Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
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6000 Miles from Civilisation
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This and that
I don’t generally love conferences, but the latest weekend conference of the Libertarian Alliance was a bit special for me, if only because at it, I was able to ask Leon Louw to do a podcast interview with me, and on Monday morning of this week, that’s just what we did.
And it so happened that we had to hand an ideal subject to talk about, namely Leon Louw’s latest publication, which is entitled Habits of Highly Effective Countries: Lessons for South Africa.
It’s been a long time since I last felt so interested and impressed by anything, let alone anything that I was able to get within talking and interviewing distance of. I earnestly urge you either to read the entire 62 page publication itself, or, if you are a slow and hard reader but an easy listener, to listen to the conversation that I had with Leon Louw last Monday. Preferably both. (I am afraid I failed to say the date of the conversation during the conversation. For the record, it was Monday November 27th 2006.)
Leon Louw, the Executive Director of the Free Market Foundation of South Africa, is one of those people who is so charming, so attractive, so urbane and so friendly, that there is a danger that you will underestimate the substance behind the affable manner and the alert and entertaining mind. Until Monday morning I had him tagged as a very smart guy and a smooth-as-silk operator, whom it is always a pleasure to meet and a delight to know, who has been doing, you know, worthy stuff in urging free market policies on reluctant politicians, but is, in the end, not one of the world’s major movers or shakers. After the recorded conversation I had with him last Monday, I found myself thinking: Goodness, I just might have been talking to a Great Man, the sort of man who is later spoken of as one who changed the course of history for the better.
What came across most strongly was Leon’s absolute, fist clenched determination to distinguish between, on the one hand, what he would merely like to be true about what happens in well (and badly) governed countries, and, on the other hand, what he is actually able to report to be true about these places. As he said right at the start, what he is trying to do is to amass facts that are simply impossible to argue against. This is what successful countries do. This is what failed countries do. And so on.
For instance, he has discovered the incontrovertible fact that the mere level of taxation simply is not as important as we libertarians would have the world believe. (By the way, Leon Louw is an unswerving and utterly uncompromising libertarian and he said it very plainly in our talk.) What matters, it turns out, is how a government behaves, and how it spends its money. If it behaves in a predictable, rule-bound manner, that’s good. The “rule of law” is good, very good. If it behaves in an arbitrary, discretionary manner, even if the scale of its operations is a lot smaller, that’s bad.
And the central point here is, if you disagree with this “opinion”, then Leon has a simple response to you. This is not an opinion; it is a fact. And you are ignorant of it. “We are all entitled to our own opinions, but we are not entitled to our own facts.”
This publication, he says, is “an orgy of statistics”. Statistics like these ones, and I had the luck to ask about this, have become a lot easier to gather in the age of the internet, which alone might turn out to justify the internet, historically speaking. Simply, the internet makes it much easier to compare countries, and to see which ones are best, which worst, and why.
This work was first asked of Leon Louw by the Government of South Africa, but it is of universal significance, of value and of interest to people in all countries everywhere. One can imagine as many different versions of this publication as there are countries on the planet, bringing the same body of facts to bear on whatever are the local questions, assumptions and concerns, anywhere and everywhere.
As for other variables which you might expect to have a major bearing on national success or failure, Leon has knocked over theory after theory, like so many bowling pins. Neither resource abundance nor resource scarcity make much difference, resources being neither an automatic curse nor an automatic blessing. Size doesn’t matter, nor geography, not history. Race doesn’t matter. (One of the countries that has in recent times being doing among the best of all is Botswana.) Nor does political freedom seem to matter. China is not politically free and is doing well. India has long been a democracy, but only recently started doing well. Something has changed, but democracy wasn’t it.
None of which means that Leon Louw cares nothing for low taxes and/or democracy and political emancipation. It is simply that if you believe in such things, you are now going to have to argue for them for their own sake, rather than for what you wrongly suppose them to lead to.
The other big thing that Leon is able to report is that economic growth is wholly good, by any standard you care to judge it by. All the social indicators get better when growth is in full swing. Poverty, environmental damage, life expectancy, happiness, you name it. All the numbers get better.
I could ramble on indefinitely about how enthusiastic I am about this man, and about this growing body of work – for, by the way, it is anything but finished. But, instead I will just say, read the whole thing, and listen to the whole thing. Don’t take my word for any of this, read Leon Louw’s words and listen to Leon Louw’s words. The interview I did with him lasted fifty minutes, and it is worth every minute of your time. You don’t have fifty minutes to spare, learning about what successful and effective government is like? Find it. Make it. I honestly don’t see how any humane or intelligent person could regret doing this.
I was so excited about all this that I clean forgot to take a picture of Leon, even though I had two digital cameras with me. The picture above is one I found on the internet. Ah well, next time. And I very much hope there is a next time, because I can’t wait to hear what else this man finds out about how to make the world a better place.
Well, the Libertarian Alliance Blog is now up and running. To be exact, it is now up and staggering around the room like drunken two year old.
After a premature press release, and a premature posting quoting it, followed by several days of silence, postings are now starting to appear.
I have just written a longish posting for this blog entitled “Consent”, which included the following pearls of wisdom:
Every individual involved in a rugby international consented to take part, indeed was probably frantically eager to do so and was thrilled to be selected, despite all the dangers of getting quite badly hurt or being made a very public fool of. But if even one individual involved in such an event were to be kidnapped and forced against his will to take part, that would be wrong, say we libertarians. And says almost everyone else. That a mere majority consented to the event would be no excuse for such a kidnapping.
Good stuff I hope you agree.
But then, my troubles began.
Having failed to make sense of the posting process, which resulted in me either posting this essay or not, as a draft posting or as nothing, I then tried to post the following comment, which by then I was wise enough to save into a word processor, just like the original posting, for when that also disappeared into nothing which it duly did:
When I consented to write for this blog I was told that posting stuff would be no problem for someone as web-savvy as brilliant me. Like a fool I believed this piece of nonsense, commonly perpetrated by experts of all kinds, who confuse the ease with which they can now do something with the idea that it is inherently easy and cock-up free when someone less expert starts doing it.
The basic problem here is that (a) I have never used this particular blogging software before, and (b) all software without exception is difficult to use the first time.
And, as you can see, . . .
Or as in fact you can’t see. Just as well, really.
. . . I have failed to, er, master the posting process, and have, in particular, failed to master the process of editing what I have posted. So, there it is, in all its crapulence. Either I must learn to sort out this mess, or someone else must sort it out.
Luckily, as I say, there it wasn’t. But, what is now up at this blog is sufficiently mucked about for the following observation, which came next in my failed comment, to remain true:
There is a moral here. A tactical moral. Do not send out press releases until you have something satisfactory to announce. By all means scatter a few references to a new project on low traffic blogs, and at things like last weekend’s LA Conference, but do not, as they say, alert the media.
Actually, I think this is quite funny, given what the posting says about the possibility of consenting to something which then makes a public fool of you.
Or what the posting would have said if it had actually gone up.
I cannot exaggerate how confusing I found the inputting process to be. It was impossible to tell what actually updating anything consisted of, or whether, after one had done what felt like an update, it actually was, or whether one had published, or merely done . . . I don’t know what. Utter utter confusion.
In particular, I was confused by typography. I am used to blog-input software which pays no attention to how big the text was when I typed it into my word processor, but just standardises it to its own preferred standard. But this system takes careful note of how big it was when you wrote it, which you don’t want it to. In an attempt to correct this, I switched mine from “visual” to “code” (or something like that) and laboriously went through it all and changed “font 3” to “font 2”, or whatever, inevitably missing some “font 3” references, and the playback or preview or whatever the fuck looked even more like a suicide note than it had before. It was probably just as well that when I finally had it looking right (but quite possibly, really, actually, still in a state of psychotic typographical dementia) when I pressed “publish” the system just gummed up completely and all I got was an error message. Don’t know what that page is mate. Sorry. So I gave up. If my Consent posting doesn’t go up in the next few days, I’ll just put it somewhere else.
Judging by this posting which Tim Evans has just stuck up, I’m not the only one having trouble with this system. Tim’s posting may in due course be tidied up, but as of now, it has distinctly suicide note tendencies, with the lettering of the text surely too big, and the spacing far too tight. Plus there’s a full stop which has gone walkabout. And my guess would be that Tim has no more idea of how to correct this than I have of how to actually post something in the first place.
None of his matters. In a few weeks, all this nonsense will be forgotten. The Libertarian Alliance is in for the long haul. It seldom gets these sorts of things right at first. (I am thinking now of the derangement of the first LA pamphlets I did.) And often it never gets them right at all. But libertarianism itself is a hugely strong body of ideas - that the Libertarian Alliance does get right, again and again. Libertarianism can triumph over any amount of incompetence in the mere process of these ideas being proclaimed.
Luckily, also, libertarianism is a statement about how the world should be ruled. (As little as possible.) It is not the statement that any particular bunch of libertarians should rule the world.
I’ve been meaning to do this for several days:
Full story here, and when I last looked there had been 147 comments.
I followed one, pretty much at random, and found my way to this posting ("Publish it in your Blog!"), by a Somali blogger who lives in South London.
One of the earliest links, with a photo, was from Samizdata.
And one of the more interesting links has been from the high traffic culture blog 2 Blowhards:
My own hunches / feelings run along these lines: “I can certainly see the potential for vigilante-justice-style abuse. But, really, screw the worrywarts. If someone attacked me or someone I care about and I managed to snap a photo of him, I’d certainly put it on the web too. What’s really worrying is the state of crime and policing in London.” Also, of course: “What a funny new era we live in.”
What are your own hunches and feelings about the Jackie Danicki affair?
Sooner or later this person will surely be identified.
Just to say that today, there will be only whatever drivel it is I thrust into my keyboard during the next few seconds and minutes.
But I have not been idle. I have done two mp3 sessions in the last two days, both of which I will be shoving up here Real Soon Now.
Meanwhile, a favourite recent snap:
We’re looking along the Strand, towards the City, and away from Trafalgar Square.
I like the contrast between the extreme, selfconscious artfulness of the street lamps, and the extreme, unselfconscious functionality of the distant cranes.
London has fine street lamps and fine cranes, and it’s fun to line them up. Especially if you can throw in a church. By Wren? Looks like it to me.
Chicken Yoghurt writes:
If anybody is at a loose end tonight and would like to see me make a complete arse of myself, then they should tune in to 18 Doughty Street at 9pm.
And at 10pm, I will be on. With this guy, apparently, according to Iain Dale. This may have something to do with the rude things I said about the Liberal Democrats. My charge was that when you meet a Liberal Democrat you never know what he will believe. The one who talks to you is likely to say what you want to hear. But the others will simultaneously be telling other people with quite different views what they want to hear. So don’t vote for these lying creeps. At least the two leading parties do stand for a recognisable attitude that unites their members, although less and less as time goes by.
I’d love to be convinced that I am wrong about the Lib Dems, because the thing that got me so mad with them was that the ones talking to me are showing definitely libertarian tendencies. That is, there are now Lib Dems – in particularly those associated with the Orange Book - who believe in both lower taxes and fewer and simpler regulations etc., and in “social” freedoms. And this guy, see above, the blogger Cicero of Cicero’s Songs, is just such a libertarian type Lib Dem. His blog’s subtitle reads as follows:
Musings on World events from the perspective of a Social and an Economic Liberal.
Which is my kind of talk.
My suspicion, however, is that people who believe in neither of those things and in various other quite different things, also each have their own Lib Dems, telling them that taxes should go up and that social freedoms should be suppressed, and that their particular enthusiasm (pro fox hunting, abortion, anti fox hunting, anti abortion, whatever) is what really matters. (Their particular enthusiasm being what the extra tax money should be spent on.) The only belief that all Lib Dems share is the belief that more people should vote for the Lib Dems.
I might be persuaded that my prejudice is wrong. But, I doubt it.
Hello, and welcome to the Technology Liberation Front blog. Does the world really need another blog, you might ask? Well, yes, on this issue the world most certainly does need another blog because there’s not another one like this out there.
Sounds good. I have always liked people who are confident that they are doing something good and important, and say so.
Do you remember when politicians would run around saying government should keep its “Hands off the Net.” It was nice rhetoric while it lasted but, ultimately, it was a hollow promise. Today the government has its hands all over the Internet. It’s difficult to name an area where lawmakers and regulators are not currently promulgating or considering rules and regulations for the high-technology and communications sectors.
Well I don’t really remember that part, which is not to say that it didn’t happen. But I do sort of remember a somewhat earlier time when most politicians had no idea what the Net even was, and accordingly had pretty much nothing to say about it. But I always assumed that those golden days would pass.
This is why this site is needed. We aim to report on, and hopefully help to reverse, this dangerous trend of over-regulation of the Internet, communications, media and high-technology in general. We will not hide our love of liberty on this site and we will take every opportunity to castigate those who call for expanding the reach of government into these fields.
Ah, bias. I do love to be told exactly why I am right, and often even righter than I realised.
I hope you enjoy the site and will pass word on to friends who might also be interested in these issues.
I hope I enjoy it too, and if I do, I will indeed pass it on. Meanwhile, one for the blogroll.
Seriously, there does seem to be quite a lot of good stuff at this place.
Also, equally seriously, blogs are often said to be an empheral medium, here today gone tomorrow, tomorrow’s virtual chip wrapping. But there goes this blog linking back from its main page to its original Welcome statement of August 2004, and me then linking to and copying from that as well.
I have spent the whole day at that Libertarian Alliance Conference, and tomorrow I am to give a talk myself on the unlovely topic of “political correctness” which I have yet to finalise. Plus, oh joy, I ate too much and have a belly ache, which may seriously threaten my sleep. (Belly ache seems less hurtful when one is vertical, but sleeping when vertical is hard.)
So, to cheer myself up, I contemplate England sport. Cheer myself up as in: there’s always someone worse off than yourself.
No doubt the Sunday papers will be full of lamentation about the malaise that afflicts English sport, and portentous conclusions about the decline of England itself will probably also be arrived at, only to be blown away when the sporting picture cheers up.
I call it the curse of Trafalgar Square. Any team which rides through London in an open bus to Trafalgar Square (the rugger team did it too after they won the World Cup) is heading for perdition.
Good night, and wish me luck sleeping.
Tim has recently transformed the prospects of the Libertarian Alliance by getting the money and money-raising side of it properly organised, for pretty much the first time in its history. The LA now has a quite large and growing number of Gold Subscribers, who pay ten quid per month, and who take it in turns to attend LA dinners.
The only disagreement in the entire conversation between me and Tim concerned the motivation for these arrangements. Tim says and said they are happening because they are needed. He and Sean Gabb decided that they were necessary. I say and said that they are happening because Tim likes and is very good at fund raising, and likes organising and attending dinner parties. Everyone does whatever they like doing that helps, when it comes to doing stuff for the Libertarian Alliance. But the result is the same either way, and the money will come in very handy and make a big difference.
We also discussed the constitution, for want of a better word, of the LA. How it works, in other words. And how it works is that it is owned by a despot, now a joint despot consisting of Sean and Tim. But – and we talked about this – that doesn’t actually make for a regular despotism, because Sean and Tim don’t want to piss off anyone who is making any sort of useful contribution. Nigel Meek, for instance. He now does what I used to do. He edits all the LA’s publications. Suppose Nigel has an opinion about the LA that he wants Tim and Sean to be told about. Do you think they listen? Damn right they do. All useful contributors to the LA have power, to the extent that they are being useful. And in the age of the internet, almost everyone can contribute (or screw around) by saying nice (or nasty) things about the LA on the internet.
We mentioned also the fact that there is a Libertarian Alliance Blog just getting started. I will be contributing to this, occasionally. I hope to be contributing to it this weekend, because this weekend there is a big LA Conference happening, at the National Liberal Club.
One thing I must apologise about with extreme grovellingness is that during this conversation with Tim I said “Mmm” about two hundred more times than I should have. I really, really apologise about this. This would be fine in regular conversation, but if you have a mike attached to the top of your shirt when you say “Mmm”, while someone else is talking, it sounds appalling. I really hope that any listeners to this are able to screen this out and still enjoy it. Sorry. Really, really sorry. I will not do this again. I seldom promise anything on this blog but this I do promise. But for this one, I’m afraid it’s too late.
The weather now looks great, and I am determined to go out and sample it very soon. But, this evening I am occupied. So, now, a quota photo, and one I have been meaning to alert you people to for some while now. It’s a mural in Paris, and was the Paris Daily Photo of October 27th:
Go there to find out where it is in Paris.
The important point to get is that it is entirely flat. The shadows, although very realistic, are just painted, as are all the animals.
The technical term is “trompe-l’oeil”, meaning deceives the eye. So says one of the many Paris DP commenters. London murals tend to be more folksy and agit-propish, with comic book Karl Marxes and Nelson Mandelas and such. This Paris thing looks like a very superior colour supplement advert for a posh watch, or something of that sort.
What’s the French for cool? My guess: “cool”.
The other night I was browsing through my photos in search of a quota photo, and I came across a bunch of photos which I took just before visiting Bruce the Real Photographer. That was the night we did our podcast, during which Bruce talked, among other things, and in connection with his amazing Oxford picture, about how bad weather can be good for photography. The point being that the sun only has to peep through on a bad day, and the results can be special, far more so than on a completely nice day. Well, the weather just before Bruce and I talked was somewhat like that, there being plenty of dramatic clouds around as well as blue sky, and I was a bit ahead of myself and filled the time by taking photos.
All these snaps were taken on the Albert Bridge, the other side of which being where Bruce the Real Photographer lives. It’s the kind of London structure you tend to take for granted, but it deserves a closer look from time to time.
These two show what kind of ornate beast it is:
I love all that metallic complexity, combining decorativeness with structure. Fogers and Roster eat your hearts out.
These are views from the bridge, looking upstream and downstream:
And here are the obligatory artistic type close-ups of the iron-work:
I especially like the light bulbs.
Look out for: two airplanes; and: the pointy docklands tower.
That Wikipedia bit linked to above reveals that the bridge was strengthened in 1884, which would account for why, if you look closely, you will see that it uses two separate structural systems. Very odd. A classic London jumble, I think.
And, I have just noticed from Wikipedia, and from its picture top right, that there now are also central supports for the bridge, added in the 1970s apparently, which remind me of those extra cheating type central legs that cheap double beds (such as mine) have in the middle of them. So that’s three support systems.
Says Johnathan Pearce, commenting on a pessimistic Ashes piece I’ve just done for Samizdata:
Looks like my sleep patterns are buggered for the next few weeks.
Mine too. Who knows what effect the Ashes will have on my bloggage here at BrianMicklethwait.com? But, looking on the brighter side, who cares?
It’s a little thing, but it shows you how much the texture of everyday life has been changed by . . . Search. (Yes I am now reading this book.)
The other night I needed the phone number of a particular dentist, because a friend needed it. I knew, in the sense of being able to walk there, where the dentist is, but not the name of the dentist, or the name of the street. So I looked in my A-Z London street guide. I used the paper version, but could have looked at the internet version, and I could have tried the Yellow Pages, but that would have taken far longer. I find it. It’s Churton Street. I google dentist london pimlico churton street, and get there straight away. Bingo. Got it. And I ring back with the number.
And the moral of that tale is that, as always, new methods of information storage and information spreading do not compete with other older methods, but complement them. Telephone, and search.
A few years ago, I might have rung Directory Enquiries, and they would have used their search system. Now, I have that system on my desk, and I do it. And what is more I do it just before midnight.
You have to be old to register major changes like this. Your own life has be in a settled state for you to notice major changes in the environment, because when younger you can’t distinguish between the world changing and you growing up. When you’re seventeen, you find out new things. But is this because they’ve just been invented? Or merely because you just got old enough to notice them? (Adolescents often imagine they invented sex. No. They merely discovered it.) You can probably tell which it is if you think about it, but the difference doesn’t smack you in the face. But when you are fifty plus as I am (more like sixty minus), you realise that changes like this can only have happened because the world itself has changed. I haven’t. It must have.
And, the older I get, the more I am amazed by things like this, because the more the world has moved on from what it was when I first became a grown-up.
Were you rather irritated by this posting? Was it an unforgivably obvious description of the life that we all now live? Well, that’s sort of my point. Not only did I find the phone number of that dentist in about one minute, but the fact that I did this is completely unremarkable.
It seems that the Samsung SPH-P9000 Deluxe MITs, to give it its full title, will soon be buyable, even if only in South Korea:
One of the Samsung team told, that this device will be on sail in 2 weeks in South Korea.
Well, you probably can use it on a sailing boat.
Which, according to these guys, is sooner than previously announced.
This blog made the difference. When the world’s gadget freaks get excited about an exciting gadget, that is inevitable. When I get excited, the world takes note.
I like this gizmo more and more, the more I see of it.
There should be more iPod docks, to add to all these. But, they should be tasteless and not look like iPod docks, the way all these ones do look like iPod docks.
There should be things like a monkey who is holding up two weird looking speakers in his hands and you stuff the iPod in his mouth. Or not a monkey, maybe a person. Or things like a bug eyed monster, where the eyes are the speakers and you shove the iPod in the bug eyed monster’s brain, stomach, mouth or other organ or orifice. A house where you stuff the iPod in the letter box, and the upstairs windows are the speakers, and the roof is thatched. That kind of thing. Maybe an old gramophone where the iPod twiddles around when it is playing.
The point is, there’s been enough iPod dock good taste, and it’s about time for some iPod dock bad taste. The demand for iPod docks is obviously insatiable, like the demand for telephones. And telephones are now, in addition to being tasteful and shaped like telephones, also stupid and shaped like fruit, the world, Marilyn Monroe’s lips, cars, Star Wars robots, really old telephones with finger dials, you name it. iPod docks now need to go this way.
That‘s more like it.
My thanks to this guy for the link, who also offers the following incisive commentary:
O iPulse Bear é um acessório para iPod muito diferente. Ele é urso que leva o seu iPod em uma bolsa na barriga, como se fosse um canguru. Um cabo oculto se conecta ao plug do fone de ouvido do seu iPod e é só apertar a pata do iPulse Bear para começar a tocar. Ele ainda tem luzes que se acendem no ritmo, freqüência e volume das músicas.
Well said mate, probably. Muito diferente. My sentiments exactly.
iMyself do not use iPods. When at home iListen to digital radio or CDs, or iWatch TV. When in trains iRead books. Or, if any of my fellow passengers are playing with their digital cameras, iPass the time by photographing them.
I love to do career counselling, but not many people ask me to do it because my own “career” is such a non-event, and because I haven’t myself made a career out of doing career counselling. But a friend did request a dose of it last week, and I heard myself saying something to them which I thought at the time and still think was really pretty good. So I will now pass it on to you people. (If you want classier career stuff, I recommend this lady.)
My friend’s problem was the one I am best at helping with, which is not how to get further ahead in the job or pursuit you already have or are pursuing, but how to set about picking your next job or pursuit in the first place.
First, a preliminary rumination on how to have ideas. All the authorities I’ve read and listened to seem to agree that idea-having is a three stage process.
First, immerse yourself in the facts of the matter. Don’t worry what you are going to think about them or do about them. Just immerse. Immerse in the obvious agenda, immerse in unobvious stuff. Sweat at the problem. And play around with it.
Second, relax. Take a walk. Sleep. Think about something else, like listening to music or doing something else important.
Three, the idea comes to you. When it does, you’ll know that the idea is a good one. Eureka!
Career ideas are like that. If you have the time, and my friend did have the time, then you don’t want to force it.
First immerse yourself in the relevant data. Here I can be a real help, because I have a whole stack of tried-and-tested questions and methods of analysis that enable the facts to stack up quickly.
Like: When your time is your own, what do you do? (Not what do you wish you did, but what, in fact, do you do?)
Like: What do you daydream about doing?
Like: What are you proud of having already done? Make a list of everything that you’ve ever done that you are glad about, from big like a long and big and hard job, to small like a little thing you did for someone that only lasted a few seconds. (Maybe you rescued a major company, turning it around from imminent bankruptcy to glory. Maybe you did some smart baby sitting for a seriously harassed relative or friend. Maybe you put out a hand and stopped a stranger going under a lorry. He thanked you, rushed off to do whatever it was that was making him so impatient and careless, and that was it.) Look at the list. Maybe there’s a pattern there.
Like: Okay you think you know what you want to do, but do you really want to do that, or do you merely like the idea of having done it? Collecting Oscars is all very nice and happy-making. But what do film stars actually do all day long? Would you really enjoy that life?
Like (and talking of film stars): What kind of work do you believe in doing so much that you would rather fail at it than succeed at doing almost anything else.
Like: If you do whatever you’re thinking about doing, what’s the best that can happen? And: what’s the worst that can happen? Great stuff and not a lot is obviously the combination you are looking for there.
Like: Now you have a pile of stuff to think about. Write it all down! (I know, not a question, but an important point.)
Another important point, about all these questions: You don’t have to tell me the answers, or show me the answers, or read out the answers to me. If you want to you’ll be very welcome because I always enjoy this stuff. But, my enjoyment aside, the important thing here is to ask yourself things like this, and to ponder your answers yourself, in your own time.
In your own time. After maybe having used me to speed up the immersing-yourself-in-the-facts stage, don’t then rush things. Like I said, go to sleep, do something else. Don’t aggress on the decision. Don’t make the decision. Let the decision make itself, and then present itself to you, in its own sweet time.
The big exception to that rule is when there is time pressure. And here, if you are stressing under time pressure, I’d throw in another question, which is: Is the decision reversible? That can save a lot of grief, because often a decision that seems very portentous and heavy is actually not, because if it goes wrong – you get miserable or bored, whatever - you can easily back out of it. If you can’t you can’t, but often you can. And maybe if you originally think you can’t, you can actually rearrange the decision in such a way that you can back out of it. ("Okay, I’ll give it all I’ve got, but if it doesn’t work out, I’ll stop. Okay? And don’t start paying me properly until I commit.” In other words, turn the decision back into a prolongation of the fact-finding process.)
Maximise the chances of the decision making itself.
Now, here comes the bit that I said that really impressed me. As it popped out of my mouth, I thought, I haven’t said that to anyone before. That’s good stuff. (Although, I’m sure not original. Almost certainly the product of lots of fact-immersing in facts supplied by and provoked by others.)
The point about decisions of this sort - the ones where the decision steps in front of you with a flourish of trumpets and you say: Yessss!!!! - is not so much that the decisions you make will be better decisions. Often, Yessss!!!! decisions are just as dopey as the coldly logical but boring ones.
But, they do have one big advantage, which is that they often bring out the best in you. You rip into what ever it is with a new purpose and a new momentum. You charge madly off, not necessarily in an especially good direction, but least in a direction. And this momentum can take you to lots of good places, which you might otherwise never have reached. Life has flavour and zip to it. You make what you think is a huge career decision, which turns out to be fairly expensive crap, crap in itself and further crap because not that easily reversed. But, on the good side, you plunge into a whole new swimming pool (sewer maybe) full of facts, about you and about the universe, and from those facts, something truly good may emerge and present itself to you. Almost anything is better than just sitting in your cave and doing nothing. That is (a) a lousy career decision, and worse (b) it gives you no new facts to help make a better career decision. Iif you do nothing, you learn nothing.
That’s basically it. Stop now, if all you wanted from reading this was my most important point.
But, if you will allow me one more plug for my career counselling services, let me now add that one of the most valuable things I am often able to do for my career-counsellees is the simple thing of making them feel happy again. Just that. Often they came to me because they not only do not feel happy now, but have begun to suspect that, what with them now being twenty seven or some such disaster, they are constitutionally incapable of ever being happy again. So, if I manage to provoke a few flavoursome and zippy career insights from them, and manage to stir up inside them the notion that maybe they might just find something really fun and satisfying to do, and maybe even soon, and that they are not doomed to greyness for ever . . . that feeling can itself often be enough for them to turn the corner. After all, if they got all excited, even if they got all excited about something they later realise is delusional nonsense, at least they got all excited! At least they are still capable of that kind of excitement! And if that feeling can come once, it can come again, and - who knows? - maybe some time soon it will come because of a potential decision that actually makes a bit of sense.
Very busy day, as threatened. So read this, which won’t take you long at all, and then read this, about dangerously thin drug addicted models. Basic message: what you have heard about dangerously thin drug addicted models is all true.
He noted this as well, but reckons that they may be stick insects for a reason.
The reason for the business – the busy-ness, that is to say - of my weekend, alluded to in the previous posting, is that tomorrow, I am participating in another recording of a classic play, for the internet, for this enterprise.
The play in question is An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde, and I am reading the part of the politician, Sir Robert Chiltern, who is being blackmailed by the wicked Mrs Cheveley from Vienna. So, for the last day or so I have been intermittently ranting crazily to nobody, trying to get under the skin of my part, to the astonishment of any neighbours unfortunate enough to be hearing anything.
Sir Robert Chiltern is an imperfect individual, not merely in having based his political fortunes on a piece of corrupt insider trading, but in the cruel way that he lashes out at his wife as if his consequent difficulties were all her fault. But, I suppose this is how how cornered rats often behave. Furthermore, when obliged to confess his past misdoings to his friend Lord Goring, he wallows in the completeness with which he then tells the truth, thereby still, it seems to me, enabling him to think of himself as virtuous. But again, I suppose, very human. Cleanse yourself of your crime by confessing it completely, in the most elevated prose you can lay tongue to, which is very elevated indeed if you have Oscar Wilde to write your speech.
Chiltern seems to be a self-mythologiser, like a lot of politicians, I suppose. He confronts a succession of disasters, and each time he tries to create a character to perform in the new drama that the disaster has created.
The issues this play deals with are just as alive now as they were a century ago, and in many ways more so. Corruption; the way the money buys politics, and politics repays the favour, this way or that; the eagerness of immoral journalists to go after any immoral politicians they find out about, especially those politicians who have, like Chiltern, tried to present themselves as above averagely virtuous. This is all very contemporary stuff to us, a hundred years later. Wilde didn’t really foresee fascism and communism in all their horror – who did? (well Dostoyevksy maybe) - but our current world is a lot like his.
The cynicism expressed by Chiltern’s friend, Lord Goring, about the harmful effects of charity, and of good intentions generally, make, if anything, more sense now than they probably did then.
Chiltern: I don’t say that I suffered any remorse. I didn’t. Not remorse in the ordinary, rather silly sense of the word. But I have paid conscience money many times over. I had a wild hope that I might disarm destiny. The sum Baron Arnheim gave me I have distributed twice over in public charities since then.
Goring: In public charities? Dear me! What a lot of harm you must have done, Robert!
Chiltern: Oh, don’t say that, Arthur, don’t talk like that!
Goring: Never mind what I say, Robert! I am always saying what I shouldn’t say. In fact, I usually say what I really think. A great mistake nowadays. I makes one so liable to be misunderstood. As regards this dreadful business, I will help you in whatever way I can. Of course you know that.
Chiltern and Goring are the equivalent duo in this play of Jack Worthing and Algy in The Importance of Being Earnest. But in this version of the relationship, the Worthing figure is, for all his public celebrity, the weakling, and all the strength and cunning comes from the Algy figure. Earnest is more of a comedy, and Algy is the one who revels in comedy, and of course stirs up a lot of himself. Jack Worthing, along with Lady Bracknell, is the social engineer. An Ideal Husband is more melodramatic, and it is Chiltern who is swept up in that, and who reacts to his misfortunes it by making further melodramatic speeches and accusations.
Both plays are a ringing endorsement of the value of ‘society’ as a necessary artifice, as a vital protective contrivance, without which civilisation would collapse. And not only are these plays about this contrivance, they are about people who actively make it their business to keep this contrivance going, who prop up the scenery when it wobbles, so to speak.
At the end of Earnest, the two leading protagonists of that drama, Jack Worthing and Lady Bracknell, come face to face like opposing military commanders, and negotiate a bloodless settlement which they both know to be a contrivance, and happiness reigns. In An Ideal Husband, the apparently ineffectual and frivolous Goring rescues his friend from disaster, by routing the villainous Mrs Cheveley (the dramatic equivalent in An Ideal Husband of Lady Bracknell). And having done that, Goring also prevails upon Chiltern’s wife to allow Chiltern to continue his political ascent. The Robert Chilterns of this world are not perfect, but they are as good as we’ll get. Meanwhile, Goring himself bows gracefully to the demands of matrimony. Life, both public and private, must go on. Matrimony, in which public and private life are joined, must triumph. Wilde’s happy endings are not mere recipes for theatrical contentment. They are recommendations. This is what we should all do, says Wilde. Hypocrisy is not the worst vice, as the twentieth century was about to confirm hideously.
It is very hard not to speculate about how Wilde’s famously homosexual proclivities, and also his rather less well known and remarkably happy marriage and family life, caused him to think about all these matters more deeply than he might have otherwise. Both of these plays appear to me like, among other things, hymns of praise to that closet which, until recently, homosexuals were confined within, and within which many homosexuals still choose to remain confined. Yes, society is a contrivance, and often a false one. But it is essential, and to throw it aside in the name of mere public virtue or mere personal consistency is, Wilde argues, the ultimate frivolity, far more deplorable than the mere contrary jokiness of a Goring, or of an Algy Moncrieff. (Nationalising society, as we have done so largely in our time, is almost as bad, for nationalising society corrupts it.) Wilde, who was denied full membership of the society of his own time by his sexual nature, was all the more aware of what he was missing, and begged those who thoughtlessly benefitted from society not to throw that society away with equal thoughtlessness, or in any other way to mishandle it.
Well, all that spilled out in rather a rush, in between studying my lines. I hope it made approximate sense. Tomorrow, after doing the play, perhaps I will think quite differently about it. The main thing I want to say is that Oscar Wilde’s plays are often thought of as mere empty comedies, about nothing at all and all the better for it, just one enormous outpouring of Algyness. This is nonsense. Not even Algy is about nothing. But the notion that Wilde’s plays are about nothing has probably taken hold because the ideas that Wilde’s plays are actually about are still unwelcome, to our own version of polite society.
I am already into what will be a very busy weekend, so it’s quota photo time, in the form of two views of the new London Parliament building, which was designed by either Roster or Fogers, don’t recall which. Google it, if you care.
First, a regular view, from the side, i.e. from beside it on the same side of the river as the thing itself.
I think that’s rather ungainly.
But this, I think, taken from across the river with maximum zoom, looking the beast in the face rather than from sideways, at twilight, is rather effective, I think.
It looks to me like a big bad sneaky alien, hell bent on doing terrible things to London which will cost London dear and such that when London realises it will be too late.
Which is nasty.
Simon Baron-Cohen believes that assortative mating may be causing an increase in autism - systematisers mating with systematisers and having super-systematiser kids.
Is the observed recent increase in autism real, or a mere result of it being looked for more alertly and measured more precisely?
My guess would be that the increase is real, and SB-C thinks that too. By the time I got to this next bit, I was already thinking along similar lines (see bottom of page 2):
Consider that in the late 1950s, less than 2 percent of undergraduates at MIT (a university that caters to people with good systemizing skills) were women. Today female enrollment has jumped to 50 percent. This microcosm is just one example of how society has changed in ways that would bring strong systemizers into greater proximity. Over the same period, air travel has also meant far greater opportunities for people from widely differing backgrounds to meet, possibly brought together by their common interest in systems. Finally, over this same timeframe, individuals who are systemizers have enjoyed new employment opportunities as the result of the digital revolution. Where 50 years ago a strong systemizer might have found a job as an accountant, today every workplace needs computer-savvy employees, and the financial rewards for good systemizing skills can be immense.
For me, the “finally” bit is the one that matters. After all, it is basically work that brings these systematisers together. Work is why women now go to college in large numbers. Work is just as well done now by women as by men. Work is why systematisers of both sexes socialise, if necessary by travelling to meet one another in airplanes. Work gives them lots to talk about once they have met.
A century or more ago, we had an economy that didn’t reward systematisers that much, unless they were running large chunks of the system, which was itself pretty simple and needed little in the way of fancy tending. But now the economy wants systematisers at every level. This changes mating patterns, and the kind of children who therefore get born and raised. It must.
Tyler Cowen, to whom thanks for the link, also linked to a number of other articles from this posting, but the majority of his comments have been about this autism hypothesis. This is clearly a topic which is of concern to us systematisers.
And yes, of course, Simon Baron Cohen is related to (is a cousin of) Borat’s creator. Read about Borat’s attempts at mating here.
“I like your clothings. Are nice! Please may I buying? I want have sex with it.”
Thank you here for the link to that.
Do you recall me saying that I would explain what happened with that picture posting glitch which this blog suffered from over last weekend? Well, I did. And now, I will.
So far as I can judge, from an email that I got just before it all happened from my hosts, Hosting Matters, from my own experiences, from the fascinating comment left by the lovely Tatjana on this posting, and from talking it all through with Patrick Crozier last night, what happened was this.
I loaded this posting, the one with the airship pictures, or tried to, at precisely the moment when they were about to migrate all my stuff from one computer/hard disc/gizmo, the Zaphod Beeblebox, which was running out of puff, to another computer/hard disc/gizmo, the Lunch Box, just as they said they were going to do in their email. These are not the real names for the gizmos in question, although the first one did begin with a Z. I made up new names for comedic effect, and because if I revealed the real names, I might have to kill all my readers. The only bit of the email I completely understood was where it said about how most customers won’t need to do anything. So, I forgot about it, and hoped for the best, which, this time, did not materialise.
Anyway, here’s what happened:
I pushed the button to load the posting, and the text duly loaded, on the Zaphod Beeblebox.
Hosting Matters then pushed the button which started the transfer of data from the Zaphod Beeblebox to the Lunch Box.
The airship pictures in the posting then continued to load, to the Zaphod Beeblebox, but they missed the bus when it came to them being transferred over to the Lunch Box. The text was transferred, but not any of the pictures.
At this point, Tatjana observed the pictures. “They were great!” etc.
Having loaded everything of mine across to the Lunch Box, Hosting Matters then threw the gigantic switch that switched the attention of the internet from the Zaphod Beeblebox to the Lunch Box. Which meant that the internet could no longer see the airship pictures. They vanished from view.
I spent the weekend fretting that I had run out of space and would never again be able to load pictures without ghastly and expensive rearrangements. But when Patrick dropped by, he said, no there’s still some space left (which was how it also looked to me), and, he said, try loading another. So I did, and it worked.
Then, emboldened, I reloaded the airship pictures, and this time, that all worked too. They again became visible, and have remained so ever since.
The above interpretation of events is confirmed by the fact that when I loaded the airship pictures for the second time, no mention was made by my loading software of any previous files of the same name, and “Are you sure you want to load another file over the top of the existing one?” etc. It was just like loading pictures for the first time. They’d been loaded first time around, because Tatjana saw them, but then they’d gone, certainly as far as my loading software was concerned. And then they were loaded again.
Isn’t that exciting?
Well, I like it. Especially since no permanent harm would appear to have been done.
It’s great having all these great photos everywhere these days, but one feels there should be something more to do with them, somehow. Prediction: people will find more ways of using the best ones. Decorating the sides of buildings perhaps?
Maybe. On the other hand, we have that now. Advertising.
Computer screens are coming along fast. Soon everyone will have not one or two or three, but lots. Already they are selling cheap screens to display photos in frames, without having to print them out with complicated and messy machines.
I am especially keen on screens that don’t need to shine like lights, but which merely reflect light, like printed paper does. Screens have a long way to go. As they get where they’re going, everyday life will be further transformed.
Electronic paper offers all of the same characteristics of paper such as being thin, flexible, and lightweight. It also boasts low power consumption in that it does not require electricity except during screen image changes, making electronic paper especially suited for advertisements or information bulletins in public places for which paper is currently used. Electronic paper is especially convenient for use on curved surfaces, such as columns. In addition, electronic paper can be conveniently used in conjunction with mobile devices as an easy-to-read and portable display device.
Woo hoo! Snap away Billion Monkeys! Soon you will be able to stick your pix everywhere!
Picture of Lady Billion Monkey with magic eyes!:
CTGIB. Virtual pat on back for whoever decyphers that.
It’s all in the editing. The editing is pro. The music is am. The result is amazingly pro.
This is to see if pictures are loading okay. Another remembrance day type picture.
Well, that worked. So I tried re-uploading the airship photos, and that worked too. Scroll down to last Friday, and there they are! I know what happened, and I’ll tell you all about it Real Soon Now, but am busy just now.
DIABOLISTS For the full effect when photographing Satan, make sure to switch off your camera’s red-eye reduction feature. Paul Bradshaw - email
I also like number 96:
EMPLOYERS Avoid hiring unlucky people by immediately tossing half the CVs into the bin. Jonny the E
And number 72:
RAPPERS Avoid having to say ‘know what I’m sayin’ all the time by actually speaking clearly in the first place. J. Calabas
And number 15:
BASEBALL cap manufacturers. Save the wearer the bother of turning your caps round by putting the peak on the other side. John Davies – Carlisle
I tried inserting individual links to these various pearls of wisdom, but couldn’t make that work. You’ll just have to go to wah wah wah dot viz dot co dot uk, and click on Top Tips, and trudge through it all. There is probably a Top Tip I could supply myself about how all that is bollocks, but I can’t be bothered.
While I can’t be sticking pictures up here, again, yet, I might as well put pictures up at Samizdata instead.
Sorry but that’s all for today.
Alas, this blog is suffering from technical problems. My last attempted posting wouldn’t load, involving pictures of an airship. I can only hope that this posting does load.
I’ll let you know what the problem is, assuming I still can, and what is being done about it, when I know more.
So, I was scrolling through this blog, what with me being a Londonist myself and this being a regular stopping place. And I came across this posting, complete with a picture, about a cool airship that apparently took a sail over London yesterday. And I thought, hang on, I was out snapping Billion Monkeys yesterday, and in among that, I snapped an airship myself.
Right next to the Wheel.
It was the same one, of course. Why wouldn’t it be? We don’t get airshops over London every day. And guess what. My photos are far better.
First she doesn’t really collide with the Wheel:
Then, she is seen through the spokes of the Wheel:
And finally, she sails out on her own:
Hurrah from the Canon S2 IS with its ultra-cool 12x zoom lens.
They were lucky with the weather. Today: muggy. Yesterday: sublime.
Tonight, at some time or at various times between 10 pm and midnight, I will be on 18 Doughty Street TV, talking about, I know not what exactly because the only topic I so far know about is “tomorrow’s newspapers”. Suits me. I hate it where you have to be prepared, and are therefore blamed when you aren’t.
Earlier this evening I went over to Michael Jennings’s place and had an mp3 conversation with him. It lasted just under 45 minutes. For those who don’t know who Michael is, well, he is an Aussie who now works for a financial enterprise in London, specifically in one of those big Docklands towers. He has his own blog, but has recently been insanely busy and has been neglecting it. He occasionally writes very tech-savvy postings for Samizdata, of which this is the most recent.
Our conversational kick-off was mobile phones in poor countries and in rich countries, a subject concerning which I have already quoted him at some length in this posting at the GI blog. We went on to talk about what would be the state of all this clever gadgetry in a few decades time. Oh yes, and England very nearly losing to Australia at cricket last summer (but actually not losing) also go a mention. (It was to do with how sport is televised.) Did you know that football on mobile phones is now a very big deal in Italy? Well, it is. Normally, it’s the Brits and the Germans, among Europeans, who love gadgets. But Italians love mobiles, and football on mobiles.
I also put to Michael the nightmare scenario, that maybe the internet etc., far from uniting humanity, will merely divide it along linguistic lines. He responded with optimistic thoughts about English as the language everybody is now learning, if they want to attach themselves to the big wide world out there. Him being an Aussie, he didn’t need to learn English, but he felt sure he would have, had he been born talking Portuguese or some such lingo.
I wasn’t sure if Michael would be good at podcasting. He is a mine of information, but would he be as relaxed and informative with a machine listening in as he is in regular conversation? Yes, as it turned out. No worries. We’ll definitely do another, as soon as the mood takes us.
By the way, all that nonsense of me sounding too far away has definitely been sorted. I just needed to put the microphone nearer.
I love to photo airplanes. Nobody in their right mind wants to look at photos of airplanes, so I’ve spiced up this airplane photo with a silhouette of part of the roof of the Mother of Parliaments. Click to get that.
And, I love to photograph street lamps, which in London are often rather excellent. I like this one, which is near the Tower of London, and which has a kind of punk hair do on top, presumably to scare away the birds. I like how the dark spot on the left makes it look like a cartoon character. Popeye’s girlfriend, I rather think. Click to get other picturesque clutter as well, all looking very pretty with the evening sun behind it.
This is my blog and I’ll have cheesy sunset photos if I want to.
Laptop-stroke-mobile-stroke-handheld computer design has always exasperated me. Either the screens are far too big, along with the whole gizmo, or else the keyboards are far too small. And despite headlong progress by all other definitions, the world seems no nearer to the truly mobile computer (that really is a computer) than it was twenty years ago.
I can’t be doing with a keyboard you must peck at with one finger or with a plastic coffee stirrer. I want to be able to thrash in deathless prose with all ten fingers. My keyboard skills long predate one-handed texting. So I hate these tiny keyboards they have on mobile phones. But, I don’t at all mind a small screen so long as I’m close to it, and the text on it is readable.
My first computer was an Osborne!
Proper keyboard, tiny but close screen. I adored it. Computer-wise, my first love.
This was luggable, rather than mobile, but that helped me then, because I didn’t have a regular desk or a settled life. Every few hours or days, I had to move this thing. And I could!
Later, I owned an Amstrad luggable, which was rather more luggable but still only luggable, with a big clunky keyboard, and a little flip-up green mono screen. Again, good for a non-settled life, such as I still had. I still have this contraption, which long ago stopped working.
But then I moved into a proper home, and at that point mere luggability (as opposed to true mobility) stopped being an issue. It didn’t make enough difference to be worth bothering with. If a computer is to be better than my fixed home set-up, it has to be truly mobile. I want to be able to carry it around with lots of other stuff, the way I can now carry around my digital camera. If it’s too unwieldy for that, then forget it.
Pocketability is especially good. Stuff you can fit into a pocket is far less likely to get left around or stolen.
So, since that Amstrad, I have waited and waited for a truly mobile computer, big enough to be a real computer and to type on properly, but small enough to carry around easily.
A while ago I stupidly bought a cheap handheld thingy, with an add-on folding keyboard. But the screen was too small, and the whole thing was just too fiddly and generally ridiculous. The screen, given that it was vertical rather than horizontal and given that it was basically a crap screen, was too small even for me. The keyboard had four bits to it rather than two, which was just too much bother to unfold every time. Plus the serious computer power was behind the screen rather than under the keyboard, which meant that it was top-heavy. Above all, the whole thing was just too small to be a real computer. To live my life properly, I need all my computer stuff in one place, all my eggs in one basket. You don’t want to be choosing all the time which computer you’ll be doing each particular bit of work on. You just want one typing machine for it all, either genuinely mobile and pocketable, or if genuinely mobile and pocketable is not possible, then: not mobile at all.
I like the look of this device not in the sense that I think it looks pretty (to look at it is a cross between my Amstrad and that handheld abomination), but in the sense that it looks small enough to carry around in a big pocket, yet at the same time it seems to big enough to type on, and to be, if not now then some time Real Soon Now, a real computer.
The key to this design seems to be the way the screen twiddles right round, in the manner of the best digital camera screens. This enables it to be permanently attached to the right hand part of the keyboard instead of having to be plugged in every time. Open it up, twiddle, and go. Like with the old Amstrad, the serious business is done under the keyboard, i.e. on the table rather than in the air and wobbling and falling about. Presumably when you get home, you can attach it to a big screen.
I really hope that this configuration catches on and eventually becomes a standard, the way that the giant Christmas card laptop, with its enormous screen and acres of pointless space below and above the keyboard is a standard now. Or like the double decker bus plus huge screen plus huge keyboard is for domestic use. Or, like the mobile phone.
We’ll only know they’re serious about us all buying something like this when they give one of them a proper name, rather than a mere string of letters and numbers.
That was going to be The End, but one other things occurs to me, which is that maybe the poor countries will help out on this. If they continue to spurn laptops but to enthuse about truly mobile phones, as seems to be the pattern now, then maybe a truly mobile computer like this one - as opposed to the only semi-mobile and completely unpocketable and ridiculously nickable laptop - will catch on among the poor folks. And then, having built it for the poor folks, the capitalists will say, well, we might as well sell it to the rich folks too.
A Jackson Pollock drippage has just sold for the record sum for an art object. It is now “worth” 100 gigabillions, and 2 gigabillions per square yard, or whatever.
But auctions of unique objects are not like the market for e.g. Mars Bars, in two ways.
First, it only takes two idiots for the price of a lump (but a unique lump) of stuff to change hands for 100 gigabillions. Idiot Number Two sets the price that Idiot Number One has to beat. Idiot Number One in this particular auction, the actual purchaser of this Pollock ("No 5"), is a Mexican financier who is “little known”, i.e. who wasn’t answering journalist’s phone calls yesterday. So, what he would have been willing to pay for it is anybody’s guess.
Second, such objects are only very seldom for sale, compared to the total number of art objects of this sort that there are.
So, first, this painting will not necessarily continue to be “worth” anything like that much, and it certainly wouldn’t be worth that much if for any reason Idiot Number Two withdrew from the “market” (the inverted commas because this market no longer exists), for any reason, such as dying, suddenly needing money for sensible stuff, or generally coming to his senses, and if no equally or even more idiotic Idiot Number Three steps forward to fill the breach.
And, second, it is certainly not the most expensive art object in the world. Lots of people would pay much more for the Mona Lisa, and one shudders to think what its two most idiotic would-be buyers of it would pay.
I’ve been otherwise occupied again today, so a blatant quota photo, in the form of another French holiday snap from September:
I snapped these guys within about an hour of arriving in France, in Brest. I have tried googling those signs, but am not much the wiser. What does “Terroirs” mean?
They were singing sea shanties, or something similar, sea-related songs being a very big deal in Brittany.
Click to get them bigger.
So I channel hopped my way to some World War 2 show, and while discussing the Battle of Midway, they showed a picture of Noel Coward. But surely the nearest Coward ever got to naval warfare was this. Noel Coward wasn’t at Midway.
Yes he was, under an assumed name: Nagumo.
Well, no. But they do look rather similar, do they not? Elongate Nagumo’s head a bit, and you’re pretty much there.
Here we go:
Not bad, I reckon. Even I know how to tell this particular Photoshop lie, and I don’t have Photoshop!
I had all kinds of blogging plans for today but none of them came to fruition, so instead, a quick quizz. What is this?
Click to get it bigger. I took this shot today, a short tube ride away from my home, so that makes it somewhere in central London. It reminds me of this masterpiece, only rather more of a clutter. But, like I say, what is it?
So, I did this posting about engadget and Gizmodo (see the blogroll) and Rob Fisher commented that I might also like Idiot Toys, which I did and do. Terrific writing. See blogroll again. So I was scrolling around at Idiot Toys, and came to this posting, and it said at the bottom: Flickr: Photos from Shakespearesmonkey. Which sounded like someone was thinking along the same lines as me re a million monkeys typing out Shakespeare, Billion Monkeys all snapping away like lunatics and doing quite well, and so on. So I clicked on that to see who Shakespearesmonkey was and what his pix were like, and scrolled down a bit and guess what I found. This:
Now, do you remember Andy? The friend of Elena the Struggling Actress who was doing sand sculpture by the river, whom and which I photoed? Well, he was and I did.
For some reason, the particular posting I did about Andy and his sand sculpting won’t load properly. Try loading it yourself. Maybe it’ll work for you, but maybe not. If it won’t, the posting I’m talking about is near the top of the sculpture category. (I have the exact same problem with this posting about Rolls Royces, i.e. the posting at the top of my September 2005 archive. Anyone know what the f*** is going on with this?)
Anyway, to remind you about Andy and his sand sculpting, here’s another of the pix I took of him and his sculpture that day:
So anyway I clicked on Shakespearesmonkey’s picture of Andy (who he didn’t know was Andy), and in the comments I also found this, which is a picture someone took of the final object:
Tomorrow, Elena the Struggling Actress is doing conjuring tricks for her drama course which Andy taught her. Andy knows everything and can do everything. He doesn’t actually do everything, because most of the time he doesn’t need to. He doesn’t need a career, for instance. His omniscience means that he doesn’t need to think long term. Any time he needs to, he can make money, as if waving a magic wand over the pavement. But he can do everything. Stripping and lapdancing, sand sculpting, magic trickery, stand-up comedy. He’s the sort of person who, when you ask him “Can you play the trombone?” would say, in all honesty, something like: “I don’t know, probably”, rather than: “No”, like the rest of us. Magic Andy. He’s kind of a slightly uglier (but equally charming and tall) version of Ashton Kutcher. Everyone likes Magic Andy.
Classical music postings have been rather thick on the ground here during the last day or two, and here is another one. Sorry if you can’t stand the stuff. But I have two more things classical that I very much want to blog about, and then I’ll give the subject a rest for a few days.
First, (very deep) thanks to Jessica Duchen for a link to a treasure trove of audio-visuality of ace violinist of yesteryear, Jascha Heifetz. I have every CD of Heifetz I could get for the stingey prices I am willing to pay, including all of the Naxos historical CDs of him playing concertos.
This Heifetz/Feuermann Brahms Double Concerto is especially miraculous, I think, probably my favourite version of all of this lovely but, for the performers, devilishly elusive piece. Playing this concerto to perfection requires, or so it seems to me, and far more than is the case with the solo violin concerto of Brahms (which I also adore), a direct connection to – or nowadays some kind of revival of - the string playing manner that pertained when Brahms wrote the piece. It has to be played in an “authentic” way - sweeter, milder, less lush and assertive, a shared way with portamento and slurring, more gemutlich, I think the word is - than the manner that pertains nowadays. Heifetz and Feuermann do this to perfection. Heifetz is often caricatured as a technically miraculous but heartless robot. Nobody could honestly go on saying that after hearing this Brahms performance.
I suspect that much of Heifetz’s reputation for emotional coldness, deadness even, is because he never moved his face about much when playing. In this respect he resembles, of all people, Buster Keaton. Not only does he look remarkably like Buster Keaton, but he also has that same calm-at-the-heart-of-the-storm facial impassivity that with Keaton is so funny, but with Heifetz so, well, weird. Whatever insanity Keaton gets swept up in, even when the rest of his body is heavily embroiled in it - running, jumping, dodging bullets or oncoming trains - the Keaton face remains a mask. No matter what Heifetz’s fingers are doing and no matter what craziness is pouring out of his violin, Heifetz’s face remains fastidiously blank.
All of this is particularly evident when Heifetz plays Romanian gypsy music. But scroll down the list and pick out whichever item entices you the most. Forced to pick only one, I’d go for another notable double concerto, the one by Bach, which Heifetz plays with Erik Friedman.
Incidentally, did you know that when BBC Radio 3’s CD Review compared all of the numerous available versions of the Bach Double Violin Concerto a few years ago, the Heifetz/Friedman version was the winner. Well, it was. And look who was conducting!
That’s right, Antoine and I did manage our monthly talk, earlier this evening, in other words with just hours to spare, but we did not, just this time, talk electoral politics. Instead we took a rest from all that, and discussed (for a little over forty minutes) other interesting things.
Antoine attended a most interesting conference in the USA just recently, and so we talked about that. The conference was organised by Johnson and Johnson, the big healthcare products company, and our very good mutual friend the Media Influencer was also involved.
And finally we discussed the newspaper war – free newspapers and all that – which has broken out in London.
All these subjects have in common that they concern old school industries - airlines, pharma, newspapers - which are being profoundly affected by the new social media.
The other day, Alex Singleton and I had another classical music conversation. That link will get you to the mp3 of it. Sadly, there were technical problems. Alex sounds fine, but I am distinctly vague, verging on inaudible. This was because my microphone battery was running out of puff. I may, Some Time Soon, edit the thing so that I sound louder, but that will take time, and in the meantime, here it is in all its lack of glory. I hope that those of you who want to listen are able to enjoy it despite all that.
The good news, given the technical troubles we had, is that it was shorter than usual, about twenty minutes long. We mostly talked about the way that music interacts with real life, which has changed over history, and (I argued) has changed the nature of music itself.
I am now listening to my nth CD recording of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony as n tends to infinity, this time picked up for fifty pence in Neil of Lower Marsh’s plastic crates, done by the Staatskapelle of Dresden conducted by Herbert Blomstedt. How could I resist? (The complete Blomstedt Beethoven symphony set has now been boxed together by Brilliant Classics. I already have Nine in an earlier package. Now I have the other eight, for a further expenditure of just two pounds. Brilliant indeed.)
And once again, as I have been more and more recently, I am struck by how unrevolutionary the Eroica now sounds. I realise that at the time it was first heard, they were all shocked, shocked. How could you forget those two shocking, shocking bangs at the beginning? But to modern ears, pounded by another two centuries of orchestral detonation, and by jazz and rock and roll, it sounds like Haydn with a mere dash of nineteenth century solemnity.
Hearing it played by modern symphony orchestras doesn’t always help. These guys can play this music in their sleep, and sometimes it sounds as if they are. Perfectly, but without any rebellion or anger or confusion. A truly authentic performance, of the sort they would first have heard ought, of course, to be played at the same speed they played it, on the same instruments, but above all, as badly as they probably played it. I suspect that introducing into the Eroica a sense of technical struggle might well make it sound far more shocking and effective. Anyone reading this ever heard the Eroica played by, I don’t know, a school orchestra? I can imagine the sheer effort of all trying to play the right notes, together, ending up being superbly effective.
By now Alan Little will already by composing a comment in praise of the Furtwangler 1944 recording. He has a point. Those old conductors were completely inauthentic, in that they played Beethoven like Bruckner, with vast string sections, often very slowly, and with lots of the musical equivalent of nineteenth century ham acting, yanking the tempo around something chronic. But at least they managed to keep alive the sheer bloody impact of this music, for audiences more and more familiar with all the impact that Beethoven’s example had provoked from his successors. The trouble with the cleaned-up, slimmed down Beethoven of nowadays is that it can sound like, well, too cleaned-up and slimmed down. Like Haydn. In his time, Haydn didn’t even sound like Haydn, if you get my drift.
Gardiner, Norrington and co, at least make Beethoven spark a bit by having the drummers and brass players play really loudly, compared to the strings. (I particularly like Gardiner’s Missa Solemnis, from that point of view.) But a very recent performance, done by a regular symphony orchestra, tends to be influenced by the authenticists only by being cleaner, slimmer and duller.
Actually, much of the secret of listening to Beethoven is simply to have it on very loud. I have just switched up this Dresden performance, and that makes it sound much better, in fact very good indeed. There is enough in Blomstedt of the old-style ham to bring this music very much alive, and this recording dates from 1979, i.e. before the authenticists struck, and was made in East Germany. Communism either smashed traditions completely, or else preserved them in tact, and in this case it preserved. (It’s interesting that the reviewer linked to above (para one of this) also lists Barenboim’s set as a favourite. I liked that set a lot also. He too is something of a throwback, and worships Furtwangler.)
By the way, talking of loud bangs at the beginning, I also recommend Nielsen’s Third Symphony ("Sinfonia Expansiva"), which was obviously written with the Eroica very much in mind, because it begins with several similarly loud bangs. My favourite recording of that is also by Herbert Blomstedt, on Decca, with the San Francisco Symphony. That was one of the first CDs I ever owned, and I played it again and again. Nielsen 4 (The “Inextinguishable") and Nielsen 5 are even more admired, but 3 is particularly fabulous, I think, especially that bang bang first movement.
I like to think that all that cartoons ruckus caused more people to listen to Nielsen, on account of him being Danish. I now love Lurpak, even though I never used to.
And, talking of Alan Little, how about this?
Another example: last year I went to hear a local amateur orchestra perform the Eroica at a charity concert. It was great fun. They had hired a professional conductor, and he and they were clearly determined that they were damn well going to perform the thing, not just get through the score without falling apart. They damn near did fall apart, but I admired them and enjoyed the concert far more for that than if they had played it safe. The Eroica is so great it can survive a lot of abuse, and nobody was expecting them to be the Vienna Philharmonic. (On the other hand, what does it do to the Vienna Philharmonic, knowing that everybody is expecting them to be the Vienna Philharmonic? Does the pressure of all that expectation to be perfect stop them taking enough risks?)
That’s Alan Little, quoting his own email to Greg Sandow. I definitely read that at the time, if only because, in addition to quoting himself, Alan also quoted me, saying, on Samizdata just over a year ago, rather better and among much else, most of what I have just said, again, here. Bang bang.