Brian Micklethwait's Blog

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

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Thursday June 28 2007

Well that was one hell of a scare.  This blog went off air yesterday.  Following much communing with my Guru’s Fellow Guru and with my hosting provider (both of whom were very helpful), it is now back up and running touch wood and hope not to die.

However, I have shut down the comments (which it where the Gurus say the trouble may have started), which means that I will just have to take your kind wishes and commiserations for granted, and will make this posting the last here for a while, certainly until I thoroughly understand what happened.  Which will almost certainly be: never.

Now would be a good time for me to take that Summer Break that I would have had anyway around now.  I will definitely resume ego/kitten blogging somewhere, but almost certainly at somewhere new.  When I do, I may or may not risk one more posting here to say so.

Meanwhile, good bye for now, this was fun while it lasted, I hope that I and all of your have a good July, and I will be back.

Wednesday June 27 2007

imageOn July 3rd, Cécile Philippe, who runs this enterprise, will be talking at the IEA Founders Day Party about “The Appeal of Capitalism to Young Europeans”.  So far so good, but she has also been emailing around asking for advice, me being one of the emailees.  What can I tell her about the appeal of capitalism to young Europeans?  As he would say, crikey, but here are some thoughts.

“Young Europeans” have been dosed for generations, way back to Hitler and before, with the claim that “capitalism” is bad, mad and dangerous to know, and a lot of them believe it, sort of.  Oui, jah, capitalism bad.  Amen.  But, the superficial products of capitalism, the freedom of movement and lifestyle choice and career choice that Cécile and I know to be the ground rules of capitalism, the abundance of what life has to offer that capitalism opens up to them, that they like, a lot.  Provided we don’t mention the C word.  That is the sense in which capitalism appeals to them.

Insofar as all the anti-capitalist propaganda is getting rather stale and feeble – the rulers of Europe seem determined both to denounce “Anglo-Saxon” capitalism and yet somehow also to contrive it on a Europe-wide scale – there may even be some Young Europeans who have made the connection between how nice life can be and how capitalist the nice life is.

There is another way in which capitalism may be both good and bad, depending.  Cécile’s question provokes thought about the perennial dilemma of whether “capitalism” is the right word to describe the beliefs that she and I share.  The word can mean two quite distinct things, and those of us trying to say one thing with the word are often heard, disastrously, to be saying the other.  It could mean what I have used the word to mean in this posting so far, a set of rules, good rules, rules which apply equally to everyone, which merely result in “capitalism”, that is, in some people getting mega-rich, and lots of others getting a bit rich, and almost everyone doing okay.  But it could also mean the privileging of the mega-rich, or “capital”, privileges for the owners of large amounts of capital at the expense of those who don’t own large amounts of capital.  If Young Europeans find that second idea very un-appealing, good for them.  (Actually, this is all too often a horribly good description of what European leaders do actually try to do.  It’s as if, having denounced capitalism, yet observed that capitalism is nevertheless doing quite well, they then, rather resignedly, do what they have been misguidedly telling themselves that capitalism has to mean.  Often there is no “as if” about it.)

“Feminism” is another word with the same kind of double meaning attached to it.  Does that mean equal rights for women, or special and superior rights for women?

I don’t know if any of that will be helpful to Cécile.  Even if of no use to her, maybe it will prod other people’s brain cells in helpful ways.  Yet another benefit of blogging: even emails that achieve nothing for the original recipient can still make themselves useful.  (If, on the other hand, the principle purpose of Cécile’s email to me was to prod me and my brain cells into doing a posting like this, well, mission accomplished.  Another benefit of blogging: it can flag up interesting events involving your friends, not just afterwards but beforehand.)

That picture of Cécile was taken by me in Brussels in 2004, when she was a salad reviewer.

Alan Little emails with the link to some outstanding Real Photographer and Billion Monkey pictures.  Not being conversant with Russian, I don’t know where they all come from (Tatyana?), but the “Turku Abo” signpost, just above the great lorryload of Real Photographers, says Finland.  (Road signs in Finland are in both Finnish and Swedish and Abo is the Swedish for Turku.  Or so I recall from when I was there in my teens.)

My two favourites among these are this one, which brilliantly communicates the feral and aggressive nature of Real Photographers, and especially of course male Real Photographers:

image

When you see photos like that, you can see how seamlessly men switched with the flow of ecological fashion from guns to cameras when hunting big game.  The camera is a weapon, especially with those huge white Real Photographer zoom lenses, or when the Real Photographer cameras are arranged in mechanised clumps, making them look like anti-aircraft guns on a battleship.

The Billion Monkey shots are less brilliant, perhaps because the Real Photographer snaps are by Real Photographers, while the Billion Monkey snaps are by mere Billion Monkeys.

But, as Alan points out, this one is superb:

image

Naughty Billion Monkey!  Real Photographers would surely do things like that if they could, but they can’t!

(It’s only just hit me what a great name “Alpha Romeo” is.  Says it all, doesn’t it.  They are now advertising Alpha Romeos as being cars that people want not because of all their complicated features, but simply because they are, well, Alpha Romeos.  What red-blooded male who aspires to Alpha-Romeoness wouldn’t want a car to match his fantasies?  (Only problem I suppose: too obvious.) I wonder how that name came about.  Is it a regular Italian expression which pre-existed the car?)

I also like the fat Billion Monkey trying to be a Real Photographer, but only succeeding in knocking over with his big fat bottom another vase, no doubt priceless.  Plus, there’s an actual monkey, destroying some film.  Remember film?

Here at briammicklethwait.com it turns out that today is healthcare day, not a topic about which I have generally had much to say.

Helen Evans, friend and Nurse for Reform, has a piece in the Chicago Tribune about Michael Moore’s latest.

Michael Moore’s denunciation of America’s health-care system is about to hit the silver screen. In the film’s trailer, a desk attendant at a British hospital smiles while explaining that in Britain’s National Health Service, “everything is free.” But for free hospital care, Britons pay an awfully high price.

Indeed.  Says Nurse Helen of her piece:

This follows a series of speeches that I recently gave in Washington DC, about which I will tell you more in the next day or so.

For my take on all this, follow the second link in my previous posting here.  Oh all right then, here it is again.  This earlier posting by Nurse Helen suggests that she might agree with me rather more than I would otherwise have assumed.

Tuesday June 26 2007

I agree with this.  Sign of advancing years: going around yelling “I said that sixteen years ago!” But, I did.

Monday June 25 2007

So I’ve become interested in this wide but shallow photos thing, wide but shallow photos being suitable to decorate blog postings while nevertheless keeping them short.

One obvious candidate, I thought, would be that shot that you see everywhere of a long train, silhouetted against the sky, perhaps on a long viaduct.  I tried “long train” on Flickr, but the results were promising in a few cases, but never quite right.  And badly lit.  So then I tried “train silhouette”, if only to get better lighting.

And look what I found, and was able to crop into shallowness:

image

That snap was taken on a beach ("Cable Beach") in a place called Broome, on the north west coast of Australia.  Camels travel in trains too.

Sick of train spotting?  Well then why not explore the wonderful world of Japanese pencil carving?  (Linked to from here.) So this is what they do at the back of the class in Japan.  No wonder the Japanese economy failed to conquer the world.

I made this picture even more horizontal than the already almost horizontal original:

image

Any more suggestions for wide, shallow pictures?  Imagine a posting with a great pile of them all visible at once.  Could life get more exciting than that?  Yes, of course it could.  But fun anyway.

Sunday June 24 2007

Via this guy, a big picture of all (known) bodies in the Solar System larger than 200 miles in diameter:

image

Shrunk down, it makes another fine short picture.

What I didn’t realise was that the quite big Jupiter moons (Io, Callisto, Titan, Ganymede) are actually bigger than The moon, i.e. ours.

I’ve been meaning to work out how you do video clips on a blog for some time now, and here is my first attempt to make this work.

I decided to do this some while ago, when I encountered some video of a wobbling skyscraper, but decided to wait for something more elevated.  And this from Christopher Hitchens certainly is that:

I found that at David Thompson’s blog.

To me the most interesting debate now raging in the West is not about whether we should or should not surrender to The Enemy.  The widespread if not universal opinion is: not.  But, who or what exactly is The Enemy?  Is it Islamists who have hijacked Islam and perverted Islam?  Or is it Islamists who are simply doing Islam with more than the usual Islamic degree of intensity, which would make Islam itself The Enemy?  Christopher Hitchens prefers the former position.

I incline to the latter, which is also, of course, what Osama Bin Laden and his followers say.  As David Thompson puts it:

Given jihadists pointedly cite Muhammad’s purported ‘revelations’ as their mandate and motive, how can the spread of Islamic terrorism be resisted if Muhammad and his teachings remain beyond criticism?  How does one respond when the Bali bombing ‘mastermind’ Mukhlas Imron asks his captors: “You who still have a shred of faith in your hearts, have you forgotten that to kill infidels and the enemies of Islam is a deed that has a reward above no other?” – and then quotes Muhammad’s own exhortations as his license for atrocity?

How indeed?  Once you start talking about Muhammad as someone who can be criticised, there goes Islam.

So how on earth do you persuade people to abandon Islam?  It would be a start to establish that they can, without being murdered.

Links to all this from recent posts by Mick Hartley.

Friday June 22 2007

imageHarry Hutton states a popular view concerning the canine nature of our current circumstances:

The country has been going to the dogs for as long as I can remember. But sometime between the Cliff Richard knighthood and Prescott’s promotion to Deputy Prime Minister, I think we can say that we finally arrived at the dogs. And here we all are, at the dogs.

If you seek the dogs, look around you.

One of the signs of a good country is constant complaining, and this country, according to reliable eye-witness accounts, has been going to or has been at the dogs ever since the arrival of the Romans.  The reason this is a sign of a good country is that in good countries, people are allowed to complain.

There is something that many people don’t get about progress, this being one of my complaints.  Each generation defines progress in its own way, and often, by that particular definition, dogness is indeed approaching, especially as each generation gets old and subsequent generations arrive with different definitions of what life is all about while they, the oldies, are still alive.  One reason why there is now more complaining is that people live longer.  They didn’t have nearly so many grumpy old men in the Middle Ages.

Suppose you define progress according to such things as how many people are having Latin lessons or by how well people can do handwriting with fountain pens.  Dogs!  By how good the output of the major classical CD labels is compared to former times.  Dogs!  By how much capitalism you and your friends have succeeded in destroying this year compared to how much is being created where it previously didn’t happen very much.  Dogs dogs dogs!!!  When Michelangelo was painting that ceiling, people who had actually witnessed him painting it nevertheless were in the habit of saying: the world is going to the dogs.  Why?  Who knows?  But they had their own definitions of progress or regression to dogdom, and Cistine Chapel ceilings didn’t register as a plus at all, when set beside whatever they considered important.

A good friend of mine defines regression to barbarism as literally a matter of how many dogs there are around the place.  Dogs equals barbarism, she reckons.  As you can imagine, she is not a happy bunny.  Well, if you were a bunny, you wouldn’t be, would you?

Optimism and pessimism are usually argued about according to which of them is right.  But this is like arguing about whether major keys or minor keys are better.  Both have their virtues, and in the end it is a matter of taste which you prefer.  I am an optimist.  What this means is that I am careful to choose methods of measuring progress that will actually measure progress until long after I am dead.  I choose measures like: how much hard disc space you can buy for £150, how many pretty bridges there are in the world, how cheap classical CDs are nowadays, how many people can now take nice photos (by the way, cats are involved in those pictures, which takes care of my feline duties today) and show them to one another, how long the footpaths are beside the River Thames, how many Poor People now have mobile phones, how many reasonably decent blog postings I have personally written.  That way, I stay cheerful.  Why do I do this?  Because I prefer to be cheerful.  I prefer not to think, or not too often, about the number of laws and regulations there now are (about which I feel the way my friend does about dogs), or about the hugeness of the number of people in the world who still think that more laws and regulations equals progress.  I try not to think about the number of bad blog postings I have written.

As for Harry Hutton, he chooses to be a grump.  That’s what he likes.  Plus, of course, that is funnier to read, which is far more important to him than accurately tracking the progress of civilisation.  But as for his quality-of-people-getting-knighthoods-these-days measurement, I have this to say, to quote my own words of wisdom here:

As you get older, more of the sleaze in the world becomes apparent to you, and you can sometimes mistake this learning process for a deterioration in the world itself.

For sleaze read everything bad.  I then proceed to contradict myself, but I’m going to let that pass here.

Were the people getting knighted a hundred years ago any less prattish or corrupt than those getting knighted now?  Or was it simply that all Harry Hutton knows about them now is that they got knighted, and accordingly they seem to him comparatively grand and worthy, when set beside Cliff Richard?  They weren’t and it was, just in case you have any doubts.

On the subject of being honoured, one of Hutton’s commenters links to this, which I think is rather good.

After yesterday’s excellent and very well received talk by Michael about China, some of us including him went to the pub nearby.  Just as I was leaving, Michael said that he had put up a picture of me on his blog.  Apparently Michael was demonstrating moblogging from his phone to the people at the other end of the table, which was okay.  Incoming email this morning:

I was demonstrating moblogging from my phone to the people at the other end of the table. I hope this is okay.

But I don’t know about this moblogging.  As in mobile blogging, I presume, rather than a mob of bloggers.  But I’m a traditionalist about blogging, and I tend to think it should be done at home in pyjamas, as nature intended.  Mind you, if I get one of these, I may soon be doing it myself.

I found this ...

image

... here.  I don’t know where he found it.  Maybe here.

This logo is certainly proving to be adaptable.  First Lisa Simpson, now this.  Soon we will have to adapt that old Soviet Empire joke, where the visitor says (now): “So, what do you think of the London Olympic logo?” and the guy says they must go somewhere very secret, this isn’t secret enough, etc. etc., shaggy dog shaggy dog, eventually finding somewhere secret enough, and then he says: “Well, I quite like it.”

Wednesday June 20 2007

The way to show off your photography skills on the internet, I am convinced, is to make collections in particular genres, like this guy does.  (Take your pick.)

And I particularly like it when several of my preferred genres get done with the one photo.  So, I particularly like this recent effort:

image

I like it when my Billion Monkey snaps feature what the Billion Monkey in question is snapping, and not just the Billion Monkey himself.  I like it when the Billion Monkey is reflected in something and there’s two of him.  I like it when familiar London landmarks are reflected in something, instead of just being regularly photoed.  I like it when the regular sky is blank white, but the reflected sky is vividly sky-coloured.  So: tick, tick, tick, tick.  Hope some of you like it too.

To my shame I had not clocked that Adriana, now back from Ethiopia, had put up some blog postings from there.  What are travelling blog postings for?  They’re for your friends to read.  What are friends for?  To read them!!!

There are also photographs, and I agree with Adriana that this photo is the best of the lot.  But I also like this one, of her brother Ivan:

image

Ivan is, to my certain knowledge (because I have several times watched him in action), a terrific teacher.  That’s how he earned the cash to go to Africa to study.

The bad news is that Adriana has been ill, and so has Ivan.  Africa.  Ivan intends to be an expert on Africa.  He’s learning fast.

Dave Gorman is a comedian who appears from time to time on British TV and radio.  And yes, I did check, and it is the same guy as the guy who took this collection of photos under the heading of I see faces.

This one is one of my favourites:

image

What these faces-that-aren’t-really pictures show is how we as a species will find faces, because we have a brain which actively looks for them.

Gorman is a Real Photographer, which I deduce from this set.  Real Photographers know their Photoshop, in my experience.  Billion Monkeys are too busy just snapping.

Monday June 18 2007

Indeed.

The U.S. long had plenty of cranes to get its big projects done. But many of the cranes today are migrating all over the world - shipped from the U.S. to the Mideast, Asia, Latin America and elsewhere, where a global boom in commodities, oil and other sectors is spurring growth. Countries are investing the windfall in bridges, roads, power plants, oil pipelines and other infrastructure. Two big users are Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, where residents joke the construction crane is now the national bird, and China, where an unprecedented building boom is under way in preparation for the Beijing Summer Olympics.

brianmicklethwait dot com has, it turns out, its finger on the pulse of the world economy.

Thanks to Michael Jennings for the link.  Michael is doing the 6/20 talk at Christian Michel’s in central London this coming Wednesday evening, which I will be trying not to miss, on the subject of China economic miracle or what?  Judging by the email about this, Michael inclines more towards the or what side of things:

China’s GDP is hardly above the UK’s. Half her exports come from subsidiaries of Western and Japanese firms. The country’s manufacturing capacity is limited to churning out low value-added, labour-intensive and polluting products the developed world no longer wishes to make. The toiling away was enough to lift 200 million people into something resembling a middle-class, but has done little for the country’s North-East rust-belt and its destitute rural inland. China faces in addition a demographic crisis unlike any other country, the implacable consequence of a fateful one-child policy.

Nevertheless, the cranes are moving there in huge flocks.  Find out more about Michael’s China talk by emailing Christian Michel: cmichel at cmichel dot com.

Sunday June 17 2007

Following on from our earlier conversation about the recent Presidential election won by Nicolas Sarkozy, here is a further conversation between me and Antoine Clarke, on the subject of the subsequent elections for the French National Assembly.  Our chat lasted just over forty minutes.

Voting in the second round of these elections is today, and once again, it is widely assumed that Sarkozy will score a big win.  Antoine explains just how big, and how important that might be.  Key fact: with Sarkozy supporters making more than two thirds of the Assembly, which is probably what will happen, Sarkozy may well be able to change the French Constitution.

The other big thing that emerged from our conversation was that what Sarkozy and a lot of those who voted for him are on about is not so much different decisions about French government, as different kinds of people doing the governing, people who are less isolated from the concerns of regular people, more hands-on and less theoretical.  This attempt at a cultural alteration, rather than a mere economic turnaround, is highlighted by Sarkozy’s intention to change the way that France’s universities operate, towards something more along the lines of how things are done in the USA, with more business involvement, and less domination by the humanities.  The idea being to get a different kind of person into the French intellectual elite and to change how that elite thinks.

So, interesting stuff, I hope those of you who listen will agree.

Engadget is not for everyone, and most of it, frankly, is not for me.  Too many small objects the shape and size of chocalate bars which all look much the same and are usually called letters instead of names, either for mobile phoning or mobile music listening, or both of course.  (I have a bog standard mobile, which more than suffices, and when travelling, I read.) Plus, larger boxes for playing computer games, into which I am not.  But every so often engadget has something that pleases me greatly, so I keep going back there on the off chance that today will be another such day.

This for instance: Computer uses webcam to play Pong with itself.  I love the sublime, onanistic pointlessness of it.  Plus, I actually understand approximately what is happening.

Or this?  An oval bit of the outside of a brand X modern building has been cut out and made to rotate.  Only in Liverpool.  Well, actually, I wouldn’t have expected it anywhere.  It’s the kind of thing I enjoy, provided I had no part in paying for it.  Fat chance.

Or, how about this car?  Which, so far as I can make out, is some kind of TV series toy which has been brought to life.

And then there’s this, which I only saw while checking if there was any more engadgetry to feature here, to get it all over with:

image

That picture bigger, and further details (including a video), here.  The claim is that this thing, in which each floor can rotate independently, will actually generate enough power to run itself, from the wind.  Well, it does get windy up towards the top of towers, I suppose.  But the plan is to put one of these in Dubai.  But how windy is Dubai?  Maybe very, I wouldn’t know.  But wouldn’t Chicago, the Windy City itself, be the logical place for a wind-power tower?  Just asking.

Perhaps because some of the versions of this tower in the picture above look like the snap has been taken out of the structure, so to speak, it rather reminds me of this, which I got to the night before last night but didn’t at the time see any reason to mention here, from here.  Not that I need a particular reason for what I mention here.

ENGADGET LATEST: Blu-ray discs are rotting!!!!! Hurrah! because I back the other one.

The cricket is on the go again, after a day’s pause for rain, and one of the commentators yesterday pushed one of my grumpy-old-man buttons, which is the incorrect use of the word “inimitable” that you so often hear nowadays.  What the person who says this often means is “very unusual”, but what makes the item of behaviour in question very unusual is the very thing that actually makes it and the person who does it very easy to imitate.

So, as a typical for-instance, umpire Billy Bowden was described by Henry Blofeld as “inimitable”, in the way he signals a four.  Most umpires do this with their hands horizontal and straight out.  Bowden does it as if clearing some space on a table covered in junk, with a curved, cradling, vertical hand.  Anybody could imitate this.  I expect in due course to be told that the way Bowden signals a six, which is even more bizarre and different from the usual way (crooked forefingers and several upwards motions of ever increasing height instead of the usual one motion), is also “inimitable”, even though this would be even more completely untrue.

There.  I’ve said it.  One of the nice things about blogging is that whenever something trivial irritates you, you can say so at once - assuming you’re connected, as more and more of us are for more and more of the time.  Life is too short to be keeping grumbles in a notebook and then laboriously copying them out again when the opportunity finally arrives to say them to the world, but not too short to have the thought, blog it, and forget it.

Saturday June 16 2007

As soon as I had put that linkfest below to bed, I found this, via this.  It’s a blog linking to claims that Y is the new X, and nothing else.  Just big fat orange lettering, underlined, all of it linkage.

Here’s a little effort from me in this genre, about how the internet has put a new weapon into the writing arsenal: Links are the new italics.  I thought of this myself.  I’m sure others have thought of it too, but none that I know of.  So I couldn’t link it to anything, and it had itself to be in italics.

You know how you accumulate lots of interesting links to interesting things, which you intend to blog about at length, Real Soon Now, but know you probably never will.  The answer is to do one of those lots-of-links postings, with links and nothing much else.  I am in that state now, and such lots-of-links postings are quite popular, so here goes, in no particular order.

Skimming machines on sale on eBay.  I love a good gadget, but is there any honest use for this one?

Jonathan Agnew says, as do many others, that there’s now too much Test Match Cricket:

Test cricket simply isn’t ‘special’ any more. It has been a weekly event so far this summer and I wonder what Test Match Special would have been called had it started now, rather than 50 years ago?

So presumably Agnew is happy today.

Jackie D emails to say that I might like this, this being a gadget for wireless gadget charging.  I hate to be a grump (lie), but: no.  It’s another thing to learn.  (Like Facebook.) I now know how to charge my gadgets.  For me the wires are a nuisance but no more.  One of many Micklethwait’s laws of technology and of life: do not unleash solutions upon circumstance which are not a problem.

Jackie D again:

I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited about a celebrity haircut as I am about Katie Holmes’s bob.

Michael J emails noting that this Sony Ericsson gadget accepts SD cards (winner of the small(ish) storage card battle of the gauges), as well as the loser Sony Memory Sticks (which Sony still insists on using in all its digital cameras).  “They seem to be losing their religion,” says Michael.  About bloody time too.  Presumably Ericsson took Sony off to a quiet corner of the playground and beat the crap out of him until Sony agreed to have SD cards as well.  Instead presumably comes next.

Talking of battles of the gauges, how’s the great HD DVD versus Blu-ray battle going?  Somebody tell me who’s going to win, so that I can write it up here.  I support HD DVD, because Blu-ray is Sony, yah boo his.  His Gatesness says a plague on both your houses.  By plague he means a mega-hard-disc and getting it over the internet, instead of keeping lots of discs.  Can’t see that happening myself.

Patrick Crozier muses upon the Black Dad Phenomenon, if that’s what it is.  Tiger Woods, Michael Jackson, the Williams sisters, and now Lewis Hamilton.

The Transport Blog surge continues.  May 21st to June 4th: no postings.  June 5th to now: too many to be exact but about fourteen.  Did you know that Alex Singleton is a communist?  Apparently so.

Bishop Hill recycles this Orwell quote, in among lots of other good recent stuff:

The totalitarian states can do great things, but there is one thing they cannot do: they cannot give the factory-worker a rifle and tell him to take it home and keep it in his bedroom. That rifle hanging on the wall of the working-class flat or labourer’s cottage, is the symbol of democracy. It is our job to see that it stays there.

How times change.  Workers have no guns, and totalitarian states now do no great things.  The Chinese are bastards, yes, but they have prosperity because they have stopped trying to totalitarianise it.

I also like this Bishop Hill quote of the day, which he makes look a lot prettier:

The global temperature record is not a record in the true sense, but a theory of what the record would look like if it had been measured properly.

Norman Lebrecht reports on the Royal Festival Hall’s recent accoustic refurbishment.  Basically, it’s much better, if still not in the same class as the Vienna Musikvereinsaal or the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, or for that matter Symphony Hall Birmingham.  Love the name of the acoustics expert who did it: Larry Kierkegaard.  Reminds me of a person invented by Peter Simple called Barry Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

This piece about physics (which I already mentioned here) continues to be noted and quoted.

The phrase “cargo-cult capitalism” definitely deserves a separate posting to itself, if only because of the alliteration, but just in case I never get around to doing that here or anywhere else, scroll down here, and you’ll encounter it.  Money quote:

Companies that were once part of nationalised industries but are now private tend to be run according to a set of principles that I call “cargo-cult capitalism”. Just like the cargo cults who build things that look like runways in the belief that these will bring planes bearing bounteous wonders, the managers of these organisations have seen private companies doing things and making profit, but have no conception of the underlying structure that informs their actions.

Lost of juicey stuff earlier about a train balls-up.  Not like it is in France.  (Julian Taylor is also a communist, it would seem.  Transport Bloggers?)

Recent and much overdue addition to my blogroll: The Freeway to Serfdom.  Jay Jardine here notes this delightful quote from an ancient news story on the subject of mobile phones in Africa, and how they use phone airtime as currency:

The big fear among Africa’s central banks is that internationally-recognized card brands would allow locals to bypass exchange controls.

That was written in 2003.  I wonder what happened with that.

Nearly finally, an extraordinary quote from way back in January, which is to be found in the blog written by Ken MacLeod, the noted SF author, The Early Days of a Better Nation, here.

On January 3, 1793, the first Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson wrote to William Short, the American ambassador to Paris, who had criticized the early excesses of the French Revolution. Praising the insurrection, he asked whether “ever such a prize” had been “won with so little innocent blood?” His “own affections,” Jefferson added, “have been deeply wounded by some of the martyrs to this cause, but rather than it should have failed, I would have seen half the earth desolated. Were there but an Adam and an Eve left in every country, and left free, it would be better than as it now is.”

Bloody hell. Give me liberty and give me death!

And finally finally, something feline, what with this being Friday.

Lost in France:

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Jackie D again.

Thursday June 14 2007

Cranes.  They’re huge.  You can’t avoid looking at them.  Yet almost nobody complains about them, because they’re either in an unavoidably craney part of town, or they’ll soon be gone.  Also, people like them, especially Billion Monkeys (you have to wade past the bird type cranes).  Cranes come over as friendly and helpful, even protective.  Pylons, on the other hand, are permanent and cause cancer.  If you don’t complain about them, they never go away, and very seldom if you do.

On the left, blue cranes in Salford, found in among random Flickr wandering.

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On the right (click to get them bigger), lots of new cranes, snapped by me, resting in the blurry twilight after a day’s labour in the City of London.  About twenty five of them.  Cranes in among buildings mean more buildings.  What will the City of London skyline look like in two years time?

I love cranes.  As I keep saying here, they are (together with pylons) the last redoubt of pure functionalism, now that making snazzy-looking structures has become so easy even architects can be allowed to join in in without catastrophe.  But, the architects seem to have no designs on cranes.  Or pylons.  Long may it continue.  Modern style cranes is pointless.  They already are that.  But, imagine a crane tricked out like Tower Bridge.  (Or a pylon.)

So then, I went wandering through Flickr looking for cranes generally, and how about these?!?! In Rotterdam.  These are two of my favourite crane snaps ever, by Netream:

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Here and here.  Says a Flickr commenter:

Deze is echt heel mooi!

Which I’m guessing is Rotterdamian for something very admiring.  If so, I almost certainly agree.

I believe in having short postings as well as long ones, and I believe in having pictures.  So here’s my version of a picture by someone else, thinned out and horizontalised a little more:

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To the left: Earth.  To the right: The Moon.  To make you realise how far apart they really are.  Original picture and explication here.  I got to this from here.

Another natural photographic shape for blogging is very tall, and very thin across.  Maybe, a set of five of them, preferably much taller than anyone’s screen, and with something surprising in each of them right at the bottom, which you only see when you scroll down.  I’m keeping my eyes open, both on the internet, and when snapping photos myself.  But I seldom see anything that really qualifies.  Anyone else seen anything suitable?

The best picture in this genre I’ve ever seen was of someone serving at ping pong.  The ball was at the very top of the long thin picture, and the server was way, way down at the bottom.  The point being that some ping pong services involve throwing the ball up very, very high.

Wednesday June 13 2007

Indeed:

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More Billion Monkeys here in among lots of Real Photographers:

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Photography is sometimes the opposite of real life.  A bright light turns everything darker!

Here‘s what the launch is for.

During their 11-day space mission the seven Atlantis astronauts will install a new, 16-ton truss segment on the International Space Station (ISS) and will deliver another set of solar panels and batteries to the station.

Whatever the size of your electrical toy, and wherever it is, if you can’t plug it into the mains batteries will always be a headache.

I have almost no idea of what Facebook is, yet there seems to be such a buzz about it now that it may soon become something you will be sneered at by your friends and contacts for not being on.  I remember when email became de rigueur.  What’s your email, said somebody.  Don’t have one.  Oh, they said, with mild disgust and more than mild surprise.  Before that it was having a fax number.  Is Facebook approaching that point?  I haven’t yet had The Sneer about it from anybody, but will I?  Soon?

(Thank goodness people don’t have to have blogs.  Wouldn’t that be awful?)

What problem in my life would be solved by being on Facebook?  The problem that having an email address solved was that when people asked me what my email address was, I could tell them, and they could nag me about things.  In due course, I realised that I could nag them.  But what is Facebook for?

David Tebbutt, who is a friend of a friend but not a friend, implies that Facebook is a way for people who aren’t really your friends to pretend that they are.  And, they are a way for third parties to jump to all sorts of false conclusions about your tastes and opinions, by assuming that you share all the tastes and opinions of your friends, or worse, of your “friends”.  Is that right?

Monday June 11 2007

I’ve been listening to the cricket, which is coming from Manchester, and they mentioned something called the Beetham Tower.  The tallest residential building in Europe, so they said.

This is the age of the internet, and you can now investigate anything that interests you, provided you have an internet connection and you have the time to do it, preferably straight away.  (Every time I reflect on that change in the culture, I wonder what the long-term impact of internet search will be on education.)

So anyway, here is the nicest picture of the Beetham Tower I could find, which I got by clicking away from here to here:

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I know that many people don’t trust Wikipedia at all, regarding it as a swirl of unchecked nonsense.  But on matters like what bridges and towers look like, I do tend to trust it.  Although I suppose this photo might have been photoshopped, with a pretend Beetham Tower in the background instead of the real thing.

What I like about the picture is what I see (perhaps rather sentimentally) as a now particularly English contrast, between the genteel poverty of the nostalgic and slightly Disneyfied foreground with its carefully preserved and prettified canal, crumbling red brick and weeds, and new red brick stuff to fit in - with the sleek modernity of the distant tower, grays and blue, steely and misty.

As I recall them, the original graphics for architectural modernity fifty or more years ago had modernity everywhere you looked.  Now, the fun is in observing both the ancient and the modern.  Either on their own suggests tyranny, either stultifyingly radical or stultifyingly conservative and preservationist.  The two together suggest, in physical form, a healthy freedom and a pleasing pluralism.

Today’s test match cricket was really good.  The West Indies have been playing very badly in their current series in England, especially in the second test match at Leeds where they were dire.  And England’s bowling has now become almost as bad as the West Indian batting, while still contriving to be too good for it.

The upshot of game three was that after three days the Windies would have to make 455 in the remaining two days to win, which is a lot, and a lot more than they looked capable of getting anywhere near.  But today, against improved England bowling, the Windies did really well, reaching 301-5.  England are still strong favourites, but I’m really glad that the Windies are making a fight of this third game.

Whatever happens tomorrow I’ll be happy, because I want both England and the Windies to do well. If England win heavily tomorrow morning, well, good for England.  If the Windies do really well but lose narrowly, double hurrah, because that will be good for both sides.  If the Windies win - most unlikely but still possible, just – then hurrah indeed in flashing big bright lights, because that would be one hell of a win and would cheer up a lot of Windies cricket fans, which they need after their dire World Cup a few weeks ago.  If ever there was a result that would be “good for cricket”, this would be it.

So, thanks to today’s proceedings, pretty much any outcome would satisfy me tomorrow.  How delightful.

Everything depends upon Chanderpaul.  When I went to Lords to see England v the Windies last time around, he was also their best batter, reaching 97 not out before the Windies were finally beaten.  (Lara bowled Giles 44 was really something to see.  Giles celebrating looked like a family solicitor hearing that his wife has given birth to twins.) You’d think that by now, the commentators would know how to pronounce Chanderpaul’s first name, Shivnarine.  But is it “ine” or “een” at the end?  They still can’t decide.  He’s eighty something not out now, and I hope he gets at least a hundred.

And, an English bloke has won a Grand Prix.  (English means English, and British means Scottish, for sporting purposes.  Except in cricket, where English means British.) Car racing is no longer a game of one tedious half at the end of which the German bloke wins, because the German bloke has retired.  They even had a nice crash.  True, only one car was involved, but boy, was it involved!

I seem to recall posting something here, once upon a time, about the foolishness of trying to look like a goody goody on the internet.  Yes.  Well Ryan Healy (guesting at the Brazen Careerist) seems to agree:

The more young people enter the workforce the less risk there is that someone will Google them to look for bad behavior. Human resources leaders don’t have the time to sleuth. But also, there just aren’t enough perfect little angels in the world to go around.

Plus, are wise employers actually looking for perfect little angels anyway, even if there was a glut of them?  For most purposes, wouldn’t human beings be preferable?

Now that “private” lives are starting to become as public as working lives, the pretence of “private” hundred-per-cent decorum is going to have to be abandoned.

Sunday June 10 2007

You wait over two weeks for a Transport Blog posting, and then suddenly, you get five in the last two days.  Yesterday, Mark Holland did three, two (inevitably) about bicyle things, and then one about how submarines used to send their mail.  And then today, I did another submarine related post, and David Farrer did something about an interesting event at Wemyss Bay railway station, linking to this beautiful picture of that same station.  Yes, beautiful.  But what gives?  Why the pause, and why, then, the glut?

The story is as follows.  Transport Blog boss Patrick Crozier did a posting on May 20th, about train travel, but then there was a gap, which, by and by, turned into the longest gap in recent Transport Blog history.  Eventually Patrick did another posting, on June 5th, and then Mark did his surge of postings, and then David and I chipped in.

I tell this apparently trivial story in such detail because I think that it is a fine and very public – well, publicly accessible - example of an important principle of how voluntary cooperation works, and does not work.  (Which makes in another in this genre.) Basically, very few people are willing to be volunteer contributors to an enterprise if their contribution threatens to become the entire enterprise.

An enterprise is in existence, and you decide to contribute to it.  If the boss of the enterprise then buggers off and leaves you to actually run the entire damn thing, you’re out of there.  Hey, I’m contributing to this thing.  But if my contribution is all there is, forget it.  I’m not doing everything.  When I do everything, it’s because I’ve decided very deliberately to do everything, and because doing everything fits perfectly with the rest of my life, not because I’ve been suckered into it.

So, when that Great Transport Blog Pause began to elongate, the only person who could end it was Patrick.  None of the rest of us were willing to be Muggins, the Carrier of the Can and the Getter of the Credit for Transport Blog.  Had Patrick not posted on June 5th, I believe that the Great Transport Blog Pause would still be pausing away now.  Given that Patrick did post, the rest of us then piled in again with our further bloggings, confident again that we are contributing to an enterprise that doesn’t depend on any one of us for its continued existence.

Patrick, I’m not complaining.  I’m just saying.  Had you not posted on June 5th, but then complained that the rest of us had done nothing lately either, then I would have complained, but you would never do that, would you?

Saturday June 09 2007

This is a cat called Douglas:

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What with the dim light (which required extreme Photoshop-type enhancement to see into) and that Elizabethan collar that Douglas is wearing, presumanbly ordained by a vet, you can’t tell what is Douglas below the collar and what just general background.  But I like that.  By the way, clicking won’t make Douglas any bigger.

Douglas is named after a most unusual person by the name of Smith, whose first name is Douglas.

Excellent evening.

Friday June 08 2007

Incoming email-with-link from Michael J.  “This is bad.”

Indeed.  Dear Government: misery misery, woe is me.  Last few paragraphs:

There is a teacher shortage in this country, but if a physicist asked my advice on becoming a teacher, I would have to say: don’t. Don’t unless you want to watch a subject you love dismantled.

I am a young and once-enthusiastic physics teacher. I despair at what I am forced to teach. I have potentially thirty years of lessons to give, but I didn’t sign up for this - and the business world still calls. There I won’t have to endure the pain of trying to animate a crippled subject. The rigorous of physics been torn down and replaced with impotent science media studies.

I beg of the government and the AQA board, please, give me back my subject and let me do my job.

Sincerely,

Wellington Grey

Key word there: “beg”.  This is why I think education should entirely cease from being a nationalised industry, and be let loose, unregulated (no “national curriculum"), into the free society.  In the free society, everyone has power.  Parents and pupils have choice.  Teachers can seek alternatives if the arrangements they have are not congenial.  Nobody has to beg.

In practice, the way to do this is not to beg the politicians to do it.  There’s no future in that.  No, the way to go is to set about (re)creating education in the free society, to replace the nationalised industry.  People can then stop begging for the nationalised industry to get better, and switch to free society arrangements.

It’s already happening, of course.  The British rich have always been able to opt out.  Now the British not-so-rich are also opting out in huge numbers.  This now mostly takes the form of purchasing remedial education at evenings and at weekends.  But it’s very tiring for the children to have to be educated twice, once badly by the government, during the day, and then again afterwards, less badly.  (Somebody recently said to me: “This used to be called detention.") Soon there will also be lots of inexpensive regular schools.

At which point Mr Grey can have his teaching career back again.

Thursday June 07 2007

The Gaping Void man had this to say, albeit in brackets, as if to signify that the observation is no cultural significance which is obviously quite wrong, about the Olympic Logo presentation:

The paparazzi getting in their photo ops etc. Watching them was somehow more interesting than watching the sporting celebs on stage.

Quite so.  If Martians had been watching this event, this would undoubtedly be an aspect of things that they would especially focus on, so to speak. Why are the ugly earthmen attacking the prettily dressed ones with flashing weapons?  When flashed at, why do no pretty ones fall down dead?  Are these perhaps religious devices?  (Yes, I would say.)

So anyway here’s the photo:

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Okay they’re not Billion Monkeys; they’re Real Photographers.  And their cameras will change less as the years go by.  They will fit more into the same phallic crates, rather than having all their kit in their finger nails or eyebrows in twenty years time, which is surely what the Billion Monkeys will be doing.  But even Real Photographer cameras have changed and will change over the years.  Whereas bullshit on a stage is pretty much the same, decade after decade.

Well, maybe that changes too, but who cares?  My real point is that all that crap always gets photoed by millions of other people anyway, whereas people tend to neglect the photographers, often going to great lengths to avoid having them in the pictures.  However, note the Real Photographer on the extreme right who is photo-ing his friends.  Which makes at least two photographers, Real or BM, who get this.

I don’t know who took that photo.  If I find out, I’ll add the info.  (UPDATE: see comment number one.)

Wednesday June 06 2007

This looks like a huge step in the right direction, when it comes to mobile computing for the market segment that means the most to me, namely: me:

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It’s small and it’s cheap.  It does text, it does photos, it does internet.  Everything I want to go out and about with, in London or in foreign parts.

Although sharing the 7-inch screen of many handhelds, the Eee adopts the familiar notebook shape and includes a keyboard and trackpad. The emphasis is on ease of use - not just portability, ASUS says. To that end, the portable splits its interface into simple and complex modes: the easy mode includes a basic interface for browsing, chat, and photos, while more comfortable users can switch to a familiar operating system such as Linux or Windows XP.

Apparently, it’s part of this.  I suspect that the reason rich people fantasise about cheap small computers for Poor Boys is that what they really want is cheap small computers for themselves and for their own grasping children, but they feel less comfortable saying that.  I really, really hope these mini-gizmos will be on sale here, and not just in faraway places where they actually prefer mobile phones.

UPDATE: More from Engadget:

Perhaps most interestingly, Asus’ product manger told them that while Windows XP has been successfully tested with the device, the final product will likely come with only Linux pre-installed, with XP driver support thrown in for good measure. What’s more, Asus also said that the mini-laptop could eventually pack as much as 32GB of SSD storage, and even hinted at the possibility of either an optional built-in 3G module or a separate dongle. Asus also reiterated that seemingly too good to be true $200 starting price, adding that a version for “English speaking countries” could be available “as early as August this year.”

But, how long does “as early as” mean?

Tuesday June 05 2007

Earlier this evening I was in King’s Cross, and rather than just go right back home again, I took a right angle turn along the Regent’s Canal, my plan being eventually to have walked alongside all of this intriguing waterway.

It’s a strange place.  On the one hand it’s the cutest cityscape you could hope to see, like an architecture student’s fantasy of how an ancient city of the future should be.  But, it’s spoilt by the graffiti, which makes me think that at any moment, some inoffensive looking person will suddenly turn nasty, steal my camera and push me into the water.

Anyway, here is my favourite of the few snaps I took this evening.  What I like is that it’s mysterious.  What is it?

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What it is is the underneath of the new Euro-railway which now goes into St Pancras, or soon will.  Well, it already does, but the Euro-trains don’t yet.  The move from Waterloo is in November.

And the bridge is lit like that by the evening sun bouncing back off the water.  The light was so bright that regular photos in the regular outdoors tended to overwhelm my cheap camera, but this one came out fine, I think.  And, to return to a theme I already mentioned here recently, the photo looks an order of magnitude more dramatic and mysterious than the original did.  When you look at the original, you know what it is, whatever games the light may be playing.  The photo strips out all your peripheral knowledge and leaves the mystery unexplained.  Hope you like it too.

This Prospect piece is a good short read, containing much.

I was intrigued to read what I have long suspected, which is that the Castro regime wants the US embargo to continue.  The embargo props it up by starving it of foreign influence, ideas and general destabilisation, and the regime props up the embargo whenever it looks like collapsing:

In fact, the regime seems to act with zeal to ensure that the embargo continues. When it looks as if the US government might consider ending it, some heavy-handed Cuban act ensues that the status quo prevails. In 1996, when Clinton was keen to initiate rapprochement, the regime shot down two US planes manned by members of a Cuban exile group rescuing those escaping the island on rafts. When, in 2003, an influential cross-party lobby in the US seemed set to dismantle the embargo, the Cuban government promptly incarcerated 75 prisoners of conscience and executed three men who hijacked a tugboat with a view to getting to Miami.

The wonderful health service of Cuba is a Potemkin sham (why was Castro himself treated by foreigners?), and the people are dirt poor, bitterly regretting their current parlous state, yet, like all very poor people, fearing change.  The remnants of pre-Castro, fifties style – pre-revolutionary pop and fifties cars – scatter a nostalgic glitter upon the decaying ruins.  Tourism keeps it going.  A lot more tourism would probably finish it off.

And foreigners are still impressed:

When, back in London, I met people who believed in the Cuban alternative, I surprised myself by the vigour with which I rebuffed their arguments, pointing out how Cubans were barred from the smart hotels where they had stayed. Was my irritation a sign that I’d become right-wing (as they implied)? Or was this simply one-upmanship on my part - a way of rubbing in that they were just tourists, I had lived there. At other times, in the company of Castro critics, I would admit to my own ambiguous feelings and explain that I, too, had often been charmed and was sad at the prospect of that simple way of muddling through in Havana disappearing. You only need to go to Kingston, Jamaica to wish that you were back in a police state where you can roam the streets at night without fear.

Bolshevik Cuba’s last defence: tough on crime.  Too bad that the whole place is itself one gigantic item of stolen property.

And yes, Madam, you are becoming more “right-wing”.  Leaving the left always starts with accusations of rightism, hotly denied, but eventually, as the accusations become ever more vicious, reluctantly accepted.

Monday June 04 2007

Here’s the new Olympic logo.  Or perhaps logos.  Cost them four hundred thousand quid, apparently.

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I don’t hate it (them), because I hate the whole idea of the Olympics coming to London, so the worse the logo is the happier I am.  But most of the people who actually want all these crazed contests to happen in London for a few weeks (provided that I and all the other anti-Olympians share the grotesquely huge bill for it all with them), well, most of them apparently do hate it/them.  Good.  They all deserve to suffer for their idiot enthusiasm and enthusiastic tax guzzling.

Said Iain Dale, earlier this afternoon:

Oh dear. Oh dear. Oh dear. A successful logo should at least give some hint at the activities of the organisation it is meant to depict. This looks like the logo for the Annual Rabbit Shagging Championships.

Apparently Lord Coe and Tessa Jowell were going to do enthusiastically idiotic interviews about this ugly looking creation on the early evening TV, but then they became “unavailable for comment”.  Excellent.  They’re panicking already.

UPDATE: Norfolk hates it too.

One of the complaints you quite often hear about us atheists is that we reserve our scorn for Christianity, while remaining silent about Islam, on account of Christians being less scary people to criticise than Muslims.  So I was very interested, and very cheered, when I began reading The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, and encountered the following passage, at the end of Chapter 1 (pp. 46-50 of the recently issued paperback edition, which I have just acquired).  This excerpt is notable not just because of what it says, but for the characteristically forthright way in which it is written.

Other shorter quotes from this book can be found here.  The early paragraphs of Chapter 1 can be found here.

I’ll end the chapter with a particular case study, which tellingly illuminates society’s exaggerated respect for religion, over and above ordinary human respect. The case flared up in February 2006 - a ludicrous episode, which veered wildly between the extremes of comedy and tragedy. The previous September, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published twelve cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad. Over the next three months, indignation was carefully and systematically nurtured throughout the Islamic world by a small group of Muslims living in Denmark, led by two imams who had been granted sanctuary there. In late 2005 these malevolent exiles travelled from Denmark to Egypt bearing a dossier, which was copied and circulated from there to the whole Islamic world, including, importantly, Indonesia. The dossier contained falsehoods about alleged maltreatment of Muslims in Denmark, and the tendentious lie that Jyllands-Posten was a government-run newspaper. It also contained the twelve cartoons which, crucially, the imams had supplemented with three additional images whose origin was mysterious but which certainly had no connection with Denmark. Unlike the original twelve, these three add-ons were genuinely offensive - or would have been if they had, as the zealous propagandists alleged, depicted Muhammad. A particularly damaging one of these three was not a cartoon at all but a faxed photograph of a bearded man wearing a fake pig’s snout held on with elastic. It has subsequently turned out that this was an Associated Press photograph of a Frenchman entered for a pig-squealing contest at a country fair in France. The photograph had no connection whatsoever with the prophet Muhammad, no connection with Islam, and no connection with Denmark. But the Muslim activists, on their mischief-stirring hike to Cairo, implied all three connections ... with predictable results.

The carefully cultivated ‘hurt’ and ‘offence’ was brought to an explosive head five months after the twelve cartoons were originally published. Demonstrators in Pakistan and Indonesia burned Danish flags (where did they get them from?) and hysterical demands were made for the Danish government to apologize. (Apologize for what? They didn’t draw the cartoons, or publish them. Danes just live in a country with a free press, something that people in many Islamic countries might have a hard time understanding.) Newspapers in Norway, Germany, France and even the United States (but, conspicuously, not Britain) reprinted the cartoons in gestures of solidarity with Jyllands-Posten, which added fuel to the flames. Embassies and consulates were trashed, Danish goods were boycotted, Danish citizens and, indeed, Westerners generally, were physically threatened; Christian churches in Pakistan, with no Danish or European connections at all, were burned. Nine people were killed when Libyan rioters attacked and burned the Italian consulate in Benghazi. As Germaine Greer wrote, what these people really love and do best is pandemonium.

A bounty of $1 million was placed on the head of ‘the Danish cartoonist’ by a Pakistani imam - who was apparently unaware that there were twelve different Danish cartoonists, and almost certainly unaware that the three most offensive pictures had never appeared in Denmark at all (and, by the way, where was that million going to come from?). In Nigeria, Muslim protesters against the Danish cartoons burned down several Christian churches, and used machetes to attack and kill (black Nigerian) Christians in the streets. One Christian was put inside a rubber tyre, doused with petrol and set alight. Demonstrators were photographed in Britain bearing banners saying ‘Slay those who insult Islam’, ‘Butcher those who mock Islam’, ‘Europe you will pay: Demolition is on its way’ and ‘Behead those who insult Islam’. Fortunately, our political leaders were on hand to remind us that Islam is a religion of peace and mercy.

In the aftermath of all this, the journalist Andrew Mueller interviewed Britain’s leading ‘moderate’ Muslim, Sir Iqbal Sacranie. Moderate he may be by today’s Islamic standards, but in Andrew Mueller’s account he still stands by the remark he made when Salman Rushdie was condemned to death for writing a novel: ‘Death is perhaps too easy for him’ - a remark that sets him in ignominious contrast to his courageous predecessor as Britain’s most influential Muslim, the late Dr Zaki Badawi, who offered Salman Rushdie sanctuary in his own home. Sacranie told Mueller how concerned he was about the Danish cartoons. Mueller was concerned too, but for a different reason: ‘I am concerned that the ridiculous, disproportionate reaction to some unfunny sketches in an obscure Scandinavian newspaper may confirm that ... Islam and the west are fundamentally irreconcilable.’ Sacranie, on the other hand, praised British newspapers for not reprinting the cartoons, to which Mueller voiced the suspicion of most of the nation that ‘the restraint of British newspapers derived less from sensitivity to Muslim discontent than it did from a desire not to have their windows broken’.

Sacranie explained that ‘The person of the Prophet, peace be upon him, is revered so profoundly in the Muslim world, with a love and affection that cannot be explained in words. It goes beyond your parents, your loved ones, your children. That is part of the faith. There is also an Islamic teaching that one does not depict the Prophet.’ This rather assumes, as Mueller observed,

that the values of Islam trump anyone else’s – which is what any follower of Islam does assume, just as any follower of any religion believes that theirs is the sole way, truth and light. If people wish to love a 7th century preacher more than their own families, that’s up to them, but nobody else is obliged to take it seriously ...

Except that if you don’t take it seriously and accord it proper respect you are physically threatened, on a scale that no other religion has aspired to since the Middle Ages. One can’t help wondering why such violence is necessary, given that, as Mueller notes: ‘If any of you clowns are right about anything, the cartoonists are going to hell anyway - won’t that do? In the meantime, if you want to get excited about affronts to Muslims, read the Amnesty International reports on Syria and Saudi Arabia.’

Many people have noted the contrast between the hysterical ‘hurt’ professed by Muslims and the readiness with which Arab media publish stereotypical anti-Jewish cartoons. At a demonstration in Pakistan against the Danish cartoons, a woman in a black burka was photographed carrying a banner reading ‘God Bless Hitler’.

In response to all this frenzied pandemonium, decent liberal newspapers deplored the violence and made token noises about free speech. But at the same time they expressed ‘respect’ and ‘sympathy’ for the deep ‘offence’ and ‘hurt’ that Muslims had ‘suffered’. The ‘hurt’ and ‘suffering’ consisted, remember, not in any person enduring violence or real pain of any kind: nothing more than a few daubs of printing ink in a newspaper that nobody outside Denmark would ever have heard of but for a deliberate campaign of incitement to mayhem.

I am not in favour of offending or hurting anyone just for the sake of it. But I am intrigued and mystified by the disproportionate privileging of religion in our otherwise secular societies. All politicians must get used to disrespectful cartoons of their faces, and nobody riots in their defence. What is so special about religion that we grant it such uniquely privileged respect? As H. L. Mencken said: ‘We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.’

It is in the light of the unparalleled presumption of respect for religion that I make my own disclaimer for this book. I shall not go out of my way to offend, but nor shall I don kid gloves to handle religion any more gently than I would handle anything else.

Sunday June 03 2007

John Stossel:

How many times have you paid $1 for a cup of coffee and after the clerk said, “thank you,” you responded, “thank you”? There’s a wealth of economics wisdom in the weird double thank-you moment. Why does it happen? Because you want the coffee more than the buck, and the store wants the buck more than the coffee. Both of you win.

Well, coffee costs more than that in London, but the point stands.

Later:

“Fair trade” is code for protectionism disguised as retaliation against other countries that may or may not practice protectionism, and it’s a bad sign when even Republicans talk about “fair” rather than “free” trade.

We should practice free trade no matter what others do. Why? Because freedom is good in itself. If foreign governments want to hurt their citizens, it’s no reason for ours to hurt us.

Here endeth the lesson.  If you want more, there is more at the far end of the link.  This is the magic of the internet, among many other things.

Thank you to Amit Varma for telling me about this.  (And if he hears about this, he will perhaps say, albeit sotto voce: thank-you.) He got it from Café Hayek.  More magic.

Saturday June 02 2007

Billion Monkeys wanting to get dramatic scenery behind their loved ones are a constant source of instant sculpture for Billion Monkey me to snap.

Snapped yesterday, outside Westminster Abbey.  Here is what first got my attention:

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Which reminds me, somewhat, of this.  Although in that, you can see Venus’s face, in a mirror, which didn’t happen with my Venus.

Here’s what she was actually doing:

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Which is not quite so glamorous, but still not too bad, Billion Monkeywise.  Although, judging by the size of her lens, she could well be a Real Photographer.

Friday June 01 2007

Indeed:

Tata Motors (India) is all geared up to produce the first commercial car to be powered by compressed air, that has been designed by ex-Formula one engineer Guy Nègre. Named The City Cat, the car runs on compressed air that “can be refueled at “air stations,” and overnight using a built-in compressor.” It hits top speed at 68MPH and has a range of 125 miles.

So what powers the built-in compressor?  The energy for perfectly clean machines like this always eventually seems to come from smelly old dirty industrial-type processes, and if you do the sums for everything they’re not actually as clean as advertised.  Those propeller things they put in the sea, for instance, which capture the very wind itself in a process of apparently total environmental purity, still have to be made, at great expense, in energy consuming factories.  In the case of the CAT, how is the air compressed in the first place?  Plus, that compressed air engine still has to be manufactured.

Engadget makes similar points here, among others, such as: it looks ugly.  I think it looks rather nice.

Photo-ing the weather itself, the actual clouds, sunshine, rain, etc., is hard, and in my Billion Monkey experience best left to Real Photographers, who love to show off how good they are at, and why not?:

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This picture was composed out of 2 photos of the same scenery with different camera settings. So the detailed light dynamics of dark foreground and light background sky could be achieved.

This is a guy who doesn’t just point his Billion Monkey snapper, set on Auto, one handed, at whatever it is.  This is a guy who knows what a “camera setting” is, and who knows how to lie with Photoshop.  Or in this case, actually, how to tell something more like the truth about how it really looked to the human eye.  A Real Photographer, in other words.

The rest of us, meanwhile, should be concentrating on photo-ing whatever interesting things we find that are illuminated by the weather, in all the various ways in which that can happen.

The trouble with weather photography is that when the weather is interesting, and in particular when it is spectacular, we tend to notice it at the time.  So, when someone shows us a photo of it, we’ve kind of already seen it.  A rainbow picture?  Yeah, the last time I saw a rainbow I looked really carefully at it, and that’s pretty much how a rainbow looks.  After all, spectacular weather is pretty much similar everywhere, with a few exceptions like tornados, and most of us have seen pretty much all of it that there is to see.  Even the best weather photos tend to have that basic boringness of already having been seen.  Great weather works as a good background, but on its own, it is photographically insufficient.

A lot of the best photos, on the other hand, tend to consist of all those things which we do not notice at the time, or never saw in the first place because it’s a funny notice in a shop in Puerto Rico and we’ve never been anywhere near Puerto Rico, or funny little lighting effects on commonplace objects that you wouldn’t normally notice, or people doing odd little things, ditto.  When you see pretty girls like that doing such things for real, it soon stops and you don’t get time to enjoy it, and anyway, it’s rude to stare, so a photo is just what you want.  For a little while, anyway.  The weather, on the other hand, you can often stare at for hours, if you really want to.  Okay sometimes not, because it can be very changeable, but my point is, we’ve most of us already noticed it.

There is, however, at least one exception to this weather rule that I can now think of, whicht is caused by the fact that, often, photos are not at all like what you really see.  That photo above is clever, and a clever use of Photoshop, because the eye sees the bright bit and the dark bit of the scene equally clearly, adjusting as it scans.  But often photos are fun because they didn’t look a bit like that really.  Think of all those outdoor dark grey scenes which come out bright yellow and orange in the artificially lit bits and blue in the bits that were really grey.  One of the things I most like about photoing in low but basically outdoor light is how different the photos often are from reality, and how very much more appealing as often as not.  Provided they aren’t too blurry.

Here is another example of the snap looking nothing like it really looked, and in a good way, which I myself took a few days ago, with my cheap little Billion Monkey camera, set on Auto, albeit with two hands.  And it’s of the weather.  And, I really like it:

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Click to get it bigger.  This time, I’ve left the original at its maximum size (which was set on the camera one size below what should have been the real max by mistake, but no matter).

Now I can’t recall how that originally looked exactly, for real, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that it looked nothing at all like that. I couldn’t see the individual raindrops.  But because the raindrops were brightly back lit by the sun crashing down Victoria Street (which you can see bouncing off the taxi’s roof and forcing itself or not as the case may be through the leaves of the tree), the camera could, even my cheapo Billion Monkey camera.  But, it didn’t see them completely unblurred.  It saw them just a little bit blurred, and again, in a good way.  For real, I saw the rain in the foreground, and the buildings in the background, in other words, I hardly saw the buildings at all.  What the camera does is Photoshop the effects into one effect, so to speak.  It combines the blurry but individual raindrops with the buildings, to make one, utterly new effect that I never saw in the first place, because the human eyes - to be more exact the human eyes, plural - doesn’t/don’t work like that.  Because of the back lighting, which created a nice effect but an entirely different effect to the one you now see, I hoped that this might come out nicely, one way or another.  But when I came upon it back home on my computer for the first time, I gave a shout of joy.  It helps a lot that the buildings are interesting ones, especially the classical wonderfulness of Methodist Central Hall.

By the way, there is a fellow Billion Monkey to be seen, a lady Billion Monkey, very small, bottom left.  (UPDATE: No, actually I think she’s holding a water bottle, not a Billion Monkey Camera.)