Brian Micklethwait's Blog

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

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Thursday May 31 2007

Iain Dale quotes an interesting gob of writing (note the new category I have created - “bits from books") by Jeremy Paxman (from this book).  I now quote the same bit:

Being loved is what so much of contemporary politics is about. In a post-ideological age, the Labour Party has built its success upon seeming safe and appealing to people who might never otherwise have voted for it. Yet you cannot achieve radical change without being willing to confront those who might be disadvantaged by it. The difficulty is that the great battles which divided the parties after the Second World War - on nationalisation or nuclear weapons, for example - are finished. The Welfare State brought the state into everyone’s lives, but the consequence has been that it turned ministers from lawmakers to managers. And managers of a system which is bound to fail, at least part of the time. Where, once upon a time, governments impinged very little upon people’s lives, there is now scarcely an area of human behaviour which is not touched by the law. Yet, while government is all pervasive, it is not, by its nature, particularly effective: the public knows from its own experience that ministerial boasts about the superiority of British health services, education or transport systems, are empty. So the opportunity which the politician thought he had to make an impact on the lives of the entire population is just as easily an opportunity for the citizenry to blame him for the failures they see all around.

In an age when politics was driven by profoundly differing convictions about how the world ought to be organised, enemies were the price of progress. But when all that is being argued about is the mechanisms by which services are delivered to the general public, there is nothing to stiffen the backbone. Politicians have to become evangelists for a system which is intrinsically incapable of delivering what is asked of it: the greatest credibility problem of modern politics is that the political process cannot answer adequately for the performance of the public sector. It follows that the wisest ministers are those who realise soonest how very little power they really have. The number of politicians who can look back on their ministerial careers and feel that they really made a significant difference to their country is small. Roy Jenkins could honestly recall his time as Home Secretary and say that he had achieved something, in endorsing the reforms to the laws on abortion and homosexuality. Margaret Thatcher emasculated the trades unions. Tony Blair gave Wales an assembly and Scotland a Parliament. But quite what the Secretary for Culture, the three junior ministers and their aides write in their diaries each night is something of a mystery.

When it comes to this allegedly “post-ideological age”, you can count me out.  Just because your ideology has failed, that doesn’t mean that all ideologies have failed.  It just means what it means, that your ideology has failed.  Not mine.  My ideology remains true, and you must, if you care about the truth, accept it.  You admit that yours had failed.  One-nil to me.  Now, I’m going for a two-nil victory.  I want you to admit that my ideology has not failed, and is true.  If you think I’ll settle for a draw, by sportingly volunteering the idea that my ideology has also failed when it clearly has not, just because you have admitted that yours has, and when on the contrary the failure of your ideology only goes to show how right my ideology was all along, think again.  I know that thinking is not something you now like doing any more because it hurt your brain so much the last time around, but do it anyway.

When I say “you”, in the above paragraph, I mean ... well, you know who I mean.  I mean all the people I mean.  But, and this is the interesting thing to me about the above quote, I rather think that maybe I do not mean Paxman.

Government is not by its nature very effective?  It is a system which is intrinsically incapable of delivering what is asked of it?  That sounds a lot like my ideology, to me.

But then again, I guess that might be true for any ideologist who regarded his ideology as still flourishing in the post-ideological age.  What does Paxman think it is about the intrinsic nature of government that makes it such an inevitable disappointment?

I suppose that if I really want to know, I’ll just have to read the book.  Which just goes to show that there is no better way to sell books than quoting long bits from them.

Wednesday May 30 2007

I heard something extremely interesting this evening, while watching a US TV cop show of otherwise impeccable mediocrity called Law and Order: Special Victims Unit:

Lorna Frankel: “Hey, you can’t arrest them. This is a free country.”

Fin Tutuola: “No, it’s a democracy, and the majority of us don’t like what’s going on here.”

I did a little detective work of my own, and found that snatch of dialog here.

This is a distinction I seldom hear made.  Reality rears its head in the most unlikely places.

Tuesday May 29 2007

So instead of yesterday’s artyfartyfoto, I could have had this.  Obvious when you think about it.

There’s no doubt about it.  When it comes to pictures, words can greatly add to the fun.  (Sadly, for that last one, you have to scroll down from the top of the page to find what I’m talking about.  So, scroll down to May 23rd, and you’ll get the picture.)

Busy day today doing other things, so a quota photo.  A friend thought this one, which I took just under a week ago, to be one of my better ones, and I’m happy to go with her choice:

image

That’s the steps up from the South Bank to the upriver Hungerford footbridge.  On the right, the spikey things that hold up the footbridge.  And the only Billion Monkey involved is me.

Sunday May 27 2007

This test match has not, on the pitch, been very special at all.  Pietersen’s two hundred yesterday was as routine a test match double century as I have ever heard about.  But the commentators have known for days now that the weather this morning was going to be horrible, and they had a couple of treats lined up for us.

First, they arranged to repeat the Radio 4 show from last night fronted by Rory Bremner about the fifty years of Test Match Special, which they duly did repeat, in two chunks, in among chatting about the weather.  It’s getting brighter, no it’s getting darker, blah blah.  Play will start at 1.30pm, oh no it won’t.  That was the sort of self-congratulatory guff you would you would expect, all of it entirely justified, I hasten to add.  Arlott, Johners, Blowers, Truman, CMJ, Aggers and the rest of them, culminating inevitably in Johners and Aggers giggling about how whoever it was couldn’t quite get his leg over.

Equally entertainingly, anticipating rain, they had lined up Sir Viv Richards, already a part of the commentary team, to reminisce with them, about such things as what it was like playing for a dominant West Indian side, and what it was like being a young West Indian starting out in county cricket.

I realised how special this was and started scribbling notes.

Thomson (yes that Thomson, of Lillee and Thomson fame) bowling for Middx, to Richards, batting for Somerset.  Suddenly a routine county game before four hundred at Lords becomes a mini test match, with two giant egos clashing like King Kong versus Godzilla.  “All the batting side comes out onto the balcony.  At the other end it was Selby v Roebuck and they all went back in again.”

Richards on his chewing gum.  “I reckon someone missed out on a sponsorship deal there.” Yes, indeed, it was as much part of his preparations as his bat, pads, gloves, box, etc..  No chewing gum?  My God, where’s my chewing gum?  Throw me my chewing gum! He didn’t wear a tooth protector guard gum shield, because it interfered with the flavour of the chewing gum.

Boycott about Gooch and Boycott batting against the Windies pace men in the seventies.  Holding and Roberts open for the Windies.  After they have done their worst, Gooch says to Boycott: “We’re alright now, it’s the second stringers.” Garner and Croft.

Agnew is the night watchman in a county game against Hampshire.  He survives for the night, and spends the first half hour of the next morning at the other end, while Andy Roberts bowls to David ("he always had time") Gower.  Not to be forgotten.

Brian Close, a giant of a cricketer still very fondly remembered, captains Somerset, and he takes a shine to the new lad Richards.  Close drives Richards along the motorway, but his head starts to wobble forward into the steering wheel.  “How do I tell the Skipper that he must stop and have some coffee?” They do stop.  Richards does get Close some coffee.  Again, not forgotten.  Imagine if they had both died in a crash.  Close played twenty-two tests and never made a test century, so they said.

The Viv Richards way with bowlers.  The better they were the more he tried to dominate them, it was generally agreed.  Vic Marks remembers consoling fellow spinner John Emburey: “He must think you can bowl because he keeps hitting you out of the ground.”

Richards reckoned that coming to play county cricket when a quite young cricketer toughened him up, and made him concentrate and be more responsible, about cricket and about life.  In the Caribbean, they pride themselves on being a little too laid back.  Playing county cricket added that polish of ruthlessness to his game.  So, naturally, the thought arises that if England want to help world cricket, it might find a way of ceasing to polish Australians, and instead to polish the current crop of horribly unshiny Windy players, especially their bowlers.

And so on.  There were at least another dozen titbits at least as good as those.

None of the commentary of the actual game was as special as this rain-stopped-play stuff.  Apart from that chat, the classiest thing about this Headingley Test so far, the highlight of the TV highlights last night, was when an Avro Lancaster, the last one that can still fly, flew over the ground.

Today I have been feeling under the weather, as the saying goes.  When I was younger, this was just one of the many mysterious things that old people said for no reason.  Now I know only too well what this phrase means.

I have been consoling myself by listening to, and now watching on the TV highlights, England murder the Windies at Headingley.  Trouble is, the Windies are now such a feeble cricket team that there’s no fun in it.  Instead, I just got even more depressed, thinking of how good they used to be, and how bad they are now.

Like all bad cricket teams, they also had whatever bad luck was going.  One of the batsmen was wrongly given out today.  Yesterday, Pietersen was stumped, but off what turned out to be a no ball, and today he made a double century.  During his stand at the end of the England innings with Plunkett, both batsmen had scored their highest test score in the innings they were engaged in playing.  That’s the kind of thing the commentators usually notice, then asking each other if this has ever happened before.  But they missed this particular item of trivia completely.

Worse for the Windies is that their two most capable batsmen, Chanderpaul and Sarwan, are both now out injured.  England, meanwhile, have got stronger.  Vaughan is back as captain, yesterday scoring a hundred in his first test match innings for eighteen months.  And whereas at Lords it was England who early on lost a key player, Hoggard, to injury, this time their bowlers were more than adequate to see off the weakened Windy batting, Hoggard’s replacement, a bloke called Sidebottom, taking six wickets.  After England had declared at 570-6, the Windies were rolled over for 146, and were 22-2 by the end, following on.  Rain is forecast for tomorrow, but England surely won’t need three whole days to finish this one.

Maybe they should send for Brian Lara.  He was retired after the World Cup.  At the time, his feeble captaincy and their over-reliance on his batting seemed liabilities.  Now, they miss his batting, and the feebleness looks more fundamental than merely feeble captaincy.  They just ain’t good enough.  The World Cup, which was supposed to give Windies cricket a boost, was such a long drawn out shambles, and the Windies themselves did so badly in it, that it can only have made things worse for them.

Cricket needs the Windies to be much better than this, that is, much better than a mediocre English county.  Apparently they’re fast losing interest in cricket back home in the Caribbean.  I’m not surprised.

Saturday May 26 2007

After all the excitement of this photo of Saturn, here is another.  Well, not a photo.  It’s more like a CAT scan.  Once again it is the work of Cassini.

image

This false-color image of Saturn’s main rings was made by combining data from multiple star occultations using the Cassini ultraviolet imaging spectrograph.

During occultations, scientists observe the brightness of a star as the rings pass in front of the star. This provides a measurement of the amount of ring material between the spacecraft and the star.

Cassini has given scientists the most detailed view yet of Saturn’s densely packed B ring. Cassini found that this part of the rings is densely packed with clumps, called self-gravity wakes, separated by nearly empty gaps. These clumps in Saturn’s B ring are neatly organized and constantly colliding, which surprised scientists.

The clumps in Saturn’s B ring, 30 to 50 meters (100 to 160 feet) across, are too small to be seen directly. However, scientists can map the distribution, shape and orientation of the clumps. Colors in this image indicate the orientation of clumps, and brightness indicates the density of ring particles. The formation of wakes is strongest in the bluer regions, where ring particles clump together in tilted wakes. Particles in the central yellow regions are too densely packed for any starlight to pass through.

The ultraviolet imaging spectrograph measured the flickering of the star Alpha Arae as it passed by the rings Nov. 9 and 10, 2006.

This circumstance seems to me yet one more example among many previous thousands and many more thousands to come, of the fact that the true heroes of astronomy are the instrument makers.  The theorists theorise away, on the basis of insufficient evidence.  And they are eventually proved right, or then again wrong, by the next lot of instruments.  Once the instrument guys produce their next lot of pictures, the truth is pretty much clear for all to see, and frankly the theorists might just as well not have bothered.

As it says in the press release:

“The rings are different from the picture we had in our minds. We originally thought we would see a uniform cloud of particles. Instead we find that the particles are clumped together with empty spaces in between,” said Larry Esposito, principal investigator for the Cassini ultraviolet imaging spectrograph at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “If you were flying under Saturn’s rings in an airplane, you would see these flashes of sunlight come through the gaps, followed by dark and so forth. This is different from flying under a uniform cloud of particles.”

Because previous interpretations assumed the ring particles were distributed uniformly, scientists underestimated the total mass of Saturn’s rings. The mass may actually be two or more times previous estimates.

Previous interpretations?  Just extrapolations beyond what they had learned for sure from earlier instruments.  Guesses by people who didn’t know, in other words.  And then, thanks to Cassini, they did know.  And now they will make more guesses based on what even Cassini isn’t now telling them, which will be equally worthless, even if these guesses happen to be true.  Am I missing something?

I still don’t know how proper CAT scans work, or even, really, what they are.  But I am now confused about this on a somewhat bigger scale and in greater detail.

Friday May 25 2007

One of my fondest hopes for my Billion Monkey photos is that as the years go by, they will come to look odder and odder, as more and more Billion Monkey equipment and behaviour that is familiar now becomes a thing of the past.

And today, Michael J. emails with a link to a piece which suggests that, any decade now, pictures like this ...

image

... may become relics of a bygone era:

South Korea’s Electronic Technology Institute announced the development of a new image sensor chip that allows digital cameras to capture vibrant images without a flash in dark spaces.

The digital camera equipped with the chip will be able to take high-resolution photos or video-recordings at 1 lux.  The camera will be able to snap pictures in places such as theaters, underground traffic tunnels, or dark-lit bars and clubs.  The chip promises clear pictures with light as bright as the lighting from a candle 1 meter away in a dark room and is said to be 2,000 times more light sensitive than other sensor types.  The will initially be used for camera phones, CCTV cameras and vehicle rear-view cameras.

Institute officials stated that state-run Korea Electronics Technology Institute has developed the single carrier modulation photo detector (SMPD) chip using nanotechnology.

Here are some more snaps from the Billion Monkeys Flashing! collection:

imageimageimageimage

Such pictures will, I hope, become obsolete in another way beside the obvious one.  For, apart from being rather dramatic, what with the flash going off and all, most of these pictures are not actually very good.  Too blurry.  That’s because, inevitably, all photos of people using flash get taken in bad light.  I draw the line at flash photo-ing Billion Monkeys, even if they are themselves flashing.  They wouldn’t like that.  Some would turn nasty.

The creepy bit is how CCTV cameras will be able to see in the dark.

Wednesday May 23 2007

I don’t get sent free books (see the previous posting) that often, but I love to acquire books on all manner of subjects.  So, here’s an idea.  The next book which gets posted to me will get something written here about it.  Not necessarily a full-length review or anything.  Just something.  The book can be about anything whatsoever - fact, fiction or any combination of the two.  And even if your book comes second or third in the race, you might still get lucky and get a mention.  In fact, let’s make it that any book that reaches me within the next month will get mentioned.

Email me (top left where it says “contact") to get my address.

I am an occasional career counsellor.  I specialise in helping my punters find out what sort of career they would like to have.  If you don’t know what you want out of your career, but need to know (especially if you need to know in rather a hurry), sign up for one of my sessions (it only takes one) and there’s a very decent chance we’ll get it eighty percent sorted within a couple of hours.

Once you know what career you want, good luck finding it, and more good luck doing it.  I can’t help you so much with that.  I have some ideas, but nothing that special.  My main suggestion is: don’t be scared to ask other and better people than me about it.  Few will object.  Many will relish the chance to show off.  The worst that can happen is that they say no.

To find out what sort of career people want, I have a clutch of questions I ask them.  What things (work or anything else) have you done that you are most proud of?  What - given all the money, time, talent, breaks (i.e. regardless of whether you’d actually be able to get it or do it) – would be your perfect job or perfect life?  When your time is your own, what do you do?  If you had only one day left to live, what would you do?  Things like that.

Well, here’s something that might turn into another question of that kind.  During that shit job you had, did you learn anything, and if so what?

I realize now that the reason I picked up so much information about negotiating and marketing from these less-than-challenging jobs is because those are areas that interest me. I’m good at them and I like watching how other people do it.  You will notice in your early, random jobs that you gravitate toward certain lessons.  What you like learning about is probably what you like to do.  Learn from yourself by watching how you learn from others.

That’s from page 9 of The Brazen Careerist by Penelope Trunk, and is one of the rather few things she says (at any rate in that early chapter) about how to work out what you want.  But of course, I picked it out, because of what I am most interested in.

After I’d linked from here to her blog in connection with something or other, Penelope Trunk guessed I might be interested in reading her book and writing about it, and sent me a copy.

I’ve now reached the bit about the grind of getting that first half decent job, which is now what seems to have replaced the grind of doing that first half decent job, which is what our parents and grandparents did.  I am looking forward to doing the job, so to speak.  I think I will enjoy that more.  Reading about it, that is.

Another Billion Monkey picture!  But this time, what it illustrates is not anything notable in the way of Billion Monkey behaviour patterns.  Billion Monkeys hold there cameras out in front of themselves.  Unlike Real Photographers, who hold their Real Photographer cameras right up against their eyes.  Big deal.  You already knew that.

image

No, the point of this Billion Monkey snap is to talk about back lighting.  I really like the way the sun creates a corona around everyone’s faces.

All of which is by way of an intro to this next picture.  Moving from the mundane to the magnificent, here’s a photo of the planet Saturn, also back lit, taken not by me but by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft:

image

Click to get it bigger.  Steven Pinker (scroll down to May 8th here - I got to this from here) complains that this snap has not received the media attention that it deserves.  I think that perhaps the problem is that it is not only geeky science with nobody dying or getting divorced or anything, but that also, because of the back lighting, it looks rather fake.  The effect of the back lighting is to make the solid bit of Saturn look like it has been plonked down on top of the rest of the photo.  The thin corona around Saturn, presumably its back lit atmosphere, adds strongly to this impression, because it looks like the join.  The rest of the photo is extraordinary, most notably the wispy stuff beyond the regular rings.  But newspapers have enough problems with fake photos that they actually did fake themselves for them not to be wanting people to accuse them of having faked Saturn.

Tuesday May 22 2007

Brian Micklethwait dot com quote of a week ago:

I love it when female singers turn up wearing enough clothes.

My three favourite pops just now are: Christina, Gwen, Scissors.  Instant oldies but goldies all three of them.  When it comes to proper copies of these vids from the digital TV, it’s one (Christina A – my very favourite) down and two to go.

Now there’s an odd expression.  Let me make it clear that I did not eat the thing in question because it disagreed with me and I just got a bit carried away during the subsequent exchange of views.  No, that is not what happened.  First I ate the thing.  Then it disagreed with me.  Hence the light blogging during the daylight hours today.

Monday May 21 2007

So last Friday night, due to overwhelming popular demand (see the comments here), I recorded a conversation with Antoine Clarke about Sarkozy and his win in the recent French Presidential Election.  It lasted just under fifty minutes, and as I said to Antoine at the end, great stuff, and full of lots of detail of the sort that Anglos are unlikely to know.

We talked about lots of things, in particular about what kind of man and politician Sarkozy is, and how he differs from his predecessors as President of France (which is all part of why they voted for him).  Ségolène Royal’s qualifications, or rather her lack of them, were also mentioned, as was Sarkozy’s approach to the Islam issue, and the state of the French economy.

Sunday May 20 2007
Saturday May 19 2007

Incoming from Michael J telling me about this:

image

Actually, as he later emailed to suggest, I had already spotted it, at Idiot Toys.  Not an idiot toy at all, in my opinion.

My worry is that the keyboard looks too narrow, and the keys too small to type with comfortably.  The problem is that if the keyboard is wide, the screen becomes too wide to make it fold simply.  If the screen is a sensible shape, the keyboard becomes too small, as I fear it has here.  Although, this photo makes it look usable.  I’d like to actually see this thing, and try typing on it.  This is why we still have shops.

imageIf my suspicion is right, then the answer is surely to fold the keyboard in the middle.  But, that particular one (on the right here), also by Fujitsu, was only a “concept”, and it seems to have been abandoned, in favour of the one above, which is what Fujitsu now regards as preferable.

But, just going by the photos, I think that this earlier one looks particularly cute.  It was apparently the exact same size as a thickish CD case.  So, guaranteed to ruin your pocket, which is not really what you want in a pocket computer, is it?  But, couldn’t they have just smoothed it over a buit, instead of abandoning it?

Further thoughts: Is it just me, or was the old one female, and is the new one more male?  This looks like a switch from elegant handbag-mirror to clunky masculinity.  I’m thinking especially of the white bits on the new one, which reminds me of the white plasticated warriors in Star Wars.  And does my preference for the lady mirror make me gay?  Maybe just old.  (Actually what I am is Stray, i.e. straight but with lots of gay habits and tastes.  But that’s for another posting.)

Any fule can gugle for cats, but it takes a few seconds of actual intelligent thought to google for cat sculptures.  Here are my three favourites when I did this ...

imageimageimageimageimage

... together with two that I found on Flickr.  Click to get to the original big pictures.

Thursday May 17 2007

I haven’t had many photos here lately, so guess what, yes you’ve guessed it, Billion Monkeys!!!  And it’s four snaps of Billion Monkeys.  Not four billion snaps of monkeys.

No particular category of Billion Monkey activity this time, although two of these four happen to feature one of my favourite Billion Monkey pastimes, namely Billion Monkeys photoing themselves! But the reason I like the one with the hairdos is because of the hairdos, not really (or not only) because of the auto-photography.  Basically I just like these snaps, all of which were taken during the last few days.  Click to see more of what’s going on in them.

imageimageimageimage

The dramatic statue is of Queen Boadicea, on a chariot.

The wheel behind Boadicea is The Wheel, idiotically referred to as the London Eye.  It’s not an eye.  It’s a wheel.  So, I always call it The Wheel.  When did you last see an eye in the form of a big circle of little eyes, which slowly rotated, always in the same direction?  Exactly.  Never.  Wheels, on the other hand, do rotate.  It’s what they do.

Someone called Melissa is stirring it, and quite successfully to judge by the comments from men of a certain age.

Tory blogging is close to death, I can announce. It’s been in intensive care for some time thanks to the meanderings of Iain Dale and the endless pronouncements of ConservativeHome but now the Cornerstone has launched a blog and, mind crushingly dull as it is, it can only be a matter of time before these sites start eating each other.

Conservative blogs are already almost exclusively the preserve of right wing men of a certain age.  http://www.cornerstonegroup.wordpress.com/ is just overkill

There are actually quite a few Conservative lady bloggers, to my certain knowledge, and when you consider how slim my certain knowledge is about Conservatives, especially Conservative ladies, that surely means that there are a lot.

Nevertheless, for all its inaccuracy about mere facts, I think Melissa Kite gets across very well one of the things that must particularly worry the mainstream pundits, which is that it is impossible to keep up with everything that the bloggers blog.  She pronounces Conservative blogging dead and she clearly wants this to be true, but must know that it isn’t so.  Boring is, after all, the old complaint from prudes about pornography, and you just know that they know it isn’t, and that for them that’s just the trouble.

If you are a mainstream Conservative pundit, duly anointed by a mainstream Conservative magazine, then what if some of the things these unknown, an in their entirety unknowable, Conservative bloggers are saying are more interesting and more talked about than what you are putting?  And what if you never even hear about this? Your paid slot in a magazine guarantees you some pay, but it no longer guarantees you clout, readers, authority.  And what if that eventually means that you end up not even getting paid?

It reminds me of those super-jock jet pilots in The Right Stuff, who are terrified of getting left behind.  What if mainstream journo-ing is like jet piloting, but what if the rules have changed?  What if you can go back to being as male and as old and as ugly as you want, and what if the top Tory bloggers are more like astronauts?

The battle within the Conservative Party between the ugly-but-expert and the pretty-but-dim never ends.  But, for the time being, and just when the pretties thought that Cameron had yanked the rules decisively in their favour, blogging has shifted the balance back towards the uglies.  Melissa has her harvest of derisive comments on this posting, but from now on, the men of a certain age will be talking amongst themselves.

Dizzy comments exultantly:

How cool is this? A proffessional journalist engaging in a flame war! The rubicon has been crossed! We’re through the looking glass! [insert random cliche here]!

Is “proffessional” some kind of deliberate misspelling?  I’m guessing just random internet carelessness.  And all the “proffessionals” who read that scream: These bastards can’t even spell!!

And astronauts couldn’t fly things.  That is, they could, but they often didn’t bother.

Tuesday May 15 2007

One of my favourite hobby-horse type ideas is that, for all their profound annoyingness and all round Frenchness, the French are one important group of people, and when they change their minds about something important, that’s important.  (In the nineteen seventies, for instance, they changed their minds about the USSR.  They decided it was an abomination.) It comes down to the fact that they are so very eloquent, and so very good at persuading Americans in particular of ... things.  Look at how a great gaggle of worthless French academics, with nothing to say but with their oh-so-Franch way of saying it, have for decades dominated US academe.  How did these charlatans manage this?  Gift of the gab, basically.

So, I also reckon this French volte face to be extremely important:

In the hard-fought French presidential election campaign, the most important and controversial international issue has been France’s Middle East policy. And depending on the results, the election may mark the first major change on that issue for three decades.

There is good cause for a paradigm shift in French foreign policy as the decades old policy continuum towards the Middle East has undermined the national security interests of France. This doctrine’s underpinnings attempted to undermine US primacy in international affairs, as it considered that parity and equilibrium were more apt in cultivating stability in the international order. This approach failed to placate authoritarians and rogue regimes, and France was continually sidelined in the aftermath of these policy implementations.

Nicolas Sarkozy and Ségolène Royal, the candidates of the centre-right and Socialists respectively, won the first round of the presidential election on April 22. They both have promised major shifts in France’s stance on the Iranian, Lebanese, and Israeli-Palestinian issues if they are elected on May 6.

The model they are reacting against is that of current President Jacques Chirac, who for 12 years – following in the footsteps of predecessors back to Charles de Gaulle – has allied with the perceived underdogs to US imperialism. Thus France was eager to rally to the support of human rights abusers including Arab dictators such as Yasser Arafat and Saddam Hussein. By making France the Arabs’ favorite Western state, Chirac and other Gaullists have tried to create an alignment to counter the unquestionable - and in France, much-despised - primacy of the United States.

Written before Sarkozy won, obviously, but all the more interesting because Ségolène Royal was part of this, and therefore won’t oppose it when Sarko starts doing it.

Even if you deeply regret this switch, regarding it as one from sanity to madness, you might still agree with me that it is trés important.

Touch wood, fingers crossed, hope to die, blah blah, my internet agonies have abated.  The answer turned out to be to take my “router” (sp?)off of the top of my 400gb external storage device, which was making the router too hot, said my Computer Guru, or maybe, said Michael Jennings, emitting deadly magnetic rays and screwing it up.  Whatever the nature of the contagion, moving the router to a cooler spot, away from the 400gb drive, letting it cool down and then starting it up again seemed to sort out whatever was the difficulty.  So, now, I am reconnected to that Other World which now means so much to so many of us.

Being disconnected from the Internet was a most disagreeable experience, and not at all the opportunity that some speak of such disconnection being, e.g., to venture out and accomplish other things besides, e.g., blogging.  Everything I now do is done with half an eye and ear to the Internet.  Today, for instance, I had it pencilled in that I would ring someone up and Set Up A Meeting.  But how could I do this if it had been necessary during this potentially developing relationship for me to consult some website, or receive some incoming email?  I would have had to confess that I could not now do this.  So, I postponed this business until my connection to the Other World was restored.

It went deeper than that.  I became reluctant even to think.  This was because thinking would have brought with it the possibility of suddenly being seized with the desire to find out about something by googling it, or even to blog about something.  But luckily for me, I have an excellent book on the go, and I was able to revert to an earlier style of intellectual life and self-occupation.  I soaked up a story and its associated ideas and lessons, suppressing any tangential thoughts or questions.. 

Monday May 14 2007

Nothing but this today. Michael Jennings is posting this on behalf of Brian so that he can post something today. Michael is resisting the temptation to post something that will ruin Brian’s life.

Saturday May 12 2007

Incoming:

Brian,

International, professional athlete billion monkeying alert:

here

here

Mark

Outstanding.

That’s this guy, obviously.  And while I was at that second one, I came across this, which is, if anything, even more outstanding.

Adriana on advertising:

The assumption that we are interested in advertising and messages that these people feed us “across all platforms” is still alive and writhing.

Being a good friend of Adriana from way back, it has taken me a while to get my head round the idea that old-school advertising is doomed.  But I am now starting to get this.  Basically, in the old days, they advertised at you, and you said: “I want that!” Now you say: “I want this”, and go looking for it.  Advertising contributes less and less to the story of how we now buy stuff.

My most vivid recent experience of “interruptive advertising” was when a day or two ago I tried to read economist.com.  I did read it, very contentedly, but first I had to “watch” an advert.  What a joke.  I made myself some coffee and just waited for it to finish, meanwhile noting that if I ever wanted to launch a hostile takeover bid I would have known where XYZ bank wanted me to go, had I bothered to note the name of the bank they were plugging.  Luckily for the bank I didn’t get its name and thus acquire a mild dislike and mild contempt for it, and a determination to ignore them when that hostile takeover by me of Microsoft finally gets under way.

More contempt than dislike.  Because I think I did quite well out of this, as did the Economist.  It was the bank that was being separated from its money to little purpose.

Little point, but worth making.  When a TV commercial break ends, during old-school TV, you have to be back at the screen before the adverts end or you’ll miss stuff, which means that in practice you subject yourself to a lot of advertising punch lines, for the sake of not missing anything of that movie you are trying to watch.  But once that Economist commercial has finished, I just get to the Economist premium content page, and I can take as long as I liked making my coffee.  I miss nothing if I ignore the advert completely.  How much and for how long will banks continue to be willing to pay, for “attention” like that?  ("Attention" is one of Adriana’s favourite words.)

The thing is, it’s one thing to show adverts and quite another for anyone to pay any attention to them.  In an old-school world of scarce information – although scarce messages is more accurate - adverts were all part of the scarce message universe that you eagerly scanned to get hold of that even more scarce information that you needed to navigate in the world.

But not any more.  Now, when you want to know something, what are the chances that the next message you encounter about that thing will be an advert?  Far less than of yore.  Of yore, you waited until you saw an advert - or maybe some editorial plug in a newspaper, which is, actually, the same thing - and you grabbed it eagerly, thereby making up that magic percentage number that advertisers drool over, of how many people “responded”.  But now, you immediately put your question to the Internet, and you immediately start getting far higher quality answers than any advert could possibly supply.  Adverts just become a more or less decorative, more or less annoying irrelevance.

Which means that in due course, the Economist is surely going to have a problem.

But I won’t.  I will have no shortage of such stuff to read.  I believe that the blogosphere now fills the gaps left by the old-school media.  As the old-school media, no longer able to rely on advertising revenue, start to collapse, either by just collapsing, or else by collapsing more subtly into a bunch of people no better than bloggers and paid about as much, then good bloggers will, energetically but without any great fuss or fanfare, fill the gaps left by the good old media.  There will probably still be advertising, in among the cracks of the new world, like street hawkers in a world where real business is done indoors.  But old-school advertising will be no more.

And meanwhile, it is writhing.

This Economist piece puts flesh on the bones of the now widely understood idea that mobile phones are good for economic growth:

As phone coverage spread between 1997 and 2000, fishermen started to buy phones and use them to call coastal markets while still at sea. (The area of coverage reaches 20-25km off the coast.) Instead of selling their fish at beach auctions, the fishermen would call around to find the best price. Dividing the coast into three regions, Mr Jensen found that the proportion of fishermen who ventured beyond their home markets to sell their catches jumped from zero to around 35% as soon as coverage became available in each region. At that point, no fish were wasted and the variation in prices fell dramatically. By the end of the study coverage was available in all three regions. Waste had been eliminated and the “law of one price” - the idea that in an efficient market identical goods should cost the same - had come into effect, in the form of a single rate for sardines along the coast.

This more efficient market benefited everyone. Fishermen’s profits rose by 8% on average and consumer prices fell by 4% on average. Higher profits meant the phones typically paid for themselves within two months. And the benefits are enduring, rather than one-off. All of this, says Mr Jensen, shows the importance of the free flow of information to ensure that markets work efficiently. “Information makes markets work, and markets improve welfare,” he concludes.

... and markets improve welfare.  I love the matter-of-fact way he says that.

The thing is, in fishing, mobiles have made a really big difference.  Fish markets are a big deal.  Rotting fish is a big deal and that happens very fast.  Fishermen going from not communicating at all with the shore to communicating pretty much perfectly with the shore is a big deal.  So, although the principle of mobiles helping economically is now routinely understood, this story really underlines it, really well.

Friday May 11 2007

How about this for a Taiwanese parliamentary cat fight.  Thank you to the London Paper, and while you’re there Czech out the video of a parliamentary man fight.  (Dog fight?)

From this, in among stuff about some fat Radio 1 DJ who is doing awfully well:

Other figures show that Classic FM has seen a surge in the number of under-15s listening. This year’s Sony UK Station of the Year winner has secured 6.03 million listeners, the highest since 2005.

It also has an additional 474,000 under-15 listeners in the last three months, a 52% increase on the last quarter but not a record for the station. Under-15s are not included in the overall station figures for the first quarter of 2007, released by industry body Rajar.

Classic FM’s Managing Director Darren Henley said: “These figures prove that today’s iPod generation is increasingly turned on by classical music. Mozart and Beethoven remain as relevant today as they were in their own lifetimes.”

Classical music is not in trouble, it would appear, merely certain classical music industries.  And nor would Classic FM doing well and CDs at fifteen quid a throw doing badly be, I surmise, all that unconnected.  Throw in digital radios that record ...

Thursday May 10 2007

Fascinating post yesterday at Jackie D’s about how the internet might be replacing higher education.

I have long suspected that the main purpose of higher education is that you are proving that you are clever, rather than getting any cleverer.  It’s a signaling system, to enable you to communicate, very laboriously, with the world.  So, the internet, the classic machine for enabling the individual to signal to and to communicate with the world, should be pretty good at replacing higher education.  At any rate insofar as its signaling function is concerned.

So, parents, don’t ruin your lives and waste their time sending your kids to university.  Just give them computers and internet connections and tell them to get on with it.  And explain what you are doing.  Tell them to tell the world how clever they are.

I remember noticing, when last I education blogged, a definite trend among the very poshest to say that university wasn’t worth the time and money involved.  Soon, university will be, you know, so twentieth century.  So middle class, as in: so not upper class.

Well, let’s see.  Not a cast iron opinion, just a speculation.

Goddaughter 2 is a real tiger on the internet.

Wednesday May 09 2007

Maybe not quite a quote of the day, but food for thought, I think:

This is something that admirers of the “Swedish Model” often neglect, but Sweden’s commitment to free trade was what actually made it rich, and what made its industrial companies so good.

This is to be found here underneath a photo of some cranes (I like cranes) in Gothenburg harbour, and reflections to the effect that Sweden is indeed a successful industrialised nation.

I’ve got some busy days ahead of me, but if you want some top blogging here, try Antoine Clarke’s comments here, about the Sarkozy win.

He starts like this ...

I knew Sarkozy would win when the BBC stopped linking to opinion polls after the TV debate.

... and there’s plenty more.

I was especially chuffed to see him endorsing the theory (which I mentioned (in brackets (near the end)) here) of secret Sarko voting among the very “scum” that Sarko is so notorious for having denounced.  Shades of those unemployed Thatcher voters.

I know.  You wait weeks for a Brian Micklethwait dot com quote of the day, and suddenly two come along, of which this is the second.

It’s from Ronald Reagan, in 1977, talking to Richard Allen, soon to become his foreign policy adviser:

At the end of the meeting, as Allen got up to leave, Reagan said something that, as Allen wrote later, “literally changed my life”.  Reagan offered Allen his theory of the Cold War.  He acknowledged that many people thought his views simplistic but said, “My theory of the Cold War is that we win and they lose.”

That’s on page 91 of The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister, by John O’Sullivan.  O’Sullivan was on that BBC World Service radio thing I did a few weeks ago, during which I had to hide the fact that, although we were discussing this book, I myself had not actually read it.  The discussion made me want to read it all the more, but in all the regular bookshops I had already drawn a blank.  Then, when I was walking past Westminster Cathedral, it occurred to me that their bookshop might have it.  Bingo.  And I’m now reading it.  Very good.

If you are the sort of person who wants to go on believing that Michael Gorbachev lost the Cold War on purpose and that Ronald Reagan won it by mistake, this book is not for you.  Nor is this book about the entire Cold War, by John Lewis Gaddis.  I hope soon to be breaking my recent Samizdata silence with a review of both these books.

Monday May 07 2007

Brian Micklethwait dot com quote of the day:

“I never trust people who say how much fun writing is”, he says.  “The only thing that makes it fun is the anticipation of applause.”

Quoted here.

Outstanding portrait of cello legend Rostropovich (whose death I merely noted a few days ago) from Norman Lebrecht, at the top of his form:

Slava, to those who knew him, was always more than a musician. He was a sensor of his times and a moral guardian, a hero who acted on impulse for the good of mankind. I saw him first the morning he was stripped of Soviet citizenship in 1978, hounded over his support for the writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn. ‘How can they take away my birthright?’ he cried, sobbing helplessly before the world’s cameras. A cynical press man asked whether he hadn’t expected official retaliation for his dissidence. Slava stared back uncomprehendingly, lost for words. It was not in his nature to calculate the consequences of the right thing to do.

He had never met Solzhenitsyn when in October 1969, hearing he had been driven from his home and was sick with cancer, he offered the Nobel Prize winner the use of a service flat at his dacha. Within days, Slava was denounced as an enemy of the people. This came as a surprise to a musician who had played the system pretty much as he pleased, beguiling the bureaucracy with foreign gifts and the hard currency he earned. ‘He was the only one who took the Soviets on and got away with it,’ says the London impresario Victor Hochhauser. When Benjamin Britten, asked by Slava for a new work, said, ‘won’t you have to get permission to play it?’, the cellist replied: ‘I ask no-one.’

He might have got away with it again had he not written a pro-Solzhenitsyn letter to Pravda which, unpublished, got printed abroad. The Kremlin cracked down and Slava endured a travel ban until, on appeals from Edward Heath and Edward Kennedy in 1974, he was allowed out. Four years later, his citzenship was revoked. I remember his face that day in mourning, the eyes welling behind owlish specs, his soprano wife Galina stony-faced, as if they had lost the dearest thing on earth.

Mourning did not become Slava. His habit was to clunk a magnum of champagne on the table as a prelude to conversation, the beam on his face stretching wider than Cheshire, each new acquaintance a lifelong friend. ‘God give me a little bit more blessing than others,’ he told me once in his Russified English, ‘not for cello playing, but for friendship.’ At his 60th birthday party in Washington DC, where he conducted the National Symphony Orchestra for 17 years, I stood in the reception line between Gregory Peck and a blue-collar plumber. ‘What are you doing here?’ I asked them. ‘Friend of Slava’s,’ said the Hollywood legend. ‘Friend of Slava’s,’ said the plumber.

In my earlier posting I linked to this, which now makes even more sense.

I have what almost amounts to a theory (among many other theories) about how to educate and how to propagandise, two activities which are pretty much the same thing in my opinion.  In both cases you are spreading ideas.  Or, if you do it wrongly, you aren’t.  Or, you are spreading ideas but not the ones you want to be spreading.

The theory concerns trying never to arouse opposition to the ideas you are seeking to spread.  The trouble with confronting a person with an idea is that instead of inserting into their head, perhaps through what you think is seductive repetition, the idea that you want to insert, what they end up with inside their head is the idea that your idea is disgusting bollocks.  This they would not have done if you had never presented them with your idea in the first place, in the way that you did.

This is why non-compulsion is, for me, so central to the process of persuasion.  If you compel attention to your idea, and if you further compel outward conformity to behavioural rules such as: sit still, don’t shout, don’t complain, etc., then two things are likely to happen.  One, you will build up resistance to your ideas, and two, you will not realise that this is what you are doing, and therefore will not change whatever particular thing or rigmarole you are saying that is building up that resistance.  (Consider, as an example: the utter failure of Soviet Communism to conquer the best minds of Eastern Europe.  They failed completely.  And, they only realised how completely they had failed when it was too late to repair the situation.)

Notice that the morals of compulsion are quite beside the point I am making here.  Happily for me and for the consistency of my opinions and hence my internal contentment, I also think that compulsion is wrong, but my point here is that it is liable to be ineffective as a means of persuasion.

These thoughts were provoked by a recent conversation during which I found myself recalling that my least favourite Shakespeare play is Macbeth, and my least favourite classical music pieces are certain Spanish, French and Russian orchestral pieces that have catchy names.  Why?  Because these things were “taught” to me at school.  I did Macbeth (more precisely Macbeth was done to me) for O Level, and those musical pieces were forced upon me during something called “Music Appreciation”.  Music appreciation was the one time during my school days when I did not appreciate music.

Whenever I hear it said that people are ceasing to told about something tremendously important at school - like history, classical music, foreign languages, Latin and Greek, ancient history, etc. - I react with the suspicion that, far from this presaging oblivion for this or that discipline or body of knowledge, for something to be ignored at school is a prelude for a significant if not huge revival of popular interest in the thing.

This does not mean that the way to spread ideas is to go completely silent about them.  That is hopeless also.  What I am getting at is the difference between presenting an idea, so that those interested by it can think about it, decide if they agree with it, etc. - and forcing it upon them.  In many schools (more exactly by many teachers in many schools), and during many educational processes generally of a sort which have the appearance of compulsion, the difference between presentation and compulsion is understood, which is why this is not as simple a matter as it at first seems.  Things are further complicated by the undoubted fact that the very same propaganda pitch may be experienced by one pupil as civilised presentation but by another as intolerable compulsion.  Much good teaching – that is, persuasive presentation which you are allowed not to respond to or agree with – occurs in places which are outwardly nothing but totally compulsory.  The difference between good and bad teaching can be a matter of fractions of a second, during which resistance is either aroused - with a look, a raising of the voice, a tiny flash of irritation – or not.

The profoundly non-compulsory nature of blog-reading is one of the reasons I so like blogging.  Unlike something said during a face-to-face conversation, a blog posting is easily ignored, without causing any offence to the ignored one.  You only got this far in this posting because you chose to.  You could have stopped – walked out so to speak - at any point during this sermon and I would not have known and would not have been in the slightest bit offended.  It is often said that the blogosphere is “a conversation”.  In this particular respect it is better than a conversation.

Alas, things are even further complicated (too complicated – which means that I must soon end this) by the fact (and it is a fact) that a wonderfully potent method of communication is to shout an idea at someone, but from then on to completely shut up about it.  The idea is at first strongly resisted, but at least it is remembered.  Then, unimpeded by any further resistance-arousing behaviour from the persuader, the idea becomes accepted.

Further thoughts from me along the lines of all of the above here.

Non-compulsion is not the only theory I have about persuasion.  Another is that compulsion, if done cleverly (that is, if combined with processes like those described above), can actually work horribly well. “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse” is a quote that captures the spirit of successful compulsion beautifully.  (You aren’t forced to have your bones broken.  It’s your choice.)

Squander Two explains why he has had rather less to say of late:

Apart from all that, I’m going through one of my periodic bored-of-the-news phases. I mean, is there really any point in blogging all this crap? Someone in a position of power has done something inefficient and/or counterproductive? Really? Well I never. Must tell the world.

Plus, a new baby, a new job.  You know, real life.

I also liked this, at his recent Normblog Profile, about why he does blogs, when he blogs:

… my wife appreciates my having a way of getting my rants out of my system without her involvement.

I think the whole blowing off steam without doing it over the people in your immediate vicinity benefit of blogging is fascinating, and profoundly true.  Blogging enables you to live a sort of double life, but without having to buy alcohol.  In real life, you.  In the blogosphere, You With Church Bells, shouting at the world, barking at the moon.  The blog-life makes the real life far more livable and more fun.  The mundanity of the real life becomes far more bearable, and, when it ever deviates in any way from mundanity, it then counts twice, for itself, and for its blog potential.  That wedding I just went to would still have been fun if I’d nowhere to put my best photos of it and thoughts about it, but not so much fun.

But of course if real life gets too interesting ...

Well, yesterday was that wedding I’ve been going on about, and here are a couple of my favourites (click to get them bigger) from among the many snaps that I took:

imageimage

I know.  I am rather obsessed with certain technologically equipped primates, but there were a lot of us there, and we make such great snappees.  We stand still, and are so busy snapping that being snapped doesn’t impinge at all on our minds and make us look self-conscious and stupid.

Both the snaps above feature the official photographer as well as lots of us unofficials.  On the right, she is the photographer on the right.  On the left she is the one with big black Real Photographer camera, in the black dress with the white swirly stripes.

All those lady photographers were taking a group photo of all the men present, hence their excited and amused expressions.  They are thinking: It’s raining men, but we get all the fun of laughing at them without having to have sex with them all or look after them, do the laundry for them etc..  I’m afraid I got diverted into trying to set a new personal record for the most Billion Monkeys in one shot.  As a result I rather failed to follow PooterGeek’s excellent advice about taking individual portraits of the more reticent attendees.  But, I did get a few such individual portraits, and the best of them will be included in the fifty or so of my favorite snaps of their wedding to the Bride and Groom on a CD as part of my belated wedding gift to them.

The happy couple have the rest of their lives to sort through all the pictures that were taken yesterday, and that’s about how long it will probably take them.

Sunday May 06 2007

Andrew Ian Dodge says Go Sarko!

Sarkosy, like Mrs Thatcher, is disliked by a certain section of his own party. To give an idea of his reforming zeal, Mr Sarkozy has not only said that he will abolish the 35 hour week, but will make the earnings for work done in excess of the 35 hours tax free. The equivalent in British politics would be for David Cameron to cut the top rate of income tax from 40% to nil.

Cutting the top rate of income tax to nil, eh?  Why didn’t I think of that?

Saturday May 05 2007

Today I’m at that wedding I’ve been asking about the photographing of, so here is one of those postings that you stuff into the internet before, specially timed to go off on the required day.  I hope it works.  Anyway ...  (I recently discovered that “anyway” is my word for saying “I now want this phone conversation to end”.) Anyway, some quota photos:

imageimageimageimage

Going from left to right, the first is just one of those anonymous little bits of casually extravagant outside decor that you see all around London, unremarked, except by someone like this guy.  That particular beast was snapped from the top of a double decker bus (hence the rather dodgy quality of the picture - and yes we do still have those thank goodness) in Lower Sloane Street.

Picture two is a combination of a crane, one of those temporary ones on a big lorry for lifting the regular cranes into place, and the bizarre top of the Channel 4 TV headquarters building at the top end of Horseferry Road.  Not usually one of my favourite sights, but the crane combines with it rather well, I think.

In general, cranes intrigue me, because they are now the last redoubt of pure functionalism, now that the bridges have been conquered by the architects.  They are huge, so that might lead one to expect a great hoo-hah about their aesthetics (as I would say) or lack of them (as other idiots might).  But, they are only temporary, and it’s amazing what you can get away with aesthetically, if whatever it is is only temporary.

Photo three is of rubbish on the floor of a tube train.  Like the dragon, this was impulse snapped in great haste just before I got off the train in question.  This rubbish is entirely the result of giveaway “news” papers, which people take but don’t really want.  So, they leave them around London, e.g. on the floors of trains.

Finally another snap of a church, or it could be churches, dwarfed by modernity, in the form of two hideous blocks from the dark recent past of architectural modernism.  We are looking across the Thames from approximately next to the new Globe Theatre, at and past the Millenium Footbridge, which is what you see at the front of the picture.  I tried to discover from the internet what those towers are, apart from “a church or two churches”, but couldn’t.  Maybe a reader can elucidate.

Click at will to get the pictures bigger.

Friday May 04 2007

As in five PooterGeek top tips about how to do, wedding photography with a Billion Monkey camera, responding to this.  My favourites: get in close to faces, and: seek out unusual people.

This Friday, I and the owners of the Shijingshan Amusement Park stretch the definition of cat to breaking point:

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I love what is apparently their official slogan: “Disneyland is too far!” That gets to the heart of the matter, as all great advertising slogans do.

The whole China intellectual property piracy thing interests me greatly.  I have just submitted a piece to CNE IP, which if all goes according to the way it usually goes will be up there early next week, on a topic I would appreciate feedback about.  The question I ask is: under what circumstances does IP law catch on, so to speak, and under what circumstances is it ignored.  The key point is: I’m asking not how things should be, but how they are, in this or that contrasting set of circumstances.

My CNE piece takes the world of fashion as its hook.  There, they want their fashions to be copied, or they wouldn’t be fashions.  So, they don’t bother with IP law.

Another consideration is enforcement costs.  If you have one big target to sue, like a big rich publishing company stealing your book, you have a chance of suppressing their version.  If millions are copying your stuff digitally, you have far less of a chance of making IP deals stick, and of IP laws that do exist being much beyond ceremonial inscriptions of no practical importance.

One of the creepy things about IP law arguments is that anti-piracy fanatics are, for practical purposes, lobbying for a World Government.  Even if you like the idea of Chinese pirates being hunted down and made to walk the plank, once a Global Power exists that can contrive that, what else might it then be urged by others to contrive also?  But setting aside all moral considerations about whether World Government is Good or Bad, it is surely a fact that the absence of a single jurisdiction, but in a world which nevertheless transmits information instantaneously all over the globe, makes IP enforcement a nightmare.  Many local populations are in favour of piracy, because those “stolen” from are all foreigners.  The Chinese government will do nothing at all soon about Not Disneyland, because the last thing they want to do is piss off locals, merely to please Americans.

IP law that flourishes can be seen as lots of people making deals which involve ideas or artistic creations not being “stolen”, and such deals being enforceable, for instance by the potential IP loser refusing to do any from further business with the potential pirate, to the potential pirate’s disadvantage.  So, when are such deals enforceable and therefore reasonably makable, and when are they pointless?

Whether some line of business can be broken up into lots of little deals – ah, the magic of repeat business – is a big consideration here.  If you design lots of stuff, then a Chinese pirate is more likely to refrain from copying this or that particular item, because he might then lose future business with you.  So, IP considerations encourage bigness of business, as well as government, I surmise.  And the point is, that’s a fact (it certainly looks like a fact to me), whatever you might think about the rights and wrongs of it.  I want to learn more facts, and speculations about facts, of that sort.  To quote the words I sent off to CNE last night:

I seek a General Theory of Intellectual Property Law, not in the sense of a moral tract which finally nails down the rights and wrongs of it all (although that would also be nice), but a theory that explains when and where, as a matter of mere fact, IP law either flourishes, or fades.

I don’t expect a flood of answers right away (although that would also be nice).  It is more a case of me wanting my various helpful friends to know that this is a subject of particular interest to me, and to alert me to relevant reports and debates and to email me links to related stuff (e.g. to relevant blog postings of their own), as and when they encounter such things.

From the sublime, to the ridiculous:

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Two or three seasons ago, I remember how Surrey would routinely belt out huge scores in four day games, and then, when they only had to do the same thing again, they just could not do it in one day games, where you’d think it would have been easier.  The way this season has begun, it looks to be the same, but the other way round.  Four day games: played 2 lost 2, with this debacle set to make it played 3 lost 3.  In one day games I think it’s now played 2 won 2.  It’s certainly played X won X.

In answer to Briffa’s comment on that previous post about Surrey, about how I ought to listen to cricket on the radio, the answer is that I prefer Ceefax because (a) it is silent and I can hear music behind it, (b) it doesn’t complicate life on my computer, and last but not least (c) it photographs rather dramatically, and if I take a photo and stick it up here I can rely on it staying here, unlike a link to something like this, which surely might disappear.  When my obituarists trudge through this, I want it all to make sense.

Wednesday May 02 2007

Victoria Wood is doing a travelogue TV show about the British Empire.  Queen Victoria, Victoria Wood, ha ha, etc.  And oh look, there’s a book of it too.

For me the highlight of the first of the three programmes, shown last Sunday on BBC1 TV, was the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway.  This is a narrow gauge railway from Calcutta, now called Kolkata, to Darjeeling, which is up in the mountains.  This was built just over a hundred years ago to enable the Brits to avoid the hottest heat of the summer.  Here are three pictures of it that I found.  These are: informative, ...

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... pretty, ...

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... and artistic.

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All those were taken at one of the most photographically popular spots on the railway, the Batasia Loop.  Click to learn which Flickrer took them, and to see other similar snaps.  AI say that the top one is informative, but things have changed a lot since that was taken, with flowers (as shown in the middle picture) and, I think, some kind of war memorial added.  For the tourists, presumably.

You can see why they call this a toy train, with its implausibly tight curves and steep gradients, and its unrealistically small locomotives and carriages.  With most toy trains, you say: it doesn’t really look like a real train.  But with this toy train, you say: it really looks just like a real toy train!

One of the great pleasures of the Internet is that one can satisfy one’s curiosity about something or other without spending lots of time or money, consulting, borrowing or worst of all acquiring books full of irrelevancy, and without being conversationally bombarded with excessive information by, in this case, trainspotters.

This weekend I will be going to a wedding, and of course taking pictures.  Does anyone have any particular wisdoms to impart about how to take wedding snaps?  Apart from him, I mean, whose blog I can already read.

My main opinion is take lots of batteries, lots of card space, and that means you can take lots of photos.

While everyone is thinking about that, I am off to bed to try to sleep off a headache, so that’s it for today.  Hope you are all feeling better than I am.

Tuesday May 01 2007

Quota photo time.  Not artistic pictures, that I’m showing you to dazzle you with my artistic sensibilities.  No, these quota photos are to illustrate non-artistic type points.

One of the reasons I instinctively feel that Billion Monkeys are fair photographic game, whom I duly hunt and shoot as if they (we actually) were regular monkeys, is that they (we) behave as if I wasn’t there.  We behave as if the normal rules of regular behaviour don’t apply to us, so why should those rules apply to me in my dealings with us?  If you get my drift.

So, today, for instance, I’m standing on the pavement, just leaning against the railings outside Parliament and looking around for my next shot, and a Billion Monkey lady suddenly kneels down literally inches away from me, right underneath me, right there at my feet.  She’s photoing her man from below so that she gets Big Ben right behind him.  So, I photo her.  I don’t have to move.

She’s the one on the left.

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On the right, we can observe another interesting phenomenon.  This is the spread of digital SLRs beyond the ranks of Real Photographers, and into the hands of hitherto impeccably unreal Billion Monkeys.  This distinction is starting to blur.

Big clunky SLRs are now being used not just to take Real Photographer photos, but also to snap Billion Monkey photos, such as: the Billion Monkey self portrait, as the lady on the right illustrates.  In this collection of shots of Billion Monkeys photo-ing themselves, almost all of the cameras being used are regular little Billion Monkey cameras, rather than Real Photographer SLRs.  Real Photographers would never just stuff a camera out in front of themselves and take a photo of themselves.  But for Billion Monkeys, such behaviour is routine.