Brian Micklethwait's Blog
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Category archive: Society
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.
Finally. Well, yes, fair comment, but I had and I have my reasons.
One of the reasons there have been so many inanimate objects in these wedding photos so far is that I got there so very, very early. And it was such a lovely day, and such a lovely place. What was I supposed to do? Not take photos of stuff?
But another reason for the relative absence of people in these photos is that just shoving random wedding photos of people at a wedding and its immediate aftermath onto the internet raises the question of just how public a wedding is. Is it the business of the entire world? Not really. Not necessarily. (Think of the arguments that rage about who may and may not photograph celebrity weddings. These arguments are not only about money.)
So, are weddings entirely private? Again, not really.
A wedding is certainly not just about the Bride and the Groom. They are of course central to everything, and in modern, self-scripted weddings, we guests are often included in the proceedings by being told that we are “sharing” this “special day”. But I think more is involved than us merely sharing a basically personal ceremony. What these two people, and typically also their two families, are doing is proclaiming to one and to all that, as of now, things are different. The Bride and the Groom are no longer separate individuals in quite the way they were before this day. They are now, in whatever way they want to do this, a couple. Still two individuals of course, but also in it together. And they are not just saying this to each other. They are saying it to … everyone. We are now living a different life. Back us up, people. Don’t hit on either of us during marital rough patches. Help us to live this new life we are embarking on, rather than expecting us to behave like the singles we used to be. If you are a long time friend of hers, but don’t much care for him, make the effort to change that, and meanwhile, keep your grumbles about him to yourself.
In the past, holding weddings in public was even more important, because only if you had lots of witnesses could most of those directly concerned be entirely sure that the wedding had even happened. Public ceremonies, a marriage ceremony being only one such, were public ceremonies in order that everyone could then agree that they had happened, on that day, in that place, and that this or that, these or those promises had indeed been exchanged. In pre-literate times, public ceremonies were the nearest thing most people had to a collective record of events. They weren’t merely the principal form of public propaganda (although there definitely were that too); they were the public record.
As the old Church of England marriage ceremony puts it, right at the very start of the event:
Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; …
God, this congregation, this Man, this Woman. The congregation is no afterthought.
But exactly who, at a wedding these days, are the members of this congregation? In the internet age, is the congregation the entire world? Hardly. Yes, families and friends gather together to tell each other, and then to pass the word on to all their families and friends, that, as of now, they’re a couple and we will all help them to be a couple and to stay a couple. But what of total strangers on the other side of the world? Do you want random bods in faraway places to be told all about this event, and all about who was present at it, what they were wearing, and about how drunk they all got? Maybe you will be delighted to be telling absolutely anyone who cares all about it. But, maybe you will not.
So, in this next clutch of photos I have once again downplayed the individual portrait aspect of things, and concentrated on the kind of generic wedding-ness of the event. Ceremonial niceties, beautiful or quirky fashion statements, food, sunshine, music making, distant shots of brideness and groomness. But individual, recognisable faces? Once again, hardly any.
For me, the fact that, in my pictures of my fellow amateur wedding photographers, faces are so often hidden behind cameras is a feature rather than a bug, when it comes to showing my snaps, at least in theory, potentially, to total strangers. That’s basically why there are more photos in that collection than there are in this one.
Let me add another point on the anonymity front, relating to the sticking up of photos of people on a blog. Let me put it thus: I have quite a few subjects which I instruct Google to email me about whenever anyone mentions them on the big old www. One of these subjects is “face recognition”. I get a lot of emails from Google about that, often involving Google itself.
By now, the name and face of the Groom is not much of a secret to any friends of mine or of his or of both who care, what with him explicitly name-checking a couple of us guests for a couple of our photos (in this piece), my one being one of the sign photos I took beforehand. I did take quite a lot of portraits of people at the event itself, of course I did. But they will be thrown into the photographic bran tub that the Bride and Groom will presumably trawl through about once every decade, without casual internet passers-by seeing them. I may even have the odd trawl through them myself in the years to come. But as for the rest of you, you will have to make do with snaps like this:
As you can see, this is not just the ceremony itself. It is also the reception.
In 2.1 we see the Bride putting a ring on the Groom. And in 1.2 we see us guests passing … something along between us, but I already forget what it was. This was in accordance with some kind of Hindu ceremony that the Groom had read about on the internet and, if I recall what the Bride’s Mum said, we (i.e. regular Hindus) never do. So the Groom, no sort of Hindu himself, had invented an entire Hindu wedding tradition. Outstanding.
I particularly enjoyed the bit later on in the day (see 3.2) where the Bride and Groom, surrounded by musicians, were photoed together, at the far end of the lawn from the rest of us. I got no really good photos of this, but what I saw reminded me somewhat of this famous Jack Vettriano painting, of people dancing on the beach, attended not by musicians but by umbrella holders. I thought there were musicians involved in that picture, but I now reckon I was combining in my mind that painting with this one. Ah, it seems that the man with the umbrella was singing. So music was involved.
Setting Vettriano aside, one of the musicians told me that although they had performed at many weddings, they had never, ever been asked to do anything like that before. So it was a slightly special day for them also. Excellent.
No I haven’t forgotten about that wedding. There are quite a few more photos to show to the massed ranks of BrianMicklethwaitDotCom readers, this time of photographers:
Amateur and ubiquitous digital photography has transformed wedding photography utterly, but I don’t think it has yet seen off the professionals, provided they learn to keep up.
The fundamental difference between the amateurs and the pros, and I’m guessing this applies to many other things besides photography that I already know about in other parts of my brain, is that whereas amateurs hope they will get lucky with some of their efforts, but can’t guarantee it (especially, with photography, if the weather turns hostile), the pros know how to get good results every time, no matter what.
And even on a perfect day such as this one was, the pros still have an edge, because they are better at handling really bright light, just as they are better at making the best of insufficient light.
With wedding photography, the pros can also spend the time getting to know their customers, getting a feel for what kind of people they are, and in particular finding out which photos are going to be in the must-get-right category. What you pay for is the certainty (as near as is humanly possible) that a decent number of your wedding snaps will be really good.
And then the rest of us pile in with our amateur efforts, and maybe manage to add a few more snaps to the Greatest Snaps collection, even as that list will still be dominated by the pros. (I suppose one should add that amateurs are an invaluable back-up in the event that you get seriously unlucky with your pros, even if it’s only because the pros are good pros, but they got seriously unlucky for some appalling freak reason.)
All of which is a preamble to flagging up Mike & Heather, who were the pros on this particular occasion. You can surely tell from my snaps who Mike and Heather are. If you are in any doubt, they’re the two in, to name but one, the bottomest, rightest picture above.
As to the quality of the work Mike and Heather did, I can only guess and hope. Well, more like assume. But something else that I can be entirely sure that these two very nice people did definitely bring to this party was that they are very nice people, who fitted in well with the rest of us, and in my case, even gave me a few nice little tips. I recall a wedding where this did not happen. The pro photographer (there was only one) seemed to regard all of us amateurs as the enemy, and even the guests generally as hardly more than a necessary evil to be either ignored or else shooed out of the way at important photographic moments. You can see how a pro wedding photographer might come to feel this way, but even so, that’s not what you want, is it?
Last night I attended a dinner at Chateau Samizdata.
Lots of photos were taken, and not just by me. The basic reason for all the photography was that the food was the sort of food that deserved to be memorialised in pixels:
And once one camera is out, I get out mine to photo the photoing, and from then on it escalates. As well as three old school cameras like mine, there were also several tablets and smart phones in action. In fact, there were probably more cameras present last night than there were people (which I reckon to be an interesting moment in social history) especially if you include cameras like the camera in my mobile phone. This stayed in my jacket pocket all night, but it was there.
Here is Michael J photoing two of our fellow guests:
And finally, here are a couple of snaps of our host and hostess, being photoed ...:
... and then looking at the result a few seconds later:
As I keep on saying, the history of photography just now is not that this or that famous photographer has just taken a bunch more famous photos. It is that we all now have these things.
This Samizdata posting, for instance, is about a guy using a great big iPad to photo Westminster Abbey. Scorn was expressed by some commenters at how stupid this man was making himself look. I disagree strongly, as did Michael Jennings.
Michael’s comment about this deserves further attention and here it is in full:
It is believed that the reason that the first generation iPad did not have cameras was because Steve Jobs believed that people using it to take photographs would look ridiculous. This received complaints, not so much for people who wanted to use it to take photographs, but for parents of small children. Point the iPad at the baby, start up a video conference with the grandparents, allow the grandparents to watch the baby, and the grandparents will be happily occupied for hours.
However, people then started using the iPad for taking photographs anyway. So, Apple gave it a decent camera. I have one myself, and I prefer taking photographs with it to taking photographs with a cellphone camera. Whether that is the quality of the camera, I am not sure. (By standards of cellphone cameras, the one in the iPad is of high quality, but most high end phones have cameras of similar quality). I think it may be the screen. Everybody who takes digital photographs knows the experience of taking what you think is a good photograph, but discovering later that it is blurry, but being unable to tell that at the time on the tiny screen on the camera. The iPad has a large, very high resolution screen, so you have a much better ability to tell at once if you have taken a good picture or not. If you haven’t, there may even be a chance to take it again.
A final good thing about the iPad is its fantastic battery life. (This isn’t hard to explain - if you look at pictures of the innards of an iPad it is almost entirely battery). At the end of a busy day, its not uncommon to find that your batteries are low or completely depleted on all your devices except the iPad. You see something that needs photographing, so you use the iPad simply because it is still going.
As for looking ridiculous, that is all about what is normal and expected. If everyone does it, it no longer looks ridiculous.
To me what is truly ridiculous is refraining from doing what works best, because you think that looks ridiculous. It’s like that thing about being cool. If you are trying to be cool, you are by definition failing. If your over-riding concern is not to look ridiculous, then you are being ridiculous.
To illustrate the matter further, Michael immediately added another comment, which included this photo, also deserving of a wider audience than it may get while buried in a comment thread:
Underneath which Michael added:
For instance, if on a slow afternoon you unexpectedly find your self at the tomb in Jerusalem where protestants believe that Christ rose from the dead, it can be really helpful to have your iPad with you.
Last night, Michael and I both attended the Adam Smith Institute Christmas Party. Here is my photo of Michael, taking a picture of me with his iPad:
And here is my photo of Michael’s photo of me, as instantly displayed on his iPad:
Michael could be sure that his photo was in focus even as he was taking it, and certainly immediately afterwards. I could only be sure that my photo of his photo was also in focus when I got home, and actually, a great many of the other photos that I took at this shindig were not properly in focus, there being somewhat insufficient light (with what there was of it typically being ill-directed for my purposes), and people being prone to move about when they converse with one another. Which makes Michael’s point yet again.
Last Wednesday, for reasons that had nothing to do with any attempt to take the photos that follow, I found myself at Piccadilly Circus. This is always a fun spot to photo photographers, but on this particular night they were out in force, because also present were Halloween revellers, typically themselves armed with cameras. Here are some of the better snaps I snapped, of all the Halloween fun and games:
I hope (although I promise nothing) to be doing a Samizdata posting, Real Soon Now, along the lines of: Is Halloween Replacing Bonfire Night in Britain? I shall be keeping an ear open next Monday (November 5th) to hear if there is any abatement on the explosion front.
Nice for me that one of them was a cat, what with it now being Friday and all.
This blogging stuff really works. I blog here about Emmanuel Todd, and a blink of an eye (i.e. about a couple of years or more) later, these two American guys are writing a book about America, concerning which they say things like this:
America 3.0 gives readers the real historical foundations of our liberty, free enterprise, and family life. Based on a new understanding our of our past, and on little known modern scholarship, America 3.0 offers long-term strategies to restore and strengthen American liberty, prosperity and security in the years ahead.
America 3.0 shows that our country was founded as a decentralized federation of communities, dominated by landowner-farmers, and based on a unique type of Anglo-American nuclear family. . . .
And that “little known modern scholarship” is, among other things, the work of Emmanuel Todd. If you look at the (quite short) “Essential Readings” list to the right at America 3.0 you will see, among other links, these:
America 3.0 will be on my Essential Reading list just as soon as I can get my hands on a copy.
Actually it’s by Youssef Courbage and Emmanuel Todd. And it’s not that new; it was first published (in French) in 2007. But it has just been made available in English. And it is exactly the Todd book that, for several years now, I have most been wanting to read. It is entitled A Convergence of Civilizations: The Transformation of Muslim Societies Around the World.
If it is as interesting as I hope it is, this book could finally enable Todd to make his long overdue breakthrough into the English speaking world.
And it is, as Instapundit is always saying, in the post.
In all my previous Todd googlings, I had never before come across this stuff about Todd, although I am almost certain that it has been there all along. Will read this tomorrow, or failing that, Real Soon. (And ooh look: at the top left, under where it says “NEW!!!”, there is me, and three of my Todd postings.)
I think I understand, but can someone (Alec?) explain it all, just so I’m sure.
There are some interesting titbits in this piece about the IPL cricket tournament, and about how well it is doing as a TV show.
“A sense of meaning has been absent,” Desai said. “It has become repetitive. Sports must produce some sort of meaning finally. Otherwise it is just leather hitting wood.”
But even he agrees advertisers don’t have to worry yet, saying “there is still good reason for [the IPL] to exist” and that it simply needs to transition from being a spectacle into a tournament that reflects “what every team represents and stands for”.
Indeed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thoroughly enjoying what I am seeing of this tournament. But, what I am enjoying - and will remember for a while - is the achievements of individuals, rather than the distinctiveness of and collective success of teams. I do remember great things that have been done by Malinga, Valthaty, Sehwag, Gayle and Ishant Sharma. But if asked which teams those guys play for, I’d have to pause and think about it.
It doesn’t help the way players move around from one year to the next, according to who gets them in an auction. This is the problem with salary caps, and in general with a tournament that is that little bit too centrally controlled, and controlled to contrive equality of outcome. It makes for more evenly matched teams, but there isn’t the romance of “organic” teams, emerging from the wider society of whatever society it is. A similar complaint applies to American football, I think. In general, I am not fond of the word “franchise” in sport.
In this respect the IPL is not a patch on that other Premier League. Yes, in “the” Premier League, there are usually only about half a dozen teams each year with a serious chance of winning, or even of doing well enough to play in Europe the following season. But teams do rise and fall. Unlimited money is not enough to guarantee success.
It must say something that the Olympic Games, the World Cup (as in the soccer World Cup) and the English Premier League, three of the most successful televised sports tournaments on the planet, all have this huge inequality between the best teams and the rest of the teams built into them. Yet people still care about their little country getting their one amazing Silver Medal, or their recently promoted team avoiding relegation the following season with a last gasp win against a mid-table team, or their little country snatching a draw again Germany and scraping, against all odds, into the last sixteen before being thumped by Brazil. Personally, I detest the Olympics and don’t get that excited about soccer or any sort. But I know sporting super-success when I see it. The IPL needs to keep working on its formula.
In defence of the IPL, those other biggies have been going for decades, while the IPL isn’t yet half a decade old. Given time, it too will become “organic”.
Hello, rain stopped play. That’s not supposed to happen in India. An earlier match was totally washed out, on a day when the weather here in London was fabulous.
LATER (Sunday afternoon):
That’s a picture of the Gayle effect. 40 off 3 overs.
When, this morning, I heard that Tim Evans was resigning as the President of the Libertarian Alliance, I thought: things might, just might, get silly. Accordingly, in a mood of pessimism, I straight away downloaded .pdf files of all my LA published pieces. Just in case. Just in case the LA website got caught in any crossfire that might materialise, and just in case my own stash of these files proves inaccessible, for instance as a result of it being on antiquated format disks which prove to be hard or expensive or even impossible to get at.
Soon, I will probably download all the other publications, by everyone else also. Again, just in case. It helps that I now have a computer with a hard disk the size of one of the smaller English counties.
I think it highly unlikely that this will prove to have been of any value. But it will make me feel a tiny bit happier.
But, while doing the beginnings of this, I did discover one very nice thing, which is that the version of Adobe Acrobat that I now have running on my new supercomputer enables me, and presumably everyone else, to copy and past text from within LA publications. I don’t just mean the boring html ones, I mean the pretty ones, the ones I designed. I did not know I could do this. I am very happy about it.
This means that my long held but long postponed ambition to convert every LA publication, or at any rate quite a lot of LA publications, into alternative not so pretty HTML versions, can now be forgotten about. Hurrah. How to solve a problem. Wait. Keep on waiting. Eventually, it may go away.
The bad news is that I still have to remove carriage returns from the end of each line of text, if copying stuff into something like this blog. But that is a small price to pay for such a great leep forward.
I will celebrate by copying and pasting a bit from something I wrote in 1997, about Charles Murray:
A key insight into Murray’s thought processes is to be found in his second and least publicly discussed book, In Pursuit: Of Happiness and Good Government (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1988). He tells of how he worked for two years in the Peace Corps in the villages of Thailand, and how, to his consternation, he encountered hostility from the citizenry of the villages. How come? He was giving them money, bestowing bounty upon them. Well, yes, but his projects never seemed to get anywhere, and he was also screwing around with the local power structure, turning a local community, with an elaborate system of personal status based on how much you contributed to local welfare, into a mere aggregation of welfare supplicants. The village elders didn’t like it, and Murray came around to agreeing with them.
If you put the government in charge of doing all the things formerly done by the local community, then say goodbye to the local community. Community becomes a mere word, for a bunch of people who exist and sleep near to each other, in the same dormitory so to speak, but who no longer have any meaningful social relationships with each. And it is in these kinds of relationships, says Murray, that most people find their deepest pleasures in life. Most people don’t become supermodels or vice-presidents of major corporations, and make a stack of money so huge that they can just buy their way out of their demoralised and degenerating localities. Most people find their places in the world by being good sons and daughters, good parents, good neighbours and good local citizens. Even corporate vice-presidents often wish when they get older that they’d paid more attention to family and friends and neighbours, and less to getting ahead at work. Murray’s libertarianism is the claim that citizenship should stop being a nationalised industry.
Questions concerning the death of copyright protection on dowloaded MP3s
In January 2009, Apple announced that it would remove the copyright protection wrapper from every song in its store. Today, Amazon and Walmart both sell music encoded as MP3s, which don’t even have hooks for copyright-protection locks. The battle is over, comrades.
Question. If, say three years ago, you bought an MP3 which did have DRM ("Digital Rights Management” – in English: anti-copying measures) built into it, are you still stuck with all that restriction? Or, if you want to have no such restriction, do you have to buy it again, under the new regime?
Basically, about three or four years ago now, I heard news to the effect that DRM would in due course be done away with, and I said to myself: fine, when they do that, I will consider paying for downloaded MP3s. Until they do, forget it. I want to be able to listen to all MP3s I own on whatever machine I want to play them on. If I even doubt that this will definitely work, then forget it, no deal. Won’t even think about it. But now, I’m thinking about it. Hence all these questions.
What will prevent people just copying and sharing MP3s amongst themselves? What will stop me emailing them to people?
If the answers to the above are: nothing, and something (even if that something is only that it will take so damn long), then that will greatly encourage meatspace network building, so that you can get your hands on tons of free recorded sound. Won’t it?
Handheld porn market growing fast
Porn, one of the great driving forces of technological civilisation, as is increasingly acknowledged by all informed observers. Not so long ago, it was said that war caused technological progress. I call that a definite improvement.
Give porn a chance.
A basic criticism of internet “radio” and “television” performers on the internet (i.e. people who record sound files and video files and shove them up on the www) is that they (we) go on too long compared to how significant they (we) are.
Do you really want to listen to these guys talking for over an hour? Well, you almost certainly don’t. (That it went on so long is why it took me so long to make myself put it up.) But if about one dozen people, worldwide, do listen, then something is accomplished. Maybe one of them will get a point he otherwise might not have, and then write about it or talk about it, not at offputting length, or in a longer thing that people actually want to listen to or read in decent numbers.
Don’t compare it only with Newsnight. Compare it with a conversation in a pub. Slightly more people get to hear it than that. It’s slightly more coherent than that. It’s recorded slightly better than that, what with it being recorded. The internet is improved pub conversation, not just “worse BBC” so to speak. And in many ways, of course, if the BBC is biased, the internet is “improved BBC”, even if it does go on rather.
All of which was provoked by this bit of YouTubery (which I found a link to here). It’s Hitchens telling (some of) a television audience that they are unthinking morons. My point being not so much the splendour of Hitchens’s little put-down of his putdownees; it is that clicking and watching and listening will only take you somewhat more than one minute. Here is a man many would want to watch and listen to at length, yet this is but a tasty little snippet of him.
Going back to how the internet is improved pub conversation, rather than just bad broadcasting: Public smoking is already illegal. Any decade now, public drinking will probably follow. So therefore pubs are now in the process of being made illegal. Lucky the internet came along, just in time, wasn’t it?
Or, was it merely lucky? Maybe, now there’s the internet, the people who might have fought the illegalisation of pubs to the death now don’t feel the need. The internet caused smoking and drinking bans, by diverting the opposition to them. Discuss. But not in a pub.
It’s the result of the recent, somewhat twinned ideas (a) that people ought not to drink and drive, and (b) that pregnant women ought not to drink. As in drink alcohol of course. Which means that when he and she go out to dinner, she, because she won’t be drinking much alcohol anyway, gets to do the driving home. At least that way, one of them gets to get pissed.
Well I don’t know that that’s very widespread, but recently I dined with a group of friends among whom were a married couple. She was pregnant. That was that deal they had, and that was why. My guess is that they are not the only ones who do this.