Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
Simon Gibbs on Mark Littlewood photoed by me and by this other guy
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6000 on Painted people
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Category archive: Bloggers and blogging
The skeletons of six cats, including four kittens, found in an Egyptian cemetery may push back the date of cat domestication in Egypt by nearly 2,000 years.
The bones come from a cemetery for the wealthy in Hierakonpolis, which served as the capital of Upper Egypt in the era before the pharaohs. The cemetery was the resting place not just for human bones, but also for animals, which perhaps were buried as part of religious rituals or sacrifices. Archaeologists searching the burial grounds have found everything from baboons to leopards to hippopotamuses.
Three policemen in Pakistan guarding the prime minister’s home have been suspended for negligence after a cat devoured one of the premier’s peacocks, it seems.
It seems? Well, did it or did it not?
This Japanese gum commercial makes me wish I had a super fluffy gigantic cat to help navigate the horrors of public transportation and carry me around, avoiding traffic and other pedestrian suckers who don’t have adorable cat chauffeurs. Then I remember that if a cat that big existed, it would probably just maul me to death, ...
Why are there so many cats on the internet?
The problem is that they are asking the wrong question, which should not be “Why cats?” so much as “Why not dogs?” And the answer is that dogs are trying too hard. When a dog gets in a box or hides under the duvet or wears a funny hat, it is because he is desperately trying to impress you – longing for your validation and approval. When a cat does one of those things, it is because it felt like the right thing to do at the time. And it usually was. It is cool, and effortless, and devoid of any concern about what you might think about it. It is art for art’s sake.
This, at any rate, is one of the theories (of which there are an awful lot) about why content related to cats seems to gain so much traction online.
Maybe. I guess that’s part of it.
The original reason for my Feline Friday cat chat is that cat chat on the internet, at first only at inconsequential blogs such as this one but now everywhere, illustrates that the number one impact of the internet is that there is now a new way to be amused, and cats are amusing. The serious political impact of this is that with the internet it is easier to concentrate on what you consider amusing, and to ignore what people who consider themselves to be more important than you consider to be more important. This really ticks them off. Which is nice. The internet puts politicians, for instance, in their proper place, on the sidelines. Cats may or may not be important, depending on how mad you are, but they are amusing.
The willingness of the big old Mainstream Media to tell frequent cat stories, as they now show and do, illustrates that these organs have now accepted that they no longer control the news agenda. If the people of the world decide that it is news that an angry 22-pound cat that trapped a family of three and prompted a frantic 911 call has been sent to an animal shelter, then news it is, and the big old media now accept this.
Yes, I’m afraid I’ve been doing rather a lot of quota posting of late.
So anyway, here’s the link.
And here is the quota photo:
That’s actually one of my more favourite recent photos. It was taken just before Christmas, in Twickenham, where Patrick Crozier lives, through the window of a shop where they sell … things like that.
I like the water on the window.
I think that this piece by Megan McArdle, entitled Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators is good.
Most writers were the kids who easily, almost automatically, got A’s in English class. (There are exceptions, but they often also seem to be exceptions to the general writerly habit of putting off writing as long as possible.) At an early age, when grammar school teachers were struggling to inculcate the lesson that effort was the main key to success in school, these future scribblers gave the obvious lie to this assertion. Where others read haltingly, they were plowing two grades ahead in the reading workbooks. These are the kids who turned in a completed YA novel for their fifth-grade project. It isn’t that they never failed, but at a very early age, they didn’t have to fail much; their natural talents kept them at the head of the class.
This teaches a very bad, very false lesson: that success in work mostly depends on natural talent. Unfortunately, when you are a professional writer, you are competing with all the other kids who were at the top of their English classes. Your stuff may not - indeed, probably won’t - be the best anymore.
If you’ve spent most of your life cruising ahead on natural ability, doing what came easily and quickly, every word you write becomes a test of just how much ability you have, every article a referendum on how good a writer you are. As long as you have not written that article, that speech, that novel, it could still be good. Before you take to the keys, you are Proust and Oscar Wilde and George Orwell all rolled up into one delicious package. By the time you’re finished, you’re more like one of those 1940’s pulp hacks who strung hundred-page paragraphs together with semicolons because it was too much effort to figure out where the sentence should end.
That last pararaph certainly rings bells for me. Which is why I find that the cure for blogger’s block is the opposite of self-esteem. Self-esteem, as McArdle says, gets in the way. Self-abasement can get you going again. I’m a crap writer, so anything I do manage to put now won’t make me any worse. And hey, it may even cheer me up by making me better!
As for that thing about having it too easy in school, I recall Geoff Boycott saying the exact same thing about cricketers. The ones who were effortlessly good as kids, and who therefore didn’t have to scrap, later often came second best to others who did scrap when they were kids.
Of course, sportsmen don’t procrastinate, because they have a set timetable when they have to perform. Instead they just do badly.
And I also recall Malcolm Gladwell throwing older brothers into the mix, in one of his books. Ace basketballer Michael Jordan had an elder brother, who he had to scrap against when young. I think it was Jordan.
I wrote this just before going to bed, even though I have had the whole day to do something better.
I think it just possible that I may have invented that clutch of blogging phrases involving the word “quota” - “quota post”, “quota photo”, or (my favourite, I think) ”quota quote”. I rather doubt it. More likely I invented such phrases simultaneously with several other bloggers. But, if I did invent this quota stuff, kudos to me. Either way, I do genuinely suspect that 6k at least caught this usage from me. This being because, like me at the moment (although not always), he (always) likes to stick up something every day. Despite him having a life, a job, a family, and other such peripheral blogging paraphernalia.
Often, it’s a quota photo. Like, for instance, this one, …:
I had been trying for a while to work out just what it was that I found so particularly appealing about this snap. What was it that I found so particularly … particular? Then, I got it. It looks to me, not so much like a real sea, as like a static, plasticated sea, as made by a really, really good maker of models.
The sea looks like it is made not of sea, but of solidified glue, or that see-through plastic stuff, called whatever it’s called. Throw a tiny ball bearing at this solid sea, and the ball bearing would just bounce off, with no splashing, and making the same noise it would make if bouncing off a table. The immobile sea would remain immobile, untouched, impervious.
The effect of a solid object rather than a regular sea is, I think, partly the result of the lighting. The effect is more like the way a lamp is reflected in a shiny table top than the way we usually see light on the sea.
But most of all, it looks somewhat weird because it’s a photograph. Photographs freeze moving objects into static objects, and sometimes this makes them look entirely different and unrealistic. A video of the sea would look sea-like. Videoed sea swallows ball-bearings, just like regular sea. Just not this sea, as seen and immobilised by 6k.
All this because 6k likes to have something up, often. And that’s the point of quota posting, for those of us who are suited to it. If you have reasonable taste, then the mere fact of starting doing a blog posting ensures not only that something will go up, but that, really quite often, something really quite good will go up. Like this photo, which I consider to be very good indeed. Often what takes the time, with blogging as with life, is not doing it, but getting round to doing it. The actual doing is often quickly done, and often very well done.
Some of my best blog postings have happened because I wanted to put up any old something, however bad, and it turned out really good.
I have my favourite bloggers. Mick Hartley, 6k and David Thompson being my most regular visitees. Two of these three (see those two links) often put up clips of their favourite bits of music, which I pretty much always ignore. Often, when confronted by other people’s favourite musical snippets, I already have music playing, on my separate music box which is nothing to do with my computer and which therefore works when I most need it, which is when my computer is not working.
I tend not to do stick up bits of my favourite sort of music, which is classical. Partly I’m lazy and am not very clever about putting up Youtube clips here. But I could put up lots of links (one follows below) to classical stuff. But, I tend not to. There are enough reasons for people to strike this blog off their weekly-read list or whatever, without me putting them off even more with bits of classical music.
Now, first off, I have no problem with bloggers posting whatever they like. Their gaff their rules. I put whatever I like (as in like to put) here, and they can put whatever they like to put at their places. But, am I the only one who almost always ignores music at other people’s blogs? Most of us like lots of random bits of pop music, old and new. In my case, there’s also a ton of classical classics I like a lot, and others also have their favourite genres that they know all about, adore some of and like a huge proportion of.
I mention this because, entirely for my own selfish reasons, I particularly want to be able to remind myself of this clip of someone called Yulianna Avdeeva playing Chopin, particularly well to my ear. And maybe that’s it. Bloggers use their blogs as personal filing cabinets, just as I do. They put up bits of music because they want always to be able to get hold of that bit quickly, and now they know they can. The readers can just wait for the next posting, and pick up where they left off. (That link, by the way, is to a bit of classical music at a blog that specialises in classical music. Quite often I do play the clips she features, because her kind of music is my kind of music. What I’m on about here is musical clips at blogs which are mostly about non-musical things.)
I think another point being made with these bits of music is the point I make with my occasional Friday cat blogging, which is that a lot of the appeal of blogging in particular and life in general is pure enjoyment. And music, perhaps more than any other art, and especially when no words are involved or in the case of the more upbeat and silly pop tracks, is all about pure enjoyment.
By the way, when I started writing this, I thought that David Thompson also featured occasional pop snippets. So I went looking for his latest pop snippet, but found that actually he does not do this, or not lately, hence no link to any music at his blog in the second sentence of this posting. But I did find this talk, by Greg Lukianoff, about the growing menace of the I-Am-Offended industry on American campuses. Quite long, but recommended.
SInce I started on this posting, Mick Hartley stuck up another pop clip. Again, I have not listened, and probably won’t ever.
When tube drivers get above themselves and start doing stand-up comedy routines over the intercom during tube journeys, I find this nearly unbearable. I think this is because, when on the tube, I go into a sort of trance, basically to cut out the din of the train, but comedy over the intercom makes that trance impossible to stay in. I find myself listening carefully, despite myself, in case the exhibitionist failed comedian says something of importance, and with that, I am obliged to listen also to the train noise. Horrible.
This (photoed yesterday by me at Embankment Tube Station), on the other hand, is not something I mind at all:
That’s right, platitudinous philosophical ruminations where there should be significant information about service interruptions. But, it didn’t bother me. In fact, I quite liked it.
Writing, as I recall writing in this piece (about how to argue), is a branch of good manners. (In that I actually said “publishing”, but the point is identical.) This is because writing is easily ignored. It puts the reader in control.
The same applies to blogging, in fact to the internet generally. It isn’t an interruption. You are in complete control of it. Except when the damn thing starts making noises (like those damned tube comedians), that you have to spend ages tracking down the noise and switching it off.
This evening I hope to be attending an Event. And now, having performed all my obligatory duties for the day, I am turning my attention to this blog. I am very pleased that for the last however many days it is, I have managed at least one blog posting here every day, and I want today to be no different.
It is now, as I write this, just after 1pm, and the Event is not until the evening. Yet, I find blogging even under such relaxed circumstances as these extraordinarily difficult. I do not mean truly difficult. I merely mean extraordinarily more difficult than it surely ought to be. Even a window of several hours, yet a window which has a definite end when I have to stop the blogging and start to do whatever it is, seems, maybe, too small. What if my writing catches fire? What if what began merely as a small quota thought ignites into a long essay? What if I suddenly decide that I want to add photographs, know the photographs I want to add, but do not know where they are on my hard disc?
Luckily for me, nothing clever is now occurring to me of the sort that will make ending this blog posting difficult. No added photo seems needed. So, I will just end it.
There. Easy. I reckon that took about ten minutes.
I will even have time to take some shirts to the laundrette, and have a clean one ready to wear, at the Event.
It was Hemingway, I think, who said that thing about how your writing is only as good as the stuff you remove from it, or words to that effect. (Exact quote anyone?)
And I think one of the reasons why some writers especially like blogging is that a personal, I-write-what-I-please blog like this one (but done by a Real Writer who also does Real Writing) is where such offcuts can go, and still have a half life. The offcuts are no longer completely wasted. But neither do they get in the way.
This is a posting of a type that is likely to become more common here, as the years roll by, because it is about bodily discomfort.
The discomfort today, which lasted all day, came whenever I tried to walk, and was all around my midriff. This was either caused by eating too much junk food, or by the manner in which I slept last night. Perhaps both. Maybe it was not junk food, but rather: too much cheese. The pain is in what I think is called the lumbar region, lumbar being a word I googled with the spelling wrong, making it sound like wood, which tells you that this kind of thing is rather new to me. Google corrected me, like a rude doctor. I hope that tomorrow morning all will be well, but just now that does not feel likely.
The blogging advantage of this particular discomfort is that it is not too undignified or disgusting. I am also beginning to experience discomforts that are very undignified and very disgusting, but these I prefer not to tell you about.
This latter reluctance explains, I think, why the discomforts of old age come as such a surprise to many people. The previous lot of old people only supplied to me a very censored version of what was happening to them, so I now have to find most of this out for myself.
Although, it could be that the previous lot of old people did tell me these things, but I wasn’t paying attention.
The worst thing about it is that you just know it’s going to keep on getting worse, and worse, and worse.
Last night I attended the Simon Gibbs talk about how to herd cats. For me the problem was right there in the title. It was like he knew he was attempting something impossible.
My immediate reaction is that what I do to cats is stroke them, if they will let me. If I “owned” a cat, that would mean that it would also be my duty to feed it. But herding cats? There’s a reason this phrase is used to describe social schemes that can’t work.
Simon’s scheme seems to depend on some kind of website. Websites are not my strong point, even understanding the point of them let alone actually making them work. The less new software I have in my life, the happier I am. So maybe I am missing not something here, but everything. Simon made several mentions of a “button”. When I find out where this is (somewhere at Libertarian Home?), I’ll give it a go. If others do and do whatever Simon wants them to do, then I guess the cats will start being herded and my present scepticism will be proved wrong. I hope that happens. (As I said to Simon after his talk, see this.)
Slightly more seriously, Simon’s talk made me think of a distinction that I associate with the great American theorist of management, Peter Drucker. As I recall it, Drucker describes various different ways to do organisation.
One is to imagine the perfect organisation. You ask: Suppose we had no organisation already, with all its obligations and habits and rituals, what would the ideal organisation for what we are trying to accomplish look like? And then let’s turn what we have into that. An example Drucker was fond of was Sloane’s General Motors, probably because Drucker worked for Sloane, although exactly when he did that work, I’m not sure.
Another is not to dream dreams of future perfection. It is to ask: What little steps can we take, now, immediately, in the right general direction, given the strengths and resources that we already now possess?
In my opinion the second attitude is better suited to the life of a London libertarian with a bit of influence but not much (i.e. libertarians like me and like Simon Gibbs), than is the first.
The late Chris Tame, whose Number Two I was for about a decade, was one hell of a libertarian organiser. Over the years he organised some superb and superbly ambitious events, because he asked what the perfect event would look like (as I did not) and then went ahead and organised it. But my ongoing disagreement (it never boiled over but it was always there) with Chris was that too many of his ideal schemes did not achieve anything other than some rather demoralising costs.
My own approach was to concentrate on much smaller completions – a small meeting, a pamphlet, a radio performance – and just try to get each potential completion completed as quickly and satisfactorily as possible, at which point it was on to the next one, and so on until victory is achieved. (You can see why I like blogging so much. And perhaps also why Chris never liked it, although he had other reasons besides the mere smallness of individual blog postings.)
The reason I mention Chris Tame, apart from the fact that I think it may illuminate, is that what I may very well be doing here is being reminded by Simon’s current scheme, as expounded last night, of a past argument in my life, and then slotting him into that argument on the other side from me. I may, that is to say, be completely misunderstanding what he is now proposing. I might, as the saying goes, be fighting the last war rather than this one. Since I do not now really get what he is proposing, this is not, to put it mildly, unlikely. Happily, Simon’s talk was being videoed, so you’ll soon be able to watch it for yourself and decide for yourself what you think about it.
I may very well, at some future date (maybe after watching the talk again), be explaining why this posting is completely wrong.
I enjoyed reading this review of McBride’s book, by Guido, not least because it is a reminder of how capably Guido can do posh. His blog is deliberately tabloid, and he greatly admires the tabloid style. But, as I learned when he was still at the stage of occasionally contributing stuff to the Libertarian Alliance, way back when, this is not the only style he can do.
I just did a bit of searching for LA stuff he had written, and found my way to this (scroll down to page 8), from the turn of the century. It’s about how he wants to switch to a kinder, gentler libertarianism.
Yes indeed, the ultimate quota photo:
The thing is, when I do a quota photo posting, I don’t want to waste something important on it. I don’t want to put up a photo of something that actually matters, that actually signifies, something that on a better blogging day, a day when blogging is not a tedious duty but is instead a pleasure, would cause of flood of really quite impressive verbiage to assemble itself in my brain, then tumble down onto the keyboard and into the wires and tubes of the www and thence to seep into your house and into your brain. I want to stick up a photo which normally would stay put on my hard disc and would never show its face in public.
So, a chain link fence reflected in a puddle is what you are getting today, and a chain link fence reflected in a puddle is all you are getting today.
There being there.
I think the fact that she likes finding quotes elsewhere is closely related to the fact that there are quotes to be found aplenty in her own stuff. I’m not saying I agree with all these, although I do quite a lot. It’s more the fact that something is said that lots of people, maybe including me and maybe not, are have surely thought, often without having ever having put it into words. Then when it is put into words, you go: yes.
Personally, I have this fantasy that the Internet becomes conscious and she turns out to be a lot like me and starts putting people in time out.
And, yes, lately mostly what I have been doing is “sharing” stuff but I refuse to share anything that contains the words “share if” even if I agree with it.
Generally people who have blogs are people who have something to say. Now I’m not bragging on myself here but on the many excellent blogs out there, some very popular, some unknown and ignored. They say blogs are out. Blogs are so last decade. But we’re still here cranking out words for our half-dozen loyal readers and we’ll still be here when Facebook is out and the next social media sensation is in because we have something to say. We may desperately wish someone was listening but the fact that they’re not will not stop us.
I have a wonderful husband. Ladies, I swear I am not making this up. My husband actually told me to buy new shoes.
So lyrics don’t really mean all that much to me anyway. I prefer music without any words at all. Or with words in a language I don’t understand. Especially Latin. It’s all about the music.
One’s opinions are not always consistent with one’s values. We all think they are and if someone points out the inconsistencies we will perform the most incredible logical and ideological gymnastics in order to avoid seeing these inconsistencies.
I hate when I have to sign something. My signature never looks the same twice so I’m always a little worried that someone is going to have a problem with it.
I feel sorry for people who are so afraid of being un-cool or unsophisticated that they can’t just enjoy beautiful things.
So today I have plenty of time for some good blogging. Um … well … I’m drawing a blank. Other than this nonsense that you just read I don’t have anything right now that I want to say. There might be a cat picture later.
I find I am very loyal to the earliest blogs I just happened to tune into, and this was one of the first.
I like this, from The Pointman, one of my favourite commentators on the Great Climate Debate just now (very anti-CAGW):
That’s what I’ve come to think blogging is. Yes, you can muck around showing how slick or amusing you are but unless you’re genuinely trying to talk to one or two other human beings out there, who perhaps may only exist in your mind’s eye, you’re just adding a bit more volume to the background noise of the internet. You have to take the view that apart from them, nobody out there is listening, so you can talk freely and at your own pace.
To take that thought one step further, once you accept the very real possibility that you might well be talking into an empty void, you don’t really have to care from then on about how the viewpoint you’re expressing will be received and of course, how you choose to express it is your own business. It flows. You’re a free man.
I was tempted to put this on Samizdata, but I think it fits better here, don’t you? Hello … Hello … Anyone there? … Oh well, just me then. No worries.
The purpose of this post is to get me blogging, and functioning generally, at a slightly earlier time in the morning than has been my habit of late. The establishment of new and better habits is all about starting by going through the proper motions, even if nothing else is achieved. Mission accomplished.