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 April 23 2015

I am reading In Defence of History by Richard J. Evans.  The attackers are the post-modernists.  In Chapter 3 ("Historians and their facts"), Evans writes about how evidence considered insignificant in one era can become highly significant in a later era:

The traces left by the past, as Dominick LaCapra has observed, do not provide an even coverage of it.  Archives are the product of the chance survival of some documents and the corresponding chance loss or deliberate destruction of others.  They are also the products of the professional activities of archivists, which therefore shape the record of the past and with it the interpretations of historians.  Archivists have often weeded out records they consider unimportant, while retaining those they consider of lasting value.  This might mean for example destroying vast and therefore bulky personnel files on low-ranking state employees such as ordinary soldiers and seamen, manual workers and so on, while keeping room on the crowded shelves for personnel files on high state officials.  Yet such a policy would reflect a view that many historians would now find outmoded, a view which considered ‘history’ only as the history of the elites.  Documents which seem worthless to one age, and hence ripe for the shredder, can seem extremely valuable to another.

Let me give an example from my personal experience.  During research in the Hamburg state archives in the I98os, I became aware that the police had been sending plain-clothes agents into the city’s pubs and bars during the two decades or so before the First World War to gather and later write down secret reports of what was being said in them bysocialist workers.  The reports I saw were part of larger files on the various organizations to which these workers belonged.  Thinking it might be interesting to look at a wider sample, I went through a typewritten list of the police files with the archivist, and among the headings we came across was one which read: ‘Worthless Reports’. Going down into the muniment room, we found under the relevant call-number a mass of over 20,000 reports which had been judged of insufficient interest by the police authorities of the day to be taken up into the thematic files where I had first encountered this material. It was only by a lucky chance that they had not already been destroyed. They turned out to contain graphic and illuminating accounts of what rank-and-file socialist workers thought about almost every conceivable issue of the day, from the Dreyfus affair in France to the state of the traffic on Hamburg’s busy streets. Nobody had ever looked at them before. Historians of the labour movement had only been interested in organization and ideology.  But by the time I came to inspect them, interest had shifted to the history of everyday life, and workers’ views on the family, crime and the law, food, drink and leisure pursuits, had become significant objects of historical research.  It seemed worth transcribing and publishing a selection, therefore, which I did after a couple of years’ work on them.  The resulting collection showed how rank-and-file Social Democrats and labour activists often had views that cut right across the Marxist ideology in which previous historians thought the party had indoctrinated them, because previous historians had lacked the sources to go down beyond the level of official pronouncements in the way the Hamburg police reports made it possible to do. Thus from ‘worthless reports’ there emerged a useful corrective to earlier historical interpretations. This wonderful material, which had survived by chance, had to wait for discovery and exploitation until the historiographical climate had changed. 

Friday April 17 2015

Abusive internet comments are usually very tedious.  But, having never heard this gag before, I liked this one.

Following the alleged threat by US politician John McCain to kick the s*** out of another US politician, Harry Reid, a commenter commented (April 16 12:43am):

(Harry Reid) – s*** = 0

Here in the UK, our politicians seldom issue such threats to one another.  They are, alas, almost all of them on the same side.

Wednesday April 15 2015

In an earlier posting I mentioned that I had ordered Marc Morris’s book about The Norman Conquest, and I have now started reading this.  (Although for some reason the version of it that I have seems to be the American one.)

Morris takes the Bayeux Tapestry as his starting point (as already discussed here in this and (because of its elongated shape) in this).

The events depicted in the Tapestry are of course highly dramatic, but as Morris relates, so too was the subsequent history of the Tapestry:

By any law of averages, the Tapestry ought not to exist.  We know that such elaborate wall-hangings, while hardly commonplace in the eleventh century, were popular enough with the elite that could afford them, because we have descriptions in contemporary documents.  What we don’t have are other surviving examples: all that comes down to us in other cases are a few sorry-looking scraps.  That the Tapestry is still with us almost I ,000 years after it was sewn is astonishing, especially when one considers its later history. It first appears in the written record four centuries after its creation, in 1476, when it is described in an inventory of the treasury at Bayeux Cathedral, from which we learn that the clergy were in the habit of hanging it around the nave every year during the first week of July (an annual airing that would have aided its conservation).  Its survival through those four medieval centuries, escaping the major hazards of war, fire and flood, as well as the more mundane menaces of rodents, insects and damp, is wondrous enough; that it successfully avoided destruction during the modern era is nothing short of miraculous.  When the cathedral’s treasury was looted during the French Revolution, the Tapestry came within a hair’s breadth of being cut up and used to cover military wagons.  Carted to Paris for exhibition by Napoleon, it was eventually returned to Bayeux, where for several years during the early nineteenth century it was indifferently stored in the town hall on a giant spindle, so that curious visitors could unroll it (and occasionally cut bits off). During the Second World War it had yet more adventures: taken again to Paris by the Nazis, it narrowly escaped being sent to Berlin, and somehow managed to emerge unscathed from the flames and the bombs.  The Tapestry’s post-medieval history is a book in itself - one which, happily, has already been written.

What next for it, I wonder?

Wednesday April 08 2015

Indeed:

Police in India have a new weapon for controlling unruly protesters in the world’s largest democracy: pepper-spraying drones.

Yashasvi Yadav, police chief of the northern city of Lucknow, said on Tuesday that his officers have successfully test-flown the newly purchased drones with a view to better crowd control.

So, when will BrianMicklethwaitDotCom be linking to a story about how the protesters have their own drones, to attack the police drones with?  Drones are not just the automation of aerial warfare.  They are the potential degovernmentalisation of aerial warfare.  I mean, how the hell will they stop this?  Drones are ridiculously cheap compared to regular airplanes.  It’s only a matter of time before no major political demonstratiion will be complete without a struggle for command of the air.

I wonder if people like Police Chief Yadav realise what they may be starting.

Monday March 23 2015

First, an outstanding White Van photo snapped from what looks like the inside of a cafe, by Simon Gibbs, to whom profuse thanks:

image

I’ve been photoing White Vans for a month and more, but have never got three of them in one go like that.  That arrived chez moi first thing this morning.

And then, to my amazement, this was this at Guido, also today:

image

That’s right.  Labour have launched there very own White Van!  You wouldn’t dare make that up.  I knew I was onto something with all this White Vannery.

The problem for the Labour Party here is that Essex White Van Man, the original beast, doesn’t work as an employee driver for Wellocks, or for Office Revival or for Yate Supplies (these being the enterprises who own and whose glory is proclaimed by Simon’s three White Vans above), and certainly not for the Labour Party.  He has his own White Van, which is entirely white, as you can see when you peruse that original tweet that got all this fuss started:

image

That snap being a recent one of mine.  And, as Guido points out, a proper Essex White Van is not a Merc, as the Labour White Van is.  He doesn’t go on to say that it should be a Ford Transit, as above, but it should.  The White Van in the original tweet is a Transit.

This new Labour White Van is supposed to separate Labour from the la-di-da world of London and to assert its connection to the common (i.e. non-rich-London) man.  But it fails to do this, because, as these recent White Van postings of mine have been explaining, White Vans covered in poncey graphics are now quintessentially London.  I assume that they have also become quintessentially Wigan and quintessentially Rotherham and for that matter quintessential Dagenham.  But I further assume that when true-blue Wiganians and Rotherhamians and Dagenhamians look at them, they see, not their local culture, but cultural imperialism by bloody London.

(Damn.  I did everything to this posting put actually post it “today”, so I’m leaving the date I originally attached to it.  Cheating I know but it talks about Monday as today, so Monday it is.)

Monday February 23 2015

This coming Friday I have another of my Last Friday of the Month meetings at my home in London SW1.  This coming Friday is, after all, the last Friday of the month, so the logic is inexorable.  Every Friday (even if the last Friday of, say, December 2014, happened to be Boxing Day, as it was) there is a Last Friday of the Month meeting at my home.

I have been having email problems, in the form of people using gmail suddenly not receiving my emails, so even if you thought you were on my list but hear nothing via email, be assured that this meeting will happen.  Try emailing me (which should work) and then telling your spam filter not to reject my reply, which you will have to do despite it being a particular individual reply.  I know, crazy.  I hope to write more about this problem in a posting at Samizdata, Real Soon Now.

Or, if you intend coming to this particular meeting, you could leave a comment below, and I will respond saying message received and look forward to greeting you.

Anyway, this coming Friday (Feb 27), Pete Comley will be talking about inflation.  He has recently published a book on the subject, which you can learn about in this posting at Comley’s website.  And you can hear what Comley sounds like and a little of how he thinks by listening to this short interview with Simon Rose of Share Radio.

image

The thing about Comley is that he takes a long-term - very long-term - view of inflation.  He began a recent talk I attended by discussing inflation at the time of the Roman Empire.

And in the long-term, there are not one but two major influences on inflation.  There is, of course, the supply of money, by the powers that be who have always insisted upon supplying money.  And when they make too many coins, too many bank notes or create too much bank credit, the price of regular stuff in shops goes creeping, or rocketing, up.  But there is also the demand for that regular stuff.  In particular, human population fluctuates.  At some moments in history, population shoots up.  At other times it falls, or at the very least the rate at which it increases falls.  Just now, in country after country, the birthrate is falling, and that has consequences for inflation.

Before you say it, I’ll say if for you.  Many simply define inflation as the first of these two processes but not the second.  Inflation is what money issuers do to the money supply.  A price rise caused by rising demand is simply not inflation.  It is a mere price rise.  Fair enough.  It certainly makes sense to distinguish these two processes from each other, however hard it may be for consumers to do this when both are happening to them.  And if you do that by restricting the definition of inflation in this way, then be aware that Pete Comley’s talk will be about inflation thus defined and about price rises sparked by rising demand, and for that matter about price stability caused by static demand.  (He says, by the way, that we might be about to enjoy just such a period of price stability.  And although you can never be sure about such things, better handling of the recent financial crisis, and we might have got there already.)

There is also the question of what causes money issuers to inflate, in the second and more restricted sense of inflation.  They seem to do this more at certain historical junctures than at others.  Inflation, restrictively defined, does not just cause bad economic experiences; it is itself caused, more at some times than at others.

All very interesting, or so I think.  Libertarians like me tend to be quite well informed about recent monetary history and about the evils of fiat currencies, the Fed, the Bank of England, and so on and so forth.  We tend to know a lot less about similar episodes in the more distant past to what he have recently experienced.  In general, we are more interested in the fluctuating supply of money than in the way that population fluctuations influence prices.

Pete Comley has a small but particular soft spot for me, on account of me having been the one who drew his attention to this book about the long-term history of prices (The Great Wave by David Hackett Fischer), which seems to have had quite a big influence on his latest book, which is called Inflation Matters.  It certainly does.

Tuesday January 27 2015

Lexington Green, here:

What if … ?

What would a history of the British Empire look like if it did not use the “rise and fall” metaphor?

What would that history look like if it examined not just the political framework or just the superficial gilt and glitter, or just the cruelty and crimes, but the deeper and more enduring substance?

What if someone wrote a history of the impact of the English speaking people and their institutions (political, financial, professional, commercial, military, technical, scientific, cultural), and the infinitely complex web of interconnections between them, as a continuous and unbroken story, with a past a present … and a future?

In other words, what if we were to read a history that did not see a rising British Empire followed by a falling Empire, then a rising American Empire which displaced it, but an organism which has taken on many forms over many centuries, and on many continents, but is nonetheless a single life?

What if we assume that the British Empire was not something that ended, but that the Anglosphere, of which the Empire was one expression, is something that has never stopped growing and evolving, and taking on new institutional forms?

What if it looked at the unremitting advance, the pitiless onslaught, universal insinuation, of the English speakers on the rest of the world, seizing big chunks of it (North America, Australia), sloshing up into many parts of it and receding again (India, Nigeria, Malaya), carving permanent marks in the cultural landscape they left behind, all the while getting wealthier and more powerful and pushing the frontiers of science and technology and all the other forms of material progress?

What if jet travel and the Internet have at last conquered the tyranny of distance which the Empire Federationists of a century ago dreamed that steam and telegraph cables would conquer? What if they were just a century too early?

What if linguistic and cultural commonalities are more important than mere geographical location in creating political unity in this newly shrunken world?

I recall musing along the same kind of lines myself, a while back.

The important thing is, this mustn’t be advertised first as a plan.  If that happens, then all the people who are against the Anglosphere, and who prefer places like Spain and Venezuela and Cuba and Hell, will use their ownership of the Mainstream Media to Put A Stop to the plan.  What needs to happen is for us to just do it, and then after about two decades of us having just done it, they’ll realise that it is a fate (as the Hellists will describe it) accompli.

Because, guess what, we probably are already doing it.

Saturday January 24 2015

Today, a fine looking day, a day in which many were to be seen wearing both gloves and sunglasses, I went awandering, down Victoria Street to Parliament Square, and then on across the River.

And in Parliament Square, I chanced upon a demo.  I hope to do a longer bit at Samizdata, hopefully tomorrow, about this demo.  In the meantime, here is a little horizontality, helpfully laid on by the demonstrators:

image

Click to get the original bigger picture.

If you want further thoughts from me about “that fatuous construct of political malcontents” called real democracy, follow that link.

And see also what I put in this piece about the Charlie Hebdo demo in Trafalgar Square:

… this was not your usual demo, the sort of demo perpetrated by the demonstrating classes ...

Today’s demo was exactly your usual demo.  Here is a report of what they were trying to do, that being something to do with “Occupy”.  From where I was standing, they failed.

I couldn’t find mainstream media coverage about this demo between this afternoon and now, which could just mean that there was lots and I didn’t find it.  Comments on that very welcome.

LATER: Here is an Evening Standard report.  It seems that what I saw was a failed Occupy demo, bolted onto the end of a somewhat more successful CND demo against Trident.

ALSO: Daily Mail.

Sunday January 18 2015

At that demo a week ago today, there were, of course, and abundance of smartphones being used to soak up snaps:

image imageimage image

And there were tablets being used as well:

image

But more intriguingly, and this was a first for me, I saw smartphones …:

image

… and tablets …:

image

… being used actually to demonstrate.  And as you can see, I wasn’t the only one who was interested.

I’m not sure what this means.  I simply note that it was happening.

Friday January 16 2015

Here:

Sadly Jacob Rees-Mogg is not taking part, his cat wasn’t feline up to it. The big pussy. ...

Etcatera, etcatera.

Guido keeps going on about the Guidoisation of politics.  But he, it would appear, is on the receiving end of the ever rising tide of internet cat references.

imageMeanwhile, another outing here for the only cat reference I saw at the Charlie Hebdo demo in Trafalgar Square last Sunday.

Guido has of course been all over that story.

I’ve just been listening to Christopher Hitchens reading out what is apparently one of the chapters of his book God Is Not Great, and there is a cat reference in that also. Although down on dogs, it seems that the Muslims have tended, historically, to be nicer to cats than the Christians, because Christians have been in the habit of associating cats with the Devil.

Good grief!  More Guido moggy-blogging.

Sunday January 11 2015

Spent the middle of the day at the demo, taking my usual excessive number of pictures, and then the evening trying to divide them up into clumps to show here, or somewhere.

My main impression was that this was a real demo, rather than some faked up exercise in pretending to be angry about some bit of bad economic or political news that some bunch of people have just been hit by, but not very hard, with lots of identical signs all printed out by the same dubious Marxist agitprop organisation, and then afterwards lots of moaning about how the evil Mass Media paid no attention.  There were a lot of people there:

image

Not surprisingly, there were a lot of French people present, what with London now containing so many French people.  Also not surprisingly, the average age of those present was young, what with there being so many young French people in London.

image

My thanks to Goddaughter 2, now back in London, who told me that she and a friend were going to attend.  Had she not done this, I would only have twigged that it was happening when it started happening and I saw it on the telly.

I have in mind, Real Soon Now, to be posting a clump of pictures of the signs and pictures that people were holding up, along the lines of these photos, that I took of a much smaller demo in London a while back, including the one above, and also including this one, which I especially like:

image

My immediate reaction to the Paris brouhaha was not: “I am Charlie Hebdo!” It was to take another crack at reading the Quran, to check if it really is as obnoxious as I remember it being the first time around.  So far, it is, even more than I remember.

Sunday January 04 2015

After an interminable day in trains, disconnected from the www, I finally got home, plugged myself back in again, with my British keyboard, and came across this (a comment on this), from Michael Jennings:

On dynasties, if the 2016 presidential election is Bush v Clinton, America will have definitively jumped the shark.

True.

Tuesday December 02 2014

Defence Minister Michael Fallon addresses the throng at the Adam Smith Institute Christmas Party, earlier this evening:

image

More to follow.

Monday November 17 2014

This morning I did a rather negative would-be posting about some Art, Art which had at first rather appealed to me but which, upon further consideration, I decided I did not much like or admire.

But then I realised that my rule for stuff that other people are doing with their own time and money and others are buying and enjoying with their own money and time is for me just to walk away.  Why moan?  The world is full of stuff I don’t much care for.  So long as I don’t get taxed to pay for it, or made to pay attention to it against my will, what on earth is the point of me seeking it out and bitching about it?

For me, this is one of the great benefits that has been brought about by the internet.  In the age of the mass media, you had this whole tribe of professional hacks who, day after day, week after week, were made to pay attention to things which quite often they would rather not have been paying attention to.  Inevitably, an air of irritation, even hatred, entered the souls and writings of these people.  The subtext, and often the text, was: I wouldn’t have picked this in the first place.  Only the Culture vultures who really were allowed to pick whatever cultural prey they were inclined to descend upon were able to communicate genuine pleasure, because they were the only Culture vultures who truly felt pleasure.  The rest of Culture writing was a mixture of grudging reportage and grumbling, with the occasional cheer when some hack found himself not clock watching, not trying to think of what the hell nice things he could say about something he considered nasty, or worse, just … shrug.

But now a tidal wave of amateurs has crashed into the culture-writing game and it has become, well, a game.  It has become fun. We bloggers and twitterers pick on stuff we like, and say: hey, this is cool, this is fun, this is good, this is something I really enjoyed immersing myself in.  Maybe you’ll like it too.  Commenters and other twitterers then say things like: well, I prefer this, or this, or that or that.  If, on the other hand, you said you didn’t like something or other, the response from other www-chatterers is, not unnaturally, just to say: well then why the rude word do you waste your time moaning about it?  Walk away.  If what you are moaning about is some Big Thing, heavily promoted, made much of, that everyone else seems to be paying attention to, fair enough, you are warning the rest of us off it.  But if it is just some little thing you found on the internet and you don’t like it, so rude-word-ing what?

For as long as there was just the one big Culture, that the media people agreed or had to agree was It, then all who wanted to be Cultural had to pay attention to that Culture, whether they liked It or not.  It was their duty, just as it was the duty of professional Culture-writers to write about It, to pay attention to It.  There was an air of joylessness and obligation about It all, like a queue in a passport office.

Favourite-blogger-of-mine Mick Hartley has written from time to time about the way that Art is now turning into fairground entertainment, often implying that this is a bad thing.  I also notice this when I visit London’s South Bank Arts enclave, which now has a much more “visitor attraction” feel to it than it used to have.  Hartley does do quite a lot of moaning, but mostly the Cultural stuff he does now is drawing attention to something he likes, thinks deserves to be more noticed, more enjoyed, more celebrated.  His posting today is a perfect example of this.  It’s not Art, it’s street art.  Street art is fun, it appeals to people, and it is also where a lot of the official Art action is now, because the Artists know that these street people are upstaging them.

Political money is now tighter than it was a decade and more ago, and if the Arts fraternity want yet more money, they must try appealing to their audiences rather than baffling them or insulting them.  They must now try to give pleasure, the way they tended not to in the twentieth century.

But there is more than economics going on here.  After all, there is still a hell of a lot of Official Money being competed for.  There is still a great big Culture out there, still being paid for, if not enjoyed.  No, the other difference is that there is also that damned internet out there, where regular punters get to say what they really think about it all.  If they are being got at by Culture, they can now get back at it, by saying: bollocks, and: I prefer this, or this, or that or that.  It’s a different world.

And you’ll never know what it was I just moaning about.  I will instead look for other things, that I actually like.

The sort of place I will be looking will be at places like Colossal, which, by the way, is where I found the thing that I liked at first but then didn’t like, that got me started on all this.  I don’t like everything at Colossal by any means.  But I like a lot of it.

Or, maybe this is really a posting that is not really about Art as such, more about getting old, as so many postings here are.  As you get old, you stop worrying about what Art is, if you are one of those people who ever did worry.  You just stop paying attention to Art, as in: Where Art Is Going.  It will go where it goes, and you go where you want to go.  It’s not the world getting happier.  It’s not Art getting more fun.  It’s just you.  It’s just me.

Ah blogging.  You can change your mind in mid posting, or even right at the end if you feel inclined.  What’s that you say?  You disapprove.  I must make up my mind.  Must I?  I tell you what, you go away and read something else, something you’d prefer.  This was just a bit of fun, and for you it wasn’t.  Forget about it.

Saturday November 01 2014

Last Wednesday and Thursday, I attended two talks, both at lunchtime, at and arranged by the Adam Smith Institute.  No event links because information about the first talk has already vanished from the ASI website, and information about the second hasn’t yet but presumably soon will.

On Wednesday, Russ Roberts talked about how to do libertarianism.  I agreed with pretty much everything he said, having long ago written very similar things, in particular in this.  Guy Herbert talked, on Thursday, about the Human Rights Act 1998.  He is, with qualifications and hesitations, for it.  He told me afterwards that the text of his talk will be available on line very soon, so I’ll try to add a link later to this posting, at the bottom.  If I fail, perhaps a commenter could remind me.  (LATER: Actually, I’ll add the link to the text (as Samizdata) here.)

At the talk given by Russ Roberts I forgot to take any pictures.  But at the talk given by Guy Herbert yesterday, I remembered.  This was the right way round to remember and forget.  There are many fine pictures of Russ Roberts on line, far fewer of Guy Herbert.

Here is one of the better ones I took of Guy:

image

And here, on the left, is another one that I liked:

image image

On the right there is the explanation of the picture on the left.  I took it through the gap at the top of the empty chair in front of me.  No, I do not know who David Penfold is.  I’m guessing he is the David Penfold mentioned as something to do with this.

The audience for the Russ Roberts talk was packed into the small room it was given in.  The Guy Herbert talk, in the same room, was less well attended, hence that empty chair in front of me.  But that’s because its subject matter was less of an ASI core concern.  It was about things outside the free market comfort zone.  Which is good.  That sends out a signal.  We don’t only operate inside our comfort zone.  There is a bigger, wider world out there.  We think about that also.