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: Business

Wednesday May 25 2016

I already showed you some Narbonne bridges, snapped during my France expedition.  Here are more bridges.

Are these first lot of bridges really bridges, or are they just buildings with holes in the bottom of them to let people through?  I reckon these make the cut, but once the buildings start really piling up on top of the holes …?:

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I’m doing these bridge photos in sets of three, and next is a clutch of photos of a set of three bridges that connect the town of Ceret to the other side of the local river.  Picasso spent time in Ceret, because of the light.  (I also photoed Renault Picassos.)

The regular shot of these bridges is from below, as you can see if you click on the second of these photos.  But I was with people who were in a hurry, so I only got to photo the bridges from the other bridges, or in one case, the shadow of a bridge, from the bridge.  And oh look, photographers!:

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In the first of these next three bridge photos, there are three more bridges, by my count.  They’re in the seaside town of Collioure.  The other two are in Perpignan, where, just like in Quimper (where I have also visited these same friends (G(od)D(aughter)2’s family) – they have houses all over the place), there is a river flowing through the middle of the town with multiple bridges over it.

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Finally, here are some rather more modern bridges.  First there is one of the main motorway from France to Spain, which carries a lot of lorries.

The motorways of Europe may, I surmise, be the place on earth where robot drivers have their first seriously big impact.  Robot cars are too complicated, and to start with, what will be the point of them?  But robot lorries will be able to travel a lot faster than regular lorries, for a lot longer than regular lorries, on roads that are the most controlled and predictable roads in existence.  European motorways carry colossal amounts of freight, unlike in the USA, where a lot freight goes by train, Europe’s railways being full of passenger trains.  And there’s nothing like a sight of this particular motorway, handily shown off by being placed on the side of a mountain in full view of the local and non-charged version of the same road, to see all this.

In the middle below is a hastily snapped shot from a bridge as we drove over it, over a newly constructed high speed passenger railway, again connecting France to Spain.  Brand new railways lines have a certain pristine charm, I think, with the gravel under the tracks yet to be blackened by constant use.

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Finally, we have what may well be my favourite South of France bridge photo of them all, on the right there.  This is one of those unselfconsciously functional footbridges, which more and more abound in towns and cities (London has many such bridges), and which join work spaces off the ground to other work spaces off the ground.  This particular footbridge is in Perpignan.

Quite why such bridges, which have long been around, are now proliferating is an interesting question.  Maybe it is just that organisations are getting bigger, and demand bigger buildings, and connecting two buildings by a footbridge of this sort turns two buildings into one building, at any rate for certain purposes.  If two bureaucracies that live across the road from each other merge, then a bridge joining the top floors together is the logical first managerial step.  This allows the new bosses to commune with one another, without having to trundle up and down and across the road all day long, rubbing their shoulders with the unclean shoulders of their underlings.  Lower footbridges bridges enable functional specialisation to proliferate among lesser personages.

But, what do I know?  My point is, I like such footbridges.  And whereas most of the other bridges in this posting are the sort that feature in lots of other people’s photos and in picture postcards, these Brand-X urban footbridges are only a Thing because I say they are.  Which is a major purpose of truly good photography.  Truly good photography doesn’t just celebrate the already much celebrated; truly good photography offers new objects of potential celebration.

So now I will celebrate this Perpignan footbridge some more:

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As I was photoing it, I was banging on to my companions about this footbridge and about footbridges like it, and they asked me if I was familiar with this London footbridge.  Oh yes.

Thanks to that little spot of googling, I just came across, for the first time, this bridge blog.  Do you want to meet bridges in your area?  That seems like a good place to look.

Saturday May 21 2016

Pictures taken by me earlier this month:

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I keep telling myself to take notes during photo sessions like this, but I didn’t, and it took quite a bit of googling to work out where all this keeping up of appearances was.  But here it is:

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It’s the big block in the red rectangle.  The big spread to its left as we look is Buckingham Palace.  Hence, I suppose, the Palace in Palace Street.

The former civil service block is being demolished, apart from its Grade II listed façade, and converted into 72 homes within yards of the perimeter wall of the palace grounds.

Then there’s a lot of sales babble, the gist of which is that if you have to ask you can’t afford it.  And then there’s this:

The building, designed by Chelsea Barracks architects Squire & Partners, will be completed in 2017 and reflect five architectural styles: 1860s Italianate Renaissance, 1880s French Renaissance, 1880s French Beaux Arts, 1890s Queen Anne, and contemporary.

Presumably “reflect” here means “preserve the outsides of buildings done in: ...”.

Or, it means “fake”.

Thursday May 12 2016

I love signs.  They communicate a lot, by their nature, but they are not considered Art, so they aren’t preserved.  They come and go, and stuff that comes and goes is how a photographer who is only an okay photographer makes his photos count for something.

So, I gathered together all the sign photos I took, to do a big collection.  But that was taking too long, so I picked out the long thin ones, and here are those ones, in chronological order.  I really did take the first one first:

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Click on each to get the bigger pictures.

No coincidence that two of them - arguably three of them - are in English.  There’s quite a bit of English to be seen in French shops, just as there’s quite a bit of French in English shops.

Byrrh is the local drink of Thuir.  It’s a lot like Port.  I’d link to the website, but it makes noises that you have actively to silence.  I hate that.

What “lefties” means, when on the front of a shop, I have absolutely no idea.

LATER: This was all done in great haste, and I neglected to mention that the “lefties” sign is actually in Spain, in a big shopping centre we visited (and got stuck in because of traffic jams all afternoon (don’t ask)).  But, I still like the sign and am still baffled by it.

Monday May 02 2016

As frequently threatened, this blog is going more and more to be about the process of getting old.  Yesterday’s posting was about that, and so is this one.

I have spent the morning doing various household trivia, internetting, and then, in particular, come eleven o’clock, keeping up with county cricket.  This really takes me back, to the time when, as a small boy, I was glued to my radio, keeping up with county cricket.  Then as now, just the numbers were enough to tell me a lot of what was going on.

Second childhood is catered to by tradesmen with just as much enthusiasm as first childhood is, the difference between that we second childhooders now make all our own decisions.

When I was a child, a magic machine that trotted out not just county cricket scores but entire continuously updated county cricket scorecards would have been a marvel.  Now, I have it, and just at the moment in my life when my actual life is winding down, and county cricket again seems like something interesting.  Between about 1965 and about 1995, I paid almost zero attention to county cricket.  I could not have told you who was winning or who had last won the County Championship during those decades.  The newspapers and the telly had remained interested only in international cricket, there was not yet any internet, and above all, I had a life.  But now that life as such is slipping from my grip, county cricket becomes an attraction again.

Notoriously, old age is the time when you remember your childhood better than anything else, or at least you think you do.  And the things that had intense meaning then have intense meaning still.  So it is that much of commerce now consists of digging into the manic enthusiasms that reigned six or seven decades ago, and rehashing them as things to sell now.  On oldie TV, such as I was watching last night, you see shows devoted to the obsessions of the nearly (but not quite yet) forgotten past all the time, every night.  As the years advance, shows about WW2 are succeeded by shows about 1950s dance halls or crooners or early rock and rollers, or ancient cars and trams and steam trains.  Often the shows now are about how the steam trains themselves are being revived, by manic hobbyists who have just retired from doing sensible things.

I know the feeling.  One of the best train journeys I recall from my boyhood was in the Cornish Riviera Express, driven by a huge 4-6-2 steam engine (for real, not as a “heritage” exercise) in about 1952, out of Waterloo.  I can still recall leaning out of the window on a curve, and seeing the locomotive up at the front, chomping away in all its glory, gushing smoke fit to burst.  I never quite turned into a full-blooded trainspotter, but like I say, I know the feeling.

A bit of a meander, I’m afraid.  But don’t mind me.  You’d best be going now.  I’m sure you have more important things on your mind.

Thursday April 14 2016

Pyjama bottoms have a way of disintegrating.  And just lately I have been having other problems (I will say no more than that) with pyjama bottoms.  The night before last I had to wear short pants in bed, like an American sitcom actor just after having had sex, and last night I cranked up the hot water bottle.  It’s amazing what a difference just swapping proper length pyjama bottoms for the same thing but with no legs.

So the question was: laundrette, or Primark.  Wash the two remaining pyjama bottoms, one of which had gone missing, or: buy some more pyjamas at Primark.  I couldn’t face laundretting, so Primark it was.  Earlier this evening, I staggered forth to Oxford Street.

In the tube on the way, I grumbled to myself about how I would be obliged to purchase yet more pyjama tops, to add to the already absurd number of such garments that I already possess.

Instead I encountered this:

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A pair of pyjama bottoms, as in two pyjama bottoms, and no pyjama tops.  I bought two large (L) and two extra large (XL).  The XL ones fit fine and I am wearing one of them now.  Extra large my arse!  Well, apparently so.

I feared that the merely large ones would be far too tight, but they’re okay.  I’m now wearing one of them.  A bit tight but okay, and the good news is that elastic expands when you wash it.

And all this for just twenty quid.  And no, I don’t feel bad about the terrible wages paid to the people who make such garments.  I remember winning this stupid argument way back in the seventies, when I was accused of keeping Hong Kongians poor by buying their cheap stuff.  What I was actually doing, as I knew at the time, was making them rich (which they now are), by bidding up the price of their labour.  And now I’m doing it again.

I tried to find these garments on the internet, but failed.  So I just did a photo.

Modern life is good in so many ways, but I really did not see this particular item of goodness coming.

I’ll add that the new Primark at the Centre Point end of Oxford Street, which I was sampling for the first time, was agreeably uncrowded, and generally less of a mad down-market scrimmage than the one near Marble Arch, at least whenever I’ve been there.

The above link gets you to a place that says it isn’t open yet, but it was open enough when I visited.  Maybe the fact that it was open but not yet Open explains why it was so quiet.  Maybe when these places officially Open, pandemonium rules from then on.

Sunday April 10 2016

Here (via Instapundit):

The tricky thing, Adam says, is how many of his clients insist on secrecy. If you’re hiring a crowd to fill a campaign event or a film premiere, the last thing you want to do is let anyone know. Adam must balance his goal of spreading awareness of his company, so he can attract more clients, with the benefits of keeping the public in the dark. If people start to doubt the veracity of crowds, his business might suffer. “Right now, we’re still kind of this secret weapon,” Adam says. “We have the element of surprise. Yeah, you might’ve heard about political candidates paying to bring some extra bodies into their campaign events, but it’s beyond the realm of most people’s imagination that crowds are being deployed in other ways. Nobody is skeptical of crowds. Of course, in five years that could change.”

Indeed it could.  And something tells me that this story is going to get very well known, very quickly.  “How much are they paying you for this?” is going to be asked, a lot.

A longer term effect is also going to be that genuine protests are liable to look like they’re fake too.

People have been paid, in cash or kind, one way or another, to do this kind of thing for quite a while.  All that this guy has done is turn it into a pure, if that’s the word, business.

Wednesday April 06 2016

I am continuing to read, with huge pleasure, Steven Johnson’s book about Joseph Priestley, The Invention of Air.  Here’s another good bit (pp. 58-61):

With the university system languishing amid archaic traditions, and corporate R&D labs still on the distant horizon, the public space of the coffeehouse served as the central hub of innovation in British society How much of the Enlightenment do we owe to coffee? Most of the epic developments in England between 1650 and 1800 that still warrant a mention in the history textbooks have a coffeehouse lurking at some crucial juncture in their story.  The restoration of Charles II, Newton’s theory of gravity, the South Sea Bubble – they all came about, in part, because England had developed a taste for coffee, and a fondness for the kind of informal networking and shoptalk that the coffeehouse enabled.  Lloyd’s of London was once just Edward Lloyd’s coffeehouse, until the shipowners and merchants started clustering there, and collectively invented the modem insurance company.  You can’t underestimate the impact that the Club of Honest Whigs had on Priestley’s subsequent streak, precisely because he was able to plug in to an existing network of relationships and collaborations that the coffeehouse environment facilitated.  Not just because there were learned men of science sitting around the table – more formal institutions like the Royal Society supplied comparable gatherings – but also because the coffeehouse culture was cross-disciplinary by nature, the conversations freely roaming from electricity, to the abuses of Parliament, to the fate of dissenting churches.

The rise of coffeehouse culture influenced more than just the information networks of the Enlightenment; it also transformed the neurochemical networks in the brains of all those newfound coffee-drinkers.  Coffee is a stimulant that has been clinically proven to improve cognitive function - particularly for memory-related tasks - during the first cup or two. Increase the amount of “smart” drugs flowing through individual brains, and the collective intelligence of the culture will become smarter, if enough people get hooked.  Create enough caffeine-abusers in your society and you’ll be statistically more likely to launch an Age of Reason. That may itself sound like the self-justifying fantasy of a longtime coffee-drinker, but to connect coffee plausibly to the Age of Enlightenment you have to consider the context of recreational drug abuse in seventeenth-century Europe.  Coffee-drinkers are not necessarily smarter; in the long run, than those who abstain from caffeine. (Even if they are smarter for that first cup.) But when coffee originally arrived as a mass phenomenon in the mid-1600s, it was not seducing a culture of perfect sobriety.  It was replacing alcohol as the daytime drug of choice. The historian Tom Standage writes in his ingenious A History of the World in Six Glasses:

The impact of the introduction of coffee into Europe during the seventeenth century was particularly noticeable since the most common beverages of the time, even at breakfast, were weak “small beer” and wine .... Those who drank coffee instead of alcohol began the day alert and stimulated, rather than relaxed and mildly inebriated, and the quality and quantity of their work improved .... Western Europe began to emerge from an alcoholic haze that had lasted for centuries.

Emerging from that centuries-long bender, armed with a belief in the scientific method and the conviction, inherited from Newtonian physics, that simple laws could be unearthed beneath complex behavior, the networked, caffeinated minds of the eighteenth century found themselves in a universe that was ripe for discovery. The everyday world was teeming with mysterious phenomena – animals, plants, rocks, weather – that had never before been probed with the conceptual tools of the scientific method.  This sense of terra incognita also helps explain why Priestley could be so innovative in so many different disciplines, and why Enlightenment culture in general spawned so many distinct paradigm shifts.  Amateur dabblers could make transformative scientific discoveries because the history of each field was an embarrassing lineage of conjecture and superstition.  Every discipline was suddenly new again.

Thursday March 24 2016

There is, as I write, deep joy, a crane in operation, right outside my kitchen window.  I can see it now, lifting steel girders onto the roof of a building that is being revamped, from an office into flats, across the yard from me.

Yesterday, I did something I haven’t done for a while, which is I attempted to get onto the roof of my block of flats.  I succeeded.  More deep joy.  The door was unlocked.

Here is a picture I took of the crane, yesterday afternoon, just as it was folding itself up after its day’s work.  The men in yellow had finished their work also, and the crane was about to descend back into the street whence it came:

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I have not seen this process before, which is so central to how these things operate.  It is not enough that they must be able to do their job, of lifting up things like girders and depositing them accurately into the midst of a building.  At least some of them have to be able to hoist themselves up, and unhoist themselves down again afterwards.  I mean, if you could only ever erect a crane with the help of another crane, where would it end?

A crane like the one in the last of these pictures that I showed here last Sunday, is another crane of the sort that can raise itself up off a lorry and immediately start work, and it is pretty clear just from looking at it approximately how it does this, even if its internal workings are slightly mysterious.  But the manner in which the above crane operates isn’t quite so obvious.  You need to see it to really appreciate it.  And now I have.

I’m not exactly sure which it was of the cranes here that I saw in action, but that is definitely the website of the crane hire enterprise concerned.

Tuesday March 22 2016

Do you want your clothes theatrically drycleaned?  Here is the enterprise you’ve been looking for:

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Throughout our 50 years’ experience within the dry cleaning industry we have gained a wealth of knowledge and understanding of the effects that various solvents on different types of fabrics, paints, stage bloods, beading, sequins and trimmings allowing us the achieve the very best results for our wardrobe departments.

Van photoed by me in Tottenham Court Road last September, just minutes before I photoed this old American car.  I am becoming increasingly interested in photoing vehicles.  It’s not just taxis, and the vans don’t even have to be white.

As you can perhaps tell, today, it is nearly tomorrow.  I have been doing a lot less of that lately, but today I did.

Friday March 11 2016

Well, the New Year (even though the New Year is actually getting quite old now) Resolution here, to blog early, and sometimes even to blog often, is working well.  I haven’t delayed going to bed because of this blog for about a week, and I sense that this may even continue.

Friday is my day for cats, and now also for other creatures, and already this Friday, even though it not yet even the middle of the day, there has already been a posting here about dogs.  Republican dogs.  That posting is right below this one, but there’s the link anyway.

And here now is another creature posting, about a truly unique other creature - half cat, yes, but also half dog, half bee, half zebra, and wholly suitcase - of the sort that kids can ride, at airports, to stop them getting bored:

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Apparently Trunki made the first of these, and then some Hong Kong guys did a cheaper knock-off, and Trunki complained.  Trunki lost.

These cases - the physical (suit)case and the legal case - illustrate the fine line that divides a design from an idea:

But five Supreme Court justices unanimously disagreed, and ruled in favour of PMS on Wednesday – stating that while it had “sympathy for Magmatic”, the “Design Right is intended to protect designs not ideas”.

It looks a lot like a design being copied to me.  Not that I mind.  And actually, I think the Hong Kong version is better, because the original can’t make up its mind whether its eyes are eyes or horns.  HK case resolves this by having eyes and horns.

PMS website: here.

Monday March 07 2016

Yes, I’ve been continuing to photo taxis with adverts.  Here are half a dozen of the most recent such snaps.

First up, further proof, if you need it, that the internet has not abolished television.  People still like to be passively entertained, surprise surprise.  But the internet is in the process of swallowing television, so that they end up being the same thing:

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Next, become an accountant!  Note how they include the word “taxi” in the advertised website, presumably to see whether advertising on taxis is worth it.  Note to LSBF: I have no plans to become an accountant.

Note also the Big Things picture of London, something I always like to show pictures of here, and note also how out of date this picture is.  No Cheesegrater, for a start:

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Next up, a taxi advertising a book. I do not remember seeing this before, although I’m sure it has happened before:

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Next, Discover America.  I thought it already had been:

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Visit a beach.  I didn’t crop this photo at all, because I like how I tracked the taxi and its advert, and got the background all blurry, and I want you to see all that blurriness.  Nice contrast between that and the bright colours of the advert.  A little bit of summer in the grey old February of London:

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Finally, a snap I took last night, in the Earls Court area.  And now we’re back in the exciting world of accountancy, this time in the form of its Beautiful accounting software:

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As you can see, it was pitch dark by the time I took this.  But give my Lumix FZ200 even a sliver of artificial light and something solid to focus on, and it does okay, I think.  A decade ago, that photo would have been an unusable mess.

I am finding that taxi advertising changes very fast these days.  All of the above photos, apart from the one with the beaches, was of an advert I had not noticed before.

Which means that in future years, these taxi photos will have period value, because the adverts will have changed over and over again with the passing of only a handful of years.

Thursday March 03 2016

Blog buddy 6k recently did a posting about a Finnish word, “kalsarikännit”, which apparently means: “getting drunk alone at home, while wearing your underwear”.

I came across the big word in the title of this posting as a result of photoing a van, as it entered Victoria Street, on Tuesday:

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What got me photoing this van was not any long word on it, for there are none.  No, what got my attention was how amazingly posh this van looked.  Amazingly posh like one of those amazingly posh magazines about Design, two-thirds full of posh car, posh frock, posh watch and posh property adverts.  Goddaughter 1, if she sees this, will surely be delighted.  The market for aesthetically sophisticated architectural photography (which is what she mostly does for a living) has now spread to the sides of vans.

But what is BRS?  BRS.NL was a big clue.  Dutch, yes?  Yes.  Here’s the website.  I had a rootle around in it, and that was when I came across “Toegangsbeveiligingsproducten”.

Here is the original Dutch:

Het accent van de werkzaamheden van BRS Traffic Systems BV ligt op het ontwikkelen, produceren, installeren en onderhouden van toegangsbeveiligingsproducten zoals Xentry® Speedgates, Pevac® Traffic Blockers®, Pevac® Road Blockers, Pevac® Spike Barriers®, Pevac® Bollards, Xentry® Speeddoors en Pevac®Traps.

By the way, “van” is not the Dutch for a van.

The only translation of “toegangsbeveiligingsproducten” that I could coax out of the internet was the English translation of the above verbiage:

The emphasis of the work of BRS Traffic Systems BV is the development, production, installation and maintenance of access security as Xentry® Speedgates, Pevac® Traffic Blockers®, Pevac® Road Blockers, Pevac® Spike Barriers®, Pevac® Bollards, Xentry® Speed Doors, and Pevac®Traps.

So, “access security products”?  Fancy metal gates, in other words.  That’s not as good as “getting drunk alone at home, while wearing your underwear”, but I reckon “kalsarikännit” is not as impressive as “toegangsbeveiligingsproducten”.

Thank heavens for copy-and-paste.

German, I know, and Dutch, which I presume to be very similar, would seem to have this ability to construct infinitely long words, like good trains.  So perhaps this particular word is not that surprising.  But I like it.  I wonder if there is a single German, or Dutch, word for “a word that is in principle infinitely long, to which you can keep adding stuff for ever, like a goods train”.  Probably.  It could, that is to say, be devised.

Thursday February 25 2016

I am greatly enjoying the progress of Soon-To-Be President Trump.  File under: guilty pleasures.  My libertarian friends mostly express horror at Trump’s irresistible rise, and his terrible opinions, and his terrible hair, but surely you never really know what you’ll get with a new President.  During the Thatcher years some of the people who most agreed with me did very little that I liked, while others, impeccably governmental sorts, who were just doing what seemed sensible to them, did quite a lot of good things.  See: privatisation.  Maybe Trump will turn out like that.  Maybe he will even decide to have dignified hair.

Trump seems to me like he’s going to be the USA’s first Television President, by which I mean someone who got to be President via television.  Didn’t they have one of them in Brazil not so long ago?  Some guy who had got well known by being some kind of TV talent show host, or some such thing, and then, to the horror of the Horrified Classes parlayed that into being President.  It was probably a disaster, but Brazil usually is.  And now, Brazil has one of the strongest libertarian movements in the world, does it not?  Maybe that’s how libertarianism wins.  First you have a crazy TV guy, and then libertarianism.  I can hope.

Anyway, Trump.  This piece about Trump by Scott Adams is a good laugh, as are comments on it like this:

I liked the one in Arkansas when the manager of the facility announced that Trump broke the all time attendance record set by ZZ Top in 1978. lol

He is certainly a canny operator, as Adams explains very cannily, cataloguing Trump’s many previous successes, such as a best selling book on how to negotiate.

Part of the skill of getting the Republican nomination is to behave like a guy the Mainstream Media are confident they can easily destroy, in due course.  Which means that instead of destroying you straight away, they destroy all the other fellows, who they thought were stronger than you, which by definition they can’t have been, can they?  You have to be like Russia, and look either much weaker than you are, so the media don’t bother with you, and then much stronger than you are, so the media then grovel, as they do when they face a force of nature, in other words a force bigger than them.

I could of course be quite wrong, but I reckon Trump is going to walk it, when he gets around to dealing with whichever car crash of a candidate the Dems stick in front of him.  And it will either be Clinton or that old socialist guy, the ones already in the race.  Nobody else will want to join, because the prize for winning the Dem nomination will be getting Trumped all over, and who needs that?  Those two old crocks both joined the race while Trump was still in his ridiculous phase.

No wonder the Chinese are nervous.  They surely know a true son of Sun Tzu when they see one. 

Saturday February 20 2016

Another oldie from the I Just Like It directory:

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Taken last July, in the City of London, during a quiet weekend as I recall it.

It’s this one.

Friday February 12 2016

I like white vans.  And since this is Friday, I at least want recently to have encountered, virtually or for real, something feline, but with a bit of a difference from the usual internet felinities.

So, I was pleased to notice this vehicle, outside the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre, across the road from Westminster Abbey, yesterday afternoon:

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More about the enterprise in question here.

It is surprising, to me, given how much attention cats now get in the popular culture, how few enterprises use cattery to advertise themselves in this kind of way.