Brian Micklethwait's Blog

In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Tuesday November 29 2005

There is a particularly choice posting up at Chase Me Ladies today.

Harry Hutton has the gift of combining the banal pomposities of the opinion-expressing classes, weighed down with borrowed and mangled literary clichés from a bygone age, with his own extremely unbanal made-up or for all I know genuine opinions, about hanging versus beheading Australians this time.  He is currently my favourite blog-humour-monger.

Let he who is without motes in his eye cast the first beam.

Harry has also achieved the miracle of often quite funny and informative commenters.  The contrast with the primitives who add their superfluous squawks of appeciation and leaden attempts at humour to the Dave Barry weblog is extreme.  Or it was last time I bothered looking at any comments there.

I would be interested to learn Harry Hutton’s views about the Singleton Diet, both the blog and the diet.  If he wants Singleton-Diet-related seriousness to remove the trousers from, he need look no further than here.

Friedrich Blowhard dislikes communal entertainment on a communal screen in an airplane, but sees improvement coming:

Fortunately, as politicians will say, Help Is On The Way. Actually help’s already here provided you’re on the right airline or airliner.

Help takes the form of small video screens mounted on the backs of seats. Instead of a single entertainment sequence, you can select what you view from a reasonable variety of offerings. On transatlantic flights, I prefer the maps showing the route and the position of the plane along with statistics such as altitude, airspeed, groundspeed, distance/time relative to origin and destination, and so forth. On a recent Polar flight from Copenhagen to Seattle I was able to track latitude, discovering that we peaked just shy of 78 degrees north.

As only a very occasional air traveller, I like to look out of the window (which I like to be next to), preferably not just staring at the wing, and both enjoying and pondering the mysterious things to be seen below.  For example, what is this, which I saw out of the window, seconds after photoing the Millau Viaduct, on my trip earlier this year to the South of France?

image

I still don’t kinow that that circle that you can dimly see there is all about, and would have liked to have had some clues while we flew past it.  Click on that to get the circle in closer-up and with the Photoshop contrast knob set at 50.  But I am none the wiser.

Given the restricted nature of what you see from an airplane, unless you are very lucky, I would especially like this:

SAS’s A340s have videocameras mounted so that you can select views of what’s ahead and what’s below the aircraft. This was fascinating, especially when the plane was taxiing and taking off and landing; you sort of get a pilot’s view of things.

And in a perfect world, I could rerun what we just saw, pick out a picture, and grab it on my little camera card, and show it to the likes of you!  All of which will surely happen in due course.  Why not?  Air transport is becoming ever more competitive.

This article, about something I had never heard of until now, namely the David Beckham football academies, has got me thinking again about education.  This is the kind of thing I used to link to from my old Education Blog.

The relationship between organised games and education of young boys is, I believe, fundamental, and has been for a very long time, ever since the English Victorians decided to de-emphases torture as the basic method of getting boys to do what they told them to do.  They still used torture, but less relentlessly.

Put it like this.  Suppose (which I do not, but that is a different argument) that you want to make boys do this or that, like: pay attention in class.  You can bribe them.  You can threaten them.  Those are your choices.

Bribing boys to behave with money is, I think, a very good idea.  It’s called work, and I am for it, on the same basis that I am for work for adults.  That is, slavery and exploitation (as in too much work that is too nasty for too little money) is bad, for anyone, but people of any age being able to choose work they quite like and getting paid for it seems to me a good principle.  The corollary to “lifetime education “ (i.e. occasional bursts of education throughout one’s life) ought to be lifetime work, i.e. starting work early.

However, that is not a very fashionable opinion nowadays.  The word “exploitation” is now used to blur the exact and vital distinction between nice work and nasty work that I made in the previous paragraph, maybe not for adults so much these days, but definitely still for children.  So, in the meantime, what’s the answer to extracting obedience from boys?  Torture?  Again, and here I wholly agree with the contemporary zeitgeist, not fashionable.  That leaves non-monetary bribery.

And the biggest culturally acceptable bribe for boys is and always has been: games.  Pay attention in class, or we won’t allow you to play football, etc.  Boys love to play games, but are not sufficiently organised to organise such games for themselves.  To put it another way, stopping them from doing this is quite easy.

Linking games playing, and the adoration felt by boys for those who play games very well, with classwork, in a more positive way, by turning footballers loose in the classrooms to teach boys seems to me, in the absence of my anarcho-capitalist nirvana, also a step in the right direction.  This is a point I often made at my old Education Blog.

On the other hand, if you abandon organised games, along with torture and bribes of other kinds, what are you left with?  Out of control boys, is what.  This is exactly what a lot of schools have recently done, and I think this is one of the big reasons for bad boy behaviour in school now.

But this new Beckham academy is huge, and a lot of boys will get to visit it.

But only if they behave.

Over at Flickrzen at the moment is featured this beautiful photo of Nelson’s Column.

image

It is of course the vapour trails that make it.  But notice also the cranes, bottom left, echoing the shape of the water.

I think I know the day when this was taken.  It was cold, cloudless, and still.  It was the day I took this:

image

That was during the lunch hour on the Saturday when I also took these.  Shame I didn’t think to walk about two hundred yards to Trafalgar Square.

Monday November 28 2005

I said something rather rude to Natalie Solent (top left of these pictures) at that conference (where the pictures were taken).  I told her that the reason Mark Steyn likes her blog so much is that she has children, and Mark Steyn worries about things like that.  Bloggers sitting at home on their own, infertilely, are a Bad Thing, even if they write really well.  I now think this was rather rude, and I pretty much entirely take it back.

The clear implication of what I said was that it was not her writing.  But actually, I think it is her writing.  Her kids don’t do any harm when it comes to impressing Steyn, and maybe make Steyn want to like Natalie’s writing, but they wouldn’t get Steyn reading her stuff if he didn’t like it.

In other words, what Steyn thinks about Natalie Solent is a bit like what Natalie Solent herself says about rape, in this latest, very thoughtful posting.  The Solent kids contribute something to Steyn liking Solent.  But the important thing is he likes Solent’s actually writing.  And, Girls who wear skimpy clothes and who flirt with men who subsequently rape them are, in contrast, not helping.  They are responsible, a bit.  But rape is rape and the rapist is still entirely to blame.  Like Natalie says, this is not a pie chart.

See also: other crimes, like thieving.  If you leave your valuables in a public place unattended and they get nicked, you definitely contributed to your misfortune, and you are right to reproach yourself for your foolishness.  But the thief who nicked them is still entirely to blame for doing that.

Saturday November 26 2005

The Singleton Diet is developing a running gag, which is that Alex eats potatoes and carrots topped with a rich gravy with the Prime Minister.  He resists the chocolate sooflay with Grand Marniay soaking and instead contents himself with the cardboard biscuits with rancid butter and stale cheese with the Pope.  He has a breakfast of rat droppings and chipboard offcuts soaked in totally skimmed milk before going off to be on the radio to debate globalisation with Adolf Hitler.  Madsen Pirie needs to stay sober, so drinks tepid mango juice with Lea & Perrins Sauce instead of his usual Shatto Nerf du Pap 69, because he is about to become the next monarch and his coronation is this evening, on television.  If Singleton keeps his Diet up for another twenty years, he will become the Samuel Pepys of contemporary London, the difference being that he will be quite fun to read even if you are not a historian, given that, unlike with bloody Pepys, we still know and maybe even care who the various people are that Alex dines with.

I was going to pause around now and give you an example of how the style might be developed, but in describing it I already did, so now I will continue consuming my mid morning breakfast of lukewarm Gold Blend while chewing the last three tablets in my box of Wrigley’s Airwaves Vapour Release Menthol & Eucalyptus Chewing Gum, purchased at my local Tesco.  I probably need now to have something more solid, such as a small but tasty bowl of Kellogg’s Just Right (only available at Sainsbury’s for some reason) semi-soaked in semi-skimmed milk.  But must press on because Jesus Christ will be calling round for a chat around noon, as will Gordon Brown.  The Prophet Mohammed said he might drop by also, but may be busy.  I’ll be sure to let you all know what we all have for lunch.

Friday November 25 2005

The Micklethwait Clock appears to be back in sync, despite my worries yesterday.  Last night, I found myself tired just when I wanted to be (1 am), went to bed, went to sleep, and got up much earlier this morning (9 am).  Why?  I think it is because just as a bunged-up nose makes lying awake at night no fun, so too does it make lying awake – and potentially, again, asleep – in the morning less appealing.  So, I get up when I first wake up.  This was why I was tired last night.  I got up yesterday morning despite not feeling fully rested.  (It was late anyway, which is why I didn’t see the value of this at the time (around noon).) This morning, ditto.

The reason I go on about this Micklethwait Clock thing is not to entertain you people - although my experience is that literary oddities like this can work quite well despite not trying to, and perhaps because not trying to.  I write about my Micklethwait Clock for the same reason Alex blogs about his Singleton Diet, which is to change my own behaviour.  I need to make an earlier start, for the rest of my life.  If you are entertained in any way by these peculiar writings, that is a mere bonus.

Nevertheless, I cannot help noting that my minimum blogging duties here, today, are now done.  Since I have a meeting chez moi this evening - Evans and Gabb (in no particular order) talking (in I don’t know what order) about the LA’s future.

There just has to be a posting here.  It does not have to make sense, be interesting, worth reading, etc.  You get what you pay for.

I went from Instapundit to this Pajamas Media report, to this blog posting to these photos and then to this photo in particular:

image

Nothing very out of the ordinary.  Just a bunch of people queueing up to vote in a referendum, inside a building with pictures on it.  In the foreground: nice flowers.

And that’s my point.  It occurs to me to wonder if the internet may finally be about to solve that recurring Africa problem, to the effect that you only ever see Africa pictures when there’s trouble, when people are starving or killing one another.  Now, thanks to Africa being like everywhere overrun by Billion Monkeys (i.e. humans with digital cameras), a torrent of boring photos of the boringness of Africa will finally correct that dramatic, but hopefully, eventually, rather false impression.

And as if eager to back me up, the telly obliged this evening with some classic Africa misery pictures, from Niger:

image

Leon Louw was at the Conference I attended last weekend (he’s the guy in square number 3.1, if you get my drift, here), and he commented from the floor, in connection with something or other, that actually the bits of Africa that are now doing well are doing very well indeed.  He was saying that foreign aid harms Africa by rewarding the worst governments with tons of money.  I forget why.  True of course.

Yes, I remember.  It was a discussion about think tanks, and we were mulling over whether you have to compromise or not.  The speaker was saying that think tanks do have to compromise a bit, and be gradualistically positive.  Louw was recalling how, on the radio (although this time it was the BBC), he had been uncompromisingly negative, about foreign aid and a foreign aider whom he denouced as evil and in favour of poverty and what is more that such evil persons, despite having done lots of harm, would then try to take all the credit for the good bits which they had failed to fuck up with their evil aid (which the BBC loved because he was actually saying something and asked him back to say it again).  The think tanker on the platform was trying to get in among the political system and create movements within it that are not now happening. Louw was merely trying to shoot something down in flames, and to demoralise the supporters of it into a state of miserable and shell shocked stupor.  To that end, the more uncompromising the better.

So, here’s to Africa getting soon to live in uninteresting times, and being photographed uninterestingly.

The Singleton Diet is back on track.  Alex is either back eating again, or has set his chocolates and crisps aside.

But the Micklethwait Clock is seriously out of order.  I have had a cold for the last four days, and when you have a cold, your head wants to remain upright.  I’m not good at explaining this without using words like “snot”, so trust me on this. When you go to bed, you want to be asleep quickly.  If you aren’t, you do not want to just lie there.  You want to sit up.  As I say: snot.  So, the Micklethwait Clock is going to need some serious adjustment when the snot issue has abated.  I think I should stop now.

Thursday November 24 2005

I’m watching a fascinating TV show about the Elgar Piano Concerto that has been cobbled together from sketches, recorded improvisations by Elgar himself on the piano, and the like, by a guy called Robert Walker.  Fascinating.  The resulting piece is about thirty five minutes long, after lots of cutting of the first version that Walker produced.  The creative process was fraught, and the pianist throughout it all, David Own Norris, and Robert Walker are still arguing about it.

Maybe Elgar would have made the final object as long and big as that actual original, but, unlike that actual original, good enough to last that long.  The violin concerto is fifty minutes long, after all.  But then again, I guess the cello concerto is only half an hour.

That such stories as this – another similar one is the ongoing saga of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony – now loom so large in the world of classical music tells you a lot about the state of classical music.  We are deep into the land of diminishing returns in exchange for unprecedentedly superhuman efforts.  The job of acquainting the big wide world with what all those decomposing composers composed is basically done, and they are scraping the barrel, occasionally finding either dubious fragments by an established master like Bach or Handel, Mahler or Elgar, and more commonly worthwhile unfamiliar stuff by lesser figures.  Sooner or later they will have to switch entirely to writing new stuff, and at that point they will have to understand what that involves, which I am convinced that most of them don’t at the moment.  More about that in the future.

But guess what, I have just ripped off a paragraph on that exact topic, by way of a tangent, and here it is.  Basically, the classical music fraternity has got to forget about “classical” music – a distinction that dates from the age of the Great Recording Project and which now makes less and less sense.  Instead, they must just make music.  Yes, some of the music will be “orchestral”, just as a mass of fine organ music has been written since the now long gone age when the organ, like the now equally dethroned symphony orchestra, was the King of the Instruments.  After all, all those organs still existed and were still perfectly playable, so it made sense to go on writing things for them.  But, the musicians mustn’t kid themselves that because their stuff may, what with being played on this peculiar thing called an orchestra, sometimes sound like Brahms, that it is the direct artistic descendant of e.g. the Brahms First Symphony, in the way that the Brahms First Symphony was itself the direct descendant of the Beethoven symphonies, which it was.  This is the equivalent of regarding Elizabeth II as Elizabeth I reborn.  Elizabeth II may wear similar robes to the ones Elizabeth I did, and have a similar title, and say similar words in public.  But there the similarity ends.

imageI have the Dutton recording of this Elgar/Walker Concerto, and have listened to it, once.  I was eager to hear it, if only because I so love the Elgar Piano Quintet.  Apparently, said the TV show, Elgar listened over and over again to a recording of the Quintet, when he was on his death bed.  How about that?

I did not much care for the Elgar/Walker concerto, but classical music seldom gets to me first time around, usually because I don’t listen to it carefully enough.  I’ll certainly give it another few goes, in fact I am giving it another go right now, because now they are playing it on the TV.  The trick is for me to stop fussing about how I wanted it to sound (a cross between the first Elgar symphony and the second Brahms piano concerto) and instead to listen to what it actually does sound like (first approximation: a cross between the second Elgar symphony and the Dvorak piano concerto – but please don’t quote that as if it was a considered judgement).

Already I am starting to like it more.  This is the kind of show that makes me wish I had a proper way of recording digital TV.

Tuesday November 22 2005

Yesterday I tried to post the posting that you see below, but did not see any result, because I couldn’t.  I was having problems.  But there it is!  I kept going.  Something however crap, every day.

Yesterday two unrelated problems erupted.  First, as I have now been told, my webhosting service upgraded their arrangements, which meant that I had to upgrade mine, or mine wouldn’t work.  Then, second, my internet connection had a fit, and went off line for about a day.

Luckily, I was able to ring up Mark Rousell, and all was, in due course, explained, and then in a bit more due course, sorted.  This experience confirmed everything in that earlier posting.  I am now going to place all my computing arrangements - blogging software, email, webhosting, everything - in Mark’s capable hands.  I know.  Eggs and baskets.  But you have to take risks in this life, and he feels like a very good basket to me.  The crucial point, as I explained, is that this way, when things go wrong, you only need to ask one person.

Coincidentally, in adition to my computer being ill, I have been ill too.  Sore throat, etc.  I had to skulk away from that LA Conference early, and am still not at my best, so this little posting will probably be all you get here today.

Monday November 21 2005

Problems.  This is a test.

Back at Liberty 2005, and took more photos.  The first two both feature the great Tim Evans, the LA’s Beloved One and future Great Leader, who is very good at posing for photos.  The first is with Professor Antony Flew, and the second with Gladstone.  Tha National Liberal Club is full of Gladstones.

image image image image

And the other two are further Billion Monkey shots.  The first features Philip Chaston (not in the National Liberal Club, and second Mario Huet, a long time friend of Sean Gabb.  For a long time I had assumed that Mario Huet was a Sean Gabb alias, but Mario is for real.

Mario was doing lots of videoing, and there will, I think I remember Sean Gabb saying, be a DVD.

By the way, Tim will be doing my next Brian’s Last Friday, this Friday, and will be talking about the future of the Libertarian Alliance.

Update Tuesday: On Monday, just before this blog went off air for a day, I had a rather anxious phone call from Tim saying he is keen to stress that he will not be any kind of sole boss of the LA but will be running it as a twosome with Sean Gabb.  Sean Gabb will be “Director” and Tim will be “President”.  I think those are the names.  This is not a case of Tim being unable to see and take a joke.  Rather does he want different jokes, about him AND Gabb, rather than about him alone.  I’ll get to work on that.

Meanwhile, the message they want to put out is that they want to crank up the libertarian writing again.  So if you have anything of a libertarian nature to say which you would like the LA to publish, get writing and send it in.  The LA website does a lot of business, and people (e.g. rather studious students and policy wonks) who have no time for blogs definitely read stuff there.

Update to the Update: Bloody hell.  If I carry on like this there is a danger of me turning a smooth succession into an imaginary succession crisis.  In my email to my Brian’s Last Fridays list I implied again that Tim will be the sole supremo, but this is not repeat not the case.  And apparently the titles of Director and President are anything but finalised.  In any event, both Tim and Sean will be speaking this coming Friday, which will enable everything to be clarified.

Sunday November 20 2005

I spent today at Liberty 2005, and here are twenty of the least worst photos I took while there.  I don’t have time to tell you who all these people are.  Just clever people.  That will have to do.  Apart from Mugabe who is a stubborn bastard.

Click to get the big pictures.

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

Friday November 18 2005

The Mainstream Media.  Bastard people!  Except when they give your mates a damn good write-up:

image

Perry on the far left, and Adriana next to him.  Plus five other blokes.  So far as I can recall, the only one I’ve met is Norm Geras, on the top right, but that could be wrong.

Sample quote:

As I arrive, De Havilland is laughing, nearly hysterically, at a blog at Oliver Kamm, a London hedge-fund manager and member of the “pro-war left” who now also writes a column for the Times. “Just marvellous,” says De Havilland. “I was thinking of making it Samizdata quote of the day. It’s something to the effect that, well, there’s no point in denying that our involvement in Iraq has inflamed [Islamist totalitarian] opinion. Why should we deny it? It’s something we should be proud of!”

Read the whole thing.

I have famous friends.  And I write, whenever I please, for the grandfather of British political blogs.

Thursday November 17 2005

Lat night, while walking along the Kings Road with two long-suffering friends, I espied a rare pair of automotive birds, namely two of those Indian adapted 1950s Morris Oxfords.  They were decked out with flowers, so they were presumably participating in some kind of London Hindu ceremony, like a wedding.

imageimage

These two are, I think, examples of the Hindustan Ambassador.  I include the second picture only beause it shows a blurry cyclist going past, in a rather odd and photographically interesting way.  When there is little light around, the camera takes its time, and turns anything moving past what it is concentrating on into a blur.  Click to get the bigger pictures.

The Indian Morris Oxford Saga is one of the great Peculiar Car stories, to set alongside such other politico-economic automotive strangenesses as the Volkswagen, the Citroen 2CV, the Zyl, the Trabant, the De Lorean, and many more that I can’t now think of.

The reason I am so fond of these Indian Morris Oxford adaptations is that the car I most remember my family having when I was a kid was also a Morris Oxford.  It was a blue grey version of this, but without the shades on top of the headlights.  Before that, we had a Standard Flying 12, but I can only just remember that one.  The Morris (WPD 880) was the one I remember.  That also survives in India, I am almost sure, although I think the popular Indian version is of the later Morris Oxford with the more sticky out bits on its rear.

Wednesday November 16 2005

I have always rated Tom Peters as a business writer, and, because I just now discovered it, I am now about to add his blog to my blogroll.  This blog is called Tom Peters in psychobabbly all lower case letters with no space between the tom and the peters, and with an exclamation mark at the end, his point presumably being that, he’s not your usual business bloke in a suit.  Not many are these days, I guess.

I know extremely little about business, having hardly done any at all, but it seems to me that Peters has made a succession of pretty good points, quite well, and more than quite entertainingly, entertainment being central to his message.  I have liked him ever since I first read In Search of Excellence.

I’m not completely sold on the guy, partly because, partly for the same reasons I’m not, so many others aren’t.  Much has been made, in particular, of the fact that many of the “excellent” companies in In Search of Excellence didn’t subsequently do very well.  Yes, that is a problem I do agree.  But then, who does know how to predict business success?  Does this mean that companies should try to be mediocre.  Perhaps, in a way, it does - see below.

More seriously, from the point of view of whether you actually like Tom Peters, is that many find his relentless and quasi-religious upbeatness exhausting or worse, and maybe I would too if I had dealings with him personally.  He might, you could say, bring out the old-fashioned Englishman in me.  Many is the time when some stranger has tried to tug my heartstrings from a stage with overcooked rhetoric of one kind or another, and I have folded my arms, concreted over my face, and just waited for it to end.

Every time I hear the word “passion” misused to mean, “I am really quite interested in it given that I am paid to be”, which happens a hell of a lot nowadays, I feel a little ill.  You can’t switch on passion like an electric light, but lots of people use the word as if you could.  The second Tom Peters book, I seem to recall, was called A Passion for Excellence.  That was when all this passion crap started, if I am not mistaken.

You can’t fake passion, which one of the many reasons why I have never purchased the services of a prostitute.  It is not that I think that it is particularly immoral to buy or sell it, simply that the “it” that I want is not something she will be selling.  She may, maybe (think Jane Fonda in Klute), be selling the pretence of passion, but for me that would be worse than nothing.

But, if I ever attended a Tom Peters show, I would at least start by giving the guy the benefit of the doubt.

He is entertaining and somewhat outrageous for a reason.  One of his more significant observations goes approximately: all business is show business.  The world is full of people who prefer show business to business business, because show business is so much more fun.  So, says Peters, make business business more like show business.  Make it appeal to the emotions, and not just to the wallet and, if you are lucky, the intellect.  Go for excellence as in excellence exclamation mark, rather than as in some arithmetised formula which merely somewhat misdefines it, like: 95% right.

The trouble is that chasing that last 5% in a swirl of exclamation marks can sometimes be very bad business.  Numbers do count, and are often extremely well worth counting, and getting seventy out of a hundred is often plenty good enough.  Some customers are not worth satisfying.  Which are no doubt all points which Peters has answered a million times and more at his many many highly priced roadshow type seminar revival meetings.

I also remember being impressed by a book written by the guy who co-wrote The Pursuit of Excellence with Peters, a bloke called Waterman.  Waterman split with Peters before A Passion for Excellence, as I recall it.  I suspect that Waterman feels as I do about passion.  Search was quite enough for him thankyou.

In his book (now long out of print it would seem), Waterman made much of the value of calmly looking at “friendly” numbers, as well as getting excited about being excellent.  I especially recall a chapter about the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.  There was no lack of passionate excellence at the SFSO, although no doubt some were more passionate than others as is the way with all orchestras.  But what did orchestral “excellence” actually mean?  What did it consist of?  Waterman looked at numbers, like number of recordings made, and just counted them, without any exclamation marks.  Concentrating on such numbers is often what success is all about.  Don’t forget about excellence, but sometimes, loud and exclamation marked i.e. rather forced and frenetic, enthusiasm is about the only thing a business does have, and the answer is to calm down and do some thinking.  Get the numbers right, get the money coming in, do the job well, meet deadlines, blah blah blah, and let the passion take care of itself.

However, I suspect that Peters would agree with quite a lot of the above.  Having thought about passion and being a reasonably honest guy, he presumably has thought about the difference between it and the mere pretence of it.

Anyway, I will be looking some more at his blog.

If only because I learned at it today that one of my earliest favourite business writers, Peter Drucker, has just died.  I missed that until now.

It seems to be a real blog.  Peters himself is actually writing it, and there are real thoughts there, not just puffery for his latest little product or show.  Plus lots of links to other good stuff.  Okay, others are also writing for it, but why not?  He has minions.  Let them express themselves.

I wonder what she (who is doing very well, by the way – yes I do actually know someone who might one day soon be a genuine Business Success) thinks of Tom Peters.  Probably an old-school marketer and hence the spawn of Satan.  Never mind, I like him.

Ashes to ashes:

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Good game, though.

Tuesday November 15 2005

At 10.52 GMT this morning, there occurred an historic moment.  England are playing Pakistan at cricket, in Pakistan, so this was late in the afternoon out there.  And it was when Pakistan lost their final second innings wicket.

Kamran Akmal - c Pietersen b Harmison – 33

You have to be an England cricket fan to realise how amazingly that reads.

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England now need 198 to go one up, after this first game of the three match series.

Busy day and another blatant quota posting, this time in the form of a quota quote, from the latest RRF Newsletter, number 56 (not up at the website yet, print only, so far), which arrived in the post recently, and which today I actually opened up and looked at:

A member of the International Teaching of Reading Forum (itorf) has reported that an Ebay search for ‘whole language’ has revealed 16 items, whereas a search for ‘phonics’ has revealed 1554 items.  The writer concludes that when consumers are acting in their own best interests they choose phonics 99 to 1 over whole language.  In doing a similar Google search, she found just over five hundred thousand hits for ‘whole language’ but over three million for ‘phonics’.

But I think this is rather misleading.  ‘Whole language’ is only one of a number of descriptive labels for what it labels.  Another label for the same thing is ‘look and say’.  Another is ‘whole word’.  ‘Phonics’, on the other hand, is the much more widely agreed label for, well, phonics.

But I still sympathise with what this person wants us to believe.

Sunday November 13 2005

The voice of Patrick Allen now dominates the digital telly airwaves, talking up forthcoming and current shows in a very self-send-up way.  What is that about?  Is he a Trotskyite, like all the other voice-over bastards?  Surely not.  Or is he dead, and is someone else impersonating him?

Actors like Patrick Allen are tragic figures, I think.  In an age when poshly rugged masculinity has been deeply out of fashion, posh real men actors like Allen had to do send-ups of themselves, instead of the real thing.  (They also had to watch a succession of non-posh actors play James Bond, but that’s another story.) One day, rugged posh masculinity will be all the rage again, but by then no actors will know how to do it.  James and Edward Fox are about the only ones who have managed to make a living being posh without being ridiculous, and with Edward Fox, I am speaking relatively when I say without being ridiculous.

I mean, when they wanted someone to do the Alan Clark Diaries for the telly, who did they pick for Alan Clark.  John Naked Civil Servant Hurt, that’s who.  Hurt is a good actor, a very good actor.  But Alan Clark?  Surely not.  They just don’t have any actors who are starry enough, and sufficiently like Alan Clark to do Alan Clark properly.  You either pick a star like Hurt who is wrong for it but a very watchable actor, or an actor who is just like Alan Clark, who has consequently been unemployed for the last thirty years and wouldn’t be good enough to carry the show.

No time for more.  Not only is today Shakespeare Sunday (see below) but I am also busy in the evening, hence this now, in the earliest hour of today.

Tomorrow, I and a bunch of other people are to record A Midsummer Night’s Dream for this enterprise, for the internet, CDs, etc.  I am Oberon and Theseus.  So, this being my first time, and them reckoning that I haven’t got enough on my plate with them two, I am also going to nip next door and record a couple of fairy tales, for a Christnas CD I think.

I have spent the evening reading through my MSND parts, highlighting the syllables I need to be emphasising.  I noticed at the first read-through that the actress who is doing Helena, very well, and who is an actual trained actress and not a rank amateur like me, had printed out her part double spaced and put squiggles on top of her lines.  Felt-tipped pen is my version of that.  It forced me to read through everything again, carefully, aloud, which was good.  Reading the result is the difference between crossing a thousand streams on stepping stones, and crossing a thousand streams by wading across.

The trouble with amateurs is that they never know their lines, and it turns out that even when you are reading your lines from off of a script, you still have to know them.  I am trying not to be an amateur.

Today the Mickethwait Clock was running fine.  I went to bed early last night and was up at 8.40am this morning, and did what I should do, and had a proper breakfast.  Then I listened to CD Review.  But breakfast turned out to have been was too proper and I also had a headache from drinking too much wine last night, so I had to go back to bed for two more hours.  This means that tomorrow, I will probably fall asleep around lunchtime, just when Oberon is supposed to be at his most magical.  Bugger.

Friday November 11 2005

I was browsing through some of Adam Tinworth’s photos (blog here), and came across this one:

image.

Written messages can make good photos, I think.  Another reason I like it is that my principle socially dyslexic habit is collecting promotional mugs.  Which is better than collecting body parts.  I suppose.

I took this photo about a month ago, and only just realised what I had, although I don’t know which super-celeb it was:

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Click to get that all a bit bigger.

Actually it was just a sunny day.

I also rather like the South American dancing lady in the mural on the right.  But the sun is behind her, for real as well as in her picture, and she does not look her best.

For the whole of last academic year, if that’s what they call it, ending last July, I was visiting the school I called Paradise Primary.  You can read about some of my early visits here.

It didn’t work out.  The problem was not Paradise Primacy, or its inmates, adult or juvenile.  The problem was the travelling.  I had blithely told VRH that, sure, a trip to Chelsea and back each afternoon I visited the school, i.e. twice a week, would be fine.  I was wrong.

I depended on a bus to get there, and buses are not very dependable, so I had to allow lots of time.  Typically, I did not need this time, and sat waiting on a bench outside the school.  If I cut it fine, which sometimes happened, it was far worse.  Imagine trying to will a double decker bus along the Kings Road in a traffic jam.  Not fun.  Not fun at all.

After an hour of actual helping, as best I could, but with very variable results, I then, when it finally arrived, got into another bus, which made its way back towards Victoria, getting ever more clogged up in the evening rush hour.

Add to all this bussing the fact that I was usually carrying quite a lot of heavy clobber with me – books, games, a football, etc. – and you have a recipe for a very unhappy Brian.  It was taking me a major slice of the entire day to do one hour of meaningful stuff, and at the end of it I was exhausted, almost as if I’d done an entire day’s paid work.

You know how it is when you are performing a task that you do not like.  Basically, you avoid doing it too well, in case the universe then demands, either with bribes of some kind or threats of some kind or worst of all, with moral blackmail of some kind, that you must do it for ever, with no escape.  Problems arise, but you don’t solve them.  Opportunities to learn more about how to do what you are doing present themselves, and are shunned.  That was how it was for me at Paradise Primary.

After a summer spent deciding between desire and duty, I sensible chose desire – which is what would have eventually happened anyway - and I told VRH, and Paradise Primary, that I would be visiting Paradise Primary no more, for the bus reasons stated above.  Which was the truth.

I attended a VRH training course, to prove that I had not given up on the whole idea, and they said they would try to find me a school within walking distance of where I live.  And today, I got an email from VRH saying that they have found another school, and as promised, it is a walk away from where I live.  There’s apparently some further arranging to do and it’s not final.  But provisionally, I will be starting there in January.  As I emailed back, immediately: perfect.

It’s a church school.  I don’t want to say which denomination because I don’t want anyone trying to guess which school it is, any more than I wanted people guessing about Paradise Primary.  I hereby christen it: God Primary.

So, fingers crossed.

Thursday November 10 2005

Last night - well, more like this morning - and as already mentioned here, I was up until 3 am, watching the Globe/Rylance Richard II.  It was not quite the riveting experience I had hoped for, basically because I had seen it before too recently.  My mind did occasionally wander.  Also, this is a play with rather a lot of rather interchangeable blokes coming in and out, supporting Richard, switching to Bolingbroke, etc. etc.  Only Richard, Bolingbroke, John of Gaunt, and Richards’ Queen really stood out as individuals, for me.  Normally one would be able to sort out all such complications, but one needs all one’s concentration to follow the verse and make sense of it.  More study of the text is needed.  Better knowledge of the play, and less of the production, would have suited me better last night.  But, no grumbles.  It was very fine.

Well, a few grumbles.  The dance that the whole cast did at the end in addition to bowing may have been authentic, but it looked extremely peculiar to me, and frankly I didn’t like it.  Also, I found the big bloke who played the Queen decidedly offputting to look at, but, unlike the Queen in that Kevin Spacey Richard at the Old Vic, he/she spoke his/her lines with perfect clarity and, for me, managed to triumph over the absurdity of how he/she looked.

Also, there were rather a lot of jets flying overhead.

But, it was a great thrill to reacquaint with Rylance’s central performance, which switched from facetiousness and foolishness to extreme wisdom to casual cruelty like the weather on a breezy bright-with-scattered-showers day.  Here was a Richard who played it for laughs even as catastrophe beckoned.  And here was a king who had never had to work out how to be king, because from the year dot, he was the king.  Thus, he never grew up, until he stopped being king.

Critics, including the ones who chattered away off stage for this production, often mention Richard II as a precursor of Hamlet.  But the later and even greater Shakespeare character that Richard makes me think of most is King Lear, another monarch given to seeking laughs when things are going really badly.

Both are kings who, for very different reasons, depose themselves, with great ceremony.

Both kill people, rather surprisingly, just before they die.  Richard takes out a couple of his would-be assassins before finally succumbing.  Lear kills the “slave” who hanged Cordelia.

The scene where Richard is stripped of his actual power (as opposed to his mere office, which comes a bit later), being forced to make concession after concession, bit by cruel bit, is like the scene in Lear where Lear has all his followers taken away from him, salami style, by whichever nasty daughter it was.

And above all, Richard’s insights as his throne crumbles under him resemble those of Lear as he nears his end.

“Come let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings”, a famous line spoken by Richard, is something Lear might equally have said, and if you had asked me two years ago, before I got to know Richard II at all well, who said that, I might well have guessed Lear rather than Richard, although not with any confidence.  Excuse me while I dig up the corresponding bit from Lear.

Yes, here it is:

Come, let’s away to prison:
We two alone will sing like birds i’ the cage:
When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down,
And ask of thee forgiveness: and we’ll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news; and we’ll talk with them too,
Who loses, and who wins; who’s in, who’s out;
And take upon ‘s the mystery of things,
As if we were God’s spies; and we’ll wear out,
In a walled prison, packs and sets of great ones
That ebb and flow by the moon.

That is very Richard II, I think.  Lear is older, and Richard, unlike Lear, is alone.  And while Lear was every inch the king, and presumably very good at it when in his prime, Richard only gets to grips with it when it is too late.  But this is the same psychological universe, I think.

That Lear quote is from Act 5 Scene 3, and I found it here.  What a wonder the internet is.  You never have to type famous stuff in any more.

Typically, Rylance got a laugh out of “sad stories of the death of kings”, but in a good way.  It was the sheer inappropriateness of (a) sitting down, and (b) having such a conversation as that, given Richard’s dire circumstances, that was so tragically funny.

It would be great if, in a Globe Theatre production of King Lear, a jet thundered over at the height of the storm.

Tuesday November 08 2005

I found this picture . . .

image

. . . here.

Monday November 07 2005

This is going to screw up The Micklethwait Clock something terrible, this being Mark Rylance’s televised live Globe Theatre performance of Richard II.  It is being shown again on BBC4 this tomorrow, from 11.40pm to 3.05am!

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I saw Rylance’s Richard when BBC4 first showed it, and I loved it.  Now I have Kevin Spacey’s Richard, for me equally enjoyable, to compare it with.  And now might be a good time to write that piece about Spacey’s Richard, which has been half written for a fortnight.  Nothing like a topical excuse for having procrastinated.

Meanwhile, here is an article by Professor Nigel Saul about the historical realities of Richard II’s reign.

I once knew Dr (as he then was) Nigel Saul.  In the nineteen seventies, when I could think of no other way to think about politics, I participated in discussion evenings which he ran for the Englefield Green Conservative Party.  He was an academic at Royal Holloway College, the ornate copy-of-a-French-chateau roof of which I could see from my bedroom window throughout my childhood.  He’s still there.

Sunday November 06 2005

The Micklethwait Clock notion is having some good results.  Over this weekend I got up later than I should have, but earlier than I would have.  Best of all, it now feels later in the day than it actually is.  My internal clock is being altered.  It is now 6.18m.  It feels more like 8.18 pm.  The trick is going to bed when I should regardless of whether I feel sleepy or not.

Moving the internal clock forward is easy.  Moving it back is harder, but I seem to be accomplishing it.

It helped that the clocks themselves moved back an hour not so long ago.

My posting rate at this blog has briefly gone up as a result of the above, with what results as far as quality is concerned I cannot say.  As to increased productivity here in the future, I promise – threaten? – nothing.

Lexington Green, yesterday, quotes from this story, and says:

What is happening in France is nothing less than an “instant war” by a “smart swarm” of networked arsonists who are conducting a loosely coordinated nation-wide intifada:

“They are very mobile, in cars or scooters. ... It is quite hard to combat” he said. “Most are young, very young, we have even seen young minors.”

There appeared to be no coordination between separate groups in different areas, Hamon said. But within gangs, he added, youths are communicating by cell phones or e-mails. “They organize themselves, arrange meetings, some prepare the Molotov cocktails.”

This is much, much worse than I thought it was. It is a massive outbreak of 4th Generation Warfare, in the middle of an advanced, Western country.

I’m actually – partly – glad this has happened, in the same kind of grim way that 9/11 had its good side.  At least now we - and the French in particular – learn one more item on the list of things we are up against.

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Green ends his post thus:

The French leadership is now grasping for a “Plan B”.

Faster, please, gentlemen. It will be bad for all of us if you don’t get a grip on this thing. Soon.

No schadenfreude, no jeering at the French for all their many faults. This is too serious for that.

That, in my opinion, is one of the things that has to be learned.  Maybe the French will learn to be a bit more tolerant about what the Americans have been trying to accomplish.

More from me about this at Samizdata, with comments of course.

I watched the Wales All Blacks rugger game yesterday, and what a one-sided bore (3-41 – 5-0 in tries) it was.  Wales, severely weakened by injuries so the commentators said, just looked three inches shorter and three inches round the chest less beefy.  Their forwards spent all afternoon having the ball taken from them on by the bigger boys, and their backs didn’t know what to do with what little ball they had, running mostly either sideways or not at all.  The commentators said that “skill levels” (commentator speak for skill) were also involved, and no doubt that is right.  They know their rugby.  Me, I was too bored to watch carefully.  The occasional flashes of good running and passing from the NZ backs were the only good bits, and they were pretty routine, simply because they didn’t need to be any more than that. All very depressing when you consider how good Wales have been lately.

For me it was like watching Will Carling’s England beat Scotland in about 1990, if I was Welsh.  Although, 1990 may have been one of those years when Scotland beat Carling’s England.  So, pick another year, when it was 41-3 to England. 

How much more fun it would have been to be able to watch the France Australia game in Marseille, which France won 26-16 (2-1 in tries).  Interestingly, BBC’s Ceefax service had no as-it-happened scoring report of that game, having briefly hinted at such a service when they thought the game had just begun, at 6pm.  (Actually it began at 8pm.) But they took that page away, and from then on there was no mention of that game. Why not?  Does France not count? I had to rely on a French website.  Which was fine, and actually rather fun, what with my schoolboy French.  The trick was putting “Australie” into Google.  J’aime beaucoup l’internet.

France now seem to be by far the strongest northern hemisphere side just now.  England, once they have finally cleared out all the old and exhausted, been-there and done-that World Cuppers –time for the other Robinson, the coach, to bugger off also? – are presumably also good, when they finally all get picked together and can work up a bit of team spirit again.  “We’ll show those arrogant old bastards!”, “Anyone with an OBE fuck off!!!”, etc.

France England (on March 12th 2006) will tell us how good England are.  Not nearly good enough yet, is my bet for that.

Thank goodness for the Six Nations.  It lights up February and March.  Just think what February and March would be without it.  Just think what February and March are, for those poor souls who do not care about rugby.  And they say it will then be very cold.

And how about France All Blacks for the next World Cup Final?  Just imagine, if it is, and it is as good as this game was?

Saturday November 05 2005

For some reason I had great difficulty posting that previous, rather long, posting.  Rather long, but I’ve often posted far longer.  Something to do with an error message, and a “url condition” or maybe “precondition” at my command centre type website place.  I can’t remember the exact wording.  But what could that be about?

When I posted all of it, no.  But then when I posted only the early bits, okay.  Then I added more bits, a bit at a time.  Okay sometimes, sometimes not.  Then it all went up.  Weird.

Thank goodness I write everything first in Word, and then copy and paste.  If I had done it straight into Expression Engine, I would probably have lost the lot.  (Not that any of this is necessarily Expression Engine’s fautl.  No doubt it is only obeying order.  That’s the thing with computers.  They do everything they are told, but have no common sense.

Maybe Saturday late morning is not a good time for doing complicated things on the internet.  Could that be it?

For some reason, I can’t do italics in the titles of postings.  Don’t like that.

Anyway . . .

Patrick Crozier links from time to time to a Libertarian Alliance Tactical Note I wrote a while ago for the Libertarian Alliance called The Tyranny of the Facts.  He did it again recently.  Very nice too, and thank you.  Good that something I wrote so long ago still has some life in it.  But, Patrick doesn’t seems to get what The Tyranny of The Facts is really about.

He says:

. . . But (up until now) amateur propaganda has been difficult to do. Researching the facts, thinking through the arguments, working at times when you’d rather be down the pub or asleep, is difficult and slow. In comparison, the professionals hold all the aces. See Brian’s The Tyranny of the Facts.

The implication of that is that The Tyranny of the Facts says things like: “Researching the facts, thinking through the arguments, working at times when you’d rather be down the pub or asleep, is difficult and slow. In comparison, the professionals hold all the aces.”

Well, it sort of partly says that, a bit.

But what it also says is that “The Facts”, so often deployed in media arguments – as in “Mr Pillock says blah-de-blah-de-blah, but let’s just look at The Facts” – are, if you are actually trying to persuade people of anything, often beside the point and superfluous to requirements, because what causes people to disagree is not disagreement about The Facts but differences in ideological attitude, in worldview.  In fact it often happens that The Facts is the one thing that people who are arguing do agree about.

Suppose a state-owned hospital is poisoning people.  Supporters of the principle of the NHS and of state owned hospitals will want the problem dealt with by the existing chain of command, pragmatically, and by spending more money.

But we would argue like this not necessarily because of any huge disagreement between us and our opponents about how many people are being poisoned or how grievously each particular state-owned hospital was poisoning people.  Rather do we have different views about the merits of the private sector, in general, versus state ownership, in general.

Our opponents are not arguing that poisoning people does not matter, and we would be very foolish to accuse them of this.  We all agree that there is a problem.  Our disagreement is about the way to solve the problem.

Yet during media debates concerning matters of this sort, all kinds of numbers will be thrown around – “let’s look at The Facts: according to figures from the National Poisoned People Directorate Subcommittee, last year 925 people suffered from blah-de-blah-de-blah . . .” .  But these numbers will not actually affect those arguing, because such numbers do not determine their views about how to improve hospitals.  These numbers are merely ammunition for pummelling third parties into a state of stupefied surrender, and not even that is sensible.  Also, in the talk radio bit of the media that I am familiar with, they hate it when you reduce an argument to mere statistics.

Now that “experts” who favour free markets are now starting to come on stream in a big way, thanks to half a century of free market think tankery, free market “experts” are just as fond of emitting large and pompous and boring gobs of “The Facts” as statist have traditionally tended to be.  They too delight in arguing pragmatically, and unpersuasively.

When I argue for denationalising a hospital, I do it quite differently.  I do not claim any special knowledge of hospitals, and if I am arguing against a medically expert supporter of state medicine, I certainly do not.

Instead I say:

“I am sure that indeed The Facts, as you have just explained them, are approximately right.  However, I believe in free markets in hospitals because I believe in free markets in everything else.  Free markets work for bananas and cars and computers and frying pans and paper clips and houses and giant oil ships and glue-sticks.  Why would they not work for hospitals?”

“Ah but hospitals are special.  Hospitals are not like glue-sticks.”

“Indeed they are not.  But everything is special.  Glue-sticks are also special.  They are not like paper clips or banana, or, as you say, hospitals.  Of course hospitals are different and special.  But what is it that is so different and special about hospitals that makes them something where free markets do not and could not work their magic?”

This works well for two reasons.  First, I have correctly identified the nature of the disagreement between us, which always helps.  I am telling the truth.  Even those who have opposite views to mine about the state-owned-ness of hospitals will agree with me about the fact that state-owned-ness of things generally is what is really being argued about here.

In reply, my opponent then, perhaps, thinks that he has to explain why the argument is not the sort of argument that, actually, it is, which not surprisingly ties him in knots because he is then talking rubbish and he knows it.  If he then carries on spouting the rest of The Facts that he brought with him, he makes an ass of himself.

If, on the other hand, he acknowledges the truth of my claim, that we are really arguing about markets in general versus state action in general, and only applying and illustrating these general principles with talk about hospitals, this takes the argument away from his preferred argumentative battleground (detailed statistical knowledge of The Facts concerning hospitals and hospital poisoning and of the various bits of the existing chain of command whose job is to solve such problems and who should be give more money to do this) and towards ground I am probably more familiar with than he is (arguing about the rights and wrongs of free markets, state ownership, etc., in general).

He may then make further blunders.  He may, for example, say:

“So I suppose you also favour a complete free market in all drugs, do you?”

This is a common error made by political people when arguing with political but also ideological people like me.  The one answer he does not expect is the one he gets:

“Yes.”

Followed by a silence of extreme eloquence.

I have already explained why I believe in free markets, people taking their own risks, etc. etc., so yes, I favour legalising all drugs.  If I have spelt all this out, I have at least alluded to such argument.  And being the ideologist I am, eager to push the free market agenda in general rather than just the idea of free market hospitals, I am delighted at being given the chance to do this.  He thought I was there to defend some private sector hospital or to argue against state-owned hospitals, and nothing else.  But he was wrong.  I am there to spread ideas.  If he gives me the chance to spread other ideas to the ones I expected to be talking about, but which I am keen to spread, I will seize the opportunity eagerly.

He is struck dumb by that “Yes” because, being himself part of the respectable political world he has it branded on his brain as an axiom that you never say things like “Yes let’s have a free market in all drugs”, and he assumed that I play by the same rule.  His notion was that if he could put me into a position where I either said I favoured a free market in all drugs or revealed myself to be a cowardly, illogical, unprincipled, lying twat, he would obviously have me stitched me up as a cowardly, illogical, unprincipled, lying twat.  So, when I said “Yes” instead, he was struck dumb, and I got to present myself as a brave, logical, principled, truthful all round good egg.  And I said nothing more than “Yes” because I wanted his dumbness to be audible.

Okay I got a bit carried away there, but the point of The Tyranny of The Facts is that “The Facts” is rarely how people really decide about things.  So, don’t be tyrannised by The Facts.  Don’t worry that you may not have them.  Relax.  Say what you really think.

Far from The Tyranny of The Facts being about the inherent advantages that experts on particular topics have when debating with generally pro-market but in-particular rather fact-light ideological types like me and Patrick Crozier, it is at least as much about the opposite.  It is about how you can tie an expert in knots, without challenging any of his facts, and as likely as not actually using his precious clutch of The Facts against him, Kung-Fu style.

If you believe in a general principle, of any kind, do not let yourself be bossed around by The Facts concerning some particular way of applying that principle.  Do not make the mistake of agreeing with the bloke who is in charge of The Facts that The Facts are what count.  Again and again, they are not.

Those who have an ideologically fixed dislike of all ideology, other than the fixed ideology of disliking all other ideologies, often respond to the above by saying something like:

“Just as I have always said.  These libertarians have no interest in reality.  Their prejudices are impervious to facts.  They are ideological steam-rollers, deaf to rational persuasion and not worth arguing with except in order to reveal to third parties their total and totally prejudiced irrationality.”

This is quite wrong.  My belief in the superiority of free markets – free markets in bananas, cars, computers, frying pans etc. etc. etc. etc. – is not a belief that I simply plucked out of the air.  This belief is entirely rational.  I can remember arriving at this opinion, slowly and carefully and thoughtfully, having previously thought very differently, and I can remember why.  I arrived at it because the facts – the real facts this time, with no sneer capital letters attached to them, and from everywhere I came across them and not just about one particular thing like bananas, or hospitals - said that free markets are better.  If you think you can persuade me that things in general are better supplied by state-owned industries in general, and that you have a world full of real facts (as opposed to some stupid little batch of The Facts) to persuade me, well, good luck to you, you are going to need it.  And if you think that I have no facts to back me up then you are an ignorant fool.

Of course I am prejudiced in favour of free markets.  It is idiotic not to be.

It is not facts I object to.  It is “The Facts”, as in: a tiny few of them, deliberately over-complicated and over-elaborated to make the emitter of them appear well informed and to silence all opposition, and quite beside the point.

Good post by Verity at Albion’s Seedling, which does a lot to explain why Americans took to blogging so eagerly, while us Brits have been relatively reluctant, even though that was not her question.

Quote:

I would propose that Americans make friendships quickly because this was necessary for survival when they landed in a new, virgin country which they all had to conquer together. They needed one another. At the same time, those people who had left their homes and families thousands of miles away as they turned their faces toward the sun and went West, would also find the will to leave their new friends and neighbours when new opportunities opened up even further West. They were all in it together and cooperation and friendly social interaction was critical.

“They needed one another.” That captures both the sociability, and the extraordinary social conformism – other directedness, as it has been called – of Americans, at any rate if their high school movies are anything to go by.  In those, group acceptance is like water in the desert.  Group rejection is like a death sentence.

The British have lived in their cities and villages for generations – since the Roman occupation. They have no need to open up to strangers because their entire clan is usually close by – on the next street or the next village or the next town. Admittedly, this may demonstrate a lamentable lack of curiosity, but they had little motivation to look beyond their own surroundings. Save an occasional war, which they could handle, life was settled and secure.

Blogging will seriously catch on in Britain, once it is understood that although Americans use it to make friends with each other, it is also a fine way to show off, while keeping other people at arm’s length.

I am one of your bloggers.  I am not necessarily your friend.  But, Americans, feel free to feel that I am your friend.

Insincere English smile, concealing my yellow and crumbling English teeth.

Ouch:

Having followed the last Prince of Wales in his taste for older divorcées, His Royal Highness seems to be emulating Edward VIII on the geopolitical front, too, and carelessly aligning himself with the wrong side on the central challenge of the age.

That was Mark Steyn in the Telegraph on Tuesday, so a bit late to be a Samizdata quote of the day.  But quotable enough, I think you will agree.

In the original version of this posting there was now going to be a great gob of boring news about the riots in France, setting fire to cars etc., and spreading to other cities in France.  But you know about that if you care, and if you don’t care you don’t want me telling you.

Could that happen here?  Surely, yes.  Although, I heard recently that Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (who is to speak at this event on November 30th) reckons Britain to be significantly less racist than continental Europe.  She apparently heaves a sigh of relief when she gets back here from travelling there, because she is back in a world without routine and nasty little racist slights.

On the other hand, we have had more bombing.  And never forget that our e bastard bombers destroyed a London bus.  I know, they were trying to blow up a train.  That’s not a very good excuse.

When I tried typing Yasmin Alibhai-Brown into google, it said: “Did you mean Yasmin Alibi Brown?” And I said yes, knowing no better, just assuming that this must be how she is spelt, and I stumbled upon an LA press release, with news of some battle between her and Sean Gabb, put up there by some, er, national socialists.  Fair enough.  On the internet, you can’t help who copies and pastes your stuff.

Friday November 04 2005

No question about it, The Singleton Diet is one of the best British blogs around just now.

Several lessons for me, I think.

The Singleton Diet is specialised.  Should I go back to specialising?  Probably yes, if I can manage it.  Education, but not “culture”, because my version of culture is what I do here.  I am paused from volunteer teaching just now.  If that restarts, maybe I will then restart the Education Blog.  Don’t know.  I promise nothing.

The Singleton Diet is a fine example of the “do it in public and thus double the rewards and punishments in the form of public awe and ridicule” technique.  Sorry about the unwieldiness of that, but it is now 9.07 am.

Talking of 9.07 am, should I start a The Micklethwait Clock blog, or some such, in which I note the time at which I do things, or faff about?  I am trying to turn over a new leaf, or clock face, in this department.  Last night I went to bed at a mere 1 am, and this morning my alarm was set for 9 am, but I awoke at 6.30 am and couldn’t get back to sleep, so got up again at 8 am, after a little music on the radio.

This turned out to be a delightful rendition of one of the two Beethoven Romances for violin and orchestra by Arthur Grumiaux on the violin, accompanied by Edo de Waart on the orchestra.  Inexplicably I appear not to own this, nor the (I think) later Grumiaux Beethoven disc with Colin Davis, both on Philips.  Usually I find the Beethoven violin romances dull, which I think is because they demand a style of Viennese type playing that is now out of fashion and almost lost, at any rate among jet set soloists.  They either can’t do it at all, or they lay it on too thick in some kind of half-baked “authentic” manner.  Must get these CDs.  I used to have the Grumiaux De Waart Violin Concerto on vinyl and very fine it is.

Back to the Micklethwait Clock thing, I have long known that the amount you accomplish per day is pretty much determined by how soon you start, but have postponed acting upon this obvious insight for far too long, because I could.  Plus how clever you are, but that is harder to change.

Alex Singleton himself is coming round to see me at 11 am, to talk about This and That, which is a big and fortuitous contribution to the Micklethwait Clock plan, because by then I will have to have disinfected myself, and that means, working back, that I had to be up around now.  Which I am.

In further pursuance of the Micklethwait Clock policy, could my original Technical Department (not this one, the previous one) please reintroduce a time for each blog posting, and while it is about it, could it also please correct the clock?  This is now an hour ahead of Objective Reality, as determined by Big Ben.

I’m sure I used to have one of those Grumiaux CDs.  I have a vague recollection of having given it away.

Compromise.  No The Micklethwait Clock blog as yet, but a The Micklethwat Clock category.  That may do the trick.

It is now 9.33am.  There go twenty six minutes that will never return.  But, profound point, they would have gone anyway.  You can’t stop the clock merely by doing nothing.

Thursday November 03 2005

One of the things about digital photography is that you take so many photos that you forget them.  So today, I deliberately started trawling through stuff taken with my previous camera, not my current one.  And immediately I was reminded of long ago days out, and walks to places no longer occupied by friends, past strange objects I had quite forgotten about.

For one of the better pictures I found, have a click on this:

image

That’s her mum, with me Billion Monkeying around in the mirror.

One of the things I used to do on my old Culture Blog was fling up famous paintings and waffle about them.  Nobody else learned much, but I did.  So here I go again.

Apparently there is a Rubens exhibition going on now at the National Gallery.  I found this out because I was half watching the Rubens programme in this series last night.

Two extremely striking and extremely different paintings by Rubens were picked out for special discussion.

The first was the horrific Massacre of the Innocents, which I found here.  That’s not a very good repro of it.  The internet has a long way to go in that department, at any rate if you want your pictures free.

image

If you could see the detail, you would clearly see that the near-naked guy on the right with his hands in the air is holding a baby, which he is about to kill by smashing it against the already bloody column.

This is a horror movie before horror movies.  The appeal of such paintings is: Are you man enough to contemplate it?  And it is an excuse for your cowering date to bury her head in your shoulder.  Although, apparently it has been hidden away for centuries and only just discovered.

And the other picture the programme dwelt upon was this charming portrait by Rubens of his daughter Clara.  They said she had the look of love on her face.  But I also detect a slight trace of dutiful boredom.

image

I found Clara here.

The horror Rubens communicates in the Massacre is surely his horror at the thought of that happening to Clara.

Rubens biographical info here.

Wednesday November 02 2005

My favorite pumpkin picture.  Thank you Rand Simberg.

And that is probably your lot for today.