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Category archive: War
Bookshops are doomed, if my behaviour is anything to go by.
I treat them not as shops, but as showrooms. In them, I inspect potential purchases. Then I go home and see what Amazon will charge for anything I see that looks interesting.
A bookshop is not the only place for me to look for books of interest, but it is definitely one such place. The books in bookshops tend to be the more popular titles. This appeals to me for two reasons. First, popular titles tend to be quite good, and are seldom totally bad. Second, popular titles plug me into what the rest of middlebrow England is reading. I thus break out of the libertarian ghetto which I mostly inhabit when internetting. Even if a book is total rubbish, it’s still total rubbish that many are reading, and in that sense worth me reading.
When in bookshops, I used to jot down titles of interest. Now I merely take photos. Digital cameras are not just for taking pictures. They are also for taking notes.
Here are last Sunday evening’s notes, snapped in the big W. H. Smith at Victoria Station:
In each case, click on each picture to get to the Amazon spiel about it.
It may well be that, given Buy 1 Get 1 Half Price offers, one could, in this or that instance, get a better deal for this or that combination of books than one might on Amazon. But Amazon is the way to bet. You occasionally miss out on small savings with Amazon, but you quite often get larger savings, so you end up well ahead. In this case, the big Amazon bargain turned out to be the Bryson book, which cost 1p plus postage (= £2.81). All that is required is a little patience.
The most expensive of these books, even after Amazon had worked its price magic, was the one about 1216. But I still ordered that one. It sounds really interesting.
Great as the impact of Amazon has been on the new books market, I surmise that its impact on the not-so-new book market has been downright epoch-making. (That Bryson book is not so new, having been released in 2011.) Indeed, I surmise that Amazon has created a huge second hand book market where no such market previously existed.
But this too impinges on the bookshop business, because the big cost of books these days is as much reading time as reading money. If people spend time reading somewhat ancient books that they like, they have less time for the latest titles, as sold in bookshops.
A few years back, I got interested in Ian Rankin’s Rebus books. I read one, liked it a lot, and decided to read them all, in order. Why? Because, thanks to Amazon, I could. For a lot less than a fiver a go, I got Amazon to send me second hand copies of every Rebus I didn’t already have. I don’t see how I could have done this satisfactorily without Amazon.
See also: public libraries.
Also, impact of digital photography on trade, discuss. I’m thinking of how much easier it is to sell something to a stranger, by post, if you can cheaply show them a photo, or even several photos. Very cheaply. The marginal cost of digital photography is: zero. Impact of digital photography on trade: epoch-making. With books, you pretty much know what you will get. But, a frock? An item of furniture? Without even a photo, forget it. With photos, you’re in business. Which is more terrible news for shops.
“Grubbings” is a word I inherited from my late father, along with his fondness for the thing that grubbings describes. Grubbings are big building projects in their early, especially below ground level, stage, when they are … well: grubbing, rather than building upwards. My father loved grubbings, and so do I.
It’s often hard to photo grubbings, because they often put a high fence around them and there’s no convenient high-up spot nearby to look over. But at this site, you can climb up some steps (top left) to a Centre Point entrance on the first floor, and photo through the mesh that you see in most of the other pictures.
Even with the internet, it can be hard to know how these kind of things are going to end up. Okay, here are these computer fakes of how they had in mind two years ago for it to be, but who knows if that’s still what they’re thinking.
There is also the fact that there are often so many images of how, at various stages in the design, they envisaged things looking, that it’s hard for a more casual onlooker to keep up. Simpler to just wait and see.
It reminds me of how the Brits confused the Argies during that Brits versus Argies war. Instead of not telling the Argies their plan, the Brits did tell the Argies their plan, and all the other plans the Brits might just as likely be following. The British newspapers were full to the brim with every imaginable plan. And the Argies were baffled, trapped in the headlights of too much information, all of it suspect of course. That’s sometimes how I feel when trying (admittedly not very hard) to find out how some big grubbings in a big city like London are going to end up looking.
One of the about seventy seven signs of aging is definitely being more sensitive to the weather, and in particular the cold. I remember feeling this way as a small child, when first compelled to travel every morning to school. Now, I feel it again. I actually “caught a chill” earlier this week, and had to take to my bed for a whole day.
However, I will soon be getting out from under the weather, if the next ten day weather forecast is anything to go by, which it is. As of today, it looked like that (see right).
Talking of short range weather forecasts, James Delingpole did a silly piece in the Daily Mail a while back, saying the Met Office is a total waste of space. But it is precisely because the Met Office’s short-range weather forecasts are generally so spot-on that its mad opinions about the weather in the more distant future are taken so seriously. If the short-range forecasts were as bad as so many unthinking idiots say, the Met Office wouldn’t be half such a menace on the C(atastrophic) A(nthropogenic) G(lobal) W(arming) front. This Delingpole article played right into the hands of CAGW-ers. Asked the News Statesman: Was there ANYTHING in James Delingpole’s Daily Mail piece which was true? Yes. The Met Office is bonkers about CAGW. But Delingpole’s attempts to prove that the Met Office never gets anything right were indeed ridiculous, and did the anti-CAGW team no favours at all.
But I digress. To more serious matters. There is another reason I am glad the weather is going to perk up soon, which is that rugby matches are far more entertaining when the weather is nicer.
The Six Nations began with what the commentators were all telling each other was one of the best Six Nations first weekends ever. All three games were full of tries. England won. Okay, only against Scotland, but they won, and actually Scotland are looking a bit better now, with some backs who can actually run fast. Ireland and Wales scored lots of tries against each other. Italy beat France. It doesn’t get much better for an England fan.
But then the weather turned nasty and the games turned attritional. England beat Ireland, but nobody scored any tries. England beat France, with one fortuitous England try which shouldn’t have been allowed. Italy reverted to being … Italy. The one truly entertaining thing about the next two weekends, after the entirely entertaining first weekend, is that now it’s England played 3 won 3 and France played 3 won ZERO! Arf arf. Sorry Antoine.
Talking of England v France, I’ve been reading (and watching the telly) about the 100 Years War. And it seems that towards the end, the French cheated by having guns. That explains a lot.
So anyway, no more 6N rugby until the weekend after next, and I really miss it, just as I did the weekend before last. The Six Nations takes seven weekends to get done, with weekends 1, 2, 4, 6 and 7 being occupied with games, and weekends 3 and 5 being skipped. During weekends 3 and 5, I pine, and watch ancient rugby games, the way I never would normally, to fill the rugby gap.
The best ones I recently watched were two epic Wales wins against France, in 1999 (France 33 Wales 34) and 2001 (France 35 Wales 43), on VHS tapes. Sorry Antoine. But the next one I’ll be watching will be 2002 (Wales 33 France 37).
It is now Monday afternoon, but the end of my Thursday Odyssey is hardly yet in site.
My next stop was at Gramex, where second hand classical CDs are on sale, in particular abundance during the last week or two, as it happens.
The BBC is making a big fuss of LPs just now. Fair enough. LPs had a huge influence on the music being created at the time. Pop music was transformed, for a while, by the album, as was Pop Art, the album cover being a new arena for graphic fun and games of all kinds. Remember all those concept albums?
I just about do, but for me, Pop etc. was a parallel universe. I never disliked it, in fact I admired and admire it very much, and I like occasional pop tracks hugely. Pop is hugely better than recent “classical”, classical being basically a museum now. But despite all that, then as now, I still preferred and prefer classical, and for all but a few vinyl-obsessed classicists, the LP was never more than a means of reproduction, a window to look out at the classical garden, and a very ropey one at that what with all the clicks and scratches, particularly during your favourite bits. Classical music was a going concern long before recordings of any kind existed, and classical LP graphics never amounted to much more than pictures of the musicians, fancy ye-olde typography and/or kitschy chocolate box type landscapes. So when classical LPs were replaced by classical CDs, little was lost and a universe of distraction-free clarity was gained. CDs, certainly classical CDs, after a brief interlude of euphoric demand-driven bonanza profits, quickly got cheaper than LPs if you knew anything about how to buy them, on account of them being so much cheaper to make and distribute.
At first, people thought CDs would eventually disintegrate, but actually what was disintegrating was the CD players. CDs last for ever, provided you are minimally careful. Certainly mine all have, the only problem CDs being the ones that were scratched when I bought them. Crucial to the cheapness of CDs is that you can buy them second hand with reasonable confidence. On Amazon, sellers are terrified of a bad rating, and in shops, you can search out scratches for yourself. Often a shop will let you buy and try, and return if it is too much of a mess. Often what looks like a mess plays just fine. (The trick is to realise that scratches often don’t matter, provided they point towards the middle, as it were. The ones that go with the groove, sideways, because they seriously interrupt the one stream of digital stuff, are the killers.)
So for me, classical CDs were love at first sound. I keep wondering if I may soon stop buying them, but the sort I continue to buy, second-hand at Gramex or (more recently) from Amazon, continue to drift downwards in price.
Here is what I bought at Gramex on Thursday:
I paid only eight quid for those. And the one on the left is a double, which I have been looking for cheap for quite a while. Look for them on Amazon, here and here, and you discover (today anyway) that you would have to pay more like thirty quid for those. Plus, there is no postage to pay if you buy them in Gramex, like there is with Amazon. The cheaper the stuff you like to buy, the more that matters.
Which, along with the exercise I get from going there, is why I keep returning to Gramex. Boss Roger Hewland knows exactly what he is doing. He knows all about Amazon, and regularly checks prices there so as to go below them. He buys big collections for about one quid per CD, often within a minute of looking at them. He then piles them high, sells them cheap, and turns over his stock fast. He knows that getting four quid for something he sells in two days is a better deal for him than getting a tenner, but a month later. And he charges more like one quid for less desirable CDs, just to get rid of them and to make it worthwhile for his regulars to keep on visiting.
More and more regular shops won’t or can’t think like this, and in the face of online selling are just folding their tents, to be replaced by gift shops, restaurants and coffee shops. The latter two being what I did next.
First I went to Marie’s Thai Restaurant, a minute away along Lower Marsh from Gramex, and had my regular chicken and cashoo nuts with rice and a glass of orange juice, and then killed some more time in a Cafe Nero, while continuing to read about Tamerlane, in a book I recently bought for four quid in a remainder shop. He was born. He deceived. He tortured. He slaughtered. He conquered. He died. His vast empire immediately fell apart amidst further slaughter. What a pointless monster. Read about all that and tell me there’s no such thing as progress.
Coffee shops do puzzle me a bit, though. How to do they pay their rent? The morning and lunchtime rushes I suppose, which I avoid.
Here are some other snaps I took of the Memorial:
For some reason, I often find the little cards and photos of loved ones that people put on these memorials to be more evocative than the Big Thing itself. And given that others will of course also be photoing the big picture, I often find myself concentrating on these small things when I photo these things. And on others taking photos of course, that being a constant preoccupation of mine.
You don’t have to agree with everything Bomber Command was commanded to do during WW2 to salute the bravery of those who did it.
I for one find that prominent Pericles reference to defending freedom (the one I made into an SQotD, and which you can see in the final picture above) slightly odd. Bomber Command was an offensive weapon, as is made clear in the Churchill quote about how only the bombers could offer victory (see photo in line 3, far left). And its purpose was not just to win the war (which despite Bomber Harris’s promises it only helped to do), but to punish the damned losers of it for having started it. This was a punitive war, and everyone at the time knew it. Oh sure, the story at the time in the newspapers was that it was all precision bombing of military targets, blah blah, but if any bombs just happened to land on civilians, the attitude of civilians on our side was: serve the bastards right.
You have to realise how most British people felt about the Germans during WW2, including most of the bomber airmen. The Germans were the people who, having experienced World War 1 in all its horror, concluded from it that they needed to have a re-run of it, but this time win. Starting WW1 was forgiveable, albeit a horrible blunder, and we still quarrel about who exactly did start it. Starting WW2, on purpose, was unforgiveable.
Okay, maybe a lot of Germans were not in favour of all this. But they went along with it, very happily. Until it all started to go wrong.
WW1 ended with a negotiated German surrender. This time around, our Anglo ancestors were determined that every last German left alive would not only lose, but know that Germany had lost. Each German must taste defeat, and if they died while tasting it, that was just fine. This time, the surrender would be unconditional. No “stab in the back” crap. Stabbed from the front, with overwhelming force, by an enraged world.
Never again. You must never, never, do this again. That was what Bomber Command was saying.
In a way, the bombing offensive was a continuation by other means of the silly pamphlet dropping over Germany which was what the bombers first did. Sending a message, but this time in a form that would register.
You may not like any of this, but that is how it was.
This is such an important issue. Regular punters owning guns in America controls crime in America, except where idiot politicians forbid this.
But irregular punters, libertarians, not just having weapons but being downright enthusiastic about them. This will defend Libertaria, once someone finally gets it going, somewhere in the world.
Lots of libertarians think “defence” is a difficult issue. No. Just allow anyone who wants to do it to do it. The enemy are a bunch of wankers who don’t think they should be allowed to wield weapons. No contest. As for the armies these people think they command, our job will be to get our spies in among them, and stop them doing anything.
Building railways in built-up areas, organising drains, controlling infectious diseases; Things like that will be far harder to sort out.
By the way, I like the word “Libertaria”, to describe the place when Libertarianism first kicks off in a big way. I have been in the habit of calling this mythical land the “libertarian utopia”. But “utopia” is a word with baggage attached, a lot of it very bad. “Libertaria” dodges all such stuff.
The weather in London has been very grey and grim of late, but today it brightened up, and I walked over to Westminster Abbey to take some topical photos of massed crosses commemorating dead warriors. Is it wrong to turn vast rectangles of small wooden crosses into photo opprtunities? I hope not. No disrespect is intended:
Now I will go to Samizdata and link to them, as talked about here yesterday.
I’m reading what I think will prove to be a terrific book, about The Fall of the Roman Empire by Peter Heather. Here is some of what Heather says about the massacre of the lost legions of Varus in 9 AD (pp. 46-47):
The massacre was the work of a coalition of Germanic warriors marshalled by one Arminius, a chieftain of the Cherusci, a small tribe living between the River Ems and the River Weser in what is now northern Germany. The ancient Roman sources describing the defeat were rediscovered and passed into broader circulation among Latin scholars in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and from that point on Arminius, generally known as Hermann (’the German’) - the delatinized version of his name - became a symbol of German nationhood. Between 1676 and 1910 an extraordinary seventy-six operas were composed to celebrate his exploits, and in the nineteenth century a huge monument was constructed in his honour near the small city of Detmold in the middle of what is today called the Teutoburger Wald. The foundation stone was laid in 1841, and the monument was finally dedicated in 1875, four years after Bismarck’s defeat of France had united much of the Cerman-speaking world of north-central Europe behind the Prussian monarchy. The 28-metre copper statue of Hermann is mounted on top of a stone base of similar height, which itself sits on top of a 400-metre hill. The edifice was a reminder that the triumph of modem German unification had its counterpart in the Roman era.
The Hermann monument is actually in the wrong place. The name Teutoburger Wald was first coined for the forested area around Detmold in the seventeenth century, as people began to conjecture where the ancient battle might have taken place. Thanks to some extraordinary finds, part of the actual battlefield has now been identified about 70 kilometres to the north. ...
On the right there is the monument.
I regularly read in books about classical music that opera was central to rise of nationalism in Germany, and also in Italy. But that really drives that point home, I think.
That‘s not a Health and Safety Notice, this is a Health and Safety Notice:
Insurers’ in the City of London are finalising plans to set up a private fleet of armed patrol boats in the Gulf of Aden, in a new drive to stamp out Somali piracy.
Let’s just hope it really is a truly private venture, and not just the British government contracting out some of its naval activities. Tim Evans is in the habit of muddling up these two rather distinct ideas, in my experience, which makes me a bit cautious about this. He does it for noble reasons, namely to create momentum towards a real market in defence services by putting an excessively free market spin on things which really aren’t, or aren’t yet, and which may never be.
Nevertheless, this sounds like it might be quite close to the real thing.
The naval protection force was conceived by leading figures in the Lloyd’s of London market. They have been working with ship owners, freight operators and governments for months, marshalling support for their plan.
... and governments. Does that merely mean getting governmental permission, or governments being some of the biggest customers?
The goal of the Convoy Escort Programme is to provide protection for tankers trying to navigate the seas off war-torn Somalia while also reducing the soaring costs of insuring vessels, cargo and crews against increasingly vicious attacks by pirates.
Success for the venture, which has tried to shun the “private navy” tag, …
Good luck with that.
… would mark a gear change in international efforts to clamp down on piracy. Despite a successful recent intervention by the Royal Navy, the pirates have escalated their activities sharply in the past fortnight, seizing an oil tanker and its 125 million-pound cargo and killing two of its Filipino crew.
Gives a whole new meaning to Pax Brittanica.
And to the key idea of crowding out, as in governments crowding out the people who really want something paying for it themselves instead of being scared or enticed away from any such thoughts by governmental arrangements. I think this is - as in: may eventually become - a vindication for those who have long argued that Western governments should do less, not just domestically but everywhere. It makes me wonder what might have happened in the world during, say the last two decades, had defence cuts cut in a bit sooner and a bit deeper, like they are cutting in now, or will be very soon.
From commenter Aynsley Kellow (at 9.29 am), on this at Bishop Hill:
Confession time: I wrote an essay for Raser on how we could dismantle the military-industrial complex. I suggested that we needed a new mission to occupy all those physicists and mathematicians employed on missiles and the space program, and suggested that environmental protection would provide sufficient complexity, challenge and (importantly) employment. Be careful of what you wish for, I guess.
Even if no-one deliberately unleashed such a plan, might this be a part of what is happening? Otherwise about-to-be-unemployed geeks (i.e. the rather less bright variety) suffering from post Cold War downsizing?
I am continuing to read Leo McKinstry’s book about the mighty Avro Lancaster, and of course I continue to track the cricket in Australia, where England have been suffering a characteristic one-day anticlimax following Ashes success.
So I was rather charmed to encounter, in the Lancaster book, this quote (p. 263) from an interview with one Norman Boorer, a draughtsman who worked with Barnes Wallis, the inventor of the famous bouncing bomb, which was used to destroy two big dams in Germany in May 1943:
Wallis had studied old naval cannonball techniques, where the bomb was fired on a low trajectory and bounced, giving it more range. In his experimental work, he also found that backspin would allow it to bounce two or three more times. George Edwards, who was working closely with Wallis, was a very good cricketer - he could probably have been a county cricketer if he had not been a designer. He was a fine spin bowler and he explained that if you spin it backwards it will shoot and if you spin it forwards it will dig in. There was the other point that when the bomb hit the dam, if it were spinning backwards, it would hug the face and roll down, whereas if it were spinning forwards there was a chance it would climb up over the top of the dam.
So there we are. Cricket won the war.
Bomber Harris was a virulent opponent of the dams raid, as he was of anyone or anything which, in his eyes, diverted anyone or anything from the job of flattening German cities and slaughtering German civilians. Even after it had succeeded, he remained a sceptic. Too bad he wasn’t similarly sceptical about his own obsession with winning the entire war only with his own preferred sort of bombing raids.
I am delighted that McKinstry’s Lancaster has a chapter about the dams raid, having long wanted to learn whatever might have been patriotically wrong about the famous film they made about it, which I first saw when I was a mere boy, and which was based on this book by Paul Brickhill, which I first read when I was a mere boy. It would seem that Brickhill’s telling of the story is pretty much right.
I’ve started reading Lancaster by Leo McKinstry. The introduction contains this:
Rarely in history has a weapon of mass destruction been so cherished.
I’m looking forward to reading this book a lot. Unlike the Spitfire, the Lancaster had no film dedicated to the story of its construction, although of course it starred in The Dam Busters. But who designed it? Someone called Chadwick, apparently. Unlike with the Spitfire, the Lancaster was pushed through into production and general acceptance in the teeth of official preference for other, far inferior, bombers, like the Halifax and the Stirling. It was the nearest thing to private enterprise you can have in a world where the government is your only ultimate customer. The Americans, who laughed at the Spitfire for its puny thirst for petrol and consequent puny range, were apparently mightily impressed by the Lancaster. McKinstry is likewise impressed, as he makes clear in the subtitle of the book ("the Second World War’s greatest bomber"). The Lancaster was highly maneuverable, and amazingly rugged when damaged. It looks as if Chadwick and his sidekick, a man called Dobson, were yet another of those two man teams that I like to spot.
McKinstry seems to have fairly orthodox views about the limitations of Bomber Harris’s attempt to win the war entirely with Bomber Command. We Brits are now prouder of how we kept ourselves in the contest in 1940 than we are of how we fought our way to the bronze in 1945, so the Lancaster now lacks the aura of universal superstardom that still surrounds the Spitfire. But, perhaps because it is the physical embodiment of Britain’s last days as a true superpower, it is still much loved, by the sort of people who love airplanes.
There’s a Lancaster showing itself off at last year’s Farnborough Air Show.
Handheld porn market growing fast
Porn, one of the great driving forces of technological civilisation, as is increasingly acknowledged by all informed observers. Not so long ago, it was said that war caused technological progress. I call that a definite improvement.
Give porn a chance.
My problem (one of my problems) is that I accumulate open windows, to things I don’t want to forget about, and which I am hence reluctant to shut. But these open windows, and all the advertising shite they come with, clog up my computer, or so it feels to me.
Now I am sure there is a better answer to this problem than the one that follows, but for now, my answer, today, is to stick a few such links here, where they won’t vanish in half a day and where anyway I know my way around.
The Web Is Dead. Long Live the Internet. Note, incidentally, the disastrous headline punctuation. Punctuation in headlines says you can’t have a full stop at the end of a headline, but that you can have whatever punctuation you like in the middle of the headline, fullstops included. Bizarre. (Not that that’s why the piece interests me.)
That Codevilla piece about the American ruling class. Actually I think a major part of this story is that it isn’t only the American ruling class. It’s a global, or at least beyond national, class. The entire West that was is starting to be ruled by a united gang of interconnected people. Rulers of The World Unite. You have nothing to lose but the love of your dreary little voters. (To “love”, should I add “consent”?)
On the Validity and Necessity of Atheist Criticism of Islam. I like Edmund Standing a lot. Mostly I agree with this. But, I think he makes too little of the differences between Christianity and Islam. Christianity is bonkers but Islam is downright evil. (Although, I do admit that Christian anti-semitism is deeply embedded in it.) The problem I have with Islam is not only that it is so false. It is that it so nasty. Allah does not exist, but if Allah does exist he should be opposed. This is somewhat less true of the various Christian versions of God, especially nowadays.
The Vanity Fair Sarah Palin piece. I want to read this to see if it actually says anything more than: she’s a politician! Is she going to run for President? If she gets to be President will she be a quite good one, as Reagan (won the Cold War - only talked about stopping the US state spending rise) was. Will President Palin, that is to say, actually stop the US state spending rise?
The Chinese state media global offensive. Were a time traveller from a hundred years hence to invite me to guess what sparked the Big War of 2037, I’d guess China versus someone, rather than Islam versus anyone. Islam has the will to Big War, but looks unlikely at all soon to command the means to wage it. (I include Iran in that judgement. There is more to having a Bomb than just having a Bomb. You must also have the means to attack the other guy’s Bomb, and to defend your remaining Bombs, which you must also have.) And I have long believed that being able to fight wars is more important in their causation than merely wanting to. I mean, few great powers unambiguously want to fight major wars, because they have too much to lose. But, from time to time, they still did, and might one day again. Hopefully The Bomb will continue to work its terrifying magic, and Great Wars Between Great Powers will continue to not happen, but how long will that last?
I want to do a Big Piece on Samizdata about all that, Real Soon Now. Globalisation as we now know it, i.e. the version where we don’t fight global wars against one another, is more caused by The Bomb (which first happened in 1945) than by Modern Electronic Communications (which first happened in 1842). See Global Ruling Class, uniting of, above.
That should clear out my computer’s tubes a little.