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Wednesday May 31 2006

Here is one of my most favourite recent photos, taken from the roof of my block of flats.

I was holding this picture back, to be part of a long and copiously illustrated photo-essay on the subject of rooftop clutter (aesthetics of), that I promised in this posting to do, Real Soon Now.  But when I chanced upon it again, I decided that it was too pretty to hold back for something that might be a very long time coming, and in fact may never happen at all.  So here it is:


Apart from some cropping, that’s exactly how it came out of my Canon S2 1S.  The big circle at the bottom is a satellite dish.

Yes, another Brian and Antoine podcast just went up, here.


START - 40 secs: intro
40 secs - 10 mins 10 secs: Peru, Presidential election, including general talk about its neighbours.  See also this posting at Antoine’s blog.
10 mins 10 secs - 12 mins 50 secs: A historical digression back to Thatcher’s UK, comparing Thatcher’s 1983 victory to . . .
12 mins 50 secs - 18 mins 45 secs: Columbia, where a goodish President has been re-elected.
18 mins 45 secs – 20 mins 45 secs: Italy, Berlusconi loses.
20 mins 45 secs – 26 mins 15 secs: UK again, Prescott plays croquet.
26 mins 15 secs – 33 mins 49 secs: USA, corruption, if the Dems can’t win in California now . . .

Tuesday May 30 2006

We learn everything about our own time, including and especially all the silly stuff, about our royalty.

But former times were just as silly:

An important event which had a significant effect on the thought processes of intelligent people was the Lisbon earthquake of 1 November 1755.  This killed 30-40,000 people and reduced the city to rubble.  It caused the French King’s mistress, Madame de Pompadour, to give up rouge for a week.

Well, maybe not totally silly, if the reason was that she was crying all the time.  But still rather silly.

The above quote is from the Haydn chapter (page 115 of my gigantic paperback edition) of The Lives and Times of the Great Composers, a book I have already blogged about on Samizdata.  Madame’s picture is from ici.

Monday May 29 2006

Lots of good things in this, by Armando Iannucci, which I got to from here.

I particularly like this:

I’m always amazed by how quietly people leave a concert hall, or if they talk to each other, it’s chatter about if they can remember where they’ve parked the car, or wasn’t the soprano wearing a nice dress. I think this is because what music does to us is such a private thing, we feel it’s not quite right to voice it.

A private thing?  That would certainly explain listening to CDs in your kitchen, at a fraction of the cost and bother of going to concerts.  For if it’s so private, why go to a public event to hear it, given that now, you don’t have to?

Arnucci answers that thus:

It was when I first started going to live concerts I realised that seeing a piece of music performed live was the best single explanation of what it was about.

But I have never needed to know what music is “about”, and for me, being there generally adds very little.  For me, classical music is like English.  I heard it in my infancy, and I know exactly what it is about.

The only classical music I dislike is the classical music which was leadenly explained to me in music appreciation classes at school.  They chose the most “fun” pieces they could find, and then drained all the fun out of them, by telling me at tedious length what they were “about”.

The music I most adore is the music I found me way to alone, via the gramophone, with no explanation whatever of it except the sound that it made.  That then filled me with curiosity to know what sort of person wrote it, when he lived, where, how, etc. - none of which you get at a concert unless you read the programme notes, and often not then – but learning about Beethoven’s love life, lodgings, personal habits, funeral, etc. was as much to learn some more history in an agreeable way and from a different angle, rather than in order to do “music appreciation”.  I already appreciate the music.

Arnucci describes classical music as the love of his life.  For him, it is like a big romance.  For me, it is also a love thing, but it is family rather than a big romance.  It’s always been there.  For him, there was and is the joy of discovery.  For me, there is the simple fact of it.  Individual pieces are, for me, the romances.  (And I am promiscuous.)

I possess quite a few DVDs of people conducting and playing classical music. Occasionally – Carlos Kleiber and Leonard Bernstein spring to mind – something is added by seeing such gesturing. But what is added is still rather beside the musical point.  It’s more a parallel pleasure than a pleasure that really adds anything to one’s understanding of the music.  If anything, for me, Bernstein performances are like extremely high quality sausages.  I enjoy them hugely.  Bernstein was a fabulous conductor.  But to enjoy a Bernstein performance properly I find it best not to also to be watching it being made.

The only time in my life that I can remember when witnessing the performance live made a basic difference was when I saw Peter Maxwell Davies conducting one of his own cacophanously hideous works, at Essex University a long time ago.  By waving his arms about like a maniac and pre-warning us about and then pointing at all the tuneless, rhythm-less and melody-less dramatics of this group of players and that group of players, he was able to take all our minds off what a horrible din it was, for the duration of the din, and at the end we all clapped happily, for we had truly enjoyed ourselves.  A later listen to a CD of the same thing revealed the mere music to me in all its hideousness.  So, I learned what it was “about”.  So bloody what?  What it actually was “about” was something else entirely to what it actually was.  So it is with much music.  Most, probably.

Arnucci again:

My fondest musical memories are of live concerts, of seeing and hearing Belshazzar’s Feast for the first time at a Glasgow prom, and being overwhelmed by the violence and energy of Walton’s music. Of seeing what The Rite of Spring looked like, not just what it sounded like.

Well, my fondest musical memories are getting to know certain records or CDs for the first time, and playing them over and over again.  Solomon Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto 1 (ancient mono record when I was about seven), Erich Kleiber Beethoven 6, Klemperer Beethoven 7, Navarra/Firkusny Brahms Cello Sonatas, Oistrakh Shostakovich Violin Concerto 1, Oistrakh(s) Bach Violin and Double Violin Concertos, Rostropovich Shostakovich Cello Concerto 1, Bernstein Shostakovich Piano Concerto 2, Ferras Brahms Violin Concerto, Ferras Sibelius Violin Concerto, Beecham Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherezade, Malko Shostakovich 10, Bernstein Shostakovich 5, Kondrashin Shostakovich 8, Silvestri Vaughan Williams Tallis Fantasia, Barenboim/Barbirolli Brahms Piano Concerto 1, Kempff Beethoven Piano Concertos, Klemperer Mahler 2, Firkusny Dvorak Piano Concerto, Rostropovich Dvorak Cello Concerto, Kertesz Dvorak 6, Monteux Dvorak 7, Mehta Saint Saens Organ Symphony, Barenboim Mozart Piano Concertos 20, 23 and 25, Anda Mozart Piano Concertos 14, 17 and 21, Serkin Mozart Piano Concertos 19 and 20, Quartetto Italiano Beethoven opus 131 and 132, Perlman Brahms Violin Concerto, Grumiaux Beethoven Violin Concerto, Boult Vaughan Williams 6 and 8, Jochum Bach B Minor Mass, Janet Baker Mahler Orchestral Songs, Janet Baker Schubert Songs, Stern Rose Istomin Beethoven Triple Concerto, Stern Schneider Katims Casals Tortelier Schubert String Quintet, Zukerman Elgar Violin Concerto, Solti Bruckner 7 and 8, Barenboim Brahms Requiem, Blomstedt Neilsen 3 (my first classical binge of the CD age), Blomstedt Strauss Alpine Symphony, Janowitz Strauss Four Last Songs, Raphael Ensemble Brahms Sextet op 18, Rogé Saint Saens Piano Concertos, etc. etc. etc.  More gramophone and CD memories keep flooding back as I write, and I could basically go on adding to that list indefinitely, and – thanks to the magic of word processing – in something approximating to the right order.  The relatively few concerts I have attended do not begin to compare with all that.

Maybe it is merely that my central nervous system makes me get music simply by listening to it, whereas others need to map it visually before they can feel at home with it.  Maybe it is as simple as that.

Now, of course, with DVDs, there is opera.  With opera it really does help to know what it is about, in fact it is essential.  First thoughts about that here.

Like many a photographer I am fond of reflections.  Consider only my most recent previous photo here.

And although it’s not my point here, I think I see more and more reflections in TV adverts, especially for cars – because more and more people are now photographers and have started to really notice reflections? Remember, there are a billion monkeys.  That’s a lot of monkeys, and in the evening they watch their tellies.

Modern urban life, certainly modern London life, is now full of reflections, because modern architects like to use reflecting glass a lot, presumably because if the light just pours into a building without being reflected, the people inside get microwaved.

Non photographers, human beings, tend to edit out reflections.  They look for the solid shape of things, not the light that is bouncing around everywhere.  The light is just the raw material for the brain anaylsis.  But the camera registers the light and just presents it back in a rectangle.

But there are some reflections that are just so huge and obvious that the non-photographic eye cannot ignore them even if it wanted to.  Such as this one:


This is a view of a new building that I regularly have from Lower Marsh, just south of Waterloo Station, which contains my favourite second hand classical CD shop.  I’m looking east, along the south bank of the river, towards Tower Bridge etc.

There are several reasons why the eye is confused.  First, only the top lump of the building has reflecting glass on it.  So, the reflection on the top bit doesn’t fit the non-reflecting state of things below.  Second, what is reflected is itself a big block, off stage left somewhere.  Which results in the reflection looking like it might perhaps be part of the building itself, for example some kind of inside view of the far side wall.  All very peculiar.

I fear that the actual sight is a deal more remarkable than this mere photo.  Buit that is actually my point. Usually reflection photos are more striking than the scene itself, because in the scene itself you don’t see the reflection, even though it’s there.

The red cranes behind, by the way, are, I believe, working away on constructing this.


AIRPORTS ARE NO LONGER SIMPLY places where airplanes land and passengers and cargo transit. Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport is a case in point. About 58,000 people are daily employed on the airport grounds. Its passenger terminal - containing an expansive mix of shopping, dining, and entertainment arcades - doubles as a suburban mall that is accessible both to air travelers and the general public. Amsterdam residents regularly shop and relax in the airport’s public section, especially on Sundays and at night when most city stores are closed.

As usual, new methods of communication bring new vigour to old ones, rather than replacing them.  Email, the internet, etc. do not replace the airplane, any more than books replaced conversation or cars abolished walking, or TV abolished books.  It gives it a whole new injection of people and things for it to fly hither and thither.


UPDATE: Further airport news, via Squander Two, who is not happy about it.

Sunday May 28 2006

I have been convalescing with cricket on the radio, and then with TV highlights good and early in the evening.  England versus Sri Lanka.  Can England turn their domination established during the first two days into victory? Not if the previous game is anything to go by.

Anyway, setting aside whether England win, during the commentary on this latest game, on Friday, someone said that they’d just been looking at a picture of the great Gilbert Jessop, famed England batsman of yesteryear, and they reckoned he was a dead ringer for Andrew Flintoff, famed England batsman, and bowler, of today-year.

Now if this actually was yesteryear rather than today-year, I would have just had to take a claim like that on trust.  But this is the age of the internet.  Instead of passively accepting what the Big Media dish out as Incontrovertible Fact, I can now fact check.

First: Jessop.  Click on these pictures to get where each one came from.

image  image  image

Now Flintoff:

image  image  image

Well, not bad, but not an exact fit.  Still, I had no idea what Jessop looked like, so I learned plenty.

However, no discussion of the resemblance or not as the case may be between Gilbert Jessop and Andrew Flintoff would be complete without noting also the resemblance of both of them to this person:

image  image  image

Maybe Martin Clunes, of Men Behaving Badly and Doc Martin and William and Mary fame may not look exactly like Jessop or Flintoff, but I do think he definitely resembles the caricature of Jessop, top left.

I love the internet.  However, it becomes ever more clear to me that although I love it, I am not, as it were, fluent in it.  I did not grow up with it.  What I am able to learn from it constantly surprises me.  This is because the habit of checking things out on the Internet is not, and probably never will be, ingrained.  I still sit around wondering about the truth of certain things, without it occurring to me that I might be able to set a search engine onto the matter.  So when the man said that Flintoff and Jessop looked alike, it was a flash of inspiration that told me to google for pictures of them, rather than an obvious procedure for satisfying a spasm of mild curiosity.

And when I did go looking for Jessop, I also found my way to this chart of his test match run scoring.  And by the time I had finished rootling around in among that, I realised that I now have every test match I ever want to learn about at my finger tips.  A complete set of Wisden, only better, because searchable, and with no tedious county games getting in the way.

Memories flooded back, of this game, and this game, and this game, that last one being about the first test match that I took really serious note of.  The point is, games like these were – happened to be – totally engrossing at the time, but are now considered insufficiently fascinating to be remembered by everyone and constantly disinterred by the commentators, the way they constantly go on about this one.  Before the Internet, I had to rely on mere memory.  Now, memory is backed up by a mass of detail.

I love it, but I don’t believe I’ll ever get truly used to it, by which I mean be bored by it or take it for granted.

Saturday May 27 2006
Friday May 26 2006

I have started two short quota postings for this blog, but the first got complicated, and the second mutated in front of my eyes into a Samizdata posting, which I really should have been doing more of lately.

So, here is a picture of a puddle, and of my shadow as I took it, snapped on Wednesday morning on the roof of my flat.


Look carefully and you can see chimney pots reflected in the puddle.  The shadow is not just manic self portraiture, photo-blogger style, although it certainly is that.  The shadow makes the shadowed part of the puddle look different to the more brightly lit part, which adds to the interest, I think.

I obviously took lots of snaps of surrounding landmarks, strikingly lit by the morning sun.  What was especially striking was how much the lighting changed from moment to moment.  But this commonplace puddle pic was the one that I spent longest enjoying afterwards.

That morning sun was a novel experience for me.  I only got up because I was too hot and needed to cool down, and after doing the snaps I went back to bed.  All this gadding about in the morning is probably part of why I got ill.

I have a hideous cold.  Every time I try to sniff all the gunk into a black hole inside my head, as you do when you have a cold, I instead get a terrible headache.  Misery me.

Last night I was out and about in the terrible British May weather, which surely did not help the above.  I was with my theatrical friends, doing a read through of our next audio-play, and while with them I thought of a cartoon.  An actor is being complimented by a person who is about ten times bigger than the actor is, and the ten times bigger person is saying: “I’m a huge fan.” Ha ha.  Well, I like it.  Anyway, I thought it would be really easy to draw a picture of a little actor person and a huge person, but I couldn’t make it look right.  This has not improved my mood.  Maybe I failed because I am ill.

Also, I got spam comment attacked last night.  At first I was pleased.  My Total Combined Page Hits did a huge jump yesterday, for no apparent reason, and while part of me knew that this was only robots, I like to think that the robots at least partly base their decisions on what they believe to be real human interest.  But then, lots of comments, boosting porn sites.  Bastards.  Each comment takes about five mouse clicks to remove.  There should be a way to whistle up all the most recent comments, and delete all of them by just putting at tick against each one, and then going delete all of these.  Will there be further attacks?  Probably.  What is the routine about these things?  Comment about that would be welcome, but try not to mention any porn sites.

Thursday May 25 2006

Last night, i.e. Tuesday night (i.e. back to the regular night) Antoine Clarke and I did another of our mp3s, listenable to here.

The hosting problem is sorted.  All my recently created mp3s (except this one, which for the time being is still also at the old place) have now been switched to a different host, owned and operated by Mark Roussell.  (Which means that if you have already buried links in your blog postings directly to earlier mp3s, they won’t work any more.  Sorry about that, but I sincerely believe that very few will be thus inconvenienced, and that most of the links to here have been to the relevant blog postings, where I have made the necessary alterations.

I had hoped to post the conversation that Antoine and I had last night immediately after doing it, but we made an after-performance visit to a nearby pub, so that didn’t happened.  Which was just as well, because today there was a further coincidental glitch, when the motherboard on the computer doing the hosting stopped working, and by the time that was fixed I had to go out for the evening, which means that only now, over 24 hours later, is this going up.  Never mind.  All is now well.  All the mp3s are up and there for your delectation.

And now that the hosting is rearranged, if I and/or Antoine say something which, as the saying goes, captures the imagination of the world - i.e. gets linked to by a major media outlet like Instapundit or Guido Fawkes - and hence demands gigablodges of bandwidth, whatever bandwidth may be exactly, Mark will be on my side and will be ready to deal with this without sending me a bill for gigathousands of pounds.  That’s the idea anyway.  Antoine tells me that Blogger also works like this.  Blogger has had a dodgy bistory, hence the reluctance of many bloggers, me included, to use it.  But Blogger does apparently have the property that you need not fear success.  Just, if the past is anything to go, the occasional random cock-up.  So if its new owner, Google, corrects the cock-ups? . . .  Me? - I don’t know.

I’m very happy with how things have gone so far, up to and including the problems last week, and even today.  The thing is, I knew there would be problems.

There are two ways of dealing with problems, the German way, and the English way, and I of course am doing it my way, the English way.  Which is: just start.  Don’t expect to know everything.  Learn about the problems as you get to them.  Then, when things appear to be running smoothly, start beating the drum a bit, and speeding up, and reaching out and swinging from the chandeliers a little.  Load, fire, take aim.

The German way is to learn everything there is to know about the activity and work everything out beforehand, and then unleash the master plan and get everything right first time.  Which is brilliant, if you really can learn everything beforehand, and really do get everything right first time.  Otherwise, disaster.  For examples of both, most spectacularly the latter, see: German history.

Me, I never can learn things unless I get a constant reward in the form of actual, real show-offy things that I can immediately flaunt, in a small way.  Then, when the bugs are mostly chased away, the creases mostly ironed out, the cobwebs mostly hoovered up, I can switch to flaunting in a bigger way.  Which hopefully I won’t need to do, because word will get around that this latest series of Brian creations is (a) not going to go away just because most people are ignoring it and (b) not that completely crap, so maybe worth attending to.

I still have lots to learn and to get fixed, before I start banging the podcasting drum on Samizdata, for instance.  The whole iTunes/Podcasting things has still to get sorted.  But I am nearly there, “there” being the point where I will start branching out and doing other podcasts/mp3s, with others besides Antoine, and for other blogs and sites besides this one.  Meanwhile, Antoine and I are content to carry on with our weekly waffles.

Last night’s conversation was of a sort that is less susceptible to being organised as time1 to time2: intro, time2 to time3: Timbuktoo, time3 to time4: Greenland, time4 to time5: Mars, and so on.  It wasn’t really that sort of conversation.  It started like this:

0 mins 0 secs – 0 mins 40 secs: intro
0 mins 40 secs – 2 mins 25 secs: Peru correction and update (Garcia hasn’t won yet as was wrongly stated last time around)
2 mins 25 secs – 2 mins 55 secs: more intro
2 mins 55 secs – 6 mins 35 secs: Czech Republic and the EU constitution (Prodi’s election in Italy puts that back on the agenda)

And then the big one: 6 mins 35 secs until pretty much the end: Barcelona Football Club, and from that point I gave up trying to carve the conversation up into slices.

From about 21 mins 45 secs we switched more definitely to the funding of political parties, most particularly the British Conservative Party and the USA Republicans (25 mins 20 secs), and also mentioned think tank (e.g. Cato) funding (21 mins 45 secs), the point being that the best way to fund a think tank or a political party is the way that Barca is funded, with lots of smallish contributions from lots of members.  That way you aren’t beholden to any big corporate donors.  Oddly, we never mentioned the current fund-raising travails of the British Labour Party, now being splashed all over the headlines in Britain.  We did indulge in general ruminations about football as a substitute for and alternative focus for political passions and quasi-political instincts.  (Glasgow, Liverpool, and fights in China between Man U and AC Milan supporters.)

Another theme that wove in and out of everything was television.  Television has transformed the financing of football by creating a whole new, non-local customer base for big football clubs.  And television was wrecked mass membership political parties like the old British Conservatives, by providing alternative and better entertainment (including football of course) at home.

Some good news is that this time I managed to cut us short at only a tiny few seconds over half an hour (30 mins 11 secs).  Several people have said that they don’t mind these things going on longer than that.  But I do.  I want people to know that they only need a fixed time set aside for these mp3s of mine, and half an hour now feels like that right sort of round-number time.

The more I ponder the connections between podcasting/mp3ing and trad blogging, the more I think that a big blog posting after each of these things makes sense, as an advert for it, and, for those who want this, as an alternative to it.  What if, like me, you like to read with music in the background?  What if there is no time in your day set aside for iPodding?  Podcasting just may not be for you.  Fine.  Nevertheless, this recorded chit-chatting still serves my purposes, and informs what I write and think about.  The clinching reason why I am happy with progress so far is that I feel that I am learning a lot, about politics and about a lot of other things, as a result of doing it.  I very much hope that the same applies to Antoine.

Wednesday May 24 2006

I like this:


Which I found here.  The picture was taken by Jim Lowney, somewhere in the west of Ireland.  I found him at the blogroll here.

A sculpture of a newspaper reader.  Two methods of communication living on borrowed time.  But if you use borrowed time well, it can last and last.

Tuesday May 23 2006

Further evidence that Harry Hutton‘s job is to go to trouble spots and to report on the trouble in question, like my Uncle Guy, as I’ve already mentioned here.  Or maybe cause it.  (I don’t think my Uncle Guy caused trouble, but I suppose I can never be completely sure.)

I came to Buenaventura last week, to start a new life as a fisherman. Since I arrived, there have been not one, not two, but eighteen bomb and grenade attacks. Why is no one ever pleased to see me?

Does he ever have reason to visit London?  Was he in London, last July 7th, when we had bombs?  Probably, although I don’t recall him mentioning it.

I assume that most terrorist groups are penetrated by the authorities, and that most terrorist outrages are caused by the agents inserted by the authorities seeking to increase their terrorist credibility.  The best way to know what the terrorists are doing is to be in charge of it, and if you are in charge of it, you have to do it, at least from time to time.  How else will the other terrorists, or maybe representatives of other parts of the state surveillance machine, be persuaded that you are a real terrorist?

The result of all this is a world in which the authorities know exactly what is going on, often long before it happens, but are, as often as not, powerless to stop it.

Says Mr Gaping Void:

People don’t buy art. Not really. But they do buy wine.

Which is why he gives his art away for free, and he won’t bitch about me reproducing one of his excellent works of art here.


From what I hear, Mr GV is the living embodiment of the geniuses are bonkers theory.  He is definitely a genius.  And a friend witnessed him behaving in a totally bonkers way not long ago, in some evening haunt of London’s young and trendy, where he was being the oldest and untrendiest person present.  Under the influence of wine (or something), my informant said.

If this report is true, I forgive Mr GV unreservedly for being bonkers.  People with no virtues or vices are far worse than people with major virtues, such as concocting cartoons of genius, and minor vices, such as the vice of behaving bonkersly in a place I personally would never visit.  He should have been on my blogroll long ago.  Better late than never.

God bless the traffic jam in the Kings Road this afternoon.  Often when I spot especially snappable cars, they are gone before I can snap them.  But this one I got.  Not perfectly, but okay.


After much googling, and after being seriously diverted by the “TDK” on the side, which I still do not understand, I established that this is a Chrysler 300 C.  Probably familiar in the USA, but not a car you see here much.

It was the bling that really got my attention.  Yes, I am a car, and I’ll be damned if I’ll apologise, it was saying.  I especially like the bling (matching the bling on the wheels) on the front.  This next picture shows it a little more clearly, even though this detail is not much bigger than what you get by clicking on the picture above.


This car, in its proportions - muscle bound body and thin windows to make room for all those muscles - is the only other car I have yet seen which reminds me of the new Rolls Royce.

Monday May 22 2006

Spent the day living my life.  I have one, some days.  So, another quota photo, of what looks to the casual eye like birds perched on a streetlight, but which is actually, I presume, surveillance cameras in the process of being installed.


This was taken in Warwick Way, right next to Vauxhall Bridge Road.  I’m guessing that this is in connection with the expansion of the C-charge area from Westminster, across Vauxhall Bridge Road (the current boundary - if you drive along that but don’t turn towards central London, you won’t be charged), away towards Chelsea.

Yesterday I caught myself having heretical, somewhat un-libbo-PC thoughts about surveillance cameras.  The usual libbo line is that they are an attack on freedom.  I think it makes as much sense to say that they are freedom, but of the governmental kind.  I don’t see this only as a process driven along by the Leviathan State, but eagerly pushed, in an entrepreneurial way, by local functionaries.

Which may explain why the Anglo-Saxon world is so flooded with these things just now.  Freedom being not just the dominant value of the Anglosphere, but its everyday reality, there is less restraint on the spread of such things.  In good times, freedom expresses itself in the relative out-of-controlness of the individuals in the private sector.  In bad times, freedom expresses itself in the out-of-controlness of the individuals in the public sector.  In weird times, such as now, freedom expresses itself in the out-of-controlness of the individuals in the world of the public-private-partnership.

Thinking aloud, not a thought-through serious hypothesis.

One of the constant problems for libertarians is that we get blamed for all versions of freedom, if we aren’t careful.  The other night, I caught a NewLabourist called Milburn blaming libertarianism ("individualism") for the rampages of the out-of-controlness of the lower classes, for which ASBOs were the necessary corrective action.

Saturday May 20 2006

Much delayed, here is last Wednesday evening’s Election Watch waffle by me and Antoine.  As commented by me on the previous post, I have removed two of the early ones, temporaily I trust, to make way for this new one.  This problem is, I fondly hope, being sorted as I blog.

And here are the approximate timings of our conversation, and various links to stories and blog postings that got mentioned.

Start – 1 mins 45 secs: Introductory remarks.

1 mins 45 secs – 13 mins 20 secs: China.  Elections announcedYang Tianshui.  Libertarian complaint about the Chinese miracle.

13 mins 20 secs – 19 mins 55 secs: India.  West Bengal.

19 mins 55 secs - 23 mins 55 secs: Comoros.  New Islamist government.

23 mins 55 secs – 26 mins 0 secs: Chad and Peru.  Catching up with stuff already talked about.

26 mins 0 secs – 35 mins 49 secs: UK.  Harry Phibbs on Hammersmith and Fulham at the SAU blog.  Antoine says good things about the British Conservative Party!

I’m glad we talked about China and India.  We didn’t talk very knowledgeably, but we talked.

Yes they do.  The way I do them, anyway.

It seems that I am running out of hosting space.  So while I grope to the top of the TO DO list of my computer guru, I have been removing non-essential stuff, i.e. photos which my ruined Culture Blog can no longer get to anyway.  I had no idea how little space these pictures take up compared to the mp3 files that Antoine and I have been concocting.  I removed about forty pix, and I hardly made a dent in the space that just one mp3 file would need.  So what I’m going to do now is stick up a couple more photos!  Why not?  There’s plenty of room, for a couple of photos.  So, there’ll be the little one, that you can see already, and the bigger one that you can click your way to.


I have two cameras.  Well, I like it.  And what I like is what happens here, as if you didn’t know.  You want lots of links?  Go here.  I make it twenty three.

Friday May 19 2006

Yes.  I tried to upload the latest mp3 of me and Antoine talking elections, and it didn’t work.  I hope it hasn’t gummed up everything else also.  Which is why I am keeping this very short.

Well, the above paragraph uploaded okay.  But I won’t be attempting to stick up anything besides this, until I have picked brainier brains than mine about what might be going on.

None of the stuff Antoine and I talked about (last night) will suffer that much if there is some further delay.  But I will try to work out what is happening, and upload it, asap.

Wednesday May 17 2006

According to a comment (May 15 – 8.31 am) on this posting at the Rees-Mogg Weblog, about why Jack Straw was sacked as Foreign Sec, Jack Straw’s “real” name (i.e. previous name – there is nothing unreal about his present name) was Stravinsky!

Antoine phoned in sick this afternoon, so our latest Election Watch podc . . . mp3 recorded conversation (I’ll get them sorted out as genuine podcasts eventually) has had to be postponed for a day or two.  Or two because tomorrow evening is the Champions League Final between Arsenal and Barca and we both care about that also.

We are going to talk about India, and China.  About time.  India is the world’s biggest democracy, and China is, well, China.  A big place.  And guess what just happened in China!  Okay, not democractic nirvana, especially when you put that next to things like this, but an interesting development nevertheless.  Certainly something worth discussing.

Opportunistically snapped in Wilton Road, just to the south of Victoria station, earlier this evening:


Your guess is as good as mine as to what that was all about.

I’m actually surprised that cars don’t get vandalised more often.  Maybe this attack will set a fashion.

Tuesday May 16 2006

On my way back early last night from my mum’s ninety second birthday tea party, I had to change at Clapham Junction.

I only seem to do this on the way back.  If the train stops to collect me at Vauxhall, it generally goes all the way to Egham.  On the way back, however, I sometimes find myself on a train that doesn’t stop at Vauxhall, and which I accordingly have to leave at Clapham Junction.  And what with my mum being only able to stand so much socialising, and what with me and both my elder brothers being present yesterday afternoon, I departed back for London quite early.

All of which, what with it being May instead of November, meant that I did something I have not recently done.  I changed at Clapham Junction while it was still daylight.

It was not a very pretty sight.  See if you agree.


To me, that looks like a railway station that nobody cares about.  And considering that Clapham Junction is one of the most significant south of England railway stations that there is, I call that a big disappointment.  The phrase “zero tolerance” springs to mind, to describe what is so conspicuously lacking about this place.

The greenery that flourishes, both on the lines and even on one of the platforms (see pic 3), strikes me as out of place, although some might find it pleasingly rural, even romantic.  To me it is of a piece with the rubbish and the graffiti.  Commit a petty crime here, this place seems to shout, and you’ll get clean away with it.

Worse, the place seems to say to the people running the trains: make a mistake here, and nobody will notice that either.

This, on the other hand, is the right way to combine greenery with railway tracks.


That snap was taken in Barcelona when I visited there last year.  No rubbish tolerated on that perfectly manicured lawn.  Those trams definitely run on time.

The thing is that trains in England now also seem to be fairly efficient.  And ironically, they may have become efficient because the people running them have concentrated on one job at a time.  First, mend the lines and make them safe.  Second, put up electrical signs and install telephone help lines so that we are at least being told how late the trains are, and concentrate everyone’s minds on that.  Then, stop the trains being late.  Etc.  The neglect of those weeds and rubbish clusters could be why the trains are now better.  Prioritisation.  Well, maybe.

If so, too bad they haven’t yet got around to: stop Clapham Junction looking like such a tip.

About a week ago, Alex Singleton asked me to attend a debate he had organised, to take some photos, so that he could illustrate his report on the event on the GI blog.  I duly attended and photographed.  Although, there is some doubt in my mind about whether this was allowed.  When I started taking snaps inside the central, open area of tbe building (Portcullis House, the new one where the MPs now have their offices), I was told to desist.  So I hope there is no problem about having taken snaps inside one of the meeting rooms.

All of which is incidental to the real point of this post, which is that today, to my amazement and great pleasure, I received a handwritten letter of thanks from Alex for my efforts.  Imagine that!  A letter!!  This is a man who is in regular email contact with me, which was of course (how else?) how I sent him the best of the photos I took.  Either he was visiting relatives or something and was temporarily unplugged, or, he reckoned that a thankyou letter would count for more.  It did.

An interesting little exercise in modern manners, I think.  Modern good manners, that is to say.

Here is a picture of the outside of Portcullis House, featuring the chimneys on the top, from which, I assume, all the hot air escapes.  No problem about that photo.


Behind Portcullis House, on the other side of the river, is the Wheel, which cost a lot less and is far prettier.  Although, I have to say, the inside of Portcullis House is very lavish.  Obviously the public reason why we can’t photo there is security, but you can’t help suspecting that they don’t want everyone knowing how posh their offices have now become.

However, I greatly like the new Jubilee Line tube station underneath.  Instead of grubbing out lots of little tunnels for people to walk along, they just dug a gigantic hole, and the stairways are suspended in the resulting space.  You get far more of a sense of place than in your usual tube station.

Monday May 15 2006

I’ve been ruminating some more about that A-List of beautiful candidates, which I mentioned in my previous posting.

The usual assumption is that this A-List is supposed to appeal to Young People.  Young People, it is assumed, want Young People to represent them.  Maybe.  But if so, they may not be the only ones.

Consider in this connection those Old People adverts that they have on afternoon telly, and in Old People Products brochures.

In these Old People adverts, the people in them are mostly quite young.  Sometimes they are truly old, as when baths are being advertised for some reason.  But usually, and especially in the printed brochures, the models are quite young.  These models wear, use and decorate their houses with Old People stuff, but they are not themselves old.  They are young, but dress old, in cardigans, slippers and Old Person nighties.  They use elaborate Old Person exercise machines and back scratchers.  They have electronic devices for minding their pets in ways that they can no longer manage unaided.  They go on elaborate Old Person holidays.  They read books in leather covers.  They have shiny shelves for their CDs and DVDs, sometimes with Old Person doors on them.  When they use computers, they use them to play electronic Scrabble.  They are sometimes even quite young when they use stair lifts.

When they watch Top of the Pops, they don’t want to see people as old as they are bobbing about in the audience, or screeching away on the stage.  They want to see nice Young People like that nice Will Young and the even nicer Katie Melua.  Pop music is now advertised on Old People telly, with quotes from newspapers like the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Times.

It’s the same with those Old People films that run in between the Old People adverts, the ones with lots of polite doctors in smart clothes, and with bunches of flowers everywhere.  There are generally Old People involved - being very gracious, generous, wise and well groomed - but they are not the stars, any more than Old People typically star in other movies.

The thing about Old People is that they don’t want to be reminded all the time that they are old.  This is why they demand Young People to enact their dreams.  They want to believe, if only for a while, that their values and tastes will survive them.  Old People liking their stuff and selling it back to them wouldn’t do that.

So maybe, I’m thinking, this is what that A-List is all about.  Or maybe: that wasn’t the idea, but that will be the outcome.  What the Conservatives are doing is lining up a bunch of Young People politicians who will spout Old People political opinions, in time for when Old People will pretty much be the electorate.

David Cameron is himself a classic Young Person of the sort who models cardies in brochures.

I’m off to have tea with my mum today, in Englefield Green Surrey, today being her ninety second birthday.  I wonder what she thinks about that A-List.  Very little, I suspect.

One of my favourite blogs at the moment is Jackie‘s (which has an interesting new look), partly because she is a friend, and the Girl Friend of a friend, but only partly.

At present she is writing a lot about how the new social media (tip: when talking blogs with bloggers don’t call it “blogging” - so 2003) and in particular what the social media will do to commerce, partly because that’s what she does for a living.

Here are some vaguely related thoughts, very half-if-that baked, about how blogs etc. - my preferred way of talking about blogging - may impact back upon politics.

The usual way that blogs are supposed to impact on politics is by giving pulpits to a new lot of pulpiteers, who can then assemble their own new congregations and get them to vote differently, thus transforming politics and (when combined with new and cheaper ways of reporting) bankrupting the newspapers as we know them.  True enough, one hopes, as far as it goes.

But consider another angle.  For as long as I can remember, at schools, the tendency has been for intellectualism and left-wing-ism to go together.  Non-left intellectuals have tended to be heretical convert/deserters from this camp.  (That certainly describes me.)

In every American high school movie ever made, the geeky bespectacled ones are, because intellectual, pretty much left wing.  The ones discussing make-up and shopping, etc., are the non-intellectual non-geeks.  The style experts.

Maybe commerce-related and life-related blogging will change that, by giving school geeks something else to read and to be geeky about.  Maybe geeky politics will become, for the geeks, old-school.

The thing about commerce- and life-blogging – writing about the things you do, products you make, want to buy, have bought, etc. - is that it will mostly be done by people who have no intention of changing the political situation, and no power to do that even if they wanted to.  They just want their possessions and pursuits, their cameras, their stockings or back massaging or whatever it is, to be different, or for people to get excited about or amused by their possessions and pursuits, cameras, stockings, back massaging.  But the very fact of using the written word to do this makes it that bit more geeky, so geeks will be drawn to it.

Meanwhile, you definitely notice politics becoming more fashion-driven, certainly in Britain.  New Labour led the way here, but now the Conservatives are following, with their A List of only beautiful people allowed candidates.  The text of the Guido Fawkes blog, just linked to, is who’s in who’s out etc., but the not-very-subtext is how politicians look and feel, rather than how they think and what they will decide or are deciding, the point about Guido (a long-time acquaintance from Alternative Bookshop/Libertarian Alliance days) being that he has always been into style, and has tended to let content sort itself out.

So, will the style tribes at schools eventually decide that politics is their thing, and chase out the geeks?  Will the geeks abandon politics, and leave the space vacant for the stylists?  Or, is this happening/has this happened already, and has geek-me only just noticed?  Perhaps it has always been true.

But no, I don’t think so, although at various times in the past it has been.  One of the big take-overs of politics by style was fascism, Nazism in particular.  Nazi Germany, you could say, and to over-simplify, was a world in which the geeks had been chased out of politics.  (And to satisfy the majority, the gays which style politics inevitably attracted were chased out in their turn.) Now I realise I just broke one of those laws about how you mustn’t argue, but please understand that I am not calling anyone in particular a Nazi, certainly not Guido Fawkes.  I’m just saying.

And the reason I am saying is that, despite that law that I am now breaking, this does seem a better way of getting a handle on how the world may be becoming a bit more fascist than hitherto.  The thing is, it’s not deliberate.  It’s the consequence of the way the world is going, rather than of any one individual or group deliberately doing evil things.  (Just like fascism first time around, for a great many of them.) People are trying to do good stuff, same as ever, but the landscape has changed.

What I hope will happen will be that politics, having gone through its catwalk phase and then once more reverted to its more usual mutton-dressed-as-lamb decrepitude, will become ever more visibly ridiculous as a way of doing things and of organising things, even as things themselves have been getting better and better (see above).  At which point I hope that instead of politics merely being left to rot, an active effort will be made to clear it away.

Notice how I went from non-politics back to politics again.  But then I’m an old-school geek.

Sunday May 14 2006

I have been reading Rubicon by Tom Holland, which is about the ancient Romans.  Nasty people at a nasty time, is my opinion of the ancienT Romans.

I am reading Rubicon because I thought it pretty good when I started reading it, so I continued.  This is why Rubicon, along with every other book featured there, gets four stars out of five at Amazon.  Most people only bother with books they consider excellent.  Only a few make a point of reading books they think bad so that they can complain, or because they are having a feud with the author.

Only very short books, which one can sensibly read even if one thinks them very bad, get fewer stars.  Or, I’m guessing, very famous books, which one can become opposed to without having anything directly to do with them, like the (I presume) ridiculous Da Vinci Code.  Discuss or not as you please, either with comments here, or amongst yourselves, at your own blogs.

I am not well, and I am now going to bed early.  This has been a quota post.  Thank you and goodnight.

Saturday May 13 2006

From the roof of my flat you can look out over lots of other roofs of London SW1 and surrounding areas, and beyond them, you can pick out a few of the landmarks in that part of London.  There is Parliament of course, with Big Ben, and behind that the Wheel, peaking out over the new post-modern-fascist-style slab on this side of the southern kink of Horseferry Road (1.1).  There is the distant telecom tower, with the old sixties/seventies Soviet Home Office, now vacated for something more ingratiating (1.2).  (It’s what goes on inside the Home Office that is now brutal and scary.) There is the upside down giant coffee table that is Battersea Power Station (1.3).  There is, beyond lots of other clutter, the new public bit of MI6 (1.4).

image image image image

And there is one of my favourites, though it has had very mixed reviews, the new St George Wharf flats, with their winglike roofs (2.1).  I also quite like that tower to the right of St George Wharf, because I know how much more ugly it used to be before they covered it with sexy modern tinted glass.  Plus, that tower and the winged apartments are a familiar view looking down Vauxhall Bridge Road, across the bridge, when I am wending my way home from Tescos.

Next comes Parliament and the Wheel, again, on a different day and with a different lighting director supervising (2.2).  Next is another local favourite, the tower of Westminster Cathedral, the red brick Catholic one, from where I live monstrously upstaged by a monstrosity knock-off miniature pretend Pan Am building (2.4), and you can just see also the much more tactful new shoperama at the top end of Victoria Street, with the sports car bonnet type roof (2.3).

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So far so ordinary.  Just vaguely unfamiliar angles on picture postcard material.

So, last night, when I had finished watching the test match highlights on the telly, featuring England creaming the wretched Sri Lankans under a cloudless London sky, I wondered how that cloudless sky was looking as the cloudless day was ending.  At first I snapped away at the usual vistas, but just with pinker lighting (3.1, 3.2, 3.3).  But then, . . .

image image image image

. . . (3.4) look at that!!  Yes it’s the totally unimpeded evening sun smashing one of the St George Wharf wing-topped apartment towers in the face, setting it on fire, and then blasting back right into my face!!!  Snap snap snap.  Look what all that blazing glass does to the colour of the sky!!!!

So I start playing silly photographic buggers with this extraordinary circumstance.  I do the big panoramic shot, to show you what the colour of sky was really, approximately (4.1). And then there are the best of the award-winning type photos that I took.  There is a pair of shots of the same view, but with the focussing switched (4.2, 4.3), and finally, an artful view of St George Wharf on fire, a different bit of it now because it’s ten minutes later, viewed through a satellite receiver.  And the sky has now turned entirely white!

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Notice how the matter of roof clutter has inserted itself into this little set of snaps.  There is all the clutter between my rooftop and those landmark buildings.  And then there is the clutter on the roof itself, getting itself artfully into the foreground.  Aaaah, roof clutter.  That is a story in itself, and will be the subject of further posting.  Maybe.  I promise nothing.

Friday May 12 2006

Quota photo time.

I constantly photograph the Wheel.  This snap I particularly like.  It’s the evening light that does it.  I took this in early March.


The evening light this evening was also very special.  Pix of that tomorrow, I hope.  Maybe.  I promise nothing.

Wednesday May 10 2006

The latest Brian and Antoine Election Watch podcast – our sixth, would you believe? - is up here.  You can track all the previous ones by rootling around here.

Doing these podcasts has been a learning experience, and one of the things I’ve learned only today – see Charles Pooter’s comment on the immediately previous posting – is that they apparently aren’t really podcasts.  Still some rss-ing and iPod whatnottery to be done before they evolve to that stage.  At present, says Charles, all they really are is mp3 files.  Well, okay, you have to start things going before you really know what you are about.  I do, anyway.

Another thing that has become clear is that Antoine and I are going to have to ration ourselves to fewer topics.  If all Antoine was doing was telling us about the latest news on the election front worldwide, then he could have as many topics as he liked.  But I want these things to be a conversation.  I want to chip in with questions and comments, and I want Antoine to get the chance to reply to my questions and comments, with further relevant facts and observations, thus proving what a very well informed person he is.  So, for instance, this time - in connection with Thailand, Spain and Nepal, all of which are more or less democratic monarchies - we found ourselves ruminating on the interesting role that Kings sometimes play in defending or advancing the cause of democracy, which, historically, is not how one usually thinks of Kings.  And all this in connection with circumstances which Antoine only intended to comment upon for a few seconds.  Because of that and other tangential chit-chat the conversation this time stretched out to nearly 45 minutes.  If these things are to be nearer to 30 minutes, as I think they should be, that will mean cutting down on the number of topics.  Antoine has his instructions, and if he shows up next week with six headings, two will be removed.

Meanwhile, because this one is so long, and because all of these podcasts/mp3s should really have something similar attached to them, here is a breakdown of what (roughly) we talked about this time, and (more exactly) when:

0 mins 0 secs – 1 min 0 secs: introductory remarks
1 min 0 secs – 11 mins 40 secs: UK
11 mins 40 secs – 17 mins 20 secs: Peru
17 mins 20 secs – 19 mins 30 secs: Singapore
19 mins 30 secs – 23 mins 10 secs: Thailand (the monarchy stuff, see above)
23 mins 10 secs – 34 mins 35 secs: USA (Ohio)
34 mins 35 secs – 43 mins 10 secs: France
43 mins 10 secs - 43 mins 35 secs: concluding remarks

Tuesday May 09 2006

imageSpeaking of nosh, here is a photograph of Alex Singleton, having just realised that he has mistaken the lower outside of his pie for a ceramic bowl when really it was made of pastry and he was supposed to eat that too.  This is why he was grinning like a sheep.  That, and the fact that he often grins like a sheep anyway for no particular reason, or merely because globalisation is going so well these days.

This photograph was taken in a pub, where we were celebrating having done our first podcast together, which was also the first Brian Micklethwait podcast of any kind.

Talking of podcasts: tonight, another election podcast podcast with Antoine.  And talking of elections, I thought this was rather a shrewd observation.

Do you yearn for another food blog?  Here‘s one.

Goose egg omelets anyone?

Monday May 08 2006

imageJust finished watching and listening to Sergei Khachatryan (or maybe Khachaturian? - there seems to be some confusion about how we must spell this name) playing the Shostakovich (ditto – but that seems to be the regular spelling) First Violin Concerto at last year’s Proms, on the telly.  Can’t work out when this was, originally.  But it was absolutely stunning.  What a player!  Remember that name because this guy is going to be as huge as it will be possible for a classical violinist to be during the next half century.  Totally involving.  No ego.  A perfect balance between suffering and a stoical determination not to be overwhelmed by it.  I don’t remember ever hearing this piece done better, and I’ve heard it a lot, ever since I fell in love with it in the sixties (Oistrakh/Mitropoulos I think, definitely Oistrakh.  And yes, I do think this may have been even better.)

However, part of Khachatryan’s achievement was that, dramatically speaking, he projected exactly the right feeling with his physical demeanour.  He acted the piece well, so to speak.  Maybe if I had only been listening, I wouldn’t have been so overwhelmed.  Don’t know.  I really want to get hold of this, if only to check that he really can play this well.

Oh God.  I was out late, enduring some mostly very forgettable alleged comedy, and now, at nearly 3 am, they are doing Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony, which I also adore.  I really need that digital TV recording equipment.  (I have the headphones on, and during the first movement I heard, distinctly, the basic moron noise of a mobile phone going off.)

Sunday May 07 2006

Tim Wu, at the Lessig Blog:

Jane Jacobs, the great theorist of all things urban, died recently. It had been my dream to go find her in Toronto but that will never happen. She’s obviously influential to urban planners, but I’ve found her writing tremendously helpful for thinking also about network design

If you aren’t familiar with her work, Jacobs was an enemy of bad central planning. She believed in cities that grew up in a willy-nilly, unpredictable way, allowing new buildings to gradually replace old, or be converted to new purposes. She believed the causes of urban blight were dullness, and hated housing projects, mega-blocks and other doomed efforts to make people live just so.

What Jacobs favored is letting neighborhoods be. She thought city planners ought create small roads and small blocks that worked on a human scale, and then stand back let the inhabitants decide how best to use their neighborhoods. Here thinking wasn’t quite economics or sociology, liberal or conservative, but rather a powerful attack on our constant tendancy to overestimate our own abilities to plan how people should live their lives.

The comparisons to network design should be obvious. Network designers, like say the writers of ATM, who have too specific an idea of what they want their users to do create abominable networks that imprison their users and become obsolute quickly. The more general purpose and useful the network, the more it does for society and individuals, and the better it evolves from one use to another.

I quote this because I like it, and also because of the excellent Chinglish-sounding neologistical misprint “obsolute”, in that last paragraph.  Obsolete, but absolutely, determinedly and deliberately so.

Contrast the above with this summary of Jacobs’s thinkings (featured admiringly by David Miliband at his new blog), from the New York Times:

1. streets and districts must serve more than one function,
2. blocks (presumably they mean streets) must be short,
3. buildings must vary in age and use,
4. population must be dense.

It’s the repetition of the word “must” that is so wrong.  Jacobs was not a must person.  Her basic point was that, left to themselves, people create the right sorts of places, without any musting.  The musters are the enemy of Jacobs world.

David Miliband, on the other hand, has must oozing out of every pour.  His entire world view seems to be (a) that the world must become nice, and (b) that the way for it to become nice is for him, David Miliband, and for all his equally powerful and enlightened friends, to tell people what they must and must not do.

As I say, the direct opposite of the Jacobs attitude.  I hope and pray that Milibandian musting will soon become obsolute, but I’m not holding my breath.

So on Friday evening I went out in the sunshine, and snapped Billion Monkeys.  It has been suggested that my Billion Monkey snapping habit is but an excuse to gaze at lovely ladies.  Well, it is that, partly:

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And I managed to get this posting up by midnight after all.  Click and enjoy.

I’m busy concocting one of my bathroom tile type massed photo type postings, and it’s taking rather a long time.  Call in again tomorrow.  It’s lots of ladies!

Friday May 05 2006

Just had a call from someone doing after-reconnection research into the quality of the BT reconnection I just enjoyed/endured, working for Blah Blah Blah, on behalf of BT.

Sadly however, the poor wimp doing the questioning was so hesitant and stuttery and timid and just plain quiet, and the line he seemed himself to be using was so poor, that I had to ask him to repeat every question he asked, and after about question number three, I told him I didn’t have time for this and hung up.  I am “very busy just now”.  Lie.  But better than: “The reconnection was okay, I suppose, considering it was a bank holiday and I had to wait until the Tuesday, but this telephone call is a nightmare.  You are completely hopeless at this job.  Stop doing it immediately.  Never ring me up again, about anything, ever.”

Maybe another call soon?  To ask about the quality of the after-reconnection phone research?

I have never had one of these calls asking about the quality of this or that service which did not leave me seething with rage and hatred, and more negative about the service itself than I was before the call.

It turns out that the latest BT glitch was not a BT glitch, but a BM glitch, as in Brian Micklethwait.

You see, every time Antoine and I do a podcast, I unplug the phone, and after the last one, I forgot (again) to plug it back in a again.  However, since the experience of picking up the phone was then precisely the same as it had been when there had been a genuine BT glitch, as there just had been, I jumped to the conclusion that the BT glitch had returned.  This afternoon, for some reason, enlightenment struck and I checked the plugged-inness of my phone and found it unplugged.  So I plugged it back in.  And all is now well.

Now I know how it feels when the smartarse person at the other end of the phone says: “Are you sure it’s plugged in?” and, just to humour him, you check it, and it isn’t.

Wednesday May 03 2006

Phone problems.  Again.

Yesterday at 9 am, which was a day later than promised but there you go, they’d probably forgotten about the bank holiday, a bloke rang up from “Somethingorother on behalf of BT” saying that my phone was now working.  Which it had to be otherwise he would not have got through.

But now, a day later, it is off again.  Once again, my www connection is unaffected.

I rang on my mobile the number (0800 800151) that Directory Enquiries gave me the previous time to ring, to report the fault.  The usual hell by “if you have blah blah press one if you want blip blip press two” rigmarole.  Last time I got this wrong and was able to speak to a human.  This time, I typed my number in properly.  Mistake.  The rigmarole continued, culminating in the claim that all was well, when very clearly it is not.  Then my mobile reported itself nearly out of money.

So: friends, Londoners, some countrymen, you can’t borrow my ears.  Again.

What is going on?

I heard during the last few days, somehow, somewhere, that BT are doing some upgrading of internet connections.  Might that be something to do with it?

I am now going to see if I can get any sense out of this.  I hate-hate-HATE-HATE interactive websites, where I have to type in lots of vital info to no purpose other than for Russian gangsters to steal it.  I prefer shops, and talking to humans.

I know, I sound like a Grumpy Old Man.  And that’s another thing, in the latest series of Grumpy Old Men, the alleged grumpy old men, who were never very old to start with, are now not grumpy either.  Nigel Havers is the least grumpy man ever, and is ageless.  Desmond Lynam is oldish but not grumpy, merely smug.  Useless bastards.

The latest Election Watch podcast is up here.

This time we covered a lot of ground, and maybe rather too much.  We started out wanting to focus on France (the so-called Clearstream affair - Instapundit linked to that also which must be why it was hit number one when I googled “Clearstream"), USA (the Ohio primaries), UK (local council elections), and a report on Failed States.  Trouble is, we also included references to Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Brazil and Singapore, and some of those discussion also went on a bit.  But no matter.  We’re learning, and neither I nor Antoine show any signs of flagging.  Plus, the processing/uploading process is becoming steadily more familiar to me.

After we’d finished, I asked Antoine to consider writing something about our podcasting efforts at his Election Watch blog.  What have we learned?  What are the surprises?  That kind of thing.

I promised that I’d try to do the same, and here are a few thoughts along these lines.

From where I sit, one of the things I have learned is just how nasty democracy can be, as a way of doing things and deciding things.  Better than civil war, of course, but a satisfactory substitute for civil war because it manages to resemble it in so many ways.

Consider the savaging that the current British government has been getting at the hands of the British Press during the last week.  I am no supporter of this government, but I believe that what we are witnessing is the Powers That Be trying to finish off a government that they have ceased to have a use for.  The British journos have known what a ghastly old goat John Prescott is for at least a decade.  So why does it only come out now?  There has been plenty of incompetence on the immigration and crime fronts.  Why, now, does that suddenly matter?  The public sector trade unions have hated the government’s “reforms” of the public sector (basically bludgeoning them into submission by threatening to take away their contracts and giving them to other “private sector” operators) ever since they began.  So why, suddenly, is this a problem?  Okay, these New Labour people have left themselves vulnerable to a press gang-banging, by allowing themselves to be sold as people who know how to manipulate the press at will, which was foolish.  But why, now, have the dogs suddenly been unleashed upon them?

Presumably the people who decide these things now want Mr Cameron to take over.  But again, why?  A story I heard, from a friend who works in the financial services industry, was that about two years ago Gordon Brown had a plan to subject the City of London to some particularly tiresome regulatory control.  Something to do with insurance.  The City begged Gordon Brown not to do it.  But he insisted.  So, wearily, they settled down to try to make the new regulations work.  That’s politics, what can you do? etc..  But then, all of a sudden, and just when the City Folks were getting the hang of the new regime, Brown changed his mind and decided to scrap the new regulations.  At which point, the City emitted a collective yelp of rage and decided that they had had it up to here with these fucking people, and they put the word out.  Get rid of them.  Toast them.  Hang them with piano wire.

Well, maybe.  Whatever the reason, about last September or October, the British Press turned against the Blair regime, and began a campaign of vilification which was clearly timed to reach its first climax with these elections that are just now approaching.  Which it duly did during the last week.

Seriously, Antoine and I were talking about these same local elections last Tuesday, and the biggest worry then for the government was merely that the BNP might do rather well.  Then, on the very day that I posted our conversation, on Wednesday 26th, the shit hit the fan, and has been stuck to it and thrown about by it ever since.  Coincidence?  Nothing to do with the elections?  Come on.

Now I do not seriously suggest that we here in Britain should do away with the democratic process.  Like I say, it is better than civil war.  Much better.  But, we pay a hell of a price for it, in general nastiness.  And this, don’t forget, is in the “successful” states.

Everywhere Antoine and I look in the world, we seem to see the same pattern repeating itself.  Elections, accompanied by nastiness of every kind you can think of.  To look no further than France, what’s going on there is that two of the country’s major politicians (Chirac and de Villepin) have tried to shaft another (Sarkozy), by hitting him with forged documents which said he had been salting money away in a bank.  (Called Clearstream, hence the name of the scandal.)

The really serious point is that there are surely some parts of the world where the nastiness caused by the electoral process may be even worse than the nastiness that elections are supposed to replace.  More about that in future postings, I promise.  (I know, not like me to promise anything.  But I really do, on this particular subject.)

As a libertarian, I have tended not to bother with democratic politics.  Just too, too ghastly, don’t you know.  But talking about it every week with Antoine, the way I have been, has really rubbed my nose in what a truly frightful business it can be.

There’s lots more I could say, of a sort that has been provoked by these podcasts of ours, but that will surely suffice for now.

Tuesday May 02 2006

The late Chris Tame, founder and supremo of this, regarded blogging as ephemeral and pointless.  But I think that the better blog postings have a way of sticking around.  I don’t know if it qualifies as an example, but I was chuffed to visit Freedom and Whisky just now and find a posting which linked back to an old posting of mine at the ASI Blog, almost a year old!  Take that, the late Chris Tame!

David Farrer (F&W’s writer) mentions this posting in a preamble to writing fondly about how J. K. Galbraith set him on the path to pro-capitalism.  DF’s point being, as was mine, that propaganda can often have very different effects to those intended.

My fondest memory of J. K. Galbraith will always be one of his famous slogans, the one about “private affluence and public squalour”.  How very true this is!  Obvious answer: expand the affluent private sector and contract the squalid public sector.  The idea that “private affluence and public squalour” should make us all want to expand the squalid bit is crazy.  Which Galbraith was.

Samizdata has had particular fun stamping on the grave of this arrogant, stupid, intellectually corrupt old gasbag, and I was going to supply some links to all that, but I can’t reach Samizdata just now.  Don’t know why not, but what with the W&F linking glitch it is probably me.  Meanwhile, this ASI Blog posting, quoting some of Galbraith’s ravings about the USSR, appropriately dated 1984, is particularly choice.

See also this at the GI Blog, which links to this bit of radio (which was surely not what the BBC intended).

I wonder how many people I have turned into despotic socialists.  Not many, I hope.

One of the more stylish recent additions to London in general and the Thames River in London in particular is (are) the twin footbridges now attached on either side of the old Hungerford Railway Bridge.

At first I didn’t like them.  The spikes seemed to me to stick up at odd angles.  But now I like these bridges a lot, especially given how ugly the unadorned railway bridge used to be, and how disgusting the footpath attached to it used to be.  The new bridges suggest that the spikes actually hold up the old bridge - a nice structural pun, I think.

I have taken many photos of and on these bridges, of which this one, taken from the balcony of the Royal Festival Hall about a year ago is one of my favourites.


You can’t enjoy this particular view at present, because the RFH is being refurbished.

Let’s hope the RFH acoustics will be improved.  They can’t get any worse.

I’ve just done a Samizdata posting about this man, and here is one of my favourites of his pictures:


I hope I have not misunderstood the phrase “Image copyright Gary Musselman”, and that it merely means that I may not sell these images or do business with them or claim them as my property, but not that reproducing them on another blog is forbidden.

I hope Gary Musselman is able to keep them coming, and that he will feel neither distracted nor pressurised to overproduce, as a result of all this blogo-drama.

UPDATE: I’m now starting to think that this one is the most special.