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Friday September 30 2005

Is there anyone in the world who reads this blog but not this one?  Perhaps, but it seems improbable.  On that off chance, this demographic should be sure not to miss this analysis of an epic car chase in one of those Confessions Of movies starring Robin Askwith.


That’s a seventies Rolls Royce going through a brick wall.  It seems that Mark Holland also takes pictures off of his telly.

This is not a move I would care to try unless I owned a lot of Rolls Royces, and as it happens I don’t own even one.  Frankly I think the wall would, in real life, have given a better account of itself.

But, I reckon the new German Panzer Roller would probably have done exactly that to it.  For months I have been watching out for one of these in the streets of London, moving slowly enough for me to photo it.  Nothing.  Well, one, moving far too quickly.  And then a few weeks ago I finally encountered one.  It was parked outside the magnificently red bricked Westminster Cathedral (the Roman Catholic one in Victoria Street), ready to take away the Nigerian bride and groom from their magnificent Nigerian wedding.  It was the best looking wedding I have ever chanced upon.  Great hats.  Ascot, forget it.  It was as if the entire occasion had been organised for my entire benefit.


I may stick up more photos of that event anon, with hats, but I promise nothing.  Sadly the light was not great, which is what has put me off doing this earlier.

I was expecting to find the new Roller overbearing and ugly.  But I like it.

imageThis is a very cute design.

The $100 laptop computers that Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers want to get into the hands of the world’s children would be durable, flexible and self-reliant.

The machines’ AC adapter would double as a carrying strap, and a hand crank would power them when there’s no electricity. They’d be foldable into more positions than traditional notebook PCs, and carried like slim lunchboxes.

I reckon some quite old children might fancy that.

I have recently been trying to equip myself with the perfect bag for wandering around London with, on my photography expeditions.  And I can tell you that a rigid handle like that is massively preferable to handles which are floppy, because of being made of cloth or floppy leather.  Floppy handles crush the fingers.  But hard handles can be hard to find.

Please forgive all the phallic innuendoes in the above.  And I am now reminded that there is even a reference to “lunchboxes”.  Good grief.

More reportage and links, from the BBC, here.

Thursday September 29 2005

I’m grateful to Adriana for linking to this article.  I have regular conversations with Adriana about her work, and I don’t always understand what she is talking about.  But reading this piece made sense of quite a few things.  In particular it explained to me what “the Internet is stupid” means.

I don’t think the Internet is at all stupid.  I think it’s brilliant.  But I now understand what the claim that it is stupid means.  It is stupid, in the sense that being so stupid, even I can be brilliant on it.  And I am brilliant.  If I weren’t brilliant you’d have stopped coming here.

By the way, I want one day before I die to see a Sherlock Holmes adaptation/spin-off where Sherlock Holmes says something rather obvious, and Dr Watson says: “No shit, Sherlock!”

When Americans use the expression “I’m confused” it merely means that they think you are and that they are about to straighten you out.  Very tedious.

But I really am confused.

Can somebody explain just what the hell this blog - which I have just found my way to by one of those I’ve-completely-forgotten routes - is about?  Is it satire, serious business, a gigantic practical joke, or what?  If it is serious business, what the hell kind of business is it?

My first guess is that it is the blogging equivalent of junk phone calls.  Which sounds bad and is intended to.  But what do I know?

Housekeeping.  One change is that the text column has widened, and photos that used to go all the way across now have a bigger gap beside them on the right.

This is so that the width is the same as for my old Culture and Education Blogs.  If I ever revive those, I would then have the option of using the exact same format as this blog.

To celebrate this change, here is one of my favourite pictures from the old Culture Blog.  It’s of the young pianist Benjamin Grosvenor, which I took off the telly when he was competing in the BBC Young Musician of the Year contest (Classical Music - scroll down to May 3 2004).  This particular picture had to be clicked to, and all those photos are now inaccessible.


I am still swithering about reviving my Culture and/or Education Blogs, and whatever happens it won’t happen soon.  But I’m now inclined towards reviving both.  More work, of course, but, I am pretty sure, many more readers.

But numbers are not the only consideration.  With those two blogs, I knew that the readers were interested in Culture and in Education.  Here, I feel less confident, and feel that I write less and less well as a result.  These feelings may be wrong, but they are strong.

Wednesday September 28 2005

Today I got a great birthday present, one of the best I can remember.  A friend needed the full-size manifestation of a picture of her that I had on my hard disc, so that she could print it out nice and big on her colour printer.  And having successfully transmitted that picture, I also sent over a couple of mine, and she printed them out too, as a birthday present. Because me, I don’t have a colour printer, only a crappy old black and white laser printer which cost as much as a clapped out second hand car and is now about as easy to get results out of.  Then we met for coffee, and I got an immediate look at what she had done. 

Wow.  I had no idea I was such a good photographer.

For some reason there was a dip in my photographic enthusiasm over the summer, but my efforts on Ashes Tuesday relit the photographic fires.  And last week I took a couple of trips to the new Wembley Stadium, to see how that looked from close up.  It looked most impressive, and I hope to show you more snaps of those trips, anon, I hope, but I promise nothing.

In the meantime, I today chose a couple of those snaps to be printed out.  I chose this one on the left to see if it was as good as I thought it might be.  (It was very good.)


And I chose this one to see how well the stadium in the background came out.  (Very well indeed.)


Click on those and you get the full-sized original deals, rather than the slimmed down pictures I usually supply, big enough to fill the screen but no bigger.

My screen does these photos scant justice.  Yours probably does rather better, but only rather better.  Both print-outs were cropped a little, which did no harm to the first one, but which did hurt the second by slicing off the top. That quibble aside, they were a revelation.

I am definitely going to get a colour printer now.  Any suggestions?

Tuesday September 27 2005

Yes, as the link to the previous posting here from Samizdata reminds me, and as I nearly forgot to put here, happy birthday to me.

My thanks to all those who remembered.

And my thanks to all those who forgot.

And I have just learned that “Numbers can not be used as URL Titles”.  Why ever not?  Ah I see.  I can use numbers in the title, just not in the URL title.  You learn something new and fascinating every day.

Monday September 26 2005

I am being helped with this blog by my Technical Department.  So here is a link to one of his more interesting postings, to see if he gets anything at his end.

Here’s a link to something else.

Sunday September 25 2005

I’ve been watching an old movie on DVD that I’ve never seen before, at all, any bits at all, called Two For the Seesaw, a black and white romantic two hander starring Robert Mitchum and Shirley MacLaine.  And it occurs to me that a definition of a great movie actor is that it never occurs to you that he/she ever seems miscast.

When I see Mitchum I often think, maybe this guy isn’t right for this, and that the real guy he’s doing isn’t like that.  Mitchum even had me thinking, until about a year ago, that the general he played in The Longest Day was completely made up, for the movie.  He seemed too like Robert Mitchum to be real.  But in fact, General “Cota” was a real as it gets.

Shirley MacLaine, on the other hand, always seems totally inside whatever she is doing, and forces you to believe that this is exactly who the character really is, and accordingly that she is perfect for the part and that anyone else would be a let down, because not Shirley MacLaine.

On the other hand, maybe I just fancy her and not him.  And yes, I do realise that her off-screen opinions are sometimes rather odd.

I’ve just been a-googling, and I see that in the original stage production of Two For The Seesaw, Henry Fonda played the Mitchum part.  Now Fonda seems exactly right to me.  The point about this character was that he is as indecisive as the Shirley MacLaine character, and Mitchum does not communicate indecisiveness convincingly.  Fonda, on the other hand, does indecisiveness a treat.  Or maybe a more polite way of putting it would be that Fonda is good at laying out the decision making process in front of you, so that the gutsiness involved in making the final decision is communicated.  Mitchum just knows what to do from the start.

Compare and contrast the performances of Fonda and Mitchum in Midway.  Fonda, as Nimitz, agonises over what to do.  Being Fonda, and being Nimitz, and this being Midway, he gets it right in the end, but it’s quite a carry-on.  Mitchum on the other hand, playing Admiral Halsey, only does one thing.  Halsey is ill, and Nimitz/Fonda (I think) asks him who should deputise for him.  “Ray Spruance”, says Halsey/Mitchum without even the slightest hesitation, with absolutely no gap at all.  Now okay, this may have been the editing, but I think that sums up Mitchum’s screen persona.  He takes his stand, and then compels events to unfold in accordance with it:

Ray Spruance.

And, more famously, in The Longest Day:

I don’t have to tell you the story. You all know it. Only two kinds of people are gonna stay on this beach: those that are already dead and those that are gonna die. Now get off your butts.

That’s Mitchum.  Not hithering and thithering on the telephone, endlessly telling and retelling the story, with Shirley MacLaine.

Apparently, and I did not know this (I love the Internet blah blah), what General Cota actually said was:

“Gentlemen, we are being killed on the beaches. Let us go inland and be killed.”

Which is somewhat different, and rather more interesting, I think.  That “Gentleman” makes me think that the real General Cota was maybe a more complicated person than Robert Mitchum made him seem, and that Mitchum was once again miscast.

Usually when you see a blog posting by me with the time 11.59 pm attached to it, that means I did it around 12.30 am and back-timed it.  But last night’s posting genuinely did get posted at 11.59 pm.  This, on the other hand, is being done a little later than stated.  But only a little.

Sometimes quota posting is stupid.  But the rule here is: something, however ridiculous, every day.  And I believe in rules.

Saturday September 24 2005

imageI chanced upon the popular musical combo Franz Ferdinand the the telly the other night.  ("The other night”.  Odd expression that.  “The” other night, as if there is a special other night that everyone is supposed to know about.)

Anyway, yes, Franz Ferdinand.  And I finally pinned down what it is about pop music that old geezers such as I do not like.  Basically, we can tell where it has come from, and that’s bad.

As soon as Franz Ferdinand opened their various mouths and started to strum their various instruments, I said to myself: by The Proclaimers out of The Knack.  I quite liked the Proclaimers in small doses, and thought The Knack were one of the great unfulfilled promises of post-Beatles pop.  Whatever happened to them?  I have one CD of The Knack, and basically, that one CD was pretty much it, as far as I ever heard.


Franz Ferdinand’s insistent, heavy beat was unmistakably from Proclaimer/Knack territory.  I liked it.  But not in a pop music way.  I liked it in a music appreciation way, which is quite different.

My point is that knowing the musical antecedents of a pop group spoils it.  The whole point of pop music, it seems to me, is that it must sound completely new.  It must arrive, as it were, from outer space, and erupt within one’s adolescence as a great and glorious secret that is unshared and unshareable by the elders, even elder siblings.  When people told me that the Rolling Stones were just Crippled Fruit Blenkinson, with drums and a bit faster, I put my hands over my ears.  Even when the Rolling Stones themselves prattled on in interviews about how much they owed to Crippled Fruit Blenkinsop and the rest of those old guys from the Mississippi Delta or wherever the hell, I still didn’t want to know.  The point of pop is its musical newness and difference, not its musical pedigree.

Friday September 23 2005


Contrary to popular argument, contingent fees serve a social purpose. A lawyer paid by contingent fee will only take those cases that have a decent probability of winning – thus contingent-fee lawyers act as screeners, saving the court system and everyone else the trouble of examining frivolous cases. That’s right, contingent-fee lawyers reduce the number of frivolous cases! When contingent fees are restricted, lawyers naturally turn to alternatives such as charging by the hour. But a lawyer paid by the hour has little incentive to screen. . . .

If you agree with me that this, by Alex Tabarrok, is interesting read the rest of it here.

Thursday September 22 2005

Whenever I read James Lileks, and whenever he writes about this, i.e. quite often, I become consumed with envy at how quickly he rips off his various articles for this or that organ, in among writing his gratis pieces for us lot, cleaning his house, organising his graphic fun and games, watching old movies, etc.

Well, now, I am just beginning to live that sort of life myself.  I don’t have a daughter, which would complicate things, but I do now have various regular (and paid) blogging commitments which mean that I sometimes start a day with the need to do about three blog postings for three different places, as quickly as possible.  Today, I am still in my pyjamas, and I still have an afternoon of Other Things to get stuck into, and an evening of Stuff ahead of me, but I have already sent off two blog items, both of which are, I hope, sufficiently good to get used.  And now I’m doing this.

It’s not much.  But when you feel your way into a new life, you (by which I mean I) start slowly, very slowly, and then you/I speed up.  I now feel myself (and I do not mean the pyjama sort of feeling myself) speeding up, or at least beginning to speed up.

And by the way, writing for money (which I have only recently begun to do) is a whole lot different to just shoving whatever you please up on your own blog(s) or on Samizdata which is a kind of group personal blog for a bunch of trusted writers (which I have been doing for longer).  That is easy, the way I do it.  You just scribble, and eventually you stop, as here, and as in this.  But writing stuff for other blogs, where they will, for instance, tell you if it is no good, or even if it is good enough but not really, you know, good, is a whole different experience.

For me, the key breakthrough with writing for these Other Blogs was separating the process of deciding what to write about from actually writing it, the first being the laborious bit.  And, I use old fashioned pen and paper to record my decisions about what to write about, so as not to forget them.  The actual writing is relatively easy, hence this morning’s success.  I wrote the two bits this morning, but I decided what to write yesterday.  Going from What the Hell? to Done! in half an hour is still beyond me.  Going from How Shall I Put This? to I’ve Put It! in half an hour, or less, I can sometimes now do.

I’ve already done one Big Thing in my life (you can tell from the look of the recent ones when I stopped), starting very very slowly, and eventually speeding it up a treat.  Well, I thought it was big.  I hope to do at least one more of these Things before they take me away and burn me.  And I hope that blogging will be the next one.

I want to believe that, Brian-blogging-wise, you haven’t seen much of what I can do yet.  My fear is that you have.

Wednesday September 21 2005

And this guy’s sister is married to my first cousin.


He was talking about this, on the Channel 4 news.

Small world, eh?

In real life he does not have green and pink vertical stripes on his face.

And I know this guy as well.  Dennis O’Keeffe was talking about truancy on Channel 5 news.


He said that compulsion is stupid.  The answer is to make classes good enough to attract both those who are now bored (because the classes are too dumb) and too confused (because they are out of their depth).

In your dreams, Dennis.  I say that if you get rid of compulsory schooling, you need to reintroduce (a) the right to work, and (b) criminal responsibility, for children.  And that’s not going to happen any time soon.

But if the kids just hurtle about in the streets, with nothing to do, and beyond the control of the Police . . . nightmare.

If imprisonment won’t work, then try carrots and sticks.  It works reasonably well with adults, most of whom behave reasonably well, most of the time.

I don’t have time to read the rest of this now, but I want to fix the link into my blog and consciousness, basically because of this early paragraph:

The reason he gives for having become an anthropologist is that he was raised an atheist. There was no god in the family. His father, Manes Sperber, was from a Jewish family, had refused to do his bar mitzvah, and he transmitted zero religion to his son, but at the same time, he had deep respect for religious people. There was no sense that they are somehow inferior. This left the young Sperber with a puzzle: how can people, intelligent decent people, be so badly mistaken?

My sentiments almost exactly, apart from the bit about becoming an anthropologist.  How can so many millions be so obviously wrong?

By the way, if you think I am being militantly atheistic about my atheism, I reply that this is me being militantly atheistic here, which in my blog is not really being militant at all.  Being militantly atheistic means being militantly atheistic somewhere like here.

On a related theme, I found that one of the effects of 9/11 on me was that it made me think more deeply about what I believe and what I do not believe, and not to treat religion as any sort of no-go argumentative area.  I figured, if religion was what made these idiots do this, then I am entitled to shove a bit of anti-religion out there into the global conversation.  I’m not going to kill people with jets, but I am damn well going to say it from time to time.

It’s probably not worth anyone’s while to try to convert me to Christianity, although feel free to fail if you insist.  But, for instance, did any Christians find that 9/11 made them more publicly Christian about things?  Or more publicly anything else?

It would appear that I am not the only one who reacted like this, because 9/11, I seem to recall, was basically what kick-started the blogosphere into what it has now become, a force in the world to be reckoned with.  Suddenly, a lot people wanted to tell the world what they believed and how they felt.

Tuesday September 20 2005

Sebastian Coe was on the telly last night, remembering his most memorable bit of telly news for the ITV 50 Years celebrations.  He chose the dismantling of the Berlin Wall.  He recalled going jogging along the East Berlin side of it during 1988, and later the same day having lunch with the British Ambassador to East Germany.  When will the Wall come down, he asked?  The patronising reply was: not in your lifetime, my boy.

It would be tempting to have a rant about the characteristic ignorance and anti-anti-communism of the Foreign Office, but the truth is they were not the only ones to be surprised by the collapse of the old USSR.  I recall reading a science fiction book called The War in 2020 , and very good it was too.  But, although it was published in 1991, the regime ruling Russia in 2020 were still called “The Soviet Union”.  It was a complete mess, but that was still what it was called.

The white South Africans were still in power too.  The surprise ending of the Cold War also meant that the Apartheid Regime became superfluous to Western requirements, and could be abandoned.  But if the Cold War had instead staggered on, so would Apartheid have, Nelson Mandela or no Nelson Mandela.

It’s always fun when you see people on the telly whom you used to know.  And I know this guy:


Peter Caddick-Adams is one of the resident experts who tells various Channel 5 TV shows which weapon of this or that sort is the best and why.  This evening, he was experting about personal weaponry.  Submachine guns, pikes, longbows, that king of thing.

In the few internet pictures I later found of him, he still has hair, but now, as you can see from my photo of him on the telly tonight, he sports the totally bald look, in a way that suitably combines menace with guruness, oriental military monk style.  Particularly suitable when you consider that unarmed combat came top.

He has been busy.  This looks interesting.

I used to do desk-top publishing for Peter.  I have a vague feeling that I am still owed money for some of the work I did with him, not by him personally but by some aspect of the British Army.  If so the innefficiency was at least as much mine as his, and anyway I could be imagining this.

Monday September 19 2005

Weymouth Bay by John Constable:


Bigger here.  Smaller but with added expertise here:

There is some disagreement over whether this painting of Weymouth Bay is a sketch painted out of doors during Constable’s honeymoon, or a later work prepared for sale on the basis of sketches made at this time and left unfinished. It seems so fresh and spontaneous that most viewers have wished it to be a direct record of Constable’s visit, …

Popular preferences in painting have changed, from the finished, photographic look, to the very obviously painted look.  Originally, this just wasn’t finished.  Now people want the unfinished look to be deliberate. They want this picture to be photographic only in the sense that they want it to have been done on the spot rather than afterwards.

I envy painters their skies.  They can do what my camera refuses to do, namely pick out all the detail in the land and in the sky, no matter how much or how little light is hurtling around.

Consider this picture, which I took yesterday.  Dazzled by the light trapped by the cloud, the camera darkened everything else.  Not just the church and the rest of the foreground.  It also turned the sky from the bright blue that my eyes registered to dark blue.


I tried fiddling about with Photoshop, but you have to be a cleverer Photoshopper than I am to make it look the way it actually looked, to me.  Basically, the camera took the view from the afternoon into the evening.  I like it, but it isn’t what it actually was.

I want a new setting on my camera, called “Constable”.

Saturday September 17 2005

Last Monday England won the Ashes.  Did you hear about that?  Did I mention it?  Maybe yes.  Anyway, yes, England won the Ashes.  I reckon they were extremely lucky that they won the Ashes.  Two very narrow wins (one of them very narrow) for England to one thrashing of them by Australia does not “outplayed” make, even though you have to say that if you are the losing captain, because saying “we nearly won but we were a bit unlucky” is not dignified.

But despite all that, I am very glad that England won the Ashes, and my way of celebrating is to blog about it a lot, while all the while admitting that England were very lucky.  To win the Ashes.

To be a bit more serious and cultural about it, during the final game of the series, at the Oval, I couldn’t help being impressed by the new stand they have built there, which was making its test match debut.  They showed aerial views of it from time to time during the game, done from the Betfair Blimp, and I took some snaps of my telly of some of these shots.  None of my pictures were technically pretty, but this one gets the message across okay.


And here is what it looks like from ground level, this being a picture of the celebrations at the end:


As it happens, I live only a walk away from the Oval myself.  It’s just across the river from me.  So late this afternoon I went there with my camera to see what it looks like from outside the ground.  One of the things I like about London is the way these big, futuristic new structures, like the Wheel or the Dome or the Gherkin hover above the mundanity in the foreground.  What kind of effect did this new Oval stand make on its surroundings?  Could you even see it from outside the ground?  If so, how did it look?

Click to get these bigger.

image imageimage image

The face presented by the new stand to the outside world is rather strange, not what I expected at all.  All those curves, sticking up like a huge rib cage on its side, looking as if the bones are made of chipboard, and with vegetation growing out of it.  And in truth, when you get right up close to the roof structure itself, as you can at the right hand end as you look at it in the aerial photo, it all looks rather out-of-town-shopping-centre-ish.  The lines at each end don’t join smoothly.  Instead they kind of kink inwards, in a rather ungainly fashion.  This is the new Norman Foster late modernist style, but done by people who don’t have money to burn, which can be a real disadvantage.

But, imperfect though it may be, this thing certainly makes its presence felt.  The area around it is somewhat drab and down-at-heel, with boarded up shops and seedy pubs.  A landmark like this adds a lot.  Maybe the new stand is already raising the tone of the place, and the drabness is phase one of redevelopment process.

UPDATE: I’ve just found a truly excellent photo of this stand, here.  It is becoming clear to me that the way to make this thing look good is to get above it.  In case it goes away, I’ve decided to steal this photo for here.


Friday September 16 2005

On September 2nd, I posted a big prophecy of non-doom, from “Ted”.  It featured ten specific prophecies, of which this was number two:

2 Big Media : death are in the thousands. Me: Death will number about 300.

Ted then said:

I could go on and don’t want to make light of a disaster. However the people of NO, as well as concerned US citizens, not to mention millions of us outside the US, need better than this garbage. The media outlets have from the first sign of Katrina hoped for the worst as this helps ratings. They have deliberately manufactured an apocalypse from a natural disaster, where no such apocalypse exists.

Turn off the TV news and stop buying newspapers NOW.

Now put that alongside this:

As the last of the evacuees from New Orleans settle into shelters, the levees are plugged and the water begins to recede, what is being revealed is not the tens of thousands of dead bodies predicted for the past two weeks but some of the most inaccurate reporting of a major news story in memory. While the mainstream media has been climbing all over itself trying to find ways to tie George Bush to the New Orleans disaster, it might be better served trying to figure out how they could have so uncritically accepted a body count from New Orleans that could easily be ten or more times the actual number.

My guess is that the final score will end up being something not unlike Ted 10 Big Media 0.  We’ll see.

Thursday September 15 2005

Check out the best teen star ever.

Link via Michael Blowhard, buried in among a piece about Sophie Marceau.

No doubt this email has been received by everyone in the entire world, a group of people that definitely includes the pathetic little gaggle who read this blog, but just in case I am wrong, here it is in full, because it is very interesting.  It’s from someone called TANG Shun.

I have just checked Harry Hutton to make sure he hasn’t published it already, and that he didn’t write it.  Apparently not.

It’s a piece in the Foreigners eh funny or what category, but I will just call it This and that.  It starts well, with an unidiomatic plural, and gets better and better.  Not that it’s not true, and important, and worth reading for what it says, etc.:

It is about English Grammars

Do you know some disputed English grammars? What about some basic grammars that grammar writers hide away and don’t even want to dispute?

In supporting a rule that the Present Perfect tense doesn’t stay with past time adverbials:
Ex: *They have worked here yesterday.
== It should have been in Simple Past instead.
English grammars have been avoiding to talk about the Past Family, a frequently used group of time adverbials containing the adjective ‘past’: in the past, in the past year, for the past two years, over the past three months, during the past four decades, within the past five weeks, etc., because these past time adverbials can stay with Present Perfect:
Ex: They have worked there within the past few years.

No grammar books or websites will display the use of these past time adverbials, for displaying them will undermine the “golden rule” above. If they know there is any explanation at all, why don’t they ever put it in the books or websites?

A couple of decades ago, I posted letters and consulted many universities overseas how to explain the Present Perfect tense. They posted to me a free issue of ELT (English Language Teaching) Journal, which was published in October 1984 by Oxford University Press in association with The British Council. In the Journal Tregidgo had posted his rather well-known yet startling comment titled: How far have we got with the present perfect? He expresses his doubles and dissatisfactions over both conventional and contemporary methods in explaining the tense. At the end of the article he concludes: “Meanwhile, one thing seems to me to be pretty clear. Whatever the grammarians may say about it, the problem of the English present perfect remains very much alive and kicking!” Put it shortly, they admitted they could not explain the tense. Admitting the difficulty will alleviate the pain in the ones who pursue the answer.

Now in the Internet epoch, people still have a difficulty to explain the tense. In English forums, both students and teachers are asking for your better idea, just as I did decades ago. During a discussion on the web, I searched for Tregidgo’s article and noticed an “updated version” in the following page:

The author thought he could explain the tense to a developing teacher, and finally found he could not. The tense had made his student ‘wailing’. The author has now turned a critic to the tense. They don’t put the comment there without reasons. Again, it helps relieve the pain in studying the tense.

With good intention, I post this message to notify those who are interested in English study: there is now a new approach to the explanation of the tense in my website. I have found out the tense-changing process:

(a) Simple Present action indicates a present action (= incompletion):
Ex: I live in Hong Kong.
(b) Present Perfect action indicates a past action (= completion):
Ex: I have lived in Japan.
BUT: If we mention a definite past time, tenses have to be changed:
(c) Present Perfect action indicates a present action (=incompletion =a):
Ex: I have lived in Hong Kong in the past three years.
(d) Simple Past action indicates a past action (=completion =b):
Ex: I lived in Japan five years ago.

It is a breakthrough in the explanation of English tense. The process at once explains the use of both Present Perfect and the Past Family. According to it, Present Perfect is actually either Simple Present or Simple Past, while old grammars have been wrongly doing the opposite, proving Present Perfect is neither Simple Present nor Simple Past! It is small wonder they could not explain the tense in the past.

I am not creating time, but old grammars have missed a concept of time. I agree “Last Week” is a past time, and “Now” is a present time. But what about the time between last week and now? It is neither Last Week nor Now, but something between them. It has no name and Present Perfect is used to indicate things finished in this time span. It explains Present Perfect. Who has found out this concept of time and tell it clearly? This is the whole point in my website.

Even with good intention, I will post very scarcely. But if you don’t want to receive notice from me anymore, please unsubscribe your email address in the following link:

Sincerely yours,


Eldest brother Toby worked out in Hong Kong for a few years, and he told me that the Chinese had endless difficulties with English tenses.  Toby once had some work he wanted done, and asked a Chinese subordinate/colleague: “Are you doing it?” “No” said the Chinese guy, looking at Toby as if he was mad.  He was drinking a cup of tea with Toby.  Couldn’t Toby see that?  Bloody hell, these white people … What Toby meant, of course, was “Will you do it?” (And try to imagine what “Are you going to do it?” must sound like.  It’s a wonder their brains don’t regularly explode.)

English tenses aren’t called “tense” for nothing.

Still on a cricket theme, I did laugh at this:


I found it here.

Wednesday September 14 2005

When England won the Rugby World Cup and paraded it through London, I watched it on telly, and took photos of the telly.  Which was okay.  But this time, England having won the Ashes, I decided that I would go to Trafalgar Square and witness the celebrations for myself.  The bus being due to arrive in Trafalgar Square at 12.30 pm, I got to Embankment tube station at about noon, and walked up an encouragingly uncrowded Villiers Street towards the Strand, where I discovered myself to be (a) on the route the bus would take into Trafalgar Square, and (b) near enough to the front to see things very clearly.  Thus it was that I got my best view of the bus and the guys in it almost at the very beginning of my photographic journey.  The best photo here is, I think, the one taken straight upwards, with the bright blue sky behind.  And yes, it was indeed excellent weather.  But the bus was gone very quickly.  As always when I try to photograph some particular thing, especially if it is newsworthy, my respect for Real Photographers was greatly enhanced.

The crowd by the side of the Strand then followed the bus into Trafalgar Square, and I joined the sea of cricket fans, real or fair weather, there assembled, about two thirds of the way down on the eastern side, and tried to take whatever pictures I could.

My choices of shot, to take and to show here, reflect my fascination with the current state of photography itself.  However, there were actually not that many cameras present, proportionately speaking.  Most had just come to see and to cheer.  But I did get a number of the characteristic Billion Monkey pose of the day, which was to hold your camera way up above the throng and either hope for the best, or, if you had one of those twiddly screens such as I have, try to do a bit better than hope.  (I particularly like the one from straight behind the snapper’s hairy head.) But so bright was the sunlight that frankly, I could make very little sense of my screen and I too was mostly just pointing and hoping.  I only really found out what I had when I got home.

I chose a selection of what seemed like my best shots, and have spent the last hour or two arranging them in the assemblage below.  Frankly, I don’t consider them that great, as photography.  I can’t handle light that good in circumstances that disruptive of thoughtful calculation.  Plus, frankly, I couldn’t see much from where I ended up.  But they do communicate a sense of what it was like.  To further enhance the air of confusion and fun, I have neither cropped nor processed the pictures that you get to if you click on the little cropped squares.  What you get to if you click is exactly what came out of my camera.

Note the presence, in addition to the men’s team, of the victorious (also against Australia) England ladies team.  When I first saw their bus I was baffled.  Who were these women?  I had completely forgotten, despite having done a Samizdata posting about their triumph on the day it happened.  Only when ladies captain Clare Connor was introduced and interviewed did the lady bus make sense.  But I got some pictures of them anyway.

Because I had such a hopeless view of the actual performance itself, at the top end of Trafalgar Square, I ended up taking a lot of photos of a TV screen, just as if I had been at home.  (Does anyone have a link to some professional photos of the same proceedings.  I went looking for this to put here, but could find nothing.  But then, I am a very dodgy googler, or whatever it is you have to be.) But some of my pics were pretty good, I think.  I hope you will agree that some of the more striking images are simply of words on that screen.  The names of cricketers, and of the lucky companies who sponsored all this.  And the words of the songs they had us all singing.  In general, as a photographer, I like words.

Enjoy.  Unless of course you are an Australian.

image image image image imageimage image image image imageimage image image image imageimage image image image imageimage image image image imageimage image image image imageimage image image image imageimage image image image imageimage image image image imageimage image image image image

I am now working on one of those rectangles of clickable pictures that I like to do.  To this end I need to experiment concerning spacing.  This is where the exeriments will occur.  Do not be alarmed.

The point is, I have to see what everything looks like on the actual blog.  The feeding in software does not tell me what happens.

I knew you’d be excited.

(UPDATE: I’ve now taken the pictures away from here, as I don’t want them upstaging the real thing in the next posting, above, done with exactly the same space as I groped my way to here.)

That’ll do.  I prefer it if I can also do no space at all between pictures, but this will suffice for the time being.  I don’t know why, given the way I did this, there is a space between the top ones and the bottom ones.  The spaces in between them on the same line are because I put spaces there.

There seems to be some option in Expression Engine for having a picture gallery.  I must ask my Technical Department about that.

Tuesday September 13 2005

I don’t always enjoy Samizdata comments, and this one, attached to this posting praising globalization, by Michael Jennings, is imperfect because the commenter can’r remember where he read what he read:

I read somewhere recently (I forget where) that burglary rates are down partly because most appliances are now too cheap to be worth stealing.

So, I just copied and pasted part of that into google, and quickly found my way to a BBC news piece which included this:

A piece in The Times last year reported a decline in the number of burglaries, which was put down to the fact that the thieves can no longer get a good price for the items they steal. Who wants to nick a second hand DVD player, when you can buy a new, legal one for £20?

Michael’s posting was prompted by an amazingly cheap microwave oven.  I had my recent globalization moment when I came across a pair of scissors in Tescos earlier this year, for 70p.

Jack Dee live at the Apollo, on BBC 1 this evening:

I’m not against neighbours per se.  I just don’t want them living next door.

It’s the per se that I like.

However, I soon switched off.  This was as funny as it got.

Sunday September 11 2005

An interesting plug for digital photography in the wake of Katrina, over at the indispensable Instapundit:

As inexpensive as digital images are and having the ability to archive them on DVD discs everyone should take the time to photograph, in detail, the historic structures where they live. The huge damage Katrina wrought to the Gulf Coast is a hard lesson for the rest of the country.

Make that world.

I would add that it is not just the “historic” stuff that is worth photo-ing.  A point I believe I have made before (and that by the way is why I really hate the collapse of my old blogs) is that if you look at photos of London from fifty years ago, what really interests is the mundane stuff that has gone, rather than the big set-piece tourist traps, which are still with us.  There are other hurricanes involved here, of things like economic development.  Individual ancient buildings may not be historic enough to preserve, but if an entire district gets swept away to make way for skyscrapers, that’s still a piece of history gone.

My bet is that, when it comes to preserving how old New Orleans looked, cheap digital cameras arrived in the nick of time.  Not everything will have been snapped, but I bet you that a lot of it will have been.  Assuming of course that the photos were not then soaked by the flooding themselves.

So anyway, in the spirit of digital conservation, here is a picture of something in London which surely won’t be there for ever.  My hard disk is full of weird things like this.


Click to get the plug even bigger than it is already.  I don’t know exactly what that is about, but I like it a lot.  Note the scaffolding, which makes my point about other things besides floods threatening existing buildings.

Although, this suddenly looks like an even better idea than it was before Katrina.


Click if you want your Thames flood barrier even bigger.

The quote above was from an emailer to Instapundit.  This article by Instapundit himself about cheap digital film making is also worth a look.  And see also this reaction to an earlier thing I did here about that.  I think the point is not just that a few enthusiasts are doing this kind of thing, but that by now all of us know people who are doing it, and who to ask about it.  Soon, there will be a flood of home-made (in price) but better-than-home-made (in quality), big enough to hurt Hollywood quite badly, the way old-school photographers are now being hammered by digital cameras that we can all use for ourselves.  Movie making, in other words, is getting to be like word processing in about 1980, desktop publishing in about 1990, the Internet in the later 1990s, and now digital photography since about 2000.  Argue about the dates, but the point is, these things have to be more than technically possible to make the big difference that interests me, the one that costs regular people their jobs in things like photographic film making or Hollywood art directing.  They have to be everywhere.  There has to be cheap kit that you can stick on a PC (rather than just more expensive stuff you can use with a Mac) and ready advice from your next door neighbour or your mates at work.  Or even, if you’re that desperate, in shops.

Amateur movies – never mind the stills that I and my fellow Billion Monkeys take – will be a further great source for architectural historians.  Who cares what made-up sub-Bogartian nonsense is going on in the foreground?  Look at that terrace!  Look at those sixties tower blocks!  Look at that petrol station!  Look at those street lights!  And the cars, dear God, the cars!  And the people!

Saturday September 10 2005

In case I don’t manage any proper posting today, let me just say that, what with all the thunder about, I have got a headache.  Does anyone else get that?

When I was young, I did not understand the expression “under the weather”.  Now I understand it only too well.

I have finally caved and created a category called “This and that”.  I mean, what else would you call this?

Actually I do have something else to write about, which is a movie I have just finished watching called The Butterfly Effect.  It’s about a boy who, together with all of his friends, had a horrifically troubled childhood.  He finds a way to go back in time to change things, but in the end, after experiencing each altered version of his life, he concludes that it would have been better if he hadn’t been born, so he goes back to the moment of his birth and dies at that point.  At which point everyone else is able to live happily ever after.

The movie reminds me of an article I read on the internet, at, about how pop music these days is saturated with complaint from the present deranged generation of adolescents about the deranged lives lead by the generation that gave birth to and deranged the lives of the present generation of adolescents.  Eminem, Pete Docherty, etc..  Look what the f*** you’ve done to us, you mad f***ing hippy lunatics.  You should have stayed married and looked after us properly.  But in this story, the blame is internalised.  My screwed up life should not have happened!

But, the movie was full of scary special effects, and it did not go at all well with having a headache.  But I do hate to rent DVDs and not watch them, and I rented this one because I had already picked two (out of three for a week for a fiver at Blockbuster) and I needed one more before they closed, so I picked this one because I think Amy Smart is cute.

The butterfly effect of the title is a superfluous reference to “Chaos Theory” zzzzzzzzzz, meaning change one apparently trivial thing and everything else changes in unpredictable ways.  But this was not a movie about something trivial changing, like a butterfly flapping its wings.  It was about changing important things, like a baby being killed by an explosion.  Fools.

But I still quite liked it.  This woman, on the other hand, really didn’t like it.  Maybe she fears that she also deranged her kids in some way, and felt got at by this movie.

My headache is getting worse.

Friday September 09 2005

I am off to Oxford for the day, to attend my brother Peter’s birthday party.  He is sixty today.

This is one of my favourite photos of him.


Have a nice day.  I intend to.

Thursday September 08 2005

Yes, I am giving serious thought to cranking up Brian’s Education Blog and Brian’s Culture Blog again (see here for how to read the old ruins), while keeping this totally ego driven Brian’s Whatever Blog going on a less dutiful basis.

Here, I have the feeling that I jump about too much to suit most potential readers.  People wanting culture don’t get enough of it.  People not wanting culture get too much of it.  Etc.  If I shove all my cultural stuff on a specialist Culture Blog, that takes care of that problem.  A bloke recently told me, at one of my Friday meetings, that he misses my Education Blog, which he used to read constantly, but not my Culture Blog, which he found too highbrow.  There must surely have been quite a few for whom it was the other way around.  Dividing everything up is probably the right answer, for me.

I notice that Alice in Texas has divided into Serious Alice in Texas and Everyday Alice in Texas, for much the same reasons.  Comments Kim du Toit: “What if I want to read both?” Comments me (or I would if Alice’s comments system didn’t put me off): Read both.

These thoughts began to come together in my head as I was reading this posting, and the comments attached to it, about Bruce Springsteen.  I learned quite a lot about Springsteen’s background and inspiration from reading this stuff, and linking to it from Brian’s Culture Blog would have made perfect sense.  Linking to it from here probably achieves far less.

Of course, you could say the same about Blognor Regis, where I found this Springsteen posting.  Should that likewise bifurcate into Mark’s Bicycling Blog and Mark’s Everything Else Blog.  It might make sense.

I keep on seeing things that it would make sense to link to and to quote from in a specialist Eucation Blog (such as this posting or this ), or Culture Blog (such as this, or, come to think of it, this), but which it hardly makes any sense to link to and quote from here.  When I run a specialist blog, I feel that I am, so to speak, helping to administer the blogosphere, directing the traffic.  Here, I am just some mad Great Aunt careering about in an Austin Seven, shouting out the window at the proper drivers.

When I was doing my old Education and Culture blogs, I definitely did post things out of a sense of duty – which a lot of bloggers say you should never do – but I was often provoked by this sense of duty into posting quite interesting things, and (especially with Culture) into learning quite interesting things.

Also, specialist blogs put you firmly into a global community of people you have never met and whose dinner parties you will never attend, but with whom you have a definite something in common.  This personal blog, on the other hand, feels more bound into my personal little network here in London.  Maybe I’m wrong about all this, but this is how it feels.

I have the feeling that if I got those old blogs going again, I would pretty quickly get a lot of my old readers back, but that here, I am starting again from scratch.

When I write about classical music here, I feel that I may be imposing, like a dinner party bore.  But at my Culture Blog, well, what did you expect?

Yes, this is making more and more sense the more I think about it.  If this has been a somewhat disorderly piece of writing – with good points but all in a mixed up order – this is because I kept thinking of more things.

If I do decide to do this, don’t expect it to happen immediately.  First, I have to tweak this blog until it is more exactly as I want it.  Only then will I clone it twice, and change the picture at the top and the colours, but leave all else as is.

Wednesday September 07 2005

Here is another of those photos that I like to take from the television, this time of the conductor David Zinman.  He and his Tonhalle Orchestra of Zurich played at the Proms last week.  They did Wagner, Beethoven, and Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra.


The Beethoven, the Third Piano Concerto, with Emanuel Ax at the piano, was the piece that most interested me, this being one of my all time favourite pieces of music.  Zinman has recently recorded this with Yefim Bronfman for the Arte Nova super-bargain label, and just before this Prom (and with this forthcoming performance in mind), CD Review did a comparison of all the Beethoven PC 3s.  Interestingly, Bronfman and Zinman toppled the BBC guy’s previous top pick which was Schiff and Haitink, mainly because Zinman does the accompanying so well.

The piece was described by Ax on the television is being strong on “grandeur”, but I don’t think that’s quite right.  If there is grandeur, it is grandeur that is suppressed.  I recall once describing the piece for something I wrote in the old Free Life as something like “a revolutionary manifesto that has yet to achieve widespread respectability”, and I think that’s right.  The piano oscillates back and forth between explosive excitement and quieter but equally excited excitement.  It is loud, but then it is frightened that the secret police might have overheard, so it lowers its voice.

Zinman’s way with the piece fits well with such an interpretation, full of jabbing staccatos and sforzandos (the point about a sforzando being that the beginning is loud but the rest is quieter).  A sforzando wants your attention but is scared of waking the neighbours.

I found Bronfman on the Arte Nova recording to be no more than very good.  Ax at the Prom was something special.  His playing was gentler and more poised, more Chopin-like than I have described the piece in the above paragraphs, and I think Zinman responded by himself being more caressing and ingratiating with his accompanying.  More legato and less sforzando, you might say.  But it was very fine.

Another recent televised Prom pleasure was Thomas Adès
conducting Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony, last night, with terrific pent up energy, making it sound very much as I have just been describing the Third Piano Concerto.  I missed the performance of the Adès Violin Concerto (the first performance having been given in Berlin a few days ago), dammit, and must try to hear it if they repeat it on the radio.  My prejudice about Ades, on the basis of having heard a number of his pieces and now hearing him conduct Beethoven, is that here is yet another failing-composer successful-conductor in the making.  Move over Boulez.  Like Boulez, Adès is the official version of a Great Composer, which I think is nonsense.  But maybe this violin concerto will win me over.

imageMost intriguing of all was watching Howard Shelley play the Alan Rawsthorne (1905-1971) Second Piano Concerto, on Monday evening.  Shelley creates a completely different atmosphere to any other piano soloist I have ever watched at work.  Most of them sway about and emote and generally make a great show of being off in a world on their own, far beyond the mere orchestra.  Shelley, on the other hand, played like one of those pianists who sometimes plays in the orchestra, when the piece happens to have a piano part, like for example Shostakovich’s First Symphony does.  There was no emoting, real of fake.  Nor was there any suggestion that he would at any time play a wrong note, ever.  He wasn’t going for broke.  He was just playing the music.  I bet, I said to myself, the orchestra love him, because he is just like one of them.  And sure enough, they clapped with far more than normal orchestral politeness at the end.

On the other hand, I wondered if the air of mediocrity that settled over the music might have been partly the result of Shelley’s air of carefully impeccable craftsmanship.  I found myself wondering what the usual hysterical egomaniac, still trying to be the greatest pianist ever and taking all manner of crazy and crowd-pleasing risks in order to create that impression, and being loathed by the orchestra for it, might have made of the piece.  More, I found myself suspecting.

Recently, in the Radio Times I think, they included one of those little advert booklets, and one of the products feautured was a Panasonic DVD player and DVD recorder, for a bit under £300.
This interested me.  Could this be the answer to my problem with recording digital TV programmes?  At present I can’t do this.  I can only record analogue stuff, on tape, but my analogue reception is vile.

What interested me about the Panasonic thingy was that it has built in Freeview, i.e. it receives all those free digital channels that I can watch (thanks to my peculiar little bulbous digital box), but cannot record, because tape goes all mad and ziggy zaggy.  But, talking about Freeview in connection with a DVD recording machine says, to me, that the whole question of recording digital stuff has obviously been gone into.  Maybe I will finally be able to do that.

Plus, I had no idea that I could make my own DVDs for less than some unimaginable sum like £700 for the kit.  With a machine like this, I could be making my own DVDs off of the telly, instead of paying a tenner each for the damn things.  It would “pay” for itself after about 20 DVDs had been created.

I took the advert to Tottenham Court Road, and learned a little more, but not a lot.  Yes, I can record Freeview stuff.  But, no need for built in Freeview, I can just shovel the stuff in to the DVD maker from my Bulbous Digital Box.

Then I went to Dixon’s, where they had a Goodman’s product, the snappily named GHDD177DVDR.
This is a DVD creator and player, with the bonus of a hard disc.  On offer for £200.  Perfect.  I bought it.  But when I got it home and working, the thing roared like a train in a tunnel whenever it was switched on.  To be exact it roared like a rather noisy heat extractor fan.  This is not what you want if you are trying to listen to a televised Promenade Concert.  No wonder it was on offer.  I knew at once that I would always hate this thing, and always regret having it.  It roared.  So, today I took it back.  Very sportingly, they refunded the money.  Apparently roaring counts as a defect.

Do all hard discs on TV copying machines roar?  If not, which ones are the quietest?

Is a hard disc a good thing to have?  I can’t hurt, surely.

Is built in Freeview an advantage?  Surely yes, because if all you have is a Scart connection at the back, then all that the machine knows about is the “Scart” input.  But if it has its own built in Freeview, maybe it can make finer distinctions than that.  Maybe, when I’m away on holiday, it can record things on different Freeview channels, hopping as required from one to the other.  That doesn’t sound unreasonable.

In general, which gizmo along these lines is the best?

The reason I asked for money back, instead of buying something else was that I decided that I needed to think about all this more carefully than I have so far.

So, so far, my only un-reversed purchases have been copies of two magazines, What Home Cinema, and Home Cinema Choice.  £8.98.  I have work to do.

Just for starters, what the hell is the difference between DVD-R and DVD+R?  Or between DVD-RW and DVD+RW?  And will DVD-RW and DVD+RW play on other DVD machines?

It’s a jungle out there.  I seem to have stepped into the middle of a standards battle that I do not understand.  At all.

Presumably much of the confusion is caused by the fact that one lot of capitalists want me to copy lots of stuff, and another lot of capitalists want me to be taken out and shot if I copy anything at all whatsoever, and at the very least not to be able to make any convenient use of it if I have copied it.  But what do I know?

Tuesday September 06 2005
Monday September 05 2005

I love this:

Meanwhile, a Pentagon spokesman today announced that the security operation, designed to return New Orleans to its pre-hurricane condition, has been code named ‘Operation Restore Debauchery’.

Sunday September 04 2005

It would appear that politics has not only failed locally (see below), but is also failing nationally.

It would appear that Michael Brown of FEMA is not doing, in President Bush’s words, “a heck of a job”.  It took me about half an hour to learn more about the flooding problems of New Orleans than Michael Brown of FEMA appeared to know in the days and hours before disaster struck.  That is not a sentence about how clever I am.  It is a sentence about how completely this man seems to have remained in ignorance of what was about to happen.  The general opinion that is emerging is that he was strong-armed into taking terrorism so seriously that he didn’t take hurricanes seriously at all.  But even so, the fact that the weather people were screaming hurricane hurricane hurricane, New Orleans New Orleans New Orleans ought to have got his attention (it got mine), and at that point he or someone should have done something resembling the internet searching that I and the rest of the blogosphere has been doing, and the results of that searching ought to have found their way into his brain.  Quickly.

It reminds me of a remark made by an Indian general at the United Nations during the Cuban Missile Crisis, which I remember being anecdoted about by Peter Ustinov:

“We at the United Nations are not as well informed as the general public.”

That dates from the time when Big Cheeses were too grand to be watching the TV news.  Now they seem to be too grand to be bothering with internet searches.

Once again, Instapundit was the first link to this.

Although (update after having a bath) it is conceivable that Brown is now doing a good job, organising/helping-to-organise the Federal disaster relief operation, despite having done a bad job of seeing what was about to happen and telling people.  Now might not be the time to fire the guy.  His replacement might lose vital time getting up to speed, while Brown could now be up to speed.

I seem to recall Lord Carrington, who should have seen the Falklands War coming as a result of him withdrawing some British ships from the area, resigning as Foreign Secretary, but only after the war was successfully concluded.  Have I got that right?

That Brown should be fired is surely true.  But the timing is open to rational debate.

Well well.  I just thought they made a pretty picture.  But those buses seem like they’re going to be a big deal.  And it is undoubtedly the exact same buses, just viewed the other way up.

The way the political battle lines are being drawn is: the Left says Bush is to blame, and the Right says the local politicians screwed up.

What is more, the local politicians had a mind-concentrating fright in 2004 in the form of Hurricane Ivan, which nearly did what Katrina actually did.

The Mainstream Media people seem to be doing a modified rerun of their reportage of the Second Gulf War, when they basically interpreted minor problems as a major defeat.  Now they are interpreting major problems, in the relief effort, as a further total calamity to add to the original one, and as a total lack of any effort to solve all the problems.  They are reporting the chaos in New Orleans, how accurately remains to be seen.  They have not reported on the relief effort, even though they surely could have.

As usual, when faced with disaster, the Left says helping is easy, and the reason the problem isn’t being instantaneously solved is because people (in particular President Bush) are evil, and are unwilling to help.  The rest of us say that the reason why help is not yet doing the trick is because helping is difficult, not because of lack of motivation on the part of the helpers.  This is a major disaster, and you could almost define a major disaster by the fact that during a major disaster many problems arise that nobody foresaw or could reasonably have been expected to foresee.

Even the failure to make use of those buses may turn out to have an honourable explanation.  Helping people is difficult!  (See e.g. some of the comments here.

For me, now, Instapundit is the Mainstream Media.  Just about everything I know about this disaster, beyond the fact of it and the fact that it has been extremely wet, and black, has been from following his numerous links.

Which are mostly to other blogs.

Saturday September 03 2005

I know Adam Tinworth only as a blogger, and as a man interested in new buildings.  I have yet to meet him.  But since I am a blogger and am fascinated by new buildings, I have made a point of cultivating him, and he, for his own reasons, has made a point of cultivating me, with links, and copies of his magazine.

Although, after what was obviously insufficient searching, I failed to find his professional blog, which I seem to recall he set up a while ago, about property development etc.  Adam?  If you ever get to read this?

I also found this, which until now I never knew about.  What’s the division of labour between that and One Man and His Blog?

Anyway, last week, Adam linked to the entrepreneurial activity of a former acquaintance of his.


And this is me lending a hand.

I suppose that whenever a mega-catastrophe hits, there is always someone who can genuinely claim to have said “I told you so”.  Today, at the Doc Searls Weblog, I encountered what may well turn out to be the I Told You So paragraphs for Hurricane Katrina.  Here they are:

The storm hit Breton Sound with the fury of a nuclear warhead, pushing a deadly storm surge into Lake Pontchartrain. The water crept to the top of the massive berm that holds back the lake and then spilled over. Nearly 80 percent of New Orleans lies below sea level‹more than eight feet below in places‹so the water poured in. A liquid brown wall washed over the brick ranch homes of Gentilly, over the clapboard houses of the Ninth Ward, over the white-columned porches of the Garden District, until it raced through the bars and strip joints on Bourbon Street like the pale rider of the Apocalypse. As it reached 25 feet (eight meters) over parts of the city, people climbed onto roofs to escape it.

Thousands drowned in the murky brew that was soon contaminated by sewage and industrial waste. Thousands more who survived the flood later perished from dehydration and disease as they waited to be rescued. It took two months to pump the city dry, and by then the Big Easy was buried under a blanket of putrid sediment, a million people were homeless, and 50,000 were dead. It was the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States.

When did this calamity happen? It hasn’t – yet. But the doomsday scenario is not far-fetched. The Federal Emergency Management Agency lists a hurricane strike on New Orleans as one of the most dire threats to the nation, up there with a large earthquake in California or a terrorist attack on New York City. Even the Red Cross no longer opens hurricane shelters in the city, claiming the risk to its workers is too great.

Doc Searls found those words, dating from 2004, here.

As a description of what happened, that seems to be remarkably good.

However, opinions may reasonably differ about what the human cost of all this will prove to be.  “Ted”, commenting at Samzidata on this posting that I put there yesterday, says this:

I was hoping that the current crisis in New Orleans might have been used as an opportunity by big media to be responsible but how wrong that has proved.

I have never seen such hysterical nonsense. Let me make a few predictions about the real figures that will emerge post Katrina:

1 Big Media : NO will be abandoned. Me: New Orleans will be up and running again in 12-18 months. In 6 months, the vast majority of the population will be back.

2 Big Media : death are in the thousands. Me: Death will number about 300.

3 Big Media: there are rapes going on, gangs of armed thugs run the city and babies are dying of starvation. Me: There will have been no evidence of rapes, gangs of armed thugs and no babies will die of starvation.

4 Big Media: there are sharks, alligators or giant snakes preying on hapless citizens. Me: none of this is happening at all.

5 Big Media: 80% of the city is underwater. Me: about 30% is ‘underwater’, but there is flooding in the city.

6 Big Media : this is about global warming. Me and vast majority of scientific community : there is no connection at all.

7 Big Media: There is vast ‘looting’ going on. Me: a minority is going into supermarkets and clothes stores and taking things. This is to be expected.

8 Big Media: there are building buckling and in danger of collapse. Me: rubbish. They have already survived Katrina itself.

9 Big Media: there is starvation, violence and rape at the superbowl. Me: rubbish. There is no starvation, no violence and no rape. However there is tremendous anxiety and frustration - understandably.

10 Big Media: millions will be homeless. Me : rubbish. In fact the insurance industry are not panicking at all.

I could go on and don’t want to make light of a disaster. However the people of NO, as well as concerned US citizens, not to mention millions of us outside the US, need better than this garbage. The media outlets have from the first sign of Katrina hoped for the worst as this helps ratings. They have deliberately manufactured an apocalypse from a natural disaster, where no such apocalypse exists.

Turn off the TV news and stop buying newspapers NOW.

Well, I heard that people were firing guns at helicopters, and that is surely not something you’d make up.  On the other hand, a few bad stories get around fast, and people think that one thing was twenty different things, what with the same thing being seen from different directions, and the same stories multiplying as they spread.

See Battle of Britain estimated numbers for aircraft shot down.  The numbers started out very big, on both sides, then fell steadily.

Remember how estimated deaths for 9/11 plummeted from around 50,000 to a mere 3,000.

Latest Big Media (i.e. tomorrow morning’s papers) guesses for the number of dead from Katrina seem to be at around 10,000.

Thursday September 01 2005

I love these weird illusion things, where it looks one way but it really “is” something else.  Those two squares are not white and dark grey, they are both (illusion 1) the same grey!  All the grey spots look different greys, but again, they are (illusion 2) the same grey!  The bit in the middle on the left looks looks blue.  The bit in the middle on the right looks yellow.  But they are both (illusion 3) the same colour!

I’ve long sort of know all this.  The light indoors is bright yellow.  The darkness outside is bright blue.  But stick your head entirely outside, and the blue goes away.  At once.  No colour.  Gone.  There is no adjustment process, like when your feet start off feeling warm in a bath full of tepid water but then slowly adjust to it feeling tepid.  It’s immediate, like a different computer response has cut in, just like that.  (And much more quickly than happens with a cheap digital camera by the way, when you switch from a mostly light scene to a mostly dark scene.)

So much so that the two appearances can, as these illusions prove beyond doubt, coexist in the same scene.  Both programmes can run, both windows can be open, at the same time.  (That final bit was the bit I didn’t truly know.)

Thank you Frank McGahon.

Wednesday August 31 2005

imageToday I went looking for Katrina coverage, and found this weirdly beautiful photo.  What do you reckon it is?


A row of school buses sits in floodwaters from Hurricane Katrina Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2005 east of New Orleans.

I found it at this New Orleans website.  (In a few days that link will probably make no sense, but as I write this now there is a great list of Katrina photos you can rootle through.)

There sure are going to be some fine coffee table books when everything has been cleared up.

And here, I found this quote:

WDSU Channel 6, an NBC affiliate, moved its operations to two sister stations, one in Jackson, Miss., and another in Orlando, Fla. With some interruptions, it got back on the air and presented news and weather programming on its Web site as well. “The Web played a big role in all of this,” said Tom Campo, a spokesman for Hearst-Argyle, the station’s owner.

The Internet, as a decentralized communications network, can be more resilient than traditional media when natural disasters occur. “Owning broadcast towers and printing presses were useless,” said Jeff Jarvis, a consultant to online media companies. “The Web proved to be a better media in a case like this.”

Which surprises me.  I would have thought that internet communication, being so heavily dependent in most instances on publicly supplied electricity, with no emergency back-up supplies, would collapse in an emergency, leaving the Big Old Media still functioning and feeling ever so slightly smug about it.  Apparently with Katrina it was rather the opposite.  Mind you, I only know this because I read it at the New York Times website.

Main lessons: if you are planning to be hit by a hurricane: be rich, and live in a rich country, with emergency services about which it makes sense to be optimistic.  Own a car, don’t keep all your wealth in your house, pile what you can of it that is in your house into your car and get out of there.

Note that me quoting that bit about the media, and saying Be Rich, is a particular example of a general law, which is that when unexpected things happen, people will wallow, as quickly as they can, in what they already believe or want to believe.  Some have said that Katrina proves that Global Warming is bad, and that the USA deserves a soaking for having caused Global Warming.  Others have denounced those who said that as evil opportunists.  Both of which opinions are what they both already thought anyway.  I’m no different.

Writing about catastrophes for big readership places like Samizdata is very hard.  What if you say something tasteless or stupid?  Here, if I am tasteless or stupid, who cares?  I mean, what are you going to do?  Cancel your subscription?  What I think I’ll do is copy and paste a particularly eloquent comment that someone left on an earlier Samizdata post, and make that into a posting in its own right.  (Update: done.)

To anyone who chances upon this who is in any way badly affected by this catastrophe: bad luck mate.  I hope things improve for you quickly.  If what you have suffered in uncorrectable, like your granny drowning or something terrible like that, well, just bad luck, I guess.