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Category archive: Politics

Wednesday September 28 2016

Last year I posted three bits from Matt Ridley’s The Evolution of Everything, here, here and here.

Earlier, in 2014, I posting another bit from a Matt Ridley book, this time from The Rational Optimist.  I entitled that posting Matt Ridley on how technology leads science and how that means that the state need not fund science.

Here is another Matt Ridley book bit, on this same subject, of how technology leads science.  And it is also from The Evolution of Everything (pp. 135-137):

Technology comes from technology far more often than from science. And science comes from technology too. Of course, science may from time to time return the favour to technology. Biotechnology would not have been possible without the science of molecular biology, for example. But the Baconian model with its one-way flow from science to technology, from philosophy to practice, is nonsense. There’s a much stronger flow the other way: new technologies give academics things to study.

An example: in recent years it has become fashionable to argue that the hydraulic fracturing technology that made the shale-gas revolution possible originated in government-sponsored research, and was handed on a plate to industry. A report by California’s Breakthrough Institute noted that microseismic imaging was developed by the federal Sandia National Laboratory, and ‘proved absolutely essential for drillers to navigate and site their boreholes’, which led Nick Steinsberger, an engineer at Mitchell Energy, to develop the technique called ‘slickwater fracking’.

To find out if this was true, I spoke to one of hydraulic fracturing’s principal pioneers, Chris Wright, whose company Pinnacle Technologies reinvented fracking in the late 1990s in a way that unlocked the vast gas resources in the Barnett shale, in and around Forth Worth, Texas. Utilised by George Mitchell, who was pursuing a long and determined obsession with getting the gas to flow out of the Barnett shale to which he had rights, Pinnacle’s recipe - slick water rather than thick gel, under just the right pressure and with sand to prop open the fractures through multi-stage fracturing - proved revolutionary. It was seeing a presentation by Wright that persuaded Mitchell’s Steinsberger to try slickwater fracking. But where did Pinnacle get the idea? Wright had hired Norm Wapinski from Sandia, a federal laboratory. But who had funded Wapinksi to work on the project at Sandia? The Gas Research Institute, an entirely privately funded gas-industry research coalition, whose money came from a voluntary levy on interstate gas pipelines. So the only federal involvement was to provide a space in which to work. As Wright comments: ‘If I had not hired Norm from Sandia there would have been no government involvement.’ This was just the start. Fracking still took many years and huge sums of money to bring to fruition as a workable technology. Most of that was done by industry. Government laboratories beat a path to Wright’s door once he had begun to crack the problem, offering their services and their public money to his efforts to improve fracking still further, and to study just how fractures propagate in rocks a mile beneath the surface. They climbed on the bandwagon, and got some science to do as a result of the technology developed in industry - as they should. But government was not the wellspring.

As Adam Smith, looking around the factories of eighteenth-century Scotland, reported in The Wealth of Nations: ‘a great part of the machines made use in manufactures ... were originally the inventions of common workmen’, and many improvements had been made ‘by the ingenuity of the makers of the machines’. Smith dismissed universities even as a source of advances in philosophy. I am sorry to say this to my friends in academic ivory towers, whose work I greatly value, but if you think your cogitations are the source of most practical innovation, you are badly mistaken.

Thursday September 15 2016

Here.  The fourth of five postings at Samizdata today, so far.

Friday August 19 2016

Or to give it its official name, City Hall.

I took this photo of City Hall in April of this year, from the other side of the river, outside the Tower of London:

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Until this evening, I thought of this photo merely as the most flattering photo I have taken of this mostly rather ungainly, and frankly, frequently rather dirty looking building.

But, I just noticed that quite aside from it being such a flattering view of this edifice, my photo reveals that there is a spiral staircase in there.  I’m right.  Look closely, and you’ll see it too.

And here, by way of further proof, is a very artistic type photo of this same staircase, taken by Aaron Yeoman.  You have to scroll down quite a lot at the end of that link to reach this photo, so if you want quickly to see it bigger, click on this instead:

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If you are outside a building, this is the kind of thing you only see at dusk, when natural light and artificial light are in a state of approximate equality.  You wouldn’t be able to see that staircase in the bright light of the day, because you wouldn’t be able to see the lights inside the building.

Plus, with me, you need to allow a few months for me to realise.  My camera sees far more than I do, and I discover new stuff in my old photos months and often years later.

So far as I can work out, from looking at the what you can visit bit of the City Hall website, regular members of the mere public are not allowed to go up this staircase to the top.  But you never really know about things like this until you actually go there, and ask.  Next time I’m there, I might drop in and do exactly that.

Saturday July 30 2016

Indeed.  Photoed by me this afternoon.  I got off my bus early after spotting it, and walked back to photo it:

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Inside the extraordinarily big front door of this place.  The name keeps changing from Department of I forget what it used to be, to Department of I forget what it was after that, And I think they just changed it again, following all the recent political excitements, and us having a new Prime Minister.  Innovation?  Industry?  Skills?  All the sorts of things which, if you have a government department for it, you get less of.  I believe it is now: Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.  Jolly ho.  That’s probably completely wrong, and the Department of Energy and Industrial Strategy is perhaps somewhere else.  Maybe everything is just staying where it is, and they have merely juggled the labels.  That’s the likely story.  Like I say: jolly ho.

Impressive airplane, though.

Tuesday July 26 2016

I love before and after pictures.  Here is another, showing how the world looked before Blackfriars Bridge Railway Station was built (photo taken in 2004), and after it was built (photo taken a few weeks ago).

imageimage

What the two pictures have in common in those ghostly red columns, left over from an earlier Blackfriars railway bridge.

I seem to recall once upon a time speculating that the ugly lump next to the Shard made the Shard possible.Yes:

The Ugly Lump with the gasometer in front of it, on the right, is Guy’s Hospital.  The other day I heard myself surmising that maybe if Guy’s Hospital had never been built, the Shard might not have been built either.  As it was, there was no nearby neighbourhood or particular bit of the London skyline to ruin, aesthetically speaking, because that job had already been done by Guy’s.  As it was, any aesthetical objection to the Shard was, as far as the immediate locals were concerned, a non-starter.

I still think that’s right.  And what I now wonder is: did something similar happen with the new Blackfriars Station, the one on the bridge, that you can see in the right hand picture above, but not in the left had one?  What I’m thinking is that the view that you see on the left, looking over Blackfriars railway bridge to the towers of the City is perhaps not a view that London’s rulers were especially proud of, what with those columns.  Personally, I love the columns.  For me, they are classic London at its weirdest and most eccentric.  But you can imagine Powerful People being a bit uneasy about this oddity, and about the fact that Something Should Have Been Done About Them, by, you know, them.  So, a railways station which spoilt this view, while not doing too much violence to views across the top of the bridge from further away, might not have been unwelcome.  Without the columns, however, there was a view that they might not have been so ready to see interrupted.

This is just a speculation, just a thought, just a suggestion.  I’m sure lots of other thinking besides that sort of thinking went into the building of this weird and eccentric railway station.  (I added the word “more” to my title after first posting this.) But, I think there might be something to this.

Perhaps those Powerful People also hoped that something new and more constructive might be done with the columns, what with the new railway station being built.  Maybe such a use was even promised, but later abandoned, for some reasons or other.

LATER: Actually, what I am now realising is that there used to be three disembodied rows of red columns, but that the right hand row as we look got swallowed up in a widened version of the original bridge.  My pictures show this rather well, which is why I finally noticed.

Monday June 27 2016

Usually, I do quota postings in the small hours of the morning.  Today, I am doing my quota posting in the big hours of the morning, to get it out of the way before a rather busy day, at the end of which I do not want to be fretting about doing a quota posting.  Although, actually, this posting has now turned into something a bit more substantial than that, and I changed the title to something more meaningful.  So anyway, yes, cranes:

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Ah, cranes!  Those structurally perfect votes of confidence in the sky.  Those cranes were snapped from the south bank of the river, looking across at The City, on the same day earlier this month that I snapped yesterday’s quota photo.  What that new Moderately Big Thing is, that some of the cranes there are ministering to, I do not know, but I like how it looks, in its incomplete state.

With Brexit, will the cranes vanish for a few years, until London sorts itself out and finds itself some new business to be doing?  Crexit?  (You can always tell when a word has well and truly caught on, because people immediately start trying to apply the same verbal formula to other things.  Brexit, verbally speaking, is the new Watergate.  Frexit, Swexit, Thisgate, Thatgate, etc. etc.) I thought that the cranes were going to depart after 2008 and all that, but the money people managed to keep the plates spinning on their sticks, and London’s cranes carried on.  How will it be this time?

Here is a very pessimistic piece about Britain’s prospects, for the immediately foreseeable future.  Does this mean that my crane photo-archive will, in hindsight, be the capturing of a moment of the economic history of London that will now pass?  If the cranes do go, how will they look when they return?  When the new cranes move in, in ten years time or whenever, will cranes like those above look strangely retro, like digital cameras circa 2005?

Or, will the cranes never return, but instead be replaced by magic electric guns which fill the air with muck and sculpt a building out of the muck, 3D printing style, all in the space of an afternoon?

Saturday June 25 2016

Now that it’s been decided that we shall Brexit, Dezeen reports on what creatives have been creating to mark the event.  Here are the two images they reproduce which I think are the most striking:

imageimage

Both of these images are intended as expressions of regret that Britain has voted for Brexit, but neither quite say that, or not to me.  What, after all, is so great for a balloon about being stuck in a whole bunch of other balloons?  It’s creator says: “sad day”, but it doesn’t look that sad to me.  It just looks like a change.  If he was merely describing, relatively objectively, what had happened, then I guess: fair enough.

As for the disintegrating, weeping Union Jack, that would work far better as an expression of regret, in the event that Britain had voted Remain rather than Leave.  It is national flags like this one one that the EU has been working tirelessly to replace with its own flag.  Very odd.  But, a striking image nevertheless.

Friday June 24 2016

LATER: I was, see below, tired and tipsy when I did this posting.  By the above title what I meant was it was a brilliant talk, not that the talk was given by “Brilliant Brian”, aka me.  So, to continue ...

And here is the guy who gave it:

image

I usually forget to take photos at my Last Friday of the Month meetings, but this evening I remembered, and took that photo of my speaker, during the socialising afterwards.  I am too tired and too tipsy to say much about the talk, but it was indeed brilliant, and Anthony J. Evans is a real rising star.  I’ve heard him talk before, but this was something else again.  Basic message: Yes, national crises do create opportunities to insert “neo-liberalism” into countries, and a good thing too.  Persuading a political tyranny to liberalise on the economic front often leads on to political liberalisation.  Example: Chile.  “Neo-liberalism” has good outcomes.  Unlike the policies favoured by the people (Naomi Klein, George Monbiot) who complain about neo-liberalism, which only unleash disaster.

Thursday June 23 2016

First, this, which was the graphic on the front page of today’s pro-Remain Daily Mirror, and reproduced at Samizdata, which Natalie Solent reckons sends a somewhat ambiguous message.  I agree.  Because REMAIN is in the biggest letters, it looks like it could be saying that if you vote REMAIN, you’ll be sucked into a black hole.  As you will, by the way, if enough people do this. This is indeed the fate that awaits us all, in the event of a REMAIN victory.  One of the reasons why this graphic only works when misunderstood, is that when misunderstood, it becomes true!

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The thing is, the EU is a lot nearer to being like a black hole than us leaving the EU is.  For that message, they needed something more like an endless desert, or a huge tundra, or maybe some grim maritime scene, doom-laden as far as they eye can see.

imageThe enormity of this decision is, I feel, appropriately reflected in the deranged graphics which occurred when this picture got loaded up.  Samizdata usually centres pictures automatically, and also makes them smaller automatically, if they need to be smaller.  That doesn’t seem to be happening at the moment.

In the comment thread on that posting, I mentioned that it was raining.  Which it was, torrentially.  But alas, it soon cleared up, thereby not dampening down the London (= Remain) vote as much it might have if it had rained with less violence but greater steadiness.  I mean, they even managed to have a shortened game of cricket at Lord’s, after the rain had stopped.

And on the right there, Elizabeth Hurley, who will have voted Leave by now, that being the picture she Twittered yesterday along with her support for Leave.  There she stands, wearing only high-healed sandals and a Union Jack cushion, or that’s how it looks.  Thankyou Guido.  She was probably right that this would get noticed, and would aid the cause she favours.  But I bet the Leavers have been circulating their own interpretations of this rather odd picture.  Is the picture recent, I wonder, or does it date from way back?

At least it is upbeat and optimistic in atmosphere, unlike that black hole.

Saturday June 18 2016

I am currently spending all my blogging time, apart from the late night hour or so that it took to bash out this, working on a summary of a talk given to Libertarian Home by Mark Littlewood, about Brexit.  Lilttlewood used to be for Britain staying in the EU, but has since changed his mind.  I hope to be sending that summary in to LH some time tomorrow.

Meanwhile, my understanding of the referendum is that the Jo Cox murder has made a bit of a difference, in favour of Remain, but that a stronger swing towards Leave has also been happening.

The whole immigration argument, now being pressed hard by the Leavers, is obviously making a big difference.  But I reckon some other forces are also in play.

I was struck by the news that Leave was appealing to Labour voters by saying that voting Leave would wipe the smile off the faces of Cameron and Osborne.  I think that’s probably proving to be very persuasive.  In a General Election, you can hate Cameron and Osborne all you like, and vote against them.  But, against you are all those people who think that a Labour Government would be a catastrophe.  They all vote for Cameron and Osborne despite not liking them.  But in this referendum, all those Labour voters whose overriding emotion is loathing of Cameron and Osborne can actually cause Cameron and Osborne to lose.  I’m guessing that’s a very appealing idea.

I also think that Eddie Izzard’s bizarre appearance – literally his appearance – on shows like Question Time destroyed with one viral image the claim that all Remainers are normal people and only the more unhinged of the Leavers are a bunch of nutters from some other planet.  Izzard reminded me of that bonkers woman in a beret that the late Victoria Wood once did, to such comic effect.

To be clear.  I’m not saying that everyone now thinks that those arguing for Leave are all normal.  Leavers have long been reckoned by normal people people to be, many of them, about as sane as a sackful of drunken badgers.  What Izzard did was say to the nation: Lots of us Remainers are barking mad too.

Izzard, in other words, completely changed a widespread and very influential idea.  If everyone had been supposing that all Leave freaks are actually not freaks at all, any of them, than the Jo Cox murder would also have changed things, a lot.  As it is, this horror story merely confirms what most people already know about Leave freaks.  They’re freaks.  Meanwhile, the mainstream politicians arguing for Leave are not nearly such freaks.  They are fairly normal looking.  They look normal in the way that Farage looked normal, when he was sitting next to Izzard on Question Time.  The Jo Cox murder doesn’t change that.

Izzard, on the other hand, actually changed things.  The murder of an MP is a much bigger deal than Izzard.  But that murder, horrible though it was, does not change what most people think about Leavers.  Many Leavers are freaks.  But what Izzard did was use his small national presence to suggest a really rather big change, and not in a way that helped the cause he was arguing for.  He said that many Remainers are freaks too.

That’s the problem with showbiz people.  They confuse showbiz popularity with being popular with the entire nation.  If you find a comedian to be annoying or just not very funny, you can simply ignore him, happily leaving those who adore him to carry right on adoring him.  The comedian makes a good living.  You are not bothered.  Problem solved.  Everyone happy.  Personally, I think Eddie Izzard has one joke - “Hey, I’m completely random in what I say!” - and I’ve heard it enough not to want to hear it again.  So, I now ignore Izzard.

But politics is, by definition, the stuff that comes for you whether you want it or not.  Politics is like having to sit and listen to a performer whom you don’t like.  When Izzard steps forward, dressed like that, spouting political opinions, he then provokes, from those who do not like what they are seeing, not a mere shrug of indifference, but active opposition.  Izzard made people want to vote against what he was saying.

In this recent piece in the Independent, it was claimed that how Izzard had been arguing was the problem.  I wonder if even the anonymous editors who signed off on this editorial really think this.  They carefully avoided saying that Izzard looked like a freak.  Which is fine for late night telly fun.  But it is not fine when the subject being argued about is the manner in which our country should be governed.  There is a reason that ambitious politicians do not, any of them, present themselves as Izzard just did.

If the Brexit referendum result is as close as it could well be, Izzard’s contribution to the Leave cause could prove to have been decisive.

This has been a been a rather muddled and repetitious piece of writing.  This is because I was working out what I thought, as I wrote.  The point about how the Jo Cox murder doesn’t change how anyone feels about Leave Freaks, but that Izzard’s pratting about does change what lots of people feel about Remainers, and that lots of people now reckon that a lot of Remainders are Freaks too, only emerged as I wrote.  But, me thinking aloud is one of the things this place is for.

Friday June 17 2016

And I’m back to trivia-mongering.  Any day now, I’ll be back to opinion-mongering too:

image

It’s the first picture of these.

Engineer Thomas Selig, 28, set up his camera on a tripod 100 metres away from a cluster of female lions and cubs in the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. He then retreated to a safari vehicle to take pictures with a remote control. A lioness decided to make off with his camera, and proceeded to chew it!

Lucky someone had a second camera, to show what happened to the first camera.

Actually, according to what I am now reading, a lot of people never stopped opinion-mongering.

Thursday June 16 2016

All over the British bit of the internet, opinion mongers and trivia mongers are struck dumb by … this, the murder of a young woman, with a husband and two young children, who happened also to be a Member of Parliament.

Saying anything else, about anything else, is – and for once the word is apt – inappropriate.  It feels inappropriate to me, anyway.  So, we all say, pretty much, nothing, unless we know something that is relevant, like if we once met her or knew her or something, which of course I did not.

Obliged to comment, my comment would be: what she said.  She being a wife and mother herself.

I also think that this posting, at a website usually distinguished by its willingness to be wondrously inappropriate, was good.  It’s video of a most eloquent speech that Jo Cox gave in the House of Commons.  It’s good that, nowadays, more and more people can be remembered in this sort of way, saying and doing the sorts of things they said and did best.

Monday June 13 2016

Indeed.  Just after snapping that WWWhite Van (see below) in Lower Marsh, on Saturday, I then photoed, in the same road a bit further on with a new name (The Cut) another means of transport of interest, in the form of this:

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I have not seen an electric car being charged before, in the flesh, as it were.  Not in London, not anywhere else.  As you can see, this electric car originated in Brighton, the San Francisco of England.

I am sure all my libertarian friends would want to tell me that such cars only exist because of Big Green Blob giving them Money, and that in a real market, they would not exist.

Thursday June 09 2016

Indeed, with cranes and with intervening roof clutter in the foreground:

image

One of the oddities of the internet is that if you google new us embassy london, you get lots of Big Boxy Things, all looking different from each other.  By which I mean, it’s the same box, but the architectural wrapping is different.  Basically what you are looking at is all the different guesses or early suggestions about how it was going to look or how people thought it ought to look, which then just hang about for the next few years.  Until such time as the Big Boxy Thing is finished, at which point huge numbers of new photos of it will drown out the guesses and the failed propaganda.  This makes it hard to know, now, when the Big Boxy Thing is still being constructed, if what you are seeing is the Big Boxy Thing in question, or some other Big Boxy Thing.

But, in among all the imaginings, I found actual photos of the new Embassy as it actually is, in the process of being built, and the above photo is definitely of the actual US Embassy.  No doubt about it.  More views from the same spot, above my head as I write this, here.

What is happening is that Spook Alley, which starts near Waterloo Station, continues via all those James Bond enterprises in anonymous Big Boxy Things, and then takes in the new MI6 building, is now being added to with an American strip of boxes of comparable scale, further up the river on the south side.  This is the Special Relationship in steel and concrete form, and the idea that this relationship is now cooling is visibly absurd.  It has never been more solid.  A whole new district of London is being created, basically for spying on terrorists, and on anyone else that the spooks take against.

As the rest of London expands down river, towards places like the new Container Port way off to the east, governmental London moves in the other direction, up river, west.

Tuesday June 07 2016

So, daily-blog-read-for-me David Thompson linked to a posting at ArtBlog, about the rights and wrongs of arts subsidies.  I read that posting, and read through the comments too, just as David Thompson did.  I find myself wanting to comment.  But, can I be bothered?

And then, in comment number 16, courtesy of the Maitre D of ArtBlog, Franklin Einspruch, I discover that I have commented, thus:

The greatest art seems to happen when high art and low art combine, in the form of something that is superficially entertaining and stirring and popular, and also as profound as profundity seekers might want it to be. Arts subsidies harm art by dividing it into less good entertainment art, paid for by punters, and less good high art, paid for with subsidies. Arts subsidies in Britain are now being cut somewhat. The result will be somewhat better art.

Which Franklin found in this Samizdata posting and copied into his comment thread.  How about that?!

The two arts that best illustrate this opinion of mine are probably Elizabethan and post-Elizabethan theatre (i.e. Shakespeare and all that), and classical music in the days of its glory, from about the late 1700s until around 1900 (i.e. Mozart, Beethoven and all that).

Shakespeare’s plays are now considered just about as profound as Art with a capital A can ever get, but at the time, his stuff was considered rather middle-brow.  Too commercial, too appealing to the rabble.  About half of Shakespeare’s mere plays - the very word suggests something not to be taken truly seriously, doesn’t it? - were nearly lost to us:

Of the 36 plays in the First Folio, 17 were printed in Shakespeare’s lifetime in various good and bad quarto editions, one was printed after his death and 18 had not yet been printed at all. It is this fact that makes the First Folio so important; without it, 18 of Shakespeare’s plays, including Twelfth Night, Measure for Measure, Macbeth, Julius Caesar and The Tempest, might never have survived.

What will posterity, in its various and many successive iterations, consider to be the Great Art of our time?  And how much of it will be lost, on account of it not now being considered artistic enough?