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Wednesday February 28 2007

imageThe usual way to photograph the first flowers of spring is to light them brightly with the spring sunshine.

But yesterday, in Parliament Square, the late afternoon sun had other plans.  The flowers were in the shade, and made to look menacing.  They are flowering too early.  They signify climate change.  Change, bad!  The clock is lit up.  Time, running out!

Unless we stop emitting sinful carbon dioxide, London will become like the south of France.

Click on the daffodil of doom to get two more daffodils of doom, slightly bigger.

Tuesday February 27 2007

Bishop Hill informs me that novelist and general literary and publishing bird Susan Hill has a blog, which I think I sort of knew, but which I am glad to be reminded about.

BH links to this posting.  I particularly liked SH’s posting entitled A BOOK IS A BOOK IS A BOOK:

Which is a way of saying that the one thing book bloggers do not have as a priority is whether a book is new or not - published last week, next week, last year or 100 years ago, it is all one. Literary editors focus almost exclusively on new books, that is their remit; the trade focuses a lot on what is New New New. But one of the joys of book blogging is this absence of stress on the new. I read and re-read. I pick up something recently published. I embark on the Anthony Powell Dance to the Music of Time sequence, which I will eventually write about here. I re-read a Dickens. I enthuse about a novel to be published in August, a proof copy of which has landed on the mat. Or not. People who read the blogs, who buy or borrow a book because they like the sound of it from what I have written, are not worried about when it was published. There is very little Joneses-keeping-up-with and worrying about the Man Booker list. If the latest Richard and Judy selection sounds up our street we will read it. If we want to tackle Chaucer again, we do.

The book blog has resulted in a new and very refreshing wave of book-focused commentary and, usually, enthusiasm and it is making at least some of the Book Trade wake up to their backlists, to out of print titles, and even bookshops to looking over their shoulders ... in a good way.

The obsession with ‘newly published’ leads to panic. We can’t read it, stock it, review it, write about it, admit its existence, if it is not a New Title. Some people have to concentrate on those. That is their job. But it is not ours, thank God.

Quite so.  After all, at least half the point of books is that they stick around for a few decades.

And for that matter, when linking to worthwhile postings on other blogs, they don’t have to be postings published only a few hours or minutes ago.  This posting of Susan Hill’s is now over a week old.  But, it still makes sense.

Blog postings.  Here today.  Here tomorrow.  Sort of like books.

Will blogophiles, or whatever they are called, store lots of favourite old blogs on their fabulously, unimaginably capacious hard-discs, to ensure that blogs they like are not forgotten when the mere blogger perishes and stops paying the rent?  It would make sense.

If so, then, as the years go by, maybe the distinction between books and blogs, which looms rather large for us now, may fade.  Especially if, when the blogger dies, a lot of them get turned into real, paper based, old-fashioned, read-them-in-the-train-without-being-ridiculous books.

Maybe Posterity will read this blog after all!  Bits of it, anyway.

Monday February 26 2007

I like cool skyscrapers. So, here are some cool skyscrapers. I haven’t done architecture here lately.

Looking at these pictures, it occurs to me that as time goes by, skyscrapers will get more and more like flowers.  If a lot of the point of them is to say “look at me aren’t I cool”, which it is, then the obvious place is to put all the coolness is at the top, like competitive flowers or trees, where people can see the coolness.  The point being, skyscrapers cluster where it makes sense to put them.  (It’s sad to see that little lump interrupting the view of the Petronas Towers, for instance.)

imageThe picture I’ve picked to copy to here is the one that interests me the most, because it is the first time I’ve seen the Libeskind replacement for the Twin Towers look half reasonable instead of a complete muddle.  I still think it’s a muddle, and rather dreary, but am now more optimistic.

On the other hand, and purely coincidentally, just this second, Michael Jennings emailed me a link about ... skyscrapers.  Quote:

The old formula for what drives skyscraper construction - high density plus high land values equals high buildings - is quite undone by the new class of super-tall buildings, rising as they so often do from the wide-open spaces of unformed young cities.

Which is the other way for the coolness of a skyscraper to be obvious to all.  Put ‘em where the others ain’t.

Further quote:

Well, 9/11 came and everyone said, ‘No more high-rise buildings,’” a New York architect involved in skyscraper construction recalled. “It took about a year, then it just exploded. I can’t find a place except maybe South America that’s not booming. don’t know what it is ...” He trailed off, then added: “I do know what it is, it’s ego.”

“It’s so Freudian it’s ridiculous,” another New York skyscraper architect said.

Nothing ridiculous about it, I say.  Take that, Islamofascists.  Except that maybe all these new towers in Dubai are Islamofascism, otherwise defined.  Oh well, I like them.

Recent blogroll addition Never Trust a Hippy links to this posting, reminding me that Communities Dominate Brands also needs to be on the blogroll, which it now is.

A few years back I went through a phase of not having a personal blogroll.  Did I put blogs I liked on my Culture Blogroll or my Education Blogroll?  In the end I put most of them nowhere.  Stupid.  So, I keep rediscovering good blogs from those days, such as: Communities Dominate Brands.

Anyway this CDB posting from January is about numbers of people in the world who own cars, computers, internet connections, games consoles, etc.  Strictly in the etc. column is digital cameras.  Less than 300 million, apparently.  But, mobile phones is at 2.7 billion, and, obviously, rising as if up a precipice.  And when you consider that more and more mobile phones now have cameras, my Billion Monkey thing looks like it will end up as an underestimate.


I certainly notice lots of Billions Monkeys using mobiles to take snaps rather than cameras which are nothing else.  And if I persist with Billion Monkey snapping I will probably chronicle this Huge Switch, from mostly specialised digital cameras, to mostly mobiles which just happen to have cameras in them.  I wonder what the final ratio will end up being.

Trouble is, my sample is surely biased strongly towards bespoke cameras.  I see lots of mobiles being used to take snaps, but many more which are also being used for this purpose I surely miss.  Bespoke cameras are, by their nature, much easier to spot being used to take photos than if people are snapping with their mobiles.  After all, maybe those folks are just, you know, looking at their mobiles, and reading text messages, or some such thing.  I often can’t tell.  Plus, the bespoke camera crowd are surely the ones who flock (assuming Billion Monkeys can be said to flock) to the tourist traps.  Which is where I go hunting for them.

My camera, with its sneaky screen that twiddles and enables me to take photos when I just look as if I’m generally fiddling around, is indeed sneaky.  But when everyone uses mobiles for photography, if that day ever comes, everything will be an order of magnitude sneakier.  Most of the time, it just won’t be possible to spot photography in action, because everyone doing it could be doing something else, something innocuous.

The world will then be even more like this.

Sunday February 25 2007

Today I spent my day watching rugby on the telly.  And since England got a right stuffing in Ireland, I needed something else to be doing to take my mind off it.  So, I did some classic displacement activity, in the form of renaming all the directories where my Billion Monkey photos are all collected.  In the course of which, I came across many old favourites I’d quite forgotten about.

I like this one, for instance:


Click to get the same thing bigger.  Actually I’m not sure if people making digital movies qualify as Billion Monkeys.  I get back to you with a ruling on that.

But tell me this.  Why do I like this photo so much?  It has many things I am fond of.  It has a complicated signpost.  It has a roof with spikes and bobbles.  It has a Billion Monkey (if Billion Monkey he be) in action.  But, they are all on top of each other, and included in the photographic heap is another person, who I would have banished from the shot had been in any position to demand such a thing.  Yet, I really like it.  Central to my enjoyment is all the sky around the central ensemble, so no cropping.  That’s it just as it emerged from the Canon S2 IS.  Anyway, I like it, and I hope you people also like it.  If not, photos waste little time, so no great harm done.  That’s Parliament at the back, by the way.

Saturday February 24 2007

I just channel hopped into Newsnight Review, but after half a minute I was on my way.

Who the eff you see kay chairs this programme?  Nobody that’s who.  It just isn’t amusing to listen to two opinionated people saying interesting things, very loudly, simultaneously.  Three doing the same is even less entertaining.

He liked the Kaiser Chief’s latest and she didn’t seemed to be the gist of the bit I happened upon, but I can’t comment on what exactly they said because I couldn’t eff you see kaying make it out.



It’s the over-the-top fur that I like.

I came across another picture of this beast, and then went looking for it by somebody else on Flickr.  While doing that I encountered lots of other sculpture, of the monstrously Soviet variety like they have on Shostakovich CD covers.  Lovely.  I must do a future posting on them, but ... I promise nothing.

Friday February 23 2007

Spotted earlier today:


“I will do such things – What they are yet I know not; but they shall be the terrors of the earth.” - King Lear Act 3 Scene 4

The Blair era enters its final days.

My friend from way back Dave Davis, who occasionally comments here, likes to mention the role of sunspots and similar things, whenever global warming is discussed.

I presume that this is the kind of thing he has in mind.

In light of these many diverse observations, Svensmark concludes “it now seems clear that stellar winds and magnetism are crucial factors in the origin and viability of life on wet earth-like planets,” as are “ever-changing galactic environments and star-formation rates.” And within this expansive context of both space and time, humanity’s emissions of CO2 literally fade away into climatic insignificance.

I got to this via the blog Cobbett Rides Again, which hasn’t been on my blogroll until now, because, although I can’t recall the details now, there was some kind of problem with me loading it up and reading it.  Now, it seems to work fine, and is accordingly on my blogroll.  Anway, Peter Porcupine reckons global warming is just another of those Great Enemies that the politicians keep inventing, to keep all our minds off of freedom, tax cuts, etcetera.  Although, to me, the people themselves seem to be begging for this particular Great Enemy to be real.  Something to do with needing to have a bad guy, otherwise the pantomime that is Life no longer makes sense.

Also new to my blogroll are, for various reasons, this blog, and this blog.

On the subject of Climate Change and all that, I, as usual, continue to agree with the last thing I read, whatever that was.  So, in the next few days, I’m going to take a few more looks at this blog more.  That one doesn’t need to be added to my blogroll.  It’s been there for months.  They have a very different take on Svensmark.  Comments on them, anyone?  I recommend their comments, which come flying in from all parts and in most enviable volume.

Thursday February 22 2007

I have already done two postings about the French historian and anthropologist Emmanuel Todd.  In the first, I sketched out Todd’s Explanation of Ideology, as described in his book of that name (in its English translation).  In the second posting, I simply listed the eight families into which Todd classifies the world’s people, together with the countries in which each family type prevails.

I now want to quote Todd himself.  Below are a couple of chunks from the introduction, entitled “democracy and anthropology”, to The Explanation of Ideology, translated into English by David Garrioch.

First, the first few pages of that introduction (pp. 1-6 in my 1985 Blackwell hardback edition):

No theory has so far succeeded in explaining the distribution of political ideologies, systems and forces on our planet. No one knows why certain regions of the world are dominated by liberal doctrines, others by social democracy or Catholicism, by Islam or by the Indian caste system, and others again by concepts which defy classification or description, like Buddhist socialism.

No one knows why communism has triumphed after a revolutionary struggle in Russia, China and Yugoslavia, in Vietnam and Cuba. No one knows why in other places it has failed - sometimes honourably, for in certain countries it plays an important although not dominant role in political life.  In France, Italy, Finland and Portugal, in Chile before the coup in 1974, in the Sudan before the elimination of the communists by the army in 1971, and in certain Indian states such as West Bengal or Kerala, communism has a stable electoral position and traditionally enjoys the interest and support of many intellectuals.

In some areas of the world communism has made a brief but conspicuous appearance. In Indonesia it once seemed set for a brilliant future but evaporated after a military take-over and a brutal massacre. In Cambodia, a near neighbour in global terms, its performance was still more striking, rapidly developing to such murderous intensity that it destroyed itself within a very few years. One suspects, however, that these last two examples, spectacular in their power and instability, are not representative of conventional types of communism.

Elsewhere we find that Marxist-Leninist organization, while not entirely absent, is very weak and of almost no political importance: for example, in Japan, Sweden, Germany, Spain and Greece. Throughout much of the world the conquering and would-be universal ideology of the twentieth century has no real influence and is represented only by tiny fringe groups.  Communism, which in Russia and China has produced Titans, in the Arab world has given birth to no more than a few martyrs and in the English-speaking world to a number of eccentrics.  In most of Latin America - if we exclude Cuba and Chile – in Africa, Thailand, Burma and the Philippines, Marxist-Leninist influence is insignificant.

The history of communism is similar to that of other universal creeds: Buddhism, Christianity, Islam. It has proved rapidly successful in certain societies with which it has a mysterious affinity, only to be stopped after this initial expansion by barriers which remain invisible.

The failure of political science

A simple enumeration, worthy of lonesco, of the regions and countries where communism is strong illustrates the failure of a political science at present largely dominated by utilitarian and materialist ideas. Liberals and Marxists alike now agree on the importance of economic factors in history: the public or private nature of the means of production and exchange, the level of industrial development, the efficiency of agriculture, the numerical importance of different socio-professional groups. But could one hope to find any economic characteristic which was shared by all the regions where Marxism-Leninism is strong: by Finland and Kerala, Vietnam and Cuba, Tuscany and the Chilean province or Arauco, Limousin and West Bengal, Serbia and southern Portugal, or even for that matter by Russia and China before their revolutions?

On the eve of 1917, Russia was overwhelmingly rural but had sufficient agricultural surplus and enough mineral resources to finance rapid industrial growth. China in the first half of the twentieth century was even more strongly rural, but would have had the greatest difficulty in producing any agricultural surplus at all. Even in good years she could hardly feed her population.  So sparse was her industrial development that even the most hard-line Marxist would not dare to accord responsibility for the 1949 Revolution to the proletariat of the Celestial Empire. From a Marxist point of view, the China of 1949 differed from the Russia of 1917 in one vital respect: the peasants had a much clearer idea of private property than did their Russian counterparts, among whom a sort of agrarian communism, the periodical redistribution of land according to family size, was widely practised.  But this difference does not really help explain these events because it invalidates the most convincing of the ‘economic’ interpretations of communism: that which portrays it as a more modern industrial version of a traditional agricultural system.

For we find Russia and China, entirely different countries, from an economic point of view, plunging with similar enthusiasm into the same political adventure only thirty years apart and with surprisingly similar results. They shared, to begin with, a single characteristic - their rural economy - which explains nothing: in 1848 when Marx called on the workers of the world to break their chains, 95 per cent of the inhabitants of the world were peasants. Ireland, Sweden, Greece, Japan, Thailand, Turkey, Mexico, all nations where communism was to remain weak, were no more developed industrially than Russia or China. The one major exception was Britain, whose working class was to remain impermeable to communist ideology for 200 years.

Theories of class struggle explain nothing. Some working classes are attracted by Marxism-Leninism and others are not.  The same applies to the rural population which in some countries is open to communism, in others not. Even normally conservative bourgeois intellectuals in many countries betray the most elementary rules of class warfare and allow themselves to be seduced by Bolshevism.

Social democracy, Islam, Hinduism, and the rest

As the most crucial ideology of the twentieth century, communism has been widely studied. Traditional political science, although unable to explain its appearance in a particular country, has nevertheless managed to give a good description of it, one which also serves to define, negatively but with equal precision, its economic and political antithesis and its world-wide enemy, Anglo-Saxon liberalism. The characteristics of communism are therefore absence of elementary political, religious and economic freedoms; egalitarian subjection of the individual to the state; and a single permanent ruling party. The features of liberalism, on the other hand, are seen to be free exercise of political, economic and religious rights by the individual; abhorrence of the state, which is perceived as an administrative necessity but also as a threat; and rapid changes of the party in power as a result of the workings of an electoral system.

Anything beyond these two poles is heresy. Yet the nations which subscribe to one or other of these ideologies, to liberalism or to communism, account for only 40 per cent of the world’s population. The remaining 60 per cent have not received nearly the same attention from political scientists, and are considered conceptually irrelevant. Their ideologies and political systems are at best treated as imperfect forms, somewhere in between communism and liberalism according to the degree of economic, religious or political authoritarianism. At worst, they appear to social scientists as legal or religious monstrosities, aberrations of the human imagination that cannot be registered on the scale dictated by European political conventions whose linear structure is like a thermometer, capable of measuring only hot or cold, the degree of liberty or of totalitarianism.

Putting together all these misfits, all the ideologies which are neither ‘communist’ nor ‘liberal’, gives another of those comical lists which political science is capable of producing: social democracy, libertarian socialism, Christian democracy, Latin-American, Thai or Indonesian military regimes, the Buddhist socialism of Burma or of Sri Lanka, Japanese parliamentarianism, technically perfect but with the sole flaw of never changing its ruling party, Islamic fundamentalism and socialism, Ethiopian militarist Marxism, and the Indian regime which combines parliamentary and caste systems and whose 700 million subjects have in one swoop been disqualified by ‘modern’ political science.

Social science has found a justification for refusing to fit these exotic systems and ways of thinking into its conceptual framework: is it reasonable to hope to understand them when the principal mystery, that of the liberal/communist conflict, has yet to be resolved? But this argument is easily refuted: it is precisely because of the refusal to look on all political forms – whether European or not - as normal and theoretically significant that communism has never been fully understood, and nor, as a direct result, has its liberal ‘antithesis’.

Furthermore, if we move from a politico-economic definition of ideological systems to a religious one, the opposite of communism is no longer liberalism but the whole group of doctrines which proclaim the existence of a spiritual realm. For communism alone declares that God does not exist and is prepared to impose this belief on humanity. Here the liberal, pluralist systems, tolerant or agnostic on religious questions, are out of the picture. They cannot provide a conceptual framework for the increasingly violent conflict between communism and Islam in Afghanistan, or between communism and the Catholic church in Poland.

Is it, then, too much to allow that the range of political and religious ideologies spread around the world does not divide into two camps, but forms a system with many poles, and that all these poles - communist, liberal, Catholic, social democratic, Hindu, Islamic, Buddhist - are equally normal, legitimate and worthy of analysis?

A satisfactory explanation of communism must also provide the key to other world-wide ideologies. The situation is precisely that which is encountered in the natural sciences: one cannot partly understand the principle of the attractive force of matter, that of the circulation of the blood or of the classification of the elements in chemistry. To take the whole world as the field of study, therefore, is simply to apply to social science the minimum of intellectual rigour which the natural sciences take for granted. Any hypothesis must take all the forms observed into account.

And now here is the conclusion of this same introduction (pp. 16-18):

General methodology

The oppositions ideology/anthropology and social relations/human relations are particularly useful outside Europe when attempting to trace the origins of religious ideological systems. They are indispensable if one is accurately to describe ideologies which are based on ideas about family ties.

The Indian caste system is a family ideology which places each individual in an abstract and impersonal social network, the caste (or to be more precise the sub-caste), which is defined by ties of descent outside which he or she cannot marry. But the sub-caste is composed largely of people who do not know each other and who live in different places. Beneath this intellectual edifice can be seen a particular family structure, a model of interpersonal relations which produces the concept of and the need for social segregation. These two levels - social and human, ideological and familial - must be clearly distinguished if the caste system is to be placed with any precision among the various political and religious ideologies - communism, Islam, social democracy, the various forms of Christianity - which likewise define social relations between people who do not know each other directly.

A universal hypothesis is possible: the ideological system is everywhere the intellectual embodiment of family structure, a transposition into social relations of the fundamental values which govern elementary human relations: liberty or equality, and their opposites, are examples. One ideological category and only one, corresponds to each family type.

Ignoring all the accepted procedures of present-day social science and at the risk of being branded a positivist, I am going to test this theory and prove it in the same way as in any exact science: by exhaustively comparing the hypothesis and the evidence, that is by a complete examination of the familial and ideological systems experienced by the settled human groups which make up at least 95 per cent of the population of the planet. Testing the theory involves two steps.

First, a general typology of family structure must be devised. It must be both logically exhaustive, starting from first principles and setting out all the possible family structures; and empirically exhaustive, that is to say taking into account and describing all the family forms which are actually observable on the surface of the planet.

Second, it must be shown that to each family form described there corresponds one and only one ideological system and that this ideological system is not to be found in areas of the world which are dominated by other family forms (in mathematical terms one would speak of a bijective relationship between family types and political types).

A further requirement is that secondary variations in family structure within each anthropological type must correspond to secondary variations in the political or religious forms within the corresponding ideological type.

And then, to his own complete satisfaction at least, Todd proceeds to prove all that.

Wednesday February 21 2007

A few days ago, I was out and about snapping, as is my wont, and I saw something rather unfamiliar in the sky over London, a dirty-looking vapour trail.


Vapour trails usually look white, as the older vapour trail that makes an X with this new one is.  Something about the way vapour trails are usually lit makes them look white, against a blue sky.  Mechanical clouds, you might say.  And what could possibly be wrong with that?  Vapour trails are just nice, clean steam.

But that one looks a whole lot dirtier, doesn’t it?  And there’s the remnants of another, across the X, horizontally.

This was snapped just before it got dark, and I presume that has something to do with it.  For some reason, this particular vapour trail was not lit.  High clouds blocking the sun from it, but not blocking the sun from lighting us down on the ground?  Or the older vapour trail, the one that’s white?  I don’t know.

What I do know is that if vapour trails always looked this dark and dirty, there would surely have been a lot more talk about restricting air travel even than there is.  Air travel would long ago have become more expensive.

Now, you could say that clouds are often this dark too, presumably for similar reasons.  But clouds look natural.  This vapour trail looks like mechanised evil spewing into the sky.  It looks, in other words, just what the environmentalists have finally persuaded a lot of people that it is, despite usual appearances to the contrary.

Tuesday February 20 2007

When Transport Blog is redesigned, which keeps being talked about, I will then relaunch my Education Blog as a group libertarian blog much like Transport Blog, looking similar but a different colour.  I will be muggins and stick up something – anything – at least once a day.  When that starts, things may relax a bit here.  No rush though.

When it does get going again, here’s the kind of thing I’ll be featuring:

The internet, still in its infancy, is the wonder-child of education. It knows everything that is to be known. It forgets nothing. It is the intellectual equivalent of Aladdin’s lamp. It will do anything within reason that you ask it to do and without question. It therefore absolves human beings from spending their lives accumulating knowledge as information. It therefore denies the hitherto accepted purpose of education.

Bishop Hill found this somewhere in among this.

Not that I think this is entirely right.  I think it is based on a misunderstanding of the “hitherto accepted purpose of education” as being merely “accumulating knowledge as information”.  Surely a big part of what is meant by “education” is knowing how information relates to other information, and makes sense.  Experts are people who know not merely facts, but how their particular facts tie together and make sense.  Getting that from the internet is much harder than merely finding facts.  Finding out what the Battle of Culloden was all about is harder than merely learning its date.  And even learning the date has its problems, because you have to have some kind of clue that there was a battle called Culloden, or you wouldn’t know to even ask.

But that’s not my point here.  It’s an interesting quote, and an interesting link to an interesting piece of internet verbiage about home education.  And clearly the internet does change the educational rules more than somewhat.  It certainly makes home education a whole lot easier.

Personally I think that it also makes education, properly understood, more valuable, because educated people can make more of a living than hitherto, making sense of all the oceans of information that are now newly available to them at the touch of a keyboard.

Sunday February 18 2007

Last night I watched the movie The Devil Wears Prada.  In it, the monster Meryl Streep character - Cruella DeVille running a fashion mag - made a little speech to the Anne Hathaway character that I have heard and read many times, and which I am sick to death of and will here denounce.

Anne Hathaway, a frump (these things are relative you understand), has got a job in the fashion mag, and is wearing a frumpy jumper.  Aspersions are caste on this, but she doesn’t care.  She doesn’t know much about this stuff.

“This stuff.” That sets off Cruella DeVille, and she does this big speech about the particular shade of blue the frumpy jumper is that frumpy Anne Hathaway is wearing.  That particular shade of blue was decided five years ago, at the summit of the fashion machine, by us fashist despots, says Cruella.  You think you chose that blue.  No.  Us fashists chose it.  We decide what you wear!!!!

Yes, here (you have to scroll down a bit) it is:

This ... ‘stuff’? Oh ... ok. I see, you think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select out, oh I don’t know, that lumpy blue sweater, for instance, because you’re trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise, it’s not lapis, it’s actually cerulean. You’re also blindly unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar De La Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves St Laurent, wasn’t it, who showed cerulean military jackets? And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of 8 different designers. Then it filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic casual corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and so it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room. From a pile of stuff.

Great speech and all that.  Kudos to the script writer, who nailed one of those generic statements, like greed is good and hurrah for the smell of napalm in the morning. But: bollocks.

Us frumps buy and wear frumpy clothes, and there’s bugger all that the fashists can do about it.  They choose the colours we wear.  Big deal.  We don’t care what colours we wear. That we let fashists choose the colours for us that fashists chose five years ago doesn’t prove that they are powerful.  It merely illustrates the insignificance of their colour decisions.  What the fashists can’t do is decide that our frumpy jumpers should have big holes for our navels to show through, or have frilly ribbons on the bottom of them, or that our frumpy jumpers should cost five hundred quid each.  These are the decisions that matter to us frumps.  We make them, and not like that.  Five years ago, the fashists decided that jumpers would have holes in their navels, or whatever crap they thought they had decided.  And five years later, we frumps say: bollocks.  The fashists only have power over each other.

Good little movie though, albeit far too slush-centred and undiabolical for my taste.  Plus Anne Hathaway wasn’t the only alleged frump who just looked like a dressing-down fashist.  Contrast this, for instance, with the real thing.

This was taken by Goddaughter One on the day that she and I went walking and photo-ing on the far side of London:


You remember that.  Well, no you don’t, why should you?  But, we did.

Anyway, I know it’s me and all that, but I think it’s very artistic.

Friday February 16 2007

Friday continues to be kitten/cat day here, so here’s a picture of a kitten (now a cat) called Norman.


Says the caption: “Norman interested”.  See also: Norman interested, in me!!!

After linking to that I looked at the list of me and all the other 177 Normed ones.  See in particular 66: Harry Hutton!  Quote:

What would be your main blogging advice to a novice blogger? > Don’t fill your blog with pictures of frickin’ cats.

Picture of Harry the cat:



My cats have a lot of freedom - space, no traffic, and our two dogs to keep the mountain lion away - so far.  They usually sleep inside at night.  Harry was a rescue - a kitten given away at the feed store - but we suspect he has some wildness in his genealogy.

Apart from the “no traffic” bit, that seems about right.

I write a weekly bit for CNE IP.  I’ve just sent off my latest effort, but it won’t appear there for a while, which is part of why I so seldom link from here to there.  By the time it appears, I have forgotten about it.  Not like proper blogging.  But there you go, they get what they pay for, which in their case means they get to stick it up at a time of their choosing, having checked it for unexploded verbal bombs.  (Interestingly, I have never been subjected to any unseemly pressure to be nice about their big money contributors.  Everything I have sent has gone up exactly as written.  I was once told that anything else would be illegal, given that CNE is based in Brussels.  Something to do with their charitable status.  Not like the newspapers, who butcher your stuff unmercifully.)

Anyway, while rootling around for something to put in my latest piece, I came across this rather charming story.  In the end I did my piece about something else, but it is a shame to waste the story.  So here it is, here.


A former assistant professor of Meiji University’s School of Information and Communication plagiarized 96 percent of a report on copyright submitted to the Institute of Intellectual Property, sources said Monday.

The plagiarism is a violation of the Copyright Law.

Hirohiko Fujiwara, 45, was in France from January 2003 to September 2004 as part of the institute’s research program for the Japan Patent Office. While there, he wrote an 83-page report titled ...

Here comes the laugh out loud bit:

… “Changes in Ideas on Copyright in France.” Two-hundred copies of the report were printed in March 2005, along with an English translation.

A scholar noticed the plagiarism in September 2006, and the School of Information and Communication discovered that 96 percent of the report comprised direct quotes from several theses, including those of Hiroaki Miyazawa, a copyright researcher. There were no clear indications what parts of the report were quotations, though Fujiwara did put an annotation in eight of the 10 sections, saying, “In order for the summary, there are places I have referred and quoted from other theses.”

The Copyright Law stipulates that parts of a paper that are quoted matter must be identified as such and the quotes cannot be altered. Miyazawa, 71, noted the irony. “It’s a shame that copyright was infringed in a thesis about copyright itself,” he said.


Thursday February 15 2007

Busy day, now off to do 18DSTV.  So, get me out of a blogging hole with a quota quote please, Mahatma Gandhi:

I believe in equality for everyone, except reporters and photographers.

From here.

More and better tomorrow.

Last night I was on 18 Doughty Street TV, and tomorrow (Thursday) I’m on again, with Sean Gabb and Christian Michel, at 9 pm, in the “Vox Politix” slot, unless I have it all wrong.

Our topic is: the relevance of libertarianism.

Fair enough.  The relevance of libertarianism these days, at any rate in Britain, is not that obvious, given that Britain’s politicians have all pretty much turned their backs on such notions, with the exception, perhaps, of a few Lib Dems, who nevertheless baffle and infuriate me by attaching themselves to other Lib Dems who seem to believe the diametric opposite of libertarianism.

So anyway, here’s what I’m thinking.  Rather than pitching right in to arguing that libertarianism is indeed relevant despite what you might be thinking, I will start my preparatory thinking for tomorrow night with a question that interests me anyway, quite aside from whether libertarianism matters to anybody or to anything.

My question is: what are now the world’s biggest political debates/problems/ worries?

I would welcome comments about which of the following items in bold print are actually not big issues, and which other issues are which I have forgotten about.  Others may agree with the approximate terrain covered but carve up the issues slightly differently, or maybe just label the same items slightly differently.  Anyway, here is my list, in no particular order:

The environment, greenery, global warming, climate change, etc..  This is either a problem because the world is about to be stewed, drowned etc., or because it is not, but is about to be screwed by people who say that it must be saved from being stewed or drowned, cost be damned.

Islam, Islamic terrorism, War on Terror, etc.  Similarly, this is either a problem because the relationship between Islam and the rest of us really is a problem, or it is a problem because this otherwise non-problem is being used as an excuse to screw the world.  Others might prefer to call this problem: the Middle East.  Solve that and all else is sorted, and so on.  Which just goes to show that even the labeling of problems is incurably controversial.

The whole argument about poverty and how to get rid of it also qualifies as a World Problem, I would say.

That’s three big problems.  My next two are the two other global superpowers, in addition to Islam.  The definition of a superpower is a power whose mistakes and malevolences, such as they are or may be, threaten us all in a big way.  These are, aside from Islam (see above): the USA, and China.

I exclude other candidates: Europe, India, and such lesser powers as Russia, Brazil, South Africa, Iran, North Korea, Japan, and so on, because - although these places are pretty big and/or rich and/or powerful - the rulers of these places don’t, as I observe them, have the required combination of the clout and the will to screw seriously with the whole world, much as some of their leaders might like to.  I’m sure I could be persuaded that Iran fits that bill, but at present I reckon not.  (Please no comments about how “Iran”, “Russia”, etc., are not single conscious entities.  I know.  I am trading-off here between clarity and brevity.  I’m covering a lot of ground here.)

Poverty is a reason for all kinds of pressure being applied to the rules of all these middling powers and to many more even lesser ones, to do things better.  As is environmentalism, if you’re an environmentalist that is.  But Japan, Russia, etc. are not problems in and of themselves.  Maybe locally.  Not globally.

Have I left anything absolutely huge out?

Yes, I think I have omitted one further hot topic of truly global significance.  I think that the need for or the threat of world government, as most people understand that notion, is right up there with poverty, with dozens of A bombs and H bombs going off or with the sea level going up seventy feet, or with the possibility that the Chinese may suddenly get very angry or bossy with the rest of the world.  Whether you are for it or against it, world government is, I reckon, a genuine big problem, one way or another, either because the world desperately needs it, because it equally desperately does not.

Maybe also the War on Drugs is a global problem, either because the Drugs refuse to give up, or because those warring against them refuse to give up.  But now, I think I am descending into the realms of the worrying but not humanity-threatening, in the manner of someone writing out what ought to be in the National Curriculum, and wanting to include another thing, and another, and another.  So no emboldening for War on Drugs.  File under USA.

So, to repeat, here is the list: China, Environment, Islam, poverty, USA, world government.  As I say, in no particular order, so I’ve re-ordered them alphabetically.

Now I can ask myself what relevance libertarianism has to the above.  Quite a bit, I would say.

But my point in this posting is not really the libertarianism bit.  That was merely the circumstance.  Nor is it what anyone, libertarian or anything else, me included, considers to be the correct answers to the questions on the list.  It is simply the list.  Is it about right?

Tuesday February 13 2007

I linked earlier to The Future of Music and it is not letting me down.  Read this, about how iPods will be the new CDs.  That’s if you want to.  Not if you don’t.  (TfoM got it from Wired.)

I can remember speculating in my youth that it would make sense to get all the Beethoven Symphonies on one . . . thing, which you then stick in a bigger thing and play at will.  It seems this will now happen.  The complete works of the Beatles will come in one preloaded iPod, which of course you will be able to stick into an iPod converter-into-a-proper-gramophone, or just put ear-pieces into, and play at will.

Later in my life I developed a Micklethwait’s law to the effect that eventually the cost of an electronic gadget can be measured with a ruler, because making it becomes so easy that the only problem left is storing it and transporting it.  And, the smaller it is, the easier it is not only to store and transport for the makers and sellers, but, crucially, for us as well.  (I own more CDs than I did gramophone records not just because they are a million times better, but also because they are a hell of a lot smaller and easier to store.)

This law has to be so hedged about with qualifications and provided-thats that it probably doesn’t work as a law, but the iPod does appear to be doing something like this.  Like CDs and floppy discs before it.  Plus, if this is a real law, it surely isn’t mine.  I know that.  (This, on the other hand, is real and is, to the best of my knowledge, mine.)

Concluding paragraphs of the TFoM posting:

Then there will be all kinds of new limited-edition iPods, branded by artist, band or genre. Boxed sets are a natural: the Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers iPod, the Motown iPod, the British Invasion iPod.

But most exciting, there may be a whole range of dirt-cheap iPod shuffles branded by artist, containing their new albums or portions of their catalogs.  These cheap album iPods could be sold at bus stations and airports: instant music, no computer required. Bands could sell pre-loaded iPods at concerts, maybe containing the concert they just played. There could be Broadway show iPods, movie soundtrack iPods and iPods burned at retail stores with custom play lists.

It’s going to be the biggest change to the iPod since the iTunes online store debuted in 2002.

Even if that is all rubbish, I still think it’s a very interesting posting.  (I also like the word “debuted” to mean “debyood”.) Indeed, one could almost define an interesting posting as one which is interesting even if rubbish.

Not the least of the benefits of such a world is that the average iPod will not be worth the hassle of stealing.  You won’t be walking around with two hundred quid’s worth of kit, on which your happiness for the next six months depends, just with a tiny and very replaceable bit of your music collection.  Why, you could even use a back-up for travelling around with, costing pence to create and worth nothing to a criminal.

I occasionally buy Sunday papers, usually to read about some England sporting triumph.  Most remain unread, because there is just so much of them.  But then, just before giving up and chucking them into black plastic sacks, I sometimes have another glance through.  This was how I came across the following, from one of the Sunday Telegraph magazines (culture plus the week’s TV and radio), of January 21st.  It’s from an interview article by Damian Thompson, about the noted pianist Stephen Hough.  Having found it on paper, I have now found it here.  Anyway, this was the bit I particularly enjoyed.

By the end of our conversation, I feel brave enough to tell Hough that, thanks to jet lag, I nodded off during a searing account of Schumann’s Fantasy in C he gave at the Lincoln Center in New York. ‘That’s nothing,’ he says. ‘I once nodded off during one of my own concerts. While I was playing. I’d been clubbing with some friends - this was 20 years ago, mind - and I didn’t get to sleep until five in the morning. I thought I’d have a nap backstage, but I couldn’t find a bed. So we started the Saint-Saens Fifth Piano Concerto, and in the middle of a scale I took a split-second ziz.’

Did everything fall apart? Hough holds up his hands and stares at those amazing fingers, each about the thickness of a baby’s arm. ‘Incredibly, these things carried on playing. No one noticed. But it will never happen again because, believe me, you don’t know the meaning of stage fright until you’ve fallen asleep in the middle of performing a piano concerto.’


Well, I once had a driving job, and I had a very similar experience while driving.  Okay that wasn’t stage fright.  But it was fright, I can tell you.

Sunday February 11 2007

I know I should know who Zogby is, but to me Zogby is just a name, albeit a very good one.  Apparently Zogby is the President and CEO of Zogby International.

Anyway, this is the Guardian on, and quoting, Zogby:

He reckons on more and more blogs: “We’ll reach a new principle in the democratic experience - one man, one blog.”

One man one blog.  Wrong, speaking literally.  But such a pithy distillation of the new order of things – or at least the direction in which the new order of things are now heading, until such time as they start heading in a different direction entirely - that it deserves not to be wrong.

Not everyone will have a blog.  And some people will have more than one blog.  But, never mind, a great sound bite.  Unless the politicians get hold of it and try to force it to come true.

I found out about it here.

A few days ago, I received an email from Michael Jennings about a Slate article, which concerned photography, intellectual property, and a bridge.  As far as my interests go, that’s: tick, tick, tick.

He commented on the piece thus:

This is quite interesting. The plagiarism aspect (or not) are one thing, but the shots of the Nanpu bridge in Shanghai are interesting in themselves. (You need to click all the way to the end of the slideshow - there are more photos of the bridge at the end).

Of course it is not the bridge itself that is interesting, but its approach from the western side. In built up cities beside rivers and harbours (particularly in the rich world where demolishing lots of buildings can be problematic) it can be very difficult to build new bridges not because of the engineering aspects of the bridges themselves, but due to the fact that the approaches to bridges take up a lot of space and that space in cities is often at a premium (and is often privately owned). You see fancy new bridges near docklands developments built on abandoned and semi-abandoned land, but seldom at the centre of cities). Tunnels are sometimes more expensive (although the gap between the cost of a tunnel and the cost of a bridge is dropping) but they require much less in the way of approaches, so new water crossings in rich cities these days tend to be tunnels rather than bridges. (For instance, when Sydney in the 1980s decided it needed to relieve congestion on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, a second bridge was never really a consideration and a tunnel was built. Similarly, nobody has built another bridge connecting Manhattan with other parts of New York or New Jersey for decades, but there have been new tunnel tubes).

Which is background to the extraordinary approaches to the Nanpu Bridge in Shanghai. Instead of straight approaches, the bridge has the gigantic corkscrew structure that you see in the photographs. (There are a number of places where the corkscrew can be entered at different heights).  Rather than using a large amount of space for approaches, making the approach sit vertically on top of itself reduces the area, and it changes the need from a long thin area to a square area.

That said, spectacular as the photographs are, I don’t think any of them come close to doing the structure justice. They all fail to capture the vertical qualities of the corkscrew - it is much higher than it feels in any of the photographs. If you stand in the middle of it, it towers above you, and they don’t get that.

Capturing any photograph of the entire structure at all is something of a challenge. Finding a vantage point high enough and far enough away from it to see all of it is extremely difficult (I didn’t succeed) and may require assistance from local building owners and/or police.  Getting the whole thing into a single photograph at the same time is then going to be difficult, and is going to require an SLR with a very wide lens.  This is going to mess up the depth of field - hence the photographs failing to properly capture the vertical aspects of the bridge.

Normally I think I would blog this and add a couple of photos of my own, but the truth is that although I don’t have anything more than a few shots of what look like a chunk of any elevated motorway.

Here and here are a couple of pictorial attempts to communicate the size of this structure, both of which I found among these.

image image

One day they will build structures not by first erecting scaffolding, and huge and expensive cranes, and then piling heavy stuff on top of itself, but by filling the sky with toner powder and shining laser beams into it.  ZXZXZXZXZ!!!!  And there it will be.  All built, in a day.  When that happens putting new roads into the sky, on the top of thin columns which just stand in people’s gardens, will be easy.  Nobody will have to move.  The structures will just . . . appear!  Rivers will hardly register as barriers.  They’ll be like little streams under motorways now.  These roads in the sky will of course blot out the rays of the sun almost completely, but all progress comes at a price.  They can feed the suns rays through with mirrors, like that one they use to warm up that German town which would otherwise be permanently in shadow.

Saturday February 10 2007

One Man (aka Adam Tinworth) has rejigged His Blog.

It’s probably my fault, but when I go to this blog I now get an odd effect.  I get all the permanent stuff down the left hand side just as I should, but instead of the impermanent stuff appearing to the right where it should, I get it in another thin strip, underneath the thin strip of permanence on the left.  The only way for me to read this blog properly is to go to the monthly archives and pick the most recent month, the one in progress.  Then, I get it all like a regular blog.  Maybe others have been doing that too, which might explain why nobody has bothered to tell One Man, and why he hasn’t fixed this problem, if problem it be.

I use Internet Explorer 7, and maybe I am doing something wrong.  But if so, what?  I don’t get this problem elsewhere, that I can think of.

I should probably have sent an email, but I don’t like email.  I am lazy.  When I finally manage to compose a perfect snatch of English literature, is it reasonable that only one person should be able to read it?  Absurd.  Posterity (aka the rest of you) should be able to share it.

Friday is cat day here, for now, for as long as I keep it up.  Anyway, aren’t they sweet?  Yes they are.  What follows is a steal of a bit from Stephen Budiansky’s book The Character of Cats.  I particularly like it when he says “this is what graduate students are for “.

There are certain habits of domestic cats that are ineluctably solitary. No matter how sociable and friendly they may be toward other cats and people, cats always hunt by themselves. And like all animals that evolved to be solitary and territorial, cats have strongly instinctive methods of advertising their territory.

Fighting is costly for both winners and losers, and so it usually pays to avoid a fight. As a result, these advertising schemes are often highly elaborate and designed to allow occupants of adjacent territories to stay out of each other’s way. Birds that announce their territory by broadcasting songs have a remarkable ability to judge the distance, and sometimes even the age and size, of a potential rival through the tonal characteristics and patterns of his song. Likewise, the urine and feces of territorial animals often can be read by other members of the species in remarkable detail. Odors convey information about the individual identity, sex, dominance status, and estrous status of the animal that left them; and apparently in some cases can even indicate how recently an animal passed through the area.

People often think of animals’ territories as the equivalent of a chain-link fence demarcating a suburban yard; and it is true that the urine marks left by territorial animals often tend to be more frequently found along the boundaries of their range. Likewise, birds that announce their territories with songs tend to focus their vocalizing along the edges of their territories. But in fact most territorial animals that use urine and feces to establish their territories mark throughout their range; boundaries just happen to be the places where they are most likely to encounter a stranger or a stranger’s scent marks, which often trigger their own scent-posting responses.

Cats, both male and female, spray urine frequently on prominent vertical objects throughout their daily travels. Actual observations of the marking behavior of free-ranging cats (this is what graduate students are for) noted that females sprayed on average once an hour, toms a dozen times an hour. Males often mark an object every 5 meters or so along a path. When spraying, cats raise their tails at a 45 to 90 degree angle and aim the urine in a fine spray, typically at a tree, post, or other upright object. This posture is markedly different from the one cats use when simply emptying their bladders; then they just squat. Also it appears that when spraying, cats release a distinctive scent into the urine stream that is not present otherwise.  Experiments have shown that cats will spend more than twice as much time sniffing sprayed urine versus ordinary cat urine.

The particularly characteristic smell of the sprayed urine of tomcats has been identified as the product of an amino acid appropriately named felinine, a sulfur-containing compound.  Members of the cat family are the only mammals that excrete this compound in their urine. Like territoriality in general, the spraying of felinine seems to be triggered by testosterone; intact tomcats excrete about three times as much as castrated males, and about five times as much as females. Chemists who have artificially synthesized felinine in the lab have found that the pure substance actually has no smell, but after being stored for a while it develops a noticeably “catty” odor, apparently as it breaks down into some related compounds. This delayed reaction may enhance its value as a territorial marker, for it serves to keep the smell of a sprayed-urine mark alive longer.

Feces also play an important signaling role in cat territoriality. Studies of free-ranging cats have found that, contrary to popular belief, cats most definitely do not always cover their feces, or “scats.” They do so only about half the time, in fact.  Cats are much more likely to cover their scats when close to the core of their territory, however, especially the areas that include their habitual resting and sleeping spots. Outside the core area scats are frequently left. uncovered. The conclusion that scats serve a signaling function is reinforced by the fact that when in their usual sleeping or resting spots, cats usually move a few meters away before defecating, but outside their core range deposit their feces right on the trail where they are traveling. This same pattern of covering feces close to home but leaving them in the open when abroad has been observed in wildcats.  Covering scats close to home may serve a useful purpose in preventing the spread of parasites (cats notably do not like to eat in the same area in which they defecate) and also help the cats to avoid broadcasting the location of their home to potential predators.

The instincts of territoriality and marking territory are ever present in domestic cats. They may be modified through social circumstances, learning, or more direct manipulation such as drugs or surgery that alter hormone levels, but they are a basic part of the domestic cat’s heritage that, indeed, constitute some of the strongest instincts that exist in nature.

Thursday February 08 2007

From Simon Hewitt Jones’s new blog, I went to a blog that was new only to me called The Future of Music.  The sign of a new-to-you blog that you’re really interested in is that you look at once for the archives.  When did it start?  How long will it take me to read all of this?

This was the kind of snippet that got me thinking like that:

The numbers tell an interesting and divergent tale.  Recorded music revenues dipped 23 percent between 2000 and 2005, according to figures published by global trade group IFPI.  But the numbers are quickly ramping in the other direction within the musical instrument category.  According to NAMM, global instruments sales have recently surged to $17 billion, and the percentage of those playing has also jumped.  A recent Los Angeles Times article, citing a NAMM-contracted Gallup Poll, noted that the number of instrument players between the ages of 18 to 34 grew from 24% in 1997 to 32% in 2006.  That signals a greater interest in jamming and self-expression, though a wave new digital recording and publishing technologies are also propelling the trend. The result is an increasingly democratized process of musical creation and distribution, and a growing class of “do-it-yourself” artists.

In the extremely unlikely event that Adriana (don’t miss this recent Samizdata posting by her) and Jackie D don’t know about this blog, they should.

Here’s a snap I snapped this afternoon.  You can see what I was going for.  The Wheel, the interesting costume, the Billion Monkey.  Too bad about the too bright sunlight and the too dark shade.  Can’t win ‘em all.


But setting aside the defects of the photo, what does that huge logo signify?

Closer look, brightened up a bit:


From my somewhat ineffectual googling, I learn that it seems to be some kind of cross between a Brazilian football supporters gang and some brand of ultra-right wing in-your-face politics.  Is that right?  And if it is, does anyone know more of the story?  Was I in imminent danger of suffering that fatal Billion-Monkey-hunting accident that all my friends say will inevitably overtake me?

If I only get one comment, which explains why it says “TEV TEV TEV”, that will make my blogging week.

Wednesday February 07 2007

This guy has a rival.

Recent favourite by her, with thanks to Teblog:


Although I have never really got the difference between greed and gluttony, and I still don’t.

imageI also like this even more recent one on the right, which I have cropped rather than expanded.

I am doing averagely.  I think.  But, behind my back is a big place.

This might be a good way to teach maths to teenage girls, because it describes lots of girlie stuff in a maths way, rather than the usual maths thing of boy stuff in a maths way.

I’ve just spent almost all of my blogging time this evening typing out normblog profile answers.  Which is difficult, I am finding.  (If it ever becomes a real normblog profile, I’ll definitely let you all know.)

What is your favourite movie?  Your favourite song?  I think this favourite thing dates from the time of information scarcity, when people would agonise for months about how to spend several month’s agonisingly hoarded cash on one book or one favourite piece of music.  But nowadays, major cultural objects take about half an hour of the national average wage to pay for, and you don’t have to worry about which your favourites are.

In general, giving brief answers to questions not of your own choosing is hard.  Spoken brevity is easier, because you can imply with your manner that you are not that sure, or that you are sure, but not sure about your opinion counting for much.

There is also the tug between one’s official opinions and one’s true opinions. Guilty pleasures, etc., versus not-so-pleasurable self-imposed obligations.  It’s not a simple false versus true thing.  I do truly admire Crime and Punishment more than I admire some piece of chick lit rubbish or some Tom Clancy war-fest, but I actually enjoy contemporary fictional rubbish more than real literature.

Thank goodness that I truly do love classical music.  With music there is, for me, no tug between official and real.

Tuesday February 06 2007

I like comment number one on this:

Hello. Charlie Brooker here.

I wrote this piffle. Then it was subbed. And whoever subbed it decided to add a bit describing Doom as “the first shoot-em-up game”.

Words fail me.

They also changed every abbreviation - so “they’re” becomes “they are” and “it’s” becomes “it is”, and so on - presumably in an attempt to inject a bit more plodding, impersonal joylessness to the whole thing.

Bet they did it on a Mac, too.

That last bit being a reference to the content of the original piece.  Charlie Brooker hates Macs and Mac users.

Samizdata has the same editorial policy about changing “they’re” to “they are” and “it’s” to “it is”, and I agree with Brooker that that’s stupid, and for the reasons he says.  Sorry.  That is stupid.  But, this won’t – will not – stop me putting things up at Samizdata.  Unless they now ban me for insubordination.

Brooker’s comment on his own piece reminds me of this posting that I did at Samizdata several years ago, in which I fisked something I’d written for a newspaper and which they’d rewritten, slightly.  I notice that in those days the “it’s” changed to “it is” policy was not yet in force.

This afternoon I visited the brand spanking new offices of the Globalisation Institute, to take photographs of its inmates.  They use Macs. But the explanation for this, said Alex Singleton, was that Madsen Pirie of the Adam Smith Institute wouldn’t approve if they used PCs.


We feared that in the dim cloudiness of London just before it got dark, the pictures would not come out properly, but I rather like that.  I like how the haziness sucks Parliament into the background, so that it is still there, but not in a way that obtrudes on the Mac users in the foreground.  In good light, Big Ben would be growing straight out of the top of Tom Clougherty’s head.  As perhaps you think it is.  That pipe to the left of Alex as we look at him does rather obtrude though.  Oh well.

Another gadget.  I don’t know what it’s for exactly.  But this is what it looks like:


It opens tomorrow, and seems to be a gigantic scientific toy.  It reminds me of this.

Sunday February 04 2007

I am an atheist about God, but an agnostic about “climate change”, that is to say about potentially catastrophic climate change which is being caused by Man and must be stopped by Man.  (The climate always changes.  I know of nobody who doubts this.) I genuinely don’t know, and would genuinely like to.  All the stuff I hear is hearsay.  The only stuff that convinces me is when each side says of the other: They would say that wouldn’t they? People like Perry de Havilland object to “We Must Act Now” not because of the science, or not only because of the science, but because they don’t like what would then have to be done about it.  As don’t I.

But the truth has nothing to do with whether it is likable.  Sexually transmitted diseases are horrible.  They are also a reality.

Change of tack to another hobby horse of mine here, by way of further illustration: I think that Islam itself is a huge problem for the rest of the world, rather than merely “Islamic extremism”.  To put it another way, I think that Islam itself is “extreme”.  If this is true, it is a horrible truth, because it makes the “war on terror” about a thousand times more difficult than it would be otherwise, because what it says is that separating the “Islamic extremists” from the regular believers in Islam, in the usual counter-insurgency way, is going to be extremely difficult.  Islam itself will continue to crank out terrorists, indefinitely, until Islam itself is somehow changed in a big way.  Tough.  The truth doesn’t care what you think of it.  And if We really Must Act Now about “climate change”, then the fact that this will place the entire world under the thumb of disgusting environmentalist scum World Governors is just one of those things.  If that is the truth, then we will either ruled by Green Scum (as the late Chris R. Tame used to call them), or we will fry and die.  The truth doesn’t care what you think of it.

Interestingly, I heard a grizzled old greeny on the telly actually make this point about the ideological nature of the anti-We-Must-Act-Now-ers, a few nights ago.  I can’t recall his name, but in connection with this latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, he said that the objections to the We Must Act Now case were “ideologically driven” rather than “science driven”.  This was an interesting switch of tack.  Until recently, the WMAN-ers have dismissed anti-WMAN-ers, in my hearing anyway, as either corrupt or intimidated: either bought or bullied into submission by the big oil companies.  Now the WMAN-ers are, it would appear, realising that they are fighting at the very least an ideological battle rather than a mere PR (i.e. doomed) campaign.  Very wise of them.  They are.  But, their purpose in conceding that the anti-WMAN-ers mean what they say, is to argue that they mean what they say because they want to, rather than because the science justifies it.  The anti-WMAN-ers are “ideological” as in wrong.  And the WMAN-ers are also, a lot of them, very “ideological” indeed, in my opinion.

Meanwhile, I have been googling about the Medieval Warm Period, or “Anomaly” as the WMAN-ers call it, referred to in Perry de Havilland’s Samizdata piece.  (He also links to this press release.) The WMAN-ers apparently explain this as a local, north Atlantic phenomenon.  Which would suggest that this bit towards the end is quite important:

Adhikari and Kumon (2001) in investigating sediments in Lake Nakatsuna in central Japan have verified there the existence of both the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age.

Because it would suggest that the Medieval Warm Period/Anomaly was not quite so local after all.

But what do I know?  I merely mention this in order to poke the nest with a stick, as it were.  I hope for comments, that is to say.

Talking of which, thanks for all the recent comments here.  Much appreciated.  But, I realise that comments on new subjects here take their time to accumulate.  You have to prove that you are genuinely interested in a subject before people bother to correct you on the subject, or for that matter for interested parties even to learn that you are interested.

One thing though.  Comments merely repeating that the WMAN-ers are indeed ideologically driven, wrong, and scum, will be superfluous to requirements here, i.e. to my requirements.  I already know that a lot of WMAN-ers are ideologically driven, and that a lot of the anti-WMAN-ers think that they are all ideologically driven, and accordingly also all wrong, and all scum.  No need to tell me this again.  By all means agree about such insults along these lines amongst yourselves, but count me out.  Unless you can back them up with some science, cogent thoughts about the science, links to science etc.  Then you will have my attention.

imageI’ve been doing homework on a possible podcast that Alex Singleton and I may or may not be doing, about J. S. Bach.  The reason we may not be doing it is that I suspect that Alex may not be that interested in J. S. Bach.  There is no point in us doing a podcast about something we don’t both of us find interesting and amusing.

But meanwhile, the mere possibility of me holding forth on this fascinating topic has made me hit the Bach books with unprecedented enthusiasm.  What a man!  Even if we never do the podcast, I’ll still be delighted to have done the reading that I am in the course of doing about this amazing and amazingly industrious and productive musician.

One of the better ways to mug up on the great composers is to read The Lives of the Great Composers by Harold C. Schonberg.  Here is what Schonberg says about performing Bach (p. 37 of my 1992 Abacus paperback edition):

One of the great problems posed by Bach’s music in the twentieth century involves matters of performance practice. Obviously, it is impossible to re-create a performance that would duplicate one in Bach’s day. Too many factors have changed. And every age has its own performance style. The Romantics, as they did in everything, took a very free attitude toward Bach, and played him in their image, Romantic performance practice has extended into our own day, and it has been only within the last few decades that serious attempts have been made to come to grips with the problem. Musicians, thanks to intense musicological research, now know much more than previous generations did about the salient points of Bach’s style in performance. Not enough, however, is known. As a corrective to Romantic performance practice, a generation of young artists grew up playing, singing, and conducting Bach with mechanical rigidity, using approved editions and relatively small forces in an attempt to be “authentic.” The trouble has been that the music then sounds sterile - a Bach robbed of humanity, of grace, of style, of line. If we know one thing about Bach, it is that he was a passionate man and a passionate performer. He undoubtedly played and conducted his own music with infinitely more dash, freedom, and spontaneity than modern performance practice will admit. Bach himself told a pupil, one Johann Gotthilf Ziegler, that an organist should not merely play the notes. He should express the “affect,” the meaning, the emotional significance of the piece. By a strange irony, it might eventually turn out that the derided Romantics, even though lacking today’s scholarship, were instinctively closer to the essential Bach style than the severe, note-perfect, and literal musicians of today.

Quite so.  I would add that just because Bach typically had to make do with a small number of musicians, that is no reason to assume that, presented with a much larger number of satisfactory instrumentalists, and in particular a much larger number of satisfactory singers, he would not have been delighted to have used them all, at least for the more splendid of his choral works.

Just because his music sounded a particular way when it was first performed, that doesn’t mean that, as far as Bach was concerned, these performances were ideal.

Saturday February 03 2007

Already I’m somewhat bored with this, but here’s a picture for those expecting it.  I’ve broadened it out from just kitten-blogging to include small cats.  Soon: lions and tigers.  Or not as the case may be.

I recommend these pictures of sidewalk art, however, despite the fact that no kittens are involved.

I also like this.  And this.  And this.  And this.  And this.  And this.

And - how about that? - I genuinely like this:


This must be told.  Plus, look what this cat did.  And what was done for this cat.

And . . . aaaaah!

Friday February 02 2007

Here is my latest mp3, this time of a conversation earlier this month between me and Michael Jennings, on the subject of intellectual property.  It lasts a few seconds over forty minutes.  (If you are wondering who and what Michael Jennings is, one way to tune into him would be to read his comment on this.  Also, this Samizdata posting was much talked about.)

The IP line Michael takes is that the current rather muddled state of IP law is no very huge scandal, or very huge problem.  After all, there is now no obvious shortage of inventiveness or creativity in the world.  Good IP laws are about encouraging innovation in whatever way will work, and that involves trade-offs between the interests of individual creators and the rest of us.  Creativity is individual, and individuals must be rewarded.  But it is also social.  Creations are the products of intellectual milieus and trends.  Indeed, the very phrase “intellectual property” is unsatisfactory insofar as it implies permanent ownership of things for which in fact one should only be rewarded on a one-off basis.

“Intellectual property” is also more social in its application.  If I steal your chair, you can’t then sit on it.  If I steal your idea for a chair, you can still go on using that idea, even as I use it too.

When I started writing about IP issues for CNE, I hoped I would achieve clarity.  When I didn’t, I felt rather guilty.  What was I missing?  I find it encouraging that someone like Michael actually rather disapproves of pushing particular theories of what constitutes intellectual property, for want of a better phrase, too far.  IP is a cludge, and should remain a cludge.

UPDATE:  Oh dear.  As you may already know, the mp3 file linked to above is only 11 seconds long.  AND, I have lost ALL the editing I did on the original file.  Or if I havn’t, I can’t find the edited version, which is what lost means, right?  SO, I will have to do all the bloody editing again.  Are you angry?  Not as angry as me.  Commenters, be very polite.  PLEASE, no good advice.

UP-UPDATE: Well, I redid the editing, and this time, maybe because I was being more determined, I cut out nearly two more minutes.  Nothing of substance was lost, I promise you.  All should now be well.

Thursday February 01 2007

Another cute gadget!  (Thank you Gizmodo.) But this time a rather big one, and this time it’s a robot car park in New York:

The technology has had a good track record overseas, but the only other public robotic garage in the United States has been troublesome, dropping vehicles and trapping cars because of technical glitches.

Nonetheless, the developers of the Chinatown garage are confident with the technology and are counting on it to squeeze 67 cars in an apartment-building basement that would otherwise fit only 24, accomplished by removing a ramp and maneuver space normally required.

I imagine there are lots of these in places like Hong Kong and Singapore and Tokyo, where space is a zillion dollars a cubic inch.

I wonder if the Chinatown location has anything to do with Chinese people already being familiar with this sort of thing.  Maybe not.  I mean, I don’t even know if Chinese people live in New York’s version of Chinatown any more.

There are other advantages to this particular carpark:

Rather, the garage itself does the parking. The driver stops the car on a pallet and gets out. The pallet is then lowered into the innards of the garage, and transported to a vacant parking space by a computer-controlled contraption similar to an elevator that also runs sideways.

There is no human supervision, but an attendant will be on hand to accept cash and explain the system to baffled humans.



By the way I think it does make sense for me to be nicking my occasional favourites from off of the gadget blogs.  Most people wouldn’t have the time or the interest to trawl through all the stuff on Gizmodo, or engadget.  Most of the stuff at these places is games consols and computers, and as far as most people are concerned a games consol or computer is just one more games consol or computer.  Here’s a box, just like those other boxes that are just like it, but maybe a bit better, and then again maybe not.  Picture!  I don’t mind reading through this, or at least scrolling past it, every day or two.  But, how many people want anything whatsoever to do with, to take a typical gadget blog gadget, Sharp’s dual-lens, uber-bright XG-PH0X DLP projector, even if it is uber-bright, and even if it is a DLP projector rather than of the regular old pre-DLP variety?  It’s a projector.  Big deal.  But the first half decent looking automated car park in the USA, which nearly trebles the number of cars you can fit into the space previously consumed by regular car parks, and which parks your car for you untouched by human hand, is something else again.  Well, I think it is.  (I think car parks matter.) As was, in its completely different way, the day before yesterday’s tiny printer.

As for those cars being dropped or lost or whatever, in the first and rather bug-ridden robot car park in the USA, well, all technology does this kind of thing at first.  I’m surprised it didn’t swallow the car before the driver had got out, automatically lock his car for him, just to be on the safe side you understand, and then starve him to death inside it.  Not that this would have been such a terrible thing.  As Americans say when discussing Iraq bomb deaths, this is an acceptable price.

After doing all that, I started googling for other robot car parks (I really must learn to do this first), and found this and this.  Then, I thought, what’s to lose I’ll try some Flickring, and got to this, which is in Roppongi, I think, which is in Tokyo, I think.

Look what I saw this afternoon, in my bathroom mirror.  I rushed for my camera, and it was just as well.  Moments later, the afternoon sun had sunk below the roof of the building across the yard, and had stopped smashing through my bamboo blind and turning my face stripey.


This photo shouldn’t really be here, as my proper screen still hasn’t got back from the menders, and I am accordingly supposed to be on photographic strike, hence all the photos by other people.  But never mind about that, I thought, when I saw the picture.