defeated Scotland.  And Spurs defeated Watford.  So, three for three. And then I went to hear a talk at Christian Michel’s, about The Unconscious, Freudian and post-Freudian.  Freud, it turns out, was right that there is an Unconscious, but wrong about a lot of the details.

On my way home from that talk, I took a photo.  Technically it was very bad photo, because it was taken through the window of a moving tube train.  It is of an advert at a tube station.  But my photo did the job, which was to immortalise here yet another assemblage of London’s Big Things, in an advert:

image

That’s only a bit of the picture, rotated a bit, lightened and contrasted a bit and sharpened a bit.

The advert was for these visitor centres, which sound suspiciously like what used to be called “information desks”.

I see: the Cheesegrater, the Wheel, the BT Tower, Big Ben, the cable car river crossing, the Gherkin, Tower Bridge, the Shard, St Paul’s, and the pointy-topped Canary Wharf tower.  I forgive TfL for plugging the embarrassing Emirates Dangleway.  If they didn’t recommend it, who would?

Because of all that busy-ness, I have no time to put anything else here today.

Tomorrow: Super Bowl!

LATER: AB de Villiers, talking about South Africa now being two down with three to play:

“I can’t help but think, shit we have got to win three games in a row to win this series. Shucks, I mean. But that’s the fact of the matter. In situations like this, whether you are 2-nil up or 2-nil down, you have to take a small step. The next game is important for us. Shucks.”

We all know what shit is, but now learn what a shuck is.

Monday February 01 2016

Last Friday evening, at that meeting, I talked with Perry de Havilland about writing for Samizdata.  I told him that I have recently been taking longer to finish my postings, to get them nearer to completely right.  He compared blogging to rock ‘n’ roll.  The clear implication being that blogging, like rock ‘n’ roll, is most truly itself when done, so to speak, live.

Each to his own.  I now find that one of the symptoms of advancing years is that I am no longer as confident as I once was about the first thing that comes out of my mouth, or about what emerges from my tapping fingers.  I prefer to have several reads-through of it, with gaps of time between them to think more.

My two most recent Samizdata postings are results of this more considered manner of writing.  They may not seem so to readers.  But they are much better than they would have been without any polishing.

Such polishing is not new, for me.  I used to do it to stuff I wrote for the Libertarian Alliance.  Stuff like this piece, which Patrick Crozier kindly linked back to, in one of the comments on the first of those two recent Samizdata pieces.  As Patrick said, what that earlier piece said was very similar to what the Samizdata piece said.  Appropriately enough, both pieces (separated by a quarter of century) were about how reluctant people are to change the basic way that they think about things.

Then as now, such polishing did not make my writing perfect.  But it did make it quite a lot better.

Well, now, I seem to be reverting to writing more considered and revised essays, short or not so short, rather than “blog postings”.  Rock ‘n’ roll is a young man’s game, and I do not feel comfortable writing in that manner.  I used to.  If Perry de Havilland still does (and he does), I am very happy for him.  But it seems now not to suit me so much.

However, I do actually think that rock ‘n’ roll is now less appropriate.  The novelty of just anyone being able to shovel stuff onto the internet has now passed.  The mainstream media have now thoroughly internetted themselves, and the “any old stuff” approach (such as prevails here) does not get a blog like Samizdata the traffic that it used to get.  I think that some of us at least should be polishing.  More and more, my role model is becoming the late Findlay Dunachie.  Not in the sense that I intend only to review books from now on.  I mean that I find myself wanting to write more in the way he wrote, more thoughtfully, in a way that is more considered.

I am not now deciding to write differently.  (I promise nothing.) I am merely noting that this is what seems now to be happening.  An earlier stage in the change of attitude I am describing was earlier described in this posting here.

By which I mean, what seems to be happening at Samizdata.  Here will continue to be the impulsive, sloppy, last minute, thinking aloud, what you get is what you get operation that it has always been.  I did a little polishing of this piece, but not a lot.

Friday January 22 2016

You often hear people talking about how buildings which are a lot taller than they are thick are really just penis substitutes.  This advert, which I snapped on the tube earlier this month, makes the connection explicit:

image

Want to know more?  Here.

I have noticed that the junk email I get, and the adverts that interrupt my internet browsing, seem sometimes to be related to stuff I have posted here.  So, I may regret this posting.

Saturday January 16 2016

Given that I am not actually seeing any visuals on a screen, sleeping through the decisive passage of play of the latest test match in South Africa only made it more dramatic.

There I was, making sure I was awake and able to start the recording of Record (as they have now gone back to calling it (it had been CD)) Review, and then getting up for a piss and a cool down before getting back to bed again for a bit of a lie in, by which time England were all out 323, with a first innings lead of 10.  Before dozing off, I learned that Sinopoli’s Cavalleria Rusticana was the winning Cavalleria Rusticana in a strong field, and then I surfaced again and was informed by my other bedside radio that South Africa had lost no wickets in reply and were ahead at lunch, and then I dozed off again, and then got up properly ... to learn from my computer that South Africa were 44-5, oh no make that 45-6, correction 46-7.  Game over.

image

That pic is the last one of these.

A lot of cricket photos these days, including most of this lot, seem to be, not of cricketers doing great things, but of cricketers celebrating having just done them.  The pictures of Moeen Ali’s broken bat are also fun, but again, what you really want to see is the moment when it broke.  The above photo is a refreshing exception.  It shows Broad actually taking the final wicket of the South African innings, with a diving caught and bowled.

LATER:

image

One of the pictures in this.

Sunday January 10 2016

For the purposes of this posting, bike fishing means fishing for bikes.  Not: fishing while on a bike.

As already noted here before Christmas, Amusing Planet has become a regular internet spot for me.  I especially liked this report, complete with photos like this:

image

Favourite line in the report:

Bike fishing has become one of Amsterdam’s unique tourist attraction.

My immediate reaction was: So, anyone can do it?  Do you need a license?  But what they really mean, presumably, is just standing there and watching while somebody else does the bike fishing.

A bike fishing competition might be really something.  And it still might be if it was fishing while on a bike.

Other recent favourite Amusing Planet posting: The Lady of the North.

Wednesday December 23 2015

I love these modernist sand castles by Calvin Seibert, featured today at the blog of Mick Hartley (to whom thanks).  Hartley picks out five of them for his blog.  I pick out another for mine:

image

Many more here, as Hartley adds, at Calvin Seibert’s My “Sand Castles” Flickr site.

Here, I think we can say with confidence, is another impact of digital photography.  Seibert doesn’t say in his short introductory spiel (click on “show more") how important digital photography is in preserving something of these castles before the incoming tide or human destructiveness or accident claims them.  But it obviously is.  Would he have developed this way of sculpting, if he had had no convenient way of recording it?

And my other thought is that the website where Hartley learned about these castles, which is called Amusing Planet and which I had not previously heard of, will be well worth making regular visits to.  It says in this post that Amusing Planet has now been in action for nearly eight years.  I must have been there before.  But, I didn’t pay any attention to the surroundings of whatever posting I was looking at.  I should have.

Tuesday December 22 2015

At that excellent party last night, the one that gave rise to last night’s spectacular non sequitur of a posting, Rob Fisher mentioned that he had thoughts from time to time which are too inconsequential and un-thought-through for Samizdata, but which are still definitely thoughts that he wants to put out there, but for which he has no outlet.  He used to have a personal blog, but not since he started writing for Samizdata.

My response was this: Write these thoughts down.  Send them to BrianMicklethwaitDotCom, explicitly identifying them as submissions to BrianMicklethwaitDotCom.  And the chances, overwhelmingly, are that I will post them here as guest postings.  After all, as last night’s spectacular non sequitur of a posting illustrates, the quality control here is very, very relaxed.  Sometimes stuff here is good, but it absolutely doesn’t have to be.  It just has to be stuff.

I just wanted to make that clear, in case Rob has forgotten, or has remembered but thought that I was just rambling drunkenly and didn’t mean it.

This is not a general invitation to all of my acquaintances to bombard me with drunken would-be bloggage.  And it is certainly not an invitation to wanker social media PR slaves to “submit” boring pieces about things I don’t care about by people I don’t care about, sometimes hinting at money that I will never get, and causing my email address to get onto yet more lists, wielded by yet more wanker social media PR slaves.  Not that me saying that will put these wanker social media PR slaves off.  But I just wanted to get it out there.

Sunday December 13 2015

Indeed:

image

I’ve been keeping an eye and a camera lens open for White Vans, and they regularly un-disappoint, if you get my drift.

But, does this White Van look like its own website?  Yes, clearly the work of the same designer or designers.  Either that or the White Van decorators were simply told to copy the website.

So, could a White Van actually be a website?  With some kind of touchscreen on it?  Probably not a good idea.

Friday December 04 2015

Last Tuesday I attended the A(dam) S(mith) I(nstitute) Xmas Party, to which I had been looking forward.  Sadly, when I got there (and this is nothing whatsoever at all to do with the quality of the ASI Xmas Party) I found that I was in a decidedly anti-social mood.  Grumpy Old Men are not a cliché for nothing.

But before making my gracelessly early exit, I did manage to strike up a conversation with a young woman fresh out of studying the history of media censorship, at Cambridge.  This, she said, “could not be a more libertarian subject”.  True.  Good.  More and more libertarians seem to be emerging from universities these days, in considerable part thanks to the ASI.

Me carrying a camera caused her to mention that she too was keen on photography.  I asked her what is the best photo you’ve ever taken?  And she said, tapping away at her iPhone: probably one of these.  Definitely a cat person.  I reckoned it a bit too uncouth to be photoing her, but I did photo her iPhone, which is also good when the light is a bit dodgy, as it was that evening.

image image image

I also bumped into Anton Howes, and him I did snap (talking to a bloke who looked like Seth Rogen) because he is already a definite public figure not to say rising star of libertarianism:

image

Later, I cursed myself for not remembering to ask Anton how his expedition to the USA had gone.  But, as I keep having to remind myself, this is the twenty first century.  You can look things like this up.  And sure enough, at Anton’s Twitter Feed, I found this ("U can now watch my presentation (of thesis for the very first time!) at Columbia’s Center for Capitalism & Society: ..."), which takes you straight to this, the second this being the video of him in action.  I just watched it.  Excellent.  And recommended to all who want to know how the world got from almost universal penury to something rapidly becoming almost universal creature comfort, in which all can have, if they wish, cat pictures on their iPhones.

Sunday November 29 2015

I have begun reading Matt Ridley’s latest book, The Evolution of Everything.  Early signs: brilliant.  I especially liked this bit (pp. 7-10), about modern ideas in the ancient world:

A ‘skyhook’ is an imaginary device for hanging an object from the sky.  The word originated in a sarcastic remark by a frustrated pilot of a reconnaissance plane in the First World War, when told to stay in the same place for an hour: ‘This machine is not fitted with skyhooks,’ he replied.  The philosopher Daniel Dennett used the skyhook as a metaphor for the argument that life shows evidence of an intelligent designer.  He contrasted skyhooks with cranes - the first impose a solution, explanation or plan on the world from on high; the second allow solutions, explanations or patterns to emerge from the ground up, as natural selection does.

The history of Western thought is dominated by skyhooks, by devices for explaining the world as the outcome of design and planning.  Plato said that society worked by imitating a designed cosmic order, a belief in which should be coercively enforced.  Aristotle said that you should look for inherent principles of intentionality and development - souls - within matter. Homer said gods decided the outcome of battles. St Paul said that you should behave morally because Jesus told you so. Mohamed said you should obey God’s word as transmitted through the Koran.  Luther said that your fate was in God’s hands.  Hobbes said that social order came from a monarch, or what he called ‘Leviathan’ - the state. Kant said morality transcended human experience.  Nietzsche said that strong leaders made for good societies.  Marx said that the state was the means of delivering economic and social progress. Again and again, we have told ourselves that there is a top-down description of the world, and a top-down prescription by which we should live.

But there is another stream of thought that has tried and usually failed to break through. Perhaps its earliest exponent was Epicurus, a Greek philosopher about whom we know very little.  From what later writers said about his writings, we know that he was born in 341 BC and thought (as far as we can tell) that the physical world, the living world, human society and the morality by which we live all emerged as spontaneous phenomena, requiring no divine intervention nor a benign monarch or nanny state to explain them.  As interpreted by his followers, Epicurus believed, following another Greek philosopher, Dernocritus, that the world consisted not of lots of special substances including spirits and humours, but simply of two kinds of thing: voids and atoms.  Everything, said Epicurus, is made of invisibly small and indestructible atoms, separated by voids; the atoms obey the laws of nature and every phenomenon is the result of natural causes.  This was a startlingly prescient conclusion for the fourth century BC.

Unfortunately Epicurus’s writings did not survive.  But three hundred years later, his ideas were revived and explored in a lengthy, eloquent and unfinished poem, De Rerum Natura (Of the Nature of Things), by the Roman poet Titus Lucretius Carus, who probably died in mid-stanza around 49 BC, just as dictatorship was looming in Rome.  Around this time, in Gustave Flaubert’s words, ‘when the gods had ceased to be, and Christ had not yet come, there was a unique moment in history, between Cicero and Marcus Aurelius when man stood alone’.  Exaggerated maybe, but free thinking was at least more possible then than before or after.  Lucretius was more subversive, open-minded and far-seeing than either of those politicians (Cicero admired, but disagreed with, him).  His poem rejects all magic, mysticism, superstition, religion and myth.  It sticks to an unalloyed empiricism.

As the Harvard historian Stephen Greenblatt has documented, a bald list of the propositions Lucretius advances in the unfinished 7,400 hexameters of De Rerum Natura could serve as an agenda for modernity.  He anticipated modern physics by arguing that everything is made of different combinations of a limited set of invisible particles, moving in a void. He grasped the current idea that the universe has no creator, Providence is a fantasy and there is no end or purpose to existence, only ceaseless creation and destruction, governed entirely by chance.  He foreshadowed Darwin in suggesting that nature ceaselessly experiments, and those creatures that can adapt and reproduce will thrive.  He was with modern philosophers and historians in suggesting that the universe was not created for or about human beings, that we are not special, and there was no Golden Age of tranquillity and plenty in the distant past, but only a primitive battle for survival.  He was like modern atheists in arguing that the soul dies, there is no afterlife, all organised religions are superstitious delusions and invariably cruel, and angels, demons or ghosts do not exist.  In his ethics he thought the highest goal of human life is the enhancement of pleasure and the reduction of pain.

Thanks largely to Greenblatt’s marvellous book The Swerve, I have only recently come to know Lucretius, and to appreciate the extent to which I am, and always have been without knowing it, a Lucretian/Epicurean.  Reading his poem in A.E. Stallings’s beautiful translation in my sixth decade is to be left fuming at my educators.  How could they have made me waste all those years at school plodding through the tedious platitudes and pedestrian prose of Jesus Christ or Julius Caesar, when they could have been telling me about Lucretius instead, or as well?  Even Virgil was writing partly in reaction to Lucretius, keen to re-establish respect for gods, rulers and top-down ideas in general. Lucretius’s notion of the ceaseless mutation of forms composed of indestructible substances - which the Spanish-born philosopher George Santayana called the greatest thought that mankind has ever hit upon - has been one of the persistent themes of my own writing.  It is the central idea behind not just physics and chemistry, but evolution, ecology and economics too.  Had the Christians not suppressed Lucretius, we would surely have discovered Darwinism centuries before we did.

Monday November 16 2015

A few months ago, when the sun was shining and I was in the habit of leaving my home and wandering about in London, I took what i thought at the time was a photo of a bald bloke taking a photo:

image

I cropped half the guy’s face out of this photo, to make him non-machine-recognisable.

But looking at this photo again, I realise that the real mystery is what the guy has on his left wrist:

image

As so often, my camera saw more than I did.

When I started googling, to try to find out more about that device, I was pretty confident that I would soon learn.  But, I couldn’t find anything called that that looked like that.  Presumably it is some sort of Androidy iPhoney Watchy Thingy.  But I was unable to go beyond that vague presumption.

Anyone?

Friday November 13 2015

Because of the uncannily precise weather forecasts with which modern civilisation is blessed, I know that today will be a great day to be going out, which I have not done for a while.  And I intend to check out this, which is a gas holder that has been tarted up into a big old public sculpture stroke small park inside:

image

My thanks to 6k for alerting me to this.  Dezeen gave this pleasing piece of urbanity a write-up, but I might have missed that.  I probably wouldn’t have, but I might have.

There are mirrors.  I like mirrors.  Mirrors make for fun photos.

Also, notice how, in this other picture, …:

image

... it would appear that they (Bell Philips) will be inserting a block of flats into another nearby gas holder.  Cute.

I’ll let you all know how it is all looking, at the moment.  Assuming I manage to find it and it’s not still a building site behind barriers.  With these kinds of things, the internet can only tell you so much.  By which I mean that it could tell you enough so that you wouldn’t have to go there to check it out, but it generally can’t be bothered.  So, since it’s only a short Victoria Line journey, I will go there.  To check out not only the Thing itself, but to see what other Things I can see from inside it, framed by it.

Thursday November 12 2015

Not to say the sexist-est.  Those Victorians often used to let their hair down in public.  It’s all around us, if only you are willing to look at it and see it.  It’s only a matter of time before the feminists start defacing such things, because they are already in a state of fluttering Victorian spinsterish hysteria about the sort of feelings expressed in this statue.

This statue is in honour of Sir Arthur Sullivan.  A while back, I and Alex Singleton did a recorded conversation about him, and about Gilbert of course.

So yes, In among yesterday’s picture archive rootling, I came across this amazing picture:

image

That picture, like yesterday’s effort, was taken in 2010, by which time I was in the habit of photoing the bit on statues where it tells you what it is.  So I had no trouble learning more about this statue today.  The great thing about the internet is how you no longer have to do “research” when you write about something like this.  All that is required is a link, and all is explained, by somebody else.

And the somebody else at the other end of this link, “Metro Girl”, has this to say about this amazing statue:

Situated in the slimmer part of the gardens nearer to the north-eastern exit, it is located looking towards The Savoy Hotel. Sullivan and his frequent collaborator, dramatist WS Gilbert were closely linked to The Savoy Theatre, which was built by their producer Richard D’Oyly Carte in 1881 using profits from their shows. Gilbert and Sullivan’s last eight comic operas premiered at The Savoy Theatre, so it is only fitting that the Sullivan memorial is so nearby.

And, more to my particular point, this:

The monument features a weeping Muse of Music, who is so distraught her clothes are falling off as she leans against the pedestal. This topless Muse has led some art critics to describe the memorial as the sexiest statue in the capital.

Not knowing every sexy statue in the capital, I can’t be sure that this is indeed the sexiest.  But I’ve not seen anything to top it.

Friday October 30 2015

6k:

As I published this, I made another mental note to look up a bit of the history of this place on Cambridge Street. I also made a mental note that my mental notes seem not to be working at reminding me to do things.

This is a big part of what blogs, and now Twitter, Facebook, and all the rest of it, are for.  Never mind all those damn other readers.  What proportion of internet postings of various sorts are there not for anyone else, but for the poster himself to remember whatever it was?  This of course requires you to trawl back through your own output from time to time, which I do do from time to time.

Here is another internet posting vaguely relevant to the above, about people who find it impossible not to remember things, the things in this case being faces.  Most of us have heard of those unfortunates whose brains have been smacked and they can’t remember faces that ought to be familiar, like their children’s.  This is about people who have received a different sort of smack, from their own DNA, which makes them super-good at remembering faces, even ones they don’t want to.  When someone says to you “I never forget a face”, it just might be true.

The piece includes gratuitously irrelevant pictures of that actress who was in that favourite TV comedy series you know the one and of that other actor who was in that James Bond movie from way back, called whatever it was called I don’t remember.  It’s on the tip of my … that thing inside my face … you know, that hole, under my eyes …

Going back to 6k’s bon mot above, this only got typed into the www on account of his rule, and mine, of trying to do something every day.  You start doing a pure quota posting, and then you think of something truly entertaining to add to it, which you would never have put on the www had it not occurred to you at the exact moment you were in the middle of typing in a blog posting that was in need jazzing up a bit, e.g. with a bon mot.