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Category archive: Europe

Sunday November 16 2014

Something a lot of people don’t get about rather small and incremental improvements is that even if they don’t mean anything to you (by which I mean to them) they can definitely mean something to someone, and potentially a great deal, and to quite a lot of someones.  My understanding of economics is that this is one of the most basic ideas embodied in it.  (The notion even has its own intellectual revolution: the Marginal Revolution.)

A price increase of around fifty pence for something costing, say, thirty quid may not seem much, and it may not change your behaviour.  But for some people this will be the proverbial straw that changes a light bulb to parsnips, the difference that makes all the difference.

Consider these slightly new, slightly snazzier trains, that have been announced by Eurostar, to replace their existing trains, next year.  Their front ends, so we are now being told, will look like this:

image

The Evening Standard (where I found all these pictures) tells us that these new trains will slash the journey time from London to Paris, but it neglects to reveal by how much.  Google google.  Here we go.  The Daily Mail supplies the answer to this obvious question.  It turns out that the journey time from London to Paris will be “slashed” (their word too) by … fifteen minutes.

But this posting is not (see above) a rant about how little difference this will make to most people.  It is a rant about how much difference it will make to some people.  For some people this fifteen minute reduction will make the difference between being able to go to Paris in the morning, get the job done, and then return to London that same day in time to read a story to a daughter.  Or … not.  Connections just missed will turn into connections just made, and fifteen minutes (doubled for the two journeys) will stretch out into something more like two hours.

Not for most people.  Just for some people.  And when you consider how many people might or might not choose to use Eurostar, depending on considerations like the above, that “some” people turns out to be really quite a lot of people.

In short, fifteen minutes does make a difference.

Or consider another small improvement that these new trains will involve, this time an improvement measured not in minutes but in inches.

Here is how the new trains will look on the inside:

image

Now that may not seem very interesting.  But it interests me greatly.  It’s been a while since I travelled on Eurostar, but my abiding memory is of how small and cramped and dreary the interior of the carriage was.  For such a supposedly twenty first century experience, the whole thing had a very twentieth century feel to it, in a bad way.  The above picture immediately makes me think that these new trains will be a significantly more spacious and less soul-destroying experience than the old ones, the old ones that I will still be partaking of when I journey to France and back, just after Christmas.

Judging by this photo ...:

image

… it would appear that they have done to the design of the Eurostar what they have also been doing to some of the trains in the London Underground.  These new London tube trains now bulge outwards, over the platforms.  Not by much, but by just a bit, just enough to make a real difference to the inside.

A few days ago, I overheard a conversation between some out-of-towners who were enthusing about the new and wider tube trains that were recently introduced on London’s Circle Line.  They were rhapsodising.  It was like listening to the scripted pseudo-public babbling away on a TV advert, so delighted were these truly regular members of the public about the new train that they and I were travelling on.  And I agree with them.  Whenever a train that I am awaiting emerges from its tunnel and reveals itself to be one of these new and slightly wider trains, my spirits are lifted.

And that was just inside a tube train.  When it comes to Eurostar, we are talking about two hours.  Two hours stuck in a dreary little tube, or in a rather less dreary, rather less constricted sort of tube.  That is quite a difference.  I can easily imagine, when some future decision about a cross-Channel journey presents itself to me, that these extra few inches ("cramped" is all about inches) could be the difference that will be all the difference, to me.  At the very least, I will try to give the new carriages at least one try, when they do finally appear.

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.

Monday October 13 2014

Here is what the architecture of Tausendsassa Friedensreich Regentag Dunkelbunt Hundertwasser looks like:

image

Often cited for his colorful and curvilinear forms, his name translates to “Multi-Talented Peace-Filled Rainy Day Dark-Colored Hundred Waters.” In everything from his name to his unusual ideas put forth in manifestos, it is immediately evident that Hundertwasser was no ordinary architect.

Looks to me a lot like a beefed up version of Teletubbies architecture.  Did they have that show in Germany?  Yes.  (This is not the first time the Teletubbies have been hailed as architectural pioneers.) I’m not saying this is a bad thing.  I am just, as they say, saying.

Thursday October 02 2014

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

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

image

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

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

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

See also this, recently at Samizdata.

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

Monday August 18 2014

Richard Morrison’s article about the impact of WW1 on music, for the Times, is very interesting, but it suffers from an outbreak of PID (Permanent Italics Disease).  This is when you switch on the italics, but then forget or fail to switch them off again.  Here is a screen capture of the offending moment and its surroundings:

image

This was posted on August 16th, in connection with a Prom that happened last night, but it has yet to be corrected, as I write this.

PID is particularly pernicious when it afflicts not only the rest of the text of the piece itself, but then continues throughout the entire page as you see it, as it does here.  That is a site software blunder, as well as a posting blunder.

I got to this piece via Arts and Letters Daily, which perhaps explains how I got to it at all, what with the Times paywall and all.  Does anyone know how that system is working out for the Times?

It seems a bit shoddy that you have to pay for such typographical ineptitude.  It’s not so much the original error that I am unimpressed by.  It’s the fact that nobody quickly corrected it.  And the fact that the site software doesn’t confine the problem to the one posting.

To be a bit more serious, about the content of the article, I have long regretted Schoenberg’s depressing impact upon music, but I had no idea that the man himself was such a German chauvinist.  “Now we will throw these mediocre kitschmongers into slavery, and teach them to venerate the German spirit and to worship the German God …” Good grief.

Friday August 01 2014

Trawling through the archives this evening, I came across this fine feline:

image

Photoed by me, in Battersea, about two months ago.

In other cat news, pet cats in Vietnam are being stolen and sold to restaurants.  And not because the restaurants want cats for their customers to mingle with.  Oh no.  This is Vietnam, not Paris.

Back here in evil Britain, hundreds of black cats are being abandoned by their owners because, according to the Daily Mail, these black cats don’t look good in SELFIES (their capital letters):

Today the RSPCA announced a rise in the number of black cats being abandoned by their owners, and attributed it to them not photographing well.

A spokesman for the animal welfare charity said that more than 70 per cent of the 1,000 cats in its care were black, and blamed the trend for people taking pictures of themselves with their phones.

He said: ‘There are a number of reasons for us having so many black cats, including the fact that black animals tend not to photograph as well as other cats with more distinctive markings.

Other cats are also easier to tell apart, he said.

The spokesman added: ‘There is a national problem with rehoming cats of this colour.

‘We really are puzzled as to why this still happens but we would urge people to never judge a cat by its colour and look at its personality instead.’

This story is everywhere.  I sense hostility towards digital photography, and in particular towards the evil practice of taking photos of yourself, an evil practice which now has its own word.

However, a selfie is when you take a photo of yourself.  Owners are including themselves in their cat photos on incidentally.  Often only the cat is in the picture.  These photos are not being taken by cats, so they are not selfies.

Cats don’t take photos of themselves.  If they had been caught doing this, on video for instance, I would definitely have learned about it and passed the news on to you people.  All that is actually going on here is that black cat owners are finding it hard to photo their black cats and are consequently abandoning their black cats, and obtaining other cats, more like the one in my picture above, that are easier to photo.  That’s a wicked enough story as it is, without misreporting it and put your mistake in capital letters.  Socks, Daily Mail.  Pull yours up.

Next up, an Italian shooting champion is on trial for using live cats as target practice.  I sense hostility towards shooting champions, but it may just be towards Italians.

Finally, Cats is being revived, in the Millenium Centre, Cardiff:

The highlight of the evening was the singing which included lots of harmonies ...

Which is what you want.  What with Cats being a musical show, consisting mostly of people dressed as cats, singing, and trying to be harmonious about it.

Rachel Howells continues:

Cats is at the Wales Millennium Centre until Saturday 9th August and includes many matinee showings so you have no excuses not to miss it.

Once again, we see the mainstream media getting their facts in a twist, this time because of faulty grammar.  No excuses not to miss it?  It would appear that, at least when it comes to their online content, the writing and/or editing at the South Wales Argus has gone to the dogs.

Monday July 14 2014

I have just done a comment at Samizdata, on this (about the recently concluded football World Cup in which England did its usual rather badly (although it did at least get there)), saying this:

I agree with the first comment, about how, if individualism explains this, England (England perhaps more than Britain) ought to be winning tennis, golf, swimming etc., routinely.

I think much depends on what a country (to use collective shorthand) just considers important, for several years rather than just for a few weeks.  Like it or hate it (personally I hate it) Britain, definitely including England, put in a mighty effort (both individual and collective) to make a success (but damn the cost) of the 2012 Olympics, both as an event and by winning a ton of medals.

But from what I hear from football fans, English football takes winning the Premier League, and then doing well in European club competition, more seriously than doing well in the World Cup.  The feeling I get is that the winning England footballer is the one who makes the most money throughout his career.  A former Spurs manager recently talked about how some of his players would fake injury, and wanted his help to do this, to avoid being picked for England.  That would knacker them to no personal career purpose.

Plus, there is this huge split between regular English fans who support their clubs week in week out, and people like me who watch the World Cup but not a lot else.  That Germany Brazil game was the most memorable football game in years, for me.  For a proper fan, it would be some obscure promotion battle or an amazing away draw against a European club that got their team to the last sixteen of the Champions League, or whatever.  For a Man U supporter it would be that remarkable last ditch win against Bayern in the Champions League final.

Sadly, I think politicians have a big influence on this.  The kind of power and money they command doesn’t make successful countries out here in the real world (Brazil, Argentina, etc.), quite the reverse.  But it can make national sporting effort more successful, if by that you mean more medals and trophies.  Angela Merkel is a big fan of her now triumphant football team.  I wonder what else she and Germany’s other politicians did to support them, other than her showing up for lots more of their games than she had to.

Sport.  War by other means.  Discuss.

That last point is one I definitely want to write about more in the nearish future.  How A-bombs and H-bombs have made all out war between Great Powers impossible, and caused an unprecedented outbreak of peace between Great Powers, and thus caused national rivalry to express itself in sport rather than war.  That kind of thing.

Thursday July 10 2014

Following these, more from Colossal.  This time it’s: Portuguese Umbrellas:

image

It was posted in August 2012.  Better, far better, late than never.  I found this in their list of top twenty postings, top in popularity, presumably.

Another of those Things That Have Been Encouraged By Digital Photography.  The Art is temporary, but the pictures of the Art will last far, far longer, on many, many hard discs.

More umbrella photos from the same photographer (Patricia Almedia) here, suggesting that they were taken in July of 2012.

Tuesday July 08 2014

Yes, I’m watching this bizarre game.

A commentator said of Brazil’s defenders that they are all over the place, or some such phrase, and added:

It’s like a testimonial match.

For you Brazil, ze turnament iss over.

My prediction?  Germany 5 Brazil 2.  My thinking?  Momentum will shift.  Brazil will be desperate - desperate - not to be further humiliated.  Germany will spare them further humiliation and save their energy for the final.

Vee shell see.

Hansen and Shearer of the BBC are now raking it over at half time.  Were Germany brilliant (Shearer), or Brazil awful (Hansen)?

LATER: I had a feeling about this game when I set the video recorder. But I hoped that it wouldn’t go to extra time because there is something else I want to record, starting at 11.30 pm.  Please let regular time not end all square.  Something tells me that my prayer will be answered.

FINAL SCORE: Brazil 1 Germany 7.  Well, Brazil did score a goal.  Right at the end.  Just after Germany had missed making it eight nothing.

The Spaniards may now be feeling a bit less bad.

Monday June 16 2014

Indeed:

image

Taken by?  No prizes for guessing who.  Country?  “Poland/Georgia”.  Date?  “Jan/Feb” of this year.  That’s what it said in the email.

Thursday June 05 2014

About every other day Google sends me news of Emmanuel Todd, news in French.  Sometimes it is news of him talking on video, in French.  I can just about order a croissant in a French shop, but that’s as far as my French goes.

So, imagine my delight on learning about this video, of Emmanuel Todd talking … in English!

What he is saying is that the different family systems of Europe mean that the different nations of Europe are politically incompatible, and accordingly that the Euro is doomed.  Worth a watch, if that kind of thing interests you.  In particular, the way that the Euro is putting Germany in charge of France is not at all what the French elite had in mind, and this means that sooner or later the French will have to dump the Euro.  But first, their elite has to explain why it made this hideous blunder in the first place.  Because dumping the Euro would mean admitting they should never have done it in the first place.

Tim Evans recently gave a talk to the End of the World Club (silly name, great talks) about politics, David Cameron’s politics in particular.  He said that Cameron has no problem with Britain leaving the EU, while he remains Prime Minister.  Sure enough, about two days later, an email from Tim arrives, complete with the link, saying: And so it starts ...

Moments intéressant.

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.

Thursday April 03 2014

So, speaking as I was lately about Lego, and loving as I do bridges, how about this?!?!:

image

In Germany.  Done just with paint.  Excellent, I think.  Found here (scrolling down is highly recommended).  Which I found because 6k recently linked to the same site, concerning something else, also very entertaining.

Tuesday December 17 2013

Incoming from Alan Little, from whom it is very nice to be hearing:

I thought this might be your sort of thing.

This being a collection, of course with photos, of 10 Spectacular Movable Bridges.  Definitely my sort of thing.

My favourite (for me) new discovery was this:

image

That’s bridge number seven, the Hörn Bridge, in Kiel, Germany.

It’s notable that about half (by my calculations) of these bridges are for pedestrians, or for pedestrians and cyclists, rather than road or rail bridges.

In recent years, local politicians have been discovering that a bit of well-judged public spending on a Popular Public Thing can really juice up the tourist trade, boost property values and tax take, etc.  This has meant, in particular, a proliferation of cute footbridges, often foot-and-bicycle bridges of course.  They are cute, but they are relatively cheap, certainly compared to bridges for roads or railways.

London has two recent footbridges (three if you count the Hungerford Bridge footbridges as two bridges), and two more are now being talked up, the Heatherwick Garden Bridge, and the one they are talking about that will connect Battersea to Chelsea.

I also liked bridge number eleven (aka bonus bridge number one), the Barton Swing Aqueduct:

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The aqueduct, the first and only swing aqueduct in the world, is a Grade II listed building, considered a major feat of Victorian civil engineering. Designed by Sir Edward Leader Williams and built by Andrew Handyside of Derby, the swing bridge opened in 1894 and remains in regular use.

Cool.  Not something that anyone else felt the need to copy.  But still, cool.

Saturday December 14 2013

Incoming from Michael Jennings:

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There is the end of Cape Bojador. This now scores high in the Brian blogs and Michael then goes there stakes.

Not very appetising looking, that having been my original point.  I just reread that piece.  Not bad.

LATER:

And when you get south of the point:

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Not a helpful place to sale next to.