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

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Category archive: History

Tuesday November 25 2014

As discussed in this earlier posting, here is a chunk of Frisby, from his book Bitcoin: The Future of Money? (pp. 197-201 – the chunk entitled “Beware the hype cycle").  And for the reasons stated in that earlier posting, this posting might rather suddenly disappear, so if you feel inclined to read it, do so now.  And then when you have, buy the book and tell me that you have done this in the comments, because this might cheer up any passing authors or publishers:

There is a cycle that a new technology passes through as it goes from conception to widespread adoption. The research company Gartner has dubbed it the ‘hype cycle’. It has five phases: the technology trigger, the peak of inflated expectations, the trough of disappointment, the slope of enlightenment and the plateau of productivity.

In the first phase the new technology is invented. There is research and development and some early investment is found. The first products are brought to market. They are expensive and will need a lot of improvement, but they find some early users. The technology clearly has something special about it and people start getting excited. This is the ‘technology trigger’. The internet in the early 1990s is a good example.

As this excitement grows, we move into the second phase.  The media start talking about this amazing new technology.  Speculative money piles in. All sorts of new companies spring up to operate in this new sector. Many of them are just chasing hot money and have no real product to offer.  They are sometimes fraudulent. This new technology is going to change the world. The possibilities are endless. We’re going to cure diseases. We’re going to solve energy problems.  We’re going to build houses on the moon. This is the ‘peak of inflated expectations’. This was the internet in 2000.

But at some point, the needle of reality punctures the bubble of expectation, and we move into the third phase.  Actually, this technology might not be quite as good as we thought it was; it’s going to take a lot of work to get it right and to make it succeed on a commercial scale.  A great deal of not particularly rewarding hard work, time and investment lies ahead.  Forget the ideas men – now we need the water-carriers.  Suddenly, the excitement has gone.

Negative press starts to creep in. Now there are more sellers than buyers. Investment is harder to come by. Many companies start going bust. People are losing money. The hype cycle has reversed and we have descended into the ‘trough of disappointment.’ This was the internet between 2000 and 2003.

But now that the hot money has left, we can move into phase four. The incompetent or fraudulent companies have died. The sector has been purged. Most of those that remain are serious players. Investors now demand better practice and the survivors deliver it. They release the second and third generation products, and they work quite well. More and more people start to use the technology and it is finally finding mainstream adoption. This was the internet in 2004. It climbed the ‘Slope of Enlightenment’, the fourth phase of the hype cycle, and entered the ‘Plateau of Productivity’ - phase five - which is where the likes of Google, Amazon and eBay are today.

Of course, cycles like this are arbitrary.  Reality is never quite so simple.  But it’s easy to make the case that crypto-currencies in late 2013 reached a ‘peak of inflated expectations’.

Perhaps it was not the.  It wasn’t Bitcoin’s dotcom 2000 moment – just a peak on a larger journey up.  Many Bitcoin companies, for example, are not even listed on the stock market.  Greater manias could lie ahead.

But it’s also easy to make the case that it ws the peak of inflated expectations.  In the space of three or four years, Bitcoin went from an understated mention on an obscure mailing list to declarations that it was not only going to become the preferred money system of the world, but also the usurper of the existing world order.  At $1,000 a coin, some early adopters had made a million times their original investment. Speculators marvelled at the colossal amount of money they were making. The media were crazy for it. Bitcoin was discussed all over television.

It caught the imagination of the left, the right and the in-between.  Computer boffins marvelled at the impossibly resilient code. Economists and libertarians marvelled at the politics of a money without government or border. There were early adopters, from the tech savvy to the black markets (black markets are usually quick to embrace new technology - pornography was the first business sector to actually make money on the internet, for example).

Every Tom, Dick and Harry you met under the age of 30 with an interest in IT was involved in some Bircoin start-up or other.  Either that or he was designing some new alt currency - some altcoins were rising at over a thousand per cent per day.  ‘Banks, governments, they’re irrelevant now,’ these upstarts declared.

I suggest that in late 2013 we hit the peak of the hype cycle - the peak of inflated expectations.  Now Bitcoin is somewhere in the ‘trough of disillusionment,’ just like the internet in 2001. The price has fallen. There have been thefts. Some of the companies involved have gone bankrupt.

The challenge now is for all those start-ups to make their product or service work. They have to take Bitcoin from a great idea and a technology that works to something with much wider ‘real world’ use. They have to find investment and get more and more people to start using the coins. This is a long process.

There are many who will disagree with this interpretation.  And, with investment, it is dangerous to have rigid opinions – I reserve the right to change my mind as events unfold.

Saturday November 22 2014

On the way back from the Royal College of Music to South Kensington tube after that magic Magic Flute, I encountered, for the first time, in Exhibition Road, the phone box that you see to the right.

imageIt is a telephone box, but a telephone box with a difference.  The windows have been replaced by sheets of reflective metal, and the telephone is now outside.  Inside is whatever gubbins is needed to support a cash machine, which is also to be seen on the outside.

The reason I was only seeing this item for the first time is that I usually use the tunnel, but GD2 and her mum, with whom I was walking, prefer to stay above ground.

The classic London phone box, like the double decker bus, refuses to die.  It helps that it can survive, in all its essentials, a sustained period of neglect and it is hard work actually to destroy.  So, the period between the relevant bureaucrats deciding, for their own bureaucrat type reasons, to scrub these phone boxes from the face of the earth and the mere people deciding to revive them was a period that the phone box was able to survive, in numbers.

Next step, make replica phone boxes out of newer materials.  Has that happened already, I wonder?  Yes it has.

I further wonder: Is the the phone box in my photo one of these phoneys?

Tuesday November 18 2014

I was in Paris in the freezing February of 2012, and while there, on the coldest day of the lot, I visited an amazing exhibition of Relief Maps.  Thank googleness for the internet, because instead of having to explain this, I can just give you the link, and let you learn as much or as little about this event as you want to.

Here is the photo:

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I can’t remember how exactly all the things that you see there came to look the way they do in that photo, but I’m pretty sure that a big mirror was involved, and also the glass of the big case that this map was in.  I can say with absolute certainty that no Photoshop(clone)ing is involved.

The big near-white thing in the middle is a map, on the floor, of France.

Go to the very middle of the picture, and then across a bit to the left and then down a bit, and you will see: me.  Wearing a scarf indoors, as was everyone else.

Sunday November 09 2014

Those Tower of London Poppies are causing quite a stir, with politicians of all parties, and people too, saying they ought to stay there longer, beyond Remembrance Sunday (today), beyond 11am on Tuesday, and maybe as long as Nov 11th 2018, so as many people as want to can get to see them.

I’ve checked them out twice myself, and took many photos of the sort that are presumably now tsunaming all over cyberspace.  I already mentioned these Poppy trips in passing, in this and in this and in this, but this is the first Poppy Posting here that is specificallly about The Poppies, hence the number in the title.

Here are a few of my “what it looks like” snaps (click to get them larger):

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What these snaps of mine don’t show (although 2.1 and 2.3 hint at it) is the panoramic hugeness of it all.  For that I turn to Goddaughter 2, who accompanied me on my first Poppies visit.

She had her mobile phone with her, which has an app for taking extremely wide photos.  By combining these two snaps …:

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… she arrived at this:

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That is about two thirds of it.  You can see all of it only in pictures like this one

I can entirely see why thousands upon thousands of people have wanted to come and gaze at these Poppies, because the effect is very striking, and the vast scale seems entirely appropriate.  There is one poppy for each British soldier who died, the Britishness of the poppies being the excuse for the Guardian to have a go at it all, in such postings as this one and this one.  But if I was French or German or Turkish and I saw this huge spread of poppies in London, I don’t think I’d feel that my dead ancestors were being dissed in any way.  And actually, I think I did hear quite a few foreign languages being spoken when I visited.  I mean, why wouldn’t a nation mourn its own dead?  I didn’t feel any resentment, when I recently visited a French graveyard with lots of war dead in it, that the ancestors of me and my fellow countrymen were being omitted from the story, any more than I do when I chance upon a war memorial in England with only local local names on it.  Why would I? 

The odd thing is, my two personal sets of ancestors had no WW1 deaths in them, or not one that anyone in my particular little family ever talked about.  This was not because of any general reluctance to talk about such things.  In WW2, we lost my mum’s older and only brother, Uncle John, and that was talked about every now and then, as were the two uncles who fought in WW2 and survived.  But stories about my ancestors in WW1?  Nothing.  I’m guessing this is a bit unusual.

Tuesday November 04 2014

The other day, I forget which one, I worked something out that had been confusing me. Why, given all the fun I get out of photography and given all the time I spend doing it and thinking about it, have I not immersed myself in all the technicalities of photography?  Why is it that the only setting on my camera that I regularly use is the one called “Automatic”?  Why am I no nearer to understanding manual focussing than I was a decade ago?

The answer is that it is the point-and-shoot sort of photography that strikes me as the most interesting sort of photography now happening.  Not in art galleries where the latest black-and-white photos of plague victims or under-age African soldiers are on display, in photos that cost more to buy than paintings and took more trouble to produce.  That is all so twentieth century, and even, actually, nineteenth century.  What counts now, for me, are the photos you can take with your mobile phone camera, or with the jumped-up mobile phone camera that I use, and the sort of photos that regular people are now able to take, of regular stuff rather than of foreign catastrophes that someone will pay them to take art-gallery standard photos of.

In short, I take point-and-shoot pictures because I like to be part of history, and this is where the history of photography now is.  (If you disagree, realise that what you are reading is not an argument.  It is a description of a feeling.)

What I have is called a “bridge” camera, but all that this means is that it is a bog-standard point-and-shoot camera that takes somewhat better photos when you go click, and which has a twiddly screen, and a lens that can go from close-up to mega-zoom without any faffing about with multiple lenses.  I have the best cheap camera that I can get, rather than the cheapest proper camera.  Oh, you can set my camera on manual and go all Real Photographer with it.  But if you want to do that, you should have a proper Real Photographer camera, not a bridge camera, and you should have a rucksack full of lenses, each perfect for each oh-so-carefully-taken shot.  What “bridge” means is the best camera you can have without having to give any thought to “photography”.  Instead, you just think about the picture.  More precisely, you think about what you see and which of the things that you see are the most interesting, and why.

My camera is not really any sort of “bridge”.  Bridge suggests that I am going somewhere with it, somewhere different, as in different from the technical point of view.  But I’m not.  Technically, I am staying right where I am.  If I am getting better at photography, it is because I am getting better at choosing what to point my camera at.

A bridge camera is rather like “crossover” music in that respect.  Crossover music is not for people who are actually doing any crossing over, from one sort of music to any other sort of music.  Crossover music is its own sort of music.  The people who like crossover music (and there’s nothing wrong with that) are people who like crossover music and who will continue to listen to crossover music, with no actual crossing over from any other sort of music to any other sort of music happening at all.

No links, because I thought of this all by myself.

Saturday November 01 2014

Last Wednesday and Thursday, I attended two talks, both at lunchtime, at and arranged by the Adam Smith Institute.  No event links because information about the first talk has already vanished from the ASI website, and information about the second hasn’t yet but presumably soon will.

On Wednesday, Russ Roberts talked about how to do libertarianism.  I agreed with pretty much everything he said, having long ago written very similar things, in particular in this.  Guy Herbert talked, on Thursday, about the Human Rights Act 1998.  He is, with qualifications and hesitations, for it.  He told me afterwards that the text of his talk will be available on line very soon, so I’ll try to add a link later to this posting, at the bottom.  If I fail, perhaps a commenter could remind me.  (LATER: Actually, I’ll add the link to the text (as Samizdata) here.)

At the talk given by Russ Roberts I forgot to take any pictures.  But at the talk given by Guy Herbert yesterday, I remembered.  This was the right way round to remember and forget.  There are many fine pictures of Russ Roberts on line, far fewer of Guy Herbert.

Here is one of the better ones I took of Guy:

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And here, on the left, is another one that I liked:

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On the right there is the explanation of the picture on the left.  I took it through the gap at the top of the empty chair in front of me.  No, I do not know who David Penfold is.  I’m guessing he is the David Penfold mentioned as something to do with this.

The audience for the Russ Roberts talk was packed into the small room it was given in.  The Guy Herbert talk, in the same room, was less well attended, hence that empty chair in front of me.  But that’s because its subject matter was less of an ASI core concern.  It was about things outside the free market comfort zone.  Which is good.  That sends out a signal.  We don’t only operate inside our comfort zone.  There is a bigger, wider world out there.  We think about that also.

Tuesday October 28 2014

Today, blogwise, has been one of those days.  By that I mean not that I have been too busy to do any blogging.  I merely mean that I haven’t felt like doing any, and have in fact not, until now.  I have had plenty of time to blog.  I just haven’t used any of it to blog.

So, it’s just as well that, I now discover, there has been an incoming email from Michael Jennings, entitled:

If you want to ride a really old bus, here is your chance.

Which reminds me that, recently, when mostly photoing photoers photoing Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, I found myself photoing, instead, this:

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He wasn’t taking photos.  He was checking through photos he’d taken earlier.

I can remember when buses like that were the latest thing.

LATER: More about those Tower of London poppies.  I read that Guardian piece before I discovered Guido was already on to it, and I thought it was weird too.  Like one of the commenters, and Guido, said: clickbait.  Plus, as another commenter said: yeah, the general public likes it, it means something, no wonder the Guardian art critic can’t be doing with it.  Let’s hope Natalie Solent gives the piece a good fisking like it’s 2004.

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I know what you are thinking.  That there is no connection between a big red historic thing which people just never forget about and a big red thing about an historic thing which people just never forget about.  Something along those lines?

Monday October 27 2014

Next Friday, October 31st, Christian Michel is giving a talk at my home entitled, somewhat provocatively: “Soviet and Nazi Art as Illustrations of Ayn Rand’s Aesthetics”.  He is certainly not the first to have pointed out the overlap, so to speak.

Here’s what Christian says about his talk (which I “LATER” (Tuesday) realised I need to insert into this posting, near the beginning):

Art does not feature high on the libertarian agenda. One exception is Ayn Rand, who declared that of all human products art is perhaps the most important. She went on to develop her own theory of aesthetics, and even attempted (as did Jean-Paul Sartre at the same time) to deliver her entire philosophy through the sole medium of literature (both failed).

In my talk this Friday I will sum up Rand’s aesthetics, her contribution to the field, and will show that it was nowhere better illustrated in the twentieth century than in the arts of National-Socialist Germany and Soviet Russia. The point is not to denigrate Rand’s philosophy by that association, but to say that genuine artists find a way to convey their deepest values and sense of life, to express the highest human aspirations and struggles, whatever their circumstances, and that’s exactly what Rand celebrated.

And here is something of what I think about these kinds of things.

Just after World War 2, many an artist said things along the lines of: after Auschwitz, we cannot any longer do purely representational art.  (Similar things were said by classical composers: after Auschwitz, we can’t any longer do pretty tunes.) But the artists had been abandoning pictorial representation (and tunefulness) long before Auschwitz happened, so “Auschwitz” has the air of being a rationalisation rather than the real reason for these artistic trends.

The crimes of Soviet Communism never had quite the same effect on most of the artists, even as an excuse for abstraction, although there were honourable exceptions (Mondrian for instance).  Too many artists admired the Soviet Union, especially during and just after World War 2, during its struggle and after victory over Nazi Germany.

Realistic art had also been seriously deranged by photography.  Photography destroyed the economic foundations of your average painter of realistic portraits and realistic paintings of such things as landscapes, and turned art painting into a sort of cultural bombsite, in which (to quote the words of an early twentieth century popular song) “anything goes”, anything, that is, except realistic pictures of people and of things.  Realism, for the average artist, just made him look like a bad photographer.  Even the claim that “art” now had to be an attack on the delusional bourgeois habit of trying to make visual and conceptual sense of the world has the feel, for me, of a rationalisation.

But there is much more to “realism” than mere realism.  What looks at first glance merely realistic is often aspirational, and to abandon the field of representational art to the mid twentieth century totalitarians was surely a propaganda error, to put it no more strongly.  For the likes of Ayn Rand, this was a surrender by the civilised world that should never have happened.

To point out that Rand favoured images that resembled Nazi and Soviet art is not to accuse her of being a Nazi or a Communist.  It is to realise that she did not want the still immensely potent artistic weapon that is representational painting and sculpture to be monopolised by the totalitarians.

All of which is something of how I see (and hear) the kinds of things that Christian Michel will be talking about on Friday.  As to what Christian himself will say, well, we shall see, and hear.

Meanwhile, here is an abundance of visual clues as to the sort of aesthetic territory that Christian will be traversing in his talk.  It will be an illustrated talk.  Here, without identification or further comment, from me or from him, are the illustrations he has sent me, in the order (I assume) in which he will be referring to them.

A few of these images are small enough to fit within the 500 pixel horizontal limit that prevails at this blog, a couple being very small indeed.  But most can be enlarged (a little or quite a lot) with a click:

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Tuesday October 21 2014

There I was, lying in the bath, listening to Radio 3.  Some music had ended, and I was now being subjected to a programme which I do not usually listen to, called Words and Music.  And I heard the actor Jim Broadbent saying these words, by Michel de Montaigne:

I take the first subject that chance offers.  They are all equally good to me.  And I never plan to develop them completely.  For I do not see the whole of anything.  (Nor do those who promise to show it to us.) Of a hundred members and faces that each thing has, I take one, sometimes only to lick it, sometimes to brush the surface, sometimes to pinch it to the bone.  I give it a stab, not as wide, but as deep as I know how.  And most often, I like to take them from some unaccustomed point of view. Scattering a word here, there another, samples separated from their context, dispersed, without a plan and without a promise, I am not bound to make something of them, or to adhere to them myself, without varying when I please, and giving myself up to doubt and uncertainty, and my ruling quality, which is ignorance.

Sounds like a blogger, doesn’t he?  A blogger, that is to say, like me. Especially where he says “without a promise”.  I keep saying that. Above all there is that “this is what it is and if you don’t like it you know just what you can do about it” vibe that so many bloggers give off.  With Montaigne, we are arriving at that first moment in history when writing and publishing new stuff had become easy.  Not as easy as it is when you blog, but a whole lot easier than it had been.

I transcribed the above quote from Broadbent’s reading of it.  The punctuation is somewhat uncertain, and at one point assertively creative on my part.  I added some brackets, around what is clearly a diversion from his main line of thought to which he immediately returns.  It’s a sideswipe at others and it is then forgotten.

Such is the wonder that is the internet that I had little difficulty in tracking down the quote.  It is near the beginning of Montaigne’s essay entitled “Of Democritus and Heraclitus”, in volume three of his essays.

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The BBC used a more recent translation, which I much prefer the sound of, it being less antique and long-winded.  And if Montaigne himself was also antique and long-winded, then I still prefer intelligibility to stylistic accuracy.

LATER: More about Montaigne, also emphasising the modern social media angle, here.

Sunday October 12 2014

I have already quoted a couple of interesting bits from Bill Bryson’s excellent book, At Home.  I have now finished reading this, but just before I did, I encountered some interesting stuff about paint (pp. 453-5):

When paints became popular, people wanted them to be as vivid as they could possibly be made. The restrained colours that we associate with the Georgian period in Britain, or Colonial period in America, are a consequence of fading, not decorative restraint. In 1979, when Mount Vernon began a programme of repainting the interiors in faithful colours, ‘people came and just yelled at us’, Dennis Pogue, the curator, told me with a grin when I visited. ‘They told us we were making Mount Vernon garish. They were right - we were. But that’s just because that’s the way it was. It was hard for a lot of people to accept that what we were doing was faithful restoration.

‘Even now paint charts for Colonial-style paints virtually always show the colours from the period as muted. In fact, colours were actually nearly always quite deep and sometimes even startling. The richer a colour you could get, the more you tended to be admired. For one thing, rich colours generally denoted expense, since you needed a lot of pigment to make them. Also, you need to remember that often these colours were seen by candlelight, so they needed to be more forceful to have any kind of impact in muted light.’

The effect is now repeated at Monticello, where several of the rooms are of the most vivid yellows and greens.  Suddenly George Washington and Thomas Jefferson come across as having the decorative instincts of hippies. In fact, however, compared with what followed they were exceedingly restrained.

When the first ready-mixed paints came on to the market in the second half of the nineteenth century, people slapped them on with something like wild abandon. It became fashionable not just to have powerfully bright colours in the home, but to have as many as seven or eight colours in a single room.

If we looked closely, however, we would be surprised to note that two very basic colours didn’t exist at all in Mr Marsham’s day: a good white and a good black. The brightest white available was a rather dull off-white, and although whites improved through the nineteenth century, it wasn’t until the 1940s, with the addition of titanium dioxide to paints, that really strong, lasting whites became available. The absence of a good white paint would have been doubly noticeable in early New England, for the Puritans not only had no white paint but didn’t believe in painting anyway. (They thought it was showy.) So all those gleaming white churches we associate with New England towns are in fact a comparatively recent phenomenon.

Also missing from the painter’s palette was a strong black. Permanent black paint, distilled from tar and pitch, wasn’t popularly available until the late nineteenth century. So all the glossy black front doors, railings, gates, lampposts, gutters, downpipes and other fittings that are such an elemental feature of London’s streets today are actually quite recent. If we were to be thrust back intime to Dickens’s London, one of the most startling differences to greet us would be the absence of black painted surfaces. In the time of Dickens, almost all ironwork was green, light blue or dull grey.

Famously, the rise of the Modern Movement in Architecture was triggered by, among many other things, a revulsion against the excesses of Victorian-era decoration, especially architectural decoration.  Decoration became mechanised, and thus both much more common and much less meaningful.  What did all this mechanised decoration prove, what did it mean, when you could thrash it out with no more difficulty than you could erect a plain wall?

What the above Bryson quote strongly suggests, at any rate to me, is that something rather similar happened with colour.

Why is the overwhelming atmosphere of Modernist architecture and architectural propaganda so very monochrome, still.  Part of the answer is that it was only recently learned how to do monochrome.  Monochrome looked modern, from about 1900-ish onwards, because it was modern.  Monochrome was the latest thing.  Colour, meanwhile, had become much cheaper and had been used with garish nouveau riche excess, and there was a reaction to that also, just as there was to excessive decoration.

Sunday October 05 2014

While rootling around in the www like it was about 2003, I found this piece, dating from 2009, which was all about this apparently pretty but otherwise unremarkable abstract picture:

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In case you don’t already know what is going on here, the big story here is that the blue bits and the green bits are the same colour.  What colour your eyes see something as depends on the other colours in the immediate vicinity.

The writer linked to above found this graphic here, which you can too if you do a bit of scrolling down.

If you saw this around 2009, or something similar around 2003, then apologies for the repetition.  That early period of blogging, just after 2000, will always seem to me like a fleeting golden age, when everything of this sort was being discovered and passed on for the very first time.  Because we could.  Before, we couldn’t.  Now, we could.  But now (as in now), most of this sort of trivia has been in circulation for a decade, and it lacks the impact it once had.  We bloggers must find new things to say, to cover for the fact that blogging itself is no longer new.  This is not a bad thing.

Thursday October 02 2014

Earlier this evening I attended a talk given by Michael Jennings at the Rose and Crown in Southwark.  Read Michael’s background briefing about the things he talked about further this evening, either here, or here.

I have friends who seem to revel in having their photos taken, but Michael is not one of them.  He entirely lacks vanity, and tends, when being photoed, to have the look of a man worrying about how bad he fears he will look in the photo.  So it was that, having earlier been asked for a photo of Michael by Simon Gibbs, the organiser of the meeting, I was only able quickly to find one that was remotely good enough.  (You can see it at the other end of the second of the above links.) This evening I made a particular effort to correct this, and here is one of the better shots that I took of Michael this evening:

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The most dramatic moment in the evening came when the Putin-echoing stooge Russian lady in the audience (there always seem to be one such stooge at any public event mentioning Russia and its current policies) tangled with Michael on the subject of Poland.  Why were the Poles so paranoid about Russia and so keen to join NATO?

Michael replied with a short history lesson that was brief, and crushing.  Nazi-Soviet Pact.  (The stooge later denied that this had even happened, so Michael later told me.) Katyn Massacre.  Warsaw Uprising.  (Stalin parked the Red Army outside Warsaw and let the Nazis crush it.) An imposed Communist government, that the Poles would never have chosen for themselves, for the next half century.  Final sentence, something like: “If fearing Russia after all that means you are paranoid, then yes, I guess the Poles are paranoid.” Applause.  With any luck, this little interchange will be viewable on video, along with the talk itself of course.

Earlier, the lady stooge had waxed eloquent to me, in the socialising period before the talk, about the superiority of Russian education over English education.  She had a point.  Russian children are indeed made to work far harder at their lessons than English children are these days.  But what if the lessons they learn are a pack of lies?

See also this, recently at Samizdata.

On a happier note, I harvested several names and emails of various young, clever libertarians to add to my Brian’s Last Fridays list.  A couple of them being, so it seemed to me, of exceptional promise.  (I hope that doesn’t sound patronising.) I was particularly impressed by this guy.

Friday September 26 2014

Just about to go to bed following a very satisfactory Last Friday meeting, addressed by Priya Dutta, on the subject of education and libertarianism.  Priya, many thanks for an excellent talk, and for attracting such a large and intelligent throng to listen to it.  Although I don’t want to definitely promise anything, I will try to say something more about what you said than that, Real Soon Now.  But right now, I am too tired to attempt anything.

Something I often forget to do at these things is take photos, probably because the photos I take are usually not very good.  Tonight, Rob Fisher took photos, and I of course photoed him doing this ...:

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... and then I took other photos.  But the really good news is that Rob’s camera is much better than mine, especially in bad light.  He has promised to send me his best, and I look forward to seeing what he got.

For something rather more substantial from me, about libertarianism if not about education, try this recent Samizdata posting.

Monday September 22 2014

Chippendale most of us have heard of.  But Rannie?  Who is, or was, Rannie?  Exactly.

Seven years ago now, I wrote a Samizdata piece about two-man teams.  It still, I think, reads well, and it contained the following assertions:

Even when a single creative genius seems to stand in isolated splendour, more often than not it turns out that there was or is a backroom toiler seeing to the money, minding the shop, cleaning up the mess, lining up the required resources, publishing and/or editing what the Great Man has merely written, quietly eliminating the blunders of, or, not infrequently, actually doing the work only fantasised and announced by, the Great Man. Time and again, the famous period of apparently individual creativity coincides precisely with the time when that anonymous partner was also but less obtrusively beavering away, contributing crucially to the outcome, and often crucially saying boo to the goose when the goose laid a duff egg. If deprived, for some reason, of his back-up man, the Lone Genius falls silent, or mysteriously fails at everything else he attempts. ...

Now read this, from At Home, the Bill Bryson book I am currently reading.  On pages 234-5, concerning Thomas Chippendale, the noted furniture maker, Bryson writes:

He was an outstanding furniture maker but hopeless at running a business, a deficiency that became acutely evident upon the death of his business partner, James Rannie, in 1766. Rannie was the brains of the operation and without him Chippendale lurched from crisis to crisis for the rest of his life.  All this was painfully ironic, for as he struggled to pay his men and keep himself out of a debtor’s cell, Chippendale was producing items of the highest quality for some of England’s richest households, and working closely with the leading architects and designers - Robert Adam, James Wyatt, Sir William Chambers and others. Yet his personal trajectory was relentlessly downwards.

It was not an easy age in which to do business.  Customers were routinely slow in paying. Chippendale had to threaten David Garrick, the actor and impresario, with legal action for chronic unpaid bills, and stopped work at Nostell Priory, a stately home in Yorkshire, when the debt there reached £6,838 - a whopping liability. ‘I have not a single guinea to pay my men with tomorrow: he wrote in despair at one point. It is clear that Chippendale spent much of his life in a froth of anxiety, scarcely for a moment enjoying any sense of security at all.  At his death in 1779, his personal worth had sunk to just £28 2s 9d - not enough to buy a modest piece of ormolu from his own showrooms. ...

Rannie did not make the actual furniture, but he was essential to Chippendale in exactly the sort of way I describe.

It feels good to be so right.

Sunday September 21 2014

Photoed by me in Oxford Street late this afternoon:

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What this tells you is that architectural modernism has utterly conquered indoors, but that out of doors, modernism is only popular because its totalitarian impulses have been held at bay, by what you might call ancientism.

The Modern Movement founders would have been disgusted by the process portrayed in this picture.