Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
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Category archive: Friends
I will, I am now sure (although I actually promise nothing), be writing more in connection with the talk that Christian Michel has just given at my home, but as of right now, I am too tired to do it anything like justice. All I will say about it now is that it was superb. (Read his sales pitch for the talk in this earlier posting here.)
But two bits of trivia about the evening occur to me to mention, both so trivial that I don’t have to have all my wits about me to mention them.
First, I made a particular resolution not just to provide satisfactory snacks to my guests but to actually open the packets of the snacks and putting the snacks in plates. In the past, I have found myself burdened, once my guests have departed, with unopened packets of party food. My surmise is that this is not because nobody wanted to eat any of these snacks. No, the problem is that people don’t like to open food packets, because that feels, and worse, may appear greedy. It’s like they want to eat all of them. Or maybe, that they are reluctant to open a new packet when they only want one of them. But, faced with a plate of biscuits or a big bowl of crisps, they will not hesitate to partake, if so inclined. It’s a little thing, but this worked well, I think.
And second, as usual, the exactly right number of people showed up. How do they know to do this? Last time around I was afraid that there would be too many. This time, for various reasons involving several semi-regulars happening to have other things on such as wedding anniversaries, I feared there might be too few. In the event, the number of attenders, both last time and this time was pretty much identical and just right. It always is. A Samizdata commenter, commenting on something I wrote there about this odd phenomenon, said that there is an explanation of it in this book, which I’m pretty sure I already possess. I must track it down. With luck, this posting will remind me to do this instead of forgetting about it.
Incoming from Sam Bowman in the form of an email, dated March 6th, entitled “Bleeding Heart Libertarianism - an apologia”:
Thanks for mentioning my Libertarian Home talk on Samizdata. I look forward to seeing you tonight if you can make it.
“Tonight” was March 6th (Simon Gibbs introductory spiel about Sam and his talk here), when Sam gave his talk at the Rose and Crown. This is not yet available on video, but it presumably soon will be, because as always at these Libertarian Home Rose and Crown talks, a video camera was in action. On the right is a photo that Sam took of me and him with his mobile, after he had given his talk.
And thanks for coming on Monday!
That was an ASI event, about whether prison works. (Answer, with all kinds of reservations: yes.)
I typed out quite a long email to you but decided against it, because I figured none of it would be new to you.
Wrong. Now that my hair is mostly grey and I no longer say everything I am thinking, other libertarians seem to assume that I now know everything that there is to be known, and because I own lots of books that I have read everything that there is to be read, about libertarianism. None of this is true. I do not read and have not read nearly as much as I have time to read and have had time to read. I regret that Sam didn’t preserve this longer email.
Having said that, since it’s something we’re both interested in I thought I’d try to outline my position a bit more briefly:
Excellent. I asked Sam, quite a long time ago now, if he minded me recycling what follows in a posting, and maybe then sticking bits of it up at Samizdata. No, he said, post away. So here it is:
I still hate the term ‘social justice’ (Hayek did a real number on me), and philosophically I’m not on board with the Rawlsian view of ethics. My moral position is preference utilitarianism – that people getting what they want is what’s good. Having said that, practically I think that ethical consequentialists and believers in ‘social justice’ are in basically the same position: both think that improving the welfare of the poor is a high priority.
I think it makes sense to treat libertarianism as being about means, not ends. Most political positions claim that they’re good because they will make people’s lives easier, happier, etc. (There are some exceptions of course.) I think many people make the error of forgetting that the world is complex, so they assume that differences of opinion about politics must be down to differences of opinion about what sort of world we want.
People sometimes also try to waterproof their beliefs by attaching moral claims to empirical arguments – eg, a supporter of the minimum wage, presented with strong arguments that undermine their empirical claims, may fall back on the argument that it’s just indecent for people to earn below £x/hour, and a decent society should simply not allow that, consequences be damned. Of course we libertarians often do this too – presented with strong arguments in favour of the minimum wage we may fall back on the claim that it’s just wrong to interfere with private contracts between adults. I think there’s some merit to both these claims (much more so the latter, obviously) but they shouldn’t be treated as unbreakable absolutes. If they were, were the earlier, empirical arguments just rhetoric?
So you can boil my position down to this: if I was convinced that free markets and a high degree of individual liberty were not the best way of allowing people to get what they want, I wouldn’t support them. My libertarianism/liberalism is entirely contingent on empirical beliefs I have about the world.
I make explicit the fact that I’d be relaxed about redistribution of wealth from rich to poor if I thought it led to good outcomes, and indeed I think the libertarian empirical case is much stronger on regulation of people’s lives (in the broadest sense) and commerce than it is on wealth redistribution. I also think that it’s where we have the most original things to say.
How this makes me any different to people like Milton Friedman and FA Hayek I am not sure, given that both were also explicitly supportive of wealth/income redistribution. Of course, any consequentialist libertarian would have to concede that, at least in theory, they would be open to the idea of redistribution.
Some emails, rather like some comments, can have particular expressive merit. Because people are relaxed rather than mounted self-consciously on their official high horses, so to speak, they often communicate in this more informal circumstance with particular eloquence. So, my particular thanks to Sam for allowing me to publish this. More of his many thoughts here, although you may have to scroll your way past a huge photo of Sam in front of a brick wall. (Odd. Did anyone else have this problem?) I recommend doing this.
This time it’s another person whose name I am determined to stop getting wrong, who is called Christiana Hambro. For no intelligent reason that I can think of, I have been getting the Christiana bit of her name wrong. The good news is that I can’t now even remember what I used to say instead, because I have known for several hours, ever since I thought about doing it, what the rest of this posting is going to consist of, and because this posting is already doing the job of fixing Christiana’s correct Christian name, Christiana, in my head, even before I write the posting, never mind before I stick it up for others to read.
Christiana is the one on the left, of these two pictures:
And the one of the right is Christian. Christian Michel. I have never got Christian’s Christian name wrong. Putting these two people next to one another in my head has solved my Christiana Hambro problem.
Christian Michel will be speaking at my next Last Friday meeting, on March 28th. This is what he just emailed me about what he will be saying:
In August 1938, a rich and talented American journalist gathered 36 economists and philosophers in Paris, in what has become known after his name: the Lippmann Colloquium. The objective was nothing less than a refoundation of liberalism, under attack by Marxists and Fascists. Participants only agreed in their opposition to command economies. Mises remained attached to unfettered free markets. Röpke and Rüstow developed what became Ordoliberalism, still the official ideology in today’s Germany. Einaudi, future president of Italy, remained faithful to the social teachings of the Church. Hayek tried to federate all these currents in the Mont Pélerin Society, to the point of dilution. In America, neo-liberals merged into the neo-conservative movement, whilst in France, Michel Foucault, in his insightful Birth of Biopolitics, reclaimed it for libertarianism (which he espoused in his last works, to the horror of the Leftist establishment). Today, for the likes of Naomi Klein and George Monbiot, the term ‘neoliberalism’ is a word of abuse, whilst it was meant to characterize the very ‘third way’ they so eagerly embrace. In the talk, I will go over the debates within the liberal movement of the last 80 years, which all revolve around the definition of this neologism: neo-liberalism.
In my thankyou email back to him, I told Christian that this piece alone makes an illuminating read.
Which is a lot of the point of talks these days, now that we can all know about everything that is happening that we even might be attending. Yes, the small number of people who choose to squeeze themselves into my living room on the 28th will hear Christian’s talk, and very good and very detailed it will be, I am sure. They will learn lots that will not be learned by others. But meanwhile, many more will read the above spiel by Christian about his talk, and the ripples will spread out way beyond my living room. If just half the people on the Brian’s Fridays email list read the above piece, when I send it out in about a week’s time, many of them will learn quite a lot. I had no idea Michel Foucault ended up as a libertarian, until Christian started telling me about this.
I found the above picture of Christian Michel here. I probably could have dug up a picture of him taken by me, but image googling was easier, given the state of my photo-archives.
Christiana’s relevance to all this is that she is one of a number of free-market-stroke-libertarian activists who have been putting some organisational juice behind spreading these ideas to British students. She is based at the I(nstitute of) E(conomic) A(ffairs). I took that photo of Christiana at the Liberty League Freedom Forum 2013, which she helped to organise, and “helped” may well be a serious understatement.
I hope to organise a Brian’s Friday at which Christiana and/or one of her colleagues describe the outreach work they are doing at the IEA. In my opinion it is the biggest single piece of news about the spread of libertarian thinking in Britain. The British public continue to be indifferent to libertarian ideas, as is their habit with so many ideas. But the British student libertarian movement is now growing from insignificant to … significant, and it is to a great degree thanks to the work of people like Christiana.
… Yet for me, the most memorable 3D printing innovation of the last year or so was the launch of a $1,200 service called ‘Form of Angels’ from the Japanese pioneer Fasotec. Here an MRI scan is taken of a pregnant woman, and then used to produce a 3D printed model of her unborn baby. The plastic foetus can even be supplied embedded in a resin model of its mother’s midriff for presentation on the expectant parent’s mantelpiece.
Pictures of what that looks like here, among (as you can imagine) many other places.
This was one of many pictures I took this afternoon, following a most agreeable and tasty lunch at the Windmill, courtesy of Michael Jennings:
A classic church dwarfed by modernity. And off the top of the picture there is more modernity that I did not include, a lot of it being what used to be called the NatWest Tower, or Tower Something Numerical, as it’s now called. It took me a while to hunt down this particular church, but I finally found it.
In the foreground, Blackfriars Station, the one on the bridge.
Much humour is to be had by modifying a cliché, and something similar applies to photography. The Eiffel Tower features in many photos. The chimney pots of Paris, not quite so much.
That was taken on February 2nd 2012, from the Pompidou Centre.
I an still stunned by how brilliant my new, cheap computer screen is. Pictures like this one become hugely better than I remember them first time around, and wandering around in my photo-archives is more enjoyable than ever before.
Here is another picture taken at the same time from the same place. Also lots of chimneys, though you have to look a bit more closely this time. But in the background there, La Défense, Paris’s Big New Thing district.
What that big dome is in the foreground, I don’t know. I was staying with Antoine Clarke when I took these snaps, and in fact he was up there with me when I took these. Maybe he can tell us what that big curvey thing is. When you take pictures of some big thing, there is a presumption that you do care what it is, but personally, in this case, I don’t really care. There are more than enough mysterious buildings like this in London to keep me wondering, without me fretting about mystery buildings in Paris. But maybe you would like to know.
And yes, I am almost certain that is a crane.
One other thing. This new screen has me thinking that maybe the size of pictures I am putting up here may be a bit wrong. When you click on the above two, you’ll get them at 1200x900, which is bigger than I usually do, because now my own screen is bigger. Is this either too big, or too small? I’d welcome anyone’s opinion on that.
Incoming from Simon Gibbs:
Near the mayors blob
And there was a photograph attached to this message, “sent from my Sony Xperia™ smartphone”:
On the left there, as we look at it, is the Mayor’s Blob that Simon mentions, near the Shard, and a building I am very familiar with, at any rate from the outside. In the middle, something new, which Simon knew I might be keen to check out. So, he photos it, and sends it to me.
Neither Simon nor I are asking anyone to think that this is a good photograph, in the technical sense. Don’t click on it, because it is quite big enough as is. Simon is probably a bit appalled that I am even showing it to anyone, even in the almost total privacy that is BrianMicklethwaitDotCom. But the photo suffices for its purpose, which is not to delight attenders at an art gallery (real or virtual), merely to provide me with information, should I be interested. (Although actually, this is the kind of thing you often do see in an art gallery nowadays, put there by an artist trying, as most artists must these days, to be contrary. “Good” photos are so twentieth century, my dears. Imagine the blurb, as written by this guy.)
I show this casual snap because it illustrates a typical use of digital photography, which is the communication of information, potentially in real time. Me being so hopelessly twentieth century in my uses of twenty-first century tech, I don’t know when he took this photo. It duly arrived on my desk, via my clunky old twentieth century desktop computer. Was it taken only seconds before Simon sent it to me? Perhaps he can tell us. But my point here is that he could have. And like him, I could have been as much on the move as he clearly was, while still as connected to the world as he was.
Here we see photography not as the nineteenth and then twentieth century mechanisation of oil painting, but as a twenty first century amplification of conversation. “Ooh, Brian might like to see that, snap. Hi Brian. Take a look at this.” Try doing that with a twentieth century phone. You could, in this case, after a fashion, but it wouldn’t be nearly so quick, definite and easy.
I am giving a talk on Monday evening at Christian Michel’s about The Impact of Digital Photography, and this is the kind of thing I will be talking about.
Digital photography was, or so I recall reading recently, invented by NASA, not so much to take photos, as to communicate photos, of other planets from robot cameras on space-ships, back to planet earth. Yes.
The logical mid-to-late twentieth century end-point of episodes like this, after you have thrown in a big dash of this sort of stuff, is (see above): telepathy.
I spent all my blogging time today concocting this posting, which is very long (being a review of my past year) and has twelve of my photos in it (one from each month). Enjoy.
ls Happy Old Year right? As in: hope you had one. I rather think it might be, for today. Anyway, I hope you did.
I have categorised this under, among other things, “Friends”, because if you are reading this today, or at all frankly, then you are.
According to Michael Jennings, the Mercedes-Benz W123 is the vehicle of choice for all taxi drivers in Morocco, which basically means that all transport in Morocco other than by means of legs, human or animal, is the Mercedes W123.
Here is a picture of lots of Mercedes-Benz W123s which Michael took on his travels. They are resting, presumably:
Michael was telling Patrick Crozier and me about this iconic vehicle, and just as he was telling us, look what we found ourselves walking right past, on our way to our pub lunch:
That’s not quite a Mercedes-Benz W123, apparently. But it is the exact same shape.
One of the things I like to photograph, on my walks, is vehicles that are strange or interesting for some reason. Another for the collection.
It may not look much like a Volkeswagen, but it sort of is that. Sturdy enough and mechanically simple enough for it not to break down often, and to be locally mendable when it does. They stopped making them in the eighties, but they are still going strong.
And not just any old telly. BBC1, The One Show, no less, watched by millions. I was and I am impressed. Watch Elena Procopiu in action 25m30s into it, here, while it’s still there. (For future reference, this was on Tuesday December 3rd.)
Elena was born in Romania and did a piece to camera about Romania and about Romanians in England, entirely in a Romanian accent until right at the end, when she said in her regular English voice that lots of Romanians have been here for years. Many Romanians have already seen this performance, on the www. Some, who missed the bit at the end, were surprised that someone who has been in England for so long still has such a strong Romanian accent. None said that the Romanian accent was not a proper Romanian accent, which is not that easy to get exactly right, if you no longer have such an accent.
Last night, at Chateau Samizdata, I and all others present drank this:
Until last night I did not know that there was any such thing. Well, I knew there was Sauvignon Blanc, but not called that.
Sadly, I failed to properly include the hippo at the top of the label on the left, but you can see plenty of the hippos here, because of course there is a website and you can read all about it.
Clever marketing, I think. The real wine buffs will like it, if they like it, regardless of the name. “Oh yes, it’s actually rather good, you know” blah blah. And the wine unbuffs like me will like it too, because it’s a laugh, and a bit of a tease of wine buffs of the sort who expect wine not to be called such a thing. So, win win.
Alex Singleton has sent me an advance print-out of a book he has written about how to do PR. I have reached page 59, and am so far very impressed.
When I read a book of this sort, I like to read about relevant personal experiences, as well as Big Lessons and Grand Principles. That way, you are more likely to be convinced that the Big Lessons and Grand Principles really are as good and grand as they may merely seem.
So I particularly enjoyed this bit (from page 59):
When I got my first column in 1994, in a newsstand computer magazine, I had no idea what I was doing. But it seemed like I needed to get some stories, so I wrote to all the relevant companies and invited them to send me information about what they were doing. Not all of them replied - those that failed to respond were PR idiots. Some of them wrote to me saying that they would add me to their press release distribution lists - they were amateurs.
Then some guy called Quentin got in touch. His company, Accountz, sold products by mail order and it was miniscule - just him and his wife. But he wrote me a personal two-page letter (this was before email was commonplace) explaining how he had a Big Idea to defeat the major players in his sector. Unlike some of the other companies, he had no PR agency - but he had a story. And during the 15 issues I wrote that column, I could always rely on him
to take my calls and give me a good quote. When I upgraded to bigger-selling PC titles, including the market-leading ComputerActive, I kept on writing about his company. Today, his products are sold in PC World, Currys, AppleStores and Staples, and as I type this he has just made a successful exit from the company, passing it onto an investor.
What worked about that PR-journalist relationship is that Quentin - perhaps unwittingly - had good personal brand. He never tried to force a bad story on me and never wasted my time.
Alex has told me he is in the market for typos, and I think I see another blemish, to add to the two I’ve already told him about. Shouldn’t “onto” (final line of para 2 there) be “on to”? Not sure, but I think I’m right about that.
More about this book when I have finished it.
This is a memo from me to me, and also an email to a friend, about another great photo op that I don’t want to forget about until I’ve done it.
The friend wants us to meet up at this, which has excellent views of both the Gherkin and the Shard, from approximately as high up as they are. This is me saying yes I very much want to do this. I am always on the lookout for such lookouts, and further suggestions are always very welcome.
Located on the 38th & 39th floors of the Heron Tower, SUSHISAMBA delivers a unique blend of Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian cuisine, culture, music and striking design to the City of London.
Yeah yeah, foreigners cooking and overcharging for it. I get it. But what can I see? What can I photograph?
Europe’s two highest dining outdoor terraces flank the restaurant, offering unparalleled views of the City to the west and the Olympic Park to the east. Award-winning architects Cetra Ruddy designed the restaurant’s 13,423-square-foot (1,247-square-meter) space, which has direct access via two scenic lifts from a dedicated entrance on Bishopsgate. The venue is open daily for lunch and dinner, offering outdoor dining, a bar and lounge, and premier event space.
Scenic lifts. Sounds terrific. Even better if you get stuck in the scenic lift for ten minutes (not for ten hours), two thirds of the way up.
SUSHISAMBA’s menus offer an inventive culmination of three cuisines. Guests will be treated to Brazilian Churrasco and Moqueca, Peruvian Anticuchos and Seviches; and Japanese tempura and sushi.
With any luck, the lack of proper meet+2veg food, which does not taste like it was assembled in an explosives factory, will put enough people off going to this place to give me a reasonably free run of it, and plenty of photo ops. But that might be hoping for too much, and anyway, you only ever really find out what’s what with a deal like this when you actually go there, which I most definitely intend to do.
A link to this posting will go to the friend. I find that this personal blog is good for writing emails to people. What I have found myself doing recently is writing the email as a blog posting, and then emailing them the mere link, introduced with a brief summary of it. That way you achieve email brevity and say what you really want to say about whatever it is, and you get more readers for what you have written, in this case a not quite so tiny trickle. (I’ve sent the link to this posting, about how I want a new sofa/bench, to all sorts of people.)
The merging of the public and the private, which is a big story of the century so far, and which I will definitely be writing about some more, in other blog postings but not this one.
Tomorrow evening I have another Brian’s Last Friday. Richard Carey will speak about “The English Radicals: 1640-1660”. Click on Contact (top left) to cadge an invite.
Until now, I have been slightly struggling to get good speakers soon enough for these evenings, but now I have at last got ahead of myself and have fixed, barring mishaps, the next three speakers also.
Oct 25 - Preston Byrne on Mortgage Subsidies: Why They Didn’t Work in America and Won’t Work Here.
Nov 29 - Dominique Lazanski on Digital Freedom in the UK and Europe.
Dec 27 - Antoine Clarke on Immigration and the Bad Arguments Against It.
Note in particular December 27, Antoine Clarke. This might seem like the sort of date I might want to cancel, but actually, the more that a date might seem like cancellation fodder, the better this is, by not cancelling, an opportunity to tell people that there will be a Brian’s Last Friday, every last Friday, every month, no matter what. Even if it’s just me talking to myself on Christmas Day, or some such strange thing.
I’m already starting to get emails from people who are just assuming there will be a meeting on Friday the whenever-it-is, and simply asking who will be speaking and can they come. I want to encourage this sort of thinking. You know the dates for years in advance, just as I do.
So, I am especially grateful to Antoine for agreeing to do that one in December. I have no idea how many people will show up, but I have a feeling that the day after the day after Christmas Day might prove quite a draw. Public transport will be back in business, unlike on the previous day, and … what else is there to do on that particular day? Work? Play with presents? Go to other meetings?
So yes, this time last week Goddaughter One and I went on a photowalk in the Hackney Wick area.
She sent me this photo that she took, of me photoing:
If you want to make an old man look bad, have him bend down.
This, with much rotating and cropping to avoid total embarrassment, is the photo I was taking:
I think we can agree that her photo is uglier, but more interesting and amusing.
Here is a photo I took of her:
If you want to make a young woman look good, have her bend down.
As for the photo that Goddaughter One was taking, well, I don’t have that. In general, though, she does this kind of thing quite often, e.g. when she spots a plastic bag floating in the canal. Commonplace, even ugly, objects can become very beautiful when photographed with a lot of skill, such as Goddaughter One possesses. (She is a professional, having recently had one of her photos on the front cover of the RIBA Journal.)
So, in the absence of the exact photo that Goddaughter One was taking when I took that photo of her last Sunday, here is a canal effect that I photoed, and would have photoed more had I realised, as I only did when I got home, how amusing the effect was and is. I refer to the way that a certain sort of water weed growing on the surface of still water (actually water that the water weed itself makes still) can make that surface look like dry land.
This effect is greatly enhanced when there are ugly things that are very light floating on that surface, with the water weed somehow seeming to push those objects upwards to the point where they appear simply to resting on the top of the surface, just as if it really was dry land:
Were I a bit cleverer with my camera, and were my camera also a bit cleverer, that could be an award-winning photo of the sort they print out and put in art galleries. Well, that’s what I think.