Brian Micklethwait's Blog
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Category archive: Current events
A man believed to be a recreational drone operator accidentally crashed a small device onto the White House grounds early Monday, investigators said, briefly triggering a lockdown and reinforcing concerns about security at the executive mansion.
Here, as promised, is a big clutch of photos of signs that I took at the Trafalgar Square demo yesterday. If you want to, click on a square to get the original photo. The squares have, in quite a few cases been fiddled out with to make them a bit clearer, but the originals you’ll get to with clicking are exactly as taken.
There were, of course, lots of signs (including many mobile phones and at least one tablet) saying “I AM CHARLIE”, in fact you can see quite a few such if you do some clicking. But, here are all the signs I photographed that said something else as well, or instead:
Of all of these, my two favourites are “Team Civilization”, and “Down With The Tyranny of The Offended” (in French). But demos are at least as much about quantity as quality, and I trust the sheer number of signs shown here (there were plenty more that I didn’t get to photo) makes the bigger point. There were a lot of people turning out to denounce these horrible attacks.
Even the rather or almost completely illegible signs are an encouragement, I think, because what these signs tell us is that quite a few people were present, and feeling strongly enough about it to want to wave a sign, who had never been anywhere near such a demo ever before.
Feel free to reproduce any of these images at will, with or without attribution. If you’d like bigger versions of any of the pictures, my email can be found here, top left, where it says “Contact”.
Spent the middle of the day at the demo, taking my usual excessive number of pictures, and then the evening trying to divide them up into clumps to show here, or somewhere.
My main impression was that this was a real demo, rather than some faked up exercise in pretending to be angry about some bit of bad economic or political news that some bunch of people have just been hit by, but not very hard, with lots of identical signs all printed out by the same dubious Marxist agitprop organisation, and then afterwards lots of moaning about how the evil Mass Media paid no attention. There were a lot of people there:
Not surprisingly, there were a lot of French people present, what with London now containing so many French people. Also not surprisingly, the average age of those present was young, what with there being so many young French people in London.
My thanks to Goddaughter 2, now back in London, who told me that she and a friend were going to attend. Had she not done this, I would only have twigged that it was happening when it started happening and I saw it on the telly.
I have in mind, Real Soon Now, to be posting a clump of pictures of the signs and pictures that people were holding up, along the lines of these photos, that I took of a much smaller demo in London a while back, including the one above, and also including this one, which I especially like:
My immediate reaction to the Paris brouhaha was not: “I am Charlie Hebdo!” It was to take another crack at reading the Quran, to check if it really is as obnoxious as I remember it being the first time around. So far, it is, even more than I remember.
The biggest cat news right now is that a tiger is causing an international incident, between Russia and China:
Chinese media claims the feline in question is Ustin, one of five electronically-tagged Siberian tigers released by Russian authorities in May and June 2014.
The big cat has since wandered into northeastern China where, national news agency Xinhua reports, he entered a farm, killing fifteen goats over two nights and leaving another three missing.
Xinhua claims Ustin was among the first group of tigers released in May by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russia denies this claim, suggesting that he was released in June, by Russian conservationists.
Apart from that, the only decent cat story is about a place in America that smells of cat piss. They don’t yet know why. They may never know.
This morning, did an SQotD about Uber.
Other Perry (Metzger) added this:
Uber does not always offer cheaper service. They operate on a market pricing mechanism to assure availability.
This means that, for example, on New Year’s Eve in NYC, you are assured you can get an Uber car even though normal taxis are essentially unavailable because of excess demand, but you will also discover the Uber car will be quite expensive. This is, of course, as it should be — the spike in price encourages as many Uber drivers as possible to work during a rush period. However, it is also decried by those who do not understand economics.
You could turn this around and say that Uber will be a sort of ongoing economics lesson for the citizenry.
Libertarians like me are always going on about how prices are a signalling mechanism. Uber makes this extremely clear, I think.
The speaker I had previously arranged had to cancel, hence the delay in me telling the world about it, but … my speaker at my last Friday of the Month meeting on April 25th, i.e. this coming Friday, will be my good friend (and frequent commenter here) Michael Jennings, talking about Russia. Russia is lways an important topic of discussion, but it is of course now also a particularly timely and newsworthy one.
Here is what Michael has just emailed me about what he will be talking about.
On the 21st of last month, I arrived in Moscow. This was my first trip to Russia. That this was my first trip to Russia was somewhat curious. I have been a frequent traveller for twenty five years and a compulsive one for the last ten years, and throughout that time I would have always put Russia in the top few countries that I wanted to visit, and yet I never did.
This was not, however, remotely, my first trip to the lands of the former Soviet Union. I had previously been to Latvia and Estonia (twice). I had previously been to Ukraine (five times). I had previously been to Moldova (twice). I had previously been to Georgia (four times). I had previously been to Armenia (twice). The former Warsaw Pact countries further west than that, I have been to many times - around 20 times in the case of Poland, half a dozen times to Romania, and multiple times to all the others.
My reasons for visiting these countries have always been private. I go where my curiosity takes me. I go where my financial resources can take me. And I go where other, bureaucratic and practical obstacles are relatively easy.
What factors led to my choice of destinations? Well, two practical factors. One was the ease or difficulty of obtaining a visa. The other was the ease, of difficulty of physically travelling there. The rise of discount airlines was a key factor in all of this, also. Their presence in markets not only makes it easier and cheaper to get there, but is at least an indicator in how open to the west the country is trying to be.
Going east, there has long been a psychological boundary between places looking east to Moscow and places looking west to, well, no particular city or place, but western Europe in general. The business with the visas and discount airlines has made it easy to go up to that boundary, if you will, as it moves around. At times, it has allowed me to go over that boundary, sometimes to slightly hairy places such as Transnistria and Abkhazia - breakaway regions of Moldova and Georgia respectively. More commonly, though, what I mean by this is the drabber regions of Ukraine or Moldova.
However, it was time to bite the bullet, and go completely to the other side. So, Moscow. As it happened, the wall appeared to be permeable. The western discount airlines have started flying to Russia, at least in a small way. The visa process was baroque and Soviet, but the customer service was with a smile. I had Russian contacts who were happy to catch up for a beer in one of the many English pubs in Moscow and St Petersburg. Even when they worked for the Russian government, they were happy to talk pretty frankly about what was going on.
And yet, in the couple of weeks before I arrived, Russia had been asserting its power over Crimea. On the day I arrived, (according to Russia, at least) Russia formally annexed Crimea. (I got to see a lovely fireworks display over the Moskva river in the evening.) The places I could go on a discount airline without a visa retreated that day, possibly for the first time since 1991.
And that was the overall impression I got of Moscow and St Petersburg. There is a feel of modern cities in both places, but certain things are askew. And certain things are absent. (Soviet style customer service still exists in many places. But in others it doesn’t.) Middle class life feels like middle class life in many places, although if you are poorer, I suspect life is very different. On Friday I will describe some of this, and if I am bold I will try to draw some conclusions.
Excellent. And to Michael, my gratitude for having got me out of a small bind with what will, I am sure, be an excellent talk at rather short notice. Not that the short notice will affect its quality. If it is as good as the talk he gave at my home last year about globalisation, all those who attend this Friday will be much educated and much entertained.
I’m guessing that the mood of the meeting will be a lot like this Samizdata QotD from Michael Totten. But that’s only a guess.
Incoming from Rob Fisher, about a Bitcoin vending machine in London. I wonder how that works. It would probably defeat me. There was no mention of this on Friday night, when Dominic Frisby spoke at my place about Bitcoin, or not that I heard.
Now that I am mentioning incoming from Rob Fisher, there was also earlier incoming from Rob Fisher about a Lego photographer, which sounds like someone merely photographing Lego. But it’s a lot sillier than that.
While saving the Lego Photographer I came across a photo I had saved in the same directory of a Lego Hawking, so here is that also, on the right there. I found this photo of Lego Hawking … somewhere on the internet. Google Lego Hawking and you’ll get many hits. Best to get all such nonsense blogged and forgotten, all in one go.
And here is a photo I took yesterday. I once thought that these Evening Standard headlines would by now be a thing of the quite distant past, but they are still with us, for the time being anyway, along with the Evening Standard itself, which has survived being given away and as of now shows no sign of disappearing.
There is something charmingly antiquated about the word “swoop”, isn’t there? This swoop took place - when else? - at dawn, yesterday morning.
Yes, welcome to Operation Octopod. Truly:
Detectives set up a specialist team which worked in secret for months to gather evidence against the gang in an inquiry codenamed Operation Octopod. Most of the 200 officers involved in the raids were not even told of the targets, only given the addresses they were raiding.
This sounds like it might eventually become quite a good story.
Interestingly, this Evening Standard story goes out of its way to say that the family being arrested have not been named. But the link to the story contains these words:
And later they changed the headline above the story on the website, to include the word “Adams”. And indeed, it seems that the arrested family really is called Adams. Expect the phrase Adams Family Values to crop up a lot in the next few days and weeks.
And in a few years, another movie, about London’s own Adams Family and their dastardly deeds.
Mark Steyn may be a grump about such things as the future of Western Civilisation, but he sure can write:
For much of last year, a standard trope of President Obama’s speechwriters was that there were certain things only government could do. “That’s how we built this country - together,” he declared. “We constructed railroads and highways, the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge. We did those things together.” As some of us pointed out, for the cost of Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill alone, you could have built 1,567 Golden Gate Bridges - or one mega-Golden Gate Bridge stretching from Boston to just off the coast of Ireland. Yet there isn’t a single bridge, or a single dam (“You will never see another federal dam,” his assistant secretary of the interior assured an audience of environmentalists). Across the land, there was not a thing for doting network correspondents in hard hats to stand in front of and say, “Obama built this.”
Until now, that is. Obamacare is as close to a Hoover Dam as latter-day Big Government gets. Which is why its catastrophic launch is sobering even for those of us who’ve been saying for five years it would be a disaster. It’s as if at the ribbon-cutting the Hoover Dam cracked open and washed away the dignitaries; as if the Golden Gate Bridge was opened to traffic with its central span missing; as if Apollo 11 had taken off for the moon but landed on Newfoundland. Obama didn’t have to build a dam or a bridge or a spaceship, just a database and a website. This is his world, the guys he hangs with, the zeitgeist he surfs so dazzlingly, Apple and Google, apps and downloads. But his website’s a sclerotic dump, and the database is a hacker’s heaven, and all that’s left is the remorseless snail mail of millions and millions of cancellation letters.
And then it disappears behind a paywall. Which is to say a place where links probably don’t work for you. Which is why I never pay to get beyond paywalls. I pay for things I want. But paywalls, walls I cannot direct every single one of my readers through (in the event that they wish to be directed so), I do not want.
But, I’ll bet you anything, at least this paywall works properly.
I just left a comment at Samizdata, on this posting by Natalie Solent (who has been very productive there of late) about the lack of security of the ObamaCare website, and this Guardian story on the subject:
The insecurity of the site, probably incurable in less than several months (from what I’m reading), has always struck me (ever since I first read about it a week or two back) as the absolute worst thing about ObamaCare, though I admit it’s a crowded field. The Bad News letters from insurance companies at least put a number to how much money is now going to be screwed out of you, that Obama said (about forty times) you would not be screwed out of. But all that data lying around for any tech-savvy passer-by to grab means there’s no upper limit to what you just might lose, if you have anything whatsoever to do with this horrible horrible thing.
It took me years to trust Amazon with my bank details. Only when about half the world seemed to be signing up for that deal did I take the plunge, and I still fear that in some mysterious way I might one day regret this. I mean, what if Amazon gets taken over by greedy incompetents, skilled only at crookedness, of the sort now already running ObamaCare (and also “advising” people about it)? I know, there are safeguards in place, but my fear is, although small, real. My fear with Obamacare would now be big, and real. My attitude to ObamaCare would be (a) I want nothing – absolutely nothing – to do with it, and (b) If the President and his gang say I have to have something to do with it, then I hope the President and his gang rot in hell.
Obama, it seems to me, has been treated like a great many other bad black Americans. He has been cut a million miles of slack, never criticised, never taught any morals, and now suddenly, patience has run out and he faces a lynch mob of enraged citizens. He is going to get the political version of a life-time prison sentence, namely a place in the Presidential Hall of Infamy. (I know what you’re thinking: wishful thinking on my part. Maybe. But his friends are all abandoning him now. He surely now realises that he has screwed up big, and that there is no way back.)
Heinlein had things to say about this. If you are going to punish big later, then it is kinder to give your punishee some warning, with small punishments earlier, when he does small things wrong when younger. I’m not talking physical abuse here, just the odd harsh word when the kid does a bad thing. That way he learns, instead of being hit with the kitchen sink, out of the blue, when he turns 18 or 50 or whatever.
The Walkie Talkie has a problem. It is frying nearby shops and passers-by with a concentrated death-beam of sunlight.
Here is a picture that I took of the Walkie Talkie earlier this year, the Walkie Talkie being the big downward tapering lump on the right:
As this picture shows, one of the Walkie Talkie’s faces, the one pointing towards the river, is a giant concave mirror, pointing a bit downwards, which (had anyone used those words to describe that face) should have said that it would cause exactly the sort of trouble that it has now caused.
I am currently attempting a piece about modernism in architecture for Samizdata, and it would help me to be able to link to a picture of the Walkie Talkie which shows not only the building itself (which is what the news stories are all now showing), but also the building in its wider urban context. This piece of writing is already a very complicated and unwieldy one, and it may never get finished, but meanwhile there is the kind of picture I need to be able to link to.
The footbridge is the new Millenium Bridge, which also had a problem when first built. It wobbled.
This photo was taken from inside the new Blackfriars Railway Station, the one on a bridge. It was taken through glass, hence the occasional bits of reflected light.
(But, hence also the rather agreeable blueness of the sky. All glass, however clear it seems, acts as a photographic filter. This explains also why views reflected in windows often come out looking better than the views themselves.)
By which I mean interesting software news from New Zealand.
A computer programme is not an invention:
A major new patent bill, passed in a 117-4 vote by New Zealand’s Parliament after five years of debate, has banned software patents.
Quotulatiousness (to whom thanks for the NewZ) says hurrah.
LATER: I emailed Rob Fisher about this, and he replied thus:
That is interesting, thanks.
Incoming from Craig Willy, of whom I did not know until now:
I see you’ve written a great deal on Emmanuel Todd. I have just written a summary of his big history book, L’invention de l’Europe. I thought you might find it interesting.
I also see you have the impression he mainly criticizes the U.S. for being a “hollowed out,” financialized “fake” economy. In fact he is incredibly critical of the eurozone, for that very reason, which he argues is responsible for the hollowing out, dysfunction and financialism of the French and peripheral European economies.
All the best, and feel free to share if you write anything new on Todd. My Twitter.
In response to my email thanking him for the above email, and asking if he has written anything else about Todd, Willy writes:
I discuss him a fair bit on my Twitter feed as he offends many with his criticism of Germany and euroskepticism. Otherwise I just wrote this short piece on Todd and the euro from a while back.
This I have now read. Very interesting, and I think very right. Interesting parallel between the Euro and the Algerian War.
Things appear to be really motoring on the Todd-stuff-in-English front. At last.
Commenter Jimmy Haigh (May 30, 3:05 PM), on this at Bishop Hill:
He’s trying to sit on the fence and eat it too.
He is talking about the revolting Tim Yeo, who either has, or has not, changed his mind about Global Warming, depending on who you read. But either way, he continues to make lots of money out of it.
Yesterday I waited until it was nearly dark for it to stop snowing, but it never did and I went out anyway, back to see whether the new crane that I spotted last Friday on lorries was up and craning.
As soon as I got to Vauxhall Bridge Road, I had my answer. Here is how things looked from Vauxhall Bridge, and then from closer to:
That I was able to get closer was down to the fact that they have now cleared up sufficiently for traffic to be flowing again. Fast work.
Which meant that I could, without interrupting anything more important, take a closer look at where the helicopter actually hit the ground:
If you click on that left picture, you will see, in line with the two broken windows, a diagonal blue line, which tells you roughly what happened. The helicopter struck the edge of the roof of the building, and then landed in front of it. Wreckage and flames than spread to the front of the building on the right.
So, life in Vauxhall is rapidly getting back to normal, as these next two gents illustrate. In the second of these two pictures, I include the towers and the cranes, visible beyond the smaller blocks in the middle distance. Helicopter crash? What helicopter crash?
Digital photography has, I surmise, caused more snowmen to be created. Because now you can snap them and boast about them to your friends.
Snow is both good news and bad news for photographers like me. The good news is that (in addition to increased numbers of snowmen) it creates wonderfully oil-painting-like effects out of the most commonplace of circumstances, such as this coil of barbed wire on top of a covered footbridge, there to stop people using the top of the footbridge as a way to get across it and plunder:
The bad news is that if you point your camera upwards, which is hard to avoid if you are photographing tall cranes from very close, you get blobs of snow on your lens. Not all of the photos from which these four are selected were the successes that they would have been, had there been no snow still descending:
I was able to get these shots because, when retracing my steps towards home, I found that I could actually get closer to the cranes than I had earlier thought. Those shots were taken outside one of the St George Wharf flats front doors, right next to the cranes.
I would describe myself as a “craniac”, but googling tells me that the word is already taken, not by us crane lovers, but by people bothered about improving their craniums, or something. Pity.
As you can see, the wrecked crane is still up there, the new crane only just having been erected.
Despite the weather, and despite the grim circumstances that I was photographing, this was a most satisfactory little expedition.