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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: Propaganda

Sunday October 12 2014

I have already quoted a couple of interesting bits from Bill Bryson’s excellent book, At Home.  I have now finished reading this, but just before I did, I encountered some interesting stuff about paint (pp. 453-5):

When paints became popular, people wanted them to be as vivid as they could possibly be made. The restrained colours that we associate with the Georgian period in Britain, or Colonial period in America, are a consequence of fading, not decorative restraint. In 1979, when Mount Vernon began a programme of repainting the interiors in faithful colours, ‘people came and just yelled at us’, Dennis Pogue, the curator, told me with a grin when I visited. ‘They told us we were making Mount Vernon garish. They were right - we were. But that’s just because that’s the way it was. It was hard for a lot of people to accept that what we were doing was faithful restoration.

‘Even now paint charts for Colonial-style paints virtually always show the colours from the period as muted. In fact, colours were actually nearly always quite deep and sometimes even startling. The richer a colour you could get, the more you tended to be admired. For one thing, rich colours generally denoted expense, since you needed a lot of pigment to make them. Also, you need to remember that often these colours were seen by candlelight, so they needed to be more forceful to have any kind of impact in muted light.’

The effect is now repeated at Monticello, where several of the rooms are of the most vivid yellows and greens.  Suddenly George Washington and Thomas Jefferson come across as having the decorative instincts of hippies. In fact, however, compared with what followed they were exceedingly restrained.

When the first ready-mixed paints came on to the market in the second half of the nineteenth century, people slapped them on with something like wild abandon. It became fashionable not just to have powerfully bright colours in the home, but to have as many as seven or eight colours in a single room.

If we looked closely, however, we would be surprised to note that two very basic colours didn’t exist at all in Mr Marsham’s day: a good white and a good black. The brightest white available was a rather dull off-white, and although whites improved through the nineteenth century, it wasn’t until the 1940s, with the addition of titanium dioxide to paints, that really strong, lasting whites became available. The absence of a good white paint would have been doubly noticeable in early New England, for the Puritans not only had no white paint but didn’t believe in painting anyway. (They thought it was showy.) So all those gleaming white churches we associate with New England towns are in fact a comparatively recent phenomenon.

Also missing from the painter’s palette was a strong black. Permanent black paint, distilled from tar and pitch, wasn’t popularly available until the late nineteenth century. So all the glossy black front doors, railings, gates, lampposts, gutters, downpipes and other fittings that are such an elemental feature of London’s streets today are actually quite recent. If we were to be thrust back intime to Dickens’s London, one of the most startling differences to greet us would be the absence of black painted surfaces. In the time of Dickens, almost all ironwork was green, light blue or dull grey.

Famously, the rise of the Modern Movement in Architecture was triggered by, among many other things, a revulsion against the excesses of Victorian-era decoration, especially architectural decoration.  Decoration became mechanised, and thus both much more common and much less meaningful.  What did all this mechanised decoration prove, what did it mean, when you could thrash it out with no more difficulty than you could erect a plain wall?

What the above Bryson quote strongly suggests, at any rate to me, is that something rather similar happened with colour.

Why is the overwhelming atmosphere of Modernist architecture and architectural propaganda so very monochrome, still.  Part of the answer is that it was only recently learned how to do monochrome.  Monochrome looked modern, from about 1900-ish onwards, because it was modern.  Monochrome was the latest thing.  Colour, meanwhile, had become much cheaper and had been used with garish nouveau riche excess, and there was a reaction to that also, just as there was to excessive decoration.

Thursday October 02 2014

Earlier this evening I attended a talk given by Michael Jennings at the Rose and Crown in Southwark.  Read Michael’s background briefing about the things he talked about further this evening, either here, or here.

I have friends who seem to revel in having their photos taken, but Michael is not one of them.  He entirely lacks vanity, and tends, when being photoed, to have the look of a man worrying about how bad he fears he will look in the photo.  So it was that, having earlier been asked for a photo of Michael by Simon Gibbs, the organiser of the meeting, I was only able quickly to find one that was remotely good enough.  (You can see it at the other end of the second of the above links.) This evening I made a particular effort to correct this, and here is one of the better shots that I took of Michael this evening:

image

The most dramatic moment in the evening came when the Putin-echoing stooge Russian lady in the audience (there always seem to be one such stooge at any public event mentioning Russia and its current policies) tangled with Michael on the subject of Poland.  Why were the Poles so paranoid about Russia and so keen to join NATO?

Michael replied with a short history lesson that was brief, and crushing.  Nazi-Soviet Pact.  (The stooge later denied that this had even happened, so Michael later told me.) Katyn Massacre.  Warsaw Uprising.  (Stalin parked the Red Army outside Warsaw and let the Nazis crush it.) An imposed Communist government, that the Poles would never have chosen for themselves, for the next half century.  Final sentence, something like: “If fearing Russia after all that means you are paranoid, then yes, I guess the Poles are paranoid.” Applause.  With any luck, this little interchange will be viewable on video, along with the talk itself of course.

Earlier, the lady stooge had waxed eloquent to me, in the socialising period before the talk, about the superiority of Russian education over English education.  She had a point.  Russian children are indeed made to work far harder at their lessons than English children are these days.  But what if the lessons they learn are a pack of lies?

See also this, recently at Samizdata.

On a happier note, I harvested several names and emails of various young, clever libertarians to add to my Brian’s Last Fridays list.  A couple of them being, so it seemed to me, of exceptional promise.  (I hope that doesn’t sound patronising.) I was particularly impressed by this guy.

Tuesday July 22 2014

I haven’t yet finished showing you photos from that Adam Smith Institute Boat Trip, that I got in on and took lots of photos of, at the beginning of this month, and which I have been showing here, now and again, ever since then.  I’m hardly even close.

For instance, it’s taken me three quarters of a month to get around to it, but, of course, there were other photographers present besides me:

image image imageimage image imageimage image imageimage image imageimage image image

I chose these pictures simply because they fitted the bill subject matter wise, and because they look nice.  I did not choose them to illustrate any particular point about digital photography.

The result being that they do illustrate a particular point about digital photography.  Consider the stats.

There are two regular old school digital cameras to be seen snapping (1.1 and 1.3), three if you count mine.  There is also just the one big tablet being used (3.3). 

All the other photographers are using mobile phones.

Usually, when I photograph photographers, there are more regular old school dedicated digital cameras to be seen.  But this is because I am photographing lots of “photographers”, i.e. people like me, who see themselves as more photography-minded than regular people.

What this boat trip illustrates is how much regular people now use their mobiles to take photos, in among all that networking and connecting and chatting and socialising.  It isn’t so much that mobiles have replaced those tiny, cheap digital cameras, although yes it is that, a bit.  But it is more that mobiles can now take photos, so now they do.  A lot of photos are now being taken that would not have been taken at all, before mobile phones learned how to take photos, by people for whom mobile phones are essential, and photography with mobile phones began only as an extra.

And you can bet that many of the photos that the above people were taking were already flying off into the big www beyond, to work their propaganda magic, promoting the ASI, its Boat Trip, and the people who went on it, before the trip was even over.

Young people these days are quicker off the mark than I am.  That’s their job.  And being slower off the mark is mine.

Wednesday July 16 2014

The reason to do crowd scenes is to show what a big crowd it was.  Yes, it matters who was individually present.  But the sheer number of individuals present also counts, a lot.  It counts that they are too numerous to count conveniently.  Think what some of them might accomplish, in the years to come.  The law of averages says it’s bound to add up to something.

Crowd scenes also show the venue, which, if impressive, ought to register in the photos taken.  And could there be a more impressive venue than London on a fine evening, from the river?  Earth has not anything to show more fair.

image image imageimage image imageimage image imageimage image imageimage image image

What’s that you say?  One of these pictures is just a head shot?  Not a crowd scene, you say?  Look again.

Saturday July 12 2014

Yes, here are yet more snaps I snapped on that boat trip.  This time they are not of people posing in groups, but of individuals, if not on their own, then photoed on their own by me.  Other people are strictly background:

image image imageimage image imageimage image image

The point of these pictures, for me, is not who the people are, simply that I like the pictures.  But, for the record, the one’s whose names I know are: 1.1 Damien, 1.2 Noreen, 2.3 ASI Co-Supremo Madsen, 3.1 Mr Devil’s Kitchen, 3.3 ASI Junior Supremo Sam. If anyone knows others, please comment accordingly.

Once again there is a propaganda message here.  As well as adding up to a happy and companionable movement, these people include some very interesting separate, individual people, distinct characters.  What I like to think these pictures get across is how clever these people are, as well as good humoured and good fun.

The light in these pictures was not perfectly handled, nor was it in the previous batch of photos from this trip, of people posing in groups.  But photoshop (or whatever you personally use) is a wonderful thing, and great pictures can be extracted from very average ones these days with no great strain, the way only fictional spies used to be able to do.

Besides which, I really like 3.2, of the young woman next to the no smoking sign.  I think all that light and shadow makes her look really good.  Okay, it wouldn’t do as a portrait, and it certainly wouldn’t do as a passport photo, but as a picture in its own right, I like how it came out.  She looks intelligent, I think.  Not that she didn’t to begin with, but you get my point.

In general, I think it creates a far better photographic atmosphere to have lots of light splashing around everywhere, even if that sometimes makes for somewhat unsightly shadows and badly lit faces.  The point is not: these are great photos, artistically speaking (even though some of them are pretty good even from that point of view).  The point is: it was a great boat trip, and everyone had great time.

I also think that bridges, which I like for their own sake, make good backgrounds for head shots.

Wednesday July 09 2014

The key moment for me on that boat trip came near the beginning, when Eamonn Butler, Joint Head Person of the Adam Smith Institute asked me to send in any good photos that I took.

Until that moment, I had not been sure whether photography was really tolerated, let alone encouraged.  But I took that as an invite to snap away all evening.  (It wasn’t that really, but that’s how I chose to interpret it.)

The bread-and-butter shot when photoing occasions like this one is the posed group.  People in groups, who are friends, or who are maybe becoming friends, and who know that they are being photographed, are duly photographed, resulting in pictures like most of these ones:

image image imageimage image imageimage image imageimage image image

Photos 1.1, 2.3 and 4.2 don’t quite fit the posed group template, because here the people in the shot aren’t posing for it, merely being photoed.  But the message is much the same.  Here are some attractive, intelligent, companionable young people, having a good time in each other’s company.  They believe in libertarianism and free markets, and are going to make that count for something in the years and decades to come.  Socially isolated human atoms they are not.

3.1 is also a bit of a departure from the norm, but you want a bit of craziness at such events.  If absolutely everyone is being nice and polite and well behaved, then it ain’t a proper party.  Once again, Mr Arm Tattoo (the previous posting in this series featured that same Arm getting itself a drink) contributes a bit of quirkiness and danger to the event. When I was a kid, only self-declared professional criminals had tattoos like that, or so I was raised to believe.  At best, people who worked at fair grounds.  Those days are now long gone.

Tuesday July 08 2014

Here.  (Via here.)

PLUS, from the comments on the piece (first link above), from the writer of the piece himself:

Invoking Godwin’s Law is the type of thing Hitler would do.

Very true.

Friday July 04 2014

A while back, I asked Madsen Pirie how it was that the Adam Smith Institute had been so successful in getting young people interested in libertarianism, free markets, and so on.  Simple, he replied.  Have a party, with free drink.  That gets them to come. Start the party by saying that libertarianism and the free market and so on are great but get that over with quickly, and then serve the drink.  That’s it?  That’s it.  Well, there is a bit more to it than that.  The message may be brief on the night, but it needs to be good and it has to be backed up during the day with a mass of sober activity and verbiage.  But, ignore the free drink and you are not understanding the ASI.

This was certainly the formula for this Boat Trip, as you can see:

image image

When I first got there, I chatted with ASI Junior Boss Sam Bowman, and I think I mentioned this give-them-the-message-and-then-fill-’em-up doctrine.  Sam then talked about how the ASI gets ideological bang for its alcoholic buck by buying its own good but cheap drink - good but cheap champagne on this particular evening - in bulk (that being why it’s cheap), and bringing it to events like this.  Which means that lugging big crates of drink around London, from the ASI office to wherever the latest event is is a big part of the life of an ASIer.  Serving alcohol is central to their entire way of going about things.  This is not some sort of afterthought.  Alcohol is to the ASI almost what petrol is to a car.

Drink also makes for good photos, I think.  (The ASI used the one of the table full of glasses, with the tattooed arm.) Nothing says jollification to come like a table full of full glasses, especially if the sun is shining all over them.  And once the punters get their hands on the bubbly, that makes for more good photos, because the bubbles make automatic focussing work so very well.

Sunday June 15 2014

Mick Hartley writes about England’s loss to Italy last night in their opening World Cup game:

Much football punditry has always seemed to me to be an effort to provide a plausible post-hoc storyline for what was to a considerable extent a matter of chance.  … as though the whole enterprise must be made sense of by virtue of the winning team being the team that deserved to win.

Very true.  (I’m guessing that, with luck (ho ho), this book will have a lot more to say about this tendency.) Actually, much of the appeal of football (to those to whom it appeals) is that the “best” team on the day often doesn’t win.  This means that the supporters of bad teams can live in constant hope of upsets.

This also explains why, at the early stages of a season, surprising teams are often at the top of the table.  Later, the law of averages asserts itself inexorably, and the best teams arrange themselves in logical order at the top, and the surprise early leaders sink back into the pack where they belong.

All of which makes something like the World Cup quite good fun.  All you have to do to win it is win five or six of your first six games.  All the best teams have to do not to win is lose one or two of their first six games.  One of the great moments of all World Cups is the one when a Much Fancied Team gets on its Early Plane Home.

What the pundits seem to have been saying about England is that, because the “expectation level” is low, they might do quite well.  The expectation level is low so it’s high, in other words.  My take on England is that they are a fairly bad team, who played fairly well against Italy, and lost, and that they will probably do fairly badly, but you never know, because there are only half a dozen games for each team to play.  I will video-record all of England’s games, such as they are, just in case.  I live in hope of a small series of upsets.

I also video-recorded the Spain Netherlands game, by far the most remarkable one so far.  Will Spain be this time around’s Much Fancied Team early departure home?

And I also videoed the first game, between Brazil and Croatia, with its truly dire opening ceremony.  This was a real collector’s item of awfulness.  What is it about these terrible opening ceremonies, with their meaningless costumes and absurd dance moves?  Witnessing them is like listening to someone talking in a language has only recently been invented - for aliens to speak in a movie, for instance - which consists of no actual words, only meaningless sounds.

The opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympics in London contained many things I disagreed with, and I continue to disagree with the entire principle of me and all other anti-Olympickers having to pay for the damn thing for the next thousand years.  But at least that ceremony contained stuff that meant something.  Although come to think of it, maybe the only people who understood it was us Brits, and for countless mllions elsewhere, that was also the gibbering of aliens.

Saturday May 31 2014

Yesterday was the last Friday of the month, and that means a do at my place.  This time I remembered to take photos:

image

I’m not expecting many marks for artistic impression with that one, but it gets across what these things are like quite well.  It’s not a big place, so there’s only room for a few more than a dozen, a dozen in comfort, and that is always the number of people that seems to show up.  (There were a few more present last night than you can see in that picture.)

What the turnout lacks in quantity it really seems to make up, time and again, in quality, and that was especially so last night.  And because numbers are small, that means that people can really dig into the subject.  They can really think aloud, so to speak, rather than just soak up what the speaker says and then maybe ask the one snappy question. Which means that people who came to learn about the subject, really do, more than they would have done from just the one speaker.  Afterwards, there isplenty of time for further talk and networking, what with the place being mine, rather than some hired venue that has to be vacated in a rush.

Although I promise nothing, I will try to say more about the actual topic (Internet Governance - more about that in this posting) in future blog postings.  Today was busy for me, and tomorrow will also be crowded, although the main reason for that is I’m meeting my mates in a pub to watch the IPL Final.

What’s that you say?  What does IPL stand for?  IPL means Indian Premier League, 20-20 cricket, tomorrow’s final being between the Rajasthan Royals and the Kolkata Knight Riders.  Last night was also full of acronyms.  More about them (see above) later.  Maybe.

Talking of acronyms, who knew that Detlev Schlichter had opinions about the England and Wales Cricket Board?

Wednesday April 09 2014

As already noted here, I did a piece last week for Samizdata entitled The Institute of Economic Affairs and its support for Liberty League Freedom Forum 2014.  “Hayek1337” has just added this interesting and informative comment, which I want to remember before it disappears off the bottom of Samizdata:

It’s worth noting that Liberty League is ultimately run by Anton Howes, James Lawson, and Will Hamilton – who I’ve considered great friends since their first conference (and the 80s dance floor in some dingy Birmingham club).

Their contribution in the silent background is huge, even if largely ignored. They had the entrepreneurial drive, and they’re the ones who make sure the conference actually has worthwhile speakers,and young people filling the rooms. They do it on the side, Anton’s a full time PHD student for example, but often has a bigger impact than a lot of these full time think tankers. They don’t make a penny from their efforts, it all goes to the conference and supporting student societies. There’s also whole Liberty League team around them, promoting Liberty across all corners of the UK at student societies.

Obviously the IEA is a big backer, and it’s got a hell of a lot of financial muscle, but Liberty League is very close to others in the Free Market movement, and isn’t an IEA project. I’ve seen those three at every Adam Smith Institute Next Generation since time began, and I met two of them at Freedom Week, back when it was set up by JP Floru of the ASI. So, you’ve got to look at return on investment, and those in the background. People like Madsen Pirie of the ASI, and Donal Blaney in the more Conservative movement have played a key role here – identifying and developing entrepreneurs in the battle of ideas, or as Atlas calls them, “multipliers for liberty”.

I guess it’s a case of the more multipliers for liberty the merrier …

Indeed. Quality is good, but quantity of quality has a extra quality about it.  It’s not just more of the same.  Things become possible, even inevitable, that were impossible before quantity kicked in.

I’ve admired Anton Howes for quite a while, and I hope to get to meet and learn more about James Lawson and Will Hamilton at LLFF2014, which is happening next weekend.  Here are some pictures of these three, at the top of this clutch.

What I’ve heard about James Lawson (him in particular) says he might be an excellent Brian’s Fridays speaker.

Sunday April 06 2014

...  but something from me here, about the IEA and LLFF2014.

Sunday March 30 2014

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.

Wednesday March 26 2014

On Monday last I attended a BBC Radio 4 event, at which Evan Davis interviewed Deirdre McCloskey:

image image

Yes that is the same screen, and it remained the same colour throughout.  In “reality” I mean.  If you were there, which I was.

But digital cameras, when set on “automatic” as mine always is, have minds of their own when it comes to colour.  One picture happens to have a lot of a certain colour in it, and it changes the overall colour of everything to compensate.  For instance, when you take indoor pictures but there is outdoor sky to be seen, then even if in reality the sky is deepest grey, the camera turns the sky deepest blue, and the indoor bits orange.  Likewise, when the sky is blue, but if you are outdoors, the camera, for no reason, is liable to fill a clear blue sky with pollution and turn it a sort of slate colour.  What was happening here is that these two pictures are both cropped.  But the left one was only cropped a bit, while the left one was cropped a lot.  And the stuff that got cropped out of the left one meant that the screen was no longer green.  It was blue.

As to what Deidre McCloskey actually said, well the thing I was most intrigued by was that she was entirely cool about being asked about how she used to be Donald McCloskey.  In which connection, don’t you just love how that circumstance is alluded to in this:

image

That’s an article reproduced at her website.  So, is that her handwriting?  Could well be.

I doubt the medical side of the switch was as easy to do as that.

The libertarian propaganda side of this is that McCloskey is a character, rather than just a boring bod in a suit.  The usual evasive sneers against pro-capitalists just won’t work on her.  And I even think it helps that (maybe because of those medical dramas - don’t know) her voice is a strange hybrid of male and female, often sounding a bit like electrical feedback.  She also has a slight but definite stutter.

The reason I feel entitled to mention all this is that it clearly does not bother her, or if it does she has learned very well to stop it bothering her, and indeed to make a communicational virtue of it all.  I guess she figures if you are saying interesting stuff, it really doesn’t matter if your voice sounds a bit funny and if people sometimes have to wait a second or two before hearing the next bit of it.  In fact it probably even helps, because it gets everyone listening, proactively as it were, guessing what is coming instead of just hearing it.

See also: Hawking.

Thursday March 13 2014

Here is another of those postings where I stick two pictures up next to each other, in order to remember something in one or both of them better than I have been doing.  (I’m getting old.)

This time it’s another person whose name I am determined to stop getting wrong, who is called Christiana Hambro.  For no intelligent reason that I can think of, I have been getting the Christiana bit of her name wrong.  The good news is that I can’t now even remember what I used to say instead, because I have known for several hours, ever since I thought about doing it, what the rest of this posting is going to consist of, and because this posting is already doing the job of fixing Christiana’s correct Christian name, Christiana, in my head, even before I write the posting, never mind before I stick it up for others to read.

Christiana is the one on the left, of these two pictures:

image image

And the one of the right is Christian.  Christian Michel.  I have never got Christian’s Christian name wrong.  Putting these two people next to one another in my head has solved my Christiana Hambro problem.

Christian Michel will be speaking at my next Last Friday meeting, on March 28th.  This is what he just emailed me about what he will be saying:

In August 1938, a rich and talented American journalist gathered 36 economists and philosophers in Paris, in what has become known after his name: the Lippmann Colloquium. The objective was nothing less than a refoundation of liberalism, under attack by Marxists and Fascists. Participants only agreed in their opposition to command economies. Mises remained attached to unfettered free markets.  Röpke and Rüstow developed what became Ordoliberalism, still the official ideology in today’s Germany.  Einaudi, future president of Italy, remained faithful to the social teachings of the Church. Hayek tried to federate all these currents in the Mont Pélerin Society, to the point of dilution. In America, neo-liberals merged into the neo-conservative movement, whilst in France, Michel Foucault, in his insightful Birth of Biopolitics, reclaimed it for libertarianism (which he espoused in his last works, to the horror of the Leftist establishment). Today, for the likes of Naomi Klein and George Monbiot, the term ‘neoliberalism’ is a word of abuse, whilst it was meant to characterize the very ‘third way’ they so eagerly embrace. In the talk, I will go over the debates within the liberal movement of the last 80 years, which all revolve around the definition of this neologism: neo-liberalism.

In my thankyou email back to him, I told Christian that this piece alone makes an illuminating read.

Which is a lot of the point of talks these days, now that we can all know about everything that is happening that we even might be attending.  Yes, the small number of people who choose to squeeze themselves into my living room on the 28th will hear Christian’s talk, and very good and very detailed it will be, I am sure.  They will learn lots that will not be learned by others.  But meanwhile, many more will read the above spiel by Christian about his talk, and the ripples will spread out way beyond my living room.  If just half the people on the Brian’s Fridays email list read the above piece, when I send it out in about a week’s time, many of them will learn quite a lot.  I had no idea Michel Foucault ended up as a libertarian, until Christian started telling me about this.

I found the above picture of Christian Michel here.  I probably could have dug up a picture of him taken by me, but image googling was easier, given the state of my photo-archives.

Christiana’s relevance to all this is that she is one of a number of free-market-stroke-libertarian activists who have been putting some organisational juice behind spreading these ideas to British students.  She is based at the I(nstitute of) E(conomic) A(ffairs).  I took that photo of Christiana at the Liberty League Freedom Forum 2013, which she helped to organise, and “helped” may well be a serious understatement.

I hope to organise a Brian’s Friday at which Christiana and/or one of her colleagues describe the outreach work they are doing at the IEA.  In my opinion it is the biggest single piece of news about the spread of libertarian thinking in Britain.  The British public continue to be indifferent to libertarian ideas, as is their habit with so many ideas.  But the British student libertarian movement is now growing from insignificant to … significant, and it is to a great degree thanks to the work of people like Christiana.