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Wednesday January 31 2007

imageThis is the cutest bit of gadgetry I’ve recently spotted in the gadget blogs.  It’s a printer the size of a mobile phone, and it could be fitted into a mobile phone, or into a camera, or into a mobile phone with a camera.

There are already “portable” printers, portable in the sense that they are easy to lift with one hand and don’t take up half your desk.  But this is printing you can put in your pocket.

It is not only small, it also uses clever little cards, but no ink cartridges, that being all part of why you can put it in your pocket.  No mess.  All done with clever hot little spiky things inside the printer, to which the clever little cards respond.

The cards seem to work out at about 15p a pop, which is not particularly cheap, but then again, for a certain sort of person, not particularly expensive.  I bet you that this catches on with the crazy rich kids, or with crazy business people.  On-the-spot personalising of business cards?  Socialising in some way?  The logical thing might be to have your boring business stuff pre-printed on the other side, and then hand them out at conferences or some such.  Or, just type info in on top of the picture.

Maybe that would be too cheesy.  But I bet you, one way or another, that we’ve not heard the last of this particular piece of trickery.

Tuesday January 30 2007

One of the most important services provided by email, the internet, etc. is that when people talk boringly, the people they’re talking boringly to can avoid saying: Shut Up You Bore, and instead say: Email it to me!  I’d love to see that!

So I was telling Elena the Struggling Actress about that amazing Rooney goal against Portsmouth last weekend, and she said: Email it to me!  I said: I can do better than that!  I can stick it on my blog! Yes!, she said.  Do that!  That would be great!  Then I can play it to myself over and over again!

In the old days all you could say to bores was: You should be on the radio, then we could switch you off.  But most people were not on the radio.  I was, sometimes.  But most people weren’t ever.  Now, most people are on the internet and you can switch them off!

What that video doesn’t show is the beautifully dopey grin on David James’s face after it had gone in.  Everyone who saw that goal was made happy by it, including the goalie!  Thanks to the magic of YouTube, David James can also play it over and over again, without even having had to have set his video, and while he is also updating his blog in the main part of his computer screen.

See also this.

Julian is too busy living his life to be updating Camera Anguish constantly, still less voluminously.  But it is well worth going there every few days, as this amazement, linked to last Friday, just goes to show.

How Julian learned about this I have no idea.

Monday January 29 2007

imageThis, the second of my Emmanuel Todd postings here, will confine itself to itemising the eight family system classifications that appear at the start of most of the chapters of The Explanation of Ideology.  Each clutch of information lists the distinguishing features of each family system, and the places where each system prevails.

If this posting seems strange, see my previous posting, Emmanuel Todd (1): Anthropology explains ideology, for some clarification.

So here are those family systems. I will here add only that “exogamous” means marrying outside your family and “endogamous” means marrying within your family.

Characteristics of the exogamous community family:

1. equality between brothers defined by rules of inheritance;
2. cohabitation of married sons and their parents;
3. however, no marriage between the children of two brothers.

Principal regions concerned: Russia, Yugoslavia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Finland, Albania, central Italy, China, Vietnam, Cuba, north India.

. . .

Characteristics of the authoritarian family:

1. inequality of brothers laid down by inheritance rules, transfer of an unbroken patrimony to one of the sons;
2. cohabitation of the married heir with this parents;
3. little or no marriage between the children of two brothers.

Principal regions and peoples concerned: Germany, Austria, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Bohemia, Scotland, Ireland, peripheral regions of France, northern Spain, northern Portugal, Japan, Korea, Jews, Romany gypsies.

. . .

Characteristics of the egalitarian nuclear family:

1. equality of brothers laid down by inheritance
2. no cohabitation of married children with their parents;
3. no marriage between the children of brothers.

Principal regions: northern France, northern Italy, central and southern Spain, central Portugal, Greece, Romania, Poland, Latin America, Ethiopia.

. . .

Characteristics of the absolute nuclear family:

1. no precise inheritance rules, frequent use of wills;
2. no cohabitation of married children with their parents;
3. no marriage between the children of brothers.

Principal regions: Anglo-Saxon world, Holland, Denmark.

. . .

Characteristics of the endogamous community family:

1. equality between brothers established by inheritance rules;
2. cohabitation of married sons with their parents;
3. frequent marriage between the children of brothers.

Principal regions: Arab world, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tadzhikistan.

. . .

Characteristics of the asymmetrical community family:

1. equality between brothers laid down by inheritance rules;
2. cohabitation of married sons and their parents;
3. prohibition on marriages between the children of brothers, but a preference for marriages between the children of brothers and sisters.

Principal region: southern India.

. . .

Characteristics of the anomic family:

1. uncertainty about equality between brothers: inheritance rules egalitarian in theory but flexible in practice;
2. cohabitation of married children with their parents rejected in theory but accepted in practice;
3. consanguine marriage possible and sometimes frequent.

Principal regions: Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Madagascar, South-American Indian cultures.

. . .

Characteristics of African systems:

1. instability of the household;
2. polygyny.

Concerning the “African system” Todd starts his (very short) chapter thus:

Given the present state of anthropological knowledge no exhaustive, detailed analysis of the interaction between the family structures and political systems in Africa is possible.

But hasn’t Africa been overrun by anthropologists in recent decades?  Yes.  However:

Paradoxically, the Dark Continent, an area of fundamental importance in anthropological research, remains very poorly documented from the point of view of family structure.

That vagueness aside, I find the above list very impressive.  Do I need to note the correspondence between, e.g., the list for the exogamous community family and communism, just as a for instance?  In later postings, I will spell out in more detail why Todd’s body of work so excited me when I first encountered it in the 1980s.  I will offer (more) guesses as to why it has been neglected.

Once I have accumulated a decent number of Emmanuel Todd postings here to link back to, I will start beating the Emmanuel Todd drum in more public places, until such time as an Emmanuel Todd blog-buzz gets seriously buzzing.  (That’s three “Emmanuel Todds” in one short paragraph, and now four.  Should I start calling him “ET”?)

A very quiet buzzing can already be detected.  See item 2 here.

Sunday January 28 2007

Another memo from me to me.

I am confused by the New York Times.  I get emails from it every day, but am never sure if links saved from previous days will go on working.

Anyway, here are some attempted links to NYT pieces:.

Ballmer becomes the boss of Microsoft, while Gates wanders off into the foggy realms of mere philanthropy.

My gloss (not the NYT’s): A great two man team dissolves.  Will Ballmer become an unchallengeable boss, to whom nobody can say Bollocks, the way Ballmer could to Gates?  If so, I predict that Microsoft will slide down inexorably from its current semi-leadership spot.  (Does Gates see the writing on the wall?)

And another piece about who owns genes.  That link may soon not work, but presumably this piece, which the NYT piece links to, will still be reachable.

I write weekly bits for CNE about intellectual property, but after about two years of this I feel as if I am merely confused about the topic in a more informed way.

Quote from the NYT piece:

Important questions must also be answered about who can legitimately “own” or control our personal genetic information. And no one has yet been able to address economic, social and legal questions raised by the patenting of genetic resources taken from developing countries.

This month, for example, Peruvian farmers protested against the biotech giant Syngenta, which genetically modified a common potato variety so that the potatoes are sterile unless a chemical is applied.

Risk concerns aside, farmers say they want to know why the company can charge a premium for adding a few new genes to a potato variety - yet they cannot, in turn, demand a royalty from Syngenta for using the “property” that they and their ancestors have been “genetically modifying,” by traditional means, for centuries.

Important questions indeed, but not questions that I know how to answer.

This article about Ayaan Hirsi Ali is useful for me, because it lists a number of “dissenting Muslims”, for whom I always mean to go looking, but then forget, and then forget the names of.  Well, this piece mentions: Taslima Nasreen, Wafa Sultan, Irshad Manji, Seyran Ates, and Necla Kelek.

This is one of those memo from me to me postings.  In fact, it might be a good idea for me to have a category called that.  Except that there would be too many postings in it.

Patrick Crozier just did some blogging for me:

Brian Micklethwait has a theory.  He hasn’t actually written it down yet and he may not so you’re going to have to put up with my version which may, in all manner of ways, be wrong.  If it is then, well, Brian, my apologies.


Brian’s observation is that while in the past everything got an average of three stars, these days everything gets four and a half.  His theory about this is that in the bad old days newspaper reviewers got sent a lot of things they didn’t want to review but had to anyway.  But these days reviewers are amateurs, they only encounter things they are probably going to like, so their reviews tend to be good ones.

That says it about right, but let me do some polishing.  The problem is that old school media reviewers were sent books (and things generally) to review which they didn’t want to read (or generally to be bothering with), but which they had to anyway, which made them write grumpy reviews.  Unpaid, amateur reviewers don’t read books right through that they don’t like, and are hence in no position to review them, even if they were inclined.  By definition, amateurs only concern themselves in any depth with things they love.  “Encounter” is the wrong word.  We all encounter all kinds of things we don’t like, but we mostly walk on by, unless we enjoy moaning, as most of us don’t.  It is what we pay attention to, or are made to pay attention to, that matters, for this argument.

Most of that is pretty clear in Patrick’s version of what I’ve been saying, but you can see why I only give him four stars out of five.  An important topic, but it could have been somewhat more exactly expressed.

It’s more than mere newspaper reviewers who exemplify this contrast.  Something similar used to happen, in the bad old days, to the mere consumers, and for many it still does.  The mass media being the only media there were, all of us used to be bombarded with messages that only spoke to a few of us.  Watching the old school media, we all had to sit through adverts for posh new cars, for example, which only a tiny few of us were receptive to.  Most of us were made grumpy by old school adverts, most of the time.  Worse, because the messages bored into our souls with such skill and in such volume, we found that a lot of our psychic energy went into concocting grumpy answers, about why we didn’t want the damn car.  Grumpiness got fixed inside our heads.  But in a world where those wanting cars go looking for them on the internet, and leave the rest of us in peace to contemplate only those messages that we like, we are all less grumpy.  We only get angry if we want to get angry.

Because the hatred of new cars and new car adverts felt by mere TV viewers tended not to get written down, the grumpiness of everyday life in front of the TV was rather less visible than the grumpiness of newspaper reviewers, which was and is plain for all to see.  But it was surely there.

On the internet, if you get grumpy, you aren’t doing it right.

A lot of the people who used to complain most about advertising were the oldies.  We oldies have our lives sorted, for better or worse, which means that most adverts are definitely not of interest to us.  Which might explain why so many of us oldies now take so happily to the internet, despite it being all new and technologically confusing in a way that you might expect us to be put off by.

One of the questions that Micklethwait’s Four Star Theory of the Internet was devised to answer was: Why did people, during the Cold War, become so grumpy about capitalism?  Wasn’t it obvious to them that capitalism was just hugely better than communism?  Well, not exactly.  Capitalism’s adverts aggressively shoved too much stuff in front of too many people who weren’t going to buy it.  When you are in the thick of old school capitalism and all its irrelevant purchasing messages, communism, viewed from a distance, seems like a blessed relief.  Not blessed enough to actually go and live there, but blessed neverthtless.

Patrick mentions other groups of people who now get exactly what they want from the internet:

The point about this is that the online world is fragmenting existing societies.  We are starting to form into our little groups which have almost nothing to do with one another.  Instapundit readers have little to do with their IndyMedia or Kos counter-parts.  There are for all I know, Muslim discussion groups out there in which the participants earnestly but politely debate the merits of killing infidels by hanging or boiling.

Actually, I think that the intrusiveness of the old school, mass-advertising-based media is a lot of the reason why those angry Muslims have become so angry.  They too feel themselves to be penetrated, and made sick to their souls by, all this talk about new cars and clothes and the sexy girls you’ll get if you buy the new cars and clothes.

(I keep meaning to dig out and republish here a piece of writing by George Fox, the founder of the Quakers, which reads exactly like something you might now read from a Muslim fundamentalist.  The point is, the first Quakers were the children of tradesmen.  They were born into the thick of (the beginnings of) Western consumerism.  Eventually they went back to their trading roots and formulated a morality that made the Quakers, man for man, the most effective and influential group of tradesmen ever to walk the earth.  But in the meantime, at first, they were disgusted by consumerism.)

Meanwhile, I use Micklethwait’s Four Star Theory of the Internet to explain why people used to be grumpier and now are more content.  But Patrick uses it to explain why we are now about to have new and horribly bloody wars with our next door neighbours.

The frightening thing is the historical parallels.  It is not as if this hasn’t happened before.  During the Reformation, as new religious beliefs started to spread, many people must have found themselves totally alienated from their neighbours.  The lucky ones, like the passengers on the Mayflower, were able to up sticks and found their own settlements, the unlucky found themselves imbroiled in the mother and father of all religious wars.

Is it to be the same again?  If so, is there any way to escape the carnage?

Each to his own.

I just caught myself yelling at a particularly silly TV advert for recycling bottles.  So if recycling bottles saves resources, then why, mad bitch, aren’t you offering to pay me for my bottles?

Friday January 26 2007

It’s Friday again, and time for more kitten-blogging, to celebrate the fact that here at Brian Micklethwait Dot Com, whatever Brian Micklethwait feels like blogging about is what gets blogged about!


That’s the Kitten Space Vehicle.

This was an plan, attempted around or before the year 2000, for a personal space ship that you assembled from a kit.

The Kitten was the brain-kitten of a certain James Hill.  He owned/bossed a company called Cerulean Freight Forwarding, which . . .

. . . aimed to construct very, very low cost vehicles. Their first vehicle, the Space Kitten, was intended for the X-Prize. They reportedly had reached about 75% of the $500k funding required to begin construction of the Kitten as of May 5, 2000.

The founder James Hill passed away in April of 2001. The company restructured by 2002 and split into 2 separate development groups: KAT & KTN. The overall goal is a sub-orbital Kittyhawk single stage vehicle. KAT will focus on propulsion development and KTH on airframe and assembly.

I found that by scrolling, down, and down, and down, here.  None of the links in the original quote (Cerulean Freight Forwarding, KAT, KTN) seem to lead anywhere interesting, so I guess it all just fizzled out, or got swallowed up by other space enterprises.

See also the Dart Kitten II, which dates from the time when we Brits used to do stuff like this.

Could someone please tell me what Wii means?

I’m watching one of those late night football shows on TV, and they’ve just said that in Italy, they are charging next to nothing for tickets.  If they charge more, nobody comes.  The players hate that, and it also looks ridiculous on TV.  It’s not much better in the north of England, they said, with half empty stadiums looking bad on TV also.  But, although the players don’t like it, the clubs don’t care.  They just have to stay in the Premier League, or Seria A or whatever, and rake in the TV money.  But, will the TV audience stay faithful if nobody cares - or not enough people care – about actually being there?

So, football crowds are becoming like TV studio audiences, things you have to go to quite a bit of bother to assemble.  Cricket has been like this for decades.  Except with things like 20/20 games.

Suddenly, a future with football in headlong decline, followed only by old gits, doesn’t sound so unlikely.

Maybe the answer is for robots with cameras and microphones (and loudspeakers!) in them to watch football, and for the corresponding fans to occupy corresponding seats elsewhere, connected to the robots in the stadium.  If you get my meaning.

Today I tried to read this article, because Guido linked to it.  Unfortunately, in my version of the internet, an advert for bloody Dove crap has almost totally blanked out the second paragraph of the story.

So, I am now going to steal the entire story, and after I have posted it in its entirety, here, I will then read it.

With his exit now widely considered to be imminent and inevitable, the Prime Minister looks likely to establish a Tony Blair Foundation to continue his, erm, good work. Indeed, it was reported at the weekend that Martha Greene, his friend and confidante, has already registered the internet domain name

Oops! Shame she forgot about the many variations thereof. One entrepreneur is already offering the name on eBay: £1,000 for a “quick sale”.

Why not set up your very own Tony Blair Foundation?” asks the advert, musing that, as there is no foundation yet, nobody could be accused of cyber-squatting. “Available at a knockdown price,” it adds. “Unlike peerages. Got that?”

Browsing our regular copy of Jane’s Police Review, People finds a take of Rudyard Kipling’s If, by John Miskelly, chairman of Surrey Police Federation:

If you can keep your head, when all about you will/ Keep losing theirs and blaming it on the Old Bill . . .

So it begins. And continues. For quite some time.

If you can find the time, to write 14 stanzas of this sort of thing/ You obviously don’t have enough to do.

I have plenty to do and this is drivel, so I’ll stop with the “in its entirety” idea.

This is the only bit of the article that matters:

Many political rivals have been expressing sympathy for Ruth Kelly, as she comes to terms with the terrible curse of having more money than most people. One of the most surprising is the acerbic political blogger Guido Fawkes, who tends not to be so forgiving. How come? People hears that there is a simple reason. Apparently, as the blogger’s wife, with child, pram and luggage in hand, struggled to board a crowded flight some months ago, Kelly stood up and gave her a hand.

Politicians, take note. How easily the wolves are tamed.

Wolves are not tamed that easily.  This is just the wolf doing his thing, which in this case means noting that a professionally failing politician is capable of being personally nice, as professionally failing people often are, and getting a bit of free publicity.

And both Dove and Timesonline should be told that this kind of interruptive advertising, which doesn’t just get in the way but actually blots out what you want to read, makes enemies.

What is causing this nonsense, do you suppose?  Is it my internet browser, which is Internet Explorer 7?  I’ve had this before, but have always just said to hell with it, left whatever it was unread, and moved on.  Now, I find I’d like to know what’s with this annoyingness.

On the gay adoption thing.  (This is the row that Ruth Kelly is embroiled in just now.) On DSTV last night, I heard myself saying that this is about the right of (a) parent(s) who is putting her/their kid up for adoption, having the right to choose an agency which will only give the kid to someone of a type they believe they would approve of.  The original parent(s) should have that right.  I think that’s right.

My favourite moment of the show was when someone else, hearing that opinion, emailed in to say that “Mr Micklethwait is right”.  That is usually the case of course, but it’s good to hear it from somebody else once in a while.

The Libertarian Alliance agrees.  Which is nice.

Wednesday January 24 2007

I am to be on 18 Doughty Street TV tonight, on the graveyard shift, i.e. between 10 pm and midnight, which is the DSTV time I like best.  I also prefer being asked on at the last minute, because then I won’t be expected to have done much home work.

I will be on with Vicky Ford, and with a character by the name of Andrew Ian Dodge, who is actually quite a busy and impressive blogger.  But, I have been rather rude to him over the last few years, at such gatherings as Samzidata blogger bashes, saying of him, for instance: “There is less to that young man than meets the eye.” So, I will try to be extra-polite this evening, and if he is rude to me, that will be entirely fair.  I suspect that Dodge is one of those people who is better on telly than in real life.  Until I told him to stop trying to impress me, he used to boast to me about all his wonderful TV appearances, internet hits, etc., which, I felt, may or may not have been real.  But this evening when I meet with him he will be doing an actual, real TV appearance, even if it’s only internet TV, so he won’t be trying to convince anybody that he is really on TV, and hence an important well-connected person etc.

“There is less to that young man than meets the eye was” was, I believe, a modified cliché first used by Vinegar Joe Stilwell to describe Louis Mountbatten, then deep into his medal flaunting phase as Viceroy of India.  This quip has since been much recycled, but I can find no internet reference to the Stilwell original, which may even then have been rather unkind.

I’ve been Flickring for bridge pictures, and I like this, the best shot I could find of the Millau Viaduct, and the best picture I could find of this engagingly playful bridge in Brasilia.  I like how he’s lined himself up with the middle arch.  More about the Brasilia bridge, with aerial views that make sense of it, here.

But the winner was something smaller, and less well known, which is surely a blogging plus.

I like it when they build small footbridges under bigger bridges.  There’s been quite a bit of this recently, if the Thames here in London is anything to go by.  This is because, recently, rivers have had picturesque footpaths put alongside them, in place of the old factories and warehouses and dockyards, and sometimes there are barriers to be negotiated.  Barriers like big bridges.  Often, the footpaths veer out under the big bridge, on bridges of their own.

Like this one:


This is the Cobweb Bridge in Sheffield.  Sheffield, Yorkshire, England, that is to say.  Here are some more Flickr views of it.  I’m not the only one to like it, although those Billion Monkeys seem to be more interested in the utterly fascinating view from it.

But which came first, the name of the bridge, or the spider above it?

What causes the different peoples of the world to think and feel so differently about such things as religion and politics?  Despite inventions like the telephone, high speed modern transport by rail and air, and now the latest such miracle in the form of the internet, people in different parts of the world still seem defiantly different from one another.  And their differences, instead of being ironed out by modern communications technology, are instead made all the more visible and scandalous to all who concern themselves about such things.  Why?

Why, historically, do political and religious ideologies often start by spreading with the speed and completeness of a medieval plague? But why do they then, with equal suddenness, mysteriously cease their expansions?

Why do the world’s different peoples, in addition to quarrelling with one another, seem so very varied in their responses to the opportunities and agonies of economic development?  What is economic development?

imageI now believe that the best clutch of answers to these questions (and to many other related questions both historical and contemporary) has been supplied by the French historian and anthropologist Emmanuel Todd, who was born in 1951.

I have not read all of Todd’s books, because my French is not good enough.  But I have read, and I own in treasured English translations, the two that appear to be the most important.  These are: La Troisième Planète: Structures Familiales et Systèmes Idéologiques, published in 1983, published in English, in 1985, as The Explanation of Ideology: Family Structures and Social Systems; and L’Enfance du Monde: Structure Familiale et Développement, published in 1984, published in English in 1987, as The Causes of Progress: Culture, Authority and Change.

The first of these books is probably the most striking one, and in this posting, I will concentrate on - in the amazingly confident title which Todd or someone chose for the English edition of La Troisième Planète - the explanation of ideology.  The explanation.

I will now attempt an approximate summary of Todd’s explanation of ideology.

The peoples of the world are different in their ideological orientations because they have different “family structures”.  The world’s different ideologies and ideological tendencies (communism, Islam, social democracy, Anglo-Saxon liberalism, the Indian caste system, and so on) are projections onto the public stage of ideas first learned within the family.

In the family one acquires beliefs about such things as the nature of and proper scope of parental authority, the appropriate degree of equality or lack of it in the relations between men and women, and between older brothers and younger brothers, the proper way to get married and have children in one’s turn, the appropriate relationship between one’s family and other families, and so on.

These ideas are handed down from generation to generation, and do not change from one century to the next, or even from one millennium to the next.  Family structure, for Emmanuel Todd, is the independent variable.  It causes other things.  It is not itself caused.  It simply is.

“Family structure” does not mean the particular circumstances of particular families.  Family structure is the belief set that all those raised in a particular anthropological setting hold in common about the proper nature of family life.  Some particular parents divorce or die young while others do not.  Some have many children while others have few or none.  Some children marry, earlier or later, and have children of their own, others not, and so on.  Todd does not trace any connections from the particular family history of an individual or of a group of individuals to their subsequent behaviour and attitudes.  It is what members of the same anthropological group all agree to be the proper nature of the family, and of the various privileges and obligations associated with it, that matters.  He is concerned with the ideal family, so to speak.

In different family systems, the same events will be experienced differently, with a different degree of shame or triumph, or even absolutely differently.  Divorce happens, but is usually (not always) experienced as a problem.  A married sister may, or may not, retain links with her original family.  Cousins or nieces may be encouraged to marry cousins or uncles, or fiercely forbidden to.  Incest may be taboo (or not).  Brothers may be equal, or unequal.  Fathers may control their grown-up sons until death do them part, or not.  Mothers may be powerful matriarchs, or little more than girls.  And so on.  All of this varies from place to place in the world, and it is these local agreements and global disagreements that Todd is concerned with.

What triggers history’s great eruptions of ideological and religious enthusiasm is mass literacy.  When a majority of the young men can read and write for the first time, that is to say at a time when a majority of their fathers could not, then there is always an ideological upsurge.  Hence the German Reformation, the English Revolution, the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, Islamic fundamentalism, the Tamil Tigers, and so on and so on and so on.  Each of these eruptions into ideological modernity takes its particular and quite distinct form from the family structure that dominates in the place where it happens.

Rising literacy is easy to see coming.  Anthropology is easily studied.  Therefore both the timing and the nature of such ideological eruptions can be easily predicted.  Todd has an impressive record of such successful predictions.  (I recall Todd’s very confident announcement that Nicaragua would not turn communist, at a time when it was widely predicted that it was about to.)

So much, for now, for the explanation of ideology.

In The Causes of Progress Todd turns to other less explosive and destructive but equally important effects of mass literacy.  Mass literacy, in a very basic sense, is economic development.  When a population becomes literate, it gets rich.  Not immediately, because it takes time to get rich, and it especially takes time to get rich if the ideological eruptions triggered earlier by mass literacy are particularly destructive.

Mass literacy among women also has profound effects upon fertility, which tends to oscillate wildly during the modernisation process.  Fertility first surges, then plummets.

Further Emmanuel Todd postings here will, I hope and intend, go into more detail.  In my next posting, for instance, I intend to itemise all the world’s various family structures, and which ideologies they correspond to.

I also hope to speculate about and in due course (this is a blog after all) to find out about why Todd’s theories have had so little impact in the English speaking world, despite appearing to have extreme relevance to many contemporary debates and concerns, about such things as Islamic terrorism.  Is it because they are simply wrong?  I don’t now think so, but I do think that Todd is often wrong (at the very least extremely contentious) about many matters incidental to his most important ideas, which has surely not helped.

Worse, from the point of view of anyone else who is interested in ideological matters being willing to spread his ideas, Todd appears to reduce all ideologists to mere sock puppets for their inner anthropologically programmed urges.

But that is all to come.  For now, that will have to suffice.

My Emmanuel Todd blogging journey has now begun.

Tuesday January 23 2007

The text of Patrick Crozier World War 1 talk is here.

If you pine for a major new blog posting which has to be here, today, now, try reading Michael J’s comment about the geography of Australia, here.  Well, actually it was last night.  But anyway, it’s there.

Monday January 22 2007

Excellent Korea DMZ posting by Michael J at Samizdata.

Sunday January 21 2007

Last night at Christian’s, I also met an interesting guy who told me stuff about water.

Water plays a very big part in the Israel/Palestine crisis.  Israel will not contemplate giving up the occupied territories and the Golan Heights, because those places supply water,upon which Israel completely depends.  Israel exports lots of fruit and veg.  Fruit and veg are just big bags of water.

Water supplies power as well as itself.  The Turks will not contemplate surrendering the Kurdish bits of Turkey, because in them water tumbles off mountains and gives them lots and lots of power.

Turning salt water into drinking water is all about power.  If you have unlimited power, such as with some fancy new technique like fusion, or some such, then your water problems evaporate, so to speak.

But meanwhile, water is a big problem.  A burger takes 250 litres of water to make.  Water for the cattle, water for the wheat for the cattle, water for the wheat in the bread, lettuce, tomato, etc.  Lots of water.  Now okay, 200 litres of that is recyclable, but you still need it.

The places to look for new water desalination technology are those with lots of sunshine, not much else, and next to the sea.  North Africa, for instance.  What else can you do in a hot desert next to the sea?  Australia is also very good at desalination, because Australia is basically a big desert next to the sea, with only tiny bits of farmable land.

Are there big water tanker ships, like there are for oil?  Water, he said, already goes from the coast of West Africa to the Canary Islands.

Water and power being all mixed up, my guy was also involved with a scheme to turn the hot rocks of Cornwall into usable power.  You get power out of hot rocks by covering it in liquid, which then boils.  But the rocks of Cornwall are not very hot, so you need a liquid that will turn into steam at a lower temperature than water.  Trouble is, most liquids like that tend also to be highly inflammable.  So, he and his pals are trying to develop a liquid with a low boiling point that is not very inflammable.

Has anybody written one of those histories of the world from a particular point of view, from the point of view of water?  The history of how it has been acquired, purified, used, re-used, fought over, and so on.  Aqueducts, pipelines, tankers.  If not, they should, but I bet someone already has.

I asked him: if you had one recommendation to make to Tony Blair and the rest of them, what?  Apparently there’s a water pipeline from the north of England to the south of England, which sheds 75% of its contents on the way.  Mend that, he said.

No links.  It was just talk.  Your Googling would be just as good as mine.

Last night I attended the talk given by Patrick Crozier about the First World War, that I flagged up here.  Very good.  And very well received by a quite large gathering.

Key dates:

1890 Kaiser rips up, for no good reason, the treaty Germany has with Russia.  The treaty said, if Russia attacks Austria, Germany sides with Austria.  If Austria attacks Russia, Germany sides with Russia.  But after 1890 Germany doesn’t ever side with Russia.  This not unnaturally stirs it up with the Russians.

1905 Germany starts to build a fleet.  This stirs it up with the Brits.  Some Brits said build six dreadnoughts.  Others say build two dreadnoughts.  They compromise by building eight dreadnoughts.  (That was apparently a Winston Churchill quip.)

None of Germany, France or Britain behaved very sensibly.  Anyone wanting to stop the madness would have had a hard job knowing who to talk to, at the top of any of the three governments.  In discussion, Christian moaned about the French obsession with Alsace and Lorraine, and Philip Chaston moaned about how Lord Grey dragged us Brits into it, in secret.

As I said in my earlier posting re World War One, too many thought it would be a quick replay of the Franco-Prussian War.  Not enough realised that the American Civil war, longer and more destructive, was a better guide.

But, Haig, Kitchener and Von Moltke did see a long and destructive war as likely.  But they went ahead anyway.

Plus the public got a good kicking, for celebrating when war was declared, stirred up by national newspapers.

By the way, Von Moltke said that once mobilisation started it couldn’t be stopped, because of the train timetables.  But, this was a lie.

Christian said he now understood why Patrick was so keen on (a) WW1 and (b) railways.  Obvious, when you think about it.

This other people’s photos thing is really working.  For instance, today, I type “bridge” into Skype Flickr.  (Here at Brian Micklethwait dot com we really like our bridges.) And I go through boring bridge after boring bridge, but eventually encounter this:


It’s the colourlessness of the rest of it, as much as the colourfulness of the balloons, that makes it.

It’s part of this set.

Saturday January 20 2007

imageIs it just me or . . . oh to hell with that tedious cliché, I’ll just tell you.  These Bang & Olufsen loudspeakers look rather like the corporate creeps that this guy draws, but with their mouths not so wide open.  Weirdly, these loudspeakers wear ties inside their brains, which is very corporate.

So, Gaping Void type caption, anyone?

In other loudspeaker news, the seventies are back!

CD Review usually manages to sell me something, and today it was piano music by Dutilleux, played by somebody called Chen, very well, with lots of glitter and sparkle and delicacy, in a style I have always liked, namely a twentieth century guy evoking the baroque era.  I like it when Stravinsky does this, or Poulenc, or Tippett, or, basically, anyone.  And this turned out to be Henri Dutilleux, a musician whose orchestral music I have never liked, because it just sounds like Brand-X modernism to me, discordant and ugly and pointless, like colours on a pallette after a two year old has mixed them all up for far too long and turned them all into the same ugly mess (but not for long enough to turn it all into the same colour).

imageWhile I was listening I had only just surfaced from late Saturday morning slumber, and didn’t know what it was.  I like this, I thought.  But, one thing I am pretty sure, I thought, is: it’s not Naxos.  Naxos piano records tend to be rather ugly, I think.  The sound is usually too thick and lumpy, with none of that lightning glitter and sparkle and delicacy that, for instance, Mark André Hamelin does so well, on Hyperion.  This is glittery and sparkly and delicate, I thought, so I bet this is Hyperion, I thought, and I bet it’s be full price, whatever it is.

Naxos.  Well, well.  I was truly surprised, as well as truly delighted.  I didn’t know their recording engineers had this in them.  Or, maybe, that Bond villain guy (rich, foreign, likes classical music, lives in Hong Kong – actually I dare say quite a nice man who almost never drops disobedient musicians into shark tanks) who runs Naxos just likes thick and ugly and lumpy sounding pianos to start with, but this time he didn’t get involved.

And it’s the complete piano music of Henri Dutilleux.  I like it when you get all the piano music of someone, all on one convenient disc.  Maybe the rest of it is discordant and ugly and pointless, but I want to hear it.  Because, I often find that whereas Modernist X’s orchestral music just sounds like a mess, Modernist X’s piano music, because he is only allowing himself to use one kind of sound (one colour - see above), is much more enjoyable.

See also: György Ligeti.  Is anything else he wrote as popular, with regular classical fans like me, as his piano music?  I suspect not.  Naxos do a recording of Ligeti’s études, but it is insufficiently glittery and sparkly and delicate, being instead ugly and lumpy.  Go with Aimard on Sony, if you can afford to.  “Pure sparkle” says the Amazon reviewer.  Told you.  Best of all will probably be Hyperion, when they get round to recording these pieces.

Dutilleux is still alive, having been born in 1916.  Another good surprise, for me, now.

Not a paid photographer, you understand.  Just published.



I am a research scientist at McGill University and would like to ask your permission to reproduce your photograph BarcaTramTrax in a scientific article on visual perspective that I am submitting to the international journal entitled Perception.  I would include an acknowledgement to you in the legend of the photograph, and will be happy to send you a copy of the article once it is published.  I found the photograph through Google Images.

Fred Kingdom
Department of Ophthalmology
McGill University

So.  Published or paid?  No contest.  Delighted mate.  Truly delighted.

The photo is one of the tram tracks in the grass in Barcelona, in there to make Clapham Junction look even worse, here.

Friday January 19 2007

I have taken to describing blogs like this one, full of random stuff, as kitten-blogs, but have tended to ignore actual kittens.  Time to put that right:


Snapped in St Petersburg, last October.

Friday is the correct day for feline blogging, yes?

This is interesting:

What Jott does is simple: Once you set up a Jott account, you can call the special Jott telephone line, and leave yourself a brief (~15 seconds) message. Jott automatically converts your message into text and emails it to you (though you can log into their Web site to listen to a recording). That’s it.

The reason I find Jott so incredibly useful is that I do so much of my thinking in the car, or on the move. While I have a digital voice recorder to leave notes to self (a la Norm MacDonald), the effort required to actually replay the messages and transcribe them leaves them languishing in the car for weeks, or even months.

Jott takes my thoughts and puts them in the most easily usable form - email. It’s free, it’s simple, and it’s reliable. I have no idea how on Earth they’ll manage to make money . . .

In other words, it’s free.

Not for me.  I have no shortage of ideas to act on, and my emails soon die.  But if you use emails a lot, then emailing yourself is a good idea.  I know people who back up text by emailing themselves with it.  That is to say, email is a way to store stuff on other people’s hard drives.  That’s if it’s that sort of email.

The economics point here is that once something becomes or some things become free, all sorts of other uses for it/them suggest themselves, which would be crazy if they cost anything.

I asked Alex Singleton yesterday if he knew anything about Skype TV.  He mentioned Skype video phoning, but this is something else again:

Skype revolutionised free Internet calling and is doing well on the video call front too. After all, being snapped up for almost £1.5bn by Ebay in 2005, means it had to be doing something right, right?

The fledgling, yet competitive, Internet TV space is the target for the latest venture for the Skype founders, who have just unveiled Joost – pronounced Juiced. It will work similar to Skype in that you download an piece of free software but instead of calling anyone, it will hunt the Web for Net TV content you might want to watch.

Not all that revolutionary in itself but they say Joost will be the first broadcast-quality TV service online. That’s full-screen, broadcast-quality video with instant channel flipping. Sounds peachy.

The service, being trialled now, is due to go live in the coming months.

I think that will have a huge impact.  That’s an entire Gizmodo posting, by the way.  My excuse for that being that Gizmodo postings disappear fast, so if you blink, you would miss it there.  Blink here, and you miss very little.

Personally, I find video on my computer a very hit or miss affair.  Often, my computer says: to watch that you will have to download quickvid, or whatever.  And I say yes, do that, but it doesn’t.  So, basically, bollocks.  At least YouTube things work.  But, for instance, this didn’t.  Oh dear, I was going to put a link there, but I’ve forgotten what it was that didn’t.  But anyway, it didn’t.

Still, this did work, indeed, it is working even as I write.  I admire P. J. O’Rourke a lot, so I plan to watch and listen to all of this.  Says Bishop Hill, to whom thanks for the link:

He’s a much wiser and less wisecracking than I expected.

In other words, it’s P. J. O’Rourke at his best.  And I don’t think that in this case having a huge high quality screen would add much.  Subtract if anything.  What you want for a thing like that is a little screen in the corner, and the sound.

Yes, our weather forecasts were not wrong.  (They seldom are, in my experience.) Britain had a breezy day.  Late in the afternoon I ventured out, to inspect the damage.  The Evening Standard billboard was scary, and there were stories to match:


I am setting aside my no photography until I get my proper screen back policy, because some pictures are just too dramatic to ignore.  The havoc in the streets near my home was indeed frightening.  Twigs, some of them as long as three feet in length littered the pavements.  And elsewhere the damage was even more serious, running to tens of pounds.


Seriously, the most interesting windiness picture I took was this one, of a vapour trail, lit up by the late afternoon sunshine, relatively static beyond the racing lower clouds, yet blown hither and thither by the wind up there.


Click on that last one to get it even bigger!  It is, I think you will agree, a lesson to us all never to venture out of a jet airplane in a high wind.

Thursday January 18 2007

Check out the Tesco Checkout Girl Test.  Apparently blogging just passed it.

Wednesday January 17 2007

I have finally worked out that if you want to find nice pictures of something, it’s no use searching for images on Google.  Go to Flickr and search there.  Flickrers seem to know that it pays (i.e. with attention) if they attach meaningful titles, and enough of them do for any particular subject to yield a rich harvest of snaps.

So, for instance, recently they had ice storms in America.  Sounds interesting, I thought.  I searched for “ice storm” on Google, but then tried Flickr instead, and I quickly found my way to this guy:

image  image

When I tried looking for ice storm images on Google, all I got was photos from 1998, which was when they had their last big ice storm, presumably.

What is an ice storm exactly?  We don’t have them in London, England, that I can recall.  From the look of it, the water comes down as rain, but then it immediately freezes, before it has a chance to fall off.  But how can that be?  If it is that cold, why wasn’t it already frozen when it landed.  If it landed as water, how did it suddenly get cold enough to be ice?  I once saw a movie called The Ice Storm, but that turned out to be a lot of guff about relationships.  The thing was never explained.

Is it a pressure thing, like fridges or something?

According to Idiot Toys, the Dyson DC14 really sucks:

This thing definitely does have incredible suction. As a test, I vacuumed the house with the Oreck and Hoover first (we’ve got about 4 vacuums and a steamer in the house other than the Dyson). As usual, they picked up some dirt. Then, I broke out the Dyson. After vacuuming the study, 2 bedrooms and a hall, I had filled up the Dyson. Incredible. The master bed and bath haven’t been touched yet and already the Dyson had picked up about 6 times the amount of crap the other vacuums failed to get.

While frightening, it was also heartening to see that Dyson’s claims were true. It definitely had more suction power and the suction did not stop when the canister started filling up. It also gave me a chance to test out how easy and messy it was to dump out all the dirt that had been collected.

Yes, I was scared that dust and dirt would fly everywhere defeating the advantage of going bagless. Thankfully, that fear didn’t materialize. My particular Dyson has some trouble getting that canister part out. It should be a simple press of a button, but mine takes some fiddling. After a while, that simple button press does work and it comes off cleanly. Emptying it at that point is easy. Just press another button, and the bottom falls out. As long as my garbage can is pretty empty, I can just stick that canister in deep and the dust won’t fly high enough to escape the sides of the can. Oreck’s claims of canister messiness are just great exaggerations and forced flaws. Bags are just as messy when full. Messier actually because I can’t stick the Oreck in a trashcan when taking the bag out.

So, the plan is finally revealed.  Idiot Toys is a great big advert for the Dyson DC14.  First, spend three years building credibility by trashing every other gadget ever produced in the whole world.  Then say nice things about the Dyson DC14.  Die, evil Oreck!

Note: the Dyson DC14 should not be confused with the McDonnell Douglas DC14, which they never actually made but might have done.  Idiot Toys often has this joke about how this Samsonyota XYZPQR mobile phone should not be confused with the XYZPQR Massey Ferguson Combine Harvester, with a picture of the XYZPQR Massey Ferguson Combine Harvester, with “XYZPQR Massey Ferguson Combine Harvester” underneath it, and I am copying that joke like some stupid blog commenter who thinks that repeating jokes that the blogger just told is funny, or like that idiot played by John Hannah in Sliding Doors who keeps retelling Monty Python jokes.  How could Gwyneth Paltrow ever be interested in someone who does that?  In Sliding Doors, one of the Gwyneth Paltrows dies.  Why?  Two Gwyneth Paltrows is an excellent idea.  Why couldn’t both John Hannahs die?

Tuesday January 16 2007

Well, not photos really.  The two I chose are pretend pictures faked up by computer.

So anyway, I clicked at random on my blogroll (that’s a lot of what it’s for), and I got to this, which is called the Elbphilharmonie.  Great.  I haven’t plugged any architecture here lately that I recall.

The hall, which will house a 2,400 seat concert hall and 500 seat chamber music hall, will also include a 200-room luxury hotel and 21 luxury apartments. The factory building, meanwhile, will maintain its original facade structure and house much of the new facilities.

The we make art not money blog has picked cool picture of this, but I think this one is even cooler:


And if you follow their link to where I got my alternative picture (and where the pictures are even bigger), which I really urge you to do, you will also find this:


About which I have rather mixed feelings.

On the one hand, I love the idea of bridges with stuff on them, because actually, despite the views, big bridges across fine rivers can often be very cold, unwelcoming and exposed ordeals for the walker, with nothing to think about but how far you still have to go and about how windy and cold it is.  I often walk across Vauxhall Bridge to and from Vauxhall railway station, and I often don’t like that walk all.  If Vauxhall Bridge had lots of shops on it, and house entrances, and newspaper stands, and hawkers hawking hawks, the experience would be far more agreeable.

On the other hand, London has a very interesting and twiddly river, with fine views across it, and a big lump like that right on top of it would, well, seriously change a lot of those views.

On the other hand, Tower Bridge is quite an interruption, and nobody calls that an eyesore, although I’m sure they did when it was first built.  I think the problem with this Hamburg Bridge is not that it has lots of stuff on it, but that the stuff is maybe going to be too dull, unlike Tower Bridge.

Although, I’m not clear exactly which bit of river this thing goes over.  I’m guessing not the main river, but one of the little ones.  Maybe it will be an instant hit, and will interrupt no favourite views at all.  It has yet to be built, but does anyone know the place it’s going, and hence how successful it is likely to be?

Monday January 15 2007

Never having used Powerpoint to give talks, I don’t understand why it is so evil, although several of my friends and many bloggers and writers whom I have randomly read say that it is.

Here is a typical example the kind of nasty thing I keep reading about Powerpoint:

Historians at the American Institute of Physics (AIP), who are working on a project to document the history of physics in industry, have encountered hints of how the Internet and computers are transforming scientific communication.

E-mail is, of course, cheaper and encourages quicker thought, and it introduces a peculiar blend of the personal and professional. The AIP historians have also detected a decline in the use of lab notebooks, finding that data are often stored directly into computer files. Finally, they have noted the influence of PowerPoint, which can stultify scientific discussion and make it less free-wheeling; information also tends to be dumbed down when scientists submit PowerPoint presentations in place of formal reports.

If I myself regularly used Powerpoint, I might by now have learned what is so evil about it.  As it is, I do not know and would love to be told.  Why does just making a list of things to talk about and putting something like a big black spot to the left of each of these points make things evil?  Or: giving a talk with a series of slides with big words on them, if only to remind you of what you want to say next?  Why is that evil?  What am I missing?

Or to put it another way, this is a memo from me to me (a characteristic type of posting at this blog) to ask the next friend who talks to me about the evil of Powerpoint to explicate.  Comments welcome of course.

The kicker line of this posting for me is the final update:

Update: I thought ASI might delete my trackback, but they’ve deleted the entire post.

If this is true, and I have no reason to think it isn’t, then it is very depressing.  No matter how erroneous your error as a blogger, you compound it if you later delete it, after it has been challenged.  The word gets out.

More here.

This blog works better with photos, I think.  But I am waiting for my proper screen to be returned to me.  So, instead, I have decided to go looking for photos elsewhere.


So what’s that of?  Answer here.

He says it’s not progress.  But I say, it may not be the kind of progress they were trying to make, but perhaps it will turn out to be progress of another kind.

I can see definite applications of this to telephony.  Just as a for instance.

A point Michael Jennings makes a lot, and has made here a number of times I think, is that the big deal with all mobile devices is batteries.  How long do they last before you have to recharge them?  If you do everything off of one battery or set of batteries, it/they will run out very quickly.

And there seems to be a really big problem with the iPhone’s battery.  It is built in.  You can’t take it out and put in another.  And if it powering a multi-tasking gizmo, it won’t last that long before a recharge.  So, if you watch a video in a cafe for a couple of hours, your mobile phone is then out of action until you get back home to charge the thing.

Plus, batteries wear out.  So, when your iPhone battery runs out, you will have to replace it by buying a whole new iPhone.

I’m just passing on what I read at the Laurence Timms blog.  I got to that posting, via Lynn S, I think, but cannot remember exactly how.  I often follow a link, scroll down, find another link, and then forget the track.  As do many others I surmise.

So, I will definitely not be buying this iThing any time soon.  I will be sticking to the rule of buying each toy separately, and having a big and very heavy jacket.

Sunday January 14 2007

I possess many books of quotations, and occasionally, when I am caught short for a quota posting for my blog, as I was this evening, I scan anxiously through these books, searching for something suitable.  A quota quotation, as I call such quotations.

I never seem to find anything suitable.  Nothing.  Nothing at all.  These books are crammed with quotations, and nothing but quotations, yet not one of these quotations seems suitable.

The problem, I has just realised, is that the point of me posting a quotation is that I must have found it myself.  My readers must be reading the thing as a piece of writing worthy of quotation for the very first time.  If he has already read it as a quotation, then there is no point to it.  Such an already quoted quotation is like a stale joke.

The absolute last place I can find a quotation suitable for recycling in this blog is thus in a book of quotations, because all of the quotations in books of quotations have already been found to be worthy of quotation, by others.  They are thus, all of them, for my purposes, useless.

Friday January 12 2007

One of the facts of life about listening to recorded music rather than music in live performances, the way that (very lucky) people did in days of old, and which richer people can still regularly do now if they want to, is that you will get fixated on one particular recorded performance.

In the early days of the LP, LPs were ferociously expensive, and you could mostly only ever afford one LP for each major piece.  And if playing this LP was how you then got to know and love the piece, then that performance, even if others did not regard is as especially good compared to various others, would stay with you for life.

Whenever I now hear the Bach Double Violin Concerto, I am tempted to regard it as too slow if it is slower than the Oistrakhs, and too fast if it is faster.  Ditto Barenboim/Barbirolli in the Brahms First Piano Concerto, Barenboim again conducting Mozart Symphony 40 in G minor, Ferras/Karajan in the Brahms and Sibelius Violin Concertos, Ashkenazy/Mehta in the Brahms Second Piano Concerto (DECCA - can’t find this at all on the www), Klemperer in Mahler 2 (EMI – can’t be bothered to do any more links), Karajan in Beethoven 9, Prokofiev 5, Sibelius 4 and 5, and so on.

I even became fixated on Barenboim conducting the Brahms Requiem (on DGG – not the later Erato Chicago Symphony recording), which most critics seem to regard as far too slow.  Because it was so slow, this performance will not now fit onto one CD.  And because it was also so disapproved of by everybody except me, DGG have not, I think, ever released it on CD.  Most inconvenient.  I would love to hear that again.  (I do posses, I think, maybe, somewhere, a cassette of this performance, but I hate cassettes,and in any case I may have given it away.)

Now for me and for all other mere fans of classical music, the above circumstance is just a somewhat quirky fact of life.  But for professional CD critics, I think it can be a real problem, if not to them then to their readers.  Because, long ago, they often got fixated on this or that recorded performance, they are liable to give far too much credit to any more recent performance which merely resembles that old loved one, or worse, simply to dismiss all subsequent performances as not as good as whoever it was, without a nearly sufficient attempt to separate their experience of the old recording from what are likely to be the reactions of people coming to it new, with all its faults, recording deficiencies, and so on.

In particular, for instance, there are certain critics who are literally unable to review Beethoven symphony recordings without comparing them unfavourably with Toscanini’s old RCA discs.  Simply, Toscanini was how they first got to know this amazing music.  This is okay sometimes, but not what you always want to be reading.

Nowadays this is not nearly such a problem.  Compare the cost of CDs with LPs of old (by comparing both with, say, the cost of Gramophone then and now) and your realise that CDs are now absurdly cheap compared to what they used to be, especially now that they are dumping complete sets of transcendentally great music onto the market in small boxes for about two quid per disc.  This, of course, is why it is now so hard to make a living doing recordings, but for us more fixated punters, it means that most of us can easily afford several different performances of any great work we have become fixated upon.  And we are thus able to separate the music from the particular performance.

Partly as an experiment, I have recently been making a point of listening to recordings that I have fixated upon in the past, including some of those mentioned above.  They still sound wonderful.  More to the point, they sound . . . just right.

I’ve been busy for the last two hours, watching a TV programme and then writing about it, just when I should have been crafting the perfect daily posting for his mighty blog.  My screen is still at the menders, so I am reluctant to display photos which I can’t process confidently.  So instead I’ll steal Harry Hutton‘s most recent posting:

The Brazilian stock market is down sharply, Bush is sending more troops to Iraq, and a giant owl is attacking people in Middlesbrough.

I don’t understand a single thing any more.

Whereas to me those three things, whether looked at together or separately, make as much sense as things generally make.  President Bush is trying to make the Middle East completely sensible, and that obviously needs additional manpower.  Brazil is near Venezuela.  Isn’t it?  Yeah, right next to it, and Venezuela just now is very bad for business.  And as for that owl, well, I’m sure it has its reasons. Perhaps it wanted its stockbroker in invest in Apple, but the stockbroker said: no, Brazil would be a better bet, and the owl is angry with humans generally, what with his stockbroker obviously being human.  Or Iraq.

But, looking at the larger picture, why do things have to be understandable? That’s the mistake Hutton is making here.  Things don’t have to mean anything, to make sense, to add up.  And they certainly can’t be expected to make sense collectively, in random clumps.  Everything, say stupid Americans, happens for a reason.  No it doesn’t.  Most things just happen.  Of course I understand that most of what Hutton says is merely for comic effect, but I cannot help asking: is he perhaps becoming an American?

By the way, speaking of Americans, although not in this instance stupid ones, I see that Dale Amon, Samizdata’s usually right on the ball space correspondent, has only just noticed that Amazon is in space. readers were told about this over a week ago.

Wednesday January 10 2007

Unless my hearing was letting me down, Zeinab Badawi last night announced on the BBC 4 TV world news that “millions of families were decimated” by the Great Depression in America.

In my experience, this marks a new low point in the misuse of the word “decimate”.  Often decimate is used to mean a ninety percent death rate, but at least people mostly mean death when they use the word, although often all they means is: lots of people dying. 

Actually decimate means a ten percent death rate, the latin for ten being built into the word.  Decimation was originally inflicted upon misbehaving Roman Legions, one in ten of them being executed.

So, did Ms. Badawi really mean that several hundred thousand Americans died during the Depression?

I suppose the truth is that some words simply change their meaning, however much aging grumblers like me might object.  I have also lost count of the number of times “refute” is now routinely misused merely to mean “argue”, or worse, just “contradict”.  Refuting doesn’t just mean arguing against it, it means arguing against it effectively and successfully.  Or, it used to.

Tuesday January 09 2007

I recommend a read of this posting, if you’ve not read it weeks or months ago already.  Sample quote, to give you the flavour:

Others deal with terrorism by distracting themselves with the fight against terrorism, thus avoiding the question of how to live with it. Be very angry about terrorism, write about it on your blog, blame your political enemies for helping the terrorists - do anything but face the inevitability of terrorism. These are usually the people who go furthest in losing their sense of proportion, to a point where they embrace autocratic ideas. “No trial for terror suspects? Torture, unaccountable surveillance, and harebrained identity schemes? Fine, I don’t care! Just do whatever it takes to protect me!”

I have a different strategy. It is not for everyone, but I believe it is honest and politically safe. Let us take away the most powerful weapon the terrorists have: Fear. Be less afraid of terrorism. Make it your personal project not to fear terrorism, and not to let the fear that remains influence your life. Don’t panic over newspaper headlines. Don’t cancel your vacation because of terror alerts. Don’t hold back your plane because there are some Arabs on it. Don’t support hasty laws and careless political decisions, simple because we “have to do something”.

Accept that there is a threat, but don’t exaggerate it. Don’t trust your instinct to guide you, our instincts are notoriously bad at risk assessment, use reason and facts instead. When people are afraid of flying, they remind themselves that they’re much more likely to die in their car on the way to the airport than on the plane itself. Do the same with terrorism. Fight your fears with facts. I don’t believe in denial, and it is not denial to say that terrorism is one of the smallest threats that any of us face. It is simple irrational to fear terrorism more than traffic.

But, read the whole thing.

My disagreement with “Bjoern Staerk” (sorry can’t do the proper spjoelling) is that I don’t agree with him that the “terrorists” are living in a world of their own with no connection to normal life, and I therefore don’t agree that “terrorism” is a sufficient description of the enemy here.  The 9/11 terrorists, for instance, had a worldview that is very widely shared, by millions of Muslims.

I think that a better description of the enemy would be: Islam plus the disposition to take Islam seriously and to do what it says.

I know lots of people, and know of millions more, who call themselves Christians.  But none of them at all seems to me to take Christ’s injunctions, such as “sell all you have and give it to the poor”, seriously.  Not that that is surprising.  Christ’s advice about such things is very stupid.  It is self-destructive, and if only for that reason, of very little help to anyone else.

Muslims, however, do seem to include people in their midst, small in percentage terms but very numerous nevertheless, who do take the injunctions of their founder very, very seriously.  They become terrorists, or people who make direct and knowing use of the terrorism of others to further the spread of Islam.  I don’t agree that these “terrorists” are freak Muslims.  I agree with them that they are simply Muslims who are serious about being Muslims, and that terrorism is one of the ways to further that end.  I think that “moderate” Muslims who say that Islam is a religion of peace are either deluded or lying.

So, as a sufficient description of what to do about “terrorism”, I think Staerk is wrong, because his description of the enemy is insufficient.

However, as a first approximation to what to do, right now, I think I do agree.  My strategy for dealing with . . . whatever it is . . . is first, do what Staerk says.  Don’t be freaked out.  Carry on with living your life.  In my case that includes blogging about this, and about that, and occasionally about Islam and Islamic terrorism and what we should do about it.

For instance, I will now say, again, that I think that Islam is a thoroughly evil religion.  It asserts the truth of totally false beliefs about the nature of the world and of man’s place in the world, and recommends thoroughly evil methods to make those false beliefs compulsory for everyone.  And it has a sufficient number of adherents in the world to have caused a world of misery and mischief as a result of all that.

Is saying things like that being hysterical, and hence am I going against what Staerk recommends?  Maybe so, and maybe not.  I would say that much depends on tone of voice.  Putting “ISLAM IS EVIL!!!!” on a blog is being rather hysterical, especially if I were to do this, because that kind of writing is not my regular style.  But me just putting that Islam is evil is a lot less so, I would say.

But my point here is that by writing things like this - despite the very slight but surely real danger to me that it might incur the wrath of any devout Muslims who happen to learn of my opinions, and who are too stupid to leave me alone in my infidel obscurity – is me going about my daily routine, unintimidated by terrorism.  (Actually, not by terrorism.  By something else more mundane and ubiquitous, namely regular lower-level Muslim intimidation.  The possibility, for instance, that someone will try to mess with the functioning of this blog.  And that’s another of my bits of evidence that Staerk’s claim that Muslim terrorists inhabit a freak world all their own is quite wrong.  We face a continuum of threats here, rather than one freak threat and nothing else.)

So, although I disagree with Staerk’s labeling of the enemy and his understanding of the problem that this enemy poses to us, I am following his advice.  As a first approximation to what we should do, I agree with it.  But, I think we can do better.

I have just had supper with Patrick Crozier and we fixed to do a podcast, in about a month’s time, concerning the First World War.

Towards the end of our evening together, I read out to Patrick the following remarkable passage from one of my favourite books about the causes of war, called, not unsurprisingly, The Causes of War (1973), by the Australian historian Geoffrey Blainey.  Here is what Blainey says (on pp. 209-211 of my 1977 Macmillan paperback edition), about the remarkable Ivan Bloch:

imageThe belief that future wars would be short became a dogma, but it was not completely ascendant. The most withering attack on the dogma was made by, of all people, a banker who lived in the Russian-ruled city of Warsaw.  When Ivan S. Bloch issued in 1897 and 1898 a six-volumed work on war, his voice at first seemed like a frog in a backwater, croaking at the hoot of a passing steamer.  Here was a businessman, telling strategists what to expect.  He suggested that the next major war in Europe would be a long and murderous siege. He envisaged huge unwieldy armies spread along an enormous front and firing with such speed and accuracy that the survivors had to find shelter in trenches.  ‘It will be a great war of entrenchments,’ he said.  ‘The spade will be as indispensable to a soldier as his rifle.  The first thing every man will have to do, if he cares for his life at all, will be to dig a hole in the ground.’ The gap between the two entrenched armies would be so pierced by bullets that no army could hope to storm the enemy’s trenches.  In the words of a French captain he quoted, the front line would be a ‘belt of a thousand paces swept by a crossfire of shells which no living being can pass.’ Neither side would win that monstrous battle.  While the stalemate continued in the trenches, the civilian population would suffer.  Food would become scarce, prices would rise, morale in the cities would quake.  Peace would eventually come, Bloch predicted, through famine and socialist or anarchist upheavals, leaving no nation with victory.

As a scholar of warfare, Ivan Bloch was a genius.  His must have been one of the most remarkable predictions ever made in the field of human behaviour.  So many events of the Great War – the muddy trenches of Flanders and Galicia, the millions of casualties, the socialist revolutions in Russia, the overthrow of the Russian and Austrian and German monarchies, the scarce victories on the battlefield - were consistent with his predictions.  Above all he predicted a calamitous and long war: that he should have designated a war lasting at least two years as ‘a long war’ was a sign of the prevailing faith that future wars would last only a few months.

In making these predictions Bloch culled his evidence from the same recent wars which had persuaded others to see the short war as inevitable. Whereas others had plucked from the Franco-Prussian war the simple lesson that modern wars were decisive and short, Bloch observed more the revolution which broke out during the indecisive siege of Paris in 1870-1.  Whereas others simply marvelled at the swiftness of the Russian victory over the Turks in 1877, Bloch observed how the hasty Turkish entrenchment at Plevna, near the Danube, had thwarted the Russian invaders for several months.  But there were sharper differences between Bloch and most other analysts of war.  He did not believe that past wars were a reliable guide to a future war between major European powers.  A major war in Europe, he believed, would probably involve Russia and France on the one side and Germany, Austria and Italy on the other.  As each alliance had about five million fighting men and as their armaments were similar and as their frontiers were heavily fortified and as military techniques now favoured the defenders, neither alliance would have sufficient strength to break through the opposing defences.  ‘The war of the future, whatever may be said, will be a struggle for fortified positions, and for that reason it must be prolonged.’ Bloch also believed that another set of influences would ultimately intervene and terminate the war.  Those influences were economic.  Famine and inflation would set in more quickly and devastatingly than in previous wars, for the economy of Europe had changed. The economic changes would be most effective, he argued, in a general war, for nations would be unable to borrow gold and food because of the lack of lenders.  In the Europe of mass armies, he argued, ‘you cannot feed your people and wage a great war’.

Monday January 08 2007

I’ve already said here that the Simon Hewitt Jones show that I and my friends attended last Thursday was superb.  Now I will tell you why, and how.  And it really was, very, very good.  But not entirely.  Not straight away.

Before I put the knife into the early stages of the proceedings, let me say a little about the setting, which was unusual for a classical event.  This was the Gardening Club, which on the evidence of last Thursday night, is a dark basement club, just off the north end of the Covent Garden Piazza.  Environmentally, the two most obtrusive facts about the place, at any rate that night, were that the air conditioning machine made a loud swish of noise throughout the evening, and that it pumped out very cold air into a not especially crowded space.  By the time the music got started, I realised that I had misjudged the temperature quite badly, but did not feel comfortable, despite having been instructed to behave as I pleased, about rummaging about in my bag to put on the very garments I had just removed.

The reason I did not feel comfortable was that we were all witnessing, for the first three quarters of an hour or so, a Brand-X classical recital, performed by what sounded last night like a couple of Brand-X classical musicians.  And my Brand-X classical concert reflexes duly swung into action, and I sat tight and did not fidget or move about in a way that at a regular classical do would have the rest of the audience staring daggers at me.

The Brand-X classical musicians were Ollie Coates (cello) and Harriet Mackenzie (violin).  They played obscure modern pieces by obscure modern composers, one of whom was present.  And they played some interesting pieces by the young Mozart, and three of J. S. Bach’s Two Part Inventions, arranged for violin and cello.  The Mozart was new to me, and the Bach was really pretty good.  Except that by then they had lost me and I just wanted them to stop.  To my ear, in the proper music by Mozart and Bach, the playing sounded lumpish and under-rehearsed, individually skillful but not properly blended.

The only half-interesting modern piece, to my ear, was something called Klezmer, which was a Harriet Mackenzie violin solo.  Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t like it.  But it was at least semi-tunefully unlikable.  The George Crumb solo cello piece sounded like Shostakovich laid out for an autopsy.  The newest piece, by a chap called Fokkens, a South African living in London, sounded even duller.  I rather think that in the introductory patter to this, the word “important” was used to describe Fokkens, and that word when applied to art always puts my back up, so I also listened to that only because I had nothing else to do.  The proper Mozart and Bach stuff just had me thinking: I want to hear this on CD, snug in my warm kitchen, played better, without all the background din.  Listening to all the modern stuff was like listening to King Lear speeches being declaimed with tremendous skill and passion, but in a totally foreign language.  Yeah, yeah, I thought. If I got it, I’d probably get it.  But I didn’t and I didn’t.

When I got home afterwards, I followed the links from the programme to Ollie Coates and Harriet Mackenzie’s internet sites, and they both seem to have decent careers going for them.  Coates can clearly play, as his busy life as a concerto-ist and recitalist suggests, and Mackenzie too.  But last Thursday night, I couldn’t be doing with them.

The trouble was, these people were letting the side down.  To be more exact, they were letting my side down.  I love classical music, the bits of it that I love, more than life itself, and I had assembled a gang of friends to come and hear some of this music because, this time, I thought, it just could be seriously different, be played in a manner which might seriously impress them, and have them saying things like “Wow!”, instead “interesting”.  Instead of the usual Church of England minus God occasion that classical concerts usually are, this one seemed like it might have a bit of fizz to it, a bit of fire and a bit of popular appeal.  And yet here were these two tremendously nice and musically very skillful young people doing, in circumstances that absolutely demanded something radically different, the same old classical same old.  On my own, seated on an upright seat, in a row of identical seats, among many rows of identical seats, surrounded by my fellow classical enthusiasts, in a place with averagely good accoustics and averagely sane room temperature, fine, I would have been content.  Maybe not ecstatic, but content.  As it was, I was angry.  And remember, throughout the first half I could not be a bit sure that the evening was ever going to get any better.

But, the second half of this event was as wonderful as the first half was awful.  As soon as it began, the whole audience, me and my friends most emphatically included, heaved a huge sigh of relief and we all settled down to enjoy ourselves.

This time, we basically had two violinists, Simon Hewitt Jones and David Worswick (pronounced War-z-wick), with occasional help from Simon Hewitt Jones’s brother Thomas on anelectric Yamaha piano.  The music was a huge improvement, and the playing was stunning, and stunningly together.  Suddenly we were watching and listening to people who knew what they were doing and who felt good about it and who had enough spare brain and performing capacity to really put it across.  Like the violinist in the first half, they stood, but with their knees often slightly bent, like rock guitarists who are really getting into it.  I for one completely forgot about the air conditioning, until brother Thomas later made a joke about it.

The repertoire was transformed.  Instead of dreary classical, and incomprehensibly furrow-browed modern, we had nineteenth century entertainment music, written by and for people whose object in life was to amaze and delight the concert-going masses and to get rich and to show off and to shag the girls in the front row afterwards.  That ultimate violin show-off, Paganini, was described at one point as “the most important violinist ever”, and this time I did not mind the “important” at all, because what that meant, David Worswick said, was that he invented lots of new violin techniques to wow the audience with.  Things like plucking the strings with the left hand, which is the same hand as does the fingering.

The Paganini solo piece that Worswick then played struck me as the equal least excellent item in the second half.  It was a compendium of miraculous special effects, but the musical line, for me, got a bit chopped about.  I found myself wondering if I had a CD of Heifetz, playing it better.  But it was still huge fun to listen to.

The other less than totally wonderful piece in part two, for me, was the one written by brother Thomas, called “Romance for Violin”.  This was for two violins, cello (Coates again), and Yamaha piano played by the composer.  This piece was defiantly and deliberately non-modern, but banal, I thought.  Philip Glass laid out for an autopsy.  (Nobody could accuse that piece of being “important”.) But at least the effort to please the crowd was being made, and for that, I say, keep at it lads.  By then, I was prepared to forgive these guys anything.

A very pleasant surprise was that there was almost no hint in all this of something I had greatly feared, namely an atmosphere of chocolate boxness, of making granny smile but boring the kids, of flowers photographed next to violins on shiny old-fashioned tables, of cheesiness.  That very word, “cheesiness”, was used in the pre-emptive cringe spoken intro to the Romance thing.  But mostly what we had was superbly vigorous, virile, young-at-heart entertainment, which the largely young audience all thoroughly enjoyed, with loud whoops in the modern TV studio manner as well as loud applause.  (The contrast with the desultory spattering of applause throughout the first half was extreme.)

I particularly enjoyed the Handel/Halvorsen piece, because it had been further arranged for two violins and showed the two violinists at their considerable best, both individually and as a team.  Now I could tell my friends what had been lacking with the duo in the first half, even in the Mozart and the Bach.  This! This instinctive togetherness, this musical line, this spark, this energy, this fun!  Unlike with the Paganini solo, they were both absolutely on top of what they were doing, and it was fabulous.

Elena the Struggling Actress was particularly impressed with the piece by Fritz Kreisler, the twentieth century violin virtuoso.  And the very first piece in the second half, played by Simon Hewitt Jones, the Wienawski, was also terrific.

I was so delighted by the wonderfulness that erupted just as soon as the second half began that I can’t swear to the exact order of all this stuff.  But I think that the Wienawski, Paganini, Handel/Halvorsen, and Kreisler bits were played in that order, and that in among it there was also a good negro spiritual arrangement by Daniel Thomas Davies, but no John Corigliano, unless I was so busy trying to take photos that they played this but I missed it.

Talking of photos, here is the least worst one that I managed to take, most of them just being a total blur.  I shows you what sort of lighting there was, and something of the manner of the occasion.  What it does not show is the energy and animation of the performances.  But, for what it is worth, this is Simon Hewitt Jones:


Even more than cheesiness, what I had feared most of all was simply that these people would just not be good enough.  If you call something the “Virtuoso Tour” then you had better damn well be a virtuoso.  And Simon Hewitt Jones - especially Simon Hewitt Jones - most definitely is that.  When I listened to him playing, I did not pine for my CD collection.  On the contrary, when, the following morning in my nice warm kitchen, I played a CD of Hilary Hahn doing the first Paganini Violin Concerto, I found myself pining instead for Simon Hewitt Jones.  Hahn was just too nice, careful, accurate and boring.  Where was the showmanship, the applause, the roar of the greasepaint, the drinks at the back of the room, the whoops of joy?

On the face of it, this gig, the bit of it that worked, was a classic exercise in retro-pop, with a few of the hits of Paganini et al being played by other violinists, on account of Paganini et al being dead.  But I see it as more promising than that.

Twentieth century classical music making was distorted, we can now see, by an atmosphere of unrelenting significance, of pervasive non-frivolity, of wall-to-wall great art.  This was because the core task of the classical music profession was not playing new stuff in a new way, but making the miraculous classical back catalogue ever more available to ever wider audiences, at concerts, on the radio, but above all in the form of a cornucopia of superb recordings.  So, no wonder everything they did - including the new stuff by new and now self-consciously classical composers - was sodden with deep significance.  These people were performing and recording an artistic miracle, one of the greatest artistic miracles in mankind’s entire history.  But those recordings have now been made, and people like me all have our miraculous CD collections, and it is against these CD collections that Ollie Coates, Harriet Mackenzie, David Worswick, Simon Hewitt Jones and Thomas Hewitt Jones, and all their fabulously talented but alarmingly numerous musical friends and rivals must now compete, by offering something different and equally exciting.

Simply stuffing the same old deeply serious concerts into night clubs is no answer at all.  To get to grips with their crisis, “classical” music makers must go back to the last great moment in their history when “classical” music was simply music - fun as well as profound, crowd pleasing as well as deep, an object of boisterous applause and not just of sedate congregational reverence, and then with the advent of the gramophone and the CD player, of solitary worship.  And then they need to work their way forward from that. They need to contrive smash hits as well as big set-piece profundities, short snappy pop tracks as well as hour-long longueurs, things to play at gigs to wow the punters and the drinkers, and then sell on the internet by the million because the stuff has only just been thought of.  Things that will pay the rent.

They need to become, in other words, and in among other more profound things, pop musicians.  And to be a big time pop musician, you have to write your own stuff, or at the very least get hold of it.  But, this cannot be reheated George Crumb.  It has to be the next big thing after Paganini and Wienawski, and Fritz Kreisler.  Fritz Kreisler knew all about pleasing the crowd.  He wrote pop tracks for himself to play, in among all those profound concertos and sonatas that he also played so beautifully.  But Kreisler lived at a classically backward looking time, and he had to pass his new pieces off as having been written by some famous dead composer.  Now, the need to make up new tunes is classical priority number one.

Well, I’m going to end this now.  I could now settle down and tell you in more detail, and tell them, what these guys should do next, but I’ll leave that for later. Suffice it to say now that I get the feeling that the Hewitt Jones tribe get all this, approximately speaking.  They may use different words to describe their task to the ones I’d use, and they surely have quite different tastes in pop music to mine, because we all do.  But, all such quibbles aside, I’m pretty sure that these guys don’t just know how to play their instruments.  They know what they’re doing.

I intend to do a lot more reading here.

Saturday January 06 2007

A few weeks back I wrote about my prejudice against the Lib Dems, and then how, in response to prodding from Bishop Hill, they had been slightly modified by meeting a quite sensible sounding Lib Dem on 18 Doughty Street.  As I commented:

The gist of it was, I liked the guy, and he convinced me that the Lib Dems may indeed be moving towards a more principle classical liberalism than was the case in former years.

Certainly enough to make me want to read some more Lib Dem blogs, and see what more I can find on this front.

But now hear this, from Nick M, commenting at Samizdata:

And then there are the Mingers . . .

That’s the Lib Dems, whose leader is Menzies Campbell, with Menzies pronounced “Ming-es”, or “Ming” for short.

. . . who have elevated lack of principle to the status of a principle. I see the stuff they shove through the door here in Manchester and the stuff they shove through my mother’s door in Gateshead and you’d think it came from diametrically opposite parties. In prosperous, white, quasi-rural/suburban/commuter-belt (high-density but cows in the fields - at least until set-aside) West Gateshead the lib-dems play a tune close to classical liberalism/orthodox (Scandi-style) social democracy. In multi-cultural South Manchester they sound more like a front organisation for RESPECT.

Which is exactly what my original prejudice consisted of.  They seem to me like a combination of the duplicitous and the deluded.  Deluded for imagining, insofar as they do, that in one another’s contradictory and chaotic company they will ever be able to accomplish anything.  I can quite believe that the semi-classical liberal chap whom I encountered is sincere in his semi-classical-liberalism.  What I cannot see is him getting anywhere within the Lib Dems, or the Lib Dems themselves getting anywhere, what with them all being so diverse.  They will be a sack of cats for the foreseeable future, even if each cat is sincerely trying to win all the other cats over.  People will vote for them as a protest, but not as a real party with pretensions to forming a real government.

One day, before I die, I will have a pocket computer that is cheap, small, has everything I want, nothing I don’t want, etc. etc., blah blah, but in the meantime, here’s another nice looking near miss:


That’s a goodish looking keyboard, which folds in half which is definitely what I want.  I don’t like that the letter keys are straightened up, but I think I could get used to that.

According to this engadget posting, it was going to have an SD card slot, which would mean that I could stuff photos into its 20 gig hard drive.  But today they say it will be an MMC card slot, which wouldn’t suit me at all.

It is also a phone, of course, and a camera.  Cilla Black is on Room 101 complaining about mobile phones with cameras in them.  To hell with her.

As they say here:

The unit’s extra long battery life and fold-out keyboard makes the S-XGen a serious full-day work partner that puts an end to frustrating text messaging-style “dumb thumb” typing and battery power panic.

“Fingers are a terrible thing to waste - especially when you have real work to do,” said Al Reda, president and CEO of Seamless WiFi. “Virtually all UMPCs offer similar applications but all the gadgets in the world are worthless if they are frustrating to use.

You tell ‘em, Al.

So, calling all rich stupid people with money to burn!  Go out and spend $1,400 on this gizmo.  This will make the specs popular and cause rivals to produce rival things which are exactly the same only better for £200.

Friday January 05 2007

Last night I (as I hoped), plus Perry de Havilland, Alex Singleton and Elena the Struggling Actress, attended the Simon Hewitt Jones Jan 4th show at The Gardening Club, and I hope to have a personal reaction to it up here Real Soon Now.  Basically - and Thank God, what with me having already made such a fuss of it - I thought it was superb, everything I hoped for.

(It’s incidental, but if SHJ wants to attract the attention of the blogosphere, would it not help if he had permanent pages at his website describing concerts, so that links from reviews and reactions to concerts still keep on working, as I fear the above first link will, in due course, not, i.e. it will in due course link instead to something else?  Maybe that’s a silly thing to ask, but it makes sense to me.)

Meanwhile, I am finding the Simon Hewitt Jones weblog to be a good read.  So far, I have particularly enjoyed this posting.  Now that their latest gig is done, maybe SHJ or his younger taller brother will have time to fix the monthly archiving bug.  Hope so.  (I dug back to the above posting by hopping backwards through the recent postings list.

In a posting entitled “Blog Archives”, dated December 22nd 2006, which I cannot manage to link to individually (I now can only get the monthly archives!), which is not a good sign that the problem it refers to is fully solved, but scroll down from here), Alan K Henderson writes:

I’ve finally gotten around to fixing the archives problem. Blogger is no longer supporting its archive template, and didn’t bother to notify those of us who had been using it. The generic code for displaying monthly archive links (in this case, in boldface and centered) is as follows:

Splig splog splig splog.  You’ll have to go there as actually typing in the stuff here caused my software to have a fit.

Anyway, could all that splig splog be part of the answer?  I am no blog-software expert, but it seems relevant.

In general, Blogspotwise, I agree with AKH’s commenter:

Bogsnot’s nice if you wanna start up a blog, but once you become proficient at it, it holds you back more than anything else.

I decided against Blogspot when Samizdata decided to switch from it, and decided to use Expression Engine when Samizdata decided to switch to that (but then changed its damn mind).

Okay another photo, of people taking photos, but not of me or by me.  I make it a total of fourteen Billion Monkeys to be seen in action here:


But what are they all photo-ing at?  What are they waving their blue things at?

Yes it’s the Amazon Spaceship!

That link is to the Amazon Spaceship Home page, where there are photos of the Amazon Spaceship and a report of a short voyage that it took last November.

I got to this via Gizmodo, who also feature the video.

But, I have to say that I did rather like this comment at Gizmodo:

Shame the wanker didn’t use it to deliver my Christmas presents in time for Christmas. Guaranteed next day delivery my arse!

Will the long-term significance of this event be that it marked the moment when Bezos finally took his eye completely off the Amazon ball?  I always regarded the construction of a custom built architect-designed brand-spanking-new company headqarters as the sign of a mega-company about to plunge back to earth.  In the future, will it be when the boss becomes a space entrepreneur?  I do hope not.

Thursday January 04 2007

I have finally got around to processing the mp3 of the Gilbert and Sullivan conversation that Alex Singleton and I had on December 28th.  The problem that needed processing was that my microphone was misfiring, but not badly enough for the initial sound-checks to register, and I had to go through the whole thing to beef up my (quite voluminous) bits, an editing exercise of the kind I have not done before.  Live and learn.  I sincerely hope that the result, which makes me sound very roughly as loud as Alex, but not as pretty, is not too annoying.

imageAs to the conversation itself, there is, I think, just one rather big omission, which is: dates.  We gave in our chat few clues as to when Gilbert and Sullivan operated, and no specific dates.

You can chase up the detailed chronology of it all here.  The key dates are that Gilbert was born 1836 died 1911, and Sullivan was born 1842 died 1900.  The first big G&S hit was HMS Pinafore, first performed in 1878, and the last big hit was The Yeomen of the Guard, first performed in 1888, with a couple of rather less successful collaborations (Utopia Limited and The Grand Duke) during the 1890s.  The biggest G&S hit of all, The Mikado, was first performed in 1885.  Something along those lines should definitely have been included.  I managed to say the date of our chat (which I often forget to do), but not the dates that really mattered.  Apologies.

Finally, Alex asked about G&S performances.  I was rather vague in response to that, only managing to murmur something about DVDs.  But it might be worth mentioning, especially since we talked about the whole issue of updating G&S, that another updated version of The Pirates of Penzance is now running at the Orange Street Theatre, Richmond, until February 10th.  I came across that by chance in a Sunday Times supplement mag.  That’s Richmond as in out to the west of London, England.

Wednesday January 03 2007

This, by Greg Sandow, from about a month ago, is an intriguing posting.  Sandow contrasts the latest James Bond movie (not seen it) with The Three Musketeers (not read it but seen various movies), and reckons the latest Bond, Casino Royale, to be rather better:

So that’s what they show in the movie, which turns out to be thoughtful and touching, at least up to a point. I say “up to a point,” because I’m not going to make great claims for it. In the end, however dark it gets, it’s largely an arousing entertainment.

But I will say this. I’ve been reading the new translation of Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers. And that book, classic as it is, doesn’t have half the thought or emotional depth of Casino Royale. Talk about entertainment - The Three Musketeers goes down as easily as popcorn, and makes very little sense. The characters have a lot of life, and maybe even a little depth, which is probably why the book survives.

But I suppose - because it was written 160 years ago, and, God help us, in French - we’re supposed to call it high culture.

Classical: pop written by dead guys.

Tuesday January 02 2007

Google aren’t being nice any more.  And I know you probably already knew this, but the point is that when news like that reaches me, it means that this story is really getting around.  When us kitten-bloggers learn something, then it is well and truly being learned, by actual people.

It reached me from this, for instance, in among a Long Tail discussion, i.e. in among a discussion about something else:

. . . One disgruntled publisher complains she’s owed less than the minimum Google can be bothered to pay her. And, as fast as she makes money, Google lifts the threshold. [She writes:] “When I started with Adsense in late 2004/ early 2005 the minimum was $25. Just when was about to hit the $25 minimum, they raised it to $50. Now that I have $45 in my account, the minimum is $100. Granted, I have a site with very low traffic, but how many website owners are getting screwed by Google? . . .”

And from this:

Michael Arrington recently wrote that Google will have to still live up to its famous “Don’t be evil” tagline, even though now they have tons of money, with lots of advertisers and shareholders to keep happy.

I’ll believe it when I see it. Google is no longer in the search business, Google is now in the cash cow business. And money, like Cyndi Lauper once sang, changes everything.

Maybe they should change their tagline to “Don’t be THAT evil”. More believable, somehow.

By the way, a “kitten-blogger”, for my purposes here, doesn’t mean only or even at all kittens.  It means whatever combination of things the blogger happens to be interested in, with no regard to the tastes of any readers who happen by or to the mere numbers or grandeur of such readers.  Kitten bloggers basically blog about me me me.  So, in my case, that is my own photos, other people’s photos, other people photo-ing while being photoed by me, England cricket, England 15-a-side rugby (the Six Nations is about to crank itself up again – hurrah!), classical music (mostly classical music CDs), portable computers, occasional eruptions of libertarianism and (or?) anti-Islamism, plus recorded conversations with friends and others, plus whatever else I feel like noticing no matter what and regardless of anything or anybody.

It’s been a while since a kitten as such has actually appeared here.  As to that I promise nothing either way.  Kitten bloggers seldom promise anything.  They don’t have a brand that they feel they have to live up to.  They just blog, much as people have for many decades been chattering away happily on the telephone.  (My only deviation from true kitten-blogging is that I do tend to blog some sort of something-or-other every day, except when I’m taking a pre-announced break.) Individually, a kitten-blogger is nothing.  Collectively, we are a combined conveyor belt for the discoveries of the geeks and the specialist high-traffic big-brand bloggers to regular people.  That’s because, apart from blogging, we sort of are regular people.  We are, come to think of it, rather like the newspapers, which perhaps explains why we so often like to diss newspapers even as we steal their stories.  We get things wrong all the time, but when we notice stuff, that still counts for something.

Of course a blogger who specialises in knowing about things like Google (but who never mentions the England cricket team from one year to the next) would know that the blog-buzz about Google is now turning seriously nasty.  And those persons have all, presumably, been blog-buzzing to that effect for many months and even years now.  But the basic point here is that I don’t blog about Google as a matter of daily duty, merely out of occasional curiosity, and even I now know that Google is now facing a lot of bad vibes.  Be afraid, Google.

It’s all rather like IBM and Microsoft, in other words.  Nothing lasts for ever.  But the good news for Google is that the cash cow business can trundle on for a long time.  Again, look at IBM and Microsoft.  They both manage, still, to scratch a living.

However, yesterday, just before taking this photo, I encountered, in Victoria Street, a Harley Davidson, which I can never resist, if only because it is an opportunity for me to photo myself which I always like.


One of my favourite so-awful-it’s-quite-good pop tracks is Brigitte Bardot singing in sexy French English a song called Harley Davidson, pronounced Harlay Daveed Son (not pronounced Sun – Son pronounced S-O-N is impossible to write as a regular word).  She works so hard to get the H right, in a non-French manner, that she forgets to say Harlee, and says Harlay instead.

Wouldn’t it be good to photo Brigitte Bardot, reflected in a Harley Davidson, instead of her just boringly standing next to it.  Too late now, unless you are a Photoshop Phetishist, which I am not.

I met up with my two brothers over Christmas.  The light was grey and dull, and I didn’t do much photo-ing, but I took snaps of the two of them in my mum’s garden.  Eldest brother Toby on the left, and Toby and elder brother Peter on the right:

image  image

And here are three more pics to add to these.

image image image

Adriana, Dave (Uncle Fester), and me.