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Category archive: Current events

Wednesday September 02 2015

What follows is one of the better commentaries on British politics that I have recently read.  It is pertinent to the current dramas involving Jeremy Corbyn and what appears now to be his likely victory in the Labour Party leadership election, because it focusses on something which I think has been somewhat neglected by other commentators, namely the weakness of Corbyn’s opponents.  It is by former Conservative Party Leader William Hague.

It is to be found at the Telegraph website.  I was alerted to it by Guido‘s invaluable “seen elsewhere” section.

But since the Telegraph only allows me to see thirty (I think it is) articles each month before it blocks me (for about half the month), and since I never blog about things that my readers can’t read just by clicking on a link, which means that I am actually not interested in things that readers can’t read just by clicking on a link, here is the piece, here, in full.  Now I am able to be interested in what follows, because here it is.

The original article contains links to other Telegraph pieces.  These I have reproduced.  But I have not checked if they work, because I don’t want to exhaust half my allotted Telegraph links with the month hardly having started.

If the Telegraph asks me to remove it from here, I will immediately remove it, and will instead replace what follows with smaller quotes and further commentary.  And then I will lose all interest in it, except perhaps as an interesting little event concerning the rights and wrongs of intellectual property.

In late 1997, having rather rashly taken on the job of Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, I discussed with the new prime minister, Tony Blair, which of us had the most difficult job. “You have,” he said, without a moment’s doubt.

Blair was right. And that job was doubly more difficult because it was one pitched every day against him, the most formidable electoral opponent the Conservative Party has faced in its entire history. Before him, Labour had only twice since its foundation won a decisive majority; with him it did so three times in a row.

Although he is despised in Labour’s current leadership election, Blair was a Tory leader’s worst nightmare: appealing to the swing voter and reassuring to the Right-leaning, it was hard to find a square on the political chessboard on which he did not already sit.  When people told me I did well at Prime Minister’s Questions, I knew I had to, since I had very little else going for me at all – I had to raise the morale of Conservatives each Wednesday to get them through the frustration and impotence of every other day of the week.

Blair courted business leaders and Right-wing newspapers, often to great effect. He was a Labour leader who loved being thought to be a secret Tory, a pro-European who was fanatical in support for the United States, a big spender who kept income taxes down, an Anglican who let it be known he wanted to be a Catholic and regularly read the Koran. He could be tough or soft or determined or flexible as necessary and shed tears if needed, seemingly at will. To the political law that you can’t fool all of the people all of the time he added Blair’s law – that you can make a very serious attempt at it.

This was the human election-winning machine against which some of us dashed ourselves, making the Charge of the Light Brigade look like a promising manoeuvre by comparison. Yet now, only eight years after he left the scene he dominated, his party’s election is conducted with scorn for the most successful leader they ever had.

The first reason for this is the truly extraordinary rule allowing huge numbers of people to join up for the specific purpose of selecting the new leader. If there was an NVQ Level 1 in How To Run a Party, the crucial nature of the qualifying period to vote in a leadership election would be on the syllabus, possibly on the first page. Every student plotting to take over a university society knows that the shorter that period, the easier it is to mount an insurgency from outside. But this basic fact seems to have escaped Ed Miliband, along with every other possible consideration of what might happen after his own unnecessarily rapid departure.

The result of this is that Labour’s leader is being chosen by a largely new electorate, with correspondingly little sense of ownership of the party’s history, in which the desire to align the party with their own views outweighs any sense of duty to provide the country with an alternative government.

The second reason is the weakness of the mainstream candidates to an extent unprecedented in any election in a major party in British parliamentary history. Even in 1935, an even darker time for the Labour Party when it had far fewer MPs than today, the leadership election was between Clement Attlee and Herbert Morrison: great names that are etched into our history. This is the first election of a Labour leader in which none of the candidates look like they could be prime minister five years later.

This weakness partly explains the third and most significant factor in what appears to be, in the form of Corbynmania, a sharp move to the pre-Blair, old-fashioned, Michael Foot-was-a-moderate, Seventies Left, which is that none of them has been able to articulate what a social democratic, centre-Left party should stand for in the first half of the 21st century.

Blair’s ability to win elections was not accompanied by a coherent philosophy. The seminars he held with Schroeder’s German SPD and Clinton Democrats on the “Third Way”, the ultimate attempt at government by triangulation, collapsed in ridicule. And the question neither Labour’s candidates nor their socialist colleagues abroad can now answer is – in a century in which markets dominate, more power passes to consumers, technology gives more choice by the day to individuals, working lives are more flexible than ever, and class-based voting is dying out, what is the role and purpose of the moderate Left?

You can scan in vain the speeches of Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham for a clear answer to this question, although I do not necessarily recommend it unless you find it hard to sleep. You might think there is a modern social democratic case to be made that some people – the less educated, unskilled, and immobile – could miss out on the benefits of the information revolution and that changing that is a new purpose of the centre-Left. Instead, in Britain and across Europe, it is left to fringe parties to prey on those dissatisfied with the vast and rapid changes in modern society.

And most revealing of all, those same speeches (yes, I really have read them), point to no model abroad of the Left in power, no hero to be admired or policy to be emulated. The main parties of the Left have turned into partners of conservatives in Germany, reformist liberals in Italy, back-pedalling socialists in France, catastrophes in Latin America, and been annihilated by extremists in Greece. There is still a Socialist International, but there is no longer a common ideology to underpin it.

Seen in this context, the agony of Labour’s leadership election is easier to understand. This is a tribe lost in a desert with no star to follow, and no inspirational leader to point to a new one. Across the world, parties that thrived on the socialist ideals of an industrialising society are losing their relevance, and what we are witnessing is a symptom and dramatic demonstration of that fact.

Faced with that awful reality, Labour is turning to something, anything, that seems authentic, passionate, and consistent. The failure, in Britain and abroad, to find the social democratic version of that is a failure of historic proportions.

Friday August 14 2015

Here (thank you Instapundit) are twelve photos of the destruction that just hit the Chinese city of Tianjin.

This one (number 9) is among the most vivid:

image

What (I think) makes this such a remarkable image is that, by showing how totally the cars have all been wrecked, the nature of what hit them is, as it were, permanently recorded, the way it might not have been registered by mere empty ground.  And because they are cars rather than buildings, each one a regular and very small distance from the ground, every ruined car is clearly visible, the way wrecked buildings might not have been.  It’s as if each car is a fire-sensitive cell, like digital cameras have inside them for nailing down light.

Fireball.  Nothing else could have done that.

However much the government of China and its various offshoots and local manifestations might have wanted to keep this amazing event under wraps, modern media, including digital photography, still and video, meant that they had no chance.

Saturday July 04 2015

Today I was out and about in the sweltering heat of London, and unusually for me, I found myself noticing a news item:

image

The news item being that big cloud of smoke, somewhere up river from Tate Modern.  Seeing as how I myself live up river from Tate Modern, this was a bit troubling.  Was it a moderately big fire, quite near to me?  Would I return home to find my home ablaze?  Had I started the fire by leaving something switched on that shouldn’t have been?  Or was it, as I found myself ignobly hoping, a bigger fire, further away?

I consulted the www about this fire when I got home, my home not having disappeared, and there being no smoke anywhere near it.  Eventually the www revealed what had happened.  The fire was - and alas, as I write this, it still is - in Perivale, which is way out in the west of London.  And this was one very big conflagration.

To quote the Evening Standard:

An enormous fire is raging in a warehouse in a west London suburb, with smoke visible for miles around.

Some 100 firefighters are tackling the inferno at a large building in Wadsworth Road, Perivale.

About 30 people fled before the London Fire Brigade arrived, with flames erupting just before 7pm.

That’s what I was seeing, no question about it.

According to my camera, the above photo was taken at 8pm, so the fire had already been raging for an hour before I noticed it enough to take photos of it.  Not that photoing smoke is my forte.  Presumably photoing smole is like photoing anything else in particular, the more you do it, the better you do it.

No matter.  Many others will undoubtedly have been photoing that same huge cloud of smoke.  It was, like the ES said, visible for miles around.  You’ll have no difficulty finding better Perivale warehouse fire pictures, in the event that you want to see such things.  For me, it is enough to know that nobody died.

A BIT LATER: Looking at the above photo, and at some of the others at the other end of the link immediately above (notably the one from beyond Tower Bridge) I realise that one of the tricks of smoke-photoing is the put the smoke behind a very definite and recognisable building.  So here is another photo I took, of some of the smoke that had already travelled a bit further, to the area behind St Pauls Cathedral from where I was:
image

Trouble is, although St Pauls is very definitely St Pauls, the smoke is not so definitely smoke.  It could just be clouds, in my photo.  Like I say, smoke is not a speciality of mine.

As you can also see, there is a crane to be seen there.  I also photoed smoke behind a crane cluster, but showing you that would be to change the subject.

Thursday May 28 2015

I was out and about again today, and I have now got into the habit of photoing newspaper front pages, often in the shop where I usually buy my monthly copies of Gramophone and the BBC Music Magazine (by “music”, they mean classical music).  Which means that the guy in the shop doesn’t mind me photoing other stuff.

The big story just now is of course FIFA, and the badness of Blatter:

image

But, this front page story also got my attention:

image

I don’t mean the FIFA stuff flagged up in the big yellow bit at the top of the page.  I mean the bit below, where it says “Cameron cuts off labour funding”.  Although the Daily Telegraph itself now lives behind a paywall, I managed to find the story here.

This would appear to confirm what my friend Tim Evans says about Cameron.  He is a much more determined and focussed politician than he lets on, and much more “right wing”.  He is systematically destroying the Labour Party.  Trying to, at any rate.

But, and this is what pisses off many libertarians, he is a politician whose focus is on changing institutions (in this case destroying an institution) rather than in spreading ideas.  Also, he does things one at a time, which means he leaves a ton of bad stuff untouched, and often does other bad stuff, to protect the main task in hand.

All of the above flies in the face of the Samizdata orthodoxy, which is perhaps why I am thinking aloud about this stuff here, rather than there.  If I put anything there about this stuff, I will have to think it through better than I have so far.

Friday May 08 2015

Indeed:

image

Photoed by me yesterday.  Definitely one for the front page collection.  Can’t find a link to the story though.  Anyone?

Today, starting in the small hours of the morning, I’ve been rambling away at Samizdata about this election.  Which was, I found, intensely dramatic and interesting, not least because all the polls were wrong.  I was apathetic about voting, in a soporifically safe Conservative constituency.  But I stopped being apathetic as soon as the drama of it all started to play out on the telly.

But, how could I have missed the news of this manifesto for cats, until today?  Answer, today was the first time I tried googling “cats general election”.

Wednesday April 08 2015

Indeed:

Police in India have a new weapon for controlling unruly protesters in the world’s largest democracy: pepper-spraying drones.

Yashasvi Yadav, police chief of the northern city of Lucknow, said on Tuesday that his officers have successfully test-flown the newly purchased drones with a view to better crowd control.

So, when will BrianMicklethwaitDotCom be linking to a story about how the protesters have their own drones, to attack the police drones with?  Drones are not just the automation of aerial warfare.  They are the potential degovernmentalisation of aerial warfare.  I mean, how the hell will they stop this?  Drones are ridiculously cheap compared to regular airplanes.  It’s only a matter of time before no major political demonstratiion will be complete without a struggle for command of the air.

I wonder if people like Police Chief Yadav realise what they may be starting.

Tuesday January 27 2015

Story here:

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.

Via here and here.

LATER: The inevitable “let’s ban drones” discussion is upon us.

EVEN LATER: Sports enthusiasts are clamoring for aerial robots that can record their best moves.

Monday January 12 2015

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:

image image image imageimage image image imageimage image image imageimage image image imageimage image image imageimage image image imageimage image image imageimage image image imageimage image image imageimage image image imageimage image image imageimage image image imageimage image image imageimage image image imageimage image image image

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”.

Sunday January 11 2015

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:

image

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.

image

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:

image

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.

Friday November 28 2014

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.

Monday June 09 2014

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.

Tuesday April 22 2014

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.

Tuesday March 04 2014

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.

image image

Sometimes I blog to remember (and I intend to remember the Bitcoin vending machine), sometimes I blog to forget.  Welcome to the hotel BrianMicklethwaitDotCom.

Thursday February 27 2014

imageAnd 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:

couple-held-in-north-london-as-two-hundred-met-officers-stage-adams-family-swoop

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.

Friday November 22 2013

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.