Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
Tatyana on English is weird
Brian Micklethwait on New York construction cranes in action
Andrew Duffin on New York construction cranes in action
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Ben on Incoming imagery from Antoine
Brian Micklethwait on Face recognition – face disguise – the age of pseudo-omniscience
Brian Micklethwait on The new US Embassy – from my roof
Brian Micklethwait on New Thin Things in New York (but not in Lower Manhattan)
Michael Jennings on The new US Embassy – from my roof
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- Brilliant Brian’s Last Friday talk
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- Big Things and viewing galleries in the Square Mile
- Why I like Cricinfo
- English is weird
- The Union Jack’s near death experience(s?)
- New York construction cranes in action
- Some thoughts on the Izzard effect
- Lioness eats camera
- An MP murdered
- A great new bridge in Iran
- Lions - Bears - Blackhawks
- An electric car recharging itself in The Cut
- WWWhite Van
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Category archive: Politics
Now that it’s been decided that we shall Brexit, Dezeen reports on what creatives have been creating to mark the event. Here are the two images they reproduce which I think are the most striking:
Both of these images are intended as expressions of regret that Britain has voted for Brexit, but neither quite say that, or not to me. What, after all, is so great for a balloon about being stuck in a whole bunch of other balloons? It’s creator says: “sad day”, but it doesn’t look that sad to me. It just looks like a change. If he was merely describing, relatively objectively, what had happened, then I guess: fair enough.
As for the disintegrating, weeping Union Jack, that would work far better as an expression of regret, in the event that Britain had voted Remain rather than Leave. It is national flags like this one one that the EU has been working tirelessly to replace with its own flag. Very odd. But, a striking image nevertheless.
LATER: I was, see below, tired and tipsy when I did this posting. By the above title what I meant was it was a brilliant talk, not that the talk was given by “Brilliant Brian”, aka me. So, to continue ...
And here is the guy who gave it:
I usually forget to take photos at my Last Friday of the Month meetings, but this evening I remembered, and took that photo of my speaker, during the socialising afterwards. I am too tired and too tipsy to say much about the talk, but it was indeed brilliant, and Anthony J. Evans is a real rising star. I’ve heard him talk before, but this was something else again. Basic message: Yes, national crises do create opportunities to insert “neo-liberalism” into countries, and a good thing too. Persuading a political tyranny to liberalise on the economic front often leads on to political liberalisation. Example: Chile. “Neo-liberalism” has good outcomes. Unlike the policies favoured by the people (Naomi Klein, George Monbiot) who complain about neo-liberalism, which only unleash disaster.
First, this, which was the graphic on the front page of today’s pro-Remain Daily Mirror, and reproduced at Samizdata, which Natalie Solent reckons sends a somewhat ambiguous message. I agree. Because REMAIN is in the biggest letters, it looks like it could be saying that if you vote REMAIN, you’ll be sucked into a black hole. As you will, by the way, if enough people do this. This is indeed the fate that awaits us all, in the event of a REMAIN victory. One of the reasons why this graphic only works when misunderstood, is that when misunderstood, it becomes true!
The thing is, the EU is a lot nearer to being like a black hole than us leaving the EU is. For that message, they needed something more like an endless desert, or a huge tundra, or maybe some grim maritime scene, doom-laden as far as they eye can see.
The enormity of this decision is, I feel, appropriately reflected in the deranged graphics which occurred when this picture got loaded up. Samizdata usually centres pictures automatically, and also makes them smaller automatically, if they need to be smaller. That doesn’t seem to be happening at the moment.
In the comment thread on that posting, I mentioned that it was raining. Which it was, torrentially. But alas, it soon cleared up, thereby not dampening down the London (= Remain) vote as much it might have if it had rained with less violence but greater steadiness. I mean, they even managed to have a shortened game of cricket at Lord’s, after the rain had stopped.
And on the right there, Elizabeth Hurley, who will have voted Leave by now, that being the picture she Twittered yesterday along with her support for Leave. There she stands, wearing only high-healed sandals and a Union Jack cushion, or that’s how it looks. Thankyou Guido. She was probably right that this would get noticed, and would aid the cause she favours. But I bet the Leavers have been circulating their own interpretations of this rather odd picture. Is the picture recent, I wonder, or does it date from way back?
At least it is upbeat and optimistic in atmosphere, unlike that black hole.
I am currently spending all my blogging time, apart from the late night hour or so that it took to bash out this, working on a summary of a talk given to Libertarian Home by Mark Littlewood, about Brexit. Lilttlewood used to be for Britain staying in the EU, but has since changed his mind. I hope to be sending that summary in to LH some time tomorrow.
Meanwhile, my understanding of the referendum is that the Jo Cox murder has made a bit of a difference, in favour of Remain, but that a stronger swing towards Leave has also been happening.
The whole immigration argument, now being pressed hard by the Leavers, is obviously making a big difference. But I reckon some other forces are also in play.
I was struck by the news that Leave was appealing to Labour voters by saying that voting Leave would wipe the smile off the faces of Cameron and Osborne. I think that’s probably proving to be very persuasive. In a General Election, you can hate Cameron and Osborne all you like, and vote against them. But, against you are all those people who think that a Labour Government would be a catastrophe. They all vote for Cameron and Osborne despite not liking them. But in this referendum, all those Labour voters whose overriding emotion is loathing of Cameron and Osborne can actually cause Cameron and Osborne to lose. I’m guessing that’s a very appealing idea.
I also think that Eddie Izzard’s bizarre appearance – literally his appearance – on shows like Question Time destroyed with one viral image the claim that all Remainers are normal people and only the more unhinged of the Leavers are a bunch of nutters from some other planet. Izzard reminded me of that bonkers woman in a beret that the late Victoria Wood once did, to such comic effect.
To be clear. I’m not saying that everyone now thinks that those arguing for Leave are all normal. Leavers have long been reckoned by normal people people to be, many of them, about as sane as a sackful of drunken badgers. What Izzard did was say to the nation: Lots of us Remainers are barking mad too.
Izzard, in other words, completely changed a widespread and very influential idea. If everyone had been supposing that all Leave freaks are actually not freaks at all, any of them, than the Jo Cox murder would also have changed things, a lot. As it is, this horror story merely confirms what most people already know about Leave freaks. They’re freaks. Meanwhile, the mainstream politicians arguing for Leave are not nearly such freaks. They are fairly normal looking. They look normal in the way that Farage looked normal, when he was sitting next to Izzard on Question Time. The Jo Cox murder doesn’t change that.
Izzard, on the other hand, actually changed things. The murder of an MP is a much bigger deal than Izzard. But that murder, horrible though it was, does not change what most people think about Leavers. Many Leavers are freaks. But what Izzard did was use his small national presence to suggest a really rather big change, and not in a way that helped the cause he was arguing for. He said that many Remainers are freaks too.
That’s the problem with showbiz people. They confuse showbiz popularity with being popular with the entire nation. If you find a comedian to be annoying or just not very funny, you can simply ignore him, happily leaving those who adore him to carry right on adoring him. The comedian makes a good living. You are not bothered. Problem solved. Everyone happy. Personally, I think Eddie Izzard has one joke - “Hey, I’m completely random in what I say!” - and I’ve heard it enough not to want to hear it again. So, I now ignore Izzard.
But politics is, by definition, the stuff that comes for you whether you want it or not. Politics is like having to sit and listen to a performer whom you don’t like. When Izzard steps forward, dressed like that, spouting political opinions, he then provokes, from those who do not like what they are seeing, not a mere shrug of indifference, but active opposition. Izzard made people want to vote against what he was saying.
In this recent piece in the Independent, it was claimed that how Izzard had been arguing was the problem. I wonder if even the anonymous editors who signed off on this editorial really think this. They carefully avoided saying that Izzard looked like a freak. Which is fine for late night telly fun. But it is not fine when the subject being argued about is the manner in which our country should be governed. There is a reason that ambitious politicians do not, any of them, present themselves as Izzard just did.
If the Brexit referendum result is as close as it could well be, Izzard’s contribution to the Leave cause could prove to have been decisive.
This has been a been a rather muddled and repetitious piece of writing. This is because I was working out what I thought, as I wrote. The point about how the Jo Cox murder doesn’t change how anyone feels about Leave Freaks, but that Izzard’s pratting about does change what lots of people feel about Remainers, and that lots of people now reckon that a lot of Remainders are Freaks too, only emerged as I wrote. But, me thinking aloud is one of the things this place is for.
And I’m back to trivia-mongering. Any day now, I’ll be back to opinion-mongering too:
It’s the first picture of these.
Engineer Thomas Selig, 28, set up his camera on a tripod 100 metres away from a cluster of female lions and cubs in the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. He then retreated to a safari vehicle to take pictures with a remote control. A lioness decided to make off with his camera, and proceeded to chew it!
Lucky someone had a second camera, to show what happened to the first camera.
Actually, according to what I am now reading, a lot of people never stopped opinion-mongering.
All over the British bit of the internet, opinion mongers and trivia mongers are struck dumb by … this, the murder of a young woman, with a husband and two young children, who happened also to be a Member of Parliament.
Saying anything else, about anything else, is – and for once the word is apt – inappropriate. It feels inappropriate to me, anyway. So, we all say, pretty much, nothing, unless we know something that is relevant, like if we once met her or knew her or something, which of course I did not.
Obliged to comment, my comment would be: what she said. She being a wife and mother herself.
I also think that this posting, at a website usually distinguished by its willingness to be wondrously inappropriate, was good. It’s video of a most eloquent speech that Jo Cox gave in the House of Commons. It’s good that, nowadays, more and more people can be remembered in this sort of way, saying and doing the sorts of things they said and did best.
Indeed. Just after snapping that WWWhite Van (see below) in Lower Marsh, on Saturday, I then photoed, in the same road a bit further on with a new name (The Cut) another means of transport of interest, in the form of this:
I have not seen an electric car being charged before, in the flesh, as it were. Not in London, not anywhere else. As you can see, this electric car originated in Brighton, the San Francisco of England.
I am sure all my libertarian friends would want to tell me that such cars only exist because of Big Green Blob giving them Money, and that in a real market, they would not exist.
Indeed, with cranes and with intervening roof clutter in the foreground:
One of the oddities of the internet is that if you google new us embassy london, you get lots of Big Boxy Things, all looking different from each other. By which I mean, it’s the same box, but the architectural wrapping is different. Basically what you are looking at is all the different guesses or early suggestions about how it was going to look or how people thought it ought to look, which then just hang about for the next few years. Until such time as the Big Boxy Thing is finished, at which point huge numbers of new photos of it will drown out the guesses and the failed propaganda. This makes it hard to know, now, when the Big Boxy Thing is still being constructed, if what you are seeing is the Big Boxy Thing in question, or some other Big Boxy Thing.
But, in among all the imaginings, I found actual photos of the new Embassy as it actually is, in the process of being built, and the above photo is definitely of the actual US Embassy. No doubt about it. More views from the same spot, above my head as I write this, here.
What is happening is that Spook Alley, which starts near Waterloo Station, continues via all those James Bond enterprises in anonymous Big Boxy Things, and then takes in the new MI6 building, is now being added to with an American strip of boxes of comparable scale, further up the river on the south side. This is the Special Relationship in steel and concrete form, and the idea that this relationship is now cooling is visibly absurd. It has never been more solid. A whole new district of London is being created, basically for spying on terrorists, and on anyone else that the spooks take against.
As the rest of London expands down river, towards places like the new Container Port way off to the east, governmental London moves in the other direction, up river, west.
So, daily-blog-read-for-me David Thompson linked to a posting at ArtBlog, about the rights and wrongs of arts subsidies. I read that posting, and read through the comments too, just as David Thompson did. I find myself wanting to comment. But, can I be bothered?
And then, in comment number 16, courtesy of the Maitre D of ArtBlog, Franklin Einspruch, I discover that I have commented, thus:
The greatest art seems to happen when high art and low art combine, in the form of something that is superficially entertaining and stirring and popular, and also as profound as profundity seekers might want it to be. Arts subsidies harm art by dividing it into less good entertainment art, paid for by punters, and less good high art, paid for with subsidies. Arts subsidies in Britain are now being cut somewhat. The result will be somewhat better art.
Which Franklin found in this Samizdata posting and copied into his comment thread. How about that?!
The two arts that best illustrate this opinion of mine are probably Elizabethan and post-Elizabethan theatre (i.e. Shakespeare and all that), and classical music in the days of its glory, from about the late 17oos until around 1900 (i.e. Mozart, Beethoven and all that).
Shakespeare’s plays are now considered just about as profound as Art with a capital A can ever get, but at the time, his stuff was considered rather middle-brow. Too commercial, too appealing to the rabble. About half of Shakespeare’s mere plays - the very word suggests something not to be taken truly seriously, doesn’t it? - were nearly lost to us:
Of the 36 plays in the First Folio, 17 were printed in Shakespeare’s lifetime in various good and bad quarto editions, one was printed after his death and 18 had not yet been printed at all. It is this fact that makes the First Folio so important; without it, 18 of Shakespeare’s plays, including Twelfth Night, Measure for Measure, Macbeth, Julius Caesar and The Tempest, might never have survived.
What will posterity, in its various and many successive iterations, consider to be the Great Art of our time? And how much of it will be lost, on account of it not now being considered artistic enough?
For years I have wondered how to put videos done by others at this blog. My problem has always been that they were too big. 560 pixels wide instead of 500 pixels, which is the width here. This evening, I thought I observed that “Brexit: The Movie”, as shown at Bishop Hill, was the exact same width as stuff at my blog. So, I rootled around in the source code for the Bishop’s posting of Brexit, and dug up what seemed to be the relevant bit. It turned out I was wrong about the width. It was 560, same as it always seems to be, But having got this far I tried just changing the bit in the code where it said “560” to “500”, and that seemed to work. The video seemed to get a bit smaller. (I changed 500 to 300 just to be sure I wasn’t imagining it.) I did some more sums, which told me to change 315 to 280, and here it is, 500 pixels wide, fingers crossed:
There is some kind of EUro-metaphor or EUro-moral buried in this story, concerning believing that a straight-jacket was actually tighter and more rigid than it really was, but I’m too tired to be bothering about that.
Tomorrow, I will watch it.
One of my regular automatic google-searches is “face recognition”, and just now this has been alerting me to all the various tricks that are coming on stream for making face recognition not work, by putting on make-up, or spectacles, and such like.
Here is my contribution to this discussion:
I know what you’re thinking. Who might that be?
Exactly. Although, if you’re are supercomputer, you have probably worked it out. You have a special programme which tells you to take particular interest in any faces that are trying to not be recognised.
Most of my libertarian friends think that such tech solutions are the front line of this battle. I have long assumed that the world is moving rapidly towards a state where the question of what is X doing at the moment is technologically answerable, and impossible to prevent being answered. For me, among other desirable things, libertarianism is the claim that although we can see X saying or doing something we don’t approve of, we shouldn’t legally prevent him or her from doing that, unless it is really, really bad.
In a world of Total Surveillance by the Big Machine, the proliferation of stupid rules and regulations with no huge moral content becomes a problem like it never used to be. I means rules about things like what you should eat or smoke or, now, say in conversation. Rules like that mean that we can all now be seen and heard breaking such rules. (Okay, maybe not now, maybe not yet, but that’s where things are headed.) And that means that anyone who wants to fuck up your life or my life (for an actual real reason that has bugger all to do with the stupid rule actually being broken) can then do it. Worse, some legislative maniac might demand that anyone that the Big Machine sees breaking this or that rule that he personally is obsessed about, should be automatically fucked over, by the Big Machine, with no human intervention involved. With a big long list of exceptions, like legislators. The Big Machine can’t touch them. Libertarianism has arisen, partly, because it has become ever more necessary to insist on certain principles, principles which were imposed upon the world in former times by sheer ignorance of what other people were getting up to.
The other thing people have to do is develop thicker skins, psychologically speaking I mean, because although legislative pressure is not now a problem for most people, social pressure can become a big problem, for example if you find yourself being mobbed on the internet for some innocuous thing you said or ate. Just because a million idiots on the internet are screeching that you are an idiot, that doesn’t mean you are, or that if you are, it matters. When it does matter, bosses should chill, and not fire people just because the mob is screeching. I applaud, tentatively, the recent tendency to give social media mobsters a going-over, using the same methods on them that they have been using. Who is this mad bitch? What has she (it does often seem to be she) been up to lately? What is her job? Who is her boss? Etc. (In the age of cyber-bullying, I feel that I now understand witchcraft crazes better.)
Another problem is that as something easily mistaken for a state of everyone knowing everything increasingly pertains, that old illusion that everything will accordingly be centrally plannable is likely to keep rearing its very ugly head, and keep on having to be experienced as a disastrous illusion. (More libertarianism.) The point is, everyone doesn’t know everything. Nothing like. We can’t. Our heads aren’t big enough, and even if they were, knowledge is not like that. Everyone can known anything in particular that is easy to know (like where X is just now) that they want to know and ask the Big Machine about. That’s entirely different from actual omniscience.
Today I attended the Libertarian Home Benevolent Laissez-Faire Conference. Here is the text of the opening speech by conference organiser Simon Gibbs. And here is a selection of the photos I took, of the event and of the speakers:
Conference programme here.
1.1: An attender. 1.2: The venue, very good, with a big side window looking out to a small basement level garden. 1.3: Syed Kamall. 1.4 and 2.1: Janina Lowisz and one of her slides. 2.2, 2.3 and 2.4: Julio Alejandro. 3.1: Simon Gibbs and Yaron Brook. 3.2: Brook. 3.3: Kyril and Rob helping with the books. 3.4: LH info, lit up by the afternoon sun through the window. 4.1: Anton Howes. 4.2: Howes and Brook. 4.3 and 4.4: Gibbs, Alejandro, Howes, Brook.
The rise and (I now fondly hope) fall of Donald Trump continues to fascinate.
This bloke says it very well, I think:
Trump is powerfully illustrating the fraud at the core of his case for the nomination. He claims that because he is a successful businessman he would be much more adept than conventional politicians at mastering the intricacies of problems and processes. He will, he brags, figure out how to deal with challenges in a way that maximizes American interests, assembling the best, most competent people to execute his plans of action. As a result, we are told, American will “win, win, win” with such numbing regularity that we will be bored to tears by all the success.
But look what is happening. The process of choosing a Republican nominee for president, while far from simple, is not as complicated as many of the challenges that cross an American president’s desk. There are, moreover, countless experienced hands who know how the process works and how to build an organization nimble enough to navigate the array of primaries (open and closed), caucuses, party meetings, varying delegate-allocation formulas, etc., exploiting or mitigating the advantages and disadvantages these present for different kinds of candidates. Yet, Trump has been out-organized, out-smarted, and out-worked by the competition – in particular, Ted Cruz, whom I support.
Trump is not being cheated. Everyone is playing by the same rules, which were available to every campaign well in advance. Trump simply is not as good at converting knowledge into success – notwithstanding the centrality of this talent to his candidacy. Perhaps this is because he is singularly good at generating free publicity (and consequently minimizing the publicity available to his rivals). Maybe he underestimated the importance of building a competent, experienced campaign organization. But he can hardly acknowledge this because it is a colossal error of judgment – and his purportedly peerless judgment is the selling point of his campaign.
My first reaction to Trump was guilty pleasure, and the belief that he would win. Now it looks like he won’t win. Now it looks as though he has done America the huge favour of (a) destroying everyone in the Republican race except the man I support, Cruz, and then (b) showing himself to be unfit to run for President, let alone win, which means that Cruz could now be President, if he can beat Hillary Clinton (or whoever). Would Cruz now have such a good chance of becoming President without Trump having flailed about like a wrecking ball, wrecking everyone except Cruz?
It is said that Cruz is a Bible Thumper. (Trump worships only himself.) But for me, frankly, Bible thumping just now is a feature rather than a bug. I reckon the Western World could damn well do with a bit more Bible thumping than it has been doing of late.
Yes, I’m talking about Islam. The rich Christians right now are turning poorer Christian’s cheeks a hell of a lot too much at the moment.
On that subject, I also recommend this posting at Mick Hartley’s, where MH has this to say:
What I’d like to see is more robust criticism of Islam itself. Given the role Islam now plays globally in ISIS, Boko Haram, al-Qaeda; its insistence that the Koran is the immutable word of Allah; its general refusal to accommodate to the modern liberal scientific world; its misogyny; its violence, this shouldn’t prove to be that difficult. What stands in the way - apart from lack of courage - is that this comes at a particular post-colonial moment in history when we in the West seem to have lost confidence in our own liberal secular tradition.
There is also, perhaps more importantly, a general confusion about a belief and the people who hold that belief, which is perfectly exemplified in the term “Islamophobia”.
It’s a key part of our secular culture that we distinguish between the person and their opinions and beliefs. I think we inherit this to some extent from our Christian tradition - freedom of conscience, “love the sinner, hate the sin”, and all that - but however it was arrived at, it’s a key enlightenment concept that underpins our sense of justice and our sense of democracy. So we should be quite comfortable criticising Islam while maintaining a proper respect for individual Muslims. ...
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.
Indeed. The old Eurostar Terminal at Waterloo is finally coming back to life again, for boring rush hour services, but life.
Until late in 2007, Eurostar trains used to come and go from the new station they built at Waterloo for that exact purpose. But then they shut the place, and the Eurostars operated from St Pancras instead. Since 2007, the Waterloo Eurostar terminal has been a corpse.
After much searching, I managed to dig up a photo I took in 2007 of some Eurostar snouts poking out of the Waterloo terminal, just before it died:
Once again, we see Century House in the background of a photo here that is basically of something else. The previous posting in which this happened is here, at which there is a brief explanatory comment about Century House’s history. Spooks, basically. Now just flats.
Even older Waterloo Eurostar photos can be viewed here, posted here in 2013, but taken in 2003. I also just re-listened to a conversation involving Patrick Crozier, Michael Jennings, Rob Fisher and me, about the new St Pancras, which we all liked a lot, and presumably still like a lot.