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

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:

image

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

image image

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.

Friday October 03 2014

Yes, dezeen (Dezeen?) continues to be a favourite wwwspot for me.  Here are some recent dezeen postings that got my attention, for this or that reason.

First, news that there will be a viewing platform on top of the Walkie Talkie:

The Walkie Talkie Skygarden has yet to open and will, I’m sure, come with a catchier name. But already it is in obvious competition with the Shard – pricey versus free, ascetic steel and glass versus sylvan repose, supreme height versus not being able to see the Walkie Talkie. ...

Very droll.  The original was about how you couldn’t see the National Theatre from the National Theatre.  But me, I am warming to the Walkie Talkie, and I don’t just mean I’m standing under it and being fried.  I especially like how it looks from a distance.  The point being: it looks like the Walkie Talkie.  Not just some anonymous rectangular London lump, no, that particular Big Thing.  Yes it is not properly beautiful.  But neither is London.  Besides which, anything that just might compete down the price of going to the top of the Shard has my vote.  I’ll definitely make my way up there, as soon as they’ll let me

Next up, isn’t fun when someone hitherto impeccably cool suddenly turns into Grumpy Old Man:

Speaking to Dezeen, the 85-year-old English designer said tech products like the iPhone and Apple Watch were turning people into zombies, adding: “I’ve got a certain cynicism of Apple and their motives. It’s a bit of a monster.”

“It’s a game they’re playing and it’s an absolutely straightforward, commercial, ruthless game, and it’s dressed up nicely because they’ve got some talented people in their employ,” he said.

Grange, who was knighted in 2013 for services to design, believes that the tech giant has successfully turned Modernism into “good commerce”, using aesthetics to dress up a self-perpetuating product cycle.

“There are probably few companies around now that absolutely answer the prospect that Modernism is good commerce,” he said. ...

Modernism is good commerce?  Can’t have that.

… “They’ve been so bloody ruthless that you almost get no choice in the matter.”

“Almost” there means “not”.  (See also: essentially, basically, fundamentally, etc. etc. etc.) Because actually, you get plenty of choice about whether to buy Apple stuff or not.  Apart from one rather nice keyboard, I never have.

People always talk about the behemoths of capitalism like this, just as they are starting their long slide down into moderate size and moderate success, into business as usual.  How do I know Apple is now at the top of that slide?  Easy, they are building a custom-designed headquarters.  It absolutely yells: from now on, all Apple-persons will talk to each other and keep everyone else out.  And what they will be talking about, to an appalling degree, will be their own living arrangements inside this huge circular corporate burial chamber.  They’re doomed, I tell you, doomed.  Someone tell Sir Grumpy (above) that he can relax.

Next: what a driverless car might look like.  Not.  But, it looks very pretty.  The basic point, that driverless cars will in the longer run utterly transform the look of the outdoors is, I think, a very good one.  Maybe that is how some of them will look.

I really do not like the way this floating bikeway along the River Thames looks, in the pictures there.  At the very least, I say, find a way to avoid having those obtrusive shapes above the level of the track, which makes it look like an infinitely extended item of tasteless garden furniture.  I get it, that crap is there to enable it to float up and down on the tide.  Well, find another way to do that.

Next, some excellent photos of the High Line, in New York.  I especially like the distant aerial view of it curving its way over the Rail Yards, with the spontaneous architectural order of Manhattan’s towers in the background.

I do like this rectangular block of a house, but with one end lifted up.  Usually the rectangular block houses featured at dezeen are impeccably, terminally tedious.  But this one, I like.  Apart from the fact that whenever the damn architect called round, you’d have to tidy up all your domestic crap all over everywhere, and turn the place back into the dreary corporate office it resembles in the photos.  What is it with architects not wanting homes to look, inside, like homes, but instead like some kind of dystopian hell with nothing in it besides a wooden floor?

Here are some impeccably, terminally tedious rectangular type houses, in Japan.  To me, by far, by several hundred miles, the most interesting thing about these photos of them is the amazing amount of electrical crap in the sky over the street outside.  If I was photoing in Japan, I would be all over that.  More Japanese sky clutter here, in photos of another impeccably, terminally tedious block house with an interior that also looked like a corporate office reception area when the photos were taken.

Google drones.  Spooky.

A weird footbridge in Paddington.

Parisian blocks become wavey.

Finally what with this being Friday, some black cats with bronze bollocks.  I kid you not.

Monday September 08 2014

Yes, I love it when that happens:

image

Congratulations to Jackie D for capturing it.

Friday August 29 2014

Spent the whole day fretting about not enough people coming to my Last Friday of the Month meeting this evening.  Richard Carey would, I knew, be fine, but would the number of listeners be insultingly small?  Happily, two people showed up who hadn’t emailed that they were coming, and the room was, if not full, at least not embarrassingly empty.

Better yet, I also fixed my speaker for next month, which I had also been fretting about.  Priya Dutta, who attended this evening, will be speaking about Education, libertarianism and similar things.  The Gove reforms, the various attempts to set up cheap new free enterprise schools of various sorts, that kind of thing.  She is a teacher, so this is bound to be good.  I’ll say more as I learn more.

Too tired to expand on what Richard said (about English Republicanism and its influence in the American colonies and later the USA), other than that in the brackets is what it was about and that it was very interesting.  But since this is Friday, here is news of Cats on Kickstarters, and of Catstarter , which I think is a book, or maybe a blog.  Also cat related: Ceiling Netanyahu is watching you tunnel.

Tuesday August 26 2014

I’ve started reading Virginia Postrel’s The Future and Its Enemies, years after everyone else who has read it.  I haven’t got very far yet, but I am delighted to discover that one of the Enemies that Postrel takes several cracks at is John Gray, that being a link to a crack that I took at Gray at Samizdata a while back.

And I see that Postrel, like me, does not confine herself to analysing and criticising Gray’s arguments, but notes also the cheapness of the tricks that Gray often uses to present his arguments.

What disguises the trickery, at least in the eyes of Gray and his followers, is the air of profundity that is regarded as being attached to the process of foreseeing doom and disaster.  In truth, incoherent pessimism is no more profound than incoherent optimism, which is to say, not profound at all.

Says Postrel (p. 9):

Although they represent a minority position, reactionary ideas have tremendous cultural vitality.  Reactionaries speak directly to the most salient aspects of contemporary life: technological change, commercial fluidity, biological transformation, changing social roles, cultural mixing, international trade, and instant communication.  They see these changes as critically important, and, as the old Natinoal Review motto had it, they are determined to “stand athwart history, yelling, ‘Stop!’” Merely by acknowledging the dynamism of contemporary life, reactionaries win points for insight.  And in the eyes of more conventional thinkers, denouncing change makes them seem wise.

Seem.  Amen.  I’m still proud of this in my piece about Gray, which makes that same point about the seeming wisdom of being a grump rather than a booster:

He trades relentlessly on that shallowest of aesthetic clichés, that misery is more artistic than happiness, that any old rubbish with a sad ending is artistically superior to anything with a happy ending no matter how brilliantly done, that music in a minor key is automatically more significant than anything in C major.

There are plenty more Gray references in Postrel’s book, if the Index is anything to go by and it surely is.  My immediate future is bright.

Friday August 01 2014

I get google emails whenever “3D printing” is mentioned at all prominently on the www, and the latest one definitely got my attention.  It linked to a story about a guy who has been 3D printing in his garden.

A building contractor living in Minnesota has developed his own 3D printer which can print concrete directly from CAD design software, and he has used it to 3D-print a castle in his back garden.

Here is how that looks:

image

Calling that a “castle”, as this story does, is a bit of a stretch.  At the moment, if this is anything to go by, open-air and architectural 3D printing seems to have all the deft elegance and aesthetic flexibility of a dot matrix printer.  But the equivalents of laser printers, and then (what we have now) cheap laser printers, and cheap colour printers, will surely soon be with us.  And in due course the building trade will become something completely different, and hence buildings will too.

Yet another reason why I would love to remain alive for another century, just to see how this kind of stuff develops.

In England, this guy would either have failed to get planning permission for this erection, or else he would now be being told to take it down, for having failed to get planning permission.

Friday July 25 2014

My latest last Friday of the month meeting was this evening.  Thank you Simon Gibbs, and all else who attended.  Excellent talk and an excellent evening.

But I spent all day fretting about the meeting instead of doing anything for here, and now that it’s over I don’t want to say something stupid about the meeting.  I’d rather think about that some more and talk sense about it.

So here, instead of proper blogging, are some cat links that I like.  Google “cats” and of course you get a ton of stuff.  These few were my favourites.

Cats in the movies.

Florida Man Holds Gun to Cat’s Head and Posts Picture to Facebook.  The www is not amused.

Monkeys fear big cats less, eat more, with humans around.

Feisty feline saves boy from bullies.  But, there is no video, so not as good as this.

And for those who share my interest in American politics, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) accused Senate Democrats of meowing like kitty cats and enabling President Barack Obama to enact lawless executive actions like no other president before him.  I wouldn’t choose cats are a metaphor for lack of independence.

And see also the cat wheel linked to by David Thompson.

Monday June 23 2014

Here:

Know what’s the perfect crime? Murdering a jury. You can’t get a fair trial because any jury will be biased against you.

It’s Frank J.  The J stands for Jenius.

Saturday June 21 2014

I just came across this video, here, again, which has had many hits on Youtube. Like millions of others, I like it a lot.  It’s Louis C.K., complaining about people who complain about modern life and all its wondrous new gadgetry.  I was going to stick the video here, but it wouldn’t fit.  (Anyone know how to make it 500 wide instead of 560?  Maybe I should redesign my blog wider.) But follow that link and scroll down a bit to where it says: “- it’s very funny”; and then, in white on black at the top of the video: “+Everthing’s+Amazing+ +Nobody’s+Happy”.  And then click and enjoy.

Part of why improved gadgets don’t automatically make us happy is that everyone gets to have a go on them, but what really makes a lot of us happy is improved relative status.  New gadgets create a different world, in which we may as likely as not be demoted in status, below others who understand the new gadgets better.

There is also the particular genius of the gadgeteers to be considered, compared to our own ungenii.  New gadgets can make many of us feel like savages, out of our depth in a world of wonders, less capable (because utterly incapable of producing such a wondrous gadget), rather than more capable (through possessing the gadget).

In the article linked to, there is speculation that old people are more easily pleased, by things.  I certainly enjoy digital photography, as all regulars here will know, and you obviously enjoy that or you’d not be a regular.  I also enjoy typing verbiage into my magic machine and this magic blog.  Perhaps a reason why these things please me so much is that I am old, and had been waiting for such things to be possible for such a very, very long time.  For decades, I fretted about my inability to make pictures without fuss and write stuff without fuss, and show both to other people whenever I felt like it, again without fuss.  Now I can do these things.  Any envy I feel towards the people who contrived these wonder is dwarfed by the pleasure I get in doing these things, finally.  I know, I’ve been showing off my pictures and babbling away at various blogs for well over a decade.  But like I say, I’m old, and more than a decade is nothing to how long I spent waiting for these things to be possible, all the while not even knowing if they ever would be.  I had become used to knowing that these things might never happen, which means that I still can’t quite believe that they have happened, which means that they still make me happy.

Friday June 20 2014

One of my favourite computer functions is Screen Capture.  For years, I didn’t know how to do this.  How is “prt sc” screen capture?  I used to just photo the screen.  Then I got told, and more to the point, told at a time just before I found many uses for this procedure, and as a result, I actually got it fixed in my head.

So it is that I am able to capture fleeting moments like this one:

image

That was the passage of play that turned the game England’s way, today, on day one of the test match at Headingley.  Sri Lanka went from 228-5 and motoring to 229-9, in nine balls.  In among all this, Broad got a hat trick, but didn’t even realise and had to be told!  There was then a little last wicket stand and they got to over 250, but the big damage had been done.

Here is another interesting moment, which is the moment when they show me all the guys who worked on Adobe Photoshop, while I am loading Adobe Photoshop.

But, the trouble is, when I do a Screen Capture while that is happening, it doesn’t work.  What gets captured is the moment when Adobe Photoshop is finally loaded.  Until then, I guess my computer is too busy loading Photoshop to do a Screen Capture.  Either all that, or else I just wasn’t doing it right, as is entirely possible.

But instead of obsessing about what I might or might not be doing wrong, I instead simply photographed the moment, just like old times:

image

The reason I wanted to photo this was all the Indian names, in among the occasional regular American ones.  Interesting.  Where are they all based, I wonder?  I’m guessing somewhere in the USA, but what do I know?  Adobe seems to have a lot of places where they could be. And of course, if something like Adobe doesn’t know how to plug a global network of co-workers together, who does?  From where I sit, these Indian guys could be anywhere.  Even so, like I say, interesting.

A lot of the Americans I read on the Internet say that Obama is destroying America, and he seems to be doing as much as he can along these lines.  But there is a lot of ruin in a country, and a lot of ruin in American.  This screen shot suggests that at least parts of the good old American upward economic mobility ladder are working just fine.

Wednesday June 04 2014

I know what you’re thinking.  This is a tricycle:

image

That’s not a tricycle.

This is a tricycle:

image

Photoed by me in an alleyway off Lower Marsh, this afternoon.

These are also tricycles

image

Blog and learn.

Tuesday May 27 2014

I like to browse through Jonathan Gewirtz’s photos from time to time, and on my latest browse I came across this photo, of a brightly lit building in Urban Florida.  Miami?  Don’t know, and it doesn’t matter.

What particularly got my attention was the fact that Gewirtz included in the picture: his own shadow.

imageI have taken the liberty of reproducing this detail here.  “Copyright ©2011 Jonathan Gewirtz” is what it says just before saying “jonathangewirtz.com”, but I trust my little except does not break any rules.  (Rules often being the point of copyright violations, I’m guessing.  Maybe this particular copyright violation, on its own, would not be a problem, but once the line is crossed, by anyone ...) If Gewirtz wants this little piece of his work removed, he has only to say and it will be removed forthwith.

Okay, with that out of the way, the point that I want to make here is that I suspect that this thing of including your own shadow in pictures is a practice that has filtered upwards to the Real Photographers like Jonathan Gewirtz, from us digital amateurs.

Your own shadow in the picture often starts as a mistake, but then you think: well, okay, that’s my shadow, but what’s so wrong with that?  I was standing there, with the sun behind me.  I mean, did you think this wasn’t a photograph, and that someone standing there throwing a shadow into the picture wasn’t even there?  Did you think that God took the picture?  Cameras gobble up whatever they see in that moment, and in this moment, for instance, my shadow was part of what it saw.  Often, the shadow is all there is, and very amusing it is too.

The crux of the matter is, I think, who the picture is for and what the point of it is.  Is it for someone else, someone paying?  Is perhaps a happy couple being photographed on their wedding day?  In which case, they are the point, not the photographer.  Likewise if the point is to photo this dish of salad, or that house interior, or this beloved pet or that sports team, well, the Real Photographer is not being paid to insert himself into the scene, and he will be careful not to.

But if, on the other hand, you are a snapper who is just having a bit of fun, then why shouldn’t you, the snapper, also become your own snappee?

But the thing is, when Real Photographers are out having fun, the way Jonathan Gewirtz presumably is when taking photos in Miami or wherever, just because he likes to, they are liable to take their ingrained Real Photographer habits of self-effacement with them.  So, interesting that Gewirtz did not do this, at any rate not this time.

I’ll end with a slice out of one of these photos:

image

The crooked forefinger being mine.

Thursday May 22 2014

Amazing:

image

Old car factories had a harmful impact on the environment, releasing toxic chemicals into the air, land and water. But it wasn’t all ugly. Oddly enough, one of the by-products of car production was Fordite, also known as Detroit agate. The colorful layered objects take their name from agate stones for their visual resemblance. But instead of forming from microscopically crystallized silica over millions of years, Fordite was formed from layers of paint over several tens of years. Back in the day, old automobile paint would drip onto the metal racks that transported cars through the paint shop and into the oven. The paint was hardened to a rock-like state thanks to high heats from the baking process. As the urban legend goes, plant workers would take pieces home in their lunch pails as a souvenir for their wife or kids.

Since then, car production has modernized and Fordite has been rendered a relic of the past. Artisans have been using the colorful material for jewelry but it’s not a stretch to imagine a future when these pieces sit behind glass in a museum. The colors can also be used to judge how old they are because car paint was subject to different trends. In the 1940s cars were mostly black or brown enamel while the 1960s ushered in an age of colorful lacquers.

Something tells me the 3D printers will have something to contribute to processes like this.  I tried googling “fordite 3d printing” but all I got were lots of pieces about each but, so far as I could see, none about both.  Give it time.

Tuesday May 20 2014

Regulars here, or for that matter there, will know that I have for many years now been at enthusiastic fan of the French historian and social scientist Emmanuel Todd.  In recent years, this enthusiasm has at last started to become a bit more widespread.

Two of the world’s most important Todd-enthusiasts are now James C. Bennett and Michael J. Lotus.  Quite a while ago now, they sent me an email flagging up a piece they had contributed to Hungarian Review, which contains some interesting biography about Todd, and about how his own particular family history contributed towards making him into the historian of the world that he later became.

Todd developed this grand theory, about how literacy triggers particular sorts of political upheavals in particular places, depending on Family Structure, and then when the political dust has settled fuels economic development, But what got Todd thinking about all this?

According to Bennett and Lotus, the starting point was: How Come The French Communists Are Doing So Badly And Never Seem To Do Any Better No Matter What They Try?

He was the product of an extended family of French Communist Party activists and journalists, and grew up hearing his father and relatives arguing around the kitchen table. Anglo-Americans had tended to regard the French Communist Party of that era as formidable, successful, and continually on the verge of seizing power. From the inside, Todd grew up hearing his family lament the eternal failure and futility of the Party. (He left the orthodox Communist movement quite early, and in fact was one of the first scholars to predict, in 1976, the coming collapse of the Soviet system.) For some reason, the Party was well established in certain regions, and completely without support in most others. The Socialists were dominant in others, and it was noticed that the same social classes would tend to support either Socialists or Communists, depending on the region, but never split between the two, and when they failed to support the one, would not switch to the other, preferring alternative parties. In other parts of France, neither party had a foothold, and the same social classes that supported either Socialists or Communists in their stronghold regions supported entirely different, and not particularly Marxist, parties. The reason for this split was constantly debated in Todd’s family circle, but no possible explanation seemed to hold water. It was a great mystery.

Once Todd began studies at Cambridge, and encountered what we are calling the Continuity School, he began developing a social analysis that perfectly predicted the voting patterns that had been such a mystery in his family’s kitchen debates. France is far from homogenous, and in fact is a patchwork of quite different cultures and family systems. When Todd saw the distribution of the various family systems of France, as established by inheritance rules and customs, he saw at once that both the Communist and Socialist electoral strongholds corresponded to the areas dominated by two distinct family systems. Where other systems prevailed, neither the Communists nor the Socialists could gain any real foothold.

You can see how Todd was perfectly primed to generalise the principle from France, and then England, to the entire world.

In the course of my Todd readings and meanderings, I probably was told (perhaps by Todd himself in his book about French politics (which I have long possessed (and which I see you can now get second hand for £2.81 (in English)))) that Todd had been raised by baffled and frustrated Communists.  But I had not really taken it in.

Friday May 16 2014

I see cat faces on bags:

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On the left, in Trafalgar Square.  On the right in a shop window, somewhere or other.

I see Hello Kitty continuing its conquest of the world:

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On the left: Patriotic Kitty, both an English Nationalist and a British Unionist.  (Hello Kitty is patriotic everywhere.) On the right: Hello Kitty colonises one of my local supermarkets.  Today shower gel, tomorrow, who knows?  One day, there will be Hello Kitty versions of everything.

And now I see this vast cat face on the outside of a building site at the top end of Victoria Street:

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Note the surveillance camera right in front of it.  Those things are also now everywhere.

This huge cat face was what got me noticing that Victoria Masterplan.

Apparently the cat face is an art installation.  Scroll down here if you doubt me:

A bold new art installation has landed here at Nova, Victoria. The enigmatic gaze of a 37ft tall black cat will become the new landmark to greet people as they arrive in SW1. Taking up residence on site, the portrait is the first European commission by American artist, Marlo Pascual. The chic black cat occupies the Victoria Street facade of our four storey site cabins, converting a disheartening grey slab into the most stimulating of canvases.

The untitled installation kicks off a series of iconic and non-conformist art projects that will unfold at Nova, Victoria on its journey to becoming the most forward-thinking and aspirational place to work, live, eat, drink, shop and enjoy in London’s West End.

So, people, nice big photos of cat faces are now iconic and non-conformist.  Modern Art eat your heart out.

(See also the bit where a discussion about “THE FUTURE OF LONDON DINNING” is advertised.)

All of which pales into insignificance beside what has undoubtedly been the week’s biggest cat news, which concerned an amazing YouTube video of a cat attacking a dog.  This story is now everywhere.  The dog was doing serious damage to the youngest son of the family, and was about to do even more serious damage than that.  But the dog reckoned without Tara the Cat, who launched what looked like a suicide bomber attack on the dog, which not surprisingly caused the dog to retreat.  Tara behaved exactly as if the small boy was one of her kittens.

Cats are complained about for being like perfectly evolved parasites on humans. We feed them, stroke them, put a warm roof over their heads, buy anything with cat faces on it, and in return they do pretty much nothing.

Tara, on the other hand, has surely repaid any debts she ever owed.