Brian Micklethwait's Blog
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Category archive: Europe
I love signs. So tedious to copy in writing. So easy to photo. And I was photoing signs yesterday, at Victoria Station.
Here are two of those signs that go well together:
I was just about to stick these up late last night, but discovered that BMdotcom was malfunctioning.
This is not the kind of sign I love to see, when trying to add stuff to this blog, or for that matter just to look at this blog:
Error Number: 1194
Description: Table ‘exp_throttle’ is marked as crashed and should be repaired
Query: SELECT hits, locked_out, last_activity FROM exp_throttle WHERE ip_address= ‘184.108.40.206’
But, as you can see, it’s now sorted. Unless you can’t see and it isn’t.
And until the next time something like this happens. Partly because of such cock-ups, I am, thinking of doing what all other bloggers who still exist did long ago, and switching to Wordpress, which The Guru also suggested. Comments on the wisdom of that from other gurus would be very welcome.
Meanwhile, while waiting for sanity to be reasserted here, I did a Samizdata posting, entitled Brexit has unified the Conservative Party and divided Labour. It has.
Why did Britain (and her allies) fight WW1? Was Britain (were they) right to fight WW1?
Recently I had an email exchange with Patrick Crozier concerning World War 1, about which he knows a great deal.
Patrick to me:
The other day you suggested I write something on why Britain fought the First World War but I can’t quite remember what precisely the question was.
I suppose what I am asking is what question would you like to see addressed?
Me to Patrick:
I suppose there are two big questions. And quite a few smaller ones.
(1) What did the Allies think they were fighting WW1 for? What did they think the world would turn into, that was bad, that fighting the war and winning it would prevent?
This question divides into two parts: officialdom, and public opinion. Officialdom clearly thought WW1 worth fighting, and they at least persuaded public opinion for the duration. Did officialdom tell the truth about its real motives? If so, was this persuasive? If they told a different story for public consumption, ditto?
It is my understanding that the Blackadder Version of things, that it was all a futile waste of blood and treasure and that it achieved bugger all for anyone, only caught on in Britain the thirties, when the Communists got into their public stride following the Great Crash. Before that, British public opinion both stayed steady during the war, and afterwards was glad it had won. So, I guess there’s also a question about whether that’s right, and about the timing of the change, if and when it happened.
(2) What do YOU think the Allies actually accomplished? In other words, were they right to fight the war, given their objectives? And were they right, given YOUR objectives? Did winning WW1 actually make the world, in your judgement, a less bad place than it would have been if not fought, or, if fought, lost?
I note a confusion on my part between Britain and Britain plus all its allies. I’m not sure which I am asking about. Britain a lot, but actually all of them.
Underneath everything is a judgement, by the protagonists and by you, about what the Kaiser’s Germany was trying to do and would have tried to do in the event of victory, whether and to what extent it could have done it, and how bad that would have been.
Rather a lot of questions, I fear. I suggest you start by answering the one of them that you feel you now can already answer with the most confidence.
Blackadder link added. ("The poor old ostrich died for nothing.")
Patrick to me:
Wow, that’s a lot to be getting on with and it may require some research.
I promise to try to produce a decent answer to all that. Whether I succeed or not is another matter.
Me to Patrick:
PS Would you have any objection to me putting this exchange up at my personal blog?
Patrick to me:
Not at all.
My thanks to Patrick, both for the rather flattering exchange and for the permission to recycle it here. I do not regard Patrick as in any way obligated to me or to anyone to answer these questions, and I put them here partly for that reason. They strike me as interesting questions, whether he answers them or not.
No doubt others have answered such questions already, over the years. Another way of putting my questions would simply be to say: and what did these answers, over the years, consist of?
It seems to be believed by almost all Europeans now that WW1 was a disaster, that it did no good whatever. (WW2, in contrast, was a good war. Germany by then had gone totally bad, and WW2 put a stop to that bad Germany, albeit at further huge cost.) But what if one of the alternatives to the WW1 that actually happened might have been even worse? What if the disaster that was WW1 did actually accomplish something quite valuable? I’m not arguing that this is actually the case. I don’t know, and am simply asking.
Comments about these questions, or for that matter any proper comments, would be most welcome.
This afternoon I read in the Evening Standard that Chelsea FC were hoping to get planning permission for a big new stadium, and sure enough, this evening, they got it. I guess they’re all pretty happy there, what with Chelsea being top of the Premier League and all. (Although, I can’t help mentioning their recent winning-streak ending loss by Spurs.)
Here’s how it is reckoned the new stadium will look (I found this picture here), from above, when it’s dark:
The architects are Herzog de Meuron, the same firm that did the Tate Modern Extension. And, they also did that amazing new opera house out in the estuary in Hamburg. And hey, that opened today, according to that report. Blog and learn.
But back to that Chelsea stadium, what strikes me, yet again, about this major eruption of architectural modernism is that while it is very modern, it is also very carefully crafted to fit the inevitably rather oddly shaped site. Indeed, the architects make use of this odd shape to give their stadium its rather particular, asymmetrical shape, while nevertheless contriving an exact rectangle in the middle, in the manner required by the rules of football. Form follows site plan. That’s the way modern architecture is now done.
(It would seem that the exact same principle applied to the new Hamburg opera house also. It was put on top of an “historic brick base”. A brick base, I’m guessing, which was whatever shape it was, and could not be otherwise.)
And what also strikes me, yet again, is what a total nightmare it would have been to have attempted a design like this Chelsea stadium without computers to keep track of everything and handle all those asymmetrical shapes.
(The Hamburg opera house was plagued with delays and cost overruns and defects and took a famously long time to finish. But that’s a different story.)
Or maybe it has been invented and the answer is it’s called lots of little flat screen televisions.
This thought was provoked by seeing this picture, at Mick Hartley‘s:
There’s nothing wrong with this Big Thing that painting it entertainingly wouldn’t put right, in fact very right indeed. It could become a well-loved landmark, if only it was spruced up a bit, with some bright colours. This Big Thing is called the Edificio Torres Blancas, and it is in Madrid. In Spain they like bright colours, right?
But, what bright colours? The answer is to copy what they now do in Trafalgar Square, with that Fourth Plinth. In Trafalgar Square, they have solved the problem of what to put on the Fourth Plinth by keeping on changing it. That way, everyone gets to like some of the objects they put on the Plinth, and that way everyone who dislikes what is there now can comfort themselves with the thought that it will soon be gone. All can photo the ones they like and ignore the rest. Eventually, a winner may be declared. Eventually, a thing will be put there that seems to right, to so many people, that it will be decided to keep that thing there for ever.
That’s what they should do with the colouring of the above Big Thing in Madrid.
So, techies, get to work. What we need is a new sort of paint that you just slap on, but whose colours, down to the minutest detail, can then be controlled by a big old computer at ground level.
Or, this is already possible, as the advertisers are now proving with their changeable screens, and all that it missing is that this is, for a mere building, as opposed to a commercially profitable message, for the time being, too expensive.
Also, maybe the architect is still alive and vetoing any such notions, insisting that his masterpiece remain blancas, or failing that then at least grey all over. Time will soon correct this sorry state of affairs, if state of affairs it be.
From the BBC updates on the Scotland v Georgia rugby game at Murrayfield this afternoon:
Scotland have really struggled against the Georgian scum in the second-half.
Hastily corrected to “scrum”. Should have done a screen capture. As it is, you just have to take my word for it.
Actually Georgia is a great place. It recently came sixth in the world in one of those economic freedom charts, as I mentioned in passing in this posting
LATER: Oh dear. Not Murrayfield. Kilmarnock. Whenever you moan about someone else’s error, you make an error. It’s inevitable.
I like this photo, of Daniel Hannan, at the top of a Guardian piece about him, and about how he was and is “The man who brought you Brexit”:
I like this photo because it is exactly the sort of photo that I try to take of photoers myself. A smartphone with interesting graphics, held over the eyes of the photoer (which of course often happens) to preserve anonymity. Or it would if there were no other photos of Hannan in the world and no article underneath the photo, telling the world all about him.
While browsing through my archives recently, I came across those pictures I took of Brexiteer Kenny, doing his rehash of a Hannan piece in Trafalgar Square, with white chalk. And what I discovered was that, to revise that Abba song, I never thought that we could win. The pictures brought back the feeling I had when I took them, which was: gallant failure. Brave effort. Well done mate, going down fighting. But, we won’t win.
I told myself that we might win, but mostly what I thought was that although the majority for Remain had slimmed down a bit over the years, it was still there.
As for the Brexit arguments now (quick versus careful), I am reading this guy. He is for careful. Every post he does says (a) that he is the cleverest person in the world and that everyone else is at best not so clever, and at worst stupid stupid stupid; and (b) something worthwhile, carefully and persuasively explicated.
I never thought that we could win, but just to be clear: there’s no regret.
Here. The fourth of five postings at Samizdata today, so far.
So I did something I haven’t done recently. I went to BLDGBLOG, and right at the bottom of this posting, which consists of a collection of weird photos that aren’t quite photos but are something else somewhat similar, I found this classic bridge:
But that isn’t the picture at BLDGBLOG. I went looking for another, and found it here.
I like bridges, and I especially like bridges with buildings on them, buildings which don’t match, like the bridge is just a street rather than a single unified structure all designed and built at one time.
I also very much like the look of the picture at the top of this posting. which, for reasons I do not understand, is entitled “Critical Engineering Summer Intensives”, but which ought to be entitled “When Roof Clutter Catches Fire”.
I’m a big fan of the Samizdata Commentariat. It’s one of the best things about Samizdata. Part of the reason for its excellence is that when things get heated, a comment like this appears:
I’m not a huge fan, on the other hand, of the Guido Commentariat. Too big, too abusive, too given to tangenting off on only very marginally relevant subjects, just like most other big Commentariats, in other words. Still other Commentariats, like mine, are too small to be worth reading regularly. My commenters are very good, but there just aren’t enough of them (it being absolutely not the fault of those who do comment here (it’s the fault of all those who might comment but don’t (and is it really even reasonable to call that a “fault”?))). Samizdata manages to strike a happy balance. At Samizdata, you don’t get Comments (0), posting after posting, like you (I) do here, but nor do you get Comments (1538), or some such ridiculous number of mostly unreadable twaddle-comments. That, for me, is the Guido Commentariat.
But I keep going to the Guido commenters from time to time, because they do have their moments:
That was this morning.
I don’t know if I would call the immediate economic outlook for Britain “absolutely fine”, but compared to continental Europe, and especially continental EUrope, it remains quite good, both immediate outlooks having got rather worse because of Brexit.
The British policy for the last few years seems to have been: be the least worst governed country, but only by a bit. That way, capital and people flow in but don’t absolutely torrent in, even though our bosses are making most of the same mistakes as are being made everywhere else. Just not quite so much as rivals of comparable stature, like France.
If Brexit had only destabilised Britain, then British markets really would have crashed. As it is, it’s a toss up whether Brexit has destabilised Britain more than it has destabilised EUrope. (That guy means the EUrope won’t survive. Europe obviously will.) My belief is that money is both running away from Britain, and coming into Britain. (But what do I know?)
Now that it’s been decided that we shall Brexit, Dezeen reports on what creatives have been creating to mark the event. Here are the two images they reproduce which I think are the most striking:
Both of these images are intended as expressions of regret that Britain has voted for Brexit, but neither quite say that, or not to me. What, after all, is so great for a balloon about being stuck in a whole bunch of other balloons? It’s creator says: “sad day”, but it doesn’t look that sad to me. It just looks like a change. If he was merely describing, relatively objectively, what had happened, then I guess: fair enough.
As for the disintegrating, weeping Union Jack, that would work far better as an expression of regret, in the event that Britain had voted Remain rather than Leave. It is national flags like this one one that the EU has been working tirelessly to replace with its own flag. Very odd. But, a striking image nevertheless.
First, this, which was the graphic on the front page of today’s pro-Remain Daily Mirror, and reproduced at Samizdata, which Natalie Solent reckons sends a somewhat ambiguous message. I agree. Because REMAIN is in the biggest letters, it looks like it could be saying that if you vote REMAIN, you’ll be sucked into a black hole. As you will, by the way, if enough people do this. This is indeed the fate that awaits us all, in the event of a REMAIN victory. One of the reasons why this graphic only works when misunderstood, is that when misunderstood, it becomes true!
The thing is, the EU is a lot nearer to being like a black hole than us leaving the EU is. For that message, they needed something more like an endless desert, or a huge tundra, or maybe some grim maritime scene, doom-laden as far as they eye can see.
The enormity of this decision is, I feel, appropriately reflected in the deranged graphics which occurred when this picture got loaded up. Samizdata usually centres pictures automatically, and also makes them smaller automatically, if they need to be smaller. That doesn’t seem to be happening at the moment.
In the comment thread on that posting, I mentioned that it was raining. Which it was, torrentially. But alas, it soon cleared up, thereby not dampening down the London (= Remain) vote as much it might have if it had rained with less violence but greater steadiness. I mean, they even managed to have a shortened game of cricket at Lord’s, after the rain had stopped.
And on the right there, Elizabeth Hurley, who will have voted Leave by now, that being the picture she Twittered yesterday along with her support for Leave. There she stands, wearing only high-healed sandals and a Union Jack cushion, or that’s how it looks. Thankyou Guido. She was probably right that this would get noticed, and would aid the cause she favours. But I bet the Leavers have been circulating their own interpretations of this rather odd picture. Is the picture recent, I wonder, or does it date from way back?
At least it is upbeat and optimistic in atmosphere, unlike that black hole.
One of the more intriguing consequences of the not-now-so-very-recent (what with another one coming along) Scottish independence referendum (which happened in September 2014) was that, rather suddenly, the world (by which I really mean: I) suddenly found itself (myself) contemplating the idea of the Union Jack flag disappearing into the history books. Had Scotland gone separate, the Union Jack would surely have had to be redesigned. I would not have regretted Scotland detatching itself from England, in fact I would have voted for this if I could have. But, I would have regretted the passing of the Union Jack, if only because it is such a great design, so recognisable that it is capable of being endlessly mucked about with, while still remaining the Union Jack.
The new, non Scottish version of the Union Jack might have looked a bit like the bag on the left here, as we look:
That snap was snapped in 2015, after the Scottish referendum, but I don’t think those designs have anything to do with politics. They’re just simplified and rather dull variations on the Union Jack theme. The one on the left just happens to look a lot like the Union Jack minus the Saltire. (Saltire is the Scottish flag, right? Yes.) But what does the one on the right signify? In terms of the flags that go towards the Union Jack, it takes the blue stripes from the Saltire and turns them into a background for the red bits of the Welsh and English flags. So actually, it’s just a blue bag, with bits of red Union Jack-ish stuff on it. Maybe there was also a red one with white Union Jack-ish stuck on, to complete the red white and blue set. I might never have bothered showing the above photo here, if it hadn’t been for the Saltire subtraction angle.
I had already been snapping Union Jack snaps, since quite a while before that moment of the Union Jack’s possible moment of disappearance. I long ago added “funny things being done with the Union Jack” to my mental photo-category list, alongside such things as bald blokes taking photos, utilitarian and commonplace footbridges, taxis covered in adverts, Big Things seen from a long way away in among foreground clutter, and so forth and so on. But, since that earlier referendum, I have been taking photos of Union Jacks with particular zeal.
Here are a couple of very recent Union Jack snaps I did. The first is of some flip-flops, on sale at the Parliament end of Westminster Bridge:
I reckon it’s the cellophane that gives that its artistic effect.
And here is a London taxi wing mirror:
That taxi décor isn’t part of an advert. It is just a taxi decorated with the Union Jack.
And then, while I was ruminating on a posting along these lines, came this piece of graphic Union Jackery, from the Spectator, to decorate their decision to back the Leave campaign in the forthcoming EU referundum:
This reminded me of a picture I took in East London five years ago, of some Art:
I could continue, with yet more Union Jack snaps, but I will end with some more Brexit propaganda. Still on the flying theme, just before I took the above snap of how fabulous Britain will be and will feel if we Leave, here, taken just moments earlier, is another Artistic-type picture of how ghastly things will be and will feel if we Remain. That’s the EU there, trying and failing to take wing, because its bureaucracy is far too big and heavy and its wings far too feeble and misshapen, crushing us as it plummets to earth:
Are you thinking that there really needs to be a Union Jack on that car, to make this point even clearer? But that’s exactly point! The EU scrubs out the Union Jack. Look! The Union Jack is nowhere to be seen! The EU has totally obliterated it! What could be clearer?
Slightly more seriously, the EU’s rulers will not be happy until they have driven the Union Jack into the history books, not by breaking up Britain, but by swallowing it and turning it into either fuel for itself, or shit. The only Union they want, and want celebrated with a flag, is their own.
I am currently spending all my blogging time, apart from the late night hour or so that it took to bash out this, working on a summary of a talk given to Libertarian Home by Mark Littlewood, about Brexit. Lilttlewood used to be for Britain staying in the EU, but has since changed his mind. I hope to be sending that summary in to LH some time tomorrow.
Meanwhile, my understanding of the referendum is that the Jo Cox murder has made a bit of a difference, in favour of Remain, but that a stronger swing towards Leave has also been happening.
The whole immigration argument, now being pressed hard by the Leavers, is obviously making a big difference. But I reckon some other forces are also in play.
I was struck by the news that Leave was appealing to Labour voters by saying that voting Leave would wipe the smile off the faces of Cameron and Osborne. I think that’s probably proving to be very persuasive. In a General Election, you can hate Cameron and Osborne all you like, and vote against them. But, against you are all those people who think that a Labour Government would be a catastrophe. They all vote for Cameron and Osborne despite not liking them. But in this referendum, all those Labour voters whose overriding emotion is loathing of Cameron and Osborne can actually cause Cameron and Osborne to lose. I’m guessing that’s a very appealing idea.
I also think that Eddie Izzard’s bizarre appearance – literally his appearance – on shows like Question Time destroyed with one viral image the claim that all Remainers are normal people and only the more unhinged of the Leavers are a bunch of nutters from some other planet. Izzard reminded me of that bonkers woman in a beret that the late Victoria Wood once did, to such comic effect.
To be clear. I’m not saying that everyone now thinks that those arguing for Leave are all normal. Leavers have long been reckoned by normal people people to be, many of them, about as sane as a sackful of drunken badgers. What Izzard did was say to the nation: Lots of us Remainers are barking mad too.
Izzard, in other words, completely changed a widespread and very influential idea. If everyone had been supposing that all Leave freaks are actually not freaks at all, any of them, than the Jo Cox murder would also have changed things, a lot. As it is, this horror story merely confirms what most people already know about Leave freaks. They’re freaks. Meanwhile, the mainstream politicians arguing for Leave are not nearly such freaks. They are fairly normal looking. They look normal in the way that Farage looked normal, when he was sitting next to Izzard on Question Time. The Jo Cox murder doesn’t change that.
Izzard, on the other hand, actually changed things. The murder of an MP is a much bigger deal than Izzard. But that murder, horrible though it was, does not change what most people think about Leavers. Many Leavers are freaks. But what Izzard did was use his small national presence to suggest a really rather big change, and not in a way that helped the cause he was arguing for. He said that many Remainers are freaks too.
That’s the problem with showbiz people. They confuse showbiz popularity with being popular with the entire nation. If you find a comedian to be annoying or just not very funny, you can simply ignore him, happily leaving those who adore him to carry right on adoring him. The comedian makes a good living. You are not bothered. Problem solved. Everyone happy. Personally, I think Eddie Izzard has one joke - “Hey, I’m completely random in what I say!” - and I’ve heard it enough not to want to hear it again. So, I now ignore Izzard.
But politics is, by definition, the stuff that comes for you whether you want it or not. Politics is like having to sit and listen to a performer whom you don’t like. When Izzard steps forward, dressed like that, spouting political opinions, he then provokes, from those who do not like what they are seeing, not a mere shrug of indifference, but active opposition. Izzard made people want to vote against what he was saying.
In this recent piece in the Independent, it was claimed that how Izzard had been arguing was the problem. I wonder if even the anonymous editors who signed off on this editorial really think this. They carefully avoided saying that Izzard looked like a freak. Which is fine for late night telly fun. But it is not fine when the subject being argued about is the manner in which our country should be governed. There is a reason that ambitious politicians do not, any of them, present themselves as Izzard just did.
If the Brexit referendum result is as close as it could well be, Izzard’s contribution to the Leave cause could prove to have been decisive.
This has been a been a rather muddled and repetitious piece of writing. This is because I was working out what I thought, as I wrote. The point about how the Jo Cox murder doesn’t change how anyone feels about Leave Freaks, but that Izzard’s pratting about does change what lots of people feel about Remainers, and that lots of people now reckon that a lot of Remainders are Freaks too, only emerged as I wrote. But, me thinking aloud is one of the things this place is for.
To you, yes, I hope that you had one, but actually what I’m saying is: I did.
England came belting back against Sri Lanka at Lords. After sampling the London weather last night, I had a feeling that might happen. It was not bright and sunny, more overcast and sweaty. It felt like swing bowler weather, which made SL’s reply yesterday afternoon (to England’s 416) of 162-1 rather strange. Dropped catches apparently. Well, this morning, order was restored and SL are now 218-6. Woakes, luckless yesterday, got a wicket with his first ball. England now look likely winners of that series 3-0. The longer the series goes on, and the more the Lankans get acclimatised (following seriously inadequate practising games), the more it counts beating them. The first game, where SL collapsed twice, meant nothing, I reckon. I’ve been following the score here.
Deep thanks to Michael Vaughan, who mentioned on one of the bits of cricket commentary I listened to that England were also playing Australia. At rugby. Aus 28 Eng 39. Must have been some game, and according to the BBC live updates, it was.
And before all that, I even managed a quick (they’re often the best) Samizdata posting, about something odd I heard on the radio, about the EU.
Here is one of the funner pictures I took while out and about last night, this one taken at the Parliament end of Whitehall:
Great reflections in her sunglasses, right? On the left, as we look, the two devices she is holding, and on the right, you can just see a tiny Big Ben. Is that red thing she is holding a charger?
Plus an elephant.
The onward march of mobile phones into photography continues apace.
I haven’t always been blogging here as early as I’d like to in recent days, but today, I did it.
If you had as good a morning as I did, lucky you.
For years I have wondered how to put videos done by others at this blog. My problem has always been that they were too big. 560 pixels wide instead of 500 pixels, which is the width here. This evening, I thought I observed that “Brexit: The Movie”, as shown at Bishop Hill, was the exact same width as stuff at my blog. So, I rootled around in the source code for the Bishop’s posting of Brexit, and dug up what seemed to be the relevant bit. It turned out I was wrong about the width. It was 560, same as it always seems to be, But having got this far I tried just changing the bit in the code where it said “560” to “500”, and that seemed to work. The video seemed to get a bit smaller. (I changed 500 to 300 just to be sure I wasn’t imagining it.) I did some more sums, which told me to change 315 to 280, and here it is, 500 pixels wide, fingers crossed:
There is some kind of EUro-metaphor or EUro-moral buried in this story, concerning believing that a straight-jacket was actually tighter and more rigid than it really was, but I’m too tired to be bothering about that.
Tomorrow, I will watch it.