Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
Esteban on David Pierce on what it's like using an electric scooter
Brian Micklethwait on Zooming in on the workers
Rob Fisher on Zooming in on the workers
Brian Micklethwait on David Pierce on what it's like using an electric scooter
Rob Fisher on Zooming in on the workers
Rob Fisher on Big Things on Boris Bikes
Rob Fisher on David Pierce on what it's like using an electric scooter
Prudy on Skyscraper covered in Gothic sculpture proposed for Manhattan
Brian Micklethwait on Big Things on Boris Bikes
Javier on Big Things on Boris Bikes
Most recent entries
- A still life and a cat cushion in Kentish Town
- A Japanese torpedo bomber that could use some zoom
- A good time of the year
- 148 to Burgess Park
- A Big Thing and a Much Bigger Thing – on a not-black cab
- Another way to photo my meetings
- Quota Pavlova
- The first Brian’s Friday of the year tomorrow evening
- Walkie Talkie looking not that huge
- David Pierce on what it’s like using an electric scooter
- Shard behind the Tower of London (reprise)
- Big Things on Boris Bikes
- Two bits for Samizdata and a weird bridge in Poole
- Big Things having orgasms
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6000 Miles from Civilisation
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Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise
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we make money not art
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Category archive: Media and journalism
Last Friday evening, at that meeting, I talked with Perry de Havilland about writing for Samizdata. I told him that I have recently been taking longer to finish my postings, to get them nearer to completely right. He compared blogging to rock ‘n’ roll. The clear implication being that blogging, like rock ‘n’ roll, is most truly itself when done, so to speak, live.
Each to his own. I now find that one of the symptoms of advancing years is that I am no longer as confident as I once was about the first thing that comes out of my mouth, or about what emerges from my tapping fingers. I prefer to have several reads-through of it, with gaps of time between them to think more.
Such polishing is not new, for me. I used to do it to stuff I wrote for the Libertarian Alliance. Stuff like this piece, which Patrick Crozier kindly linked back to, in one of the comments on the first of those two recent Samizdata pieces. As Patrick said, what that earlier piece said was very similar to what the Samizdata piece said. Appropriately enough, both pieces (separated by a quarter of century) were about how reluctant people are to change the basic way that they think about things.
Then as now, such polishing did not make my writing perfect. But it did make it quite a lot better.
Well, now, I seem to be reverting to writing more considered and revised essays, short or not so short, rather than “blog postings”. Rock ‘n’ roll is a young man’s game, and I do not feel comfortable writing in that manner. I used to. If Perry de Havilland still does (and he does), I am very happy for him. But it seems now not to suit me so much.
However, I do actually think that rock ‘n’ roll is now less appropriate. The novelty of just anyone being able to shovel stuff onto the internet has now passed. The mainstream media have now thoroughly internetted themselves, and the “any old stuff” approach (such as prevails here) does not get a blog like Samizdata the traffic that it used to get. I think that some of us at least should be polishing. More and more, my role model is becoming the late Findlay Dunachie. Not in the sense that I intend only to review books from now on. I mean that I find myself wanting to write more in the way he wrote, more thoughtfully, in a way that is more considered.
I am not now deciding to write differently. (I promise nothing.) I am merely noting that this is what seems now to be happening. An earlier stage in the change of attitude I am describing was earlier described in this posting here.
By which I mean, what seems to be happening at Samizdata. Here will continue to be the impulsive, sloppy, last minute, thinking aloud, what you get is what you get operation that it has always been. I did a little polishing of this piece, but not a lot.
Yes, a truly wonderful The Wires! sculpture gets long overdue recognition from Dezeen, on account of a lump of religious concrete being put next to it, by an architect.
The photographer clearly loves The Wires!:
But Dezeen’s writers are under strict orders.
It doesn’t matter how beautiful and intricate The Wires! are:
The rule is set in concrete.
Don’t mention The Wires!
Today I was out and about in the grim greyness of Winter London, with only very occasional patches of blue in the sky.
Had I had only these three photos in their original versions to go on, I might eventually have pieced together that David Bowie had died:
But I had already clocked this news from reading this posting at Mick Hartley’s. Viewers who feel strongly that all commemorations of the recently deceased should be in good taste are urged not to click on the middle picture. Whether the original you get by clicking is “what he would have wanted”, I do not know. One thing I know for sure is that it is not what I wanted. But it is what it is, and I had no other more suitable substitutes.
Later I took a more self-consciously commemorative photo to recognise Bowie’s death:
I’m not sure that it makes perfect sense to wish that a dead rock star should “rest in peace”, though. Surely at least the occasional burst of raucous rock and roll would also be in order. But, they only meant to say the right thing, and if not that, then what? I don’t know.
My personal feeling about Bowie, as with many rock and rollers, was that I paid very little attention indeed to the words as anything other than an excuse to make a satisfying musical racket. Also costumes don’t impress me, for better or for worse. I love the music of Abba, despite their preposterous outfits. And I love the Bowie tracks that I love, regardless of what “persona” he happened to be adopting at the time. It’s the backing that I love, and Bowie was really good at making this happen interestingly, I think.
What did “Suffragette City” mean? I never bothered to find out and I probably never will, but I love the sound it makes. “When You’re A Boy” made a bit more sense (to me), but it still came as a surprise (to me) when I saw a video of some women dancing along to it, who turned out all to be Bowie in drag. What was that about? Some sort of rumination on the socialised nature of sex-roles? Just a tease, to get the newspapers to denounce it and do the publicity for free? Probably the latter. Bowie was a dab hand at that.
City A.M. Is so excited that the headline writer, as of now, has decided that there is only one i in ambitious:
That headline is recycled here in case they correct it. Thereby establishing that the (more) mainstream media behave just as I do, when it comes to correcting their mistakes. Or else, alerting you to a permanently wrong headline, whichever. And I’m guessing that even if they do correct the headline, they may feel obliged to keep the link spelling as it started out.
But more to the point, this ambtious plan refers to driverless flying cars, driverless flying cars that look like this:
When I first set eyes on that picture, my reaction was: That’s not a car, that’s a drone. City A.M. agrees:
The futuristic, if slightly terrifying sounding vehicle, has been unveiled by Chinese tech company Ehang and manages to combine the top two trends predicted to dominate this year’s biggest tech show - drones and driverless cars - and claims to be the first Autonomous Aerial Vehicle in the world. Or, in other words, a driverless flying car.
Are you sceptical? I am. But City A.M. continues:
Ehang claims the 184 is already at the point of becoming a commercially selling vehicle, albeit with a £130,000-£200,000 price tag. Belive it or not, it’s not just a concept - it’s already preparing for pre-orders and plans to ship to customers this year.
Well, I’m not sure that I do “belive” it, but I would be fascinated to be proved wrong.
Bizarre new forms of transport are definitely the Thing of the New Year, here at BrianMicklethwaitDotCom. I haven’t been especially looking for such things. They have merely presented themselves to me. But now, perhaps (although I promise nothing), I will start looking for such things. Anyone come across any other crazy transport stuff lately?
LATER: I googled “ambtious”, and was informed of a horse called “Ambtious Dragon”. So, some kind of Chinese neologism? But it turned out that this was a headline misprint also.
Last Tuesday I attended the A(dam) S(mith) I(nstitute) Xmas Party, to which I had been looking forward. Sadly, when I got there (and this is nothing whatsoever at all to do with the quality of the ASI Xmas Party) I found that I was in a decidedly anti-social mood. Grumpy Old Men are not a cliché for nothing.
But before making my gracelessly early exit, I did manage to strike up a conversation with a young woman fresh out of studying the history of media censorship, at Cambridge. This, she said, “could not be a more libertarian subject”. True. Good. More and more libertarians seem to be emerging from universities these days, in considerable part thanks to the ASI.
Me carrying a camera caused her to mention that she too was keen on photography. I asked her what is the best photo you’ve ever taken? And she said, tapping away at her iPhone: probably one of these. Definitely a cat person. I reckoned it a bit too uncouth to be photoing her, but I did photo her iPhone, which is also good when the light is a bit dodgy, as it was that evening.
Later, I cursed myself for not remembering to ask Anton how his expedition to the USA had gone. But, as I keep having to remind myself, this is the twenty first century. You can look things like this up. And sure enough, at Anton’s Twitter Feed, I found this ("U can now watch my presentation (of thesis for the very first time!) at Columbia’s Center for Capitalism & Society: ..."), which takes you straight to this, the second this being the video of him in action. I just watched it. Excellent. And recommended to all who want to know how the world got from almost universal penury to something rapidly becoming almost universal creature comfort, in which all can have, if they wish, cat pictures on their iPhones.
Last night I did a posting at Samizdata about Milo Yiannopoulos.
Until today, when I dug him up on YouTube, I didn’t even know what nationality this guy is. American would have been my guess, but basically I didn’t know, although I did learn yesterday what he looks like. But for me he was basically a name, that I couldn’t spell.
Turns out he’s British. Very British. Who knew? Everybody except me, presumably. Blog and learn.
I asked for the opinions of Samizdata commentariat, and got some. I don’t know why, but I expected more variety in these responses, more doubts, more reservations. Actually, the Samizdata commentariat has, so far, been uniformly approving of this guy.
Now I’m listening to him babble away, and it turns out that, being a libertarian and an atheist, I’m “touchy” - meaning oversensitive about being criticised - times two. As a libertarian I’m obsessed with marijuana and with computer hacking. (Actually: No, times two.) As an atheist, well, it turns out I dress stupidly. (Yes. True.) He does love to wind people up, which he does by saying slightly untrue and quite funny things. He’s like that classic old Fleet Street type, the Opinionated Female Columnist, whose job is to overgeneralise in ways that are quite popular and pile up the readers, and to make the Outraged Classes really really outraged, and who eventually gets … old.
I’m starting to think he may soon be a bit of a has been. But, at least he now is.
I think the article that I linked to from Samizdata may have been a peak. It is truly brilliant.
What I do like is his interest in the tactics of how to spread ideas, how to win arguments, how to be able to make arguments despite the efforts of people who want nothing except to shut him up, by saying things that shut them up.
From the Washington Post, yesterday:
The piece also asks if it is only a matter of time before regular driving is banned. I think this will happen in lots of places, and driving a car will become like riding a horse. It will be something you do only for fun. I probably won’t live to see this, but I probably will live to see it quite widely discussed.
Today I did a Samizdata posting about Corbyn and his atrocious supporters, and I celebrate that fact with this photo, taken on the last day of last month, of Labour Leader Corbyn, made to look like he has reached his level of incompetence:
Moments later I took another photo, of a bus. I am now officially photoing any London double decker bus of the new Boris variety, provided that it is entirely covered with an advert:
The point being that just as Black Cabs are not by any means always black, so too, London’s famed double decker buses are by no means always red.
This particular advert certainly worked, because I am drinking cider right now. But, not of the variety advertised on this bus.
I feel an orthodoxy developing. Former England rugby international Austin Healey:
For now, let’s postpone the period of introspection and focus on maintaining what has the potential to be the best World Cup ever. Even with the final few pool matches to be played, it has been the best tournament in terms of attendance and the overall quality.
There you go. We may be crap at playing these games, but we invented them all, and we have lots of great stadiums. We know how to organise a game, even if we can no longer play it.
Plus, we have lots of immigrants from everywhere on the planet to come and cheer for everyone taking part. We do tend to hate and fear foreigners quite a lot, especially in large clumps, but not as much as the damn foreigners do. Which is what passes for friendliness, in the world now. And these are not the kind of foreigners who want to live here in huge numbers of one nationality, and to corrupt our women and steal our jobs and defraud our welfare system. (None of that applies to England’s football fans, who seem to be about two percent scum of the earth, which can rather spoil things.)
As for me, I find that I really am enjoying this jamboree. I am enjoying all the pent-up anger of England’s anti-Lancaster tendency (I like to think of them “Yorkists"), who have been biting their tongues for the last few months, but who are now letting it all spill out. Their ire seems mostly concentrated on Lancaster’s dithering and bizarre selection decisions, which have indeed seemed peculiar even to an ignorant onlooker like me.
Also, freed from the torture of hope, I find I am settling down to enjoy the rugby. This afternoon’s game, for instance, is looking like an absolute belter. As of now, with the clock having just past 35 minutes of the first half, it stands at 23-23. Correction, make that 26-23, to Samoa, against Scotland. Next up, Wales v Oz, and then England v Uruguay.
In the latter game, if all goes well, England will capture that vital third place in the group spot, and thereby qualify for the next World Cup in Japan.
Time for some weird transport, here at BMdotcom. So, google google, this kind of thing doesn’t take long. Here are three photos of transport arrangements, all three of which make use of the tricycle principle to not keep falling over.
First, a combined bicycle and shopping trolley, which, if you think about it uses the shopping trolley not only for transportation purposes but also to turn the bicycle into a sort of tricycle, although actually it is more like a quincycle, what with this device now having four small wheels at the front:
Second, this new slant on the tricycle principle, which actually combines three cycles, the one at the back motor- and the two at the front bi-. Magnificent, I think you will agree.
And, the third of these triple-based transport arrangements, a tractor that used to have four wheels but which has lost one, leaving only three:
Back-seat passengers are seldom all that helpful to a driver, but this one is essential.
I think that these snaps date from around 2009 (they are three of these ones), and you’ve very possibly already seen them. But they are new to me, and me is what matters here.
This kind of nonsense is why the internet exists. And beneath and beyond such photos is a very significant subtext, about people getting on with their lives, with determination, inventiveness, and above all without wars or catastrophes, unless one of these contrivances collapses into the road. Before the internet, too much “world news” consisted of disasters, and of helpless and miserable people begging to be rescued from these disasters. The begging continues, but there are now also other and more encouraging messages to enjoy.
I actually think that this change in how the world sees the rest of the world will make invasions by powerful parts of the world of less powerful parts less frequent. Invasions won’t stop, but the desire to rescue (by invading) will be at least somewhat moderated.
Today I had a nice surprise. I was out shopping, and saw a taxi with an advert on it that I’d not seen before, which I photoed it. But when I got home I discovered that my camera didn’t have its SD card in.
However, being a clever little camera it had stored the pictures up in its own built-in memory, and I went looking for this by attaching my camera direct to my computer with a wire. Success. I found the picture of the taxi and its advert.
And, I also found this photo inside the camera, which I had totally forgotten about, and which had been there since June 25th:
Now that’s what I call a headline. Here‘s the story.
This is one of the things I really like about digital photography. There are hundreds of things you see that are a laugh, and which you would like to be able to remember and have another laugh about later. But they aren’t worth buying, just for that second laugh. But, they are worth photoing.
Also, today, I saw a headline about how naughty persons have been using drones to get drugs into prisons. But I failed to photo this headline. I was inside Sainsbury’s, and if I had got my camera out, it might have caused a scene.
I think it must have been this story. I’ve been saying here for ages that drones were going to be trouble, as well as fun. Here is another example of drones being both fun, and incurring the wrath of our rulers, that being a story about a man taking aerial photos of things that didn’t want to be photoed.
Excellent piece in the Daily Mash about photography and its impact, entitled Everyone sad because of photo of thing that’s been happening for months. I only just noticed this piece, probably because it didn’t include a photograph:
It has been confirmed that everyone kind of knew the thing was happening, but now they are very sad and angry because there is a photo of it.
The thing about a photo is that a vivid photo can tell a story very quickly, this being why this particular one is getting around so much and being talked about so much. Not necessarily a true story, not straight away, but a story. And that’s what you want, if you are The Media. The Media sell stories. Truth, factual and/or moral, is nice too, but not the essence of the product. That photos do their job well is not a “conscience” thing. It is a speed of communication thing. Photos communicate a lot very quickly.
The speed with which a picture tells a story is why I have so many photos here. This is a kitten blog. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and it doesn’t expect you to take it seriously, unless you want to. My photos don’t consume your time, unless you want them to. Often, I only tell my stories here at all if I have a photo. It would take too long to explain with mere words, and anyway, what would be the point?
Headlines aren’t necessarily true either. In fact, I would say that the biggest media lies are to be found in photos and in headlines. Photos typically lie, when they do lie, by omission. Headlines just lie, and you can often tell they’re lies simply be reading the story under them.
Why do headlines lie? Because that often makes for a more appealing story. The truth is usually more mundane. But mundane doesn’t get you eyeballs.
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.
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.
Incoming photo (which is something I like a lot), from Simon Gibbs, of a sign (I like signs a lot), near Southwark Cathedral:
Click on that to get the bigger, unhorizontalised picture, and read more about what this is about here. Google sends me regular links to anything that is “new architecture london”, and there’s been lots written about this place.
Although, rather oddly, I couldn’t find any pictures of this sign. Maybe this will change that.
The gimmick is that this is a pub that sprays alcohol into the air. That was always going to be catnip to the media, social and regular. “Breathe responsibly”. Arf, arf. There are already plenty of pictures around of that sign.
I like statues, by which I mean that I like the statues that I like. Statues that I like don’t read where it says on my blog that I like them, and then say things like “But you never visit”, when I visit. They don’t say things like: “So, now that you are visiting quite often, what is this? Where is this relationship going?” In decades and centuries to come, maybe statues will behave in exactly this sort of troublesome way, but for now, they don’t. They just stand there.
And, they stand there immobile, which as a rather crap photographer, technically speaking, I greatly appreciate.
Here is a recent London statue that I now like:
That’s also another in my ongoing series of Great Photos Taken Rather Badly, which you, oh Real Photographer, can now go and take better. Big Ben won’t have moved. Nor will the legs of the recently unveiled statue of Mahatma Gandhi. Today, as I write this, looks like being a lot sunnier than it has been in London for quite a while.
(New Gandhi statue unveiled in “London’s Parliament Square”. Interesting how hitherto national organs now aim themselves at the whole world. The media they are a-changing.)
I only recently noticed this Gandhi statue. For decades Parliament Square had no Gandhi statue. Then, it had one.