Brian Micklethwait's Blog

In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Category archive: Media and journalism

Sunday June 25 2017

I’ve been reading Adam Zamoyski’s book about Chopin.  So far, I love it.  And I love learning so much about a fascinating man, of whom I knew just about nothing besides his music, and the fact that he was Polish and is a very big deal in Poland, but that he lived mostly in France.

I have, in particular, learned just exactly how Polish Chopin was, and was not.  His father, Nicholas Chopin, was French.  But when the Polish aristocrat for whom he worked went back to Poland, Nicholas went with him.  In Poland Nicholas married a Polish woman, and Frederick was thus born in Poland, but with his French-sounding name.  It sounds French because it was French.

So far, I have reached the stage where Chopin has played his first few concerts at which he performed, to great acclaim, his first few compositions, most of them for piano and orchestra.  (I am very fond of these pieces, the two piano concertos and the various other one movement works for piano and orchestra.)

As for how Chopin played, Zamoyski supplies this especially pleasing quote, from an unnamed Warsaw newspaper critic:

He emphasised but little, like one conversing in the company of clever people, not with the rhetorical aplomb which is considered by virtuosos to be indispensable.

But Chopin found it difficult working with orchestras, and I’m guessing that this is partly why that stopped, and he concentrated henceforth on solo works.  But as I think the above quote reveals, that probably suited his manner of playing better.

Friday June 23 2017

The internet loves animals, especially cats and dogs, and I went looking for Grenfell Tower animal stories.  Because, there’s always an animal angle, to just about any story, even if it wasn’t an animal story to start with.

Did many pets die in the Grenfell Tower disaster?  I wasn’t able to answer that one.  But there have been a number of stories about pets who either can’t now stay with their current owners, or whose owners have died.  Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, for instance, is helping out with temporary pet accommodation.

Animals were also heavily involved in the search for bodies in the wreckage, as MSM news explains:

Specially trained dogs are also vital to the mission. The search process is painstaking, and as dogs are smaller, more agile, and have such a keen sense of smell (better than any technology), the animals have been deployed at more challenging areas.

The upper floors of the 24-storey high rise, those most damaged, and where people are most likely to have been killed, benefit particularly from the dogs’ expertise.

The canines come from the LFB and the MET’s urban search crews. They’re given special equipment, and even little boots to protect their feet from heat and broken glass. While obviously dangerous, no fire dog has ever been harmed while out on an operation.

...

The dogs mean the sad and devastating process of finding the missing will be quicker. They can get into parts of the building humans simply can’t get to.

I particularly like the bit about those “little boots”.  Nice touch.  Both in the sense of what this detail adds to the story, and in the sense that this must make life easier for the dogs, despite any doubts the dogs might have when first made to put their little boots on.

More about these dogs and their boots, with a picture, here, in a story from last year.

Friday June 16 2017

It feels hard to write about anything else in London, other than that towering inferno.  This story will run and run, because it partakes of both genuine emotions of the strongest sort, and politicians and media people eager to fan the flames.  What happened?  Who exactly has died?  Whose fault was it?  You can’t blame the media.  Their job is to tell true stories, and this is one hell of a true story.

image

Daily Mirror story about a barking dog.

Politically, if you had tried to hand-craft a disaster calculated to do the most possible damage to the Conservative government, and to most encourage what now seems to be a rising tide of Corbynism, you could hardly have done it more perfectly.  Those political people who are now fanning the flames are filled with passionate moral self-confidence.  How on earth the long-term politics of all this will pan out, I have no idea.

Would a Corbynite government really turn Britain into Venezuela?  Probably not, but why take the chance?  That’s what I say.  But will enough of my fellow Brits agree with me, when the time to say comes round again?  As of now, it feels like: no.

Oh well:

Spero infestis metuo secundis.

6k liked that too.

Wednesday June 14 2017

In the movie of that name, the inmates were all rich and glamorous.  Well, they would be, they were played by movie stars.  And the fire spread slowly enough to last for a whole movie.

This tower contained mere people, and the flames spread very quickly, like … wildfire.

I presume that the social media are ablaze with images of this tower, but for me, being the age I am, it’s the Evening Standard that really brings these sorts of things home:

imageimageimageimageimage

As you can see, they originally went with “Inferno”, but later changed it to the more politically charged “Death Trap”.  On the telly, the story was already developing, along the lines of: they were warned.  But they did nothing.

The Evening Standard story so far.

Friday March 24 2017

Good news about a dog saving a child’s life here, linked to from Instapundit, no less.  And the Daily Mail now has the story too.  It’s interesting how the Daily Mail, behind a vast smoke screen of abuse from all those who like to abuse it (e.g. all Brit TV comedians), is now busily spreading itself throughout the English speaking world.  There’s a huge professional media gap in the USA, for something more Daily Mail-ish.

On the other hand, I read, with sadness, that long-time favourite-blogger-of-mine 6k has been setting fire to puppies.  This story has yet to go viral.

Friday March 03 2017

I am reading everything at the Scott Adams blog just now, and I even watched/listened (new word needed for that) to all of this video.

Adams is being “shadow banned” by Twitter, as he notes in this posting:

As many others have documented, Twitter throttles back the tweets of people who hold political views they don’t like.

What “throttles back” means is that you can still read it, but nobody else can.  I think.

To outwit this shadow banning, Scott Adams has devised a cunning plan involving kittens, which I absolutely do not understand the details of, but which he mentions several times during the above-linked-to video ramble.  (It’s a good ramble, but a ramble.) Whenever he writes about things that Twitter’s censorship committee disapproves of him writing about (Trump and the climate debate being the two big ones at present), he tweets instead that he has done a piece about kittens.  This will alert his followers to a posting that Twitter wants crushed.  In order to shadow ban this, Twitter would have to shadow ban all kittens which would break the internet, and all humans also because they would be laughing so much.  Or something.  I don’t see why Twitter can’t just shadow ban Scott Adams whenever he mentions kittens, along with whenever he mentions Trump or mentions the climate debate.  But what do I know?

New word: outweet.

I always knew, when I started Friday-blogging about cats and kittens here, that this topic would become highly significant from time to time, on account (for instance) of politicians being jealous of all the attention that cats and kittens were getting.  (Prediction: at some point during the next thousand years or so, climate permitting, a cat or kitten will be elected President of the United States.)

But this particular Scott Adams kitten-tweeting circumstance I did not see coming.

Tuesday February 28 2017

Every month, I purchase copies of Gramophone and of the BBC classical music magazine. The latter magazine is called “Music”, which is rather silly but there you go.

I find classical music reviewers very helpful.  I never let them make me like something I don’t like, or not like something I do like, but they often steer me towards CDs that I like a lot.  Sometimes their criticisms tell me that I would like it, and their praise often puts me off.  But whatever happens, I am provided with valuable information.

I love Chopin’s music and relish different interpretations of it.  Which means that I might yet give the latest CD from legendary pianist Maurizio Pollini a go, despite David Fanning, in the February issue of Gramophone, saying, of this CD, this:

‘I’m in love with Chopin – his music never ceases to amaze me’, Pollini is quoted as saying on the jewel case of his latest CD. If only it sounded like it. The first thing that alienates me is the sound: the bass slightly too immediate, the treble slightly muffled, the mid-register slightly woolly, the general over-pedalling. It’s almost as though we’re sitting in the page-turner’s position rather than in the audience. Then as the Barcarolle unfolds, it’s the boxed-in rhythms that are puzzling, along with the restricted colours, and the lack of sufficient dynamic range to articulate properly either the short-term gestures or the long-term structure. All of which proves characteristic of the recital as a whole.

The best construction I can put on this is that Pollini is attempting to show that late Chopin should be stripped of the usual attributes of pianistic flair and allowed to speak unencumbered by personal intervention, trusting that it will weave its own spell without all that baggage. Certainly the nocturnes, mazurkas and waltzes here sound as severe and uningratiating as the larger-scale Barcarolle and Polonaise-fantaisie. No lilt, no magic, no sense of wonder, only a few flickerings of poetry, and beyond the obvious technical fluency and control no virtues that might compensate for the losses. I confess I struggled to concentrate all the way to the end. What on earth happened to the Pollini who was something close to a god for me in my far-off student days?

Ouch.

The first reviewer of this disc at Amazon, on the other hand, gives it five stars.  And DG have found plenty of nice things (go here and click on “reviews") said about this CD by other critics.

Sunday February 05 2017

My fantastic weekend of sport on the telly is nearing its conclusion, the Super Bowl having just begun.

A rising star of rugby union commentary is David Flatman.  He’s the bald one there.  Flats.  I bet they adore him for rugby club dinner speeches.  That came out sarcastic, but I really mean it.

Flatman has a nice double act going with the posher Mark Durden Smith, intro-ing the Premiership highlights.  Plus he was commentating for ITV on Italy v Wales today.  And then this evening he was fronting the Anglo-Welsh highlights, with Andy Goode, whose surname rhymes with food.

Flatman just seems to set the right tone.  He is knowledgeable and takes rugby seriously, but knows that others take it less seriously, and that it’s basically entertainment, and that’s fine.  Having been a forward himself he relishes the pugilistic and collectivist nature of the forward game, as well as the open-field individualism of the backs.  Above all, he communicates that he loves the game.  “Love” being a word he uses quite often.

And, he is funny. Just before the first advert interval a third of the way into this evening’s Anglo-Welsh highlights, he signed off like this:

Don’t go anywhere.  You can if you want.  But don’t.

I liked that.  I didn’t go anywhere.  I stayed here and wrote this.

One of the basic ways of getting a laugh is: take a cliché (in this case “Don’t go anywhere"), and then muck around with it.  Along with North’s try against Italy, the above mucking about was my equal-best rugby highlight of the day.

Also another word of praise for the team that has been doing the American Football for the BBC, two black guys called Jason Bell and Osi Umenyiora, with Mark Chapman, who usually does proper football.  If these guys don’t actually enjoy their sport and each other’s company, they do an excellent job of pretending that they do.  However, I see that Mike Carlson, who used to monopolise all the American football commenting is now back for the final, aka the Super Bowl.  If he does no irrelevant Trump sneering, it will be because he’s been told not to do that.

LATER: Well, that was worth staying up for.  As Flats might have said:

Do go to bed yet.  You can if you want.  But don’t.

And Carlson was excellent.  There were Trump jokes, but they were excellent too.

Monday January 23 2017

Here:

image

Click on TRUMP to get the Opera House.

This fantastically cost-effective piece of political signage reminds me of the stuff that Julian Lewis MP used do to CND demos in the eighties.  They’d put however many hundred thousand pro-Soviet bodies on the street, and he’d put one big sign across the top of Whitehall for them all the walk under, saying something like: SOVIET STOOGES.  His sign would get about half the news coverage.  Drove them nuts.

Thursday December 08 2016

Here are some photos from the archives, of front pages from a year ago tomorrow:

imageimageimage
imageimageimage

It’s interesting how Donald Trump was even then so recognisable from behind, because of that weird hair.

Will anyone try to ban President Trump from visiting Britain, I wonder?  Nobody of any significance, surely.  What Trump was saying then was that radical Islam is a serious problem and that he was going to give it hell.  And what has happened since says that Trump is one clever operator.  Which means that we now live in very interesting times.

I seem to recall thinking, around then, that Trump might win.  But by the time the election came around, I was surprised as anyone that he did.  And I wasn’t the only one.

Sunday September 11 2016

I’m talking about those terrible Buy To Let Creeps:

image

From last Friday’s City A.M., bottom of page 4.  I picked up a rather bedraggled copy of this outside Pimlico Tube Station late this afternoon.

Thursday June 23 2016

First, this, which was the graphic on the front page of today’s pro-Remain Daily Mirror, and reproduced at Samizdata, which Natalie Solent reckons sends a somewhat ambiguous message.  I agree.  Because REMAIN is in the biggest letters, it looks like it could be saying that if you vote REMAIN, you’ll be sucked into a black hole.  As you will, by the way, if enough people do this. This is indeed the fate that awaits us all, in the event of a REMAIN victory.  One of the reasons why this graphic only works when misunderstood, is that when misunderstood, it becomes true!

image

The thing is, the EU is a lot nearer to being like a black hole than us leaving the EU is.  For that message, they needed something more like an endless desert, or a huge tundra, or maybe some grim maritime scene, doom-laden as far as they eye can see.

imageThe enormity of this decision is, I feel, appropriately reflected in the deranged graphics which occurred when this picture got loaded up.  Samizdata usually centres pictures automatically, and also makes them smaller automatically, if they need to be smaller.  That doesn’t seem to be happening at the moment.

In the comment thread on that posting, I mentioned that it was raining.  Which it was, torrentially.  But alas, it soon cleared up, thereby not dampening down the London (= Remain) vote as much it might have if it had rained with less violence but greater steadiness.  I mean, they even managed to have a shortened game of cricket at Lord’s, after the rain had stopped.

And on the right there, Elizabeth Hurley, who will have voted Leave by now, that being the picture she Twittered yesterday along with her support for Leave.  There she stands, wearing only high-healed sandals and a Union Jack cushion, or that’s how it looks.  Thankyou Guido.  She was probably right that this would get noticed, and would aid the cause she favours.  But I bet the Leavers have been circulating their own interpretations of this rather odd picture.  Is the picture recent, I wonder, or does it date from way back?

At least it is upbeat and optimistic in atmosphere, unlike that black hole.

Wednesday June 08 2016

I love to write about digital photography, and have been tracking the selfie phenomenon since long before the mere word was invented, way back in the days when I referred to digital photographers as Billion Monkeys (which I don’t anymore (because some people thought I meant Muslims)).  (But also way back in the days when I didn’t worry about showing the faces of strangers, the way I worry now.) And I also enjoy often public sculpture, especially of the more recent and less abstract sort.

So, I love this:

image

There have been complaints, of course, such as from all the commenters there at the Daily Mail.  God forbid that vulgar people should find this vulgar statue so much fun.  Sculpture is Art, and Art isn’t supposed to be amusing.

One of the Daily Mail’s other photos is of bloke photoing himself with his own mobile, in front of the selfie statue.  But I prefer the more subtle response that consists of simply being photoed joining in, thus:

image

For once, the statueness, so to speak, of the statue, the fact that it is made of monochrome metal rather than realistically painted to look like real people, works really well, because it contrasts so nicely with the real people.  It helps that it seems to be exactly life size.

One of the idiot grumpy commenters at the Daily Mail said that Sugar Land is a stupid name and they were obviously desperate for some attention, which they have never had until now.  But wasn’t there a Goldie Hawn movie called The Sugarland Express, or some such thing?  Yes there was.  Early Spielberg.  But, is Sugar Land the same as Sugarland?

According to a later Daily Mail report, it isn’t only their grumpy commentariat that objects to this statue.  Could this be because a lot of people heard about this story partly through the Daily Mail, and those people being the sort that hears about things via the Daily Mail, immediately started objecting, because they object to everything.  Whereas, the ones who liked it hadn’t heard about it so much.

I first found about the statue via Amusing Planet, so of course I was already self-identified as the sort who would be amused.  It was just that the Daily Mail had better pictures.

Wednesday June 01 2016

Libertarian Home needs an intro for Mark Littlewood, for a publication they’re doing.  Here is a quick profile of Littlewood by me, which I hope may be of some use to LH.

imageMark Littlewood is the Director of the Institute of Economic Affairs.  There was a time, not so long ago, when the IEA seemed doomed to obscurity or worse.  But Littlewood has put in place and now leads a strong team of free market activists, strong on both the academic and media fronts, thus raising the profile of free market ideas both now and in the longer term future.

That may suffice, but here is more, if needed, of a slightly more personal sort.

Of particular note is Littlewood’s appointment of Stephen Davies and Christiana Hambro, in the area of student and young academic outreach. (Stephen Davies addressed Libertarian Home not long after his IEA appointment.)

When Littlewood was first appointed, I was not optimistic about the IEA, but then I heard him speak about his new job, and I became much more hopeful about the IEA’s future.  That optimism has not abated.

Hope that helps and is not too late.

Thursday May 26 2016

One of my regular automatic google-searches is “face recognition”, and just now this has been alerting me to all the various tricks that are coming on stream for making face recognition not work, by putting on make-up, or spectacles, and such like.

Here is my contribution to this discussion:

image

I know what you’re thinking.  Who might that be?

Exactly.  Although, if you’re are supercomputer, you have probably worked it out.  You have a special programme which tells you to take particular interest in any faces that are trying to not be recognised.

Most of my libertarian friends think that such tech solutions are the front line of this battle.  I have long assumed that the world is moving rapidly towards a state where the question of what is X doing at the moment is technologically answerable, and impossible to prevent being answered.  For me, among other desirable things, libertarianism is the claim that although we can see X saying or doing something we don’t approve of, we shouldn’t legally prevent him or her from doing that, unless it is really, really bad.

In a world of Total Surveillance by the Big Machine, the proliferation of stupid rules and regulations with no huge moral content becomes a problem like it never used to be.  I means rules about things like what you should eat or smoke or, now, say in conversation.  Rules like that mean that we can all now be seen and heard breaking such rules.  (Okay, maybe not now, maybe not yet, but that’s where things are headed.) And that means that anyone who wants to fuck up your life or my life (for an actual real reason that has bugger all to do with the stupid rule actually being broken) can then do it.  Worse, some legislative maniac might demand that anyone that the Big Machine sees breaking this or that rule that he personally is obsessed about, should be automatically fucked over, by the Big Machine, with no human intervention involved.  With a big long list of exceptions, like legislators.  The Big Machine can’t touch them.  Libertarianism has arisen, partly, because it has become ever more necessary to insist on certain principles, principles which were imposed upon the world in former times by sheer ignorance of what other people were getting up to.

The other thing people have to do is develop thicker skins, psychologically speaking I mean, because although legislative pressure is not now a problem for most people, social pressure can become a big problem, for example if you find yourself being mobbed on the internet for some innocuous thing you said or ate.  Just because a million idiots on the internet are screeching that you are an idiot, that doesn’t mean you are, or that if you are, it matters.  When it does matter, bosses should chill, and not fire people just because the mob is screeching.  I applaud, tentatively, the recent tendency to give social media mobsters a going-over, using the same methods on them that they have been using.  Who is this mad bitch?  What has she (it does often seem to be she) been up to lately?  What is her job?  Who is her boss?  Etc.  (In the age of cyber-bullying, I feel that I now understand witchcraft crazes better.)

Another problem is that as something easily mistaken for a state of everyone knowing everything increasingly pertains, that old illusion that everything will accordingly be centrally plannable is likely to keep rearing its very ugly head, and keep on having to be experienced as a disastrous illusion.  (More libertarianism.) The point is, everyone doesn’t know everything.  Nothing like.  We can’t.  Our heads aren’t big enough, and even if they were, knowledge is not like that.  Everyone can known anything in particular that is easy to know (like where X is just now) that they want to know and ask the Big Machine about.  That’s entirely different from actual omniscience.