Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
Katherine James on Detlev Schlichter talking about Von Mises (and being videoed)
Alan Little on Christopher Seaman on conducting
Katherine James on Quota quote
6000 on Cricinfo just said it didn't rain in Port Elizabeth on February 24th until after lunch
Katherine James on Cricinfo just said it didn't rain in Port Elizabeth on February 24th until after lunch
Alison Hendricks on Feline ephemera
A Cowardly Citizen on "In order to comply with Google's regulations ..."
Darren on The good done by the Apple Newton
Darren on Don't judge a new technology by its first stumbling steps
Michael Jennings on The good done by the Apple Newton
Most recent entries
- Detlev Schlichter talking about Von Mises (and being videoed)
- Quota quote
- Cricinfo just said it didn’t rain in Port Elizabeth on February 24th until after lunch
- Christopher Seaman on conducting
- Under Blackfriars Bridge
- Feline ephemera
- The good done by the Apple Newton
- 3D printed baby in the womb
- A new Morrisons is opening in Strutton Ground next Monday
- Ashes Lag recovery continues
- A Bitcoin vending machine and a Lego photographer (and a Lego Hawking)
- “In order to comply with Google’s regulations …”
- Blue wind
- Don’t judge a new technology by its first stumbling steps
- Me trying to tell Norman Foster and Richard Rogers apart
Other Blogs I write for
6000 Miles from Civilisation
A Decent Muesli
Adventures in Capitalism
Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise
Another Food Blog
Antoine Clarke's Election Watch
Armed and Dangerous
Art Of The State Blog
Boatang & Demetriou
Burning Our Money
Chase me ladies, I'm in the cavalry
China Law Blog
Civilian Gun Self-Defense Blog
Coffee & Complexity
Communities Dominate Brands
Confused of Calcutta
Conservative Party Reptile
Counting Cats in Zanzibar
Deleted by tomorrow
Don't Hold Your Breath
Douglas Carswell Blog
Dr Robert Lefever
Englands Freedome, Souldiers Rights
Everything I Say is Right
Fat Man on a Keyboard
Ferraris for all
Freedom and Whisky
From The Barrel of a Gun
Gates of Vienna
Global Warming Politics
Greg Mankiw's Blog
Guido Fawkes' blog
Here Comes Everybody
Hit & Run
House of Dumb
Iain Dale's Diary
Jeffrey Archer's Official Blog
Jessica Duchen's classical music blog
Laissez Faire Books
Last of the Few
Libertarian Alliance: Blog
Liberty Dad - a World Without Dictators
Lib on the United Kingdom
Little Man, What Now?
Loic Le Meur Blog
L'Ombre de l'Olivier
London Daily Photo
Metamagician and the Hellfire Club
Michael J. Totten's Middle East Journal
More Than Mind Games
Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism
My Boyfriend Is A Twat
My Other Stuff
Nation of Shopkeepers
Never Trust a Hippy
Non Diet Weight Loss
Nurses for Reform blog
Obnoxio The Clown
On an Overgrown Path
One Man & His Blog
Owlthoughts of a peripatetic pedant
Oxford Libertarian Society /blog
Patri's Peripatetic Peregrinations
Police Inspector Blog
Private Sector Development blog
Remember I'm the Bloody Architect
Setting The World To Rights
SimonHewittJones.com The Violin Blog
Sky Watching My World
Social Affairs Unit
Squander Two Blog
Stuff White People Like
Stumbling and Mumbling
Technology Liberation Front
The Adam Smith Institute Blog
The Becker-Posner Blog
The Belgravia Dispatch
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The Big Blog Company
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the blog of dave cole
The Corridor of Uncertainty (a Cricket blog)
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The Only Winning Move
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The Road to Surfdom
The Wedding Photography Blog
The Welfare State We're In
UK Commentators - Laban Tall's Blog
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Violins and Starships
we make money not art
What Do I Know?
What's Up With That?
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This and that
Category archive: Language
I’m reading Boris Johnson’s book about London. It’s good fun. I don’t know how much Boris is to be trusted about things like historical facts, but I doubt it is that bad, even though he is a politician.
The thing is, for years I’ve been looking for a brief history of London, but all the others seem to be too long, and too solemn, or worse, they exude literary pretension. I think I own this book, but have never been inclined to read it.
I’ve just finished the Chaucer chapter. I hadn’t realised quite what a swell Chaucer was. Him writing in English was a rather generous - or maybe rather patronising - gesture from a man whose first language was Norman French. It was during his lifetime that English supplanted French as England’s language. Johnson mentions the Black Death, of course, but not one of my pet theories about the Black Death, which is that the Black Death actually helped to cause English to take over, by killing half the royal administrators, who then had all to be replaced, because clearly the bureaucracy couldn’t get any smaller. That would be against the laws of everything. So, what remained of the teaching profession was sucked into the bureaucracy. At which point the English turned to home education. Guess in which language. But I digress.
I am greatly looking forward to reading about the time of the English Civil War, and then the stuff about John Wilkes, who is someone I keep hearing about but have never really got to grips with. I anticipate a good, quick, potted biography. I am expecting the arguments swirling around Wilkes to be a bit like those that now rage around the figure of Edward Snowden.
The book passes my basic test, which is that having started it, I find that I want to finish it. I am reading the book, despite merely needing to read other books.
In the shop (a remainder shop), I read the beginnings of the chapter on Shakespeare, and bought it on the strength of that. You can buy it for £2.82.
The weather today has been particularly vile. Rain and wind in a horrid combination, far worse even than the day I took the first of these two pictures, of three of London’s Big Things. So here, to cheer me up, is a picture of the same Big Things, from a bit nearer, and in nicer weather, taken in July:
These Big Things, in this random clump, fascinate me. Architects have obsessed about the aesthetics of each individual Thing, but seem to have paid no attention at all to how they will look in a group. They are just plonked down next to each other, like a child playing with bricks.
Well, it may be a bizarre aesthetic jumble, but partly because of this, no other city on earth has anything quite like it.
What is particularly unique about London’s Big Things is that they are funny. They are tongue-in-cheek. They’re havin’ a larf.
The names – affectionate rather than grandiose – reflect this air of comedy. Gherkin. Cheesegrater. Walky-Talky. These names are chosen by the people of London, not imposed upon us by our rulers.
I notice that in this posting, about Maggie Thatcher telling Botha to get rid of Apartheid in 1984, Guido uses the phrase “Comrade Blimp”.
I like to think I may have put this meme into his head, with this, which was published in 1984. (If I don’t link to my ancient writings, nobody will.) But then again, maybe in 1984, the phrase was already doing the rounds, and I merely plucked it out of the breeze myself. Or maybe he said it first, and I stole it from him.
Either way, it’s good, I think.
And not just any old telly. BBC1, The One Show, no less, watched by millions. I was and I am impressed. Watch Elena Procopiu in action 25m30s into it, here, while it’s still there. (For future reference, this was on Tuesday December 3rd.)
Elena was born in Romania and did a piece to camera about Romania and about Romanians in England, entirely in a Romanian accent until right at the end, when she said in her regular English voice that lots of Romanians have been here for years. Many Romanians have already seen this performance, on the www. Some, who missed the bit at the end, were surprised that someone who has been in England for so long still has such a strong Romanian accent. None said that the Romanian accent was not a proper Romanian accent, which is not that easy to get exactly right, if you no longer have such an accent.
Like the space in an Elizabethan court masque that the performers left for the courtiers themselves to step forward and take part, today everyone needs to work out how to create a stage on which the constellation of divas formerly known as the audience will strike their own pose.
That’s to be found under this headline:
The Long View: Bob Dylan and the selfie: The world’s now a stage and we’re all performing
And under this photo:
Are yes, selfies. Says Sidwell, re this new word:
Even as I cling to my old-fashioned desire to take photographs of the things that I see, “selfie” – the new nickname for a photographic self-portrait – has been declared Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year, following a 17,000 per cent increase in usage year-on-year.
I have been long been studying this phenomenon. We may not have had the word “selfie” in 2007, but there were already many, many people doing selfies:
That being one of my all time favourites from my selfies archive.
LATER: Incoming from Michael Jennings:
Taken, says Michael, on a ferry between Greece and Albania in July.
Last night, at Chateau Samizdata, I and all others present drank this:
Until last night I did not know that there was any such thing. Well, I knew there was Sauvignon Blanc, but not called that.
Sadly, I failed to properly include the hippo at the top of the label on the left, but you can see plenty of the hippos here, because of course there is a website and you can read all about it.
Clever marketing, I think. The real wine buffs will like it, if they like it, regardless of the name. “Oh yes, it’s actually rather good, you know” blah blah. And the wine unbuffs like me will like it too, because it’s a laugh, and a bit of a tease of wine buffs of the sort who expect wine not to be called such a thing. So, win win.
Today being Remembrance Sunday, but not having got out and about during it, I instead looked for Remembrance photos past, and came across the archive containing these.
I was struck by one in particular, in which we see the phrase “To All Our Heroes” inscribed on a cross with a poppy on it. That word “heroes” makes me slightly uneasy, especially in the plural. Were they all heroes? Similarly, the way all these dead are so often described as having “given” their lives for freedom, or for their country, or whatever. It must surely be more accurate to say that many of these men were victims, and that their lives were taken from them. It might be rather insulting to describe them thus in public displays honouring their memory, but maybe more accurate.
The cross on which the word “heroes” is inscribed is surely rather more accurate, as a description of what really happened, to most of these dead. I do not deny that there were indeed many heroes, in all these wars. But surely, for most, war, and death in war, were things they endured. That is a kind of heroism, of course, but is not quite what is usually meant by the word.
I lost an uncle in World War 2, although it happened before I was born. He was the victim of a training accident. I respectfully mourned him from time to time throughout my childhood and have gone on doing so ever since. But there was nothing especially heroic about his death, and that has just seemed to me to be yet further cause for sadness. Many times I wished that Uncle John had died heroically, if he had to die at all. But, he did not die heroically. War is like that.
The cross seems to me to be a somewhat more accurate representation of what happened to these countless men than does the word “hero”. This was surely more like a catastrophe which swallowed people up, in the manner of a natural disaster such as an earthquake or a flood or a fire. Some who suffer or die in the course of events like that are very properly called heroes, because they did indeed behave, and perhaps die, heroically. Most, however, are merely described as victims. No disrespect is intended with that label, and I intend no disrespect in suggesting that many of these war heroes were really just war victims. Their deaths are no less worthy of being remembered and reflected upon, merely because we describe their deaths that bit more accurately.
A lot hinges on whether you consider the fights and wars that all these dead people died in were worth it. There is something inherently somewhat unheroic about dying in a fight that could not accomplish anything good. Part of being a true hero is that you choose the fight in which you will risk and perhaps lose your life, and that you choose it well.
If anything in the above angers you in any way, the chances are that this is because I didn’t say it right. I’m trying to say something that is somewhat hard to pin down, and maybe said it wrongly. I am not trying to say anything demeaning or disrespectful, either towards the dead themselves, or towards the feelings of those who still, like me, mourn them.
Incoming from Michael Jennings:
But, you know what they mean.
Michael, where are you? Or rather, where were you when you took this? (You will presumably be somewhere entirely different by the time you read this.) Georgia was it? Moldova? Az ...something? Something-istan? I think he did say.
Anyway, good luck with the hydro power guys. Dam I love hydro-electricity. Sorry, I have been out, and there was drink.
TIL that TIL stands for “Today I learned”.
I was trying to understand this posting, about big cats. 6000 says big cats are lazy, and that he has the photos to prove it.
My understanding is that it’s big male cats that are the lazy ones. Their bitches, or whatever is the proper expression for female felines, work far harder.
Alas, not that kind of bouncer.
My friend Alex Singleton dropped by the other day. He often does, after or between appointments that bring him near to my home. He has a blog, which I recommend, and Alex himself recommends blogging as a good way to spread ideas or sell products. I sort of knew Alex had a blog for a quite a while, but did not really register this fact. I am now digging backwards, and finding things like this, from someone called Harold Burson:
The term communications has become synonymous with PR but this does a disservice to our profession by making it tactical … The best term for what we do is public relations.
I recently read a book where “PR” meant photo reconnaissance throughout. It described a different world entirely from ours, in which misdirected photographic efforts could easily cost your your life. But yes, good to encounter someone who is not ashamed of what he does.
Too few practitioners have even heard of the legendary figures of PR, such as Ivy Lee and Sir Basil Clarke, let alone read about them. But it does mean that those who put the time in to study how PR works – practically, not academically – quickly shine.
That’s Alex himself. There are, throughout his blog, regular references to and quotes from old dead guys, another who is frequently mentioned being David Ogilvy. Why reinvent the wheel? A particular theme of Alex’s thinking is that the new social media don’t render all the wisdoms of the PR and advertising past obsolete.
I like how Alex writes. He prefers short and clear sentences to longer and wafflier ones, clear words to the vaguer words so loved by PR-ists. Everything he writes exudes confidence in his ability to help enterprise do their PR better. Which would explain why he is not afraid to have as his latest posting an admiring piece about Rudolf Flesch. Quote:
Flesch writes: “while we don’t need so many words any more to express our thoughts, the words we do use carry a much heavier load of ideas… as far as ideas are concerned, our sentences are usually much longer and fuller than those people wrote two or three centuries ago”.
The danger, he says, is that “our more heavy-handed writers don’t care much for the modern short sentence either; and so we get prose that consists of overlong sentences packed to the brim with long, overloaded words”.
And that, in a nutshell, is what’s wrong with so much material that comes out of big organisations today.
You don’t put stuff like that up if you fear that your earlier postings will then be scoured by envious rivals, successfully, for great gobs of longwinded nonsense.
Alex, just like all these old dead guys, dresses smartly, as he explains in this posting, i.e. more smartly than he did in this photo of him (by me with me also in it) here. I particularly like that one.
Talking with Alex also helped me to think through an enterprise of my own that I am now contemplating. He supplied some very helpful ideas about how I could do this more easily and effectively.
With me, time spent polishing my blog postings (mostly for here) is usually time well spent. When I look through my bloggings over the years, as I do from time to time, I believe my best bits are pretty good, but my average ones are often lacking that last bit of effort. In particular, my bloggings suffer from the problem identified in the title above.
But another sin I commit is combining sentences, and paragraphs, by self-interrupting. (I am a terrible interrupter, as the friends I still have who have not pissed off because fed up with my interrupting will all agree.) Here, the answer is either to divide up the one interrupted sentence into two separate sentences, or in the case of this paragraph, to extract the interruption, to stop it spoiling the main thread. Brackets are the lazy way of doing this. Sometimes they work, but sometimes not.
Often, however, having done that (by “that” I mean what I was talking about before I interrupted myself (by talking about how I am prone to interrupting myself (and by talking about brackets)), namely separating a combination-by-interruption sentence into separate sentences), I end up with good sentences, but in the wrong order. What I then need to do, but often neglect to do, is rearrange the sentences into the proper order.
While doing this, I often discover that the same thought is expressed twice or more. This is where that Hemingway thing about a good piece being as good as the stuff that is cut out of it applies. Saying everything you have to say in the correct order, and say it just the once, or only as often as you need to.
I seem to have two good sorts of postings. There are the big ones that I worked hard on to get right in the manner described above, and there are the small ones, that are too small to have got in a muddle. But then there are the in-between ones which should have been worked on some more.
At first, when Blogging Began, this didn’t matter so much. Any blog was a bonus, and any blog posting attracted lots of readers. Now, blogging has settled down into something that only a few people do, and it is either good, or mostly ignored. The rest of the world has moved on.
This posting is just going to be shoved up, in its first draft form. This will probably be a mistake.
My title, for those who don’t know, is an echo of a famous line in this famous TV sketch.
Cranes, with a great sunset behind them. What could possibly go wrong with a shot like that?
It’s just a bunch of birds, that’s what:
You want cranes? These are cranes:
Birds picture via here.
Commenter Jimmy Haigh (May 30, 3:05 PM), on this at Bishop Hill:
He’s trying to sit on the fence and eat it too.
He is talking about the revolting Tim Yeo, who either has, or has not, changed his mind about Global Warming, depending on who you read. But either way, he continues to make lots of money out of it.
As has already been reported here, I have been reading Pride and Prejudice on my Google Nexus 4 ultra-mobile computer-with-phone. And, in Chapter X of this book, I read this:
My highlighted version of that last sentence being:
“As for your Elizabeth’s picture, you must not attempt to have it taken, for what painter could do justice to those beautiful eyes?”
So, in Jane Austen time, painters “took” pictures.
I thought that was only photographers. There does seem, does there not?, to be something peculiarly apt about a photographer “taking” a picture. After all, you could only “take” a picture with one click of a mechanical button, as I just did of my Google Nexus 4 with my Panasonic Lumix FZ150, if the picture was in some basic sense already there for the taking, in its entirety. “Take” gets across the difference between photoing someone and painting a portrait of them, by which I mean “making” a portrait.
Perhaps this “take” usage, to describe portrait painting, declined when the painters stopped claiming to produce what we now call photographic likenesses, and, under the competitive influence of actual photography, began to “make” pictures of people, the whole point of and the whole justification of which was that a mere camera could absolutely not “take” such pictures. Such paintings are made, not taken. To accuse a painter of “taking” a picture would be to accuse him of adding nothing.