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: Politics

Thursday September 11 2014

Last night, at that birthday party I attended, I was asked all the usual questions about what I was doing.  Which is not a lot just now, what with my waiting for Godot problem.

Inevitably, in some of these cross-examinations, this blog came up, with me saying that I write here about whatever I feel like writing about, with very little thought for the interests of my readers.  Cats on Fridays, general trivia, etc.  I do Big Issues at Samizdata and trivia here.  Blah blah.

However, an American lady friend, whom I had not met in quite a while and whom I was very pleased to meet again, told me that she quite liked my trivia stuff, and that she even read my postings about cricket (this being the most recent one).  I thought that only I and Michael Jennings and Darren the Surrey Member were at all interested in those.  It seems not.

I’m guessing that this interest on her part is partly actual interest, but also partly that a principle is at stake here.  Which is: that the trivia that other people are interested in, but not you, is not actually an entirely trivial matter.  Life is not only Big Issues.  It is the small pleasures that give colour and texture and individuality to life.  Watever matters, to someone, matters.  Your opinion about what the Big Issues are should not be allowed to drive a tank or a government bureaucracy over my trivial pleasures.

So, her reading about the trivial pleasures of others is her asserting this Big Issue to herself, as well as maybe learning something about other little parts of the world, like the world of cricket (actually quite big of course, as I daresay are the worlds of embroidery and gardening and croquet and rap music and all the other little things in life that I don’t personally care about, other than to believe that tanks or government bureaucracies should not be driven over them).

Me being me, my way of asserting the importance of trivia, in general, to people, in general, is me writing about the trivia that interests me.

Her way of asserting the importance of trivia to people generally is her reading about the trivia that others write about.  But we are both making the same point.

I don’t want to say that I have entirely described why my American lady friend likes to read what I write about cricket.  I merely speculate that the above speculations might be a quite small part of why she does this.

(She, like me, probably also thinks that thinking about trivia can often lead to interesting angles on Big Issues, of the sort that merely looking straight at the Big Issues might cause you to miss.  Pointless fun and truly original insight are often delightfully close neighbours, I think.  But that’s a tangent for another time, hence this paragraph being in brackets.)

Thursday August 28 2014

This afternoon, The Guru is coming by to reconstruct God, so God (the other one) willing, I will be back in serious computing business by this evening.

When I was recently in Brittany, my hosts supplied me with a state-of-the-art laptop and a state-of-the-art internet connection.  These last few days, without God (my one) and having to make do with Dawkins (my obsolete and clunky little laptop, the thing I am typing into now), I have felt less connected to the world than I did in Brittany.  I am connected, after a fashion.  But Dawkins is so slow and clunky that I have been doing only essentials (like finding out about England being hammered in the ODI yesterday), and checking incoming emails, and shoving anything however bad up here once every day.  It’s like I’ve regressed to about 2000.

I have managed to put up a few pictures here, in God’s absence.  But Dawkins’ screen makes these pictures look terrible.  I am looking forward to seeing God’s version of these pictures and hope they will be greatly improved compared to what I am seeing now.

Thank God (the other one) I haven’t been depending on God (my one) for music.  As I have surely explained here many times, one big reason I prefer CDs (and separate CD players scattered around my home) to all this twenty first century computerised music on a computer is that if God goes wrong, as he just has, I don’t lose music.  I also have music concerts recorded off of the telly, onto DVDs, which I can play on my telly, which is likewise a completely separate set-up to God.

In general, the argument against having everything done by one great big master computer is that when something goes wrong with that master computer, everything else in your life also goes wrong, just when you may need those things not to.  One of the things that willgo wrong, rather regularly, with your all-in-one master computer is when this or that particular one of its excessively numerous functions becomes seriously out of date.  I mean, if it has a vacuum cleaner included, what happens if vacuum cleaners suddenly get hugely better?  In Brian world, all I have to do is get another new and improved vacuum cleaner, and chuck out the old one.  In all-in-one master computer world, you are stuck with your obsolete vacuum cleaner.  Or, if you can, you have to break open your all-in-one master computer and fit a new vacuum cleaner, and probably also lots of other new stuff to make sure the new vacuum cleaner works, which buggers up a couple of your other functions that used to work fine but which no longer work fine.  Or at all.  I prefer to keep things simple, and separate.

Something rather similar applies with how to handle (the other) God.  That is another arrangement you don’t want to have running the whole of your life for you either.  It’s okay if you do God for some of the time and keep Him in his place, but you want scientists telling you about science, doctors about medicine, and your work colleagues about your work, and so on.  If, on the other hand, absolutely everything in your life, and worse, everything in the entire world you live in, is controlled by ((your version of) the other) God, everything is very liable to go to Hell.  (Aka: Separation of Church and State.  Aks: don’t be a religious nutter.)

I have my own particular take on (the other) God, which is that He is made-up nonsense.  But just as wise believers in (the other) God don’t let that dominate their thinking on non-God things, nor do I think that my opinions about (the other) God can explain everything else as well.  These opinions merely explain the particular matter of (the other) God being made-up nonsense.

Do not, as they say, put all your eggs in one basket.

Tuesday August 26 2014

I’ve started reading Virginia Postrel’s The Future and Its Enemies, years after everyone else who has read it.  I haven’t got very far yet, but I am delighted to discover that one of the Enemies that Postrel takes several cracks at is John Gray, that being a link to a crack that I took at Gray at Samizdata a while back.

And I see that Postrel, like me, does not confine herself to analysing and criticising Gray’s arguments, but notes also the cheapness of the tricks that Gray often uses to present his arguments.

What disguises the trickery, at least in the eyes of Gray and his followers, is the air of profundity that is regarded as being attached to the process of foreseeing doom and disaster.  In truth, incoherent pessimism is no more profound than incoherent optimism, which is to say, not profound at all.

Says Postrel (p. 9):

Although they represent a minority position, reactionary ideas have tremendous cultural vitality.  Reactionaries speak directly to the most salient aspects of contemporary life: technological change, commercial fluidity, biological transformation, changing social roles, cultural mixing, international trade, and instant communication.  They see these changes as critically important, and, as the old Natinoal Review motto had it, they are determined to “stand athwart history, yelling, ‘Stop!’” Merely by acknowledging the dynamism of contemporary life, reactionaries win points for insight.  And in the eyes of more conventional thinkers, denouncing change makes them seem wise.

Seem.  Amen.  I’m still proud of this in my piece about Gray, which makes that same point about the seeming wisdom of being a grump rather than a booster:

He trades relentlessly on that shallowest of aesthetic clichés, that misery is more artistic than happiness, that any old rubbish with a sad ending is artistically superior to anything with a happy ending no matter how brilliantly done, that music in a minor key is automatically more significant than anything in C major.

There are plenty more Gray references in Postrel’s book, if the Index is anything to go by and it surely is.  My immediate future is bright.

Saturday August 23 2014

Perry de Havilland:

Is not socialism truly stranger than a chorus of singing penguins?

LOL.  I really did.

Just to add, as a memo to self, I have another musical-stroke-Venezuela blog posting to do at Samizdata, concerning something said by a BBC4 TV presenter at a Prom, following a performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony by Gustavo Dudamel and his Venezuelan orchestra, about what a wonderful vision it was of the world for one bloke to be telling everyone else what to do.  I have the exact words (in addition to Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony) recorded, and I must dig them out.  They were truly spectacular, as in: spectacularly stupid.

The BBC worships all things Venezuelan, but has gone rather quieter about that now.

Wednesday July 30 2014

Nothing from me here today, but something at Samizdata (which makes a change), in the form of a remarkable song lyric from the 1920s by Cole Porter.  Pure libertarianism.  They maybe did not have the word back then (I don’t know), but they certainly had the thing itself:

Live and let live, and remember this line:
Your business is your business,
And my business is mine.

Indeed.

Tuesday July 29 2014

Wow:

MAYOR OF LONDON Boris Johnson has announced that the capital will have access to 5G mobile connectivity by 2020, allowing Londoners to download a film in less than a second.

Not that I understand nearly completely what that means, and certainly not that I understand nearly completely what that might possibly mean for me.  But, … wow.

I’m guessing that Mayor Boris is doing that old politician trick of standing next to something that looks good, but which he had nothing to do with.  Or is actual politics involved in contriving this seeming miracle?  Is it done with wires?  Do the wires need the Mayor to let his roads be dug up?

Comments will be particularly welcome on this.

Saturday July 26 2014

I still have more pictures to show you that I took on that Adam Smith Institute Boat Trip.

My problem was that there were so many things I wanted to photo.  There were people, many friends and many strangers, individually, in groups, and in crowds.  People taking photographs.

But this was London, from a boat, on the river.  Had there been no people on the boat besides me, I would still have been in Digital Photographer heaven.

In particular, there were also bridges, typically from angles that I had never seen them from before.  And what with it being such a very sunny evening, there was that bridge over bright water effect that I do so like, where the light bounces back off the water and illuminates the undersides of bridges:

image image imageimage image image

Those bridges are: Blackfriars Station Bridge, Blackfriars Station Bridge again, London Bridge, Tower Bridge, London Bride again (on the way back), and the Millennium Bridge (the one that wobbled).

What’s that you say?  One of these is a shot of an individual, and not a bridge shot at all?  Look again.

Inevitably, the categories here (individuals, groups, crowds, photographers, bridges) overlap, if only because, when I do photoing, I like to combine as many as possible of the things I like to photo in one photo.  In particular, four of the above six shots are crowd shots as well as bridge shots, and the other two are indeed individual shots as well as bridge shots.

There have also been Big Things to be seen in all these photos, and if you don’t know how much I love to photo those, you are very new here.

Friday July 25 2014

My latest last Friday of the month meeting was this evening.  Thank you Simon Gibbs, and all else who attended.  Excellent talk and an excellent evening.

But I spent all day fretting about the meeting instead of doing anything for here, and now that it’s over I don’t want to say something stupid about the meeting.  I’d rather think about that some more and talk sense about it.

So here, instead of proper blogging, are some cat links that I like.  Google “cats” and of course you get a ton of stuff.  These few were my favourites.

Cats in the movies.

Florida Man Holds Gun to Cat’s Head and Posts Picture to Facebook.  The www is not amused.

Monkeys fear big cats less, eat more, with humans around.

Feisty feline saves boy from bullies.  But, there is no video, so not as good as this.

And for those who share my interest in American politics, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) accused Senate Democrats of meowing like kitty cats and enabling President Barack Obama to enact lawless executive actions like no other president before him.  I wouldn’t choose cats are a metaphor for lack of independence.

And see also the cat wheel linked to by David Thompson.

Monday July 14 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sport.  War by other means.  Discuss.

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

Friday July 11 2014

City A.M. has a report about another possible bridge across the Thames, this one being one that will connect Chelsea to Battersea.  There is another map here, also showing all the various options for where exactly to put this bridge.  And I see that I already mentioned this Chelsea to Battersea bridge idea in this earlier posting.

This makes three new London bridges that are now being talked up, planned, hustled, whatever.  There is also the Joanna Lumley bridge, which will go from Temple tube station to across the river from Temple Tube station, or then again maybe not.  Both this and the Chelsea to Battersea bridge are footbridges and bikebridges, but they are also forever talking about a big road bridge just down river from City Airport.

If this Chelsea to Battersea bridge gets built, it will be only a dozen minutes (two to three dozen minutes if I want to get close) from my front door, so you can bet that (although I promise nothing) I will be photographing its progress relentlessly.

I hope they make it look good.  Bridges can look so great that it is a serious shame when they don’t look great.  It’s good that they’re going to have a competition for this one.  This, I think, will unleash a contemporary force that is starting to interest me a lot, which is internet informed public opinion.  Now, all the various contending pictures of what they might or might not do can get published and talked about beforehand, far more easily than in the years B(efore the) I(nternet).  The people who rule the world basically don’t care exactly where, or even if, this bridge gets built, so they are perfectly willing to let its final design be settled by Vox Pop.  And Vox Pop, when it comes to bridges, is a force for good, I think. If you are going to spend 8X million quid on a bridge, you might as well spend 9X million quid and make it look really good and distinctive.  That’s what I think Vox Pop will say, and for once I agree.

LATER ON FRIDAY (i.e. not the small hours of Friday morning): More bridgery today from City A.M., this time in the form of a plug for that East London road bridge, already mentioned above.

Wednesday July 09 2014

The key moment for me on that boat trip came near the beginning, when Eamonn Butler, Joint Head Person of the Adam Smith Institute asked me to send in any good photos that I took.

Until that moment, I had not been sure whether photography was really tolerated, let alone encouraged.  But I took that as an invite to snap away all evening.  (It wasn’t that really, but that’s how I chose to interpret it.)

The bread-and-butter shot when photoing occasions like this one is the posed group.  People in groups, who are friends, or who are maybe becoming friends, and who know that they are being photographed, are duly photographed, resulting in pictures like most of these ones:

image image imageimage image imageimage image imageimage image image

Photos 1.1, 2.3 and 4.2 don’t quite fit the posed group template, because here the people in the shot aren’t posing for it, merely being photoed.  But the message is much the same.  Here are some attractive, intelligent, companionable young people, having a good time in each other’s company.  They believe in libertarianism and free markets, and are going to make that count for something in the years and decades to come.  Socially isolated human atoms they are not.

3.1 is also a bit of a departure from the norm, but you want a bit of craziness at such events.  If absolutely everyone is being nice and polite and well behaved, then it ain’t a proper party.  Once again, Mr Arm Tattoo (the previous posting in this series featured that same Arm getting itself a drink) contributes a bit of quirkiness and danger to the event. When I was a kid, only self-declared professional criminals had tattoos like that, or so I was raised to believe.  At best, people who worked at fair grounds.  Those days are now long gone.

Tuesday June 24 2014

I will go on saying that the tower, as featured in all these photos that I recently photoed, ...:

image imageimage image

... should be called the Spray Can, until everyone is calling it the Spray Can.  Or the Spraycan, that’s optional.

Or until someone comes up with an (even) better name.

But meanwhile, what shall we call the ”Salesforce” Tower?

image

The new name should please the residents but piss off Salesforce, for renaming towers all over the damn place, and make them wish they hadn’t attempted this in London.  Salesfuck.  Something along those lines.  Not good enough, because too profane to be printed in regular newspapers.  Salesfarce?  Failsforce?  Close enough to Salesforce to make the connection.  But insulting.  To Salesforce.  The obvious thing would be to just carry on calling it the Heron Tower, but I don’t think that will punish these Salesfuckers nearly enough.  Their stupid name needs to be dragged audibly through the mud.

In case you are wondering, yes I am still a libertarian.  Capitalism, hurrah!  But the thing is, when you complain about a business doing something really annoying, there’s quite a decent chance they may stop, or at least, if they persist, be commercially punished.  At the very least there is a decent chance you can make whoever did whatever it was squirm a little, and generally be made a bit of a prat of.  When you complain about the government, there is much less chance of any such good stuff happening.  No way will you get, e.g., refund.  Just another bill to clean up whatever the original mess was.

So, complaints against capitalism are rewarded, by capitalism.  Complaints against governments are not rewarded nearly so much, by governments or by anything else.

So guess which, in defiance of all sanity, you get more of.

That’s quite profound, I think.  (This is why I like tangenting.  See below.)

Thursday June 12 2014

I plan to be going to the land of the foreign people.  Quite soon.  Early August.  The air tickets are already bought.  But, have just discovered that my passport needs renewing.  It gave up the ghost in about February.

Bugger.  Passports are just now being particularly delayed.  Questions are being Asked In The House about it.  So I guess they are now throwing money at the problem.

There is also a throw money at it option for us punters, about an extra hundred quid, which I have in mind to use, just to make sure that all goes well.  But first I have to get a haircut and then I have to get some “passport photos” done.  I know how to take photos of myself.  I do not know how to take “passport photos”.  This is why God invented shops.

Monday June 09 2014

This morning, did an SQotD about Uber.

Other Perry (Metzger) added this:

Uber does not always offer cheaper service. They operate on a market pricing mechanism to assure availability.

This means that, for example, on New Year’s Eve in NYC, you are assured you can get an Uber car even though normal taxis are essentially unavailable because of excess demand, but you will also discover the Uber car will be quite expensive. This is, of course, as it should be — the spike in price encourages as many Uber drivers as possible to work during a rush period. However, it is also decried by those who do not understand economics.

You could turn this around and say that Uber will be a sort of ongoing economics lesson for the citizenry.

Libertarians like me are always going on about how prices are a signalling mechanism.  Uber makes this extremely clear, I think.

Thursday June 05 2014

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

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

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

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

Moments intéressant.