Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
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Brian Micklethwait on What sort of duck is this?
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- My latest meeting went fine
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- The difference between roof clutter and roof clutter
- Another photo for the traffic lights countdown set
- Centre Point through the new station entrance
- My next last Friday meeting: Patrick Crozier on the political consequences of WW1
- Keeping up appearances next to Centre Point
- A model of London now opening to the public
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Category archive: Libertarianism
This is a first:
I am at Brian Micklethwait’s place for his latest Friday. This argument against leaving the EU was made (I am literally live blogging, this is breaking news!): The good thing about Brussels is that it is impossible to be emotionally attached to it. This weakens the state.
Interesting discussion is now ensuing. And we have not even got to the speaker yet.
The liveblogger in question being Rob Fisher, to whom thanks.
The speaker and subject matter were described in this earlier posting here.
I do hope to write something soonish about what was actually said by Patrick Crozier, but meanwhile, the other interesting thing about this evening’s event, for me, was how well attended it was. By this I mean that the room was, as it usually seems to be, comfortably but not uncomfortably full.
What was so unusual about this outcome was that when I sent that first email out last Sunday evening, flagging up the meeting, I got no responses. Usually, one or two or three people reply by return of email that they intend to attend, and more acceptances come in as the week before the meeting (which is on the Friday) progresses. But this time: nothing. Not even one email. Not a sausage. In my reminder email, which went out yesterday, I pretty much begged people to come, and to tell me beforehand that they were coming. And a healthy trickle of positive responses duly trickled in, and I relaxed. And then, come the evening itself, as already revealed, pretty much the exact same number of people showed up as usually shows up.
How do people, collectively, know to do this? There has to be some kind of mathematical law in operation here, which says that the right number of people always shows up, no matter what.
It cannot be coincidence that the only time when far, far too many people showed up for comfort was the very first of these meetings, when I restarted them at the beginning of (I think it was) 2013. Never again. This strongly suggests to me that The Crowd, subsequently so wise, started out ignorant, of how much comfortable space there was, but that The Crowd has subsequently learned. And now, The Crowd knows how to turn up chez moi in the exact right numbers, every time. No matter what I do to assemble it, and no matter what it says beforehand, or doesn’t say.
I just sent out the email plugging a talk to be given at my home this coming Friday (the 29th) by Patrick Crozier, on “The Political Consequences of World War One” (as already flagged up here in this posting).
The email included this:
Many libertarians of my acquaintance talk about World War One as the great libertarian historical What-If? As in: Surely, surely, the world would have remained far more libertarian-inclined if only ... World War One not been blundered into by its deluded protagonists. Everything bad about the modern world, for many libertarians, has its origins in that fateful and fatal moment of mass mobilisation, for massed war, in August 1914. War is the Health of the State! And with war, modern statism just grew and grew.
But has this growth in statism happened because of war, and because of that war in particular? Or did war merely accompany the growth? Was this causation, or merely correlation?
Patrick Crozier writes regularly for Samizdata, specialising in World War One, and in events of WW1 that happened exactly one hundred years before the time of his postings. Just recently, Patrick has been, as it were, extricating himself from the trenches and from purely military issues, to look also at wider political developments, on the home front and beyond. So he seemed to me to be the ideal person to be asked, as I did ask him earlier in the month, this question:
Was the rise of statism in Britain and the West seriously accelerated by WW1, or would such stuff have happened anyway, with or without war?
Were there big moves being made towards statism before the outbreak of war, and not even in anticipation of war? Did neutrals also do lots of statist stuff at the same time as the war’s protagonists?
Sounds good to me. But then, these talks always do, because if at talk doesn’t sound good to me, I keep on looking until I find another that does.
If you didn’t get the email but would like to attend, or would like to get this and future emails, leave a comment or send me an email. To do the latter click where it says “Contact”, top left.
The weekend before last, just before getting ill, I attended a christening, at St James’s Piccadilly. Outside St James’s, I encountered two ducks, who seemed very much at home, and I’m assuming that this is their home. There was a small pond, which I’m guessing was theirs:
And on the right, the day’s other happy couple, showing off their newly christened daughter. Her name is not “Liberty”, but Mum and Dad are libertarians. Congratulations to Ayumi and to Richard, and to their daughter. A very good way to make more libertarians is to give birth to them and then raise them as libertarians. But a very happy day, whatever she decides to make of herself.
Today I began to feel properly recovered, and I spent most of my blogging time doing this posting, about this forthcoming Libertarian Home event, which is happening on May 14th. Interesting speakers, including Anton Howes, whom I particularly enjoy listening to.
Before getting ill, I managed (and thank goodness I did) finally to get properly ahead of myself with regard to my own speakers, for my own monthly meetings. After cutting it far too fine in Feb and March, but being rescued by two excellent speakers, I did some serious hustling, and am now able to announce that the following speakers-and-dates have now also been fixed, subject to all the usual qualifiers about how things might change but I hope they won’t, blah blah.
It proved a bit hard to remember everybody, and every date. All the more reason to do a memo-to-self posting here, gathering it all together, for me to refer to, and to refer other people to:
April 29th – Patrick Crozier on the political consequences of World War One. Did WW1 cause lots of bad statist crap, or might a lot of that bad stuff have happened anyway?
May 27th – Dominic Frisby on taxation.
June 24th – Anthony J. Evans on to what extent economic freedom leads to political freedom.
July 29th – Michael Jennings on the Middle East.
August 26th – Nico Metten on localism as a libertarian strategy.
Assuming that plan unfolds approximately as planned, that’s not a bad little handful of events.
As soon as I did that first posting this morning, about blogging early, I was freed from any obligation – self-imposed, but still an obligation – to blog any more today. At which point the idea of putting more up here, today, became fun, rather than any sort of chore. Hence the next posting, the one immediately below this one.
This one is here mostly so I can have postings called “Blog early” and “Blog often” up here on the same day.
Earlier this evening I attended a Libertarian Home meeting, addressed by Tim Evans.
One definite improvement over previous LH meetings in the same venue is that on the blackboard behind the speaker, it said his name, rather than the names of lots of things you can eat.
So, behind Tim Evans, underneath where it says “Specials” it also, this evening, said “Tim Evans”:
Better. In particular, better than this:
The speaker in that picture was Allum Bokhari, last August, and that picture of him is most unflattering. Alas, this is the picture I took that night that best shows all that food. Go here to see Allum Bokhari looking better, even if he is wearing headphones. To hear him also, talking about the “censorship” (if that’s what it is) of the social media, by the social media.
So, the video of Tim Evans talking will look better, in this particular respect, than did earlier videos, of LH speakers in front of that blackboard. You build an ideological movement one step at a time. This was a small step, but a definite step. Nice one.
Sadly, I am not so confident about the likely sound quality of any video that transpires. Tim has a way of talking rather quietly when in a smallish room such as this one is, but the hinges of the door to the room had no such inhibitions and were squeaking something terrible, every time anyone came in or out, as happened quite often. We shall see, and we shall hear. Hope I’m wrong about that.
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.
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.
Yes, I have struggled over the years to get good photos of what my meetings are like. The problem typically is that I can never get everyone into the same picture, and the pictures look like about half as many people attended as actually did. Since the number wasn’t that huge to start with, that’s not what you want.
Here is a different approach:
That was the scene today following last night’s meeting, me having done almost zero tidying up to that point, bar hoovering up a few crisps. Now, Imagine that space with as many people sitting in it as you can fit in. That was what it was like last night.
If you reckon that the “table” in the middle looks like it could be improved upon, you are not wrong. There was a disaster when it collapsed last night, luckily not during the Tim Evans talk, and some fruit juice hit the carpet, along with lots of potato crisps. And it was then only imperfectly reassembled. More work is needed on that front. But it was a great evening, partly because of the table collapsing, because that sort of thing adds to the anecdotage factor. But mostly because it was an excellent talk, and because a very classy group of people who came to hear it. Including a baby, who was very welcome.
Talking of unsatisfactory tables, I wasn’t feeling so good myself today. My sleep last night was full of weird dreams, which I can still remember bits of, which is not normal. Plus, I have a new blender, and this morning’s concoction was terrible. The trouble with most vegetables is that they don’t taste of anything. Or, they taste rather nasty. Thank goodness for cherry tomatoes. But, all my current stash of cherry tomatoes got consumed last night by all the people that you can’t see in the picture.
This is weird. When I did a posting at Samizdata called My 2015 in pictures, I intended to include a picture I took of one of my meetings last year, the one at which Aiden Gregg spoke. But, although I talked about it, I didn’t actually include the picture. Rather humiliatingly, nobody noticed, or if they did notice, they didn’t care, or if they did care, not enough to complain.
So here is that picture:
I have also added it to that Samizdata posting, which absolutely nobody at all will notice. But, get it right, eh?
I think I got this picture by standing on a chair.
I mention all this now because I have another of these meetings, the first of this year, tomorrow evening. Speaker: Professor Tim Evans (also mentioned in that Samizdata posting), talking about Jeremy Corbyn and all that. Turnout looks like being just right, with the room comfortably as opposed to uncomfortably full. Luckily the seating arrangements have been improving.
Here, for good measure, is the photo I took of Tim when he gave his Inaugural Professional Lecture at Middlesex University, last summer, and which was also included in that Samizdata posting:
Not being accustomed to the ways of Academe, that get-up makes Tim look, to me, like he is in a very trad production of Wagner’s Mastersingers.
Today I spent my blogging/libertarian time transcribing a talk given by Syed Kamall MEP to Libertarian Home, back on June 4th of this year. The following very early bit from this talk, which was no more, on the night, than the self-deprecating self-introduction, convinced me that transcribing the whole thing, even though it will also be available to view on video, might be worthwhile.
Having joined the Conservative Party in 1987, I actually stood for my first election in 1994, in the London Borough of Lambeth. As you can imagine, I lost. A year later, I had my first post-doctoral job at Bath, and they asked me to stand, and I lost, in some local elections. In 2000, the Greater London Council was formed, and I stood in the GLA elections for the first time. And I lost. This is going somewhere, I promise you. [laughter]
In 2001, I stood in that well-known Conservative stronghold of West Ham, and thought I could defy history. And I nearly did. I think I lost by about fifteen thousand votes. [laughter] And then – a year later, no, when was it? - in 2004, I stood in the European elections, and I was fourth on the list, and we got three Members of the European Parliament in London. So therefore I lost, but a year later another MEP became a MP, … she became a Member of Parliament and, thanks to the list system, I moved up.
So, you can summarise my political career up to that date as: stood five times, lost five times, and ended up as an MEP. I know my Party is supposed to be against Proportional Representation, but I’ve done all right out of it, thank you very much.
There is an old cliché that goes: it matters not who won or lost, but how you played the game. I only know this because it was mocked in Beyond The Fringe, but in times gone by people took this sort of thing very seriously. Well, the case of Syed Kamall illustrates that there are circumstances when this cliché can literally be true. Because you see, the secret of Syed Kamall’s success, is that he lost all these contest so very gracefully and sportingly. That way, everyone in his Party liked him, and he levitated.
There is also the fact that, in politics, it is probably unwise to win any of your early elections, because then you have to hang around and actually do a rather insignificant job, instead of moving on to a bigger and better contest, and winning that.
Blatant quota photo, in the form of an interestingly informative vehicle snapped by me earlier this evening:
Shame about the superfluous piece of punctuation.
Earlier, my host and his guests were chuckling at a big flag host had in his living room, which said: DONT TREAD ON ME. For DONT read DON’T.
Shame the apostrophe cannot somehow be transferred from the car to the flag, thereby bringING (see comment) the grammar universe into alignment.
Back to the car: COMERCIAL is missing an M.
None of which should be brought up if he is rescuing you and your vehicle from a predicament.
And, I bet this posting contains a grammar or spelling mistake, because this is one of the subsections of Sod’s Law. Whenever you sneer at someone else’s grammar or spelling, yours goes wrong.
I say new. New for me. Old and superfluous to requirements for the people who were getting rid of them.
Audiences for regularly repeating events tend exactly to fill whatever comfortable spaces and places are offered to them. Given that my speakers tend to be pretty good, the single best way for me to persuade more people to attend my Last Fridays of the Month meetings (there will be another such meeting tomorrow evening) is to improve the seating arrangements. More and more comfortable chairs are the best way to make these events better.
When these meetings resumed, in January 2013, there was a rather ungainly sofa, which seats two in comfort and three in discomfort unless all three are very thin, and one other comfy single chair. The rest was all stools and upright chairs and old loudspeakers and suchlike.
Worst of all there was this:
That picture having already been shown here, here.
But, to replace the above abomination, there is now this:
Despite appearances, these two beauties work very well as a three seat sofa. Better yet, they cost me: nothing. I went out shopping a few months back, and Goddaughter 2 happened to be with me. We saw these two semi-sofas being inserted into a skip. So we skipped the shopping and grabbed them, all this being only a couple of dozen yards from the front door of my block of flats. Moments later, and they’d have been covered in subsequent rubbish. No Goddaughter 2, and I don’t know how I would have managed. Almost certainly, not. Amazing.
And then, about a week ago in a charity shop I encountered these two little numbers, also very comfortable:
I had to pay a few bob for them, and some more bob for a taxi to get them home, but it all added up to far less than I was thinking of paying for something similar, singular, new, to see if another similar, singular, new, would be worth a further quite large outlay.
The above improvements may not seem like much, but they increase the number of truly comfortable seats at my evenings from three-and-a-half to eight-and-a-half. So the chance of a comfy seat have now more than doubled.
All I need now is to replace that goofy original sofa, with its goofy great arm rests that take up about one and half people’s worth of space, and things would be looking even better.
Last night I did a posting at Samizdata about Milo Yiannopoulos.
Until today, when I dug him up on YouTube, I didn’t even know what nationality this guy is. American would have been my guess, but basically I didn’t know, although I did learn yesterday what he looks like. But for me he was basically a name, that I couldn’t spell.
Turns out he’s British. Very British. Who knew? Everybody except me, presumably. Blog and learn.
I asked for the opinions of Samizdata commentariat, and got some. I don’t know why, but I expected more variety in these responses, more doubts, more reservations. Actually, the Samizdata commentariat has, so far, been uniformly approving of this guy.
Now I’m listening to him babble away, and it turns out that, being a libertarian and an atheist, I’m “touchy” - meaning oversensitive about being criticised - times two. As a libertarian I’m obsessed with marijuana and with computer hacking. (Actually: No, times two.) As an atheist, well, it turns out I dress stupidly. (Yes. True.) He does love to wind people up, which he does by saying slightly untrue and quite funny things. He’s like that classic old Fleet Street type, the Opinionated Female Columnist, whose job is to overgeneralise in ways that are quite popular and pile up the readers, and to make the Outraged Classes really really outraged, and who eventually gets … old.
I’m starting to think he may soon be a bit of a has been. But, at least he now is.
I think the article that I linked to from Samizdata may have been a peak. It is truly brilliant.
What I do like is his interest in the tactics of how to spread ideas, how to win arguments, how to be able to make arguments despite the efforts of people who want nothing except to shut him up, by saying things that shut them up.
On Friday November 27th (i.e. exactly one week from now), my friend from way back, Antoine Clarke, will be giving a talk at my place entitled “Herding cats, or lessons from drunks about organising anarchy”.
These talks happen every last Friday of the month, and before they give one of them, I ask each speaker to supply a paragraph or two about what they’ll be saying, so I can email my list of potential attenders. Antoine has just supplied me with ten paragraphs on his talk:
It would be hard to imagine any more dysfunctional organisation than a leaderless group of drunks promising among themselves to quit drinking and to help other drunks to quit.
And then I realized that there is a similar organisation for narcotics addicts, one for cocaine addicts, crystal meth addicts and even “sex and love addicts” - whatever that may mean.
Alcoholics Anonymous has been described as a “benign anarchy” by one of its founders and manages to organize over 100,000 groups worldwide with between 1.5 million and 2 million members. Its power structure has been described as an “inverted pyramid”.
AA operates by having almost completely autonomous branches, no publicity, no professional class of “charity workers” and no set fees. It has a “12-step program” and “12 traditions” which have been described respectively as “rules for not killing yourself” and “rules for not killing other people”.
The effectiveness of AA at curing or controlling alcohol addiction is not clear cut. Because of anonymity, self-selection and the difficulty of known if someone who stops attending meetings has relapsed or simply found he can lead a functional lifestyle. The fact that over a dozen other organisations have copied AA’s 12-step and 12 tradition system suggests at least some level of success, unlike, say the UK’s National Health Service which has fewer imitators.
One particular problem for AA is that any 12-step program will only really work if it is voluntary, but in the USA especially, courts mandate that convicted criminals attend AA meetings as a parole condition. I think this reduces recidivism among the criminals (compared with them NOT following a program), but it surely dilutes the effectiveness of AA groups (more disruptive attendees, people going through the motions, possible discouragement of others).
I shall be looking at the elements of AA’s structure and organisational culture to see what lessons can be learned about the possibility of anarchic institutions especially at handling social problems.
What interests me is the “anarchy with table manners” aspect of AA and the contrast with truly dysfunctional libertarian organisations, like the Libertarian Alliance.
I’m also interested in the issue of government interference and the ways in which well-meaning interventions make matters worse. I shall also take a look at the spiritual element of AA’s 12-step program, noting that it claims to work for atheists and agnostics as well as for theists.
Hopefully, this is an attractive alternative to binge drinking on a Friday night in central London.
Indeed. There will be no binge drinking at the meeting.
This posting is not so much me passing on advice as me seeking to solidify some ludicrously overdue advice from me to myself, about how to photograph speakers.
Don’t try to do it when they’re speaking.
Last night I took about two dozen photos of Dominic Frisby, who was addressing the Libertarian Home crowd at the Two Chairmen pub in Westminster. Almost all these photos were useless. This was because Frisby was talking, and when people talk, they move. The indoor light was very scarce, so the slightest motion meant a blur, and a succession of blurs was accordingly all that I got. My only photographic successes during the Frisby talk were when I switched my attention to the people listening to him. They were keeping still.
People like Richard Carey:
I think Rob clocked me, don’t you?
The only half-decent Frisby photos I got were during the Q&A, when, just like the two persons featured above, he too was listening rather than talking:
Doesn’t he look adorkable.
As to what Frisby said (on the subject of Bitcoin), well, it was all videoed, although the video camera was being hand-held, as this further snap of Richard Carey, helping out with that, illustrates:
I include that snap also because of the John Lilburne reference, Lilburne being a man whom we libertarians should be bigging up every chance we get.
Finally, a book photo. On account of Frisby’s talk beginning a few minutes earlier than I had been expecting it to, I arrived a few minutes late, and the only seat I could find was the one with Frisby’s books on it, which he had presumably earlier been sitting at. That explains the odd angle of this photo:
Both books highly recommended. More about Frisby by me (+ further links) in this Samizdata posting. In this I mentioned that Frisby was working on a Bitcoin book. As you can see, that book has now materialised.
It helps that books, like people who are listening, or for that matter doing photography, and unlike people who are talking, do not move.
It’s actually the final sentence of the Samizdata quote of the day:
Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.
It’s Edward Snowden, in one of those unwieldy comment thready things that I never read.
Guy Herbert doesn’t add what comes next, which is also good:
A free press benefits more than just those who read the paper.
Here is a picture of Edward Snowden, that I took in June of last year ...:
... in Battersea, right across the road from where the big new US Embassy is being constructed. (Pictures of that, as recently was and as soon will be, here.)