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Category archive: Economics

Sunday May 06 2018

I remember when the internet was nice.  My part of it, the blogosphere, was nice, anyway.  Every blogger, no matter what he thought about things, was a comrade.  Every commenter, ditto.  In those magic few years from about 2001 until about 2008 at the latest, when a whole generation of people the world over found themselves short of cash, the internet was a nicer, more trusting place than it is now.  Since then, less and less.  Now, the internet is not to be trusted further than it can be spat, and it can’t be spat at all, can it?

Which is why, when I go on holiday and leave my flat unattended, I tend not to broadcast the fact on this blog, by posting postings which are clearly from this or that holiday location.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: broadcast?  This blog, a broadcast?  Well, no, not to regular humans.  But to all those cash-strapped desperadoes out there, it is a potential opportunity.

I don’t know if there are any internet creatures who spend their time working out, from blog postings and social media postings, that this or that person has left his home unattended, and then selling lists of such trusting persons on to people who might be able to do something bad about that, but this is not a chance I now care to take.  I prefer only to be telling you about photo-expeditions after I am back home.

Also, as you get older, you get more easily scared.  The less you have left to lose, the more you fear losing it.  This may not make calculational sense, but does make evolutionary sense.  The young need to be willing to take risks, to be willing to bet everything for the sake of their gene pool.  The old have less to offer in such dramas.  Or something.  What do I know?  Anyway, whatever the reason, we oldies get more timid as we grow older.

So yes, I was on holiday last week, in Brittany, and then yesterday, on the way home from there, I was in Paris, as I yesterday reported, once I had got home.

I took enough photos while in France to last me a month of blogging, and I expect about the next week of postings here to be about nothing else.  Here is just one photo from my travels:

image

That was my first view, again, this time around, of Quimper Cathedral, seen through the rather sunglassesy front window of my hosts’ car, on what was already quite a dreary afternoon, the day after I arrived, Sunday April 29th.  Quimper Cathedral – to be more exact, one of its towers - was responsible for the timing of this visit.  I’ll tell you more about that in a later posting.

Wednesday April 25 2018

I like doing podcasts, and have recently resumed doing this.  The difference between these and earlier efforts is that I am not making the mistake of trying to be the interviewer, a role which I have learned, the hard way, that I am utterly unsuited to.

I do not, however, like doing podcasts because I assume that I will reach a huge audience with my brilliant insights and opinions.  Rather is it that I deepen my friendships with the people I share the microphone with.  The first is a mere outside chance.  The second is pretty much guaranteed to happen.

Although neither I nor any of the other people whom I podcast with assumes that we will reach a huge audience, we know that we probably will reach some sort of audience, probably very tiny, of friends and acquaintances and general passers-by, and that means that we had better say things we have thought about and which we mean and which are worth saying.  We need to be at our conversational best, just in case.

Compare that with two or three of us just chatting in a pub or an eatery or in one of our homes, but with no microphone on.  The level of conversational intensity, so to speak, is, in those circumstances, far lower.

Almost all of my renewed podcasting activity has been with Patrick Crozier.  I recall with particular pleasure the first of these recent efforts that we did about World War 1.  Who else has listened in?  I have no idea.  But I listened.  He listened.  I can listen again, and I have, more than once, because so many interesting things, I think, got talked about.

More recently, I took part in a group podcast on the subject of freedom of speech, alongside Jordan Lee, Bruno Nardi and Tamiris Loureiro.  On that occasion I can be sure that others were listening, because there was a room semi-full of people, listening, right there, in the Two Chairmen, where Libertarian Home meetings now all seem to happen.

The microphone that Bruno placed in our midst was distinguished by its size and its striking appearance.  I photoed it:

image

That photo, for me, illustrates the bigness of the difference that a microphone makes to a conversation.  Jordan, Bruno and Tamiris are all slightly better friends of mine now than they would have been if we’d not done this.

Why then, do I not switch on a microphone during my Last Friday of the Month meetings?  Maybe I will start doing this.  But for now, I believe that a roomful of people, assembled to hear a particular person speak on a particular subject, achieves that same heightened level of attention and conversational concentration that a microphone achieves for a smaller group of people who are talking amongst themselves.

It is also helpful for speakers to be absolutely sure that their talks won’t go straight to the www, and that means that they can confidently take an early shot at a new subject, with all the errors, hesitations and confusions that might occur.  Ideas need to be nurtured and shaped and polished, and that is far easier to do if such early efforts are not being bugged.

This Friday, I have another of my Last Friday meetings.  Dominic Frisby will be doing an early dry-run version of his Financial Game Show, which will be having a run of performances for real at this year’s Edinburgh Festival.  I’m pretty sure that me threatening to switch on a microphone during this out-of-town preliminary try-out version, so to speak, would have been a deal-breaker.

There’ll be another early version for this show at the King’s Head, Crouch End, on May 22nd.  I attended the very first outing of it at the same venue last Monday, and I can report that I and the rest of the small crowd had a lot of fun.  As Frisby reports at the bottom of this piece in MoneyWeek:

We had fun. My MoneyWeek colleague, Ben Judge, turned out to be the winner, prompting many in the audience to make accusations of an inside job.

Yes.  This was a pity, because actually what came across rather well was how imperfect the knowledge of financial experts often is, and how other people, with direct experience of whatever it is, often know more than them.

Monday April 16 2018

Twitter is causing ever more interesting things to pile up on my computer screen, and slow everything down.  (I know, “bookmarks”.  Hate them.) So, here is a blog posting consisting of such links.  Which I can come back to and follow through on but probably never will, but possibly just might.

Eyebrows - we all have them, but what are they actually for?

The Kremlin has a Reckless Self-Image Problem.

Via 6k, how to take bizarre photos by stuffing wire wool into a egg whisk, setting the wire wool on fire, and swinging all that around on a rope.  Do not try this at home, unless you want to burn down your home.

Next, a Twitter posting about cactus patterns:

So frustrating! My cactus patterns are going viral on FB, but the person who posted the photo of them a) didn’t credit me and b) deletes any comments I write responding to people asking for the patterns.

But what if she made that up? As a ruse to get the world to pay attention to her cactus patterns?  Or, what if she hired, in good faith, some sleazy “internet marketer” who deliberately posted her photos on some faked-up Facebook site, minus any credit, told her about it, and then blocked her complaints?  The sleazy internet marketer then advised her to complain about this to all and sundry, knowing that all and sundry would sympathise.  She seems like an honest person, doing honest business, which is why I pass this on.  But a decade of internetting has made me cynical.

Next, a Spectator piece about someone called Scaramucci, who is writing a book about Trump.  The piece says more about Scaramucci than it does about Trump, but his book sounds like it will be quite good.  Scaramucci sounds like he has his head screwed on right, unlike a lot of the people who write Trump books.

Also in the Spectator, Toby Young realises that his wife is smarter than he is.  And she chose to stay at home and raise their kids because that’s what she wanted to do.  You can feel the tectonic plates of Western Civilisation shifting back towards stay-at-home mumhood, even as mere policy continues to discourage it.  Jordan Peterson, take a bow.  That man is already raising the birth rate in rich countries, by encouraging both fatherhood and motherhood.  The only question is: By how much?  Trivially, or significantly?  My bet, with the passing of a bit of time: significantly.

George Bernard Shaw tells it like it was and is about Islam.  I lost track of how I chanced upon that, but there it is.  These days, GBS would probably get a talking-to from the Thought Police, a talking-to which might well include the words: “We’re not the Thought Police”.  If the Thought Police were to have a go at her, they just might get an earful themselves.

Mike Fagan liked this photo of Mont Saint Michel with sheep in the foreground.  I can’t any longer find when he liked it, but he did.  Reminds me of this Millau Viaduct photo, also with sheep in the foreground.

Boaty McBoatface got turned into David bloody Attenborough, but Trainy McTrainface proudly rides the railway lines of Sweden.  As usual, You Had One Job supplied no link (so no link to them), but here’s the story.

Thank you Paul Marks for telling me about someone telling me about Napoleon’s greatest foe.  His name?  Smith.

The sun is now spotless, or it was on April 11th.

David Baddiel has doubts about the bloke who said “gas the Jews” rather a lot, to a dog.  As do I.  It should be legal, but don’t expect me to laugh.

Tim Worstall:

All of which leads to the correct Brexit stance to be taking. No deal. We’ll go to unilateral free trade and the rest of you can go boil your heads. We’ll give it a couple of decades and we’ll see who is richer, OK?

Quillette: The China Model Is Failing

The three temporarily separate Elizabeth lines.

Wisdom.

Anton Howes on Sustained Economic Growth.

John Arnold made a fortune at Enron.  He is now spending some of it on criticising bad science.

Human genes reveal history.  This book is number (about) twenty on my to-read list.

Philip Vander Elst on How Communism Survived Thanks to Capitalist Technology.

And finally, Bryan Caplan still thinks this is pretty good.

I now feel much better.  And more to the point, my computer seems a lot sprightlier than it was.  This has been the computerised equivalent of cleaning my room.  The job is not done, but I have taken a chunk bite out of it.

Thursday March 22 2018

I’m reading Deidre McCloskey’s Bourgeois Equality, the final volume of her Bourgeois trilogy.  I hope that in this volume, at last, I will read evidence concerning McCloskey’s thesis about how the Great Enrichment came about, which is that it was ideological.  She keeps repeating this, but keeps flying off at other tangents.  Wish me luck.

Interesting tangents, mind you.  Like this one, which is a most interesting prediction, concerning the future of Sub-Saharan Africa (pp. 70-72):

Know also a remarkable likelihood in our future. Begin with the sober scientific fact that sub-Saharan Africa has great genetic diversity, at any rate by the standard of the narrow genetic endowment of the ancestors of the rest of us, the small part of the race of Homo sapiens that left Mother Africa in dribs and drabs after about 70,000 BCE.  The lower diversity outside Africa comes from what geneticists call the founder effect, that is, the dying out of genetic lines in an isolated small group, such as those that ventured into west Asia and then beyond. The founder effect is merely a consequence, of the small samples dribbling out, as against the big sample of the Homo sapiens folk that stayed put in Africa. Any gene-influenced ability is therefore going to have more African extremes. The naturally tallest people and the naturally shortest people, for example, are in sub-Saharan Africa. The naturally quickest long-distance runners are in East Africa. The best basketball players descend from West Africans. In other words, below the Sahara the top end of the distribution of human abilities - physical and intellectual and artistic - is unusually thick. (Yet even in Africa the genetic variability in the Homo sapiens race appears to have been thinned repeatedly before the time of the modest emigrations, by population crashes, such as when the super volcano Toba in Sumatra went off, suggestively also around 70,000 BCE. It reduced our Homo sapiens ancestors to a few thousand-a close call.)

The thickness of sub-Saharan abilities at the high end of the distribution is a mere consequence of the mathematics. Greater diversity, which is to say in technical terms, higher variance, means that unusual abilities at both ends of the distribution, high and low, are more common. Exactly how much more depends on technical measures of genetic difference and their expression. The effect could be small or large depending on such measures and on the social relevance of the particular gene expression.

The high end is what matters for high culture. Sub-Saharan Africa, now at last leaning toward liberal democracy, has entered on the blade of the hockey stick, growing since 2001 in per-person real income by over 4 percent per year-doubling that is, every eighteen years. A prominent Nigerian investment manager working in London, Ayo Salami, expects an ideological shift among African leaders in favor of private trading as the generation, of the deeply socialist anticolonialists born in the 1940s dies out.” The 6- to 10-percent growth rate available to poor economies that wholeheartedly adopt liberalism will then do its work and yield educational opportunities for Africans now denied them.

The upshot? Genetic diversity in a rich Africa will yield a crop of geniuses unprecedented in world history. In a century or so the leading scientists and artists in the world will be black-at any rate if the diversity is as large in gene expression and social relevance as it is in, say, height or running ability. Today a Mozart in Nigeria follows the plow; a Basho in Mozambique was recruited as a boy soldier; a Tagore in East Africa tends his father’s cattle; a Jane Austen in Congo spends her illiterate days carrying water and washing clothes.  “Full many a gem of purest ray serene / The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear.”

Thursday March 01 2018

A tweet reminded me about this wonderful rant from Louis CK:

image

That’s the version of it, with dots inserted by him, that Steven Pinker quotes in his new book about the Enlightenment.

Pinker is concerned to explain why increasing affluence doesn’t seem to make everyone ecstatically happy.  Deidre McCloskey, in her Bourgeois trilogy, is fond of talking about how the Great Enrichment has made regular people as of now nearly three thousand percent richer.  So, why aren’t we three thousand percent happier?  Because we don’t seem to be.

Lots of reasons.  First, you are happy not according to your absolute level of affluence, but rather according to how affluent you get to be and how meaningful your life gets to be compared to what you were expecting, and compared to how well everyone else seems to be doing, because that tells you how well you could reasonably have expected to do.  You may well have been raised to expect quite a lot.  Second, although technology hurtles along, for most this hurtling is both pleasing and rather unsettling, the less of the former and the more of the latter as time goes by.  We don’t experience, in our one little life, how much better things like Twitter are than is looking after cows, out of doors, all year round, with not enough food or heating.  What we experience, as we get older, is how confusing things like Twitter are, or alternatively, if we ignore something like Twitter, how demoralising it is that it has defeated us and denied us its benefits.  Or how tedious air travel is, compared to what we’d hoped for rather than compared to a horse drawn wagon in a desert.  Yes, I live three thousand percent better than that wretched cowherd three hundred years ago, and if a time machine took away my life and gave me his life, I’d be three thousand percent more miserable.  But that’s not the same as me being three thousand percent happier than he was.  Happier, yes, definitely.  But not by that much.

It’s because we don’t feel that much happier that Louis CK has to rant, to remind us of how lucky we are.  And that Steven Pinker has to write his book, to make the same point.

But what if progress continues to hurtle forwards?  What if someone reads this posting, centuries from now, and he says: Good grief, those Twenty First Centurions were very easily satisfied.  Five hours to get from New York to California?

It must have been hell.

Sunday December 24 2017

Some time at or around 1780, the world’s economy went from being Malthusian to being Modern.  Modern as in literally billions of us getting to lead increasingly comfortable lives.  The graph of human creature comforts goes from horizontal to something very close to vertical.

Deidre N. McCloskey has written a succession of books about this wondrous transformation.  I started reading Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain The Modern World, but was disappointed by the lack of original source evidence she presented to justify her opinion that the transformation was, at heart, an ideological one.  I agree with this opinion, and hoped she would back it up.  Instead she went through all the rival explanations, explaining at exhaustive length why they were wrong, but didn’t seem to say nearly as much as I had hoped about her and my preferred winner.  I put the book aside.

Prodded by my friend Alastair James, I have now started reading the first book, The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce.  This is the first one, the one that explains what the transformation was, and in particular its strongly ethical content, and it thus explains more than you usually get told these days about why this transformation was such a very, very good thing.  Instead of reading this book searching for what it doesn’t say, I am now reading it for what it does say, and am enjoying it a lot.

Here is how McCloskey concludes her opening summary, her “Apology” (pp. 50-53):

“It is vital,” Ridley declares, “that we reduce the power and scope of the state.” Yes. The freedom half of the Enlightenment Project can support in practical terms the reason half. “It is not to happiness alone,” wrote Constant in 1819, “it is to self-development that our destiny calls us; and political liberty is the most powerful, the most effective means of self-development that heaven has given US.” Secret police and fixed elections and patriarchal oppression of women and unwise attempts to fulfill the two-centuries-old project of reason by regulation and state planning rather than by Adam Smith’s “simple and obvious system of natural liberty” - to name some of the more important assaults on bourgeois human capital - do more damage to our goods and to our goodness than do conventional economic failings.

But is that true? How do I know? The experiments of the twentieth century told me so. It would have been hard to know the wisdom of Milton Friedman or Matt Ridley or Deirdre McCloskey in August 1914, before the experiments were well begun. But anyone who after the twentieth century still thinks that thoroughgoing socialism, nationalism, imperialism, mobilization, central planning, regulation, zoning, price controls, tax policy, labor unions, business cartels, government spending, intrusive policing, adventurism in foreign policy, faith in entangling religion and politics, or most of the other thoroughgoing nineteenth-century proposals for governmental action are still neat, harmless ideas for improving our lives is not paying attention.

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries ordinary Europeans were hurt, not helped, by their colonial empires. Economic growth in Russia was slowed, not accelerated, by Soviet central planning. American Progressive regulation and its European anticipations protected monopolies of transportation like railways and protected monopolies of retailing like High Street shops and protected monopolies of professional services like medicine, not the consumers. “Protective” legislation in the United States and “family-wage” legislation in Europe subordinated women. State-armed psychiatrists in America jailed homosexuals, and in Russia jailed democrats. Some of the New Deal prevented rather than aided America’s recovery from the Great Depression.

Unions raised wages for plumbers and autoworkers but reduced wages for the nonunionized. Minimum wages protected union jobs but made the poor unemployable. Building codes sometimes kept buildings from falling or burning down but always gave steady work to well-connected carpenters and electricians. Zoning and planning permission has protected rich landlords rather than helping the poor. Rent control makes the poor and the mentally ill unhousable, because no one will build inexpensive housing when it is forced by law to be expensive. The sane and the already-rich get the rent-controlled apartments and the fancy townhouses in once-poor neighborhoods.

Regulation of electricity hurt householders by raising electricity costs, as did the ban on nuclear power. The Securities Exchange Commission did not help small investors. Federal deposit insurance made banks careless with depositors’ money. The conservation movement in the Western United States enriched ranchers who used federal lands for grazing and enriched lumber companies who used federal lands for clear-cutting. American and other attempts at prohibiting trade in recreational drugs resulted in higher drug consumption and the destruction of inner cities. Governments have outlawed needle exchanges and condom advertising, and denied the existence of AIDS.

Germany’s economic Lebensraum was obtained in the end by the private arts of peace, not by the public arts of war. The lasting East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere was built by Japanese men in business suits, not in dive bombers. Europe recovered after its two twentieth-century hot wars mainly through its own efforts of labor and investment, not mainly through government-to-government charity such as Herbert Hoover’s Commission or George Marshall’s Plan. Government-to-government foreign aid to the third world has enriched tyrants, not helped the poor.

The importation of socialism into the third world, even in the relatively nonviolent form of Congress Party Fabian-Gandhism, unintentionally stifled growth, enriched large industrialists, and kept the people poor. The capitalist-sponsored Green Revolution of dwarf hybrids was opposed by green politicians the world around, but has made places like India self-sufficient in grains. State power in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa has been used to tax the majority of farmers in aid of the president’s cousins and a minority of urban bureaucrats. State power in many parts of Latin America has prevented land reform and sponsored disappearances. State ownership of oil in Nigeria and Mexico and Iraq was used to support the party in power, benefiting the people not at all. Arab men have been kept poor, not bettered, by using state power to deny education and driver’s licenses to Arab women. The seizure of governments by the clergy has corrupted religions and ruined economies. The seizure of governments by the military has corrupted armies and ruined economies.

Industrial policy, from Japan to France, has propped up failing industries such as agriculture and small-scale retailing, instead of choosing winners. Regulation of dismissal has led to high unemployment in Germany and Denmark. In the 1960s, public-housing high-rises in the West inspired by Le Corbusier condemned the poor in Rome and Paris and Chicago to holding pens. In the 1970s, the full-scale socialism of the East ruined the environment. In the 2000s, the “millennial collectivists,” red, green, or communitarian, oppose a globalization that helps the poor but threatens trade union officials, crony capitalists, and the careers of people in Western nongovernmental organizations.

All these experiments of the twentieth century were arranged by governments against bourgeois markets. All of them were disasters. In short, the neoaristocratic, cryptopeasant, proclerisy, antibourgeois theories of the nineteenth century, applied during the twentieth century for taxing, fixing, resisting, modifying, prohibiting, collectivizing, regulating, unionizing, ameliorating, expropriating modern capitalism, failed of their purposes, killed many millions, and nearly killed us all.

By contrast: during the twenty-first century, if we can draw back from the unfreedom of anticapitalism and adopt instead the simple and obvious system of natural liberty, every person on the planet, in Vietnam and Colombia, India and Kenya, can come to have, complements of the bourgeois virtues, the scope of life afforded now to a suburban minority in the West. It’s the Bourgeois Deal: leave me alone to buy low and sell high, and in the long run I’ll make you rich.

If we will let people own things – their houses and businesses, for example; their labor power - and if we let them try to make profit out of the ownership, and if we keep out of people’s lives the tentacles of a government acting as an executive committee of the country club or worse, we will prosper materially and spiritually.

We can have Aristotles, Wang Weis, Newtons, Austens, and Tagores by the dozens. We can have world science and world music and world literature and even world cuisine in richness unparalleled, a spiritual life untrammeled by need, a clean planet, long and happy lives. By the standards typical since Adam’s curse we can have by the year 2100 another Eden. Well ... all right: such utopian talk, I have said, has dangers. At least we can have material abundance, and the scope to flourish in higher things. And we can be virtuous about it.

Or we can try once again in our ethical confusion to kill it.

Monday December 04 2017

This article (which is based on and which links to this article) has been an open window on my computer for over a month now, because it struck me as being so very interesting.

These reports concern recent research into the impact upon the world of online dating.  Mostly good impacts.  Two impacts in particular are pointed to.

First, online dating seems to facilitate more interracial relationships and interracial marriages.  There is definitely a correlation between online dating and interracial relationships.  This research strongly suggests that the link is causal.  Online dating gets people past racial barriers.

Second, the relationships it facilitates tend to last longer and be more solid.

If I believe both of the above effects to be not only very important, but also to be true, this is because both effects make so much sense to me.

The first effect concerns taste in mere appearances.  Suppose you inhabit a world where a relationship between you and someone ethnically different is somewhat taboo, the chances are you won’t be sufficiently acquainted with many fanciable people of a different ethnic group to be able to do anything about it.  But if a dating app asks, bluntly: Do you like the look of this person, or of this person, or of this person? - then your answers will crash right through such racial boundaries, provided only that you personally would like them to.  Relationships across racial boundaries become a simple matter of individual taste.  Your “friends” can just stay right out of it.

But then, once strong relationships across racial boundaries stop being the stuff of movies, because they are so rare, and become quite common, all those “friends” are just going to have to live with it, or stop being your friends.  Chances are, they’ll be fine with it.

I do not believe it to be coincidence that the one marriage in my circle of friends which I know for certain to have started on the internet is also one that crosses what would, when I was a lot younger, have been a racial barrier.

The second effect bears strongly on the kinds of fundamentals that can ruin a marriage in the longer run, and also get you through a racial barrier in the short run.  These fundamentals are, well: fundamentals.  Fundamentals like beliefs about what life is about and for, what marriage means and how sex should and should not be done, what is right and wrong politically or ideologically or spiritually, and so on.  These are the kinds of things that also, along with superficial racial preferences, get declared that little bit earlier, when you do computer dating, rather than turning around to bite you, two years into that relationship with a more local bod who merely looked great and had a nice sounding voice and wore nice clothes.  And you get a bigger choice, which enables you to pick dating partners with more similar beliefs about those fundamentals.  Even if such fundamentals aren’t stated in full up front, they are often at least referred to early on, and form the basis of early conversations, rather than just erupting later, in the heat of some perhaps seemingly trivial drama.

That interracial marriage I referred to above also anecdotally confirms everything in the above paragraph, about those fundamentals.  How they both looked to each other was a nice bonus, but it was fundamentals that really brought them together for the long run.

The one big negative I can see happening here is that if all of the above is right, then the tendency will be reinforced for society to divide up into groups who all agree with each other about fundamentals. The much discussed “bubble” effect of the internet will be greatly reinforced.  Regular touch with people who hold to other beliefs will become rather rarer, because marriages used to be more common across such fundamental belief boundaries but are now becoming less so.  And that could be a big negative in a lot of ways.

A way to sum up what is happening here is that society is continuing to be tribal, but that the tribes will now be based more on beliefs and less on biological and genetic similarities and connections.

I should say that I have not myself ever done computer dating.  I would welcome comments on the above from people who have.

I note with a small spasm of pleasure that one of the researchers who did the research alluded to, Josue Ortega, is based at Essex University, of which I am a graduate and of which I have fond memories.

Wednesday November 29 2017

Yes, those horses brought it all back.  My journey out to exotic Tilbury, and its cranes, in the late September of 2013, and then walking along the north bank of the Thames Estuary towards the even mightier cranes of London Gateway.

As often happens on these expeditions, one of the most interesting things I encountered that day was right at the start of my wanderings, in little old Tilbury itself, on a footbridge, over the railway, before I had even got to the Estuary.

When I arrived at Tilbury, I could already see that there were cranes, and that there was a footbridge joining the platforms.  In order to photo the former, I ascended the latter, and got photos like this:

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Then I had a wander around Tilbury, and photoed weird stuff like this:

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That antenna looks like part of an insect, doesn’t it?  Well, I told you I occasionally like to attempt wildlife photography.

And then I decided that I needed to make use of another footbridge, a little further along the railway line, to get me onto the Estuary side of the line, so that I could get stuck into the real business of the day.

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It doesn’t look much, does it?  Just a footbridge.

But then, it started to look a bit interesting:  What are those faces, over on the other side there, not on the bridge itself, but on the approach to it, on the other side?  Graffiti, by the look of things.  But what sort of graffiti?

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I walked up the ramp onto the bridge, and on the actual bridge bit of the bridge, there was indeed graffiti.  Plenty of it.  But not graffiti that was in any way out of the ordinary.  It was the usual sort of graffiti, graffiti that says: We own this place, hee hee hee.  At night anway, when normal people are asleep and not looking.  Graffiti that says: You don’t know what this means, hee hee hee.  Graffiti that says, to me anyway: Yes, my life is going to be a pathetic failure, but it’s going to be the fault of the world and how horrible it’s been to me, rather than being in any way my pathetic fault, boo hoo hoo.  I grow increasingly irritated by this kind of stuff, which of course is one of its purposes, to irritate old geezers like me:

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Besides which, there are probably art galleries queueing up to get this guy to do his boring stuff indoors, to epater the bourgeousie in the approved art gallery manner and get a write-up in the Guardian.  So maybe this gink will make something of himself after all.  Maybe he already has.  Maybe his day job is doing the accounts for the Tilbury Town Council.

Whatever, so far so boring.

But then, something interesting started happening.  The Gink, or someone, had decided to insert a different psychological attitude into what was going on.  And the Gink, either because he personally wanted to or because someone else had taken him to one side and sat him down, and told him to change his tune, switched from the usual graffitied bafflingness to something clearer, and with a very different psychological vibe to it.  The Metacontext, as Samizdata’s Perry de Havilland would put it, suddenly changed.

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What is this?  Making things happen?  Hard work?  Persistence?  Success??? My God, someone has told the Gink that he is, just maybe, the boss of his own life, and that if he tries a bit harder, and takes responsibility for the outcomes of his own actions – in general, if he starts to think a bit differently - he just might truly amount to something.  It’s not definite.  That kind of thing never is, but if you give up and blame everyone else for your failures, failure is definite.

Was that the explanation for what happened next, or did what happen next actually get done first?  I don’t know.  But whatever the story, the story now changed.  On the approach ramp on the other side of the bridge, those faces.  Recognisable faces.  Next to readable messages.  In English.  There are details that tell not-an-art-expert me, so make of this what you will, that that this is the same guy, with the same paintbrushes and spray cans.  The medium is the same.  But the message has suddenly become something else entirely.  The grafitti suddenly becomes of something, in a way that even an old geezer like me can set about understanding.  My shoes are no longer being pissed on by a human animal, albeit one who is clever with a paint brush.  Instead, a truly human human being is communicating with me, in languages that are clearly intended for me to understand:

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The first face there, on the left, is Frank Sinatra.

Here are all the others:

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Names, with a link to the complete song lyric: Vera Lynn, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Aretha Franklin, Amy Winehouse, Tinchy Stryder, John Lennon, Adam Ant, Madonna, and Peter Kay.

It’s a quirky list, with strange inclusions and inevitable exclusions (Bowie? Stones? Jackson?).  Peter Kay, who merely mimed along to a song sung by someone else, is extremely lucky to make the cut.  But I reckon that’s all part of the fun.

Not all of the above photos are very good.  Some had to be rescued from the general scene and widened, and in one case (Amy Winehouse) made bigger.  Also, shame about the big W on Tinchy’s face.  But, you get the pictures.

If you google “tilbury grafitti” you discover quite a lot.  Apparently a bit upstream from where I went there is a big long slice of graffiti (scroll down until you get to “London’s mega-port” and “The Tilbury graffiti wall” - both well worth reading and following links from), crammed with popular art references, on the estuary wall.  It’s like: someone has a policy, or at the very least an attitude.  You can’t eliminate graffiti, but you can maybe get it to say something a bit less suicidal and doomed.

It isn’t clear yet what effect London Gateway and its nearly thirty massive cranes and its huge “logistics park” is going to have on other big English container ports, like Felixstowe and Southampton.  But one thing is clear.  Little old Tilbury dock, just upstream, may dribble on for a few years, but it is not going to get any bigger.  My guess is it will soon close.  Tilburians are going to have to find other things to do with their lives.  As Lord Tebbit once put it, they are going to have to get one their bikes.  Maybe not as far as to Amarillo, but at least mentally speaking.  What my visit to Tilbury and my subsequent and more recent Tilbury googlings tell me is that at least some people in Tilbury, including some people with enough clout to decide what gets painted on a footbridge, realise all this.

Yes I know, maybe I’m reading altogether too much into a few dawbs on a footbridge.  But, maybe: not.  I definitely intend returning to Tilbury.

Thursday October 26 2017

Will computer power displace humans, or empower them?  Will computers unleash mass-unemployment or create a world of new jobs for everyone?  Is humanity about to be divided into the indolent masses on the dole, and the lucky few who control the now human-workerless means of production?

Here‘s a guy who is quite optimistic. 

When most people think of robots, they picture an R2-D2-like droid, providing critical information to assist humans and courageously rescuing them from dangerous situations. While we are, in my view, decades away from having robots that can function like a “Star Wars” character due to the limitations of artificial intelligence, a new class of robots that are mobile, dexterous, and capable across multiple operational regimes will soon be available to augment human performance.

This will happen through a combination of human intelligence with machine strength and precision. In this symbiotic relationship, the multi-tasking robots rely on humans for direction while simultaneously safeguarding them from dangerous environments and tasks. These robotic “guardians” are the future of work on Earth and, yes, in space, too.

Peter Thiel also believes that computers and humans will complement one another.

Think power steering, but a hundred times more versatile:

We are at a point in history where decades of research and development coupled with ever-improving technological performance and lower component costs are combining to make yesterday’s science fiction a reality. Imagine a machine that is your personal proxy, controlled by you, leveraging your intelligence, knowledge, instincts, intuition, and judgment while able to physically perform in the same manner as your own body, but safely, and with super-human strength, endurance, and precision.

I’m optimistic about The Robots because every time they make a leap forward, they will do it by doing one particular thing a lot better.  That means that all sorts of new projects make sense that didn’t before, but each new project demands the services of a hoard of humans, to tidy up after, install, mend, and generally look after the robots, in their latest manifestation.

But, humans will have to be adaptable.  Abandon jobs that the robots have learned to do, and get new jobs doing things that the robots will need doing for them. Robots now make much of the world’s stuff, but there are still lots of shelves the stuff gets put on that it makes sense to have humans do, and because of the robots, there are more shelves with more stuff than there used to be.

I look at the world and I do see “technological unemployment”, but I also see people busily doing jobs that didn’t previously exist.

Rob Waller is doing a talk at my place, on the last Friday of November about the robots and all that.  He gave a talk about this earlier, which I was unable to attend.  But the title of that talk, together with the hints he’s already given me, all make me expect him to be optimistic also.

Tomorrow evening, which is the last Friday of this month, Rob Fisher will be speaking chez moi about Fatherhood.  I believe that Rob’s young son will have plenty of choices about how to make a living, especially if he is as smart as his Dad is, but even if he isn’t.

Friday September 15 2017

Friday here at BMdotcom is Cats and Other Creatures Day.  So if I am out and about on a Friday, I always keep an eye out for relevant sights.  Sights like this, which I spotted in Putney this afternoon.

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Potted Horse?  As in: horse meat?

Well, no:

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Spotted Horse, as in: horse with spots.  A pub.

Picture of the entire front of the Spotted Horse:

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I like how it’s than the buildings on each side are bigger.  This being, presumably, because the pub is some kind of preserved building from olden times, and as such impervious to the rising price of land and hence the rising pressure continuously to destroy and replace with something ever taller.

One day, the price of the land upon which the Spotted Horse rests will be such that a skyscraper will be demanded.  At this point, I would like to think that the Spotted Horse will mutate into the lowest two floors of this new skyscraper.  Why not?  The skyscraper will pay for all the confusion involved in contriving this.  Just because amusingly antiquated buildings need to become very tall buildings doesn’t mean they have to be destroyed and replaced entirely by modernity, especially when you consider how tedious modernity can be at ground level, a place where architectural antiquity excels.  No, put the modernity on top of the antiquity, on stilts.

Tuesday September 05 2017

In January of 2016, a year and a half ago now, a friend and I checked out the top of the Walkie Talkie, and we liked it a lot.

I, of course, photoed photoers, of whom there were, equally of course, an abundance.  And although at the time I collected the best photoer photos together into their own little subdirectory, I never got around to putting the selected photos up here.  But I chanced upon them last night, and I think they deserve the oxygen of publicity.  So, here they are:

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As the years have gone by, I have come to like photoing photoers as much for the places they photo in and the things they photo as for the photoers themselves.  From the above photos you get quite a good idea of what the top of the Walkie Talkie is like and what you can see from it.  The weather that day was rather dull, so the actual views I took were rather humdrum.  These photoer photos were better, I think.

The Walkie Talkie Sky Garden advertises itself as a sky garden, but it is more like an airport lounge with plants, that has itself taken to the air.  Getting access to it is like boarding an airplane, with luggage inspection and a magnetic doorway you have to walk through.  In this respect, as well as the splendour of the views, the Walkie Talkie resembles the Shard, which imposes very similar arrangements on all who wish to sample its views.  But sky garden or not, I liked it.

One of the many things I like about the Walkie Talkie is that its very shape reflects the importance attached by its designer(s?) to making a nice big space at the top for mere people to visit and gaze out of.  As well as, of course, creating lots of office space, just below the top but still way up in the sky, for office drones to enjoy the views from.  Their work may often be drudgery, but at least they get an abundance of visual diversion.

In its own way, the Walkie Talkie is as much an expression of the economic significance of views as those thin New York apartment skyscrapers are. The difference being that in a big office you don’t have to be based right next to a window to be able, from time to time, to stroll over to a window.  So, as the building gets taller and the views get more dramatic, it makes sense to fit more people in.  Hence the shape of the Walkie Talkie.

If one of the jobs of a Walkie Talkie drone happens to be to try to entice clients to come to the Walkie Talkie, to have stuff sold to them, well, those views might make all the difference.

Note that Rafael Vinoly designed the Walkie Talkie, and designed the first of those tall and thin New York apartments.  These two apparently very different buildings have in common that both of them look as they do partly because of the views they both offer.

I also like the Walkie Talkie because so many prim-and-proper architect type people dislike it.

Monday September 04 2017

A few weeks ago, Patrick Crozier and I recorded a conversation about the First World War.  Patrick’s short intro, and the recording, are here.  (It would appear that Croziervision is now back in business.)

The “If only” of my title is because we talk about the question of “what if” WW1 had never started.  What might have happened instead?  The unspoken assumption that has saturated our culture ever since is that it would surely have been far, far better.  But what if something else just as bad had happened instead?  Or even: something worse?

We discuss the reasons for such pessimism.  There was the sense of economic unease that had prevailed since the dawn of the century, resulting in a time not unlike our own.  And, there was the fact that Germany, Austria, Russia and Turkey were all embarked upon their various journeys from monarchy to democracy, and such journeys are always likely to be, says Patrick, bloodbaths.  Whatever happened in twentieth century Europe, it surely would not have been good.

Monday August 28 2017

I like to photo buses with adverts all over them.  I consider the elaborate graphics involved to be of aesthetic interest.

Buses like this one, photoed in Tottenham Court Road on the same afternoon, just over a year ago, that I photoed the dfs Union Jack door that I just added to the posting below:

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Okay very pretty, but do what I did.  Take a closer look:

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What intrigues me about that is how it points up the contrasting reputations of the Gherkin and the Walkie Talkie.  The Gherkin is clearly visible there.  But the Walkie Talkie is deranged by that clutch of ventilation holes, or whatever they are.  The advertising classes don’t do things like this by accident.  They like Lord Foster of Gherkin, but they do not like Rafael Vinoly of Walkie Talkie, and the same probably applies to most other people who know both of these Starchitects.  (I like both of them.) My sense is that Vinoly is reckoned to be too much the entrepreneur, too much the profit maximising businessman, too bothered with making buildings that make money, the way (so I hear it) the Walkie Talkie does and the Gherkin does not.  Vinoly, I surmise, is the Richart Seifert of our time, but on a global scale.

This is not the kind of thing you can prove very easily, and maybe I’m reading too much into a meaningless piece of graphics.

Well, I’m tired, I’ve had a complicated day attempting other things, unsuccessfully, and this is what you are getting.  Also, there’s a really good test match going on.

Monday August 21 2017

Yes, another link that’s been cluttering up my RAM, but which I absolutely don’t want to forget about.

I’m reading this, but I’m a really slow reader, and am also reading other things, like: books.  But, like I say, don’t want to forget about this.

Here.

This feels like one of those seminal ideas, to rank alongside the seminal idea that it contests the truth of.

I am hoping (he hasn’t confirmed it by email but we have spoken about it) that Rob Waller will be giving a talk chez moi, last Friday of November (24th), along the lines of: Will The Robots Take Our Jobs?  He doesn’t reckon so either.

Tuesday August 08 2017

Earlier this evening I went to the Two Chairmen to hear my friend Tom Burroughes speak, to Libertarian Home, about the idea of a Universal Basic Income.

I took this photo of Tom in action:

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It troubles me how much Photoshop(clone)ping I had to do to make this photo look good, taken as it was with my new camera.  But I think it now does look okay.  I particularly like how I used a nearby beer glass to smudge out most of the head of the man in the foreground.

At Samizdata, Tom goes by the name of Johnathan Pearce.  Here is a recent piece he did there, about the very subject he was speaking about this evening.  And Tom will give this subject another airing at my home, on September 29th.  It’s an important subject, I think.