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

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.

Friday May 30 2014

Dan Hannan:

It’s over for the Liberal Democrats. They may not realise it, but it is. Before the 2010 general election, the party was pursuing two contradictory strategies at the same time. On the one hand, it presented itself as a moderate, centrist party, liberal on both social and economic issues, broadly pro-business if occasionally interventionist. On the other, it was a radical, anti-war alternative to Labour.

As long as the party was in opposition, these two stories could be maintained simultaneously. As with Schrödinger’s cat, both states were, so to speak, co-existential. But, when the Lib Dems entered government, the box was opened. Only one version of events could now be true. And it was clear which version that had to be.

Nick Clegg could no longer lead a protest party of the Left: half his voters had walked away in disgust at his deal with The Evil Heartless Tories. The Lib Dems’ sole remaining option was to make the Coalition work, to show themselves to be competent and responsible, to make a virtue out of having put the national interest first. To behave, in short, like an adult party of government.

Oh, dear. For once, the string of mixed metaphors that the Daily Mail often makes its house style is apt: “The poison at the heart of the Liberal Democrat party burst into the open last night after an explosive resignation statement which rocked the political establishment…” The impression of haplessness and hopelessness, to say nothing of nastiness, is overwhelming.

The Lib Dems have, in short, managed to make a mess of both strategies, showing all the inept crankery of a party of permanent opposition, but without any commensurate principles. Schrödinger’s cat lies cold and stiff.

What a miserable, tawdry end for a party with such noble antecedents. ...

Actually, this Schrödinger’s cat metaphor is itself pretty chaotic, because the question originally posed by Schrödinger was not: What kind of cat is Schrödinger’s cat?  It was: Is Schrödinger’s cat alive or already dead in the box?  Hannan’s own piece is about both what sort of Lib Dems the Lib Dems are, and about whether the Lib Dems are themselves, now, alive or dead, on account of them previously having been contradictory things.  What the Lib Dems were concealing was the contradiction between two different versions of the Lib Dems, not the possibility that the Lib Dems might already be dead.  So, as so often in human affairs, Hannan accuses the Daily Mail of just the sort of metaphorical muddlem that he is guilty of.  It’s like that rule about how, if you ever accuse someone of spelling something wrong, you spell something else wrong yourself.  No doubt there are other mixed metaphors in this.

But the box bit of the metaphor works okay.  The box is now open, and we are seeing the Lib Dems for what they are.

However, I think that saying the Lib Dems are merely two-faced is an absurd understatement, as Hannan himself goes on to say, later in this same piece:

The rest of the party became what it is today: a tricksy, self-righteous alliance of convenience, prepared to say whatever local people want to hear.

In other words, they present not a merely two faces, but as many faces as there are people to be talked to.  They tell you what you want to hear, no matter what that is.  Almost every former Lib Dem voter will thus have been swindled by the Lib Dem bit of the Coalition.  All have been promised things that the Lib Dems subsequently didn’t even argue for, let alone make the Cameron government do.  Even people like the Greens were promised far more and far Greener stuff than the Lib Dems have come near to delivering on that front.

If the Lib Dems now start fighting like cats in a sack, good, because that will also destroy another carefully cultivate Lib Dem myth, which is that they are nice people, unlike all the other nasty politicos.  Ask any nasty Labourites or nasty Tories with any campaigning experience, and they will all agree on this one thing, that the Lib Dems are utterly unprincipled shits (this being the private between-ourselves version of Hannan’s “tricksy” above).  The ones who are not unprincipled shits are deluded idiots, their big delusion (usually one among many) is that their particular version of LibDemery is getting somewhere, by being a part – big, small, tiny, one solitary member - of the Lib Dems as a whole.  No, as current events are now proving.  A vote for the Lib Dems really is a wasted vote, because it’s anybody’s guess what voting Lib Dem means.  Mostly what it means is that if you voted Lib Dem, you were lied to, successfully.

What the Lib Dems are now actually finished remains to be seen.  Hannan clearly hopes so.  So do I.

Perhaps the Lib Dems are dead, but there will be a dead cat bounce.

If I have a particular hatred of the Lib Dems, it is because the old Liberal Party as was – pretty much all of it - used to stand for something very like my particular opinions, which of course they went on telling me were really what they all wanted, long after that had stopped being even remotely true.  Hannan feels the same.

More responses to the Hannan piece at Samizdata (in the form of a different selected quote), and at Libertarian Home (ditto). Between the three of us, we quote pretty much all of it.

Tuesday May 06 2014

Indeed.  The picture on the left is the only one I managed at Richard Carey’s talk about the Levellers last Thursday at the Rose and Crown.  I forgot my proper camera, and so took a few shots with my mobile, of which only one was the slightest use.  And then when I got home, I could not persuade my mobile to transfer its picture to my regular computer.

The problem is, I use this process too infrequently.  The simple truth about computer processes, always and everywhere, is that a computer process you use regularly is easy, while a computer process you use only very occasionally is extremely difficult.  Ignore all prattle about “computer friendliness”.  Either you know it, in which case all is simplicity.  Or you don’t in which case your chances of success plummet towards impossibility.  Repeat business is all.  And I use my mobile phone so rarely to take photos that I do not regularly transfer photos from it to my regular computer, and that causes this process to be impossible.  I looked at various videos claiming to answer this question.  All were useless.  My phone did not do any of the things they said it would do when I pressed the buttons they told me to press.  Why not?  Who can say?

So instead, I simply photographed my mobile phone with the picture on it (getting it simply to display the picture was itself very difficult), and that is the picture you see below, on the left.  On the right is a picture of a mug, which I found while searching for a better version of the picture of John Lilburne than what you see in my picture of Richard Carey’s T-shirt:

image  image

Richard’s talk was outstanding, and I am told that the video of it will be available very soon.

By the way, I tried to put a thin black line all around the mug picture, but I very seldom do this and couldn’t make that work either.

Wednesday April 23 2014

Before I forget to link to it, here, very belatedly, is a link to four pictures of central London in the Guardian, which, if you left-click on them, suddenly become populated with soon-to-be-built new Big Things.

This, for example, …:

image

… turns, when you left-click on it, into this:

image

That’s the changing picture of the south bank of the river, just upstream from me.

My personal opinion is: it looks great!  By which I mean not that the second of these pictures looks great, but that the development it attempts to picture will look great, or at least much better than this picture.

This is a general fact about the new Big Things of London of the last decade and more, I think.  All of them have ended up looking, to my eye, better for real than the models and photos of them beforehand looked, which are just too boxy and bland and unrealistic to capture the feeling of how new Big Things will really look.

In particular, the Walkie Talkie looked, to me, terrible, when it was only a faked up computer image.  Now, I like it more and more.  It’s odd.  It’s not beautiful exactly, but it has character.  Once you see it, you don’t forget it.  In short, it is like London.

These new Big Things will, I predict, be like that also.  You can bet that all the architects involved will be trying desperately to upstage each other, by making at least half of these new Big Things systematically more interesting and oddly shaped than these computer mock-ups now make them look.

It occurs to me also to wonder how much difference the ubiquity of such imagery before Big Things get built affects the chances of such Big Things being built.  Could such widely-viewed-in-advance pictures perhaps make Big Thing building easier, by mobilising the support of those who, like me, would like such new buildings a lot, but don’t see it as a life-and-death struggle, the way many opponents of such Big Things perhaps do.  If that’s right, the opponents keep themselves and each other informed even when that is hard, and fight like hell to stop such Things, either out of aesthetic hatred or because some particular Big Thing will, they reckon, wreck their back yard.  Now, we less rabid supporters can all say Go Ahead Build It, but without busting our guts and doing lots of complicated research and politicking, because finding out and saying GABI is now so much easier.

Tuesday April 15 2014

I love this, from AndrewZ at Samizdata, commenting on this piece by Natalie Solent, which quotes a couple of particularly demented pieces of writing in the Guardian, about cupcake fascism (this phrase should never be forgotten) and about the horrors of tourism.  (Natalie has been agreeably busy at Samizdata of late.)

Says AZ:

The online edition of any newspaper that isn’t behind a paywall relies on advertising to generate income and this depends on maximising the number of page views. The simplest way to do that is to publish outrageous and provocative opinions that will attract links from elsewhere and start a blazing row among the regular commenters. The great liberal newspaper of old is now little more than a group blog that trolls its own readers for advertising revenue.

No link from here to the original pieces, about cupcake fascism or tourism.  Oh no.  BmdotCOM is not falling into that trap.

Now that I have read the rest of them, I can report that all the comments at Samizdata on this posting are pretty good and worth a look.