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Category archive: Politics
Last night I sent out the email concerning the Brian’s Last Friday meeting this coming Friday, at the end of which email I found myself blurting out this:
Whenever I concoct these promotional emails I end up feeling very excited about the forthcoming talk. This time, this effect was especially pronounced.
This was what got me “very excited”:
Marc Sidwell will give a talk entitled: Promoting Freedom in a Post-Expert World.
He will be speaking about “the ongoing erosion of power and technocratic authority (most recently visible in the Brexit vote and the rise of Trump) and proposing some ways libertarians can respond to this shift.”
Other talk titles that were considered: “Twilight of the Wonks” and “The Revenge of Common Sense”.
Marc Sidwell is an journalist, editor, publisher, and writer, most recently of a How To Win Like Trump, now riding high in the Kindle best-seller List. More about Marc, his career and his publications, here.
For further information about the kinds of ideas Marc will be presenting, I strongly recommend a visit to: marcsidwell.com/.
It was there that I gleaned this quote, from Brexit campaigner Dominic Cummings:
“All those amazed at why so little attention was paid to ‘the experts’ did not, and still do not, appreciate that these ‘experts’ are seen by most people of all political views as having botched financial regulation, made a load of rubbish predictions, then forced everybody else outside London to pay for the mess while they got richer and dodged responsibility. They are right. This is exactly what happened.”
It wouldn’t surprise me if that quote gets a mention at some stage during Marc’s talk.
I would add that there are some kinds of expertise that continue to be held in very high esteem. Nobody doubts the expertise of the people who make all the machines and devices, mechanical and electrical, that keep our world ticking over efficiently and entertainingly. Not all expertise is now held in low regard, only the kinds of expertise that Cummings itemises.
The room is already starting to fill up.
Email me (see top left of this blog) if you want to know more about these monthly speaker meetings at my home.
I am nearing the end of Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography. Apparently the paperback of this book is now on the paperback best-seller list. This is good news, because it is very good, and quite lacking in any major traces of leftist delusion or silliness.
Here, for instance, is what Marshall says about the Middle East (pp. 176-180):
… Until a few years ago Turkey was held up as an example of how a Middle Eastern country, other than Israel, could embrace democracy. That example has taken a few knocks recently with the ongoing Kurdish problem, the difficulties facing some of the tiny Christian communities and the tacit support for Islamist groups in their fight against the Syrian government. President Erdogan’s remarks on Jews, race and gender equality, taken with the creeping Islamisation of Turkey, have set alarm bells ringing. However, compared with the majority of Arab states Turkey is far more developed and recognisable as a democracy. Erdogan may be undoing some of Ataturk’s work, but the grandchildren of the Father of the Turks live more freely than anyone in the Arab Middle East.
Because the Arab states have not experienced a similar opening-up and have suffered from colonialism, they were not ready to turn the Arab uprisings (the wave of protests that started in 2010) into a real Arab Spring. Instead they soured into perpetual rioting and civil war.
The Arab Spring is a misnomer, invented by the media; it clouds our understanding of what is happening. Too many reporters rushed to interview the young liberals who were standing in city squares with placards written in English, and mistook them for the voice of the people and the direction of history. Some journalists had done the same during the ‘Green Revolution’, describing the young students of north Tehran as the ‘Youth of Iran’, thus ignoring the other young Iranians who were joining the reactionary Basij militia and Revolutionary Guard.
In 1989 in Eastern Europe there was one form of totalitarianism: Communism. In the majority of people’s minds there was only one direction in which to go: towards democracy, which was thriving on the other side of the Iron Curtain. East and West shared a historical memory of periods of democracy and civil society. The Arab world of 2011 enjoyed none of those things and faced in many different directions. There were, and are, the directions of democracy, liberal democracy (which differs from the former), nationalism, the cult of the strong leader and the direction in which many people had been facing all along - Islam in its various guises, including Islamism.
In the Middle East power does indeed flow from the barrel of a gun. Some good citizens of Misrata in Libya may want to develop a liberal democratic party, some might even want to campaign for gay rights; but their choice will be limited if the local de facto power shoots liberal democrats and gays. Iraq is a case in point: a democracy in name only, far from liberal, and a place where people are routinely murdered for being homosexual.
The second phase of the Arab uprising is well into its stride. This is the complex internal struggle within societies where religious beliefs, social mores, tribal links and guns are currently far more powerful forces than ‘Western’ ideals of equality, freedom of expression and universal suffrage. The Arab countries are beset by prejudices, indeed hatreds of which the average Westerner knows so little that they tend not to believe them even if they are laid out in print before their eyes. We are aware of our own prejudices, which are legion, but often seem to turn a blind eye to those in the Middle East.
The routine expression of hatred for others is so common in the Arab world that it barely draws comment other than from the region’s often Western-educated liberal minority who have limited access to the platform of mass media. Anti-Semitic cartoons which echo the Nazi Der Sturmer propaganda newspaper are common. Week in, week out, shock-jock imams are given space on prime-time TV shows.
Western apologists for this sort of behaviour are sometimes hamstrung by a fear of being described as one of Edward Said’s ‘Orientalists’. They betray their own liberal values by denying their universality. Others, in their naivety, say that these incitements to murder are not widespread and must be seen in the context of the Arabic language, which can be given to flights of rhetoric. This signals their lack of understanding of the ‘Arab street’, the role of the mainstream Arab media and a refusal to understand that when people who are full of hatred say something, they mean it.
When Hosni Mubarak was ousted as President of Egypt it was indeed people power that toppled him, but what the outside world failed to see was that the military had been waiting for years for an opportunity to be rid of him and his son Gamal, and that the theatre of the street provided the cover they needed. It was only when the Muslim Brotherhood called its supporters out that there was enough cover. There were only three institutions in Egypt: Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, the military and the Brotherhood. The latter two destroyed the former, the Brotherhood then won an election, began turning Egypt into an Islamist state, and paid the price by itself being overthrown by the real power in the land - the military.
The Islamists remain the second power, albeit now underground. When the anti-Mubarak demonstrations were at their height the gatherings in Cairo attracted several hundred thousand people. After Mubarak’s fall, when the radical Muslim Brotherhood preacher Yusuf al-Qaradawi returned from exile in Qatar, at least a million people came out to greet him, but few in the Western media called this the ‘voice of the people’. The liberals never had a chance. Nor do they now. This is not because the people of the region are radical; it is because if you are hungry and frightened, and you are offered either bread and security or the concept of democracy, the choice is not difficult.
In impoverished societies with few accountable institutions, power rests with gangs disguised as ‘militia’ and ‘political parties’. While they fight for power, sometimes cheered on by naive Western sympathisers, many innocent people die. It looks as if it will be that way in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Iraq and possibly other countries for years to come.
My fantastic weekend of sport on the telly is nearing its conclusion, the Super Bowl having just begun.
A rising star of rugby union commentary is David Flatman. He’s the bald one there. Flats. I bet they adore him for rugby club dinner speeches. That came out sarcastic, but I really mean it.
Flatman has a nice double act going with the posher Mark Durden Smith, intro-ing the Premiership highlights. Plus he was commentating for ITV on Italy v Wales today. And then this evening he was fronting the Anglo-Welsh highlights, with Andy Goode, whose surname rhymes with food.
Flatman just seems to set the right tone. He is knowledgeable and takes rugby seriously, but knows that others take it less seriously, and that it’s basically entertainment, and that’s fine. Having been a forward himself he relishes the pugilistic and collectivist nature of the forward game, as well as the open-field individualism of the backs. Above all, he communicates that he loves the game. “Love” being a word he uses quite often.
And, he is funny. Just before the first advert interval a third of the way into this evening’s Anglo-Welsh highlights, he signed off like this:
Don’t go anywhere. You can if you want. But don’t.
I liked that. I didn’t go anywhere. I stayed here and wrote this.
One of the basic ways of getting a laugh is: take a cliché (in this case “Don’t go anywhere"), and then muck around with it. Along with North’s try against Italy, the above mucking about was my equal-best rugby highlight of the day.
Also another word of praise for the team that has been doing the American Football for the BBC, two black guys called Jason Bell and Osi Umenyiora, with Mark Chapman, who usually does proper football. If these guys don’t actually enjoy their sport and each other’s company, they do an excellent job of pretending that they do. However, I see that Mike Carlson, who used to monopolise all the American football commenting is now back for the final, aka the Super Bowl. If he does no irrelevant Trump sneering, it will be because he’s been told not to do that.
LATER: Well, that was worth staying up for. As Flats might have said:
Do go to bed yet. You can if you want. But don’t.
And Carlson was excellent. There were Trump jokes, but they were excellent too.
I love signs. So tedious to copy in writing. So easy to photo. And I was photoing signs yesterday, at Victoria Station.
Here are two of those signs that go well together:
I was just about to stick these up late last night, but discovered that BMdotcom was malfunctioning.
This is not the kind of sign I love to see, when trying to add stuff to this blog, or for that matter just to look at this blog:
Error Number: 1194
Description: Table ‘exp_throttle’ is marked as crashed and should be repaired
Query: SELECT hits, locked_out, last_activity FROM exp_throttle WHERE ip_address= ‘184.108.40.206’
But, as you can see, it’s now sorted. Unless you can’t see and it isn’t.
And until the next time something like this happens. Partly because of such cock-ups, I am, thinking of doing what all other bloggers who still exist did long ago, and switching to Wordpress, which The Guru also suggested. Comments on the wisdom of that from other gurus would be very welcome.
Meanwhile, while waiting for sanity to be reasserted here, I did a Samizdata posting, entitled Brexit has unified the Conservative Party and divided Labour. It has.
Africa is big, and Africa’s rivers don’t help in cutting these huge distances down to size.
More from Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography (p. 119):
Most of the continent’s rivers also pose a problem, as they begin in high land and descend in abrupt drops which thwart navigation. For example, the mighty Zambezi may be Africa’s fourth-longest river, running for 1,600 miles, and may be a stunning tourist attraction with its white-water rapids and the Victoria Falls, but as a trade route it is of little use. It flows through six countries, dropping from 4,900 feet to sea level when it reaches the Indian Ocean in Mozambique. Parts of it are navigable by shallow boats, but these parts do not interconnect, thus limiting the transportation of cargo.
Unlike in Europe, which has the Danube and the Rhine, this drawback has hindered contact and trade between regions - which in turn affected economic development, and hindered the formation of large trading regions. The continent’s great rivers, the Niger, the Congo, the Zambezi, the Nile and others, don’t connect and this disconnection has a human factor. Whereas huge areas of Russia, China and the USA speak a unifying language which helps trade, in Africa thousands of languages exist and no one culture emerged to dominate areas of similar size. Europe, on the other hand, was small enough to have a ‘lingua franca’ through which to communicate, and a landscape that encouraged interaction.
I’m guessing that Africa’s famed natural resources (although not of the mineral sort – those natural resources just suck in thieving foreigners) also helped to split the population up into lots of little enclaves, by making it possible for quite small communities to be economically self-sufficient. Not very self-sufficient, as in rich, but sufficiently self-sufficient not to die out but instead to keep ticking over.
I am reading Prisoners of Geography, by Tim Marshall, a new name to me. (He has also written what looks like a rather interesting book about flags.) Today I read this (pp. 116-117), about the size of Africa:
The world’s idea of African geography is flawed. Few people realise just how big it is. This is because most of us use the standard Mercator world map. This, as do other maps, depicts a sphere on a flat surface and thus distorts shapes. Africa is far, far longer than usually portrayed, which explains what an achievement it was to round the Cape of Good Hope, and is a reminder of the importance of the Suez Canal to world trade. Making it around the Cape was a momentous achievement, but once it became unnecessary to do so, the sea journey from Western Europe to India was reduced by 6,000 miles.
If you look at a world map and mentally glue Alaska onto California, then turn the USA on its head, it appears as if it would roughly fit into Africa with a few gaps here and there. In fact Africa is three times bigger than the USA. Look again at the standard Mercator map and you see that Greenland appears to be the same size as Africa, and yet Africa is actually fourteen times the size of Greenland! You could fit the USA, Greenland, India, China, Spain, France, Germany and the UK into Africa and still have room for most of Eastern Europe. We know Africa is a massive land mass, but the maps rarely tell us how massive.
I guess that part of the reason why Africa has tended to be regarded as smaller than it is, in recent decades, is that Africa has not counted for all that much, globally, in recent decades. We can expect to hear many repetitions of the above observation, as Africa develops economically, towards being the economic giant that it already is physically.
LATER: I see that I have written about this before, in a posting that proves what Marshall says about all the countries that will fit inside Africa.
Click on TRUMP to get the Opera House.
This fantastically cost-effective piece of political signage reminds me of the stuff that Julian Lewis MP used do to CND demos in the eighties. They’d put however many hundred thousand pro-Soviet bodies on the street, and he’d put one big sign across the top of Whitehall for them all the walk under, saying something like: SOVIET STOOGES. His sign would get about half the news coverage. Drove them nuts.
Photoed by me, earlier this evening, in Leicester Square:
Somebody gave me a leaflet, about this, while I was photoing. Maybe this was what the demo was about. Maybe not.
Christian Michel hosts talks he calls 6/20 talks, because they happen on the 6th and the 20th of the month. And this coming Friday, Jan 6th, I am giving a talk, about politics and aesthetics, and how they interact.
This is the email I sent to talk host Christian Michel, about what I will be saying, or more precisely, what I will be asking:
My talk will be about what we each think is the truth about politics, and about how that relates to what we each think is beautiful.
What are your political opinions? What are your ideas of beauty? How do these things relate to each other?
Are your political loyalties and beliefs the result of your already existing ideas about what is beautiful? Did you arrive at your political views because you think that the political world you desire would be beautiful, as you already understood that?
Or, is it more the other way around? Do your present ideas of what is beautiful result from what you have already decided is the political truth of things? Would your politics lead to a world that looks a particular way, and do you therefore consider that world to be beautiful?
Or, for you, do the causal links go in both directions? That certainly applies to me.
Or, do the above questions rather baffle you? Because for you, what is politically true and what is beautiful are two entirely separate issues? For many who, like me, call themselves libertarians, I should guess that this might be the answer, even though this is definitely not my answer.
I put my subject matter in the form of questions, because I hope that potential attenders will receive advance notice of these question, and that some attenders at least will arrive with their own answers.
I will supply introspected answers about my own political and aesthetic preferences and how they are related, a lot of them involving architecture. But I hope I will speak briefly enough to leave plenty of time for others to offer their answers to my questions. Or, of course, to say that the questions are silly, or whatever else they want to say about what I have said.
My current plan is to read out the above, and then illustrate it with some personal examples, and with some other examples that seem to be quite common, and commonly talked about.
My personal examples involve things like the extraordinary aesthetic appeal of American stuff, like their cars and their fighter jets, which got me thinking about why America actually worked better than the USSR, whose stuff seemed to be grey and dull and unglamorous by comparison. That got me started towards being a libertarian, I think, way back in the 1950s.
In a related way, I then began to observe that British public sector architecture, which set the tone of the entire architectural scene in the sixties and seventies, had that same Soviet style drabness about it. Modern architecture only became flash and glamorous, in the eighties.
All that, among other things, turned me into a libertarian. And since then, I have tended to like the look of physical assemblages of objects that strike me as embodying liberty. Skyscraper clusters and roof clutter being good examples. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be so fond of roof clutter in particular if I had more bossy tastes in politics, if you get my drift.
That’s a pretty simplified summary of some of my aesthetic-political thoughts-feelings. But it suffices to illustrate the kind of thing I’ll be talking about.
As for similar stories told by others, I am struck by how an architectural style is often regarded as ugly, while it is advancing and hence seen as threatening, but later regarded with affection, once it has been defeated and is in retreat. This happened with the New Brutalism, widely hated during its years of ascendancy, now only in the news because some now want its surviving edifices to be legally preserved.
On a huge, historic scale, this is what has happened with Norman castles. Feared and hated when built, and for centuries after. Now quaint and picturesque tourist traps. Same kind of thing with big steam locomotives, at first feared and hated, now worshipped.
Many feel threatened by the very contemporary architecture that I personally like, and that’s because they see it, as do I, as embodying the very free market (-ish) ideas that I like, and that they dislike. It’s more complicated than that. But again, you get the idea.
My intention is to rattle through what I have to say quickly, to leave plenty of time for attenders to offer similar aesthetic-political memoirs of their own.
I’m putting this here so I can link to it in emails to potential attenders. Emails work better when they are short, but when they can be lengthened, so to speak, by those reading.
If you want to know how to attend this talk, or other talks in the same series, email me (see here top left) or leave a comment and I’ll put you in touch with Christian Michel.
Yes, The Railwa. I had continued my odyssey from Seven Sisters on the regular railway, to White Hart Lane Station. And from the platform, and then when I got outside, this was what I saw. The Railwa:
As you can see from the picture on the right, The Railwa used to be The Railway Tavern.
The y Tavern bit has disappeared because this is one of the many, many British pubs that has recently been shut down.
The other night they had a telly show about this, but it seems that it’s not all doom. Pubs are being shut by Big Booze, and often then turned into blocks of posh flats, which are more lucrative. But, some of the pubs are being saved, and taken over by The Community. Accompanying this is the rise of “craft beer” (I at first misheard this as “crap beer"), which seems to be a mixture of regular beer and fruit juice, and as such, sounds right up my street. When it comes to drink, I am a girl. My alcoholic drink, on those rarish times when I am in a pub, is: lager and lime. So it’s all going my way, apart from if I go to one of these new pubs and find it full of The Community.
To be a bit more serious, what I think I see happening here is that the old Working Class, the sort that used to smoke, and watch football teams while standing up and wearing cloth caps is ceasing to exist and what remains of it is being kicked out of the pubs by the new Working Class, the sort that doesn’t smoke, and designs websites and manages brands and works in call centres and which spent this weekend at the Robert Rauschenberg exhibition at Tate Modern. The fate of the Railwa is what happens when an industry goes through a transformation of this sort. Many of the old institutions collapse and get trashed, like the Railwa, by the look of it. Others get transformed in accordance with the new dispensation, as perhaps the Railwa will be.
Here are some photos from the archives, of front pages from a year ago tomorrow:
It’s interesting how Donald Trump was even then so recognisable from behind, because of that weird hair.
Will anyone try to ban President Trump from visiting Britain, I wonder? Nobody of any significance, surely. What Trump was saying then was that radical Islam is a serious problem and that he was going to give it hell. And what has happened since says that Trump is one clever operator. Which means that we now live in very interesting times.
I seem to recall thinking, around then, that Trump might win. But by the time the election came around, I was surprised as anyone that he did. And I wasn’t the only one.
From the BBC updates on the Scotland v Georgia rugby game at Murrayfield this afternoon:
Scotland have really struggled against the Georgian scum in the second-half.
Hastily corrected to “scrum”. Should have done a screen capture. As it is, you just have to take my word for it.
Actually Georgia is a great place. It recently came sixth in the world in one of those economic freedom charts, as I mentioned in passing in this posting
LATER: Oh dear. Not Murrayfield. Kilmarnock. Whenever you moan about someone else’s error, you make an error. It’s inevitable.
Yes, two photos from the archives.
First, David Cameron, in November 2006, somewhat more than a year after he had become the Leader of the Opposition. Cameron is no longer the Prime Minister. The Globalisation Institute is no longer.
And, photoed about a week later, a Remembrance photoer, outside Westminster Abbey.
I took over seven hundred photos that day, including photos of many, many photoers. Not one single solitary one of them was using a mobile phone to do photoing. So I guess that means that that had not then started.
I’m half way through another photo-posting but it’s taking too long, so here in the meantime is a link to a Trump victory piece I did this morning, at stupid o’clock, a time of day I rather like the sound of.
I like a Rob Fisher comment at Samizdata, attached to this posting, about the anti-Trump Twitter-rage that is now in full broil:
It’s certainly hilarious on Twitter already. They’ve created a caricature monster in their heads and they believe it and they’re wetting the bed over it 140 characters at a time.
Next step for these bed wetters, scour America for hate criminals, who think that they’re entitled now that Trump has won. And they’ll find a few.
What the bed-wetting scourers won’t understand is that they will have helped to cause such hate crimes. If you say that a Trump victory is a victory for racism, and then Trump wins, you are telling the racists that they have won, and can now ramp up their racism, without any longer being punished. I’m not just saying this for the sake of an amusing blog posting, This will actually happen. It probably already is happening.
See also: Brexit.
LATER: A collector’s item.