Brian Micklethwait's Blog

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

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Monday January 30 2006

When I first encountered 2 Blowhards, I was delighted.  Intelligent, non leftist-axiom-based art commentary!  But now I find it hard going.  Part of the problem is that I find the blog format awkward for long pieces, and 2 Blowhards postings are often (but nothing like always) really long, compared to your regular blog posting I mean.  Like the ones here.

I like to know, when I am reading something long, how far I have got, when the end is likely to be, and whether I have time for it all right now.  Blog postings that disappear way off the bottom of the screen, and go on, and on, and on, don’t tell me this.  Even if I scroll down to the bottom, I still don’t get a real idea of how long the piece is, because scrolling is deceptive.  How much actual scrolling did I do?  Instead of concentrating on the matter in hand, I find myself asking: is this point number two of three, or point number two of twenty?

Pieces of writing which tell me at the bottom of page 1 that the whole thing consists of 1, 2, 3, 4 pages, and that there are 3 more such pages to go are, I find, a lot easier to read, and to organise mentally as I go along. At all points in the journey, I know where I am, and what else will be expected of me and of my attention span.  And I can accordingly prepare my attention span for whatever will be demanded of it.

People who came to web publishing from paper magazine publishing, and hit the ground running before blogs arrived, are often dopey about blogs and blogging, but these things they do understand, as if instinctively.

No wonder I still like books.  But more to the point, for many, many purposes, I still like magazines.  Magazines made with paper.

Recently, for instance, I was trying to choose a digital camera.  I started with digital photography magazines, rather than the www.  Magazines give you an overview of the terrain, from, as it were, any height you choose.  (And what is more, lots of versions of the terrain, in the form of full page advertisements, crammed with similar items.  Note which ones recur in all the advertisements.  Good sign, surely.) Once you have picked out a particular item as worthy of detailed investigation, then, I find, the www comes into its own.  But even there, the magazines are very helpful.

But it could just be the writing that makes the difference.  For instance, while looking for a good 2 Blowhards posting to link to, I came across this posting, for the first time.  And I read it right through, fascinated. (And pleased too, because I have always thought the Romans to be ethically over-rated, even by those who reckon them to be rather nasty.  (They were very nasty.)) Friedrich Blowhard has always been my favourite Blowhard, and my (first?) period of daily 2 Blowhard reading ended when he took a break.  Maybe Friedrich holds my attention and guides me through his argument, signposting it as he goes, while Michael, whose backround is magazines but whose foreground, form were I sit, is blogging, and who perhaps writes in a more one-thing-and-another-thing-and-while-I’m-about-it-another manner.  Maybe if Michael wrote for a www magazine, with those 1, 2, 3, bits at the bottom, I’d find him easier to read.

Time to stop.  I could go on, but it is surely obvious why I choose not to.

That’s Digital Rights Management, i.e. stopping people from copying stuff.

This incoming email thing is starting to build up. If anyone emails me on a matter of public interest rather than about their babies or birthday parties etc., I assume that the entire email is fair game for this blog or any other blog that I write for, unless it is explicitly stated otherwise.  However, just to make things clear, it would especially help if you were to say something along the lines of “reproduce this at will”, “this email is fair blogging game”, or some such.

Anyway, incoming email:

Hello Brian,

I remember you from long ago in the Alternative Bookshop days, and am an avid reader of both your blog and Samizdata.

Recently, I have been involved with a new campaigning organisation called the Open Rights Group, which is working in the UK to protect freedoms in the computer world.

The organisation is doing well, but as is often the way with such groups there are more people ready to say ‘ORG should do something about x’ than those who say ‘I’d like to help ORG do x’, and perhaps a preponderance of left leaning activists.

There is an ORG gathering coming up in London, and if you could bring along Libertarian types who are interested in this area, or mention it on Samizdata or your own blog, I’m sure it would improve the discussions no end.

Kevin Marks

Interesting.  Lots of people still seem to remember that bookshop.

My “helping” days are over, and I definitely won’t be bringing anyone along other than maybe myself.  And if I do go, I may then also write about it all for this.  But, I promise nothing.

Anyway, there it is.  If you want to help . . .

When is a blog a blog?  When it says “blog” at the top?  This does.  When it piles up bits of writing, with the latest bit at the top?  Two out of two.  But, what if individual postings cannot be linked to.  And what if you don’t have a blogroll, or ever link to anyone?

I have known Dr Robert Lefever - and he is a real doctor, not just some bloke with a PhD - ever since my time at the Alternative Bookshop, of which he was a generous customer.  He is a particular admirer of Chris Tame, who used to run that excellent establishment, in the 1980s.  And I just had an email asking me to give Lefever’s writing a plug.  Fine by me.

I like this posting, if that’s the word, from 21/12/2005, although I could have chosen many other equally good ones:

One of my current counselling staff and one of his predecessors are rabid left wingers. That is of no significance to me because they do their work well, which is the only thing that matters to me. None the less it amuses me that they take their wages from a committed capitalist. Interestingly, I learned from the wife of a former trainee of mine who was an active member of the Socialist Workers Party (he took me behind the scenes in the New Cross riots many years ago) that he is now a Thatcherite. Maybe instead of them being my fifth column, trying to undermine my ideas, I am theirs.

Lefever writes very well, often saying a very great deal in a very few words.

Usually, when something says it’s a blog but it isn’t, this particular foolishness is but a facet of the cosmic foolishness of the fool concerned, and you can ignore it entirely.  But Lefever is a very clever and very busy man.  He is merely somewhat misinformed.  These people should maybe sort him out.

That Lefever himself does not yet link to anybody else is, for me, less of a problem, although there are definitely a few missing which he might have included.  Who says we bloggers all have to sit around taking in each other’s washing?

Sunday January 29 2006

Incoming email:

Hi, I’ve just been looking at your blog and I wondered if you’d like to add a link to mine? It’s at http://www.iaindale.blogspot.com

If you do add one please let me know and I’ll reciprocate - I’m getting several thousand hits a day now, so it should drive a bit of traffic your way.

Many thanks

Iain Dale

image
Done.  I too am getting, you know, several hits per day.

Iain Dale is a Conservative politico, who used to run that excellent political bookshop just round the corner from the Army and Navy Stores.  Politico’s, that was it.  This is now a virtual bookstore

His blogroll is at the moment very political, as in how about those wacky Liberal Democrats eh?, and wow we aren’t doing so badly in the polls, etc.  However, it says something that Guido Fawkes gets pride of place.

Presumably I’m not the only one to have received this email, and that other not-very-(party)-political blogs will be appearing in Dale’s blogroll.  I would be a bit uncomfortable if I was the only one, and people came here expecting my opinions about Mark Oaten blah blah blah, to be greeted instead by pigeons.

This is another of those “I’d forgotten about him” additions to the blogroll.  Soon I really will have to start classifying them.

I keep meaning to add this to the blogroll, and finally, I have.

Does anyone have any other good (better?) enviro-blogs to suggest?  Either side, or no side, would all be of interest.  My enviro-prejudices are approximately the same as Stott’s, but prejudices is all they are.

Earlier today I had a listen to Guido and the Monkey having a natter in a pub.  I mostly only listen to the radio for classical music, but I found this very entertaining.  And, I think I may have a go at doing that kind of thing myself.  I even know what they’re going to be called, I think.  iBrian1, iBrian2, iBrian3, etc.  I’m glad I didn’t waste that idea on the blog itself.  Forget the visuals for the moment, despite what I said here.

Adriana told me, when I discussed with her the idea of me being an internet TV star, that TV soaks up too much bandwidthyness or whatever it is, and you’d better have a damn good reason for doing TV.  Just a bloke or blokes talking should be a sound file.  Sound advice, I think.  Ha.

The thing is, I have a real aversion to talk radio.  Talk radio, in my experience, is for being on, not for listening to, and now not even for that, now that we can blog.  But, should one seek mastery in any art that one is not also a delighted consumer of?  So the fact that I like Guido and Monkey is a big thing for me.

But, I promise nothing.

Maybe, for doing iBrian, this will come in handy.

Taken last Thursday, but not by me.  Stolen from here:

image

Says Mark modestly, in the comments, after being complimented:

Thanks.  Just a case of being in the right place at the right time. I didn’t expect it to come out as well as it did.

But that isn’t enough.  You have to have your camera with you.  That’s the particular beauty of little digital cameras.  When you want it, you have it.

I know what he means about not expecting it to come out so well.  Cheap digital cameras like mine often completely miss the beauty of sun and cloud effects like that.  They either get the light, or the dark, and nothing much in between.

Saturday January 28 2006

Yes.  I admit it.  My name is Brian and earlier in the week I was in Trafalgar Square and I photographed pigeons.  I don’t know what I thought I would achieve by doing this, but, as it happens, I achieved this:

image

Which was nice.  It doesn’t crop kindly.  If you feel strongly about that, you do the Photoshopping.  No point in clicking.  That is as big as the picture gets.

For some slightly more meaningful photography by me, about an hour after the pigeon as it happens, see this posting earlier today.

Thursday January 26 2006

If you are a British rugby fan, then no matter how miserable your life is or how disgusting the weather is, there is always the Six Nations.  It takes something like bloody Mad Cow Disease to stop it.  And this year, BBC1 is televising the lot.  Sometimes Sky creams off the best stuff, i.e. England.  But not this year.  This year, I can watch it all and tape it all.  The first England game is Wales, on February 4th.  For me, this is the real European Union.

The thing about the Six Nations is that you never know what will happen.  Sport is always a matter of animal spirits.  The consistently good sides are merely those that know how to unleash their animal spirits at exactly the right time, along with such things as skill, pace, etc.  But if the animal spirits falter, of if the other guys get an unexpected dose of them, all pre-match bets are off.  Thus England, having won their first four games, can show up in Scotland, to play a Scottish side that have only one win in four, say, for the formality of winning the Grand Slam, and then England can lose.  France can get bored, against anyone, and lose, or get excited and beat anyone.  Wales, however poor their side is supposed to be and however many vital stars may be out injured, can get inspired, against anyone.  You just never know.  Only Italy have so far mostly failed to rise to any of their many occasions.  Sometimes they beat Scotland, and that’s about it.

But even Italy can surprise, in the manner of their defeat if not the fact of it.  To give you an example of how animal spirits can suddenly come and equally suddenly go, I recall an England Italy game, where the pre-match talk was that England would probably struggle to dominate at first, but that they eventually would, and would maybe run away with it a bit at the end, but maybe not.

So what happened?  For the first half hour England played some of the best rugby I have ever seen.  Lewsey, in particular, was spectacular.  England scored five tries in no time at all, all converted as I recall, and seemed on course to win by about a hundred nil.  But then, England’s purple patch turned to grey for the rest of the game.  Italy found some defensive spine from somewhere, or England got tired, or got bored, or something, and there were only two further tries in the entire game, one by each side.

Wednesday January 25 2006

Advertising can be very annoying, I think you will agree.  But this is a work of art.  Probably completely useless as advertising, but who cares?  The idea is to pay for the college education of one Alex Tew, and apparently it is working.

I came across it by reading, as I occasionally do, the Tom Peters blog.  !

Brian Micklethwait dot com mangled metaphor of the day:

For precedents in trial by media read Glenn Hoddle. A fine record as England coach was ended in similar circumstances by undercover reportage of his personal views on reincarnation. No one battered an eyelid then.

Come to think of it, I’m not quite sure what “batting” an eyelid consists of either, but that surely is what you do with your eyelids if you are surprised or disapproving, yes?

I love that the gink who perpetrated this is in PR.  Did he do it on purpose?  He seems to fancy himself as a humorist, so maybe he did.

Thanks to David Tebbutt for the link.

It has been said before, many times, but this, from Canada, says it very well, I think:

What I think the Liberals failed to anticipate up here, like the Democrats down there, was a development that may well prove the antidote to smear advertising over the longer run. For this is the Canadian election in which our “blogosphere” came of age. Sites such as Small Dead Animals, Angry in the GWN, the Shotgun, Andrew Coyne.com, Relapsed Catholic, and many others, respond to events almost instantaneously. Then, “news aggregators” such as Nealenews and Bourque direct readers quickly to the latest memes. Things that would have taken a week to unfold in the old media, now break over breakfast and are resolved by noon; and an hysterical smear ad is being mocked and parodied, long before the evening news.

It should also be said that the Canadian mainstream media are being transformed, I think largely by their own timid entry into the web, and by reporters’ access to new information they are finding therein. Though also because, at a certain point, our mainstream journalists decided they had had enough patronizing from Paul Martin’s cocky and arrogant backroom braggarts. This process being itself enhanced by the power of email, to make people on the front line in alien territory feel that they are not alone. Email can remind the boy who says the emperor has no clothes the knowledge that others think so, too.

In short, the Internet has broken the stranglehold the Liberal Party had over sympathetic media, and created an information environment in which you had better be darned sure what you are saying is the strict truth, because there’s an army of fact-checkers out there. Moreover, an army that cannot easily be intimidated by off-the-record threats from Party lawyers, or made to desist by peer pressure. For even when (as we saw in the delayed release of Gomery testimony) a legal ban on publication can be obtained, the information simply passes through electronic space across the border, and we can all read the banned material on such sites as Captain’s Quarters from the USA.

The Internet has also brought a new class of people into politics – I would almost say a new generation who aren’t accustomed to the old rules. We will look at the longer-term implications another day.

For the moment, to put it nicely, the same thing has happened to the Liberals in Canada, as has happened to other long-serving single-party regimes elsewhere in the world. Technology has caught up with their ability to manage information; and a sheltered population is losing its fear. The more the ruling party tries to scare them, with heavy-handed old-media campaigns, the worse things get – for the ruling party.

Thank you Instapundit.

Is this what could be about to happen to Britain’s Labour Party, do you think?

And could that be the long-awaited breakthrough by the blogosphere into mainstream British politics?

I don’t have anything much to say here today, but you can read three sermons that I composed yesterday, here, here, and here, all of them for money!  Two of them concern India, in connection with which, see also this, and this.

So here, only a quota photo, which I took on Saturday last, before taking all those other ones that I also took on Saturday:

image

Yes, that is me on the left.  Red Bull gives you wings, but if you own a Bentley, you get even better wings (close up of the wings), I think, especially if you name begins with a B.  That the car was sky blue coloured gave the wings an appropriate medium to fly in.

Tuesday January 24 2006

Incoming email:

Dear Brian

Just a quick note, since I am not even sure if this email address is current.  I happened onto your 2002 blog about the Rachmaninov 3rd with Lazar Berman.  I consider it to be the single greatest recording that I have ever heard.  I was scouring the net, looking for it on CD myself when I happened onto your comments.  Berman died this past year, so perhaps Sony will actually re-release the recording.  In any case, you have jolly good taste in recordings.

Sincerely,

Jett Hitt
Yellowstone Wilderness Outfitters
P.O. Box 745
Yellowstone National Park, WY
82190

Indeed.

It continues to amaze me that this wonderful recording is still not available.  So much for the power of the blogosphere, by which I mean me.  I’m thinking of writing to Sony, telling them that I have an illegal copy, but enclosing a cheque.

Meanwhile, console yourselves for the continuing absence of this mighty performance, with this.

Monday January 23 2006

Yesterday I was wandering along the South Bank, and there were Billion Monkeys everywhere. Okay I’ve been doing less Billion Monkey snapping of late, but was I expected to ignore them?

Here are three photos I took yesterday, of about five or six which I took of the same lady Billion Monkey.

The usual procedure would be to show you only the good one, the third and final one, when I finally got the focussing near enough right.

The light was already fading fast, and only absolute stillness of camera relative to object was going to ensure good focussing.  So, most of the pictures I took of this lady were very blurry.  When I looked at the earlier ones, I found myself saying “Oh I wish they’d come out better”, but then I thought, hang on, maybe they did come out okay.  Okay, not focussed properly, but okay.  Who says everything has to be focussed properly?  Click to get them bigger.

image  image  image

The first and on-the-left picture, the blurriest by far, communicates very well the theatrical animation that Billion Monkeys always display when they are telling their loved ones what to do and how to stand and how to look.  Real Photographers, in my experience, tend to be cooler and quieter at this bit of the photographic task.  No wonder she was out of focus.

The middle picture, where the focussing is getting better but is still not proper, does already display one very important focussing virtue, when one is photo-ing Billion Monkeys.  The lady herself is still not sharp, but her bags are in focus.  Bags are a very important feature of the Billion Monkeys way of doing things.  Billion Monkeys hold on to their bags when snapping.  It’s almost a rule.  Unlike Real Photographers, we Billion Monkeys have lives beyond photography.  We laugh, we cry, we shop.  Especially, we shop.  And we usually hang on tight to our acquisitions, so that no plunderer can steal them when our attention is entirely focussed on Billion Monkeying.  I also like, in this second one, the way the Lady is standing, her weight forward..

In many ways, the third of these snaps, on the right, is the least interesting.

And since I took them, and some of them came out nicely, here are some more regular Billion Monkey shots.  Again, click at will.

image image image image image image image image

They were snapping either at the Wheel or at Parliament, with the exception of 1.1, where the guy was snapping a man completely covered in stripes.  It’s that kind of place.

Note the particularly excellent fingerwork being displayed in 1.2.  1.3 shows why photography is so often called shooting.  1.4 is a caption competition.  I suggest that the bad tempered looking fish is saying: “Out of the way, bitch, he’s photographing me.”

Note Salvador bloody Dali in 2.2, bottom right hand corner.  London has been infested with his vile stuff for some time now, especially at Waterloo Station for some reason, opposite the Eurostar platforms.

And yes, that is Big Ben in 2.3.

Sunday January 22 2006

Lawrence Lessig writes about the Read-Write internet.  (And once again, I got to the Big Media article via his blog.) The Big Bad Guys want a Read-Only internet, and they are shaping the law to get that, and only that.  But the next generation wants to download stuff, and then do new stuff with that stuff.

Yet the law of intellectual property will not easily accommodate this remix creativity. As the rules are written today, even for purely noncommercial purposes, there is no clear right on the side of the remixers. The lawyer for Wind Up Records could speak politely, because the law today speaks firmly: there is no freedom for this sort of creativity. There is no way to even license the right. And most importantly, as the technology for the Read-Only internet gets more perfectly deployed, even the technical capacity to remix will be increasingly threatened. Already, AMV creators must circumvent technological protections to get access to the underlying anime that they remix. Those protections will only get better and the war against circumvention technologies will just increase. As one type of digital technology increasingly begs for this remix creativity, a different kind will work to disable it.

AMVs, it seems, are videos which put music together with Japanese animé cartoons.

It is hard for those of us from the couch potato generation to understand why the creativity of the Read-Write internet is important. But if you focus on something that we are likely to understand – market value – then the Read-Write internet, indeed, has a great deal to recommend it. The computers, bandwidth, software and storage media needed to enable an efficient Read-Only internet are but a fraction of the technology needed to support the Read-Write internet. The potential for growth with the Read-Write internet is extraordinary, if only the law were to allow it.

But to those building the Read-Write internet, economics is not what matters. Nor is it what matters to their parents. After a talk in which I presented some AMV work, a father said to me: “I don’t think you really realise just how important this is. My kid couldn’t get into college till we sent them his AMVs. Now he’s a freshman at a university he never dreamed he could attend.”

The father was right. We do not realise how significant the Read-Write internet could be. Nor can I even begin to imagine how policymakers could be made to see the harm that perfecting the Read-Only internet will have for this more vibrant and valuable alternative.

At least I can be confident that Lessig won’t mind me copying and pasting all that.

My first reaction is that Lessig is maybe being a little pessimistic about how easy it will be for this new economy to emerge.  After all, if the creators of commercial stuff refuse to allow it to be used for Read-Write purposes, won’t there simply be a parallel economy of stuff being produced where the rule is you can do what you like with it?  (By the way, you can do whatever you like with my photos, should any of you actually want to do anything with them.  I don’t know why you would want to do anything with them, but go ahead if you want to, and ideally, please tell me about what you’ve done, although that is not a condition.)

As the technology of non-commercial movie making, for instance, gets ever better, there will surely be plenty of stuff out there for the post-couch-potato generation to have fun with, and use to impress colleges if that’s their problem.  I mean, Big Music tried for a while to stop downloading.  Now they love it.

Lessig is a world ahead of the likes of me about all this stuff, so I am sure there are answers to temper my optimism.  But what are they?  I suppose part of it is that even those who, say, want to faff about with my photos don’t now know for sure that they have this right, or that I definitely won’t set my huge army of lawyers loose on them, even with what I say in this posting, which in any case they may not know about.  And as for downloading, well, the way Big Music is arranging that, that is the problem rather than any sort of solution.  Is that the kind of thing Lessig has in mind?  The law now chills, in other words, even where it does not actually, it turns out, prohibit.

But once a powerful subculture emerges where the norm is share-and-share-alike, then mere participation in such a world means that you have consented to this regime.  And, the hardware will follow.  In fact, surely, we already have a lot of it, or the subculture would not now be emerging in the first place.

But I suppose it is now a bit of a struggle.  But when were these things ever not?

He’s ba-ack.

(And she nearly is too.)

Friday January 20 2006

Yesterday, I rang Viking Direct to order a new chair.  They are selling what looks like a pretty good chair for me – leather, high back, swivelling, movable up-and-down and forward-and-back – for the incredible price of £39.99.  Made in China, where else?  Trouble is, it now seems that the chairs - three thousand of them - won’t be here from China until February 24th, and they won’t take orders until then.  However, while trying to order the chair, I looked through the rest of my little Viking catalogue, and discovered something else I also wanted, namely the floor cleaning bit for my vacuum cleaner, which has been missing for some time now.  It will turn up, but I do not know where or when.  So, I have for some while now needed another, and I ended up ordering that instead of the chair.

Another Viking offer just now is that they will give you a free MP3 player if you order more than thirty quid’s worth of stuff, and since I at least tried to do that, they sent me one of these also, with my vacuum cleaner add-on (and a ton of sales propaganda), even though the vacuum add-on cost a lot less than thirty quid.

This is what the MP3, also made in China, looks like:

image

That white thing is a bread board I recently purchased.  It’s not much use for bread, I find, but it makes a better background for photos of MP3 players than my desk would, my desk wood being too interesting to look at.

Amazing what you can get for nearly nothing these days, isn’t it?  I now warn all my London friends that I will be asking them how this little thingy works.  In particular, can I use it to record things?  Like: me?  I rather think I can.  But how?  A free beer or coffee to whoever can show me.

Incoming email:

Dear Brian:

Our new issue has posted online, with lots of stuff that might interest you.  I very much profited from your recent book on the Right, by the way.

Er, no.  That would be cousin John.

The new issue in question is this, which is already on my blogroll.  But I haven’t been there lately, and am glad of the reminder.

Further incoming email, in response to the above:

Ack - sorry! 

John, Adrian, Brian - I’m all mixed up.  At least I cited the book correctly in my book ...  Thanks for the link ...

Since these emails were from Brian Anderson, “my book” would presumably be this.

As the psychotic bomb said in Dark Star, when arguing about existentialism with an astronaut who was trying to persuade him not to explode:

“This is fun!”

FURTHER UPDATE: And this is of particular interesting to bloggers and blog-readers.  Maybe in future decades, Britain will play host to a nest of ex-pat American right wing bloggers, all energetically interfering in the internal affairs of the USA from beyond its regulatory reach.

Thursday January 19 2006

I’ll probably make this Guardian article the basis of my next CNE IP posting, which has to be in by tomorrow morning, i.e. tonight.  The theme there will be Big Music finally accepting that downloading is here to stay.  What the article is about is making lots of ancient pop tracks which have long been unavailable in the CD shops available in the Great Jukebox in the Sky.  Big Music has in mind to get oldies into the downloading habit, and I should guess that they are particularly keen on cultivating a demographic that might not be so keen on or practiced at downloading illegally.

But what this posting, here and now, is about is the continuing impact upon the culture of the Baby Boom, i.e. me, us.  At every stage of the Baby Boom’s life, we have imposed the manner and style that is characteristic of that particular age group on the world around us.  When the Baby Boom was a teenager, it said that young people were It.  When the Baby Boom got its first crap job and could afford to buy its own clothes, it set the tone of the seventies with its idiot trousers and ties and shirts.  When the Baby Boom got its first decent job and could afford a car, it set the tone of the eighties with its loads of money and yuppie Ferrari driving.  Now that the Baby Boom is nearing sixty, politics is starting to have a distinctly grandma and granddad tone about it.

Consider this Respect stuff.  That sounds to me like a bunch of oldies going on about the rudeness of Young People These Days, but like so many oldies having no bloody idea about what actually do to about it, other than moan and shriek.  On Tuesday I was doing some of that on Samizdata myself, although me of course, I know what should be done.  Not like all those other idiots.  I am intrigued, thinking about it, that I began that piece by telling the world how old I am.

Culturally, we are now entering the “they don’t make blah blah blah like they used to” phase of popular culture.  This downloading of ancient pop will reinforce that trend.

As does Top of the Pops, which is now presented by people like Jeremy Clarkson, or that North Country bloke pretending to be old, in a wheel chair.  It’s about time they admitted the truth about Top of the Pops and had an audience of old people, like they do for the crown green bowling.  Because that’s what a lot of pop music is now, a pretence of youthfulness, a memory of youthfulness, done by young people for old people.  It is no more youth culture than getting your first job as a twenty-year-old cleaning up in an old people’s home is youth culture.  And no less, I suppose you could add.

imageThe important thing to get about these trends is that they are never confined to the Baby Boom itself.  The Baby Boom sets the tone, but others eagerly collaborate.  When the Baby Boom was ripping universities to pieces and doing its pathetic bit to lose the Vietnam War, there were plenty of old geezers like E. P Thompson and Marshall McLuhan and Herbert Marcuse (on the right) wandering about flattering us and telling them us we were the greatest thing ever.

imageNow, when the Baby Boom wants Proper Pop Music Like They Used To Make It, the likes of Katie Melua are only too happy to oblige.  Such a nice young girl.  Not like most of them nowadays is she?  “Pop” music is now advertised in the Sunday Telegraph.

Or take my current favourite blogger Mark Holland, who bangs on about ancient movies.  He too can sniff the zeitgeist, and can sense that he may get an echo if he writes like a grandad.

Tony Blair is not a granddad, yet.  But he is a right old granddad in what he says.

The point is, if what you want to say or sing or rant about in the newspapers or on your blog chimes in with the current state of decrepitude of the Baby Boom, you need not be on the defensive.  You can say it, confident that the surrounding culture will back you up.

Not much is certain about life in 2025, but one thing is.  We Baby Boomers will be about eighty.  We’ll be dropping like flies of course, but many of us will still be sitting in the corner yelling gibberish, groaning along to Van Morrison on our iPods or whatever, or lying in state in hospitals, sucking up the Gross National Product and demanding vicious tax increases.  Not a pretty thought.

But by about 2050, the world will finally be rid of us.  And it will heave a huge sigh of relief.

Wednesday January 18 2006

This guy links to this anti Welfare State posting of mine on Samizdata yesterday, and, by way of criticism, recalls unhappy memories of school bullying.  For him, the old days were definitely not good.

My school days were not an unmitigated joy either, and I could reply at length.  But suffice it to say that school bullying in Britain is only one of many kinds of nastiness that has got one hell of a lot worse and more widespread in recent years.

I don’t say that things were perfect in the old days.  And George Junior has a point that those social pressures were not all good.  I do say that the Welfare State has made things a lot worse than they would have been by now in its absence.

Tuesday January 17 2006

Or (and this is only here because I couldn’t fit it into the title): How I don’t any longer buy newspapers no matter how interesting some of the articles in them sometimes still are.

Niall Ferguson, in the Telegraph:

As in the 1930s, too, the West fell back on wishful thinking. Perhaps, some said, Ahmadinejad was only sabre-rattling because his domestic position was so weak. Perhaps his political rivals in the Iranian clergy were on the point of getting rid of him. In that case, the last thing the West should do was to take a tough line; that would only bolster Ahmadinejad by inflaming Iranian popular feeling. So in Washington and in London people crossed their fingers, hoping for the deus ex machina of a home-grown regime change in Teheran.

This gave the Iranians all the time they needed to produce weapons-grade enriched uranium at Natanz. The dream of nuclear non-proliferation, already interrupted by Israel, Pakistan and India, was definitively shattered. Now Teheran had a nuclear missile pointed at Tel-Aviv. And the new Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu had a missile pointed right back at Teheran.

The optimists argued that the Cuban Missile Crisis would replay itself in the Middle East. Both sides would threaten war - and then both sides would blink. That was Secretary Rice’s hope - indeed, her prayer - as she shuttled between the capitals. But it was not to be.

The devastating nuclear exchange of August 2007 represented not only the failure of diplomacy, it marked the end of the oil age. Some even said it marked the twilight of the West. Certainly, that was one way of interpreting the subsequent spread of the conflict as Iraq’s Shi’ite population overran the remaining American bases in their country and the Chinese threatened to intervene on the side of Teheran.

Yet the historian is bound to ask whether or not the true significance of the 2007-2011 war was to vindicate the Bush administration’s original principle of pre-emption. For, if that principle had been adhered to in 2006, Iran’s nuclear bid might have been thwarted at minimal cost. And the Great Gulf War might never have happened.

One of these guys noticed this too.  As did this.

More and more, my favourite blogs are how I now get to interesting articles in what used to be favourite newspapers, for which I now seldom pay.  Basically, I only binge on newspapers when something sporty and good has happened, like England winning the Ashes.

On Sunday night, I found a pile of Sunday Times’s just lying in the street, and I’m sorry (as we English say when we aren’t) but I reckoned they were fair game.  So I took one home.  It was like the old days of junk mail through the letter box.  Most of it was crap right off.  Half the rest was crap after a few glances.  I still haven’t read the bits that might be non-crap.  Suddenly, confronting a posh (or used to be posh) Sunday newspaper felt like I’d found a free trans-Atlantic boat trip ticket circa 1930, only to discover that it was in a twelve-masted sailing ship and that it would take four months, with me paying for all the food.

So, are newspapers doomed?  I guess we will really find out during the Great Gulf War.  Will that be newspaper-reported?  Or blogged?

My guess is both, to start with.  But during the Great War the newspapers will run out of money.

Theodore Dalrymple writes about murder, and about the utterly debased class of people who mostly commit murders:

When I look back on all these murders and murderers, what do I feel? And do I remember the murderers as evil men, who joyfully did what they knew to be wrong and were prepared to take the consequences, even as they tried to avoid them? Did they all have black hearts upon which murder had been inscribed since birth?

No. I am overwhelmed by a sense of the unfitness for life of all the participants in these sordid dramas: their main problem was that they had not the faintest idea how to live and yet - this is the hallmark of modernity - they were plentifully supplied with ego.

They had received no guidance from religion, naturally enough, since God is dead for them, and never has been very much alive. As for social convention, it has not so much been destroyed as turned inside out. The poor who once prided themselves on such things as respectability, cleanliness, honesty, orderliness and thrift, often in the most difficult circumstances, now pride themselves on their bohemianism. Disorder and chaos are a metonym for freedom and authenticity. But they are bohemians without being artistic, and the result is a squalor scarcely credible in times of supposed prosperity.

And the point is, they are from a class.  The murderers are not in any way unusual, except that they commit murder.  They are impossible to spot, unless you know.

Well, you might say, these are murderers you are talking about, and not even a random sample of murderers. But it would be an interesting experiment to give the life histories of 10 people who came from the kind of milieu that I have described - only one of whom was a murderer - to those who think that murderers are completely different from everyone else, and ask them to pick him out of the 10 in advance of any special knowledge. I think the results would be alarming.

The point about bohemianism is interesting, and of special import to a libertarian like me.

Libertarianism is a political philosophy, not an invitation to ignore social conventions and social decencies.  It is the claim that you should be free to choose, but that you should then have to live with the consequences and costs of your choices.  It is not the claim that you should be free to choose, at public expense and damn the consequences.

And yet.  And yet.  My kind of libertarianism, I think, did spring from the same kind of rebellious middle-class soil as also produced the middle class bohemianism of the twenties and thirties of the last century, which then trickled down to the lower classes whom Dalrymple describes.  And, if libertarianism of my sort is not attended to carefully enough, or not properly understood by the person claiming to believe in it and then proclaiming it, it can sound awfully like the ego-massaged total life incompetence that Dalrymple describes.

Melanie Phillips has long hated the word “libertarian” for exactly these reasons.  She blames this kind of thing on us, at least partly.  Either she doesn’t understand libertarianism quite, or she does, but believes that it is bound to be mis-stated or at best misheard and to do harm, and that we should shut up.

I don’t agree, but I get her point.  However, I think she ought to acknowledge that libertarians are now the only principled opponents of the Welfare State still prepared to speak out, and that the Welfare State is the real villain here.  The point about Dalrymples blundering bohemians is that they are paid to live like this by the government. 

Okay, that wasn’t the idea, but if it was, the result would be just the same.

Monday January 16 2006

Picture of my hair and some CDs.

image

Click to get my shiny new toaster.

Another addition to the blogroll here: AngloAustria.  The latest posting there now is about a new use that just might have been found for the Hubble Telescope, a speculation that fits in with my gloomy thinking here.

Soon I may have to start classifying them, instead of just relying on alphabetical order.  Any ideas about what the categories should be?  Me neither.

Mark Holland has a posting up about favourite films that no one else rates, but which he does.  It’s one of these generic questions that bounces around the blogosphere from time to time.

imageI offer an early Michael Winner movie, The Jokers, starring Oliver Reed and Michael Crawford.

Two posh blokes decide to nick the crown jewels, for a lark, to prove it can be done, and because they overhear at a dinner party that if you steal stuff but then give it back, it isn’t stealing..  The Michael Crawford character says: “We were going to give them back to her, on her birthday”, i.e. the Queen’s birthday.  But the Oliver Reed character revises the plan at that point, turning it into a real robbery.

Whatever.  The fun of the movie is the perfection with which that fantasy construction known as Swinging London was brought vividly to life.  The point of Swinging London being that it was the self-imagined moral collapse of the post-imperial British upper class, deprived of an empire to rule, and turning instead to arsing about.  Later it got itself posh jobs in The City.

My favourite snatch of dialogue goes like this:

Posh bird dancing at party (played – if memory serves - by a young Lucy Fleming, the niece of James Bond’s creator): “What do you do?”

Oliver Reed, dancing with her: “I’m a hired gunman.”

Which was technically true.  The Oliver Reed character was in the army.

Posh bird: “Oh.  I know a boy in Draycott Place who does that.”

It was the rather high-pitched and very posh way that she said “Oh” that I particularly liked.

Also, Michael Crawford was especially convincing as a posh young prankster.  Not until Hugh Grant came along do I recall a public schoolboy being so convincingly portrayed in the cinema.  Usually they are caricatures, the non-posh idea of what posh chaps are like, i.e. like a younger version of Terry-Thomas.  Either idiotic, or malevolently cynical, or both.  The Crawford character in The Jokers had real boyish enthusiasm.

(Come to think of it, the posh boys in Lindsay Anderson’s If . . . are good, most notably the appalling senior prefect, Rowntree.  But everyone has If . . . tagged as a great film.  Which it is, but that’s not the point of this posting.)

See also the slightly more highly regarded follow-up to The Jokers, called, delightfully, I’ll Never Forget Whatsisname.  But for me that one was too solemn and message-laden.  I preferred The Jokers.

Sunday January 15 2006

I’ll spare you the excuses for the quota photos and just show you them:

image  image

The one on the left was taken recently at one of my favourite Tube stations, Gloucester Road.  It doubles as an art gallery.  I presume that the artists are all bolsheviks, but I like it anyway.  These particular bits of décor are by this lady, and apparently they are all about “peace and love” Amazingly, I still like them.

And the rather blurry one on the right is of what looked like a coal train trundling through Oxford Circus tube station, on the Central Line, last weekend.  You don’t see that very often.  Essential maintenance, presumably.

Friday January 13 2006

I am pondering entering the world of amateur TV broadcasting, over the internet naturally.  Humorous monologues and interviews are the kind of thing I have in mind.  I aim to start very cheaply and cheerfully.  Later, when I get better I could maybe think about architecturally illustrated political rants, but that comes later.  I think this stuff could be the long awaited break-up of the left hegemony in TV/etc., just as blogging is already the left break-up in the written media.

Do any of you among my regular trickle of readers have anything to say about such notions, and about how to do them?  I now know pretty much nothing about this, technically, other than that Jessops the Camera Shop has for some time now been full of cheap video cameras, and that it looks like fun.

As I say, I want to start cheap and cheerful.  Load fire take aim, etc.  But what about formats, whatever exactly they are?  Should I record onto DVD, or onto smaller media, such as digital still cameras use?  Or straight onto my hard disc?  Do I need to get a massively bigger hard disc?  What about editing software?  How do you present this kind of thing to viewers, to achieve maximum convenience for them?  Any good links about such things to suggest?

Rightly or wrongly, I am not interested in mere sound files.  I would rather do technically crappy video with sound, than technically much better sound on its own.  Is that stupid?

Also, does it make sense to combine a camcorder with a digicam for still photos?  I particularly like the apparently superior optical zoom powers of camcorders.  (I want to do a distinct post about the way that digicam design in influencing still camera design.)

Do any of my London friends have similar telly-internet ambitions?  Maybe we could get together and pool our knowledge?  I know that Sean Gabb is already doing this kind of thing, for the Libertarian Alliance, although most of what you’ll find at the end of that link will be sound files.  And yesterday Tim Evans asked me about filming his Putney Debates, so his brains would also be worth picking.

Any comments about all that and related matters would be extremely welcome, in fact they will count twice, in my mind if nowhere else.  Once I begin to understand all this better, I will put a similar posting to this one on Samizdata, but I thought I would try here first.  If no response here, then on to Samizdata anyway.

So, no pressure or anything.  But just bear in mind that I really, really want to know what you think about all this.

I did quite a bit of wandering alongside the Thames last year, taking photos of course.  One of the things I most like about these cameras is that, combined with blogging, they have turned me into a tourist permanently visiting London, so I can show off my best photos of it to you people.

I took lots of print-outs of my greatest digital hits home for Christmas, and experienced for myself what I have always known theoretically, which is that you should not do this.  People now take their own greatest digital hits, if they are interested in such things.  Shove them on the internet, where your nearest and dearest can ignore them without any effort or embarrassment.

But here, for you to relish or ignore, are eight the better ones I took last year, all on the same strange expedition in March, in and around the Dome, the Docklands Towers, and the Thames Barrier.  I am looking northwards across the river.

image image image image image image image image

The weather was weird that day, and those clickable thumbnails emphasise the weirdness, which was the sky, and the even weirder colours that digital cameras often turn the sky into.  Basically, everything turns bluer, to the point where you often can’t easily tell the difference in a photo between deeply overcast and bright blue sky.  When photo-ing skies, you learn to look for lots of contrasty cloudscapes, but even then white clouds on dark clouds can look like white clouds in a blue sky.

Thursday January 12 2006

So, it isn’t only humans and cows that fart.  Trees do too.

Wednesday January 11 2006

New addition to the blogroll: Publius Pundit.

Like many blogroll additions here, this is not, for me, a bolt out of the blue.  Rather is it me being reminded that this or that blog is good (in this case by an Instapundit link), and should have long been on the blogroll anyway.

Sample paragraph, from this posting:

What needs to come before political reform above all else is economic and legal reform. Property rights, small business, free trade, fair courts, and uncorrupt police forces all have a role to play in creating the basis by which political openness can occur. This basis is economic development. The more money people have, the more of a stake they have in forcing pragmatic governance, and in order for that to happen, it requires them to develop civil society. Opportunity itself is the precursor to liberalism. Political openness will follow naturally, because society will take up that issue itself internally without the need for outside influence.

I think that’s right.  I recall during the eighties giving a talk in which I said that what the Russian opposition needed to think more about was the vexed question of who owns what, rather than about mere democracy.  (As so often when I recall past intellectual triumphs, I wish I had written it down, which would have been far more likely if I had been blogging then.) They needed, I said (or I believe I said), to think about the boundaries between states, and between provinces, and above all they needed to try to clarify who owns what private property.  And then in the nineties, stories started emerging from Russia about how westerners would go over there to do start doing business, would sign a bit of paper and buy an office or something, and then a day or two later some other Russian would show up waving another bit of paper, and claiming that he owned the place.  So who did own it?  Answer: the guy who could fill the place with the most gunmen.  Exit the westerner, much chastened.  No wonder Russia is on the slide.  It’s like a Shakespeare history play at the moment.

Robert Mayer’s paragraph above is actually a comment on Islamism, and on the process of Islamists being elected and getting politically involved, in a way that hopefully moderates their, er, theological enthusiasm.  If Islamism does have any big advantage over Soviet communism and its disastrous aftermath, it is that for all its theologically driven absurdities, Islam has at least not carried out a sustained and all-embracing attack on the institution of – nay, the very idea of – private property.  The advantage of seeking heaven, rather than only heaven on earth, is that earth gets to be less deranged.  Deranged, but less so.

Mayer’s attitude also suggests that he would sympathise with what we must all hope is China‘s path away from communism, namely: start with the economy, property rights, law, etc., and then let democracy emerge from all that, rather than slamming democracy down on top of the communist mess.  Whether the Chinese Government is inclined to allow democracy to emerge, or will allow itself to be badgered into allowing it to emerge, is, of course, the big question.  If it is, then the future for China looks pretty good.

Re China, see also this, from the prescient Johan Norberg, as Patrick Crozier already did.

Just For Men with X-Ray Science!  Take your distinguished head of hair, full of interesting and varied colours, and turn it all to Embarrassing Pitch Black.  And be sure to miss those sideburns!

I’ve been watching too much TV.

Actually, to judge by their website, they do appear to at least have given some thought to this particular aspect of the problem.  I guess hair dying is like its close cousin, the toupée.  The whole idea gets tarred by the brush of the only manifestation of it that we all regularly notice, which is the failed version.

Spent today busying about doing this and that, and before that writing a great long posting about the Cold War which I am still working on.  So no time for anything proper here.

So, a quota photo:

image

Wonderful what you can see in a car bonnet, if you look.  Click to get the whole bonnet.  Just now I seem to like everything about cars except the bother of actually owning one and having to worry about where the hell to put it and how the hell to pay for it.  And of course the problem of weird people photo-ing it for no obvious reason.

I believe in sprinkling photos over this blog from time to time, not because you necessarily want to scrutinise every photo, but because such photos say that this blog is still being fussed about and cared for, on a daily basis.

Tuesday January 10 2006

That’s right.  And if the people at Expression Engine are in the habit of googling for Expression Engine, to see what people are saying about them, and even googling “Expression Engine bug”, to find out if there are any, or if people think there are any, then good for them, and they will actually get to read this.  Good.

It’s not a major bug.  Not a bug that makes me regret using Expression Engine.  The Dissident Frogman has been deciding recently which software to use, and he seems to have decided to use Expression Engine.  Nothing that follows makes me think that his decision to use Expression Engine in wrong.  Expression Engine works pretty well, I think.

But there is one thing about Expression Engine which you do have to watch out for.

Basically, when you type stuff directly in to the input box for a posting, watch out that the text continues to go where you have put the cursor, and not at the beginning of the title of the posting.

This is so weird that I will have to repeat the above paragraph in a different way, so that you believe what you know I just told you.

This morning, when adding my appreciative UPDATE to the previous post but one, the one about the hard-to-read links at Blognor Regis, I tried to insert the words “if so” at the beginning of the words in the brackets, to turn “it wouldn’t be for the first time” into “if so it wouldn’t be for the first time”.  Eventually I succeeded.  But there was a weird interlude when the words “if so” instead appeared at the start of the title of the posting.  I thought I had typed these two words in the right place, and saved everything, before realising that Expression Engine thought it knew better than me about where I wanted the text added.  The bracketed text remained as before, but the title then read “if soVery readable blog but rather unreadable links”.  If you type too fast, the cursor panics, loses all track of where it is supposed to be, and does a leap to the beginning of its territory, which is the start of the title.

This surely should not happen.  I don’t know why it happens, but it does.  I hope they find out why it happens, and fix things so that it doesn’t.

Unlike my previous Expression Engine panic (which turned out to be nothing to do with Expression Engine), I think this complaint, though minor, is genuine.

Monday January 09 2006

In: House of Dumb, The Dissident Frogman, Rip Mix Burn.

Out: James Hamilton.  No link now.

DumbJon is a really excellent writer, whom favourite blogger Mark Holland (see below) often links to (although DumbJon is “DumbJon” and not “Dumb John” as Mark describes him in that posting), as do many others I’m sure.  Personally I think the name DumbJon hands an undeserved victory to the various objects of his loathing, but no doubt he has his reasons.  I have particularly enjoyed DumbJon’s comments about David Cameron over recent days.

Dissident Frogman is in, on the strength of an Intention, so I can see if anything is coming of said intention.  (The posting before that one was last January.) If not, no dishonour, he’s a busy guy.  If so, bien.

Rip Mix Burn is the latest venture of Alex Singleton, of regular GI and Samizdata fame.  So far, there’s just one extremely interesting posting about how in Italy the introduction of patents, in 1978, apparently slowed drug creativity.  I hope (and I mean this – I’m not trying to be sarky) that this blog lasts longer than the Singleton Diet, which has also, alas, had to go.  What Alex told me the other day is that the Globalisation Institute will continue to be his day job, while the Liberal Online (of which Rip Mix Burn is but a small (IP (intellectual property) oriented) face among many planned) will be Alex’s hobby.  The GI will go on ploughing a straight-and-narrow globalisation-is-good furrow, while Liberal Online covers everything liberal/libertarian/Whig/ neo-liberal/whatever-other-label-you-prefer.  I got to the Liberal Online site by simply going to the liberalonline.org bit in the address of Rip Mix Burn.  (I could, I now realise, have simply pushed the “home” button at RMB.) The latest posting there as of now was on January 8 2006, i.e. yesterday.  (And very interesting it looks too, by the way.  It’s just the kind of thing I used to beg people to write for the Libertarian Alliance’s Personal Perspectives series) Presumably the plan is to bring The Liberal Online back to life – as a kind of Clapham Junction for lots of other blog postings and also for original content, in what combination I do not know.  We shall see.  It may be that The Liberal Online will be the one on the blogroll here, because LO’s tributary blogs can all then be reached from LO with one more click.  Again, we shall see.

As for James Hamilton, it could merely be that James is operating at another blog address which I failed to catch on my radar, in which case in he will go again pronto.  James has certainly not been expelled for blogging boringly or badly, but whatever the explanation I can’t make the old link work any more. Are you still blogging out there James?  He comments here from time to time, so presumably reads this.  By taking the name@ bit off the front of the email James left here when last he commented, and adding www instead, I found my way to here, and learned all kinds of things I didn’t know about the guy until now.  It could just be that he is too busy now to be blogging.  When the old world will pay lavishly for your efforts, it is, for many, in with the old and out with the new.  Nothing wrong with that.  If all else fails, I’ll send him an enquiring email.

Sunday January 08 2006

Mark Holland of Blognor Regis is one of my very favourite bloggers just now.  I won’t tell you what’s there.  Just go there and read it yourself.

My only criticism of Blognor Regis is that I find the links hard to spot.  Usually I just guess where they would be if I was doing them, and mouse around in that general area.  I usually seem to find the ones I look for, but probably miss quite a few as well.

Maybe underlining?  It’s ugly, but it does the job.

UPDATE MONDAY: Just visited Blognor Regis.  No underlining of links, but unless my eyes are deceiving me (if so it wouldn’t be for the first time) the links have suddenly become a lot brighter and more visible.  Coincidence no doubt, but I can’t help wondering . . .

UPDATE TUESDAY: As Mark himself comments on this posting: not coincidence.  Thank you Mark.  You acted with impressive speed.  I had not realised that this posting concerned this links thing, and indeed linked to this posting.  Interested readers should read that and the comments on that.

I have helped to make the world a better place.

Saturday January 07 2006

Well, it seemed to pass off okay.  Afterwards someone asked for my phone number so they could maybe ring me about giving another talk, which is the first step towards any kind of proof that it was actually much good.  Also, my friend Bruce the Real Photographer still wants to pick my brains about how to give talks, in exchange for me picking his brains about environmentalism, which was another good sign.  I got a few laughs.  Before that, they seemed to be listening.

I’m afraid the actual subject matter proved too much for me.  I had bitten off far more than my somewhat lackadaisical extemporising ways enabled me to chew, but I did say quite a lot of what I wanted to.

Roughly, what the talk was about was how the steady rise to its recent state of world-engulfment of Total War as a way for Great Powers to settle their differences, followed by the abrupt switch to having to get along with one another better, following the invention of atom and hydrogen bombs, plus the new ruling class nightmare of terrorism, had successively different effects on the libertarian movement during the last two hundred years or so.

Libertarianism, after a successful phase earlier in the nineteenth century, was eclipsed at the end of that century, because the demands of preparing for Total War, and then of actually fighting Total War, made libertarian arguments unwelcome to those who ruled the world.  More recently, our rulers have been much more welcoming of libertarian ideas about economics, because it no longer makes sense for them to be preparing for Total War, by, for instance, ensuring the survival of “strategic” industries, such as steel or agriculture, by pissing off foreigners with tariff barriers and such like.  Total War would be a catastrophe as soon as it started, so there is no sense in preparing for it, merely in doing the necessary minimum to deter it.  Hence “globalisation”.

However, the new ruling class nightmare is that they will wake up one morning to learn that Paris, or Chicago or Birmingham or Berlin, has been blotted off the map with one big bang, perpetrated by . . . who the hell knows?

Hence the libertarian failure to make much headway in the area of civil liberties.  Our rulers believe that they need, not to know everything, but to be able to find out about anything in particular.  Anything at all.  Any impediment to them finding out whatever they want to find out must be brushed aside.  Any means of increasing their power to investigate any particular thing or person, by means of such things as satellites or electronic cards or tags, are welcome to them.

As are regulations, of anything.  Regulations mean that we are all guilty, of infringing some damned regulation or another, and if they want any particular one of us to co-operate with them by, e.g., spying on a colleague or filling in the gaps of their knowledge about, e.g., our siblings, they can easily persuade us, with selective enforcement of these ubiquitous regulations.

Think of those scenes in US TV cop shows where our hard working heroes enter a bar and show a picture to the barman, only to be told that he’s never seen the guy in his life.  But something about the blank stare the barman then subjects them to convinces our heroes that actually the barman knows more than he is telling them.  At which point they start a conversation about health and safety inspectors, “one of whom just happens to be a good friend of mine”.

The point is that even if you are entirely innocent of any infraction against the regulations they decide to throw at you, the process of fighting off the attack is itself immensely worrying and burdensome, even if successful.  So the threat of detailed official scrutiny is, for most of us, enough to scare us into telling these people whatever they want to know.

That’s the way the world is heading, I fear.  I made up a little story along these lines, involving a university lecturer (I pointed at a guy in the audience who looked a lot like a university lecturer and afterwards turned out to be something like that – he is a scientist anyway) whose brother they wanted to check out, and when he was reluctant to assist, they did him for failing to inform his students at the beginning of the academic year about the location of the fire exits to his lecture theatre.  “So you want your students to burn, do you?”

Later a questioner from the floor, in the course of trying to throw doubt on my qualified admiration for President George Bush, told a story about how her brother had been doing something that US officialdom didn’t like, and they had done him over for using the wrong door of some law court.  The point here being that this enormous apparatus of snooping, although allowed to come into existence because of what I sincerely believe may well be genuine concern on the part of our rulers about the threat of terrorism, is most unlikely to be confined to combating that threat.  In the case of this lady’s brother, his crime was not that they thought he might be a terrorist, but that he had done some investigating into George Bush’s personal finances.

I am now in a rush to get out and do various things, including attending another event this evening, which means I have no time to include any links in the above.  Sorry and all that, but you get what you pay for around here.

Friday January 06 2006

I am giving a talk this evening, the first in Christian Michel’s 6/20 Club series, so called because they will be on the 6th and the 20th of each month.  Email Christian for details of these events if you want them.

So, given that I haven’t finished preparing my talk and must work on it this afternoon, and will be busy giving it this evening, a quota photo.  It’s time I had some more photos anyway.

During last spring, summer and autumn, I was creeping about London photo-ing other photographers.  During the winter, I have switched to creeping about London photo-ing car headlights, which, for reasons I don’t have time to go into, now fascinate me.  I get funny looks of course, and no doubt the people who spend their lives staring at surveillance footage have me tagged as a member of a car thief gang.

But it’s just the headlights I care about, and the last thing I would want is to steal them.  I want to photo them in their natural habitats, i.e. in cars.  And they’re sculptures I tell you!  Sculptures!

Here is a particularly choice specimen of the genre:

image

What I like here is the way the grill on this Range Rover has a semi-circular kink in it, in order to avoid interfering with the output of the headlight.

Imagine the motor industry meeting at which that decision was reached.

Thursday January 05 2006

This morning, lying in bed pondering the universe, I realised something about myself and how I function which I wish to record, mostly for myself, to see if I still agree with myself a month hence or a year hence. I hope you are interested too, but if not never mind, you won’t be wasting much time.

I am a clever fellow, in my own particular way, but my particular way of being clever does not extend to being able to handle complicated situations.  (What people describe as “real life” often defeats me.) My way of being clever is to spot connections and causes and consequences, one at a time, here and there, concerning this and that, and explaining each one separately.

I can understand some complicated situations.  An example is the Libertarian Alliance publishing programme, which I persisted with for years before very many people could see much point in it.  Many who now observe it probably still can’t.  There are at least half a dozen things you have to get to see the point of all that pamphleteering, as well as noting one huge slice of luck: the internet!  That kind of complexity, the kind that is closest to my heart and which I can think about and polish over a period of years, I can do.

But what I cannot do is sort out complexities straight away, when I am first confronted with them.  My thinking proceeds one simple step at a time, with steps so simple that anyone else can understand them, as soon as I have.

This explains why blogging suits me so very well.  Lots of little things, laid end to end, is just my style.

(Not that everything I blog, and especially not just now, concerns persuading people of anything.  Often it just says, especially here: here’s a nice photo, or: here’s an interesting or funny thing, or some such.)

My only moderate degree of cleverness also explains why I have such confidence in my ability to persuade some people at least of the truth of some at least of the truths that I happen to encounter and to recognise as truths.  After all, if I can understand them, anybody can.

People who can confront a complicated situation and immediately make sense of it need to do something in order to demonstrate that they have understood things.  They need, for instance, to translate their grip on the situation into a complicated piece of machinery or into a subtly crafted business enterprise.  Merely explaining it wouldn’t be enough, because hardly anyone would get it.  It has to be demonstrated.  (I had to do all those LA pamphlets before anyone could see the point of them, and as I say, many still don’t.) But most of my understandings need only be stated by me for their value to be obvious to many onlookers.

I am quite clever, but not clever enough to render myself ineffective as a persuasive writer.

The main problem is likely to be that others will have spotted the truths that I spot before I do, because they are so obvious.

I got two identical emails yesterday, both apparently personally concocted by my good friend Adriana.  She appeared to be recommending some piece of software, but getting two emails like that made me wonder what was going on.  My best guess was that she had supplied the enterprise in question with a personally selected short list of people (with me on it) who might be particularly interested in the product in question, which she indeed admired.  But I would not dream of doing anything about such a thing without talking with Adriana about it first, so I did nothing.  Now I know exactly what was going on.

Basically Adriana had her entire contact list hijacked, and I, together with countless others, got a damn good spamming.  FascinatingFascinating.

Be sure to read the comments, especially the ones on Samizdata.  Those amount to a crash course in how the internet works, how not to do business on it, and why not to do it like that.  Perry makes it admirably clear that this kind of nonsense shouldn’t be illegal, but that this needn’t stop us showering our denunciations on the (at best) bumblers concerned.  The speed with which the proverbial waste matter hit the fan, and the speed with which “Groowy” were backtracking, first with a grovelling Samizdata comment signed by “Groowy”, and then when that got a further bollocking, with a further comment signed by a (presumably) real person.

These people will be a while recovering.  My guess about their first step: change the name.  At which point the Internet will immediately identify them under their new name as “those Groowy people who prepetrated that spam disaster back in January 06”.  Something that a lot of people do not get about the internet is that it has a long and steadily lengthening memory.  Those Groowy guys are going to learn that, in the months and years to come.

One of the Samizdata commenters says: “Read the small print”.  But life is too short.

Wednesday January 04 2006

Last night I popped round to see Martin Anderson.  Martin Anderson lives a walk away from me, and he also runs Toccata Press and now Toccata Classics, i.e. he puts out books and now CDs.  Quite a guy.  How he does all this without starving to death, I do not know.  I was collecting a CD which I hope to be blogging about soon, and also, as it turned out, a book.

Martin said something rather surprising to me while I was there, which was: why don’t I do record reviews myself?  (He does lots.) I dismissed the idea out of hand, for the reasons I will now write about.  I think I am probably right, but see if you agree.

My reasoning is based on the fact that, almost by definition, classical music is music that starts its life by being written down.  It is a manner of music making which predates recording.  It is written, and then it is interpreted.  Nowadays music is “writerpreted”, or whatever you might call it, i.e. the composition process and the finalising-as-an-object process are one and the same thing.

If sound recording had existed in 1600, maybe the whole complicated rigmarole of musical notation as we now know it would never have been bothered with.  All those complicated lines and dots and key signatures!  We would merely have listened to composers interpreting their own stuff.  There would have been subsequent recorded versions, as recording got better, by other and maybe more expert musicians – “cover versions” as we call them with recorded music – but this basic separation between what the composer “composed” and what was later played would not have existed.

Consider the authentic movement, which consists of a great throng of people all trying to guess what the first performances of things actually sounded like, or what they were meant to sound like.  And think how marvellous it would be to have authentic tapes of Mozart or Beethoven improvising at the piano!  (Or Shakespeare reading a sonnet!) This would, as I am sure I have blogged several times before, now mean far more to us than mere photographs.  Photos would be of the face of these great ones.  Recordings would be of the things themselves.

Anyway, sorry about the digressing, but this two-stage process in the making of classical music recordings is what disqualifies me, I believe, as a serious judge of the quality of such recordings.  Simply, I am not good enough at understanding the written bit.  I remember reading – reading words, which I can do with great ease - about how Daniel Barenboim said that when he performs a piece he wants to communicate the “shock of reading the score for the first time”.  This is the ultimate in score reading.  Barenboim looks at all those squiggles and literally hears them!  I just see squiggles, and only hear it if I work out what it is, that is, connect the squiggles to sounds that I am already familiar with.

It gets worse.  What exactly do they mean by things like “moderato”?  Well, something like “moderately”, but moderately compared to what?  No, I just don’t know the language of musical composition well enough.  And, not knowing it well enough, I am in no position to say how accurately the interpreter is interpreting it.  That, it seems to me, should be one of the core skills of the recording reviewer.  If I become the global celebrity I would still quite like to be, I could surely contribute worthwhile “what I like and how it sounds to me” type pieces to something like the BBC Music magazine or Gramophone.  But being on their regular team of reviewers would be way, way beyond me.  There are some territories where I can just about bluff along well enough, but classical music CD reviewing is definitely not one of them.  That world is already stuffed with people who have been trained to the eyeballs in score reading and for that matter in interpretation, but just can’t quite make a go of interpreting as a career (given that only a tiny fraction of such people ever can), but who can review CDs in a way and with a depth of knowledge that I never could.

Martin rather airily brushed my doubts aside.  Most of the time, he said, I don’t have the score.  Where would I find it? – he said.  He has a point.  There is more to reviewing recordings than bothering only about fidelity to the written score.  There is the matter of whether the music is beautifully or exciting played.  And even I can usually tell when it’s not in tune.  In general, I can tell you whether a particular performance excites me, the way that the Christian Thielemann Bruckner 5 that I wrote about yesterday did excite me.  But maybe Thielemann got to me by doing things differently to the way that Bruckner himself would have wanted.  Now, maybe I and Thielemann are right about how to play Bruckner 5, and Bruckner himself was wrong.  This is a perfectly valid opinion.  Composers are by no means always their own best interpreters.  But if I am to say that in a review, I need at least to know about what Bruckner himself had in mind, and I cannot begin to read Bruckner’s mind if I cannot even read his score.

This is one of the fundamental reasons why pop music is, unlike classical music, “pop”.  All of us can review it equally well. All of us have in front of us the information we need to say whether it is good or bad, by which I of course merely mean whether we like it or don’t like it.  If it is a cover version, then provided we have the original to hand, we can describe with a hundred percent confidence what the differences are between, say, how Damaged Fruit Higginbottom did the original and how the Rolling Stones did their faster, less emotive but more raucous and drum-dependent suburban white boy version.  Everything we need to know, we know.  The pop music printed version industry is strictly an add-on afterthought to the central pop music productive process.  Many (deservedly) major pop stars can’t even “read” music.  They just play it, and their mates record it, perhaps by helping out with supplying written parts, e.g., to backing singers or instrumentalists.  But printed scores are the classical music productive process.  You can’t not know about that bit of the process and expect to be a capable reviewer of classical music recordings.

I would go further, and say that the composer-score-performance-recording progression is damn near to the defnition of classical music.  Persisting in writing classical music, on paper, which other people then “interpret”, and maybe also record, is now to persist with an obsolete artistic technology.  The way to make music now is to make it and record it.  Far simpler, far cheaper, and in a whole host of ways far, far better.  That is the future of “classical” music making, the inverted commas being there because it won’t any longer be “classical” music, just music.  The instrumental skills of classical musicians now need to be taken straight into the recording studios, a process which has actually been going on for some time.  And yes, a written score may very much help that process.  But it is there to help.  It is no longer the process itself.

Obsolete artistic technologies often have life in them, sometimes centuries of life, and life of tremendous vigour.  Look at organ music.  Look at painting, for goodness sake.  Photography was invented over a hundred and fifty years ago, yet still picture makers persist with their brushes and their canvasses and their vari-coloured tubes of glop, occasionally to great effect.  I daresay that every so often, someone somewhere still makes a magnificent stained glass window.  You can’t dismiss a work of art merely by pointing out that it is done with obsolete and unnecessarily cumbersome and expensive methods that most people no longer bother with, the way you can dismiss a piece of “science” (i.e. not-science) if it is being done within the confines of an obsolete and superceded theoretical paradigm, like flat earth theory or creationism.  There is zero scientific validity in refining the epicycle theory of the solar system or in theorising ever more minutely about exactly how God made eyes.  Zero.  Whereas a stained glass window might be genuinely magnificent and just what you want.

Nevertheless, a capable artist is at least aware of what the latest techniques consist of, and has thought seriously about why painting is still, for him, a better bet than photography, or organ music composition on paper is for him better than taking a computerised piano accordion on legs, such as the Japanese now thrash out by the thousand, into a recording studio, or maybe just rejigging his personal computer until that is, for all practical purposes, also an organ.  Or any other instrument he might fancy.

Learning this electronic and computerised stuff should now be the core curriculum of musical education.  If the God-that-doesn’t-exist-but-you-know-what-I-mean played a bastard trick on me and made me a music teacher, I would start by bringing a tape recorder (or whatever these things are now - MP3 recorders? - into the classroom.  That would be my core instrument.  Forget bloody recorders, as in those idiot tubes with holes in them that you blow down.  The idea would be to get the kids, not to perform the way I like, but to record the way they like, and to distribute it all around the world on the internet, however the hell you do that.  I don’t know how you do it, but they probably would, between them, or have sisters who did, or something.  The point is, those are now the questions.  And as with scientific paradigm shifts, all the previous musical styles and ways of doing things – classical, jazz, carol-singing, rap, girl-group close harmony (a style I much admire by the way), even recorder playing if anyone still wanted to do that, etc. – would take their place in this new musical dispensation.

And if God-bastard made me a drama teacher, I’d start with making movies.  If a “school play” emerged, fine.  But that would not be the objective.

Tuesday January 03 2006

My thanks to Lynn S, not only for commenting on this recent posting here, but also for linking from her blog to this posting, the one about Bach.  I confess to being in a state of permanent confusion about the me-blog-versus-niche-blog(s?) dilemma.  I am now confining my own brianmicklethwait.com activities to this one blog, mostly because it is easier to keep one blog going than three or four.  But maybe I will eventually switch back to slightly nichier blogging (again) at some time in the future, when I am clearer in my mind about what I am going to do with the rest of my working life than I am now.

But meanwhile, when I do a very niche-like posting about classical music, I worry that (a) people who regularly read this blog but most of whom do not care for or about classical music will be irritatingly interrupted (I often go on a bit rather when I write about this, to me, wondrous stuff) , but that (b) people who actually would have quite liked to read the posting will never know of its existence.  So when I write a niche posting here, it is hugely encouraging to be linked to by a niche blogger who is niche blogging in that exact niche.  Lots of classical fans read Lynn.  Now, a very healthy trickle of Lynn’s readers are presumably reading/have read my ruminations upon Bach, listening properly (or not so properly) to CDs, etc.  Thank you Lynn.

Binge listening is of course a subject that has been brought to the attention of many classical fans, especially in Britain, but also I guess in many other places, by the Beethoven and Bach binge broadcasts recently indulged in by BBC Radio 3, my own recent Bach binge having been provoked by the Radio 3 one in the run-up to Christmas.  (I don’t know how wide and deep is the reach of BBC Radio 3 around the world, in these internetted days, but I assume that it is quite impressive.)

When I wrote that Bach posting, I had quite forgotten that I had another recent classical music binge earlier this year, concerning just one piece of music, which was provoked by just one CD of that piece.  The piece was Bruckner’s Symphony No. 5, and the recording was by Christian Thielemann.  For some reason I was utterly captivated by Thielemann’s performance.  It was a live recording, which may have had something to do with how completely it got my attention.  I recall reviewers remarking that it “concentrated on making every bar exciting”, and for some that was a complaint, but that was certainly how it sounded to me.  Having wallowed in this Thielemann recording a few times, I then got out all my other recordings of the piece and listened to them.  I even purchased another one, the much admired Sinopoli recording.

This Bruckner 5 binge was provoked by me adoring some of the other Bruckner symphonies with a passion, such as 4 (excellent), 7 (my first love, in my vinyl twenties, Solti, Vienna Philharmonic), 8 (fabulous, one of the all time great symphonies for me, again first with Solti and the VPO), and 9.  I also have long enjoyed the slow movement of 2.  But 5 has never made that much of an impression on me.  I have listened to it, really listened to it properly, a few times.  I once went to hear Bernard Haitink conduct it at a Prom, about thirty years ago or more.  However, it settled down in my mind as one of Bruckner’s many shots at writing a really great symphony, of the sort he actually did write with 7, 8 and 9, even though 9 wasn’t finished.  Now I realise that 5 is a great symphony in its own right, worth listening to for itself, and not just because of what it lead to or for the pleasure of hearing some different Bruckner.

I agree with Lynn that these binges are very enjoyable and a very good way to listen to this music.  They are the kind of thing of which people say “When you’re on a roll, stay on it.”

In the past, people had lots of attention, and would bestow it lavishly on anything worth attending to.  Hence those extraordinarily long speeches that star speakers used to give in days gone by, and hence all those great long symphonies.  Now, we none of us have enough attention to go around, and whenever we feel it flagging, we tend to switch off or switch over.  And we start to realise that this is hurting our appreciation of the world.  We thus treasure those times when our attention is truly attending and is going flat out on one piece of music or category of music, or on anything else, come to that.

In general, it seems to me that one of the great keys to a happy life is to do quite a lot of wholly good bingeing, rather than partially bad (because e.g. physically damaging) bingeing (drink, drugs, etc.).  Good bingeing is good.  I may one day be struck down by delirium tremens, but this will not be because I overindulged earlier this year in Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony.

Sunday January 01 2006

The Internet seems to have been misbehaving quite severely today, so in case it resumes its misbehaviour, let me say this quickly and now:

HAPPY NEW YEAR!