Brian Micklethwait's Blog

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

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Monday October 30 2006

Yesterday I happened to switch on BBC Radio 3’s Private Passions show (doesn’t Michael Berkeley’s hair look strange?), which is Desert Island Discs for slightly more artistically elevated persons than they tend to have, and with rather more of the actual music.  Most guests take the chance to play slightly off-the-beaten-track music.  Why play stuff which most of those listening will already know? 

imageYesterday, I started listening at the point when “award winning Irish writer Colm Toibin” (Radio Times) was talking rhapsodically about the Irish composer Frederick May (1911-1985 - picture on the right), and saying what hell on earth it was being a classical composer in De Valera’s Ireland.  He’d have done better in Stalin’s Russia, said Toibin, which I think would have been a bit of a gamble.  Anyway, they then played a movement of his one and only string quartet, his best work, apparently.  It was very nice.  Maybe Naxos, having issued it and then deleted it as a Marco Polo nearly full pricer, will reissue it on bog standard Naxos.  Frederick May looks a bit like an old Quentin Tarantino, I think.  More from Naxos about May here.  Like Vaughan Williams, who taught him, May made much of folk music, in his case Irish folk music.

Meanwhile, if I subscribed to the Naxos website, I could just play it on my computer.  Like the man says, soon there’ll be no such thing as a deleted album.

My current computer speakers are crap.  Cheaply plastic and cheaply plastic sounding, with no facility to moderate the treble.  Maybe the time has come to get better ones.  Will that make a big difference?  I’m guessing: yes.  I now have room for such speakers, what with me now having a flat computer screen and a space where the bulge at the back used to be.

Anyway, this is just me telling myself not to forget about Frederick May’s string quartet.

Well, quite dangerous.

Incoming:

To Brian Micklethwait,

As a reader of your blog, I think it would be wonderful if you could publicize this very important and quite dangerous development.  The press in France is not only an instrument of the government and leftish PC thought, but it apparently considers itself beyond criticism, and is willing to use the legal system to silence and punish anyone who dares criticize the press itself.

France 2 and Charles Enderlin are suing private citizens for defamation for calling them liars online.

France 2’s outrageous assault on the right to free speech in France, which barely exists at this point (if it ever did exist; the conviction of Emile Zola in the Dreyfus Affair is a typical precedent), appears to be ongoing and very successful.

I was in Paris for recently writing about this.  Here are my first three posts; there will be more coming:

http://neo-neocon.blogspot.com/2006/10/im-off-to-palais-de-justice.html

http://neo-neocon.blogspot.com/2006/10/facade-encountering-palais-de-justice.html

http://neo-neocon.blogspot.com/2006/10/behind-facade-of-justice-french.html

Thanks!

Neo-neocon

Access over 1 million songs - Yahoo! Music Unlimited Try it today.

I have added neo-neocon to the blogroll.

On Saturday afternoon, I spotted this vehicle outside Sainsbury’s in Wilton Road:

image

Click to get it bigger, i.e. so you can read what it says on the side.  When I did that, and googled it, I immediately got to this blog.

I can’t immediately tell if this is a proper blog or an evil pseudo-blog written by evil advertising copywriters.  This posting has an air of genuineness about it, being about the apples they use for their apple juice.  I presume.  Or “smoothies”, whatever they are.  So, I suspect: a proper blog.

Adriana or Jackie D would be able to tell at once.

More about their vehicles here.

Sunday October 29 2006

imageCute jewelry, etc., done from computer bits.  (Via gizmodo.  I really like this kind of thing, even though I am not a jewelry wearer myself.

Gizmodo and engadget are two regular visiting places even though about half the kit is way beyond me, seeming to consist of meaningless small hand-held TV screens displaying . . . who knows what?

On the other hand, I love reading short bits about things like this super-duper computer for spaceships, or this Japanese robot for inspecting under the floor, a cross between a miniature movie camera and a miniature tank, or these LED car headlights.  The good news is that about half a dozen gadgets seem to go up at these places every day.  I wouldn’t want to spend my whole day, or even my whole breakfast time, reading about such stuff, but a few minutes of it every day is a most pleasing tonic.

Which reminds me, I need to do another of those ain’t-capitalism-great? postings over at Samizdata, illustrated with a particularly sexy gadget found at engadget or gizmodo.

Ideologist are relentlessly prone to misery.  It goes like this: (a): This is how the world should be!  Hurrah!  (b) Oh dear, it’s not like it should be!  Woe!  (c):  It’s getting less like it should be every day!  Woe woe!! (d): Only we can see this!  All others are happy, and deceived!!!  Woe woe woe!!!  (e) (when someone like me tells them to lighten up): Only I and I alone can see it!  All (you) others are fools, fools I tell you! Woe woe woe woe!!! (f) (g) (h) etc.:  Etcetera.  Getting ever more woeful and woebegone.

Cheer up mate.  Buy yourself a pair of keyboard cufflinks.

Saturday October 28 2006

imageI went out for a drink with Elena the Struggling Actress this evening, just when I had pencilled in to do some proper blogging for you people.

Elena the Struggling Actress is just now struggling to make the most of an acting course that she is doing.  In the course of describing this course, and her ambitions as an actress, she said, very seriously:

“I need to become a well-oiled machine.”

My mind boggled, in ways that I choose not to describe.

Later, I took a picture of Elena the Struggling Actress.  Behind Elena the Struggling Actress is a broken window, broken in the manner of a car windscreen.  At first I tried photo-ing Elena the Struggling Actress through the window, but that didn’t work.  All I got was window.  Click to get the picture bigger.

Friday October 27 2006

Okay this posting is just going to be lots of links, to interesting postings and writings by others, which it is extremely unlikely that you will have read all of, and which only have in common one thing, which is that I like them, or in one way or another found them of interest.  I don’t necessarily agree with everything linked to.

I don’t know where the urge came from to do this, but here goes, in no particular order . . .

The TaxPayers’ Alliance explains why taxcutter critics of David Cameron are wrong about how to argue for tax cuts.  You might have expected the TPA to lead the charge against Cameron on this.  Not so.

The Brazen Careerist dresses for promotion.

A. M. Mora y Leon reports – during and after (i.e. with the result: yes - 78-22 percent) – on the Panama Canal widening referendum.  Great pictures, and a good map.

Squander Two’s posting about how the NHS kills diabetics is getting a lot of attention in my corner of the blogosphere.  Don’t you miss it.

From a bit of a while ago, but short, illuminating and illustrated, is Alice Bachini-Smith’s explanation of why the Gaping Void man is doing so well.

Also illustrated and even shorter, Mark Holland: Whoops.

Jeffrey Archar (well he spelt her Hedda “Gablar") preferred A Moon for the Misbegotten to Spamalot, which he doesn’t get.  He probably does get a lot of spam.  Eve Best, he says, is the new Judi Dench.  I reckon, whenever anybody is described as the new Somebody Else Older and Better, that (a) the new Somebody Else Older And Better is doomed to fizzle out, and that (b) what you really want to be is the first You.

I’ve already linked to these Japan train station adverts from Transport Blog, but go see them if you’ve not done that yet.  Lots of photos.  Now that adverts are being chased out of our homes by new technology that skips past them on the telly, or just never alllows them in in the first place, advertisers are more and more on the lookout for captive audiences, and there is no audience more captive than a station-load of scarcely-if-at-all mobile commuters.

This would have been my Samizdata quote of the day, had the spot not already been taken:

“When he is interviewed by the Metropolitan Police, what innocent explanation will he offer for the fact that 80p in every £1 donated to the Labour Party came from people who were subsequently honoured?”

Great photo of Conservative front benchers in full cry.

Long Tail man Anderson explains how there will soon no longer be such a thing as a deleted album.

Did you miss Perry de Havilland’s classic Samizdata posting just after getting back from hospital last week?  If so, here‘s your chance to correct that.

London Daily Photo is always worth a look, especially today.  I greatly prefer London Dailly Photo to a lot of the other Daily Photo blogs.  Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner.

Johan Norberg reports on the encouraging progress of Capitalism in the Caucusus, Georgia to be exact.  The entire Johan Norberg site has suddenly stopped working for me, displaying no text at all, no matter what link I press.  (To get from the regular blog to the particular posting about Georgia, it insolently demanded to make changes to my “registry”, which I refused, and it has now gone on total strike, apparently permanently, main blog and all.  Bye bye Johan.) But maybe that link still works for you.  If not, the news is: Capitalism in the Caucusus is making encouraging progress, even if Johan Norberg’s blog is doing less well, according to my experience.  (UPDATE: Hello Johan!  It all seems to be working again!)

Amit Varma links to and quotes Michel Houellebecq in the Guardian, saying:

Life is painful and disappointing. It is useless, therefore, to write new, realistic novels. We generally know where we stand in relation to reality and don’t care to know any more.

Michael Anissimov foresees a nuclear reactor in every home.  Using thorium, apparently, whatever that is.  The countries with the most thorium are, starting from the top: India, Australia, Norway, USA, Canada, South Africa, Brazil.  A rather attractive list.

Matthew Parris hates the marketing-speak word challenge, as in “sorry we can’t do that”.  He also notes that when public spending is being increased it is called “investment”, but when public investment is being cut, it is called “spending”.

And if you want more links, remember that whenever Michael Blowhard entitles a posting Elsewhere, more links is what you’ll get in abundance.

Thursday October 26 2006

Last night I linked to this review, of some Chopin playing by the late Ronald Smith.  Smith is best known as an interpreter of the music of the highly eccentric Charles Valentin Alkan, and the gist of that review is that Smith plays Chopin with similar eccentricity and that this only sometimes suits the music but mostly does not.

Yet I am enjoying this double album, partly because it is rather oddly played.  Basically, Smith keeps me waiting for certain notes, for no obvious reason and in no way that I can predict.

Different recordings, even seriously badly different recordings, are often very revealing.  They can highlight particular orchestral parts, for instance.  But mostly, by just being different, they can make you listen to the piece, in the time honoured phrase, “as if for the first time”.  Simply, you do not know what the hell will happen next.  And that’s good.

If you know these Chopin Mazurkas well and have settled ideas about how they should be played, you probably won’t like these Smith/Chopin CDs.  But I don’t and I don’t and I do.  The danger of Chopin listening is that it will all sink back into a chocolate box haze of charmingness.  With Smith at the keyboard, there is less haze.  I listen to the notes.

Did you know that the opening phrases of Chopin’s Mazurka Opus 6 Number 2 in C sharp minor - I’ve been listening to this - are strikingly similar in their harmonies to Flip The Switch by the Rolling Stones.  Well, they are.

Ah, what charming lyrics.  But what are they about?  Euthanasia?  The next heroin injection?  Cryogenics?

I’m not gonna burn in hell
I cased the joint
And I know it well
Maybe my carcass
Would feed the worms
But I’m working for the other firm

Here‘s Jagger explaining:

“It’s a very strange lyric, really, about death and about madness and criminality and so on. Quite heavy stuff, really, but it’s a good one. It’s an excellent one to start a record with.”

Are we clear?  (By the way if you follow that link you only get to lots of songs beginning with F.  The individual link to Flip the Switch doesn’t work.  Not in Internet Explorer, anyway.)

The version of Flip The Switch on the album Bridges to Babylon is a mere shadow of the live version, which is sensationally good, on the live DVD of the Bridges to Babylon tour concert, even if I can’t make head nor tail of the damn words.

So when Johnny of Los Angeles CA says:

A pretty bad Stones song. Just doesn’t have any feeling to it. Just seems of the assessmbly line.

... he’s probably talking about the album track.  Don’t knock things that are “of” the Stones “assessmbly” line, Johnny, of Los Angeles CA.  They just had a bad day. Try the DVD mate.  Or: Johnny of Los Angeles CA is an illiterate tasteless brain dead moron and someone should flip his switch.

Question: who wrote this?

I’m a sergeant in the U.S. Army on a human intelligence collection team. I interact with Iraqis on a daily basis and I help put together the intel picture for our area of operations. I have contacts with friends, who are also in my job, in every area of operations in the Fourth Infantry Division footprint, and through our crosstalk I’d say I have a pretty damn good idea of what’s going on in and around Baghdad on a micro and intermediary level.

I wrote heavily in favor of this war before I enlisted myself, and I still maintain that going into Iraq was not only the necessary thing to do, but the right thing to do as well.

And who, on the other hand, wrote this?

The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) - a joint term referring to Iraqi army and Iraqi police - are so rife with corruption, insurgent sympathies and Shia militia members that they have zero effectiveness. Two Iraqi police brigades in Baghdad have been disbanded recently, and the general sentiment in our field is “Why stop there?” I can’t tell you how many roadside bombs have been detonated against American forces within sight of ISF checkpoints. Faith in the Iraqi army is only slightly more justified than faith in the police--but even there, the problems of tribal loyalties, desertion, insufficient training, low morale and a failure to properly indoctrinate their soldiers results in a substandard, ineffective military. A lot of the problems are directly related to Arab culture, which traditionally doesn’t see nepotism and graft as serious sins. Changing that is going to require a lot more than “benchmarks.”

In Shia areas, the militias hold the real control of the city. They have infiltrated, co-opted or intimidated into submission the local police. They are expanding their territories, restricting freedom of movement for Sunnis, forcing mass migrations, spiking ethnic tensions, not to mention the murderous checkpoints, all while U.S. forces do ... nothing.

Same guy!

His view is: current policy in Iraq is failing dismally, but we can’t cut and run.  Instead, the US should commit half a million men for a decade.

One thing this chap does confirm is that the policy of just “training more police and soldiers” in Iraq is not just not working, it is pouring flames on the fire of civil war.  The US is now busily training both sides.

And us Brits of course.

I want one day to do a huge essay on the “War on Terror”, etc., for public consumption at Samizdata, or some such place.  (Don’t we all?) But I want to precede it by thinking it through out loud here, but privately, you might say.

Much of the strangeness of the atmosphere re Iraq now is that, as I see it, neither big political team, Pro- or Anti-, foresaw what has actually happened.  The Antis predicted that the military preliminaries would be a disaster, but they weren’t.  They were a cake walk.  Few walks, militarily speaking, have been caker.  And although the Antis foresaw trouble, they foresaw mostly opposition to the Hated Foreigners, not civil war.  But the Pros did not foresee civil war either.  They foresaw a potentially difficult, hopefully easy (as it was), military operation, followed by a brisk and cheerful imposition of democracy.  Okay, maybe not that brisk and cheerful, but more brisk and cheerful than has happened.  They certainly weren’t talking half a million men for a decade.

This seems to me to be the crux of the argument, from another emailer to James Taranto:

It’s always a mistake to see the world as it is today and mistakenly compare it with the world as it was on a day in the past. It’s harder to do, but infinitely more useful, to try to compare today’s situation with that in which we’d find ourselves if we had done nothing.

But if the first guy is right, things are about to get a lot worse, because I can’t see the USA committing half a million men for a decade, and, actually, nor can he.

For me, the crux of this whole thing is that Western Public Opinion is now insufficiently clarified to be the basis of any really difficult policies, like sustaining the current Iraq venture.  Things have to get a lot scarier before the West will unite against its foes, instead of doing what it usually does, namely quarrelling amongst itself.

But if things do get much worse, then by definition, Western Public Opinion will be much less concerned about sneering at the Other Bastards in its own countries, and at the Americans, and genuinely terrified about what the Pesky Muslims might do next.  In this respect, the parallel with Hitler and the process of seeing him off is rather helpful.  British public opinion in 1935 wasn’t able to support throttling Hitler.  Just wait for him to calm down, was their attitude.  By 1940, after Britain had been well and truly scared, the Brits were ready to inflict any horror that their leaders could contrive.

I just hope the Pesky Muslims understand this distinction, but I fear that they do not.  Because if and when the Pesky Muslims ever do succeed in uniting Western Public Opinion, against them, they’d better look out.

But meanwhile, there is no such Western Unity, and there’s no point moaning about this.  Disunity is what The West specialises in.

This “Pesky Muslims” phrase has stuck in my mind.  It was used by my host, a retired journalist, during my recent stay in Brittany.  I like the phrase.  It leaves entirely open just who the “Pesky” Muslims are, and just how Pesky they may or may not be.  There is an air of self-mockery about the phrase, an implication that this may all be a fuss about nothing, that I really like.

Wednesday October 25 2006

My “have strange blogs on my blogroll” policy hit the jackpot this evening when I visited Andrew’s Photoblog, which I admit I only do now and again.

Andrew has a photo there of a work of art.

The work of art is not a proper work of art, but Modern Art art, in which (a) a girl sleeps in a bed which (b) the viewers are then supposed to view with shock and awe.  Wow.  A girl in a bed.  Makes the whole world seem different, somehow.  Take that, capitalist imperialist patriarchy!

The concept is that medicine, in this case sleeping pills, have been used to change a human’s natural state in an attempt to create beauty.

The usual stale old Modern Art bullshit, in other words.  So far so ordinary.

But Andrew’s photo is of a bloke sitting on the bed, having his photo taken.

Posing in front of works of art - especially works of architectural art of course - and being photoed is not unusual.  This is regular Billion Monkey behaviour.  But you don’t so often see someone sitting on an Art bed, and being photoed.  Best of all is that there is a lady guarding this bed from Untoward Interference, who has stood up and is saying: No!  You Can’t Sit On The Bed And Be Photoed!

Why not?  It’s not as if there is anything special about the bed.  It’s a totally ordinary bed, bought in a shop.  Being photoed sitting on the bed is no sillier than the bed and the person sleeping on it being presented as Art.  In fact, I would say, rather more sensible.

What I like about this event is that usually the Artists see themselves as in charge of all the subverting and redefining, of all the making you see things differently, blah blah.  Yet here, someone else is rather subtly changing what they are doing, not by yelling at the thing or by damaging it, but by turning their stupid As Found Art into a good excuse for a personal Billion Monkey snap, and the Artists are the ones responding like outraged Daily Mail readers. 

I share Andrew’s amusement, and congratulate him on a fine Billion Monkey photo, even though, unlike with the best Billion Monkey shots, he has to explain what is happening for us to really enjoy it.

Tuesday October 24 2006

I was going to put up this picture of an A380 Airbus, the one that’s been so dreadfully delayed, at Transport Blog.  But it turns out that I am not allowed to put pictures up there.  Not yet, anyway.  So, I put it here:

image

Click all you want, but this one won’t get any bigger.  The window, of a travel agency in Quimper, is very grubby, and bigger would just make that all the more obvious.

Monday October 23 2006

I am very unhappy.  I have another belly ache, of the sort which makes lying down even more uncomfortable than pacing about groaning.  The best cure for my condition is time, preferably time spent sleeping.  But to sleep, I have to lie down.  Groan.

So do not expect much else in the way of blogging here today.

I thought this had gone away, but I celebrated by eating “normally” again, and I now know that normally won’t do any more.  Groan.

As I get older, old expressions suddenly make new sense.  For some time now I have understood the phrase “under the weather”, which I did not when younger.  Now I know better what is meant by “not having the stomach for” this or that.  Groan.

In this condition, I am like a baby, in that emissions of gas are a source not of social embarrassment but of celebration.  Groan.

Also, I now know where the obsession with “healthy eating” products comes from.  People like the kind of person I have now become.  Trouble is, the food I ate last night was all very healthy stuff.  I just had too much of it.  Groan.

I know what you’re thinking.  Groan.

Transport Blog is back in business, and I celebrate, and avoid more onerous blogging, by posting two transport pictures here.

First, a duck, in water, which I snapped earlier this summer.  You often see these ducks waddling about on dry land, but less often, for some reason, in what should be their natural element:

image

And second, another tourist shifting machine, this time a pretend train.

image

I snapped this pretty little contraption in the city of Quimper, in Brittany, where I stayed for a week last month.

Click to get them bigger.

Saturday October 21 2006

Earlier today I did something very strange.  I pretended to be a bad manager.  Well, I am a bad manager, I expect.  I’ve seldom tried to manage anything beyond my own activities.  But I was acting a bad manager, in front of a video camera.

Richard the Radio Producer (who also runs this - I am, fingers crossed, to be the ideal husband in An Ideal Husband) is trying to get a contract in China to make training videos, to train middling rank hotel managers.  The technique he is trying to sell is to show the trainees some video of bad managers in action, with abusive captions.  And then they make videos, with themselves starring, of what good managers do.

So there I was, despising the person I was talking to, being vague, abusive, dismissive, uninterested, generally Basil-Fawlty-ing away as hideously and nastily as I could ... manage.

It was all based on the very well-known book series called The One Minute Manager with me doing the opposite of all this.

One Minute Managers emphasise and negotiate clear goals. Me: “Goals?  Goals?!?  We’re not playing football!  I tell you what to do, you do it.  So, clean.  No need to write that down.  You know how to clean, don’t you?”

One Minute Managers emphasise praise, for specific good actions, immediately after they’ve been done.  Me: “That cleaning you did last month, or whenever it was.  It was good, apparently.  Ooh, that’s a nice printer.” (That last thing I said for real.  We did all this in a big office full of computing kit of all imaginable kinds, and one particular bit of kit looked especially good.  But the camera was permanently running, and Richard said this off-the-cuff remark of mine was particularly good for communicating my deep lack of concern for the individual.)

One Minute Managers reprimand, again specifically and immediately, reprimanding the sin not the sinner.  Me: “You’re a rotten cleaner.  Didn’t your stupid mother teach you to clean?  There are plenty of other idiots who could do your stupid job.”

One Minute Managers emphasise respect for the person praised or reprimanded, with physical contact to emphasise that the manager is on his side.  Me: “Off you go, and no don’t shake hands with me, you’re dirty from all that cleaning.” Pause.  “Oh, are you still here?”

What a bastard I was.  After about half an hour of filming Richard reckoned he had enough bastardry to make a really nasty vid to show his Chinese customers.  If he gets the contract, I may have to go back to do more, at which point I may even get paid.  As it was, no money, but what the hell, the whole thing only took about an hour and it was interesting.

Here’s a picture of Richard, his cute Sony vid-camera (costing about £1,100 in GB, more like £700 where he bought it, in China), and his partner Zou (pronounced “Zoo") who is from Shanghai.

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I asked Zou: How is Shanghai pronounced?  “Shang high”, he said, i.e. as we already pronounce it.  A small mercy to be thankful for.

If all proceeds as Richard and Zou hope, I may end up learning things that will be of use to me at the Globalisation Institute blog, where my latest effort, about tomorrow’s intriguing Panama Canal widening referendum, is now up.

Friday October 20 2006

The thing that separates Billion Money type photography from the old kind is that with Billion Monkey photography you get instant information about how well you did, and you can delete rubbish immediately!  Certainly as soon as you get your snaps onto your personal computer.  No more trips to the chemist to see how badly you did, at goodness knows how many pence per failure!

And if I had to choose just one type of Billion Monkey shot to show the world just how great being a Billion Monkey can be, it would be not the shots of the shot actually being taken, but the shots that come immediately after the shots of the shot, namely the shots where the Billion Monkeys look to see how well they did.

When Billion Monkeys look at what they’ve just snapped, they stand still!

When Billion Monkeys look at what they’ve just snapped, they frequently assemble themselves into spontaneous groups, with their heads close together in a way that the photographer of a group often has to beg for, and which therefore often ends up looking fake and stupid.  But Billion Monkeys put their heads together automatically!  They often remind me of those ludicrous USSR propaganda shots of workers excitedly reading Bullshit Weekly and getting Very Excited about the Latest Tractor Production statistics, on pain of death if they don’t look happy enough.  Only, Billion Monkeys are happy for real!

The word “chimping” is sometimes used by pointless people to complain about the pleasure that Billion Monkeys get when they look at their recently taken snaps, especially when the Billion Monkeys in question give audible form to their Billion Monkey happiness.  And whereas “Billion Monkeys” is not intended to be in any way a disrespectful phrase – I am myself a Billion Monkey and proud of it! - “chimping” is definitely intended to be derogatory.

Other people having a good time!  How terrible!

In the end, it’s the sheer happiness that I love about so many of these pictures.  Not everyone is happy, and when they are happy they are often happy-absorbed rather than happy-laugh-out-loud.  Often, our Billion Monkey is thoughtful, or doubtful, or even rather horrified.  But even when they’re horrified, they’re basically happy.  Happy because, you know, ha ha!  And when they are merely disappointed, it can be instantly junked.  So, typically, he, she, they, is, are, happy!  Happy, happy, happy!  And what’s wrong with that?  They either got the exact snap they wanted, or can do another to get it, and then they have a memory to treasure for a lifetime.

Not that everyone here is completely happy.  Sometimes the Billion Monkeys have with them mere people, who perhaps wish that they could just, you know, look at things, instead of always be photo-ing them.  (See for instance the first snap of all.) This is why I do all my own serious Billion Monkeying on my own.  (The other trick is, when you are with someone else, have a spare camera, and lend it to them.  That can work.)

So anyway, browse through some of my favourite Billion Monkey instant feedback shots, by clicking at will on this mosaic of seventy seven Billion Monkey photos, of about twice that number of Billion Monkeys, (almost) all of them very happy.

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I’d be slightly less contemptuous of the mainstream media and of their protestations of moral superiority over mere bloggers if I didn’t regularly come across things like this (see second paragraph):

… I’ve always been very careful about pronouns. Then I discovered that for the previous six months some malicious Fleet Street sub-editor at the Daily Telegraph, in my more contemptuously hectoring surveys of the London scene, had been taking out every dismissive “you British” and replacing it with “we.”

I still mutter to myself with rage when I think about the last mainstream media article I wrote, for the Sunday Times over four years ago now, which I had to fisk in Samizdata to correct all the editorial derangements.

The worst offenders are the headline writers, who regularly put headlines on top of stories which alone - never mind the actual truth - make nonsense of the drivel stuck on top of them.  And then ignorant people blame the writer for the stupid “title”, over which he had no control and would vehemently have objected to.

I actually don’t think that that DT sub-editor was being malicious.  That would suggest some kind of individual animus against Steyn, by a person who was thinking for himself.  No, this tosser just thought he was doing his job, and as far as all those around and above him were concerned, he was.  In this case, he just thought it would read better if he changed it to something else, and that it would be more, I don’t know, dignified, less abusively tabloid if he changed “you British” into “we”.

In other words, there is, in the mainstream media and most particularly among mainstream media editors and sub-editors, not just the occasional regrettable lapse into falsification – there is a culture of falsification, in among other more admirable things like a culture of correcting spelling mistakes.

In the unlikely event that one of these creatures were to read this and to feel the urge to respond, he would, I believe, respond in three ways simultaneously.  In no particular order, he would deny it, he would try to justify it, and he would assert his right to do the unjustifiable.  We don’t do it, we only do it because ... , and anyway we’re entitled!  Parents of small children will be familiar with this argumentative method.

We never do it and when we do it’s because you bloody writers don’t know how to write interesting stories!  We give the public what they want!  You fuckers would nuance your damn stories up your arses, if it wasn’t for us.  We nail what’s exciting in the thing, and if the thing itself isn’t exciting, we make it exciting!  Hurrah for us!  Anyway, don’t you believe in the freedom of the press?

See also this earlier posting here, which quotes Guido saying why he doesn’t do press interviews any more - “You will be edited to fit the narrative” – and also this one, about a particularly idiotic headline I spotted last June.

I do believe in the freedom of the press, to falsify their articles and to publish arsehole headlines on top of them, and to generally shovel forth whatever rubbish they want to shovel forth.  And I believe in my freedom to call the rubbish that results rubbish.

My argumentative method, on the other hand, is to invent the argument of my imaginary opponent, and then disagree.  I believe Germaine Greer got a bit of a roasting for doing this recently.  Link anyone?

UPDATE Friday midday: Another mainstream media error.

Every week I now write (for money, you understand) a bit for this blog, about intellectual property.  And every week I struggle to make sense of it all.  Usually I fail.  Thank goodness for links.  At least I am able to include worthwhile things, in the form of links to worthwhile things, in my bloggage.  It was like that last night, when I agonisedly concocted my latest concoction, in which I actually made confusion the basis of my posting.  I will link to this from this when it’s up.

How I miss the days when arguing about property meant choosing between the economically progressive and the economically cretinous, between the creative and the destructive, between freedom and tyranny, between, to be blunt about it, good and evil.  The economics I was taught at university all hinged on the scarcity of goods and services.  But in the age of instant copying, nothing copyable is scarce any more and the clear distinctions between what is obviously right and obviously stupid disappear.  Or, they do for me.

One day, they will invent a three dimensional copier.  You will fill a thing like a microwave oven with magic toner powder (or in the case of bigger objects a thing like a fridge or a thing like a room or a thing like a giant warehouse), and then press COPY.  And out will come a chocolate bar, or a piece of sculpture, or a jar of mango chutney (or a car or a airplane or a spaceship).  They’ll start with sculpture, because making something look like chocolate will be a whole lot easier than making something taste like chocolate.  Then small spare parts for machines.  But eventually: everything.  Beam me up, Scotty.

At which point, arguments about everything will become like arguments about intellectual property now.

Any comments (comments here have been good lately - thanks everybody) about intellectual property, copyright, patents, etc., will be most welcome.  They are bound to be more coherent than my collected ramblings on the subject.

Feel free to copy all this onto your blog if you think it’s good, putting your name at the bottom of it.  Or then again, if you do that, I might sue you, you thieving bastard.  Who can say?

Thursday October 19 2006

Earlier this week my friend Sean the Soldier (no relation of Sean Gabb) dropped by.  He has been in Sierra Leone, and has had a camera with him.  I helped him buy this, and he has returned the favour by letting me pick out some of his best Sierra Leone photos to show to you people.  Although, not all of them are by him.

In Sierra Leone, so Sean tells me, they like having their photos taken.  None of this don’t steal my soul stuff!  Here, by way of proof, are some pictures of Sierra Leonean headgear, otherwise known as the freight transport system:

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I seem to recall doing a posting some while ago about how, with luck, digital photography will present to the world a more balanced picture of Africa than hitherto.  (Yes: this one.) News photos inevitably home in on Africa’s admittedly numerous catastrophes, but in lots of African places, life is quite good, and lots of people are going about their lives contentedly.  Of course, the happiness in these photos could merely be because these people, as I said, like being photoed, but I think it looks like they’re reasonably happy off camera.

Next a mobile phone powering-up and money-ing up booth:

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Sean says mobile phones are one of the things in Sierra Leone that works really well.  This place makes its money doing 20p top-ups and recharging, rather than actually selling phones.  Sean doesn’t know how they get the phones in the first place.  Guess: Celtel gets them cheap from rich country charity shops and sells them cheap to their customers, and then they make their money with the servicing.

This is the Sierra Leone end of a story that I have already picked up on, through regularly contributing to this blog.

Further information about Sierra Leone: the Krio (that’s “creole” spelt Freetown style - Freetown being the capital of Sierra Leone) for teenage girl is: “little titty”, which is perfectly polite.  You could say, e.g., to a teenage girl’s mum, “Could little titty here get us some tea?” without causing any offence.

“BMT” means Black Man Time.  Black Africans, at any rate in Sierra Leone, really do have a more lackdaisical attitude to the non-immediate future.  Which could be why mobile phones suit Africans so well.  They enable things to be done cooperatively, but on the spur of the moment.

There is also something called “Black Magic”, truly.  Sierra Leoneans, including quite sharp guys who work with Sean doing army stuff, genuinely believe that a man can, with the right words, turn himself into a tiger at night, or some such.  But, this doesn’t work in front of white men, who are different.

White men – most particularly the Brits – are held in high esteem in Sierra Leone.  If you stood for election on a platform of the British re-colonising the country you’d sweep to power.  Only the existing pols would oppose you.  It would be massively popular.  This is because of Sierra Leone’s recent history.  Around 2000 they had a massive civil war, which was eventually ended when the Brits wiped out the fearsomely destructive criminal gang of drugged out teenage boys who looked like emerging victorious from the mayhem.  At which point peace erupted, and things started getting slowly better.  Which is the state of play now, touch wood.

But the Brits will not take over Sierra Leone, because they don’t want to.  Probably just as well.  So instead, everything in Sierra Leone that now works is run by Lebanese people, who are like the local Jews.  Lebanese, as in people from the Lebanon.  They got there in circa 1896 and have been there ever since.

Some more pix. 

The plaque is because of a minor colonial cock-up.  You don’t normally see plaques that immortalise minor colonial cock-ups, do you?  Apparently some Brits had an accidental fight with some Frenchies.

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The CocaCola sign is all that remains of what used to be a railway station.  The railways were all ripped up and sold for scrap by the third (I think it was) President of Sierra Leone after independence, independence having been in nineteen sixty something.  From independence to the civil war of 2000 and before was a tale of gradual descent into hell.  So, Brits rule: good.  Brits leave: things go from good to bad to worse to the worst things you can imagine to stuff so bad you can’t even imagine it.  Eventually Brits rescue.  You can see why they like us.  But they are a long way from ever again having railways that work.  (And before anyone comments to this effect, I know that it was a lot more complicated than that, involving two entire lots of mercenaries, diamond mines, you name it.)

The thing is, said Sean, railways are worth nicking, so they got nicked.  Unlike mobile phone infrastructure which is only good for being mobile phone infrastructure, so that stays, and is in any case quite easy to guard and/or mend.  (The civil war was about who got to nick all the diamonds, it being diamonds which paid for the weapons.  The curse of natural resources strikes again.)

Finally a couple of non-human life forms.  The bug I include because its colouring is so spectacular, like something painted for a tourist rather than a real bug.

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The dog is, according to Sean’s picture capture, “the most useless guard dog in the world” and is included because his name is Brian.

Wednesday October 18 2006

In addition to finding this here, she also found this ...

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... here.  Although in a follow up comment she reckons it will be too expensive for what it is.  Namely a small cute plastic bag on wheels.  (That’s my version, not hers.)

The doors open upwards! Rather like that crazy DeLorean which starred in Back to the Future that our government once embarrassed itself with.  But, in fact, rather differently, because the DeL doors had horizontal hinges in the roof, while the Cutio’s doors swivel upwards in a way that is, oh, you know, different.  Scroll down to the pictures of that if you really care.

If I ever buy a car, it will be as long as most cars are wide, which will make parking it very, very easy.  Just find a gap between two other cars and park in that, as if parking in a big car park rather than just beside the road.  None of this parallel parking palavar.  I will, it is true, risk immobilising the other cars, but with me remaining mobile.  So, maybe not.  But you get the idea.  So anyway, my question is: is the Cutio short enough to be only as long as regular cars are wide?  If so, as a kind of covered-up gerontotrolley it might do me rather nicely in my rapidly approaching old age.

But, what is that tiny rhinoceros horn at the back end of the roof?  It looks like it’s for landing backwards, upside down, on an aircraft carrier, but that can’t be right.

Michael Farris comments (on this) at Samizdata, helping out people who don’t know what “dirigiste” means:

1. Go to Google
2. type in “define: dirigiste” (do not type the quotation marks)
3. hit ‘search’
4. all is revealed

I did not know that.

Google is even better than I thought.  Well, I sort of thought you could do something a lot like this, but I never knew how, and I never really knew for sure that you could.  Now I know.

You remember I said that Gareth Furby of the BBC rang me, and I passed him on to Sean Gabb.  You don’t?  Well, he did and I did.  But yesterday, Sean Gabb passed him back to me, Sean Gabb having found himself double booked.  So, strictly as a favour to Sean, I actually ended up doing it.  And it turned out quite good, although I didn’t do it very well.  For only about the second time in my little failed media slut life, I was chattering away to a television camera, not in a studio, but in situ, in Putney to be exact, about lots of things that interest me, such as the beauty of London’s river and the excellence of its riverside paths, and about the urge of governmentalists to cover the world with roadside clutter.

My job was to complain about the fact that they are going to smother the waterfront at Putney with lots of little triangular signs warning people about such things as the wetness of water, the windiness of wind and the current-like nature of currents.  Plus they are going to introduce lanes in the river, with rowing boats reduced to the status of bicycles, and the Thames Cruisers (or gin palaces as we used to call them when I went sailing on the Norfolk Broads) as cars.  It’s the Port of London Authority which is apparently behind all this.

It started with a couple of false starts.  I started talking.  Gareth Furby’s phone rang.  He talked.  We waited.  He finished.  We started again.  I started talking again.  His phone rang again.  Strange.  I took a photo of this, but it was rather dull.

At one point Furby asked me how I felt about all this governmental fusspottery.  Did I feel angry?  I said: no.  I said: I feel that this is a photo op for the Libertarian Alliance.

I mean, if you are an LA supporter and you are angry about this kind of thing, or for that matter if you are anything and angry, well, what planet have they been living on?  Idiot signs cluttering up every street in the country is a fact of modern British life which has already had its own slot on Grumpy Old Men.  So, governmental officials are governmental and officious.  Did you not realise this until now?

My other bon mot aside from the photo op thing was that, give them ten years and there’ll be traffic islands in the middle of the river.  The scary thing being that I am probably right.

But Furby will cut those clever bits and simply use the dreary stuff he came for, about the Nanny State.  The resulting savage exercise in BBC bias (i.e. editing) will be shown, he told me, “some time later this week”.

Tuesday October 17 2006

I think I may have I said that I’d have Brian’s Education Blog up and running by now, but I am still swithering.  If it was in business, it would certainly feature links to postings like this one, which I have only just discovered, by James Bartholomew who is doing home-education with his daughter Alex.

Particularly startling is one of the comments, from Ian Thorpe, whose daughter failed an exam at school.  She did too well and had obviously cheated, by having been taught the stuff by Ian Thorpe!  Knowing it is not the point.  Only We May Teach You!

You can see just how this insanity happened, what rules were put in place (to stop cheating presumably) to cause it.  Yet at some point cheating morphs into learning it but from somebody else, and the rules against cheating morph into classic nationalised industry crowding out.  The government promises to do it, doesn’t do it, but does frighten off anyone else from doing it.  The worst of all possible worlds.

Monday October 16 2006

imageA quota photo of a couple of people enjoying one of life’s small pleasures, namely him photo-ing her with a hazy St Paul’s Cathedral in the background.  And I photoed the two of them with the Gherkin as the backdrop.  Zoom-zoom.  The weather yesterday was perfect for that sharply-colourful-close-to grey-in-the-distance thing.  Click to get it bigger.

Quota photo because I need to get out now (early afternoon), and a good rule for daily blogging, such as I do here, is: don’t leave it late if you can avoid it.  Better late than never (that’s the rule), but better earlier than late.  Then I don’t have to worry about getting anything up before going to bed, and can concentrate on non-time-specific profundities or just mucking about.  I cannot write about profundities under time pressure, and nor can I if I have superficial obligations outstanding.

Food for thought:

But pick your topics carefully and have a purpose. ‘’The most interesting blogs are focused and have a certain attitude,” says van Allen. ‘’You need to have a guiding philosophy that you stick to. You cannot one minute pontificate on large issues of the world and the next minute be like, ‘My dog died.’ ”

Yesterday evening I had a stomach ache but today it got better and I went out.  My friend Elena the Struggling Actress’s friend Andy was doing sand sculpture, down by the river.

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The public, mostly viewing from above and among whom I mingled, were very impressed, especially the children.

Now, about those Pesky Muslims ...

The serious point here, I think - but am not sure, I’m still thinking about it - is that the “large issues of the world” are like, “My dog died”.  North Korea, just now, is a lot of people’s dogs dying, to pay for some stupid bomb.  The EU-India trade talks that I am wresting with just now, to write something for this, if they succeed and reduce the barriers between EUers and Indians trading with each, will increase the sum total of human happiness, one happy kitten at a time.

The big stuff and the small stuff do not inhabit different universes,and should not (always) inhabit different blogs.  By all means specialise if you wish, and if you do you will surely get a lot more traffic.  But this is my blog, and I will lurch from big to small and back to big again if and when I please.

And that, ladies and gents, is my guiding philosophy and my certain attitude.  Today.

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Saturday October 14 2006

I see blogs that look like this from time to time, and I am never happy, even if the writing is good.  What’s with the square brackets around the titles?  It looks like my web browser isn’t working properly and is doing a sort of bizarre cross between a proper looking blog and “view source”.  Maybe that is what it is doing.

But, if he’s good enough to dine with Adriana, he’s good enough for my blogroll.

By the way, the whole point of my blogroll is that it is not categorised.  When I plug into the internet, I like to charge madly off in all directions to places that would never be seen dead with each other.  Alphabetical order muddles them up splendidly, just sufficiently unrandomly that I can find one that I actually want to find.

I suppose Europe used this weapon for many centuries.  To get away from depressing circumstances at home, Europe’s younger sons sought escape from the frustrations of Europe, at the expense of more settled, more prosperous, and less turbulent societies.

Now North Korea threatens its neighbours with all the refugees that a North Koren collapse would unleash, thus taking away the threat to induce such collapse.  This refugee threat counts for far more than some half-baked Bomb, which one well-aimed and properly baked bomb could take out in minutes.

Less deliberate, but just as depressing to a European (because on a massively bigger scale), is the way that “moderate” Muslims flee from rancid governmental nastiness and dispiriting economic lassitude in the regular Muslim countries, but bring with them the very Islamic memes that did so much to cause the misery they flee from.  The non-separation of Church and State.  The worship of the Koran, and the constant threat that not so moderate sons and grandsons will read it and actually take it seriously.  The fact that when said sons and grandsons do go crazy, the Koran gives their “moderate” parents and grandparents no arguments against Islamo-craziness.  Muslims may be overwhelmingly moderate in their lives and conduct, and in most of their opinions, but the most important things they say that they believe are not moderate.  They have got to stop saying these things.  Or, some of them, at least, should, at least, challenge them.  And live to go on challenging.

Until “moderate” Muslims start explicitly criticising their wretched Prophet – “He may very well have said that, but that doesn’t make it right” – then Muslims, however moderate, constitute an offensive threat to any non-Muslim society into which the immigrate in numbers beyond trivial.

This was what I found so disappointing about Yasmin Alibhai-Brown when I listened to her arguing and conversing with Iain Dale, while I sat between them last Wednesday evening on 18DS TV.

Alibhai-Brown said a lot of incidental stuff that I agree with, like: immigrants tend to work harder than lazy fat stupid white men on welfare, and: London is a great city.  But her central proposition was that terrorism is not the fault of moderate Muslims.  Absolutely nothing to do with them.  Yet: We are being blamed! Yes you are, and now I’m doing it again.

Now fair enough, Alibhai-Brown has said enough against the Islamo-nutters to provoke death threats from them, apparently, so good for her.  But her argument is that Westerners who blame Islam - i.e. her and all her moderate, civilised Muslim friends - for the Islamo-craziness, have no case, and are as bad in their way as the Islamo-crazies.  That was what she said.

Consider Alibhai-Brown’s argument against the burqa, the veil etc., and her reason, therefore, for siding with Jack Straw in the Great Veil Debate.  She made much of the fact that Muhammed himself apparently didn’t insist on the veil.  If the argument is only about the rights and wrongs of veil-wearing, then if you can sign The Prophet Muhammed up to your team, you are far better placed to win.  But in so doing, you reinforce the proposition that Muslims should all continue to be ruled by the pronouncements of this long dead brute.

The really important moment will come when some “Muslim” says that even if Muhammed did favour the veil, so bloody what? If Muhammed was for it, then so much the worse for Muhammed.  It’s still stupid and demeaning to women, and a piece of male chauvinist piggery.  (If that’s what it is.  It looks more like a trick to avoid being identified to me, like an IRA balaclava, and as such rather different.  But that’s not my point here.)

The equivalent debate in the Cold War was when people started denouncing not just Stalin, for “betraying” Marxism-Leninism, but Marx and Lenin for having cooked up the evil brew in the first place, and acknowledging that Stalin did not betray Marxism-Leninism; he simply did it.  That was when the writing was on the wall for the old USSR, and it began its long, slow struggle to get from barbaric mess to civilisation and civility.  That was the ideological dagger to its heart.

Now it may be that Alibhai-Brown has said this kind of thing, that is to say its equivalent in her debate.  I haven’t read everything she has written, to put it mildly.  In fact, all I have to go on with this lady is what I hastily read when preparing to go on the inter-telly with her, and what she then said on the night.  If she has taken a genuine swipe at the worship of Muhammed, then that really would count for something.  That really would be to separate Muslim culture from Islamic worship.  But she didn’t do this last Wednesday evening.  Not a whiff of that.

There are obvious differences between the Islam-versus-The-Rest argument and the Communism-versus-Civilisation argument, such as the fact that whereas Marx and Lenin had no excuses for their disgustingness, Muhammed did have a very good excuse for being a bastard.  He lived in the seventh century!  Everybody did things the way he did, if they could, in those days!  So hats off to Muhammed for writing a very effective success book, suited to the needs of its time.  It’s bollocks of course.  There is no God.  Muhammed is not his Prophet.  But saying that there was and you were was the kind of thing you said in those times, if you wanted to make friends and influence people, so that all your friends could then help you to subjugate or kill your enemies.

But worshipping all this bloodthirsty crap now is something else again.  This is the current evil.  And the moderate Muslim, the most impeccably well-behaved citizen of Western Europe, who would be personally horrified if the political arrangements that he or his forebears fled from were to spread to his new home, is all part of those arrangements spreading.  Signing up to Islam, however sensible you think it may be, means worshipping everything in the Koran, whether you yourself read it or not.  That means your crazy teenage son, when he’s looking for weapons to compete with you and to rule or ruin the world, reaching for the Koran.  Only when the Koran is dethroned down to being a mere book, written a very long time ago by a very ambitious and aggressive bloke with an absurdly vivid imagination and lots of very gullible and belligerent followers, is this going to stop.

And at present, when it comes to this necessary process, “moderate” Muslims are not the solution; they are the problem.

Well I’ve not been getting much done lately, but at least I have been actually reading Getting Things Done, and I am really enjoying it.  It’s a very cunningly written book, based, I presume, on David Allen’s cunningly perpetuated consultancy business, which helps people to get things done.  The point being that if people didn’t enjoy the process of being guided by Allen and his minions, they wouldn’t recommend his services to their friends, which is always how these things get started, and then grow.

I always distrust any big and life-changing system which demands to be introduced in its entirety before you can expect any good to come of it.  Remember when those idiot Communists used to say that you couldn’t expect Communism to do any good until everyone was doing it.  In the whole world.  Imagine what that would have been like.

Allen’s book, and his practical face to face guidance, to judge by what he says about it in the book, is the opposite of that.  He recommends a “bottom up” approach to grappling with life’s complications.  Start with little things and get them sorted and buzzing along properly, and then, with your morale boosted, you can move on to bigger stuff.

I’m dipping in among this book, rather than reading it all in the proper order.  I find the stuff in the middle, where you start seriously solving your problems, too depressing and demanding.  I like the stuff at the start when he says what he is going to say, and towards the end, where he says why it is all so good, and what great results it can have.  But I am steeling myself to read the stuff in the middle, where things will be expected of me.  But I am optimistic that eventually I will start doing that.

His can-you-do-it-in-two-minutes?-if-so-do-it rule is good, and I have already starting to apply that.  Rather more than I did before, I mean.  I think the most deceptively profound notion is, as I have already said, is the one about attaching a Next Single Step to every project.  And then of course, you can ask: can I do that next step in two minutes? - and probably get a yes, and do it.

A final thing is that - and I didn’t know that he would say anything like this when I first said something similar myself in connection with his book - he agrees with me that clever people can be the most stupid.  He reckons that clever people are more receptive to new ideas, and more able to imagine new projects, and before they know it, they are overwhelmed by a tsunami of “stuff”, and they drown in it.  Stupid people are not so stupid, because they think of fewer things, and don’t get drowned.

There’s lots of other good stuff as well, which I haven’t yet understood so well, but what I have understood makes me trust that studying the rest will be well worth it.

I further believe that if I just keep reading and re-reading this book, I will start doing it, without having to try too hard.  And I may even enjoy doing it.

By the way, in connection with Doing Stuff and all that, I’ve just added this rather interesting looking blog to my blogroll.  Can’t remember how I got to it.  Perhaps via Jackie D, which is a favourite of mine just now.

Friday October 13 2006

I will soon be posting, on Samizdata, a review of Persian Fire by Tom Holland, which is about the war between the ancient Persians and the ancient Greeks, and which I think is a terrific book, easily my book of the year so far.  And what better way to describe a book than to make a sizeable chunk of it available for sampling.  So, although I may be flirting with the laws of copyright (and if there is even the hint of a complaint from the publishers or from the author, down this will come – so if you want to read it, read it soon) here is my favourite chunk of all, which is Holland’s description of Marathon.  Want to know how Marathon fits into the bigger picture?  Are there things in the following which are not wholly clear?  If you want such questions answered and such confusions cleared up, then, as we bloggers say, read the whole thing.

A day passed, then another, and another. Four days now until the Spartans were due to arrive, and still the deadlock held. The Persian ships remained where they were, menacing but motionless, beached on the sand. The sun sank behind the mountains that rim the plain of Marathon. The moon, at last, shone full in the August sky. Far off in Lacedaemon, the men of Sparta would be preparing to march to war. And in the Persian camp? Illumined a ghostly silver the plain may have been, but it was hard, miles from the invaders’ ships, to track what might exactly be happening within the shadow of the Dog’s Tail. Something, certainly: for a great commotion, the sound of thousands upon thousands of tramping feet, could be heard faint, then louder, nearing the Athenian lines. The invaders, it appeared, were advancing in force at last. But was this a full assault or a diversion? The answer would come soon enough. Datis was not the only commander to have realised the vital significance of intelligence. Someone – and one can only assume that it was Miltiades, experienced as he was in all the Persian arts of war - had recruited spies from among the invaders. That night of the full moon, some Ionian conscripts, sneaking across the plain, crept into the grove that screened the Athenian camp. The news they brought could not have been more urgent. Hurriedly, it was conveyed to Callimachus and the ten tribal generals who together constituted the Athenian high command. The horsemen are away!’

Here was the moment that Miltiades had been waiting for. Clearly, if his spies’ intelligence was accurate, the Persian task force had been split, with a holding force advancing to distract the Athenians’ attention while far to the rear the cavalry was being clandestinely embarked. A council of war was hurriedly convened; Miltiades implored his fellow generals to vote for immediate battle. Never, he urged, would there be a better chance of victory: the invaders’ army was divided and all but a skeleton force of its cavalry had gone. Four of Miltiades’ nine fellow generals agreed; five, appalled at the prospect of attacking the Persians on open ground, without archers, without cavalry, and still overwhelmingly outnumbered, did not. The casting vote now lay with the war archon, Callimachus, who had consistently shown that he felt it no shame to bow to the superior expertise of Athens’ most famous Mede-fighter. He did so again now, and sided with Miltiades. The order was given. Battle would be joined at dawn.

Throughout the Athenian camp men were woken with the news that within the hour they would be advancing against an enemy who had never before been beaten by a hoplite army in open combat, ‘and whose very name, when spoken, was sufficient to send a shiver down the spine of any Greek’. Yet if, by summoning every last reserve of physical and moral strength, and by screwing their courage to a truly excruciating pitch, there was a chance of averting their obliteration, and that of their families and their city, then the Athenian hoplites had to brace themselves now to seize it. Slaves, charged with the care of their precious armour, duly brought out the burnished panoplies. The naked Athenians were transformed into fearsome automata of bronze. Then, sheathed within their breastplates and their greaves, their shields and spears in their hands, their helmets propped back upon their heads, the hoplites took their places in the battle line, standing alongside their fellows from their demes, their thirds, their tribes. It was the custom among the Athenians to serry their phalanx in ranks eight deep; but Miltiades, fearful of being outflanked by the Persians’ more mobile light infantry, and by what remained of their cavalry, ordered the centre to be thinned out so that the Athenians’ line exactly matched that of the invaders, now increasingly visible a mile away through the early glimmerings of the dawn. With the first rays of sun touching the grey Euboean hills in the distance, sacrifices were offered to the gods; the omens proving favourable, the generals then took up their positions directly in the foremost line. Callimachus, as was customary for the war archon, took command of the right wing; the Plataeans were stationed on the left; Themistocles and a fellow rising star of the democracy, Aristeides, led their tribes in the centre of the phalanx, at its perilously weakened heart. Miltiades himself, allotted overall command for the day, stood where all could hear him, and at length raised his arm, pointed to the Persians, and yelled out: ‘At them!’

A shimmering of metal all along the line as the hoplites lowered their helmets, hefted their shields, shouldered their spears. Here, at last, was the moment of no return. His head encased now almost entirely within metal, every member of the phalanx found himself frighteningly cut off from the sights and sounds of the battlefield, barely able to see the enemy ahead of him, barely able to hear the braying of trumpets that instructed the Athenians to start their charge. Only the sudden jolting of his fellows on either side and the surging of the weight of men behind him appeared real. Downwards, into the open expanse of the plain, the phalanx began lumbering, keeping its formation, not once threatening to break. All were borne on the dread and the intoxication of the moment - for while it was true that the faint-heartedness of a few within a shield wall might prove fatal to the many, then so too was the converse, that even a hoplite shaking with terror as he advanced, wetting himself uncontrollably, streaking his cloak with shit, could know himself strong for being one with his friends and relatives, one with a mighty body of armed and free-born men. How, indeed, without the self-consciousness of this, would any Athenian have dared to do what all in the phalanx did that August dawn: to move against a foe widely assumed to be invincible, to cross what many must have dreaded would prove to be a plain of death.

Extraordinary stories were later told of this advance. It was said that the Athenians ran the whole mile, as though men bold enough to attack the Persians for the first time must have been somehow more than human. In truth, no man wearing the full panoply of a hoplite, some seventy pounds of bronze, wood and leather, could possibly run such a distance and still have energy left to fight effectively. Even in the relative cool of the early morning, sweat rapidly began to mingle with the dust kicked up by ten thousand pairs of feet, half-blinding the advancing hoplites and stinging their blinking eyes, so that their vision of the enemy ahead of them - the outlandishly dressed archers reaching for their arrows, the slingers for their shot, the expressions of glee and disbelief in the Persian ranks - grew ever more obscured. Soon, as the Athenians crossed deeper into no man’s land, the first arrows began to hiss down upon them; then, raising the monstrous weight of their shields to protect their chests, the hoplites did at last begin to run. Simultaneously, as though the phalanx were ‘some ferocious cornered creature, stiffening its bristles as it turns to face its foe’, those in the front three ranks lowered and aimed their spears, in preparation for the coming collision. By now, with some 150 yards still to travel, a storm cloud of arrows and slingshot was breaking over them, thudding into their shields, bouncing off their helmets, striking the odd hoplite in the thigh or through the throat, but still the Athenians, braving the black rain, only quickened their pace. Those of the enemy directly in their path had already begun scrabbling to erect wicker defences, as they realised, to their horror, that the wall of shields and iron-tipped spears, far from providing easy pickings for their bowmen, as they had at first imagined, was not going to be halted. A hundred yards, fifty, twenty, ten. Then, as the Athenians’ war cry, a terrifying ululation, rose even above the thundering of their feet upon the dry earth, the cacophony of clattering metal and the screams of the panic-stricken enemy, the phalanx crunched into the Persian lines.

The impact was devastating. The Athenians had honed their style of warfare in combat with other phalanxes, wooden shields smashing against wooden shields, iron spear tips clattering against breastplates of bronze. Now, though, in those first terrible seconds of collision, there was nothing but a pulverising crash of metal into flesh and bone; then a rolling of the Athenian tide over men wearing, at most, quilted jerkins for protection, and armed, perhaps, with nothing more than bows or slings. The hoplites’ ash spears, rather than shivering, as invariably happened when one phalanx crashed into another, could instead stab and stab again, and those of the enemy who avoided their fearful jabbing might easily be crushed to death beneath the sheer weight of the advancing men of bronze. Soon enough, on the wings of the Persian army, men were breaking in terror, streaming back across the plain, as the Athenians, skewering and hacking, continued their deadly work. Only in the centre, where the force of the phalanx’s impact had been much weaker, did the invaders have the better of the fight, withstanding the collision and then slowly pushing the hoplites back. Here was where the invaders’ best troops had been stationed: the Persians themselves, more heavily armoured than most of the other levies, and the Saka, those brutal fighters from the far-off eastern Steppes, their axes perfectly capable of cleaving a hoplite’s helmet or smashing through his chest. Yet already the Athenian wings were wheeling inwards, attacking them on their flanks, reinforcing the hard-pressed tribesmen of Aristeides and Themistocles, so that soon the Persian centre too began to crumple and the slaughter grew even more incarnadine. It was then that the few Persians and Saka who were left joined the general rout, and fled for their ships, some miles back across the plain, stumbling in the sands. They were pursued by the Athenians, exultant in their triumph, but half disbelieving it too, thoroughly dazed by the manner in which Pan had kept his word.

Yet, if the battle was won, the victory was still far from decisive. The necessity of the two Athenian wings to finish off the battle in the centre had given plenty of time to the sailors manning the Persian fleet to prepare their ships for departure, and to start hauling aboard the panic-stricken levies as they milled among the shallows. True, many of their comrades had been crushed in the general stampede, or else had floundered in a great marsh that stretched northwards from where the Persian ships had been beached, drowning there in such vast numbers that it was estimated later ‘to have been the site of the deadliest slaughter of all’. Yet, while Datis and Artaphernes kept control of their fleet, they remained a menace; and Miltiades and his men, powerless to deal with those ships that had already embarked, were naturally desperate to capture or burn any still remaining on the sand. The fighting on the beach, then, was as ferocious as at any stage in the battle, and, for the Athenians, just as fatal: one hoplite, reaching up to seize the stern of a ship, had his hand hacked off by an axe, and fell back spraying blood from the fatal wound; Callimachus, the war archon, was also killed; so too one of the tribal generals. Seven ships were ultimately secured; but all the rest succeeded in pulling away, The road to Athens may have been blocked to the Persians - but not the sea.

And what of the ships containing the cavalry that had embarked before the battle? The question haunted the Athenian high command. Even as they waded back past the corpses bobbing in the shallows and gazed across the plain in the direction of their city, the weary hoplites could see, glinting from the slope of Mount Pentelikon, the flashing of a brightly polished surface, deliberately angled to catch the rays of the morning sun. It was clearly a pre-arranged signal, and one that could only have been intended for the Persian fleet, somewhere out to sea. It was impossible to know its precise meaning - but every Athenian guessed at once that it spoke of treachery.

Consternation swept through the ranks. Twenty-six miles away, their families and homes still lay wholly undefended. Exhausted, sweat-soaked and blood-streaked, they had no choice but to head back at once for Athens ‘as fast as their legs could take them’. It was not yet ten in the morning when they left the battlefield; by late afternoon, in an astounding display of toughness and endurance, they had reached their city. In the nick of time, too - for soon afterwards the first ships of the Persian fleet began to glide towards Phalerum. For a few hours they lay stationary beyond the harbour entrance; then, as the sun set at last on that long and fateful day, they raised anchor, swung around, and sailed eastwards into the night. The threat of invasion was over.

So it was that Athens escaped the terrible fate of Miletus and Eretria, and proved herself, in the ringing words of Miltiades, ‘a city fit to become the greatest of all in Greece’. At Marathon, her citizens had stared their worst nightmare directly in the face: not merely that the Athenian people might be transplanted far from the primordially ancient soil that had given them birth, from their homes, their fields, their demes, but, even worse, that their bloodlines, amid hideous scenes of mutilation, might be extirpated. Every hoplite fighting on that day must have known that the Great King, incensed by the Athenians’ oath-breaking, had ordained for them that ‘most terrible of all known acts of vengeance’: the castration of their sons. Had the Athenians, perhaps, in their darkest imaginings, dreaded that the gods themselves might uphold this ghastly sentence! Athens had indeed betrayed her promises of loyalty to Darius; and it was the habit among the Greeks when they swore an oath to stamp upon the severed testicles or a sacrificial beast, and pray that their progeny be similarly crushed if they went back on their word. By charging the enemy at Marathon, the Athenians had, in effect, steeled themselves to put this most terrible of all their fears to the test - and had resolved it spectacularly.

And much more besides. Whoever had sent the signal to the Persians from Mount Pentelikon kept his silence now. When the news was brought that Hippias, dashed of all his hopes, had expired of disappointment en route back into exile, it merely confirmed what everyone already knew: that no one after Marathon should stake his future on there being a tyranny in Athens again. Everyone was in favour of rule by the people now. Or at least in favour of rule by the people who had won the famous victory: the farmers, the landed gentry, the armour-owning stock. 192 of them, it was discovered, had died in the battle - and to these heroes of Athenian liberty a unique honour was accorded. No tombs in the Ceramicus for them; instead, for the first and only time in their city’s history, the dead were buried, ‘as a tribute to their courage’, on the very field where they had fallen. A great tomb was raised over their corpses to a height of more than of anything to compare. Mingled with the dust they had fought so courageously to defend, the dead were to lie buried together, without class or family distinctions of any kind. They were citizens – nothing less and nothing more. What prouder title than that of Athenian could possibly be claimed? Athens herself was all.

Even the Spartans, when they arrived there after their gruelling three-day march, regarded the men who had conquered the Mede unaided with a new and ungrudging respect. Marching onwards to inspect the battlefield, they found at Marathon, rotting amid the dust of the plain or half sunk into marsh-slime, evidence enough of the scale of the menace that had been turned bad so heroically. Six thousand and four hundred invaders lay there, fattening the flies - and that was only a fraction of the task force that Datis had led. How many teeming millions more the Great King might have at his command, breeding and swarming within the fathomless hinterlands of Asia, neither the Athenians nor the Spartans much cared to contemplate. Every Greek, looking upon the Persian dead and revelling in the great victory, must nevertheless have Felt just a tremor of apprehension, Yet the Spartans, methodically inspecting the battlefield, turning over the corpses, making notes, would have found much to reassure them as well. It was the first opportunity they had ever been given to study the armour and the weapons of the fabled masters of the East; and what they saw did not greatly impress them. Datis may have led a huge army to Marathon - but nothing that the Spartans would have recognised as their equal.

Meanwhile, even as they continued their tour of inspection, a great trench was being dug on the southern margins of the marshes. Into this makeshift refuse tip the invaders’ corpses were flung unceremoniously. No memorial for the slaughtered Persian hordes. Mute and inglorious as their grave was, what better was deserved by men who in life had known nothing of the comradeship of a city, or of liberty from royal diktats, or of the discipline of a phalanx, but had instead milled like the merest herd of beasts, their voices animal screechings, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing? The Ionians had labelled the Persians ‘barbarians’; now, in the aftermath of their great victory the Athenians began to do the same. It was a word that perfectly evoked their fear of what they had seen that early morning on the plain of Marathon: an army numberless and alien, jabbering for their destruction, ‘gibberish-speakers’ indeed. Yet ‘barbarian’, especially on the tongue of a veteran of the famous battle, could also suggest something more: a sneer, a tone of superiority, or even of contempt - one, certainly, that few Creeks would have dared to adopt prior to that fateful August dawn.

Marathon had taught not only Athens but the whole of Greece a portentous lesson: humiliation at the hands of the superpower was not inevitable. The Athenians, as they would never tire of reminding everyone, had shown that the hordes of the Great King could be defeated. The colossus had feet of clay.

Liberty might be defended, after all.

Wednesday October 11 2006

Last night 18 Doughty Street, website and internet TV, went active for the first time.  I watched a bit of it.  Unashamedly biased TV.  About damn time too.

And tonight, guess who is going to be on it.  Yes, assuming all goes well and that nothing changes between now and tonight: me.  As always with me, they were trying to get someone else, but got to me in a hurry and I said a simple yes.  I’ll be on from 9pm to 10pm, rambling about this and that, alongside various other people including Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.  (And yes, she is on tonight, apparently, rather than as originally billed here, on Thursday.)

Further to what I was saying the other day about the Age of Google, what a blessing the Internet is, when you get involved in things like this.  Until now, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown was hardly more than a name to me, and not even a name that I knew how to spell.  After some failures, I finally worked out miss A-B’s spelling, and was quickly then able to learn more about her.  She is a Muslim, for instance, but of a rather unusual sort, the sort that follows the Agha Khan (and there goes another personage whom I would not previously have known how to spell), although how much notice she herself takes of the Agha Khan I don’t know.  Rather little, I suspect.  My point is, there’s a mine I could have trodden on this evening, big time.  I still will tread on various mines, I’m sure, but I have already stepped around one.  And the whole Muslim thing is going to come up because they want to talk about Jack Straw and the
Great Veil Debate.

This is just the kind of media stuff I have long wanted to do.  It was years ago that I stopped being the Libertarian Alliance pamphleteer and switched to blogging.  Ever since then, but with diminishing frequency, I have been rung up and asked to do media spots, mostly radio, which on the face of it are not that different from this one I’m doing tonight.  Except that they would want to introduce me as being from the Libertarian Alliance, often wrongly as still being the LA Editorial Director, rather than as any kind of mere blogger.  But I’ve done my bit as Mr Libertarian.  Legalising heroin, selling the roads, slashing the taxes.  It’s not that I disagree with any of what I said when wearing that hat.  I don’t.  Heroin should be legalised, the roads should be sold, and taxes should be slashed.  But, I don’t want that to be me, any more, as this blog surely illustrates.  I don’t want to have to be type-cast in order to get a part.  Tonight, I’m pretty sure, I won’t be, and my blogging will surely get some kind of mention.

With blogging, it immediately became possible for people like me to say exactly what we wanted, and not just to supply provocative little soundbites to add spice (i.e. interesting irrelevance) to the One Great Debate that the big TV and radio channels presided over, about just how much more The Government Should Be Doing.  At which point I stopped wanting to be on late night radio, waiting twenty minutes to have my two minutes worth, saying what they wanted me to say, every few weeks.  Well, now, the media are loosening up, and people like me can get nearly an hour of what I hope will be something resembling a real conversation.

While I was in the midst of shoving this posting up, I had a call from Gareth Furby (had to check his spelling as well) of the BBC.  “I’m trying to contact people who are campaigning against the Nanny State.” And I rather think it may not have been “contacted” but instead “round up”.  He certainly spoke in a brisk, rounding up kind of voice.  I am against the Nanny State.  But I gave him Sean Gabb‘s phone numbers, and left it at that.

Incoming!

Brian,

I worked on your “Venus” image a little, since such manipulation is my specialty. I’m attaching the result.

image

The problem was that the image was an irregular quadrilateral, wider at the top than at the bottom, and wider on the left than on the right. Using the proportions involved, I expanded the image rightwards and upwards. This left a residual skew, which I corrected (approximately; it’s still a few pixels off) by using the horizon, and a vertical axis through the middle of the shell to Venus’ neck.

There is still distortion, since your view was wide-angled enough to introduce some “fisheye” into the image, which would have required some non-linear functions to correct. I’m not patient enough to figure those out!

Anyway, it was fun. I did it using entirely custom-written software of my own.

I enjoy your blog. I went to see it because of your Yorkshire name: I used to live in Yorkshire.

Cheers!

Baron Bodissey - Gates of Vienna

Now that’s what I call an email, full of good wishes and he does all the work.  He’s not wanting me to do something.  He’s done something!  All I need to do is pass it on.

Click on the Baron’s revised picture and get it slightly bigger, the size he had it in his email to me.  I am surprised at how much of a difference this rescue job makes.  Suddenly it looks a lot more like the original.  The point being that a bad copy would be rather like my version, rather yanked about, but a good one, such as the picture originally on the pavement, would not.  Interesting exercise.

Of course, it might have been better if the Baron had the original photo, original size, to work with, so here it is.  I don’t usually post giant pictures that are far too big for your screen, but if you click on here it is that’s what you’ll get.

What might be fun would be to alter the original so that the picture was a perfect rectangle, but leaving all the people in, distorted.

Adriana the Media Influencer links to to a piece about Old School ("interruptive") advertising in the toilet.

Her angle is that Old School Interruptive advertising is so very, very interruptive that it will even interrupt you when you are having a shit and/or a piss.  And what a load of crap that is!  So to speak.  Her object is life is to wipe Old School Interruptive advertising off the face of the earth.

But what if, like me, you often like to walk around, say, London, and are often, what with advancing years and a fondness for coffee, caught short?  Could not Old School Interruptive advertising be persuaded to put its collective mind to sponsoring and maybe even constructing public toilets?  I would happily subject myself to a barrage of interruptive advertising if what I got in exchange was an empty bowel/bladder.  It wouldn’t really interrupt, not if I was as desperate as I sometimes am.

My guess is that they’ve thought about this, but don’t think it would work.  Too many bad associations.  What products would be happily advertised in shit houses?  In response to such doubts, somebody called “Admedia’s Gowen” says:

“We would never say that washrooms would not be right for a brand. I don’t think there’s anything special about them - people don’t see them as an inappropriate environment.”

Hm.

By the way, when typing in that Adriana had the “objective” of wiping out Old School Interruptive advertising, I mis-spelled it as an “abjective”.  That word might have a future, to describe sad and ridiculous - abject - objectives, like ridding the world of nuclear weapons, everyone being nice and getting along including the North Korean despots and the Islamofuckers, everyone just getting what they want and not having to rely on the harsh and impersonal cruelty of the market, cars being abolished, “world poverty” ditto.  Even as I type, some dippy voice-over woman on the TV is saying that “together we can abolish world poverty” if I give her three quid every month, as if determined to illustrate exactly what an abjective is.

Maybe the idea of London abounding with lovely free toilets, crammed with snazzy adverts, is also something of an abjective.  But I can dream, can’t I?

Tuesday October 10 2006

I don’t think I’ve shown you this:

image

Click to see the original this was extracted from, which was taken exactly a month ago from one of the Hungerford Footbridges (can’t remember which), looking down on the Embankment on the south side of the river.  I rotated, enhanced, sharpened and generally told lies.  If I knew how to do it I would have straightened out the rectangles, so to speak, but I can’t make my cheapo pretend version of Photoshop do that.  Which means that Venus leans a bit to the left, as we look at her.  6 weeks work, so it says at the bottom.

Spot the Bi ... oh never mind.

Here‘s the original by Botticelli.  Take your pick.  My favourite is the photo, not by Botticelli, but “after” Botticelli, as they say, of the one standing at the front of a boat, but clicking on her gets you nothing.

Apparently frock demonstrator Eva Herzigova did a performance as Venus Rising From The Waves at the Opening Ceremony of the 2006 Winter Olympics.  Rather disappointing pictures of that event can be found in among these.

Monday October 09 2006

The internet, says Caroline Hunt is reinvigorating the Conservative Party.  I particularly like this bit:

Many have criticised Conservative Home for creating a forum for public back biting in the Tory party. I think it creates a healthy level of debate not to mention effective self-censorship. Members become more aware of the consequences of how they express their opinions and a mature sensible debate seems to have emerged.

Blogs do that.  The raving lunatics - and God knows the outer fringes of (i.e. the newly internet enfranchised bits of) the Conservative Party are full of such - find that they are ignored, while the politer people, who phrase their complaints and criticisms more moderately, get attended to and responded to.  And since tone of voice has been one of the basic Conservative problems over recent years, this is no small influence.

Further evidence of the Jane Austenification of Society, by the blogosphere.

Caroline Hunt also reckons the Cameron India blog to have been a very smart move, as did I.

However, although Caroline Hunt has been blogging since October of last year, I am surprised that she doesn’t seem to include very many embedded links.  An opening sentence like “Again a senior Labour MP is calling for unity” really would pack more of a punch with some linkage attached, I would say.

This posting nicely summarises both the achievement and the ultimate failure to survive of the Alternative Bookshop, which the late Chris R. Tame ran in the 1980s in Covent Garden, and where I was Chris’s assistant.

What book lovers want from their indie bookstores is not selection or prices, but an experience. In many ways, a good bookstore is like a fine restaurant. It may not serve as many varieties of food as a Vegas buffet, but you’ll probably place a far higher value on the experience.

The problem is that indie bookstores deliver experiences, but make their money selling books.

The solution is to find a way for indie bookstores to make their money off the experience that they deliver.

The Alternative Bookshop never solved that problem.  It believed in capitalism, but failed at actually doing capitalism.  That’s ifa failure means not surviving for rather longer, as maybe it doesn’t.

Because, people still ask me about that shop, sometimes even assuming it to be still going even though it closed in 1987, and time and again they assure me that it was most definitely an experience to visit the place.  The influence of this shop, one way and another, and another, and another, is beyond calculation.

Adventures in Capitalism is now on the blogroll, to your left.

imageI don’t quite know how well these new batteries will work, but I will definitely be giving them a try, and maybe then switching over to them completely.  They make a big pitch out of the fact that they work when you first buy them.  And they are rechargeable.  But, best of all by far, once recharged, they don’t dribble their power away over the next day or two and have to be recharged again if you then want to use them, as is the case with rechargeable batteries now.

I learned about these batteries via an advert in Digital Camera Buyer.  So score one for the Dead Tree Media, and score another for old school advertising.  On Saturday afternoon I dropped in at my local Jessops to see if they knew anything about these new batteries, and if, best of all, they actually had any for sale.  They knew nothing about them.  In days of old, that would have been that, but there is now the Internet.

It has taken me quite a while to get used to the idea that, in the Age of Google, if you have a question, you can quickly find an answer.  It’s like being a small boy again, only this time when you shout “Why?!?!?!” (or whatever) at your mother, your mother is the Internet, and it knows, and it can tell you in seconds.

It seems to me that the implications of that simple fact for our intellectual culture are profound.  Said he, announcing that the earth is round, not flat, and isn’t that exciting? I mean, I know I’m years behind the wave with this observation.

Most of trad education is about inculcating (a) stacks of facts, (b) an understanding of the (very arduous and complicated) means of acquiring more facts, and also (c) a love of those facts and of the means of obtaining those more facts, because without loving all that, what chance have you got?  Remembering everything is hard.  Finding out more is hard.  You gotta love it, or you just won’t be bothering with it.

But in the Age of Google, the economics of fact finding and of fact storage, are radically transformed.  Finding any particular fact - what’s all this about “Hybrios”? - is now easy.  Therefore, you don’t have to love finding things out nearly so much, enough to keep you going for hours, days or weeks while you find it.  You just . . . find things out!  Type in “Hybrio”, and up it comes.  If any of it is confusing, type that in too, and that too is explained.  Which in its turn means that it maybe doesn’t make sense to be storing so many facts in your head in the first place, given that you can now find out about them so easily.

The internet has moved us from an age of the best people being involved in a few very difficult projects, to an an age in which everyone is engaged in doing lots of individually easy things, but which adds up to a single difficult thing (just not drowning in it all) if you don’t handle the new world, the Age of Google, right.

This is surely all part of why people who are rather thick at school often do very well in life, but that people who are brilliant at school often make a mess of life.  Brilliant at school means excellent at quite complicated exams, complicated enough to penalise the thick, but insufficiently complicated to phase the “brilliant”.  But there is now a mismatch between school and life, based on the fact that the next thing you will have to do in life is easy, and the dumb-but-smart people just do it.  The “brilliant” people, may agonise and delay, and screw everything up.  The next thing is easy to do, no matter how thick you are.  But if you delay the next thing and try to keep everything in your Old School head, being brilliant will not save you, because no matter how brilliant you are, you cannot now keep a mental hold of everything.

I’ve now started reading this book, and the above paragraph is my summary-so-far of what he is trying to teach.  On the face of it, the book seems very good.  Key insight so far: don’t just list what you HAVE TO DO.  List what you have to do, and attach to each HAVE TO DO, the typically very easy little thing that you HAVE TO DO NEXT, for each have to do.  Is that HAVE TO DO NEXT very easy?  So, do it now.

Smart people are no longer the ones who already know exactly what Hydrio batteries are.  They are the ones who know how to just ask about them, how then to give it a moment’s thought to decide what to do about what they then learn, and then just do that, either immediately or when the time comes.  Which in my case means go out and buy a set,as soon as they are on sale in Jessops.

All of which is a complicated memo from me to me, which will not get lost because it will remain on my personal blog, to get some Hydrios as soon as I can.  I can’t Just Buy Them, given that (although very brilliant) I have yet to get it sorted how to buy things on the Internet (although that is very easy).  But I can write this memo to myself, so I did.  Which was something, and something easy.

I have just done the first posting of this Monday morning over at Samizdata, on a classical music theme.

There were no less than nine Samizdata postings yesterday, starting with this typically informative and entertaining photo-essay by Michael Jennings, about Greenwich, longitude, and Edmond Halley.  (Until now, for some reason, I always thought it was longditude.  Strange.) Michael’s pictures remind me that I should go to Greenwich myself, again, and take some more photos.  His are very good.

Samizdata, almost no thanks to me, is now going great guns.  Nothing and nobody will ever quite replace David Carr, who has now been sucked into oblivion by pressure of work, etc.  (David is a lawyer and an investment adviser, blah blah, and that takes about thirty hours per day.) But if we cannot have David, then there is at least this new bloke, called Thaddeus Tremayne, who is almost as good.  Where does Perry de Havilland find these people?

Sunday October 08 2006

The latest posting at Little Man What Now is entitled Now That’s What I Call Little Man, What Now Volume 1.

Good idea.  Who among us has read right through the archives of our favourite blogs?  Most of us, I surmise, just pick them up when we encounter them, and then read the latest stuff.  But we don’t dig back.

Why not?  I think it’s because we fear the muck-to-pearls ratio.  Yes, you know there will be good stuff of enduring interest there, but there will also be silly and ephemeral bits that you will have to wade through.  That’s okay when you are reading a blog day by new day, but alters the incentive structure when you are digging back through archives.  Answer: what LMWN’s Charles Pooter has just done, a small Greatest Hits album, to guide us towards what he at least reckons to be pearls.  Okay this isn’t the first time this has ever been done.  Some blogs have a permanent menu of favourite postings.  But an individual Greatest Hits posting somehow appeals to me more, because it is fresh and thus embodies the current contents of a mind you like.  It may then, of course, be itself forgotten, unless of course you later link back to it, as Charles P surely will, to all such postings.  This is, after all, only Volume 1.

This rescuing of quality pieces of enduring merit from blog archives is going to become a bigger and bigger deal as the years go by and as the archives of the best blogs pile up and up.

I have so far only read one of the postings thus rescued by Charles P from oblivion, but I found this one very intriguing.  So, maybe, more about that here anon, but I promise nothing.

Quote:

“You can’t have everything.  Where would you put it?”

This was contributed to Quote Unquote (BBC Radio 4) by Stewart Lee last Sunday, having originally been said by some other bloke.

I laughed, but then I thought.  And what I thought was that if you have everything, you would also have lots of places.  All of them, in fact.  And that would be enough space to put everything.  Easy.  You could just leave everything where it is.  Everything is somewhere already, and if you have everything, you have everywhere, because everything includes everywhere.  Comedians eh?  They just don’t think things through.

Have a nice weekend.

What do you think this comes from?

Since the cumbersome travel arrangements of the previous century, there had been a considerable improvement in the roads, much due to the efforts of Macadam and Telford.  ‘From mere beds of torrents and systems of ruts they were raised universally to the condition and appearance or gravel walks in private parks.’

The first 30 years of the 19th century were therefore the golden age and high noon of coaching. Cobbett wrote: ‘Next to a foxhunt, the finest sight in England is the stage coach just ready to start.’ Coaches with evocative names like Rocket, Comet and Greyhound travelled at high speed. There was considerable competition on fares and speed. The owner of the London-Brighton coach offered a refund of the fare if he did nor keep to time. While speed brought accidents, it also brought safety in that highwaymen found it more difficult to operate. The pressure led to the customary ill-mannered behaviour, and someone paid a compliment to Constable, the great painter, when they said: ‘He was a gentleman, even on a coach journey.’

The extent of coaching activity is shown by the fact that there were 2,500 horses stabled at Hounslow, the first and last change on the road linking London and the West Country. But railways were about to change all this . . .

Answer: it’s from the Mendelssohn chapter (pp. 349-350 of my big paperback edition) in The Lives and Times of the Great Composers by Michael Steen, previously quoted here, here.  The reason that Steen talks about transport in the Mendelssohn chapter is that Mendelssohn travelled a lot, writing such pieces as the Scottish Symphony (No. 3) and the Italian Symphony (No. 4), both based on visits to the places in question.

The reason I am still reading this book, I realise now, apart from the fact that there are so many other wonderful books to be read, is that it is so huge and heavy that I never take in on my travels, and when I am at home there is always the www to distract me.  Memo to self: get into the habit of reading in other places in my home besides the toilet.

Saturday October 07 2006

This evening I am out an about socialising (which is why this will probably be your lot for today), and I will be needing my recently acquired and very primitive mobile phone.  So this afternoon I looked for it, with a view to charging it up.  But where was it?  Not in the usual place, that is to say, in the usual pocket.  So to locate it, I rang it from my home phone, and there it was, right in front of me, on a different part of my desk to what I expected.  Ring ring.  Ring ring.  A bit from Swan Lake.  No need to answer my call to myself!  Job done!

But what it this?  One unanswered call.  Who could that be from?  Oh yes.  Me.

LATER:  Out and back.  My friend Elena the Struggling Actress showed me her latest mobile phone this evening, and any year now I will clearly be having one of these myself.  It is not only a phone, but also an impulse camera (such as I already have separately) and an mp3 player (such as I do not now have).  It looks snazzy, but it is now too photographically primitive and far too expensive.  But give it a while . . .

Snapped today, with my big Billion Monkey hunting camera:

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I now resist the idea of combining everything in one, as does this guy.  Get the best camera, and the best music box separately, and the best phone separately, I say, just as at home I divide computing from music listening, so that if one goes down, the others still work.  But if the combined lot of them ends up costing and weighing only a tiny bit more than each bit separately, then it makes sense to combine.  Especially if I can throw in a TV screen, both to watch TV on the move, and to pre- and post-view photos.  Oh, and a usable QWERTY keyboard.  And and internet connection . . .

Behind the Billion Monkey in the photo is Parliament Square, with a blurry Churchill statue to be seen under his elbow.  He is photoing Westminster Abbey. 

Thursday October 05 2006

I am busy in what blogging time I have today concocting one of my huge photomosaics, and they take a long time.  So meanwhile, links to a couple of video thingies that I have liked a lot.

First, via James Hamilton’s football blog, that amazing Van Persie goal (explication here), with a wonderful foreign commentary.  Aren’t foreigners funny?  Yes they are, when they talk.  When they play football, it tends not to be so funny, and our lads provide the laughs.  Have you noticed how the London Underground is awash with adverts for books “by” our various World Cup not-very heroes?  Well, it is.

And second, via Blowing Smoke, a link to David Hasselhoff’s latest contribution to twenty first century popular culture.  I don’t know how to activate the video from here, but do it from there.  You won’t regret it.  (Unless of course you do.) I particularly like the fact that the trio of backing ladies have something meaningful to sing about.

Here is, assuming I can dig it out (yes I can), a photo of an advert for a Hoff book signing when he blew into London last month, sometime or other.

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Quoth Hoff

This book is my opportunity to print something from my heart, to tell the truth about what happened to me on the long and winding road from Baltimore to Baywatch to Broadway - and beyond. And the truth is not to be found in tabloid stories but in my actions: I am a good father and have tried to be a good husband. I love people and the emotional rollercoaster that goes with human relationships. I love all the bewildering, crazy and wonderful things that life has to offer. This book is about my successes and my failures, my strengths and my weaknesses. And, above all, it is about the hope contained in the Knight Rider slogan: “One man can make a difference."’

Indeed.  Van Persie, for instance, made a difference by scoring that goal.  Without it, Arsenal might have ended up with two fewer Preimiership points.  I support Arsenal, by the way, because they are a London club and I support all the London clubs.  Are they full of foreigners?  Yes.  Is Van Persie himself a foreigner?  Definitely, with a name like that.  So what?  London itself is full of foreigners.

Wednesday October 04 2006

Over at London Daily Photo, which I visit daily, today’s photo is a question.  What’s this?:

image

Can anyone here help out?  My guess, based on much snazzy architecture watching (and snapping) and the law that I deduced from such watching, Micklethwait’s Law of Snazzy Architecture (which states that the more interesting the new building looks the duller is the activity that first occurs inside it), is that this is a branch office of a building society.

But, what’s with all that surrounding countryside?  Maybe something to do with the Olympics?

UPDATE: It’s part of a sewage farm.  In Thamesmead.  And according to my A-Z that’s a public footpath between it and the river there.  So, expect Billion Monkeys snaps of the area Any Year Now But I Promise Nothing.  I really love the part of the river beyond Tower Bridge, past the big Docklands Towers, the Dome, and the along to the Barrage.  So, time I ventured beyond there.

This looks really interesting.  It’s an SLR, but liftable.

Not long ago, Bruce the Real Photographer lent me his old SLR camera, in the hope that I would buy it for next to nothing but enough to help with the rent, if I liked it.

Tragically, I didn’t.  It weighed a ton.  For me the joy of Billion Monkeying is that you can combine Billion Monkeying with having a life, by which I mostly mean shopping.  Real Photography, with a camera that weighs a ton, such as Bruce the Real Photographer does, is something you do entirely by itself.  You do not combine it with shopping.  It is your life.  And I couldn’t be doing with that.

The complexity of operating the thing also seemed fairly horrendous.  But that’s true with anything unfamiliar and I’m sure I would have got used to it very quickly.  I just didn’t want to.

Here’s a picture of Bruce The Real Photographer’s SLR, which presumably he still wants to sell:

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The reason he wants to sell it is that when out on a shoot, it stopped working, and he had to buy another SLR quickly.  (Cheaper, lighter and better, I’m guessing.) But the old one was soon repaired and is now going fine, and for a song.  To anyone who can lift it.

(That reminds me (see previous posting): I returned the SLR itself to BTRP, but still have the book of words for it.  That must go back also, of course.)

Meanwhile, because it does most of what I want, and because it is nimble and liftable in one hand, I prefer what I use now for Billion Monkey hunting, which is this:

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But now, reports Gizmodo, it looks like we Billion Monkeys may soon be able to combine the benefits of SLR with the joy of being able to hold our Lives in our other hands, or even the same hand.

Says Gizmodo’s Charlie White:

image

Pentax refined one of its earlier concepts at Photokina 2006 with its X-Change camera, a project started way back in 2002. The idea combines the best of both the digital SLR and compact camera worlds, with interchangeable lenses packing integrated CCD image sensors inside.

As soon as this technology can be perfected, you might not need a huge camera bag any more if you want to take along a highly-capable digital SLR with interchangeable lenses. Cramming CCDs into such a small space can’t be cheap, nor can it be noise-free. Maybe that’s why this concept is taking so long to bring to market. What do you think, commenters? Is it vaporware?

It gets my vote.  It even has an automatic lens cap, which I love.  Besides which, it only needs for some of us Billion Monkeys to like it for it to be a huge hit, whatever the Real Photographers may think.

If it gave me mega-zoom and if it enabled me to point the camera and the flash gun from different places, and gave me a screen that I could hold at any angle, as is, kind of, hinted at in the picture, then I would buy it AT ONCE, and then again and again, every time they improved it.  This would surely be possible now, with some kind of Bluetoothsome Wifitic communication between the main body of the camera and the lens bit.  If not, and the lens bit had to be attached to the rest, then I have just invented a new specification for the technies to get working on.

Here’s how that would work.  You hold the lens in your left hand, and point it at your target.  You hold the big bit in your right hand, either pointing your flash at your target from an angle, thus getting interesting shadows and total absence of red eye (which regular flash can’t usually get rid of no matter what is claimed), or, you aren’t using flash, but you can hold the screen at the perfect angle for viewing, and without looking as if you’re photo-ing them at all.  Perfect for snapping Billion Monkeys.  The day before yesterday, I went out with both my cameras – the one with the twiddle screen and the one without – but twiddle screen camera had no batteries, so I switched to non-twiddly. Far less effective.

I still miss my very first digital camera, a Minolta Dimage EX1500, which embodied this exact same separation.  This was ideal for indoor portraiture, because of how you could side-light with flash instead of just going straight at the poor bastard.  Why did they stop with this idea?  Couldn’t make it work?  Too fiddly and complicated for the Billion Monkeys?  Too liable to accidents?  (I had a bad one.) Sad.  I say I miss it, but come to think of it, I still have it.  It just doesn’t work any longer.

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This old Minolta would also have been excellent for Billion Monkey hunting.  Apart from the fact that it started turning the sky pink and didn’t fit enough pictures in it and used up its batteries far too quickly.

Tuesday October 03 2006

At the end of last week I had a fascinating conversation with my very good friend Adriana the Media Influencer about a book that she has recently come by.

imageAdriana’s problem, among others, is that she gets stressed.  She is now Media Influencing away on about seven different fronts, on some of them earning quite big fees which she is anxious not to alienate, and her brain gets too full, and she starts to sleep badly, and her coat starts to lose its shine and to fall out in tufts, etcetera etcetera and so on and so forth.  A collaborator who met up with her recently noted the symptoms and sent her a copy of Getting Things Done by David Allen, and she was enthusing about it.

Getting Things Done.  That’s an appropriate message to stick up here, near to the beginning of my new Blog Year.

This posting by me, here, is basically me reminding myself to take a look at this book - which is, I see, a Penguin, so presumably widely available here.  It is also me practising what, to judge by what Adriana was saying, is one of the techniques that Allen recommends, which is to write something down in a form that will always be readable by me in the future, thereby enabling me to stop worrying about remembering it in the meantime.  (In my career counselling, I also recommend written lists, in great matters and in small matters.  Lists make it less likely that you will completely forget something big when trying to arrive at a big decision.)

However, my problem with lists, and with written notes to myself of any kind, is that they immediately get lost.  I have never been able to file such attempts at memoranda in any form other than as a thinly disguised rubbish tip.  (Which meant that my academic career, such as it was, was a permanent shambles.) Until . . . blogging!  My various blogs have been my first filing system(s) that has(ve) ever worked!  As I will never tire of saying here, my most important reader here is me.

Personal blogs, of the most despisedly personal kind, are a superb way of relieving this kind of brain overload anxiety.  If you have a personal blog, use it to remind yourself about things you don’t want to forget, and maybe even have a special category for such stuff.  Have you a half-baked thought in your head, but no time in the meantime to continue with the baking?  Blog it.  (Maybe others can get baking.)

Do you despise self help books like this one by David Allen?  Despise away. Are you enraged by the utter unpredictability of the postings here, occasionally so good you have to keep coming just in case, but usually stupid, guaranteed only to amuse or assist me?  Rage on.  If I have a thought that I want to park without losing it, in a way and in a place that doesn’t mean me having to keep it in my head in the meantime, here is where I am liable to park it.  It’s my thought, and it’s my blog.

Unlike with real parking, you can attach written messages to a blog posting without doing any lasting damage.

I feel better already.

More classical music commentary from me, re the Leeds Piano competition and recent televised Barenboim piano master classes, here.

A “Natalie” is defined here.  This meme will spread.  All my memes spread.

Monday October 02 2006

Weird, but thanks anyway.  (Written version here.)

You remember I said here yesterday that on Friday night a car got attacked, just outside my home?  Well, I did.  And it did.

It was still there the morning after (it’s still there now actually), and before I forget to pass them on, here are the relevant photos.

Photo number one:

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Nasty.

Photo number two:

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Also nasty.

Photo number three:

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The point of all this nastiness is that the attack was all around the car.  None of it looks like much from a distance, but the bill for making it all smooth again would/will be horrendous.

However, with photo number four, it all enters a new dimension of villainy:

image

What can that have been all about?  Your guess is as good as mine.

Whoever did this had better be ready to be on the receiving end of a severe spasm of Metropolitan Police activity.  Merely attacking a car, well, that could just be Disaffected Youth being Disaffected.  Society is to blame, if indeed there is any blame.  This is, after all, a car, and cars are, it is widely understood, evil.  Unless it was another car person who did this, in which case the evil carness of attacker and attacked cancel each other out.

But once you express your Disaffection by carving NIGGER onto a car, you step over the line, from merely technical crime, into Crime that Society is determined to Stamp Out.

Personally, I don’t assume that this was a racially motivated attack.  Maybe whoever it was took an individual dislike to the particular black man in question, and merely grabbed the first insult he could think of.  It may merely, in other words, have been racially expressed, so to speak.  Had the object of the attacker’s anger been white, the word might have been WANKER or BASTARD or FUCKHEAD or some such.  But I don’t think the fuzz will now be in the mood for such subtleties.

That will probably be all you get on this story.  The plot may have thickened, but don’t expect me now or any time soon to dilute it for you again.  One day soon the car will vanish, and nothing more will be heard of it by me or by my neighbours, and that, for you and me, will be that.  I hope I’m wrong about this, but believe I’m right.

Sunday October 01 2006

I’m afraid we have had to skip this month’s classical music chat, becaue it turns out that Alex Singleton is just too snowed under with preparing the Globalisation Institute‘s considerable presence at the Conservative Party Conference to be able to fit it in.  With Brian Micklethwait podcasts, you get what you pay for, and if we can’t do it, we don’t do it.  We may be able to manage something after the Conference, at the end of next week, but ... I promise nothing.

imageMeanwhile, one of the more interesting classical music developments just now, which I was planning to talk about with Alex, is that Sting is on the front page of the BBC Music Magazine (i.e. classical music magazine).  He has made a CD of John Dowland songs, to be released by DGG in October.

I haven’t heard this yet.  It’s the kind of CD that tends to loom frequent in the second hand CD shops and market stalls, having been dumped there by disgusted pop fans who expected drums etc., or unloaded by snooty classical critics, so it shouldn’t be hard to come by quite cheaply, quite soon.  But if I am wrong about that, I just might buy it at full price.

I think there is a great future in pop type singers of the less shouty and more musical sort recording classical songs in the modern, microphone-savvy manner, with no opera-house bellowing and wobbling and the words clearly audible.  I know that I risk giving classical purists heart seizures, but I’d love to hear Schubert songs done this way, in the late night jazz club, Gauloise and whiskey glass on the piano manner.  Some years ago, I heard a very old, pre-WW2 recording of one of the more lugubrious (i.e. very lugubrious indeed) songs in Winterreise, by an English baritone, called Greene I think.  Brother of the boss of the BBC, if I remember rightly.  He sang with his face quite close to the mike, not at all operatically.  It sounded like Boris Karloff and it was great.  In general, I get the impression that in the early part of the twentieth century, opera singers were far readier to adapt their technique to the microphone, and to use the microphone, and the gramophone, to achieve effects impossible without them.  Now they mostly just bellow forth regardless.

Far better this than those terrible records of pop music done in a classical manner.  Each to his own and all that, but ... I hate those.  But it’s not just a case of this being better than something very bad.  It’s actually very good.