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: USA

Monday February 20 2017

Last night I sent out the email concerning the Brian’s Last Friday meeting this coming Friday, at the end of which email I found myself blurting out this:

Whenever I concoct these promotional emails I end up feeling very excited about the forthcoming talk.  This time, this effect was especially pronounced.

This was what got me “very excited”:

Marc Sidwell will give a talk entitled: Promoting Freedom in a Post-Expert World.

He will be speaking about “the ongoing erosion of power and technocratic authority (most recently visible in the Brexit vote and the rise of Trump) and proposing some ways libertarians can respond to this shift.”

Other talk titles that were considered: “Twilight of the Wonks” and “The Revenge of Common Sense”.

Marc Sidwell is an journalist, editor, publisher, and writer, most recently of a How To Win Like Trump, now riding high in the Kindle best-seller List.  More about Marc, his career and his publications, here.

For further information about the kinds of ideas Marc will be presenting, I strongly recommend a visit to: marcsidwell.com/.

It was there that I gleaned this quote, from Brexit campaigner Dominic Cummings:

“All those amazed at why so little attention was paid to ‘the experts’ did not, and still do not, appreciate that these ‘experts’ are seen by most people of all political views as having botched financial regulation, made a load of rubbish predictions, then forced everybody else outside London to pay for the mess while they got richer and dodged responsibility. They are right. This is exactly what happened.”

It wouldn’t surprise me if that quote gets a mention at some stage during Marc’s talk.

I would add that there are some kinds of expertise that continue to be held in very high esteem.  Nobody doubts the expertise of the people who make all the machines and devices, mechanical and electrical, that keep our world ticking over efficiently and entertainingly.  Not all expertise is now held in low regard, only the kinds of expertise that Cummings itemises.

The room is already starting to fill up.

Email me (see top left of this blog) if you want to know more about these monthly speaker meetings at my home.

I’ve been meaning to post this image here for some time:

image

Guess what it is.  If in doubt, look at the categories list below.  Then go here, to confirm what you must surely have worked out.

Many have described the event at which this happened as historic, but not because of this.  But I reckon what you see in the above picture is what historians will end up being most impressed by, about this event, because it was a very public manifestation of a very impressive sort of technology, which is going to have a very big future.

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.

Saturday February 04 2017

This weekend, the first weekend of February, is one of my particular favourites.  The Six Nations begins, and on Sunday night, there is the Super Bowl.  Mind you, France nearly spoilt it by nearly beating England at Twickenham, but in the end, all was well.  England pre-announced that they were going to play attractive rugby, blah blah, but in the end, they settled for playing unattractive rugby and winning.  The commentators all said England played badly, but I reckon they were understandably wrong-footed by France being so very good compared to recent years.  It’ll be interesting to see how well France do in the rest of the tournament.  They had all kinds of huge runners, some of whom were about eight foot tall by the look of them, and also a certain Louis Picamoles, who was out of the Six Nations for the last two years, but who today was declared to be the Man of the Match.  I reckon England won the game in the first half, by being even at half time instead of twenty points down, as they well could have been.  Oh, and Farrell kicked all his conversions with the accuracy of a champion golfer.  Daly is apparently a long range specialist, and he kicked a penalty too, from long range.

And hey, Spurs have just won ugly too.

Aside from the sport, the other great thing about this time of year is that the days are back getting longer.  Even now, only a month into the new year, the days are already an hour longer than they were.  And by the time the Six Nations finishes, they’ll be another hour and more longer than they are now, with more photography time in proper light.  Lovely.

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 December 04 2016

Today, after being knackered yesterday, I had a quiet day, but just before it got dark, I visited my roof, and took photos.  As you can see from a couple of clocks in the pictures (this one (1.1) and this one (3.1)), it was just after half past three, and already it was starting to get dark:

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imageimageimageimageimage

My official purpose was to find out what stage the new US Embassy has got to (1.3).  But I also like 1.2 and 2.1, because they feature bright lights, looking almost as bright in my photos as they did for real.  3.3 features a view of the next door tower block that I hadn’t noticed before, flanked rather pleasingly by chimneys.

The sky (2.2) was also looking good, it being vapour trail weather.

Friday November 11 2016
Wednesday November 09 2016

I’m half way through another photo-posting but it’s taking too long, so here in the meantime is a link to a Trump victory piece I did this morning, at stupid o’clock, a time of day I rather like the sound of.

I like a Rob Fisher comment at Samizdata, attached to this posting, about the anti-Trump Twitter-rage that is now in full broil:

It’s certainly hilarious on Twitter already. They’ve created a caricature monster in their heads and they believe it and they’re wetting the bed over it 140 characters at a time.

Next step for these bed wetters, scour America for hate criminals, who think that they’re entitled now that Trump has won.  And they’ll find a few.

What the bed-wetting scourers won’t understand is that they will have helped to cause such hate crimes.  If you say that a Trump victory is a victory for racism, and then Trump wins, you are telling the racists that they have won, and can now ramp up their racism, without any longer being punished.  I’m not just saying this for the sake of an amusing blog posting, This will actually happen.  It probably already is happening.

See also: Brexit.

LATER: A collector’s item.

Wednesday November 02 2016

imageToday’s expedition happened pretty much exactly as guessed at yesterday.  I went by train from Victoria to Battersea Park, then wandered back towards Vauxhall, and finally took a bus back across the river and home.  I took over five hundred photos, including many that were really quite diverting.  On the right is one of these photos.  Just the one.  Click to get the picture twice as big.

One of the many things that holds me back as a blogger is that I think of an idea for a blog posting, but the thing gets too big and complicated, and it never gets done.  The trick is to say just one thing, not all the things that also relate to or are provoked by that one thing, just that one thing.  The other things can follow, in further blog postings.

So, on the right there is what the Spraycan looks like, when reflected in some of the windows of the new US Embassy at Nine Elms, the one that they are building to replace the one in Grosvenor Square.

To remind you of which one the Spraycan is, here is an earlier picture I took of it, next to the moon.

Well, it looks like the shape and size of this photo demands that I now say some further things, of the sort that relate to or are provoked by this one thing.  How very inconvenient and contradictory.  Clearly, a photo shaped like this was absolutely not the right way to illustrate the need to say one simple thing.  All of which is complicated by the fact that my inputting software doesn’t tell me exactly how the final postings will look.  So, there’ll probably be too much waffling towards the end of this posting.

In an earlier manifestation of this posting, this paragraph was identical to the one above.  The explanation of that circumstance being explained in the next paragraph.  There should now be about the right amount of waffle here.

I’ve had a rather tiring day.

Saturday October 22 2016

Well, for some, maybe they are.  But not for many.  Like I said, they’re a business.

Further evidence: University of North Dakota Offers Class on Starting Your Own Drone Business.

Further confirmation.  My TV screen takes a while to warm up, so I often leave it on and just switch off the sound.  And a moment ago, while listening to the radio, I was also watching daytime TV silently selling quite complicated looking drones at giveaway prices.  A lot of money got poured into these things, to sell at around five hundred quid, in the highstreet, to people, to play around with.  But these drones were today on sale for less than fifty.  As individual things to have, they just haven’t caught on.

See also: 3D printers.  Also not toys.

Wednesday September 28 2016

Last year I posted three bits from Matt Ridley’s The Evolution of Everything, here, here and here.

Earlier, in 2014, I posting another bit from a Matt Ridley book, this time from The Rational Optimist.  I entitled that posting Matt Ridley on how technology leads science and how that means that the state need not fund science.

Here is another Matt Ridley book bit, on this same subject, of how technology leads science.  And it is also from The Evolution of Everything (pp. 135-137):

Technology comes from technology far more often than from science. And science comes from technology too. Of course, science may from time to time return the favour to technology. Biotechnology would not have been possible without the science of molecular biology, for example. But the Baconian model with its one-way flow from science to technology, from philosophy to practice, is nonsense. There’s a much stronger flow the other way: new technologies give academics things to study.

An example: in recent years it has become fashionable to argue that the hydraulic fracturing technology that made the shale-gas revolution possible originated in government-sponsored research, and was handed on a plate to industry. A report by California’s Breakthrough Institute noted that microseismic imaging was developed by the federal Sandia National Laboratory, and ‘proved absolutely essential for drillers to navigate and site their boreholes’, which led Nick Steinsberger, an engineer at Mitchell Energy, to develop the technique called ‘slickwater fracking’.

To find out if this was true, I spoke to one of hydraulic fracturing’s principal pioneers, Chris Wright, whose company Pinnacle Technologies reinvented fracking in the late 1990s in a way that unlocked the vast gas resources in the Barnett shale, in and around Forth Worth, Texas. Utilised by George Mitchell, who was pursuing a long and determined obsession with getting the gas to flow out of the Barnett shale to which he had rights, Pinnacle’s recipe - slick water rather than thick gel, under just the right pressure and with sand to prop open the fractures through multi-stage fracturing - proved revolutionary. It was seeing a presentation by Wright that persuaded Mitchell’s Steinsberger to try slickwater fracking. But where did Pinnacle get the idea? Wright had hired Norm Wapinski from Sandia, a federal laboratory. But who had funded Wapinksi to work on the project at Sandia? The Gas Research Institute, an entirely privately funded gas-industry research coalition, whose money came from a voluntary levy on interstate gas pipelines. So the only federal involvement was to provide a space in which to work. As Wright comments: ‘If I had not hired Norm from Sandia there would have been no government involvement.’ This was just the start. Fracking still took many years and huge sums of money to bring to fruition as a workable technology. Most of that was done by industry. Government laboratories beat a path to Wright’s door once he had begun to crack the problem, offering their services and their public money to his efforts to improve fracking still further, and to study just how fractures propagate in rocks a mile beneath the surface. They climbed on the bandwagon, and got some science to do as a result of the technology developed in industry - as they should. But government was not the wellspring.

As Adam Smith, looking around the factories of eighteenth-century Scotland, reported in The Wealth of Nations: ‘a great part of the machines made use in manufactures ... were originally the inventions of common workmen’, and many improvements had been made ‘by the ingenuity of the makers of the machines’. Smith dismissed universities even as a source of advances in philosophy. I am sorry to say this to my friends in academic ivory towers, whose work I greatly value, but if you think your cogitations are the source of most practical innovation, you are badly mistaken.

Sunday June 19 2016

Here is a photo taken by a friend with her mobile, of a construction site in New York, complete with cranes:

image

I love it when friends send me snaps of things they know I will like.

I am particularly glad to see New York construction cranes in action.  After doing that posting about how there has been no construction in the southern end of Manhattan, mentioning absence of cranes as evidence of no construction, I started to wonder if, in New York, they do things differently.  I wondered if they built skyscrapers without using cranes, but just lifting all the stuff up the building, as they built it.  Or something.  But of course they use cranes in New York, same as everywhere else.

Just to be quite sure about that, I googled “construction cranes new york”.  And I was greeted with scenes of crane carnage like you would not believe.

Apparently cranes in New York occasionally fall over, and this is the one time when the average person is interested in them.  As a result, the average person has a totally distorted idea of the positive contribution made by construction cranes to modern society.

Tuesday June 14 2016

So I photo this guy outside Westminster Abbey who is wearing a Chicago Lions shirt:

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Later I ask him what sport the Chicago Lions play.  He doesn’t know, but the magic WWW in the sky knows, because it knows everything that there is to be known.  Turns out the Chicago Lions play rugby. I couldn’t find any Chicago Lions shirts looking like that one, that colour.  But I could find no other Chicago sports team called that, so that must be it.

In the course of googling I also came across some Lion statues in Chicago, and further news of how these Lion statues were made to wear Chicago Bears helmets (American football), and Chicago Blackhawks helmets (ice hockey):

imageimageimageimageimage

Such is the world.  Such is Chicago.  Such is the internet.

Thursday June 09 2016

Indeed, with cranes and with intervening roof clutter in the foreground:

image

One of the oddities of the internet is that if you google new us embassy london, you get lots of Big Boxy Things, all looking different from each other.  By which I mean, it’s the same box, but the architectural wrapping is different.  Basically what you are looking at is all the different guesses or early suggestions about how it was going to look or how people thought it ought to look, which then just hang about for the next few years.  Until such time as the Big Boxy Thing is finished, at which point huge numbers of new photos of it will drown out the guesses and the failed propaganda.  This makes it hard to know, now, when the Big Boxy Thing is still being constructed, if what you are seeing is the Big Boxy Thing in question, or some other Big Boxy Thing.

But, in among all the imaginings, I found actual photos of the new Embassy as it actually is, in the process of being built, and the above photo is definitely of the actual US Embassy.  No doubt about it.  More views from the same spot, above my head as I write this, here.

What is happening is that Spook Alley, which starts near Waterloo Station, continues via all those James Bond enterprises in anonymous Big Boxy Things, and then takes in the new MI6 building, is now being added to with an American strip of boxes of comparable scale, further up the river on the south side.  This is the Special Relationship in steel and concrete form, and the idea that this relationship is now cooling is visibly absurd.  It has never been more solid.  A whole new district of London is being created, basically for spying on terrorists, and on anyone else that the spooks take against.

As the rest of London expands down river, towards places like the new Container Port way off to the east, governmental London moves in the other direction, up river, west.

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:

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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.