Brian Micklethwait's Blog

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

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Tuesday March 28 2006

Incoming email from Sean Gabb:

The funeral of Dr Chris R. Tame will take place on Saturday the 1stt April 2006 at 11:00am at the Chichester Crematorium.

The Address of the Crematorium is:

The Crematorium Company
Westhampnett Road
Chichester
West Sussex PO19 4UH
Tel 01243 787755 Fax 01243 536267
One chapel with seating for 65
Facilities for disabled: Ramps, Toilet, Wheelchair
Manager: Nigel Emberson

Here is a pdf map.

Those who wish to send flowers are advised to do so via The Posy Bowl on 01730 812 077.

Some flowers are welcome. Chris, however, would have preferred donations to the Libertarian Alliance. These can be sent by cheque made out to “The Libertarian Alliance” to:

The Libertarian Alliance
Suite 35
2 Lansdowne Row
Mayfair
London
W1J 6HL
England

Regards,

Sean Gabb

A tricky journey from London, but I will be there.

TRANSPORT UPDATE: Well, not so tricky after all.  I don’t have a car, but several friends do, and I already know of four vehicles which will be making the journey on Saturday morning, starting at around 8.30am, from London.  If any of Chris’s many London friends would appreciate a lift, I can maybe guide them in the right direction.  So if that’s you, press “contact” on the top left, and get in touch.  Or just comment here.  After all, like weddings, funerals are events of more than private and personal significance.  We don’t just show up.  We actively show our support for a public message.  We attend funerals to proclaim that the deceased was a person whose life and death meant and mattered a lot to us. 

Tuesday March 21 2006

Today, my Computer Guru is dropping by to take out and away my hard disc, so that he can copy its contents onto a new, bigger, faster hard disc, for a new computer that he is constructing and installing for me.  So, all bets are off about anything appearing here during the next few days.  I thought I might as well get all my computer grief out of the way at once.

Speaking of grief, this puts my recent technological frustrations firmly in the box marked trivial.  I wrote about Chris Tame yesterday in the knowledge that his last day was likely to be any day now.  But his death is still a sombre if not exactly shocking moment.  (The big shock was when he was diagnosed.) Many more, and more considered, thoughts about the impact that Chris made on the world will surely follow here.

Monday March 20 2006

In my first posting about Voluntary World (as I now think I should have called it from the start), I explained the reason why describing how Voluntary World works might be useful.  Now I will start to describe how it works.

I’ll start with someone who decides to start doing something that nobody is now doing.

By choosing to start something, it is possible that you may set in motion an activity or institution so impressive and so good at generating psychic or even actual income for others who do it later that you may eventually be able to stop doing it, and let them get on with it.  But you should never assume that.  Assume rather that you are and will remain Muggins, the guy who does it, pretty much all of it.  Assume further that nobody else will be that interested or impressed, at first or even at all, and that you will have to carry on doing it, and that you will be on your own.

Do you fancy that?  If not, don’t do it.  Save yourself a world of grief.  Choose something else, which you consider so important and so valuable that you are willing to spend the next decade of your life failing at it.  Because that is what might well happen.  Choose something that you can do, and will enjoy doing, on your own.

A commonly encountered citizen of Voluntary World is the Why-Don’t-You?-er.  The Why-Don’t-You?-ers are full of ideas about what other people should be doing, about world hunger, liberty, encouraging the local kids to take more exercise, whatever, but if you say: good idea, why don’t YOU do it?, they back off.

A more sophisticated version of a Why-Don’t-You?-er is someone who starts something, with a burst of genuine activity and genuine contribution, but who then expects others to take over from him, at which point he can then tell them what they should be doing, without doing even his fair share of the work, let alone most of it.

This does not work.  Most potential helpers will have only limited time and effort to commit.  They aren’t going to hurl themselves into helping you, if they have any reason to fear that you will leave them with the entire job and disappear.  Volunteers demand a limited and well organised task.

I am straying into the world of organising others, when the point of this posting is that you are on your own, which I realise is muddling, but the paradox here is that only if you are willing to do the entire job yourself will others be willing to help you.  Only if people know that they are contributing to something worthwhile, something with a future, will they want to help.  Which means that they will only want to help if, paradoxically, you can do without their help.

A fine example I have recently observed of this principle in action is the way that Alex Singleton has recently hit the ground running with the Globalisation Institute, and I think I may even have offered him some advice along exactly the lines of this posting.  Which he had asked for, I hasten to add.  To have offered unsolicited advice would just have been Why-Don’t-You?-ing.  Anyway, be that as it may, Alex began the Globalisation Institute with the clear understanding in his head that if need be, he would do all the most important work for it himself, indefinitely.  As a result, others have in fact been willing to take on various bits of the work, and now there is a promising little buzz of people around him, of whom I am a lesser one (contributing occasional postings to the Globalisation Institute Blog).  Had Alex even hinted that he ever wanted to stop running the Globalisation Institute - “I want at some point to hand it on to someone else” – I for one would have immediately assumed that his heart wasn’t really in it, and he just wanted the kudos of having started it without the graft of making it successful, and I would not have bothered myself with it.  As it is, Alex gave off the opposite vibe, that he was doing it and that the rest of us could help if we liked, or not, it was fine by him either way.  He did not pressurise or beg.  He simply said how it worked, and invited help, in a genuine spirit of take it or leave it.  Refusal would not have offended.  The sub-text of that was: this is going to work anyway, whether you help or not.  You will not be depended upon.  I won’t ever try to dump it all on you at some future date.  So, I helped.  So, others helped.  So, now the Globalisation Institute is succeeding, and Alex is, paradoxically, now starting to share the important jobs with other significant people who are now stepping forward to assist.

An even better example of this principle in action is Chris Tame.  If ever a man gave off a vibe of self-sufficiency and a general willingness to do everything that needed doing, if necessary on his own, it was Chris Tame in his days as the Manager of the Alternative Bookshop and boss of the Libertarian Alliance.  Above all, Chris was totally committed.  The Bookshop ended up losing too much money and it had to be shut, despite Chris’s best efforts, although its memory lives on it a quite extraordinary way.  (People still occasionally ring me up and ask where it now is, even though it actually closed in 1986.) But the Libertarian Alliance has continued on ever since, and the basic reason for that has been Chris, and his utter refusal to consider it ever not continuing.  Others, seeing Chris’s industry and commitment, have been willing to help.  A lot of what I know about the workings of Voluntary World, I learned while working for and alongside Chris, in the Bookshop, and for the LA.

I repeat: only if you are willing, and are seen to be willing, to do the entire job yourself will others be willing to help you with it.  (I dare say that there is a lesson here that can be applied to life in general, but I leave that to others.)

Here endeth the first lesson.

Sunday March 19 2006

Deprived of my proper www connection, I have been out and about during the week, meeting people.  It’s been quite interesting.

On Thursday I visited my mother.  Very nice.  My eldest brother, who lives near, also dropped by.  Talking with him re-provoked thoughts about something I have been meaning to write about for some while, namely the principles of how to function in a totally voluntary work environment.  I am thinking of groups like (of course) the Libertarian Alliance, and the University drama society that was my first taste of getting anything worthwhile done in the world (and of enjoying life), and of the UK Independence Party branch that Brother Toby and his buddies are now grafting away for (and for that matter of UKIP as a whole), and of little voluntary sports clubs and social operations of this or that sort.

The point about these groups of people is that nobody gets paid, much or usually at all, and anyone who wants to can just leave if they aren’t enjoying themselves.  And they can’t be made to do anything they don’t want to do.  Oh, sure, you can twist their arms a few times, but if the whole deal doesn’t satisfy them, they’ll be off.

How to achieve things happily and effectively in such circumstances is a subject well worth pinning down, for two reasons.

First, lots of people now do this kind of thing, and would perhaps benefit from suggestions about how to do it better.

But second, the world of paid work is, I surmise, beginning to partake more and more of the voluntary principle.  Not many of us can afford to just stop working for money and simply follow our blisses.  But many of us can just about afford to stick two fingers in the faces of any particular bosses we happen to have taken an extreme dislike to, and then to seek, in a more or less leisurely fashion, alternative income.  Many of us, that is to say, have - or can lay our hands on - sufficient fuck you money to say that every now and again, to any boss who offends us too deeply.

Which puts the bosses of such people in an interesting position.  They find themselves in the position that Brother Toby is in, namely trying to do the best with and get the best out of people who are no more controllable by him than are Brother Toby’s various volunteer UKIP helpers and pals.

Also, the world of the entrepreneurial start-up is decidedly voluntary.  People in start-ups, especially the ones in charge, are often living on promises of glory, rather than tangible glory they can take to the bank.  Part of what keeps them going is that eventually money may materialise, in amounts sufficient to justify the wait.  But a lot of what makes start-ups start up is simply that they can be, if done right, such damn good fun.  That’s the impression I get from afar, anyway.  (I caught two of my own friends at it, only last week.  No money.  Lots of work.  Lots of satisfaction.)

I don’t want to exaggerate the voluntariness of paid work.  I quite realise that the majority of people in this toiling world still have jobs which they will incur considerable grief to keep.  And those that do seek alternative employment mostly do it while trying not to offend existing bosses, if only to get something pretty or at least plausibly civil on their CVs.  True, all true.  But, the voluntary principle may still be applicable, in a diluted and partial form, to work places where the ruling assumption has tended to be and still by default tends now to be, that orders are given and obeyed, rather than offered and acted upon only if the actors feel inclined.  More and more, I suggest, people can work by (a) doing only enough to avoid being fired with ignominy, or, alternatively, and entirely differently, (b) getting all excited and doing outstanding stuff, and basically for not that much more money, at any rate in the short run.  Turning your organisation from an (a) organisation to a (b) organisation is, I propose, not so very different from getting the Libertarian Alliance or a UKIP branch or a little country sports club to fire on all cylinders. 

I “propose” and “surmise” and “suggest” because, although I have done my (less than fair) share of (a) work, to pay the rent, I have yet to do much (b) work, that is to say the stuff where I hurled myself into it body and soul, loved it, and got paid.  But, the truly voluntary sector I do know about.  I have watched it work well, and have helped to make it work well.  And, I have watched it fall flat on its face, sometimes with me watching it smugly as it did so, saying I told you so.  And, I am a thoughtful person, which is where quite a lot of the “I told you so” stuff came from.  So, I am a good person to write about this.

But let that be in future postings.  This is blogging.  One thing, or if you can’t help yourself, just a few things, at a time.

But, I promise nothing.  (By the way, this “I promise nothing” rigmarole of mine demonstrates one of the principles of voluntariness in action.  Only promise things when it is absolutely necessary, and when you really are, definitely, going to do them.  Otherwise, don’t.)

I would like to record my thanks to all the (mostly) robots and (I like to think) readers who have together combined to push my “Total Combined Page Hits” to new heights during the last week.  Well, of course they did.  They wouldn’t have reduced it, would they?  What I mean is that this week has seen an addition to the TCPH as great as during almost any previous week.

Perhaps the fact that the last post was up twice, until I realised today, had something to do with this.  Perhaps this got the robots excited.  The same posting twice?  What does this mean?  Are we seeing double?  Are we intoxicated?  This is exciting.  We must look again.  And again.

I could even be that, deprived of my proper www connection, have had to think, and have, for some tastes, been writing better.  Who can say?

Thursday March 16 2006

I hope that my internet connection woes will soon be over, and it has indeed been woeful.

The problem has been that just as wandering around in the www is wandering around, and you never know how long or where it will take you, so too, for me, is writing, especially the sort of writing I like to do here, where I again don’t know quite where I might end up.  Suppose I start out on a piece of writing, which on the face of it needs no links, or perhaps one link that I already know about.  Fine.  But what if I then get one of my half-way-through-it inspirations?  And what if this inspiration demands a link to something or other that I don’t yet know about, but would like to find out about?  For me, writing for the www is just as much of a discovery process as reading it.  And I feel severely inhibited about embarking on any such discovery process when the means of discovery are so severely restricted.

The whole secret of the www is that there is no big difference between these two activities or reading it and contributing to it yourself.  You are an active reader, who reads but can at any moment starting writing back.  When you write, you register and include the thoughts of others.  Which is why I think the Big Media New Media comparison that matters is between reading a newspaper or watching a TV show, and writing a blog or making a pod or a picture or a movie or whatever.

All very obvious.  But what it means is that I am, as of now, simply waiting for normal www service to be resumed.  There is no point in getting used to abnormal service, because abnormal service is just too unsatisfactory.

Wednesday March 15 2006

Incoming email from Antoine, referring to an email he has received:

From an email by Paul Marks:

“On the fiscal side (leaving monetary policy and banking to one side) the news from the Isle of Man is good. The scrapping of the business tax and a limit of £100, 000 on the money taken in income tax - no matter how high a person’s income is (thus breaking with the notion of proportionality).”

So if you write out a cheque for £100,000 that’s it. Do you suppose someone read your pamphlet?

The pamphlet in question being entitled “The Top Rate of Income Tax Should Be Cut to Zero”.  Probably just a case of great minds thinking alike.

Monday March 13 2006

A commenter on my earlier piece about comedy and politics asked if I know of a good book about rhetoric.  I don’t.  Maybe others do.

But, reflecting some more on what the word rhetoric actually means, I think I may be wandering around amongst different definitions.  As I understand it, rhetoric used, in ancient (i.e. ancient Roman and ancient Greek) times, to mean being persuasive.  The purpose of rhetoric was to get the decision you wanted in a court case or a political debate.

Thinking about it some more, I think I can describe the division of labour between most politicians and most comedians a little more precisely.  Both specialise in one of two different aspects of rhetoric, and tend to neglect the other.

What comedians specialise in doing is establishing and maintaining rapport.  But, as a general rule, they don’t do anything with it other than get as many laughs as they can.  What politicians do is specialise in presenting an argument, but they often do it in a logically effective but humanly unappealing way.  They handle the argument okay, but mishandle the relationship between them and their audience.  Comedians obsess about the relationship between them and their audience, but that plus telling jokes is all that they really care about.  They aren’t trying to change the world by persuading us to think or act or vote differently.  Any “arguments” they present are really just excuses for jokes, or for different situations that they can then talk about entertainingly and thus keep hold of their precious rapport.

One of the, to me, more striking things about the two recent comedy evenings I have just attended is that I can remember very little of what was actually said by the various comics.  I remember them.  I remember some of their body language when it was rather unusual, and their various ways of talking.  But it surely says something that the joke I recall as being one of the better ones of the two nights was cracked by one of the comedians who struck me as relatively weak overall.

But since he was first up on the night when I had to wait an hour for it to start, maybe I was just feeling grumpy.

Sunday March 12 2006

Well, France gave England a right old spanking in Paris this afternoon.  It was England’s biggest Six Nations margin of defeat for thirty four years, apparently.  Do your own linking.  Just type in France 31 England 6 rugby, and you’ll get to the whole horror story soon enough.

Scotland tackled out of their skins last weekend, but this time, I am unable to present any arguments against the verdict of the TV commentators, Moore and Guscott.  England were bloody awful.  Against Scotland they created chances to win, but failed to take them.  Against France they could create nothing.

My problem is that, having actually played a spot of rugger at school, I know how damnably difficult it is to play the game well.  I feel bad about saying that people like, I don’t know, Ben Cohen or Josh Lewsey (members, let it not be forgotten, of England’s World Cup winning side), are crap.  But, comparatively speaking, and whatever the reasons may be, England are now crap.  The French team is much the same as the French team of the previous few years, yet England has never recently been beaten like this, by them or by anyone else.

France didn’t even play particularly well.  None of their three tries were classic end-to-end French extravaganzas.  The first was a lucky bounce after England cocked up the catching of a high ball, after less than a minute of the game.  Over an hour later, France scored only their second try with another kick ahead.  And right at the death, Dominici ran in an interception try.  If France had been on song like they can be, it would have been more like sixty.  The really scary thing was that their scrum was better.  England struggle behind a dominant scrum.  Behind a submissive scrum they can offer nothing.

The ludicrous thing is that, mathematically, England could still actually win this thing.  England might well beat the Irish at Twickenham next Saturday.  And if the French go to sleep against Wales, that might see England winning, by points difference, against Ireland and France, all with six points each.  But Ireland will probably defeat this now demoralised England side.  And even the French, to ensure Six Nations victory and if only to prevent the damn English from having any chance of winning, will surely exert themselves sufficiently to beat the equally demoralised Welsh.  Wales did, after all, win the Grand Slam only last year.  On the other hand, Wales stumbled to a catastrophic home draw against Italy yesterday, so maybe the French will say to themselves, what is the point of beating them?  And maybe, with much Gallic shrugging, they won’t bother.  And maybe the Welsh will play out of their skins.  You never know with the French, or the Welsh.  But for what it’s worth, I say France to win it.

As the France England game got under way, I wrote the following words:  “Personally I think France will walk it.  Against England, like all the sides in the Six Nations, they really try their hardest, and their hardest, I think, will be plenty good enough.” Now why couldn’t I have blogged that last night, or last week?  There was nothing stopping me.

Thirty years ago, when England last got beaten by twenty five points, I used to watch England play in these games, and it was always the same story.  Their forwards were quite good.  Their backs looked good as well, but somehow never managed to score enough tries, and England rarely won the Six Nations, and never the Grand Slam.  It looks like those days are back, and that, for the foreseeable future, rugger for an England fan like me will be Only A Game.

Google your way to England India cricket Mohali, and you’ll find that England are probably going to lose that as well.

Saturday March 11 2006

Last night, more comedy.  We met up in Piccadilly Circus at 7pm and made our way to the venue, but the comedy didn’t get under way until after 9pm.  Get there early and get a good table at the front, and wait.  Get there in the nick of time, and be jammed up against the wall at the far end.  You get what you pay for, I guess.  But when the comedy did materialise it was good and I certainly want to attend more.  The 99 Club is a sort of guerrilla operation which moves from pub to pub, I am now discovering.  Last night’s jollifications were upstairs at the Queen’s Head in Denman Street.

Because it took so long to start it also took a long time to end, and I had to go home, semi-demi-drunk, at about midnight, and immediately do a piece for CNE, which played hell with the Micklethwait Clock.  There is only so much mileage you can get out of not having a proper internet connection, and it took me a while to do my piece.

With luck, my internet maladies will be cured some time around next weekend, i.e. March 18/19, around which time I will also be getting a new computer with a three grillion megablob hard disc and a faster micro-engine, more in keeping with my media mogul type ambitions. There is no chance of any podcasts materialising before then.  An email flooded in asking about that, and that’s the answer, I’m afraid.  I remember when I was getting started doing Libertarian Alliance pamphlets.  My first few of those also took an age to emerge.  But I eventually got the hang of doing them and ended up doing over five hundred of them.  Nothing has happened in the last few weeks to deter me from being an internet broadcaster.  I’ll get there.

imageThe illuminated adverts in Piccadilly are much talked about, but are no great shakes, in my opinion.  However, they do provide a welcome light source when I am snapping Billion Monkeys, as they in their turn snap away at the Eros statue, with or without their friends in front of it.

This particular Billion Monkey’s arms, hands and camera somewhat resemble a chess knight, I think.  Click on the chess knight to make sense of it.

Billion Monkey FAQ.  How do you get your pictures properly in focus when there is not very much light about.  Answer (1): get a Billion Monkey camera with an anti-wobble device included.  These are invaluable.  Once you’ve used one, you’ll never want to go back.  Answer (2): spend less on your Billion Monkey camera, and more on your Billion Monkey storage devices, i.e. little cards.  Billion Monkey cameras all come with cards, but these are invariably woefully insufficient in how many pictures you can fit on them.  Usually it’s about ten.  This is ludicrous.  Get another and spend whatever money you can assemble on it, by which I mean a minimum of about fifty quid.  What has this to do with focussing better?  Everything.  If you have a properly capacious Billion Monkey card, you will be able to take any good picture that presents itself to you lots of times over, like David Hemmings the Real Photographer in Blow Up.  There is thus a good chance that at least one of your pictures will come out quite well.  Also, get yourself a three grillion megablob hard disc, and another three grillion magablob back-up hard disc, so that you will never be afraid of disc space running out, what with all those pictures you are taking.

And the moral is: making cheap Billion Monkey cameras take good pictures can be expensive!

Thursday March 09 2006

Laat Sunday evening some friends took me to a Comedy Club.  The “99”, just off Leicester Square.  I really enjoyed it.

The 99 is a small place, or is a comedy club which takes place or took place that night in a small place, whichever.  (A link would probably only confuse, as I am so confused about what the 99 Club actually is, but I think this gig would once have been on this list.) There were only about fifty or sixty people in the audience.  I like that.  I have either a strong sense of my own individuality or a fragile ego, whichever, and do not like the feeling of being swallowed up in a football stadium type crowd.  (This may be part of why I prefer sport on television to live sport, and also of course why I am a libertarian.  But let that pass.)

I liked the comedians, of whom there were five.  Two blokes, two women, and then a final bloke.  As the evening went on, I liked them more and more, although whether this was because I was enjoying myself, or because I am heterosexual, or because they were arranged in ascending order of likability, I cannot say.

Only the final one, the pick of the bunch, an Aussie bloke living in London, made me laugh out loud.  But there is more to comedy than being made to laugh out loud, important though that is.  Comedy is as much about entertaining dinner chat as it is about, you know, comedy.  Smiling is often sufficient.  All the first four made me smile, especially the second lady.

Finally, and above all, I fancy myself as a potential stand-up comic, and to do that you must watch conedy, a lot, good bad and medium.  This may be a total delusion on my part, but that is beside my point.  I identify with comics, even – especially – when they are struggling, as all of the first four comics that night were, from time to time.

Finally finally, it was cheap, and it would have been pretty cheap even if we had not blagged our way in for nothing.  I really like that.

It is interesting how much of an interplay there is just now between stand-up comedy and politics, with comics appearing on Question Time, and politicians desperately trying to juice up their images by appearing on stupid quiz shows.  What gives?

I think that what gives is that rhetoric, the art of holding and audience in the palm of your hand and then stroke it and juggling with it, is now far more intensely studied by comedians than it is by politicians.  It is the comedians who now spend night after night addressing great crowds of people and relying entirely on their own gift of the gab to avoid being shouted at a pelted with rubbish, not the politicians.  The politicians are more likely to be ploughing through reports or clossetted with advisers discussing their preferred policies or perhaps concocting another report.  Comedians thrive only if they can say the right things in public.  For many politicians, for the first decade or two, it is enough to avoid saying the wrong things in public.

This creates an odd circumstance at the point where minor politicians are seeking to become major politicians.  Suddenly, their ineptness at rhetoric, if ineptness it be, is revealed for all to see, or not as the case may be.  Comedians, on the other hand, never get to be comedians at all if they can’t do rhetoric, because rhetoric is what they do.

The trouble with the comedians, of course, is that, often, all that they do is rhetoric.  They can hold audiences in the palms of their hands, but they cannot really know what to say of a political nature, because that they have not really thought about.  They know the form, but not the content.  And the politicians know the content, but not the form.

Perhaps a super-stellar career in politics would now consist of doing a stint of stand-up comedy, while simultaneously studying those reports, policies, etc.  I loathe and detest everything that the comedian Mark Steel believes in and argues for.  He is an unreconstructed socialist.  But, as a political career builder, I have to respect the guy.  Although, as I understand his politics, they are so freakishly left wing that he only really fits in in things like the BBC and the Open University.

There’s more involved in political effectiveness than this, but putting rhetorical expertise back into politics – bridging the gap between the crafts of comedy and of politics – would be a definite start.  I know I know.  A libertarian is not supposed to be in favour of politics being effective.  But, more broadly defined - i.e. not necessarily wanting to steal money from anyone, but instead arguing that such things should stop - politics is what libertarians do, even if they say they don’t.

I am still suffering dreadfully from being semi-unplugged. More about that by me here.  But the good news is, I’ve just heard, more cheap comedy tonight.  Someone called Nick Revell (sp?), I think my friend said.

Tuesday March 07 2006

Yesterday I wrote a long spiel which I now realise can be summarised as follows:

Mainstream Media people say that blogging (etc. – i.e. shoving your own stuff up on the www, like music, podcasts, movies, etc.) will never replace the Mainstream Media, because reading and looking at blogs (etc.) will never be as informative and amusing as reading and looking at the Mainstream Media.  Wrong initial comparison.

Don’t compare reading a newspaper with reading the blogs.  Compare reading a newspaper with writing a blog.

The point is: blogging (etc.) is, already, for many people, more fun than reading and looking at the Mainstream Media.  Ergo, the Mainstream Media will get less money and will dwindle, slowly, but dwindle.  The money now made by journalists and news gatherers and Mainstream Media commentators will not instead go to bloggers (etc.).  Bloggers (etc.) are now and will mostly continue to be hobbyists.  The money will go to the makers of computer kit and digicams and podcasting equipment, and to the people who can help you with all that stuff, i.e. to the people who sell goods and services to these hobbyists.

Many of the things that the Mainstream Media does now and still does quite well, because it can afford to, will dwindle, and blogging (etc.) will thus be offered a succession of niches to colonise.  Blogging (etc.) won’t topple these Mainstream Media functions by doing them better.  The Mainstream Media will merely abandon them, and the bloggers (etc.) will set up their camps in the ruins.

What niches will the Mainstream Media still be able to cling on to?  And if it/they do, will it any longer make sense to talk of it/them as the Mainstream Media?

It was the experience of (a) being unplugged (which is why there are no links in this - too expensive to go looking), and then immediately and as a direct result (b) buying a huge Sunday newspaper, that got me making what I believe is the right comparison here.

My apologies to all those to whom this is merely me discovering the roundness of wheels.

Monday March 06 2006

Well, that was the first interruption of daily service, if you can call it that, since, whenever it was.  In order to be able to identify exactly when said seervice began, I would need not now to be suffering from the malady that I actually am suffering from.

Let me explain in a little more detail what has happened.  Basically, my proper, regular, round the clock, pay by the month, ADSL, SPQR whatever internet connection has been shut down.  This seems to have happened because someone at the ISP pushed the wrong button.  And this was no ordinary button.  No other button exists which, when pressed, could immediately rectify matters.  So as a result, Mark Rousell, who does everything computational for me except for the few Expression Engine things that Patrick Crozier helps me with, has bodged up a revival of my previous internet arrangement, dating back from about 2002, which involved me dialling up, whenever I wanted to be connected to the internet, and then paying for however long I was plugged in to the internet, by the minute, like it was a local phone call.  And that’s the pathetic state I am now in, again, the difference being that this time around, I am fully aware of how completely ridiculous it is.  Surfing the www when you are paying for it by the minute is like being charged by the minute for wandering around in Harrods, and it is something that I do not care to do.

You would think that this would be the time to step back from the hurly-burly of mere events, as experienced by the properly connected person these days, and to write out some of those Big Thoughts that I have been meaning to write down for a couple of deacdes, and maybe that is approximately what I will be doing in the days to come.  But even those Big Thoughts, it turns out, find themselves wanting to be decorated with smaller and very small thoughts, of the sort that a proper internet connection is needed to find and communicate.  (As this guy has also argued . . . etc.)

So, over the weekend, I turned away from my computer altogether, aside from a bit of obligatory paid writing that I had to do by Monday morning, and did twentieth century things.  I reshuffled paper, and put some of it in a black plastic rubbish bag.  I ripped the already ruined straw off a chair.  And, I cleared that up into a black plastic bag, and hoovered up all the resulting dust.  Today, I may even take that bag out to its black bag destination.  On Friday, the first day of my internet outage, I arranged for a plumber to come in and fixed my bath water heater thermostat, which went pop about ten days ago, and left me needing to switch the heater off by hand, if switching off an electric switch can be called “by hand”.  I did some dusting.  I read the instructions of my new Digital Voice Recorder, the one that Russell Wittaker says is a waste of money, but which seems to impress everyone else, if only because of the cute little microphones on the top.  I bought, and started actually to read, a Sunday newspaper.  Remember those?

And, I watched some more rugby in the telly, this time Powergen Cup semi-finals.  The world of English rugby has been plunged into gloom by the Scotland defeat.  The question I asked after the opening Wales win (and this is just the kind of thing I mean about little links that I now can’t be bothered with supplying) about the lack of star quality in the England side has now become, I am gratified to observe, the New England Orthodoxy.  Where are the Guscotts and Robinsons (as in Jason)?  Where are even such as the Greenwoods?  (Greenwood has just announced his retirement.) Where is Matt Dawson’s replacement at scrum half given that Ellis is not quick enough?  At the moment that looks to be . . . Matt Dawson.  What on earth has become of Iain Balshaw?  (Just returning, yet again, from injury, I believe.)

What I saw against Wales was a big tough machine, with little sparkle to it.  What I saw against Scotland was that same machine, but this time frustrated by adequate defence.  (I recall the commentators being extremely scornful of the Welsh “defensive alignments”.) At the time I though England played well against Scotland, but what I now realise I witnessed was the machine going expertly through all its motions, but baffled about what to do if those motions did not suffice.  The machine did not break down and fall to pieces, and in this sense England did their stuff well.  Trouble is, this stuff is not now good enough to beat the best sides, and the consensus in my Sunday newspaper yesterday seemed to be that no sparkle is readily available to beat the best sides and annihilate the lesser ones, the way England were doing in the years just before the last World Cup.  Now all England can do is beat the bad sides and lose to the good ones, it would seem.

In situations like this, you wonder if “professionalism” has coached all the fizz and pep and fun and bizzazz out of the potential star players, and turned them instead into superior cloggers.

Oddly, England cricket seems to be in a very different state.  The England cricket second eleven is now said to be as full of future talent as the England second fifteen now lacks it.  Well, I don’t know about that, but in the recently concluded test match at Nagpur - which was drawn but which England did pretty well in, of the three England stand-outs in that game - Collingwood, Hoggard and Cook - only Hoggard played throughout the Ashes series of last summer.  Collingwood did play at the Oval, and contributed one of those important little defensive inningses that only someone like me still remembers and appreciates.  (He made just ten runs, but stuck with Kevin Pietersen for an important hour near the end.  Come to think of it, Pietersen batted decently in the second innings at Nagpur too.) Alastair Cook, centurion at Nagpur, was playing in his first test.  Will he just be a pretty face, like James Anderson seems now to be?  Or will he really be something?  The experts seem optimistic.  Apparently an Indian lady proposed marriage to Cook during his second innings hundred, with a big banner.  And as for Monty Panessar!  I mean, your first test match wicket: Tendulkar!  They say he did very well too.

But if England beat France and Ireland at rugby, but if they lose their next too cricket games against India - as they did lose two of their three recent games against Pakistan, remember - no doubt the Sunday papers will be saying that England rugby is fine, and England cricket stares doom in the face.

Blah blah blah.

I am writing about sport because, I deeply believe that the whole point of sport is that, although of course for the duration it matters desperately, essentially, deep down, it really really Doesn’t Matter.  It Doesn’t Matter in and of itself, and it most certainly Doesn’t Matter what I say about it.  The above piece should have had various links in it, to reports of the Wales win and the Scotland defeat, to Iain Balshaw rumours, to an explanation of Monty Panessar.  A picture of Cook would have been nice, or maybe a picture of that banner which popped the question to him.  But, the fact that none of these things have actually been included in this also Doesn’t Matter.

Does anybody at all read my sports ramblings here?  A comment saying: yes I read all this, although I have nothing to say about it because it Doesn’t Matter, would be nice.  However, do not expect learned comment responses from me.  For that I would have to be plugged in.

I think the main thing I am going to do, until Mark Rousell plugs me back in again, is read books.  Not write about them, just read them.  I have about six good ones on the go just now.

Saturday March 04 2006

I have had a difficult and strange day.  My internet connection has gone on the blink, and has been temporarily replaced by something slower and more expensive.  This means that for the next fortnight or so, and until further notice, all bets are off here.  I may post things during the next week or two, but, and I really do mean this, I promise nothing.  At the end of about a fortnight, normal service should be resumable, and if so will be resumed.

Apologies, but, there you go, you get what you pay for.

Friday March 03 2006

My day today was totally destroyed when I popped in the tape I have of this game.  The Six Nations has that effect on me, causing me not to be able to wait for the next game before watching such TV rugby.  The idea was to watch a bit of it, and then get on with my day.  Hah!

So, anyway, here’s a picture of London taken from the roof of my block of flats:

image

I tried to find some pictures of that NZ/France game, but couldn’t.  I did find lots of gay porn type pictures of Christophe Dominici though.  I believe French sportsmen do rather a lot of that sort of thing.  So I’ve heard.  So I read somewhere . . .

I’ll try to be more coherent tomorrow.

Thursday March 02 2006

Yes, I’ve been listening to Peter Briffa, podcasting.

It took me a long, long time to load the file, at any rate the way I do it, but if you do nothing else with your computer, it eventually announces itself, in this case with trashy music.  I get the feeling that sound podcasting is at the outer edge of what it is convenient to do with your average computer these days, mine being very average.

Every now and again, some ass in a computer mag rehashes that endlessly rehashed article which says: Do we really need - question mark question mark - computer chips that fast, hard discs that big, TV on iPods (I just read one saying that), or whatever is the latest trend.  The answer of course being that while it may take a few months for people, human or teenager, to find a use for all that extra ram, faster www connection, Gbytes, speed, pictures, whatever – in a year or two’s time we will indeed need it, because we will not then be able to imagine our lives without it.  Of course we don’t need better computers to do what we can already do well with them now, like write stuff into Word For Windows, which is what I am doing now.  I don’t need a better computer to do that.  But if I want to become a freelance movie maker from my kitchen I most certainly do need a better computer, and it is my understanding that for me to be a podcaster, I need everyone else to need better computers, so that they can download my podcasts quicker than now.

Anyway, Peter Briffa.  The thing he said that made me laugh out loud was when this Scottish bloke with whom he was chatting said, concerning the London bombings like:

“London blown up.  What did you think of that?”

And Briffa replied:

“I was against it.”

That’s telling them.

Technically, this first Briffa podcast suffers, I think, from the absence of a person in a next door room twiddling nobs.  Briffa is just a tad too loud, and if he is quiet enough, you can hardly hear the Scottish bloke.  Plus, I wonder what kit they used.  It’s all a tiny bit scratchy, to my ears.  But sufficient, definitely.  It does the job.

What surprised me was how interesting I found it, given what Briffa was doing, which was basically rambling about the issues of the day, exactly as if he was a celeb.  I now want to do more in the way of telling people things they don’t know or have never thought about.  But, even though all Briffa is doing is chat about things like the EU and the Olympic games, he does add little titbits of insight, and it is interesting.  Plus, if you had never met him - I have met him several times, at various Perry de Havilland get-togethers - you would get a much clearer idea of what sort of chap he is.  And he is definitely a chap, that comes over very strongly.  Not a bloke, or an Ordinary Person, or anything like that towards the bottom end of things.

Listening to this podcast made me want to interview all the other decent bloggers in the London area, and do the same for them.  Not every week, just every now and again.  That way we build up a sort of radio commentariat of mini-celebs, to whom all those disenfranchised libbertarians and conservatives who hate the BBC can listen instead.  See also my recent thoughts about that here.

I wrote the above this morning.  Later, I went out and bought a Digital Voice Recorder.

Wednesday March 01 2006

Thanks for all the comments during recent days.  Much appreciated.  Ask and ye shall receive.  Today, though, one of those postings where there’s not a lot to say apart from something like: hmm.

Anyway, all I have to say today is that every time I walk past this shop in Kings Road . . .

image

. . . it reminds me of this.

image

Well, maybe I do have a bit more to say.

If they were consciously influenced, it wouldn’t be the first time that fashion has echoed more serious and pain-laden things.

Why do they do this kind of thing?  I’m thinking of how they photo their models in disaster areas, and adapting things like combat kit?  Lots of reason, I guess.  These people know their business.  I’m guessing maybe part of it is to spray a bit of nastiness on a business that also has periods of fluffy girliness, which then need to be reacted against in order to keep things interesting.  Hey, the Holocaust Museum.  Like it.  Edgy.