Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
Jay on Halloween buckets
Alastair on MDL and DPD delivered what they promised but were wrong about me having to be there to sign for it
Rob Fisher on At the Libertarian Home cost of living debate
Michael Jennings on Only with a computer
Friday Night Smoke on Godot nearly ready
Simon Gibbs on Bald bloke taking a photo
6000 on Bald bloke taking a photo
Tatyana on The "colorful and curvilinear forms" of Herr Hundertwasser
Brian Micklethwait on Driverless open-plan tube trains for London
Friday Night Smoke on Driverless open-plan tube trains for London
Most recent entries
- MDL and DPD delivered what they promised but were wrong about me having to be there to sign for it
- At the Libertarian Home cost of living debate
- The death of email?
- Only with a computer
- Godot nearly ready
- Bald bloke taking a photo
- Halloween buckets
- Strange bread
- Battersea flats are about to be sold and therefore are about to be built
- The “colorful and curvilinear forms” of Herr Hundertwasser
- How Bill Bryson on white and black paint helps to explain the Modern Movement in Architecture
- Two guys on Westminster Bridge photoing their icecreams in front of the Houses of Parliament with their iPhones
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6000 Miles from Civilisation
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Category archive: Globalisation
What is it with vegetarians and their veggie sausages and burgers? I’m a meat eater, but I don’t go around making carrots and sprouts out of beef.
This is also a good one:
I work in a call centre in Norwich and we’ve just been told our jobs are moving to India. I’m so excited! I’ve always wanted to visit India and with the salary they pay me I’ll be able to live like a Maharaja over there. Well done Aviva, keep up the good work.
Interesting piece about the rise and fall and rise of Viz, here.
I’ve been reading Bryson’s At Home: A Short History of Private Life, and very entertaining and informative it is too. Strangely, one of the best things about it for me was that he explained, briefly and persuasively, both the rise to global stardom and the fall from global stardom of British agriculture. The rise was a lot to do with the idea of crop rotation. I remember vaguely being told about this in a prep school history class, but although I did remember the phrase “crop rotation”, I didn’t care about it or about what it made possible.
Here is Bryson’s description of this key discovery:
The discovery was merely this: land didn’t have to be rested regularly to retain its fertility. It was not the most scinitillatingof insights, but it changed the world.
Traditionally, most English farmland was divided into long strips called furlongs and each furlong was left fallow for one season in every three - sometimes one season in two - to recover its ability to produce healthy crops. This meant that in any year at least one-third of farmland stood idle. In consequence, there wasn’t sufficient feed to keep large numbers of animals alive through the winter, so landowners had no choice but to slaughter most of their stock each autumn and face a long, lean period till spring.
Then English farmers discovered something that Dutch farmers had known for a long time: if turnips, clover or one or two other suitable crops were sown on the idle fields, they miraculously refreshed the soil and produced a bounty of winter fodder into the bargain. It was the infusion of nitrogen that did it, though no one would understand that for nearly two hundred years. What was understood, and very much appreciated, was that it transformed agricultural fortunes dramatically. Moreover, because more animals lived through the winter, they produced heaps of additional manure, and these glorious, gratis ploppings enriched the soil even further.
It is hard to exaggerate what a miracle all this seemed. Before the eighteenth century, agriculture in Britain lurched from crisis to crisis. An academic named W. G. Hoskins calculated (in 1964) that between 1480 and 1700, one harvest in four was bad, and almost one in five was catastrophically bad. Now, thanks to the simple expedient of crop rotation, agriculture was able to settle into a continuous, more or less reliable prosperity. It was this long golden age that gave so much of the countryside the air of prosperous comeliness it enjoys still today, ...
The fall of British agriculture was all mixed up with refrigeration, which enabled the wide open spaces of the late nineteenth century world to make masses of food and to transport it to hungry urban mouths everywhere before it went bad. Prices fell below what the farmers of Britain (where there were no wide open spaces by global standards) could match.
One of my favourite computer functions is Screen Capture. For years, I didn’t know how to do this. How is “prt sc” screen capture? I used to just photo the screen. Then I got told, and more to the point, told at a time just before I found many uses for this procedure, and as a result, I actually got it fixed in my head.
So it is that I am able to capture fleeting moments like this one:
That was the passage of play that turned the game England’s way, today, on day one of the test match at Headingley. Sri Lanka went from 228-5 and motoring to 229-9, in nine balls. In among all this, Broad got a hat trick, but didn’t even realise and had to be told! There was then a little last wicket stand and they got to over 250, but the big damage had been done.
Here is another interesting moment, which is the moment when they show me all the guys who worked on Adobe Photoshop, while I am loading Adobe Photoshop.
But, the trouble is, when I do a Screen Capture while that is happening, it doesn’t work. What gets captured is the moment when Adobe Photoshop is finally loaded. Until then, I guess my computer is too busy loading Photoshop to do a Screen Capture. Either all that, or else I just wasn’t doing it right, as is entirely possible.
But instead of obsessing about what I might or might not be doing wrong, I instead simply photographed the moment, just like old times:
The reason I wanted to photo this was all the Indian names, in among the occasional regular American ones. Interesting. Where are they all based, I wonder? I’m guessing somewhere in the USA, but what do I know? Adobe seems to have a lot of places where they could be. And of course, if something like Adobe doesn’t know how to plug a global network of co-workers together, who does? From where I sit, these Indian guys could be anywhere. Even so, like I say, interesting.
A lot of the Americans I read on the Internet say that Obama is destroying America, and he seems to be doing as much as he can along these lines. But there is a lot of ruin in a country, and a lot of ruin in American. This screen shot suggests that at least parts of the good old American upward economic mobility ladder are working just fine.
Is this book … :
… the same book as this book?:
It turns out that they are the same book. Hannan:
But, are they precisely the same? I mean: same intro? Same preface? Any other small tinkerings? If the Yanks (maybe the Brits?) changed the damn title, what the hell else did they change?
I find this kind of thing intensely annoying. The whole point of reading something like a book, or watching something like a movie, is that you read (or watch) precisely the same object as everybody else. (This being one reason why I so particularly resent censorship. It prevents me, again and again, from seeing what others elsewhere are seeing.)
The best you can say about this muddle is that at least this/these book/books seem to be coming out at approximately the same time.
How we invented Freedom is nevertheless in the post.
This morning, in connection with a Samizdata posting about Europe, I found myself googling for info about London’s new container port, which I had heard about, but which I heard about some more last night.
It looks rather impressive:
I found that picture here, that being how things were looking in May of this year.
The Unions are not happy.
I have a vague recollection of posting something here about some big new cranes arriving in London, for, presumably, this. Yes, here. These cranes are “taller than the London Eye”, according to the quote I found then. So, these cranes ought to be visible and photo-able from quite a distance. Stanford-Le-Hope here I come.
At his talk chez moi on Friday Feb 22nd (see below) on How globalisation has made the world less rather than more homogenised, Michael Jennings intends to show us some photos. Indeed, he will be dropping by earlier in the week to make sure that the relevant technology can be guaranteed to work properly on the night. This may also require some creativity with the seating.
Here, in the meantime, are a few photos that he has emailed to me, together with commentary. Enjoy.
This is in Sukhomi, Abkhazia, a breakaway non-recognised state that is de jure part of Georgia (and is supported by Russia). Mango is a fashion label that grew out of a stall in the Ramblas market in Barcelona, and is now to globalised retail what the sub-prime market is to home ownership.
An interesting phenomenon occurs when there is a market for a particular international business, and that international business does not operate in that particular market for whatever reason: because the market is too small, too distant, too poor, too corrupt, or there are political problems. Clones of the business will often spring up. These can be particularly entertaining in places where there is no trademark law, trademark law is weak, or where it can be legally difficult to pursue claims from the owner of the trademark. This burger place in northern Cyprus in no way resembles Burger King. Obviously.
One of the most extreme cases in which this phenomenon occurred was in South Africa under apartheid. Many international companies boycotted the country, which in some ways was a modern country with a sizeable middle class, economy and legal system. (In various other ways, it wasn’t and isn’t.) South Africa in 1990 was therefore full of quite good clones of international businesses, that until then were constrained as to where they could operate, but faces competition only from one another at home. Post 1990, the international businesses that they were clones of entered South Africa in a big way, and the South Africans themselves were subsequently able to compete in the wider world. The South African clones weren’t good enough or rich enough to compete in the home markets of the major internationals, and have subsequently expanded into countries that are poorly served by the internationals for a variety of reason - this means Africa, parts of Eastern Europe, parts of Asia, parts of the Middle East. Politically dubious markets of questionable legitimacy a lot the time. One often finds South Africans and Russians side by side.
One could write an entire book about fake Apple Stores. The ones in China (this one is in Tianjin) are the most awesome. The entire story of international brands in China is itself fascinating. Everyone is there, because of the perceived size and importance of the market. Yet the country is far more chaotic, far more unstable, far more corrupt, for more authoritarian, has weaker copyright and patent laws and a weaker rule of law in general than many of the markets these companies would generally consider operating in.
India is more problematic in some ways: bureaucratic beyond words, and culturally difficult in ways that make foreign business models work less well, or at least require a lot more adaptation. (Imagine you are McDonald’s, and you are told that you are not permitted to use either beef nor pork in the food you sell). There have historically been limits on foreign investment. Supermarkets are only now in the process of being legalised. Very large companies can find entry to the Indian market - car makers or mobile phone companies. Medium sized companies - which is where most of the interesting stuff happens - find it much harder.
It’s going to be an interesting evening.
As already mentioned here, my next Last Friday of the Month (i.e. Feb 22 – please arrive at my home between 7pm and 8pm) speaker is to be my good friend Michael Jennings. The long version of his talk’s title is:
How the globalisation of commerce has made the world less rather than more homogenised, and what I have learned out this by travelling the world.
Which I will hereby shorten down to:
How globalisation has made the world less rather than more homogenised.
As all his friends will unite in telling you, Michael has done a lot of travelling.
Emails will soon be going out confirming all this, and in particular drawing the emailee’s attention to the following, which is Michael writing at a little more length about the kinds of thing he intends to be talking about:
Around a decade ago, a friend of mine decried the fact that the American clothing chain “The Gap” was expanding around the world, and destroying the local character of the cities she was visiting. I then asked her in which cities, precisely, she had seen their stores. She paused for a moment, and said “New York, Toronto, London, and Paris”.
At the time she said this, The Gap had stores in precisely five countries in the world: The United States, Canada, The United Kingdom, France, and Japan. (They have since spread a little wider, but not much wider. And certainly, not much deeper. In many of the countries they operate in, they might have one or two stores in the capital city, but they are not a brand that ordinary people will interact with on a day to day basis.) This said far more about her than it did about The Gap: she travelled to the very small number of places that were its target market - places containing people similar to her - and assumed that this was “the world”.
An observation I made then was one that has been confirmed to me since: when you find someone who decries the corporate homogenisation of the world caused by globalisation, one immediately realises that they haven’t travelled very widely. With more thought, one also realises they haven’t travelled very deeply. The number of interesting restaurants in a city is strongly correlated with the number of McDonald’s outlets and the number of fast food chains present, and it is a positive correlation. The number of interesting coffee shops (and Bubble Tea cafes, and Polynesian Cava outlets) is strongly correlated to the number of Starbucks outlets, and once again it is a positive correlation.
The question really, is whether correlation is causation. Does the spread of McDonald’s and Starbucks cause local ecosystems of food, drink, and other retail outlets to become more complex and more sophisticated? If so, how do they spread, and why do they spread?
I have spent much of the last five years travelling the world, chasing the answers to these questions in various countries and quasi-countries. (Quasi-countries such as Northern Cyprus, Palestine, or Kosovo are particularly interesting, in that the forces that spread businesses and cultures are impeded and obstructed in certain ways, while simultaneously being not obstructed in other ways that they are obstructed in real countries, and one can learn a lot about what these forces are from this.) In doing so, I have learned much about the spread of international corporations, but also much about real estate booms and cheap money. The spread of international business confirms, in many ways, the starkness of international borders and the power of international institutions and how these things trump commerce. A quick glance at shopping malls and high streets in a foreign country can tell huge amounts of information about the governance and legal systems of a country - merely through the presence and absence of brands, and through what alternatives fill the gaps left by the absence of international brands.
On February 22 I shall attempt to draw and share some conclusions from what I have learned.
As to Michael’s question about correlation, causation, and so on, between on the one hand Starbucks et al, and on the other hand greater eating diversity, my untravelled guess would be that both are caused by globalisation, and in particular by lots of foreigners descending on the place, because of easier and cheaper travel, more globalised business activity, and so on. Some of these foreigners want their familiar stuff, i.e. Starbucks. And other foreigners welcome the change to get away from all that, and want sample local delicacies and diversions, perhaps guided by local work colleagues. Opposite sides of the same global coin, you might say.
But what do I know? Less than Michael Jennings, that’s for sure. He has not merely travelled. He has travelled, to use his own excellent phrase, deeply.
If you want to attend this event, email me, or leave a comment here, and I’ll get back to you to confirm that you will be very welcome, as you surely will be.
Just listened to an interview on Radio 3 with the author of The Last Lingua Franca. Publisher spiel:
In this provocative and persuasive new book, Nicholas Ostler challenges our assumption that English will continue to dominate as the global lingua franca. Drawing on his encyclopaedic knowledge of world languages and their history, Ostler reveals that just as past great languages like Latin and Sanskrit have died out, so English will follow.
Sounds interesting. Not because he is necessarily completely right, but because he sounds like he knows a lot about the rise and fall of languages generally.
This posting is just me reminding myself about this book, so that I buy it in paperback. Which it definitely will be because it’s a Penguin.
I of course liked this:
I get a real sense of globalisation when I check out the lists of skyscrapers around the world that are under construction.
It seems that not everybody has been told about the Credit Crunch.
Here’s a link showing proposed buildings and those under construction. A quick run through struck me with how few are in Europe (apart from Russia). I’m sure Brian Micklethwait has linked to this site before.
Yes, I must have, because I regularly go there. But never to this particular bit of it, I don’t think. I tried to turn the big picture into a graphic that I could shrink and put here, but failed.
If not, he will now!
Another striking thought is how many are in cities that most sophisticated multiculturally-correct do-gooders of the sort that support green campaigns but drop trash in parks couldn’t place on a map, such as Hyderabad, Incheon, Pusan, Tianjin, and Wuhan, to only name some of the first 25 listed. It reminds me of this list, of Chinese and European cities with over 2.5 million inhabitants.
The East is on the up and up.
If you want further proof of that, in Mumbai, there’s this guy who lives in his own billion dollar tower. And yes the b at the start of “billion” is not a bisprint, like that was. Bigger and closer-up picture here. Picture showing surroundings, and article, here.
Yes, I’m having another attack of link constipation, and another posting along these lines is called for.
Soros Whores. A blog flagged up by its author on the LA email list. Not saying I agree. Just saying: interesting. I don’t care for libertarian class analysis, because it seems to say that, come the libertarian revolution, it will be my duty to murder my sister, who spent her working life being an NHS doctor, and her husband, who spent his working life being first a social worker and then a social work bureaucrat. I like these two people a hell of a lot more than quite a few libertarians I can think of. Or to put it another way, if such a revolution ever does erupt, don’t count on me. I might decide to be on the other side.
Infallible Systems Limited. The website of a charmingly named enterprise which I encountered and photoed the sign of, on a recent photo-ing expedition. It turns out they do roofing. Infallible because, presumably, it never leaks or caves in. I thought it was some kind of electronic security firm until I found the website.
Étang de Montady. Good picture here. The point being, I photoed this mysterious thing from an airplane, in 2005, but without having any clue as to what it was. And then, on September 30th 2010, a commenter called Steve told me. How he found this posting, I have no idea. I asked. He didn’t say.
A speech by somebody called S. Paul Forest about ObamaCare, which I first heard about here, and which I strongly suspect might be quite a lot of the answer to my Samizdata question here, about just what it is that everybody I don’t hate in America hates. I have no idea who S. Paul Forest is.
There are some strong and sincere libertarians who are in the Tea Party who generally don’t believe in government intervention in the market or socially.
I can remember thinking: it’s only a matter of time before lefty politicians start talking up libertarianism in order to split their Conservative-stroke-libertarian opposition. But that was more than a decade ago. And after I’d given up hoping, now it’s happening. Obama is trying to screw with the Tea Party, by talking up some of it and trashing the rest. Plus, there may even be some genuine Marxist-type respect, deep calling to deep, etc. I haven’t seen much comment from other libertarians about this little plug for our movement from The Most Powerful Man in the World. Has anyone else seen any responses to that?
Come to think of it, I can remember when the Daily Telegraph had a policy of never mentioning the L word either, presumably in case it made difficulties for Conservatives.
That’s enough for one enema posting.
My problem (one of my problems) is that I accumulate open windows, to things I don’t want to forget about, and which I am hence reluctant to shut. But these open windows, and all the advertising shite they come with, clog up my computer, or so it feels to me.
Now I am sure there is a better answer to this problem than the one that follows, but for now, my answer, today, is to stick a few such links here, where they won’t vanish in half a day and where anyway I know my way around.
The Web Is Dead. Long Live the Internet. Note, incidentally, the disastrous headline punctuation. Punctuation in headlines says you can’t have a full stop at the end of a headline, but that you can have whatever punctuation you like in the middle of the headline, fullstops included. Bizarre. (Not that that’s why the piece interests me.)
That Codevilla piece about the American ruling class. Actually I think a major part of this story is that it isn’t only the American ruling class. It’s a global, or at least beyond national, class. The entire West that was is starting to be ruled by a united gang of interconnected people. Rulers of The World Unite. You have nothing to lose but the love of your dreary little voters. (To “love”, should I add “consent”?)
On the Validity and Necessity of Atheist Criticism of Islam. I like Edmund Standing a lot. Mostly I agree with this. But, I think he makes too little of the differences between Christianity and Islam. Christianity is bonkers but Islam is downright evil. (Although, I do admit that Christian anti-semitism is deeply embedded in it.) The problem I have with Islam is not only that it is so false. It is that it so nasty. Allah does not exist, but if Allah does exist he should be opposed. This is somewhat less true of the various Christian versions of God, especially nowadays.
The Vanity Fair Sarah Palin piece. I want to read this to see if it actually says anything more than: she’s a politician! Is she going to run for President? If she gets to be President will she be a quite good one, as Reagan (won the Cold War - only talked about stopping the US state spending rise) was. Will President Palin, that is to say, actually stop the US state spending rise?
The Chinese state media global offensive. Were a time traveller from a hundred years hence to invite me to guess what sparked the Big War of 2037, I’d guess China versus someone, rather than Islam versus anyone. Islam has the will to Big War, but looks unlikely at all soon to command the means to wage it. (I include Iran in that judgement. There is more to having a Bomb than just having a Bomb. You must also have the means to attack the other guy’s Bomb, and to defend your remaining Bombs, which you must also have.) And I have long believed that being able to fight wars is more important in their causation than merely wanting to. I mean, few great powers unambiguously want to fight major wars, because they have too much to lose. But, from time to time, they still did, and might one day again. Hopefully The Bomb will continue to work its terrifying magic, and Great Wars Between Great Powers will continue to not happen, but how long will that last?
I want to do a Big Piece on Samizdata about all that, Real Soon Now. Globalisation as we now know it, i.e. the version where we don’t fight global wars against one another, is more caused by The Bomb (which first happened in 1945) than by Modern Electronic Communications (which first happened in 1842). See Global Ruling Class, uniting of, above.
That should clear out my computer’s tubes a little.
Matthew Peter Dunn was born on May 5th 1992, in Egham. Ah, the thrill of a local boy making good. Egham is just down the hill from Englefield Green, infancy place of me, and was our local railway station. Still is, whenever I visit the parental home, currently still the property of us siblings. Dunn took 3-48 for Surrey - well, the Surrey reserves - against the Bangladesh touring side. Too bad the other Surrey bowlers only managed another three wickets between them. I remember when Surrey playing the big touring side was a huge deal. I remember Surrey defeating Australia in 1956, thanks to a guy called Laker, with help from a guy called Lock. England also beat Australia in 1956, thanks to a guy called Laker, with help from a guy called Lock, but Surrey beating them was like another test match being won. Arguably, Surrey then were a better team than England.
English county cricket now is in what the newspapers call turmoil, and for once I think they may not be exaggerating. Currently there are two ways to do well as a county. You can win all your games, in front of a scattering of old age pensioners and weirdos. Or, you can build a ground capable of coining money for you, if only you could find some version of cricket capable of putting enough bums on all your seats. And the biggest fact concerning English cricket now seems to be that there are now more county grounds capable of accommodating a big crowd than there are big test matches to go around. All the test friendly grounds want something else as well, to ensure their annual income.
Surrey are currently losing all their matches and are at the bottom of every English county league for every sort of cricket. They are quite possibly the absolute worst, at playing cricket, that they’ve ever been. But, they have a huge ground, with huge stands, including a huge new stand that they had built only a few years ago. So Surrey are now extremely responsive to the opinion of the people running the Indian Premier League that the English counties are sitting on a gold mine, in the form of a cricket tournament that, they say, could and should happen in the English summer that the television viewers of India would enjoy watching. The time zone thing being, in England, spot on. At the moment, the International TwentyTwenty slogfest happening in the West Indies involves some games starting at about 9 am, and none of them happening in the evening, because India wants that. Ergo, no local excitement, exacerbated by there being no West Indians in most of the teams, what with only one of the teams being “the West Indies”. In the IPL, all the teams have Indians, and the games happen at India-friendly times, so the local (i.e. Indian) excitement is very strong, and looks great on the telly, in such places as England. In the West Indies right now, the cricket is claimed to be of a higher quality than that played in the IPL, but the seats are mostly empty.
This evening I am giving the first 6/20 talk of the year at Christian Michel’s home, about ... cricket! I have spent great chunks of the last few days, and all of today so far, fretting about this talk, in particular about how to impose a coherent structure on it all, but I think I’ve now cracked it. I will start my talk not fifty or sixty years ago but right now, with two fascinating test matches, one still in progress involving England, and another just concluded which did not involve England, that non-involvement being at least half of my point. Despite being neither an Australian or in Australia, nor a Pakistani or in Pakistan, I was, thanks to the internet, able to follow that game ball by ball, and could have followed all of it if I hadn’t wanted any sleep at night-time for the duration.
From the various emails I sent him about this talk, Christian cobbled together this spiel to send out to his potential congregation, which says what I have in mind to talk about:
Brian’s talk will be about cricket. But, hey, don’t stop reading if you are like me continentally utterly indifferent to that drawn-out ritual of white-robed males adopting in turn indecent postures. I have reassuring news. Brian won’t talk only about cricket. He has been a fan of the game since he was shorter than a wicket. His devotion is at a distance nowadays, through television and the internet, and through these tiny windows he will explore with us the changes in the world over the noughties. Yes, the rise of “Twenty20” cricket; the emergence of India, with more fans of the game than there are people in Europe; the power shift from the old white Commonwealth to the Asian subcontinent – but not only. Cricket will take us through the changing texture of everyday life caused by the IT revolution, the faces of nationalism, the decline of big media, and many other issues besides. ‘Just change “cricket” to whatever you are a fan of’, Brian tells me, ‘and see if what I say about my passion applies to your enthusiasm’
Wow. That sounds like a lot. Wish me luck.
Mixed metaphor alert!
You hear people joking about this combination of images, but it seems that the Prime Minister of Australia just said it for real:
Mr Rudd made it clear that the deal had been an exercise in saving the international climate change process.
“As of 24 hours ago, these negotiations stood on the point of total collapse … at midnight last night, we were staring into the abyss,” he said.
He said the “big step forward” in the talks came with rich and poor countries agreeing to the goal of containing global warming to 2ºC.
UPDATE: Perry de Havilland liked it too.
I spent a while wondering whether what follows was worth posting at all, but although it looks at familiar stuff, maybe it does this in a not completely familiar way. If you spend the next however long reading it all, but then find that you feel otherwise, then, as my friend Paul Marks would say: My apologies! And anyway, as I always say when I feel unsure of the point of any particular posting, my most important reader is me. So, back to what I prepared earlier. ...
Life is full of those First Big Formative Experiences. First Solo Journey. First Fight. First Time You Are Robbed. First Time Your Realise Your Parents Are Merely Human Rather Than Archetypes. First Sex. First Child. First Time You Kill Someone. First Big Grown-up Type Battle (like a child custody battle or a radical politics battle or a battle for the control of a business). Almost all of us have some of these Big Experiences. Few have all of them.
To this list I now find myself wanting to add another one, which is about when you first participate in a news story, before it breaks, and you then read about it in the newspapers or see it on the telly. And what you learn is that, just like your parents, journalists are only human, and that they get all kinds of things subtly to totally wrong, just as you would if you were trying to make immediate sense of some drama that you’d only just heard about.
Often what you see, from right next to the touchline or even from on the pitch, is that the journalists themselves had a far bigger hand in creating the story, or in blowing it up out of all proportion, than they ever let on. They do things like stick shouty exclamation marks after what were actually just bits of normal-voiced conversation. They increase the point size, as it were, of what was said. The mere words may be reasonably accurate. But the tone of how they were spoken is a flat-out lie, often deliberate. They often then take the made-up screaming of one side to the other side, and by the time they have done their work the screaming has become genuine. (This is one of the things you often learn about those Grown-up Battles. There are often people people who make a living out of such battles, and who hence have a vested interest in creating them out of next to nothing. See also: divorce lawyers.) The business of the media, after all, is selling news, and if there is no news, they are constantly tempted to create it, because they can.
All of which doesn’t just poison their first blundering reportage of the thing you saw before they did, but carries on poisoning everything they subsequently say. For if the media have previous in reporting a previous version of the story in some deliberately false way of this sort, they will be reluctant to change this version, in the light of new facts, however obvious.
The internet now universalises and greatly amplifies the above experiences. The internet connects you to the gossip of the participants in any story you happen to be interested in, before the mainstream media get involved in it because of something dramatic suddenly happening to the story.
Consider that ruckus that Dell Computers suffered a few years back. It went roughly like this. Various people bought some particular variety of Dell computer, and lots of these computers went wrong in the same way. Dell at first tried to bluster it out. No big problem, nothing fundamentally wrong, a few malfunctions but not a widespread problem, blah blah. But the victims of this mistake were now internet connected, and they all told each other about their identical problems. What would have been lots of separate and futile failed conversations about the damn computer merged into one very successful conversation. Within a few days, Dell was obliged to retreat. Yes, there is a big problem, grovel grovel. Send them all back and we’ll mend them, send you another, etc.
The key thing is the internet connectedness of the complainers, to each other.
Had it been left to the regular newspapers, the Dell story would never have been put together quickly enough to count. First, newspapers don’t connect readers with each other, only with newspapers, and that only very clunkily. Second, newspapers don’t want to piss off a big advertiser, so they give prominence to the nothing-to-see-here excuses of the big company and only slowly, if ever, do they put together the real story. And what if they just did an admiring profile of Dell, and what if that involved a, you know, deal of some kind, spoken or unspoken, maybe involving more and implausibly over-priced advertising?
Climategate illustrates a lot of the above. Many a climate scientist, you suspect, had one of his Big Life Experiences, when he said, in what he thought was mere conversation but to a journalist, that maybe temperatures and sea levels might rise, and yes, I suppose they could rise quite a bit, provided this and provided that, and if we were all really unlucky, can’t completely rule that out, blah blah, and he then read his words back the following morning, with him personally quoted and everything, like he’s Someone Important, as: We Are All Doomed!!!! At which point he obviously says: Fucking liars. But perhaps he also says: But, maybe, come to think of it, useful fucking liars.
For a long time, the dubiousness, the fake certainty, the sheer made-up-ness, of the AGW argument was known to a few sceptics, and to their more numerous but frankly rather resigned readers (such as me), who learned the alternative story, very approximately, but who could think of no way to do anything with it except place tiny blog-bets on it eventually proving to be true. But the sceptics and us readers were all connected, just like the dubious scientists that we were complaining about, and when that treasure trove of CRU internal information finally emerged, we were ready at once to make entire sense of it. And because the regular newspapers were all part of the story, in the form of the nonsense they had been printing about it over the years, and especially in the form of the particular deluge of nonsense they had saved up for this Copenhagen meeting (which was the very same circumstance, presumably, which precipitated the CRU leak), they couldn’t and still cannot allow themselves to report adequately even those bits of the story that they have approximately now understood.
The other crucial thing about Climategate is that Important People Now Read The Internet, that is, people who make actual real-world decisions. When big cheese politicians start making decisions differently, because of Climategate, and despite the silence of the old-school media, then Climategate becomes impossible for the old-school media to ignore. Carry on ignoring Climategate completely, and the old-school media risk becoming a complete and very public irrelevance, like a Dell computer that is never going to work because Dell refuse to admit that there’s a problem, at which point people in large numbers (the key decision makers in the case of the Dell story) just refuse to buy any more Dell computers because they don’t trust them any more. (Which didn’t happen with Dell, I hasten to add, although I do seem to recall being told that Dell are doing a bit less well than in the past.)
The answer is for the old-school media to become part of the new-school media, as the clever people in the old-school media pretty much all now are. Instead of moaning about the internet, they (the clever old-school-but-now-also-new-school journalists) have become avid internet readers. When the internet gets excited about something, well, there’s another story. No need for them to apologise for having been led by specialist bloggers to a big story. That is now their job.
I get the very strong feeling that in the USA, the old-school media people are determined to be irrelevant, but that in Britain, the old-school media people, some of them anyway, are fighting quite hard to mutate into new-school people. In the USA, new media start-ups seem to be making most of the gains. In Britain, old-school media organs going new-school are making a much bigger impact.
James Delingpole is now a perfect illustration of this trend, of old-school mutating into new-school.
One of the features of the new-school media is that they are global, certainly global in the sense of reaching everyone on earth who can read and type in the language concerned. You can become an Anglosphere media force-to-be-reckoned-with, without ever leaving London, or for that matter without ever leaving Dubai or Naples or Timbuktu. Ditto the Hispanosphere, the Sinosphere, the Hindisphere. You can smash media rivals in other countries in your language sphere without even going there, any more than those Japanese motorbike companies had to open factories in Britain or America in order to smash the British or American motorbike industries (the language of motorbiking being universal). One of the features of Climategate is how it has bounced around the world, with a bunch of politicos in one spot inflaming the story everywhere,
I’m sure I could bring this posting elegantly in to land, with some further reference to some Big Life Experience, but I can’t think of anything along those lines. Simply stopping will have to suffice.
There will be more and hopefully rather more coherent Climategate blah blah from me Real Soon Now, because this evening I will be doing a recorded conversation with Bishop Hill (whom Delingpole has been linking to quite a lot lately). Should be interesting.