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Sunday September 30 2007

imageimageAlthough distracted yesterday by demonstrations, my principle business in the Parliament Square area was, as usual, Billion Monkeys.  The evenings are closing in now and the late September light was fading, but we Billion Monkeys are not test match cricketers and bad light doesn’t stop us.  It doesn’t matter how blurry most of our snaps may be if we can get a couple more good ones before darkness dominates completely.

At the top right there are a couple of males of the species.  By the way, this is a first for me.  Not the pictures of Billion Monkey men doing weird Men things.  What’s new there?  No, I’m talking about two little pictures on the right of the text, instead of just the one.  That took a bit of fiddling and twiddling, I can tell you.  I’ll surely be doing that again plenty of times before I die.

And here are some Billion Monkey ladies, also photographed yesterday, in the same locality:


If you take a close look at the camera screen in that last picture, you can see she’s doing one of those Giant Dolly Next To Big Ben snaps that we Billion Monkeys often like to do.


And why not?  Big Ben doesn’t suffer.  My bet is she’s got a huge and ever-growing collection of “My Giant Dolly Next To ...” snaps, with a different Famous Landmark each time.  A blogger perhaps?

I have been reading Bill Bryson’s recently published short biography of Shakespeare, and I now flirt with the laws of copyright by reproducing a gob of it here.  As always with these longish book quotes that I reproduce here, any objections from author or publisher will result in instant removal.  But, I make no money with this blog, and I cannot believe that an excerpt like this one that follows could possibly do this book, its publishers, its author, or its sales, any harm.

Not much is known about the circumstances of Shakespeare’s birth, but plenty is known about the times that Shakespeare was born into and grew up in.  Even to grow up at all, in those days, you needed a big dose of luck, as Bryson explains (pp. 22-24):

William Shakespeare was born into a world that was short of people and struggled to keep those it had.  In 1564 England had a population of between three and five million - much less than three hundred years earlier, when plague began to take a continuous, heavy toll.  Now the number of living Britons was actually in retreat.  The previous decade had seen a fall in population nationally of about 6 per cent.  In London as many as a quarter of the citizenry may have perished.

But plague was only the beginning of England’s deathly woes.  The embattled populace also faced constant danger from tuberculosis, measles, rickets, scurvy, two types of smallpox (confluent and haemorrhagic), scrofula, dysentery, and a vast, amorphous array of fluxes and fevers - tertian fever, quartian fever, puerperal fever, ship’s fever, quotidian fever, spotted fever - as well as ‘frenzies’, ‘foul evils’ and other peculiar maladies of vague and numerous type.  These were, of course, no respecters of rank.  Queen Elizabeth herself was nearly carried off by smallpox in 1562, two years before William Shakespeare was born.

Even comparatively minor conditions - a kidney stone, an infected wound, a difficult childbirth - could quickly turn lethal.  Almost as dangerous as the ailments were the treatments meted out.  Victims were purged with gusto and bled till they fainted - hardly the sort of handling that would help a weakened constitution.  In such an age it was a rare child that knew all four of its grandparents.  Many of the exotic-sounding diseases of Shakespeare’s time are known to us by other names (their ship’s fever is our typhus, for instance), but some were mysteriously specific to the age.  One such was the ‘English sweat’, which had only recently abated after several murderous outbreaks. It was called ‘the scourge without dread’ because it was so startlingly swift: victims often sickened and died on the same day.  Fortunately many survived, and gradually the population acquired a collective immunity that drove the disease to extinction by the 1550s.  Leprosy, one of the great dreads of the Middle Ages, had likewise mercifully abated in recent years, never to return with vigour.  But no sooner had these perils vanished than another virulent fever, called ‘the new sickness’, swept through the country, killing tens of thousands in a series of outbreaks between 1556 and 1559.  Worse, these coincided with calamitous, starving harvests in 1555 and 1556. It was a literally dreadful age.

Plague, however, remained the darkest scourge.  Just under three months after William’s birth, the burials section of the parish register of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford bears the ominous words Hic incepit pestis, ‘Here begins plague’, beside the name of a boy named Oliver Gunne.  The outbreak of 1564 was a vicious one.  At least two hundred people died in Stratford, about ten times the normal rate.  Even in non-plague years, 16 per cent of infants perished in England; in this year, nearly two-thirds did.  One neighbour of the Shakespeare’s lost four children.  In a sense William Shakespeare’s greatest achievement in life wasn’t writing Hamlet or the sonnets but just surviving his first year.

Saturday September 29 2007

Like just about everyone else I hope for the triumph of virtue over vice in Burma.  Actually, so unanimous is almost everybody about which side is which that I harbour rebellious thoughts along the lines of the Evil Junta winning, just to spite Blue Peter and all its viewers, present and past.  But no, the virtuous side is indeed the virtuous side, and I hope they win.

Here is a photo I took today of a demo in Parliament Square by the Burmese Forces of Virtue.  What do we want?  Virtue!  When do we want it?  As soon as possible if not sooner, please.


Next to this demo was another demo, in the middle of which a shouty man with a microphone was shouting about the wickedness of the War on Terror.  The powers that be actually wanted 911, and in fact, they arranged it.  One of the many signs behind him said: “Stop the MUSLIM HOLOC AUST” complete with that gap between HOLOC and AUST.  Fine by me, but not in the way he meant.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he actually is on the side of vice in Burma.

Friday September 28 2007

My blog pause did somewhat diminish my appetite for taking pictures, but did not destroy it, so here are some recent snaps, all taken earlier this month.

First, here are four snaps all with a transport theme, because I like them, and because then I can link to them from Transport Blog.  Click to get them bigger.  The top two feature animals taking rides on tourist buses.  A lion (and that’s all the cats there’ll be here today), and a Billion Monkey.  Billion Monkeys are hard to photo on buses, because they lack the number one snappee virtue that most Billions Monkeys exhibit.  They don’t keep still unless the bus does.  And you generally have to think and move fast between spotting them and snapping them, or they’ll be away.  Nothing very special about this Billion Monkey snap, but it is one of the better ones I’ve done in the Billion Monkey on a Sightseeing Bus category.

The lion is the statue on the other side of Westminster Bridge from Parliament, on the left.  We Billion Monkeys often like to snap him with the Wheel, edge on, behind him.



Bottom left of these four is of the roof of Kings Cross railway station.  I regularly now walk through this station, on the way to my weekly stint of teaching in that locality. I’m guessing that the yellow glass is ancient, dating from the age of steam, but the white glass more recent.  If that’s wrong, expert corrective explanation of this pleasing effect would be most welcome.

And the double tandem bike machine is what you might call the ultimate homeless person’s bag.  Its owner paused to peruse Neil’s classical CD wagon in Lower Marsh when I was last there.  That’s him in the green woolly hat, his face conveniently hidden.  He likes organ music, he said, and yes he does have a CD player.  You can see it.  His remarkable vehicle was photographed by me with his permission, although I don’t know how he feels about Internet fame.  Focus is a bit dodgy, but you can see the essentials of how this remarkable contraption is put together.

Finally, a couple of artistic type shots.  The Billion Monkey lady is standing on the stone ramp down from Westminster Bridge to the Embankment on the other side of the road to the lion statue, opposite Parliament.  Small figure in larger landscape, etc..  I really like it.


And that Crane Clutter With Wheel is taken at the roundabout that this same road leads to, about a hundred yards inland, so to speak.  One hideous concrete monstrosity in the middle of the roundabout has just been demolished, and judging by the look of the pictures on the site boundary walls, another monstrosity will soon be replacing it.

Elena the Struggling Actress came by the other day with a fellow Struggling Actress, to borrow my computer for some printing out they needed, of a script I think.  Both have just completed their one year Struggling Actor course.

On observing all the CDs in my kitchen, the other Struggling Actress exclaimed:

“Oooooh!  It’s like some Character’s house.”

Meaning, for those who don’t immediately get it, I’m not a normal person.  I’m like a person in a play, of the sort they were only weeks ago diligently studying how to impersonate.  And my kitchen is like a stage set for a small Struggling Actor type play.

I missed this.  But Elena the Struggling Actress assures me that it was so.

Thursday September 27 2007

Stephen Green links back to this 2005 article about the abominable Che Guevara, of which these are the final paragraphs:


In the last few decades of the nineteenth century, Argentina had the second-highest growth rate in the world. By the 1890s, the real income of Argentine workers was greater than that of Swiss, German, and French workers. By 1928, that country had the twelfth-highest per capita GDP in the world. That achievement, which later generations would ruin, was in large measure due to Juan Bautista Alberdi.

Like Guevara, Alberdi liked to travel: he walked through the pampas and deserts from north to south at the age of fourteen, all the way to Buenos Aires. Like Guevara, Alberdi opposed a tyrant, Juan Manuel Rosas. Like Guevara, Alberdi got a chance to influence a revolutionary leader in power - Justo José de Urquiza, who toppled Rosas in 1852. And like Guevara, Alberdi represented the new government on world tours, and died abroad. But unlike the old and new darling of the left, Alberdi never killed a fly. His book, Bases y puntos de partida para la organización de la República Argentina, was the foundation of the Constitution of 1853 that limited government, opened trade, encouraged immigration, and secured property rights, thereby inaugurating a seventy-year period of astonishing prosperity. He did not meddle in the affairs of other nations, opposing his country’s war against Paraguay. His likeness does not adorn Mike Tyson’s abdomen.

Never heard of him, until today.  Don’t expect a Hollywood movie about this man any time soon.  (Another Guevara grovel is on its way.)

Proper readers of this blog come here every few days and just read it, here.  There are surely some communities for whom BrianMicklethwaitDotCom is the only window on the world that they feel they need.  (Current Events are overrated.) But some complicated people who understand the internet five years better than I do use something called an “RSS feed” either to come here or not to come here and instead read it all somewhere else without the picture of me and my camera and my CDs and my coffee jars.  And Patrick Crozier (who always answers the phone if he can) has something to tell us about that, here.  There’s more feed news in the posting below.  So: a good couple of days for RSS feed fiends at CrozierVision.

Wednesday September 26 2007

imageInternet wandering throws up constant good surprises.  For instance, until I chanced upon a photo of it taken by Jessica Duchen, I had no idea that there even was an American war memorial at St Nazaire, and I certainly didn’t know where it is (on the beach or out to sea depending on the tide) or how striking it is (very).

To me, the soldier on the top of it has a slightly female appearance, especially in this picture, a cropped version of which you see to your right, which was the only other goodish (albeit pinkish) photo of this remarkable object that I could find (although there are surely others out there at the fingertips of more skilled internetters than I).  Something to do with how his feet – his knees especially - are so close together, the cut of his trousers and the thinness of his waist.  Male Olympic speed skaters sometimes make a similarly feminine impression.  The way the soldier is holding that sword suggests religion rather than any kind of fight.

I’ve just found another photo of it here, this time with an ocean liner included.

Tuesday September 25 2007

I have finally got around to putting up my come-back at Samizdata.  It contains some definite profundities, I believe, and even a passing reference to Hamlet.

So I did do some blogging today, just not here.

Monday September 24 2007

If my Ruined Education Blog was not ruined I would be able to link you to individual postings in which, to general comment derision from fools, I asserted that robots will sooner or later transform child handling, by being nicer and more patient and of course massively cleverer than mere parents or teachers.  Education will thus be transformed.  Millions of tots will be taught quantum physics by their teddy bears.

So now, from engadget, hear this:

Apparently, not only will our robotic overlords be capable of crushing and / or dismembering us with their razor-like talons and arm-mounted machine guns, but they will also be able to perfectly mimic our oral movements when speaking. According to reports, researchers from the Tokyo University of Science and the Musashino Red Cross Hospital have created a robot capable of reproducing tongue and lower jaw movements associated with speech. The prototype—a model of the mouth—is able to perfectly copy the movements needed to produce vowel sounds. Using a silicon tongue, which is supported by three aluminum scaffolds and wired to eight pneumatic muscles, and a lower jaw which pivots on an axle, researchers are able to program the “mouth” with data based on magnetic resonance imaging. The next step, they say, is to create an artificial mouth which covers all movements (including consonants), allowing the bot to be used for speech therapy, foreign language training ... or the basis for Terminator heads.

To read the original piece that this is based on you have to have a “subscription” which obviously you won’t have and won’t want, so you’ll just have to take their word for it.

Via the Master Ephemerist, again, this:


The picture that the ME features is better of the rat, but I have my own priorities.

The economics of doing sculptures that will soon collapse or get engulfed by the tide, or pictures on the pavement that will soon be washed out or trampled over, have been transformed by digital photography.  Now, immortalising your transitory masterpiece is easy!

Bring on the 3D cameras.  And the 3D printers.  With that combination you could do a big sculpture, then make miniature copies of it.  And when the 3D printers get bigger, do a miniature sculpture, then redo it bigger.

The twenty first century.  Together, we can make it the best one yet.

Sunday September 23 2007

The Scotland New Zealand game on the telly now is ridiculous, and this BBC bloke agrees:

Ridiculous. These two kits are shockingly similar. If Scotland were wearing dark blue that would be fine, as it is there’s splashes of white and light blue all over the place. They’re both sporting dark shorts and dark socks as well.

Only the ref, in a bright orange top, is easily distinguishable.  New Zealand are otherwise known as the All Blacks.  Why weren’t they that this afternoon?  Whoever was responsible for this idiocy is: an idiot.  As BBC commenter says:

I couldn’t make out who or what was going on with those strips. This is not Melrose 3rd XV in a hastily arranged friendly in front of three people and a dog - it’s the World Cup!


The New Zealand Partly Grays And Partly Blues are, of course, walking it.


The only thing that seems likely is that a showdown of some kind is coming, either between factions in Iran or between Iran and the rest of the world. Predictions of the regime’s imminent demise have been staples of Iranian expat and activist discourse for years, so it’s hard to take the latest predictions seriously. But authoritarian regimes increasingly seem to have limited shelf lives. As Francis Fukuyama’s flawed but compelling book The End of History points out, there has been a worldwide explosion of liberal democracies since the 18th century, from three in 1790 to 36 in 1960 to 61 in 1990. (In 2006 Freedom House classified 148 nations as free or partly free.) History isn’t over and never will be, but it hasn’t been kind to dictatorships lately.

The Iranian state is soft and vulnerable compared with the worst abusers out there, and it constantly faces resistance from citizens. Something will give.

Hope so.

And here’s another comment (see below), on this:

That’s the trouble with the LibDems: they have genuine liberals in their ranks, and they have socialists. But they all think they’re liberals, and the socialists always win.

Which sums up pretty very well why I don’t like the Lib Dems.

But then comes stuff like this:

The Liberal Democrat leadership yesterday unveiled a shift in education policy by urging members to support the injection of more choice into secondary admissions and make it easier for independent schools to enter the state system.

David Laws, the schools spokesman courted by Conservatives, told the Lib Dem conference in Brighton that it was not enough to want a “good local school in every neighbourhood”. That, he said, “is an excellent aspiration - it is not a policy”.One MP described the speech by Mr Laws as a major departure in the party’s policy.

The Liberal Democrats have long been popular with pro-comprehensive campaigners as both Labour and Tories have pushed for a more diverse, fractured system, where local authority influence is kept to a minimum. Mr Laws’ proposals move the party closer to their direction.

“Choice is not a dirty word: it is one of the essential freedoms in a liberal society. And it is the liberal way of promoting real diversity, innovation, and higher standards,” he told delegates.  He said he wanted to make it easier for independent and new schools to come into the state system, outside the local authority umbrella, provided the schools accepted standard admissions policies and minimum curriculum standards. Local authorities would have powers to add to national funding for schools, provided they handed out the money equally to schools in their area. All schools should be given the right to innovate in the curriculum, away from interference by Whitehall. Some delegates had been reassured by Mr Laws’ performance at a fringe meeting on Monday.

But the proposals, not yet party policy, are still likely to trouble some party members.  . . .

Which is something, I suppose.  Choice is indeed a fine thing, like the man says.  But personally I wouldn’t regard this one step forward – “choice” - one step back - “new schools to come into the state system . . . provided the schools accepted standard admissions policies” - scenario as worth a lifetime of getting people to vote for other people whom you seventy percent or thereabouts don’t agree with.

Educationally, what I support is a totally “fractured” system, where local authority and for that matter national government influence is pretty much zero, i.e. confined to things like punishing murders that happen in schools.

The admissions policy for all schools should be that they shouldn’t have to accept anybody they don’t want, and can pick the ones they do want on any basis they like, provided only that the ones they do want also want to be there.  It’s called freedom of association.

That would be liberal.

Saturday September 22 2007

My Cunning Plan of very early this morning worked.  In that posting (you’ll have to scroll down a bit if you really care about re-reading this bit) I told The Universe that I wanted England to lose, so that I could get some blogging done in an effort to cheer myself up.  Accordingly, The Universe arranged for England to win.  Hah!  Call yourself The Universe?  And you can’t you see through a trick like that?

Interesting to compare the score with the same contest four years back.  Then: England 35 Samoa 22.  Today: England 44 Samoa 22.  The Samoans must be going soft.

So, I didn’t finish that Samizdata posting this afternoon, and just as I was about to get stuck into it yet again, the phone rang to remind me of a dinner invite for this evening that I had entirely forgotten about.  Lucky it’s only blogging.

Okay, so, hear this, The Universe.  I want England to win all their games from now on. (The Cunning Plan this time is that The Universe will think I’m only saying that, and that I really want England to lose, so that I can get seriously back into blogging, here there and everywhere.  And it will arrange for England to win the World Cup just to spite me.)

You probably think that this posting has been trivial.  But actually it has been a profound essay concerning sports fan psychology.  Oh yes.

A fine source of blog postings is comments or bits of comments that you find on other blogs.  They are often excellent, but people who would enjoy them a lot often miss them, even if they do read the posting being commented upon.


WiFi is the second most important thing for me in a hotel, after a bed.

That’s Michael J, commenting on this, which is about a hotel with free WiFi.  MJ goes on to explain why posh hotels often do charge extra for WiFi, even though they shouldn’t.  Because they can, basically.  Expense accounts.

Alice says:

Even our dentist has free wifi now, and he’s out in the country 15 minutes from Austin. It’s not that hard to do! What is wrong with people. Honestly.

Alas, everything is hard to do if you don’t know how to do it.  Just as everything is easy to do if you do.

Anyway, I’ve added a new category.  And oh look, Jackie also quotes me recycling another choice comment.

imageI still have much unfinished Billion Monkey business to deal with here, Billion Monkeys Holding Bags In Front Of Their Faces, Interesting Billion Monkey Men, Billion Monkeys Holding Two Cameras, Billion Monkeys Holding Onto Their London Guide Books, Billion Monkeys Wearing Gloves, Billion Monkeys Smoking, there’s just so much to show you, although I promise nothing.  Each collection will involve much work, so in the meantime here is a Billion Monkey Photoing Himself In A Robot Head.  He looks vaguely like he could be me, with his sticking out gray looking hair.  But he’s not.

Until today the name Alisher Usmanov meant nothing to me, although it should have meant something, because I actually met Craig Murray some weeks ago, at a small off-off-West-End theatrical performance which we both happened to attend.  And I think I promised to look at his blog and comment about it, here and there, at no particular time but some time.  But now, for the time being anyway, it seems that, thanks to Alisher Usmanov, I can’t.  Boris Johnson’s blog has also been removed by the same webhosting service as served Craig Murray.  The Boris Johnson angle is already causing this story to get mainstream media publicity.

As for the big beast bloggers in my part of the blog-jungle, Iain Dale already posted, featuring an email from Murray, and the conclusion that commenter after commenter has invited us all to reach is: get your blog hosted in America, not here.  Guido will surely agree with that, as and when he gets around to saying what he has to say about this, as he surely will.  He’d look ludicrous if he didn’t.

Sadly, I have just swapped my USA hosting service for a British one.  This furore makes me rather regret this.  And it also just made me wonder if it was a clever thing to say that.  Maybe not.  What a world.

Anyway, I hope that Alisher Usmanov is now starting to regret the shitstorm that he and his ghastly lawyers have stirred up around him.  If he doesn’t regret it, then I hope the shitstorm gathers strength until he does, if only because it will make it that much harder for him to take over Arsenal, and then to run it without derision and loathing from all sides.

Until yesterday, Craig Murray was a rather minor operator.  He is now a somewhat bigger force in the world.  He is now well known as someone who has good reasons for thinking that Usmanov is a crook.  Even if Usmanov and his lawyers say they never meant to shut Boris down, the Craig Murray problem won’t now go away.  He has been silenced on the internet, for the time being.  But his silence now, complete with his email at Iain Dale’s, is surely noisier than anything he has ever contrived before.

This posting is me trying to do my bit to reinforce this effect.  My thanks to Mark Holland, because it was this posting of his which first told me about all this.  Stampede?  What stampede?  Mark Holland is rather more flip and skeptical about it all than I find myself being.  Don’t care, he told me about it.  I’m still on a bit of a holiday from current affairs.

Today (this is the small hours of Saturday morning and I refer to the larger ones) I really want to get back into the swim at Samizdata.  My first posting there will be me just saying: I’m back, this is why I was away, etc..  But if nothing gets said at Samizdata (which is hosted in America by the way) about all this, then I’ll try to say something.  Yeah, yeah, I promise nothing.  But actually, this time, I sort of do promise something.  Wish me, not luck, but diligence.  There’s a decent chance I’ll manage something.  My fridge is full, so no need for further shopping.  If the weather remains dull, there will be no temptation to spend hours out Billion Monkey hunting.  And England’s rugby team will probably take a beating tomorrow afternoon from the Samoans.  This will keep me at home, but I’ll need to accomplish something personal to take my mind off it.  Just doing the washing up won’t suffice, something tells me.  The Samoans win?  Why not?  They came quite close against England last time around, and England went on to win the entire thing.  Have the Samoans got worse?  Not that I can see.  Have England got worse?  Yes, a lot. So, I believe I will be blogging busily tomorrow.

But, before I put anything up at Samizdata, I’ll run it by Perry, just to be sure he has no worries about me doing this.  And, to make sure he isn’t about to post something too.

Friday September 21 2007

imageI don’t know who philips is or where he got this picture which he has at his website, blog etc., but I love it.  I found it while checking out this posting of his about a Frank Zappa sculpture in Vilnius, linked to by David Thompson.  Got a month coming up with nothing booked and no ideas for what to do in it?  Here you go.

If, this being Friday, you came here looking particularly for cats, cats and more cats, and if, in addition to cat cats, what you particularly want is polecats or wildcats, go here and, for more snaps in the same place and the same day by the same guy, here.

Patrick Crozier has helped me a lot with my blog, changing it from green to purple, changing the links from thin and underlined to thick and non-underlined.  Tricky stuff I’m sure you’ll agree.  He also helped with the profound issues behind the outage, which really was tricky by any reckoning.  So a while ago I gave him some money, just to be getting along with and to keep him on my side and so on and so forth.  But he seems to have misunderstood his obligations.  Ever since I did that he has been copiously linking to old Libertarian Alliance writings of mine, in among token links to stuff by others, LA and not-LA.  Most of what I write here is mere libbo-babble by comparison, and libbo-neutral trivia of course, compared to my old LA stuff.  So if you want more relentlessly argued libbo stuff by me, try following some of the links here, or here.

Of the non-LA stuff linked to, I particularly liked Wouldn’t you feel safer with a gun? by Richard Munday in the Times Online.

Even if you only use guns for sport, you are a fool if you defend gun ownership only on sporting grounds, with the “guns shot at targets and only for sport won’t do any harm” argument.  For if you leave uncontested the claim that widespread legal gun ownership does do harm, then you also leave unscathed the claim that widespread sporting gun ownership will do some harm.  Not much, because it is so well controlled, blah blah, but some.  It’s elementary economics.  It will make some difference, and it will be suppressed.  Which is what has happened.  The only way to defend widespread legal gun ownership, whatever your reasons for wanting it, is to explain that it mostly does good.  Personally I don’t give a damn about shooting as a sport, but definitely want it allowed because the more people own guns, the fewer crimes there will be.

See also, in this connection, one of favourite not-by-me LA pieces entitled How Gun Control “Worked” in Jamaica, as in ruined it, also linked to by Patrick.

Thursday September 20 2007

Busy day visiting family.  So, before I forget them - i.e. forget what follows, not forget my family - and because I like pylons, a quota link to some pylon pictures with a difference, which I spotted during my recent blog outage.  This, I think, is one of the best:


From now on when I see pylons, I will be looking to see if I can stand exactly under one of them.  And if I can, I will want my camera with me.

Wednesday September 19 2007

This is a Times Online piece about a Dutch ex-Muslim who is trying to establish that ex-Muslims shouldn’t be murdered.  The comments are numerous.

I particularly liked this one, for its delightful combination of primitive malevolence and sweet reason.  As they say in American, is this guy for real?

I believe Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation and all who reject Him will spend eternity in hell fire. But one cannot be made to receive Jesus Christ, it is a personal choice to give one’s heart and life to Jesus.

Rev Spitz, Davis, New York

And that really is the point.  The rule of civilisation is not that everything you believe has to be civilised.  It is merely that you mustn’t force others to believe it.  All you may do is ask.

Tuesday September 18 2007

Do you want to change your teeth from yellow to purpley-pink?  Go here.

This, I think, is the key paragraph:

It is not so much a question of what is forbidden and what is permitted so much as it is a question of who gets to decide.

Read the rest of it here, preferably all of it.  (Via Instapundit.)

Something for this perhaps?  (See also: this.)

This article is a classic case of an “I’m not a libertarian but . . .” piece, where he starts by saying he doesn’t like to call himself a libertarian, but from then on emits libertarianism to perfection.  I remember conversations with Chris Tame to the effect that when this started happening, we’d be winning.  Hope so. 

I wonder what the exact story is here:

Aerobatics team the Red Arrows has moved to scotch rumours that it has been banned from performing at the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony.

A national newspaper and numerous websites have reported that event organisers believe the Lincolnshire-based team’s military background “might offend other nations”.

It is alleged that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport ruled last week that the RAF Scampton squad is “unsuitable” and “not in keeping with the event as they were too militaristically British”.

But team spokesman Rachel Huxford said: “We have had no discussions about the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics whatsoever.

Probably kite flying by someone, maybe at the Dept of Blah Blah to find out if they could make the decisions quietly stick, or maybe by some “political correctness gone mad” obsessive.  Or maybe the DBB really had decided this, but the Red Arrows are playing it clever by publicising the decision while simultaneously saying they know nothing about it.  Maybe there were indeed “no discussions”, and they were just told, either face-to-face or by a secret sympathiser.  The sad truth being that if this was only a made-up rumour, it was believable.

My reason for being interested in flying displays is that I would like to photo them.  I especially like that thing when you follow the plane with your camera, and get the plane reasonably in focus but nearby buildings all blurry.  I live in London where plenty of flypasts happen, but I usually only realise that they are happening when they roar past my kitchen window with me still in my pyjamas, and then I see them on the TV news.

So, is there any way of learning about flypasts and flying displays over London beforehand, so I can scrub up, dress, go out, and snap them?  The roof of my block of flats would be as good a spot as any.

Speaking of flypasts, here is another horizontalised picture, from here:


And Mark didn’t just see a flypast.  He saw a crash.  Sort of, any way.  He didn’t actually see it hit the ground, but he saw it going downwards and he saw the plume of smoke afterwards.  I know, very sad, tragic loss, terrific guy, great father, family devastated but slowly coming to terms with it.  Like he says: Bummer.  But also, and given that it happened anyway: [verysmallletters]cool[/verysmallletters].  I remember when a DH110 crashed at Farnborough when I was four, and I think me and my family had actually been there either the day before it happened or the day after.  That was cool too, and it would have been even cooler if we’d been there the right day and seen it, or just heard a bang and seen smoke.  And not been killed of course.  Because let’s face it, part of the appeal of fly-pasts, aerial displays etc., as with concertos heard live, is: Will anything go wrong?  And now: And if it does, will I get any of it on my camera?

Passenger airplane crashes are not cool in any way at all, even slightly, because they are transport, like buses.  There is no element of sport or risk or showing off involved in a airliner disaster, or there shouldn’t be, so it’s pure badness when things go wrong.  (But it is still cool if you manage to photo any of it.)

Monday September 17 2007

Routine old-school media grumbling from Robert McCrum about blogging:

Yet the democracy of the web is in danger of becoming a cacophonous nightmare. For every carefully crafted, thoughtful expression of opinion, there are a score of half-baked rants: ignorant, bilious, semi-literate and depressing.

Which is literate, I suppose, but bilious.  “… [I]s in danger of becoming” sounds to me like he knows he’s talking tripe or he’d have said “has become”, and whether he knows it or not, he is talking tripe.  The mere facts are true, sort of.  There are a lot of crappy blogs, although we’ll never all agree about which ones they are.  But the interpretation is insane.  This is what people said about the damn printing press for goodness sakes.  And would you judge the significance of telephones as if you were compelled to listen to every damn thing said on them?  Blogs are not like all the city idiots in the world shouting into all the mobiles in the world, in just the one train carriage.  Blogs are not “cacophonous”.  You read blogs one at a time or not at all, on a purely voluntary basis.

Plus I’m starting to get rather tired of people quoting Orwell’s Politics and the English Language.  One day, I want to fisk that.

Sunday September 16 2007

It’s always good when two of your already favourite people get to know and like one another.  So I enjoyed it when Bruce The Real Photographer did one of his dinner parties (he is a brilliant cook – good enough to be a Real Chef), and besides me there was, also present: Adriana.  They’d met before but never really connected properly.  Today I finally got around to sending Adriana the link which I then promised her to the Bruce The Real Photographer posting that I did here, which has lots of his best photos on show in diminished .jpg form, but nevertheless good enough to give you an idea of how really good Bruce the Real Photographer really is.  And I thought, if I’m sending this link to Adriana, why not remind others of this posting, such as people who read this blog now, but didn’t when I first did it?

Bruce The Real Photographer has been snapped hard by the jaws of two trends.  First, the rise of the Good Enough Real Photographer, who knows no photographic physics or photographic chemistry, but who, thanks to digital SLRs, can do seventy percent decent photos.  (Bruce talked with me about that on the mp3 conversation we did.) And second, the decline of advertising, caused by blogging etc. concerning which Adriana is an expert.  Bruce is absolutely not the only Real Photographer who is now obliged to earn a living by other means.

So, multi-talented Bruce is now, also, in between photographic assignments and cordon bleu cookery sessions, a posh minicab driver for Exclusive Clients, and the way he tells it he is now getting seriously good at that also.  He is, in particular, rapidly mastering the art of instructing his passengers in how to do their jobs.  So for instance, not long ago he had that Rob Andrew is the back of his posh minicab.  (Rob Andrew used to be an English rugby (union) international and is now a big English rugby administrative cheese.) So Bruce told Rob Andrew all about his (Bruce’s) theory that rugby (union) has too many people involved to fit on the pitch.  Either make the pitches bigger, said Bruce, which you can’t really do, said Bruce, or else cut down the number of players.  Interesting idea, said Rob Andrew, or words to that effect.  Well, what else could the poor bastard say?

Being an big English rugby (union) administrative cheese is, one way and another, not a lot of fun just now.

Here is a Bruce Nicoll photograph, which lends itself well to being horizontalised:


Click to get the proper picture.  It’s this.  Note how the photo there has only one Docklands Tower.  Or, if you don’t want to, don’t.

Maybe you have already clocked this posting by Adriana, which links to and quotes from an excellent Paul Graham essay about how it really doesn’t matter very much which college you went to.  But maybe you didn’t get around to reading this comment, from Alice BS:

With the internet’s capability of teaching critical and thinking skills, universities are surely only needed to point to/provide informational knowledge unavailable online - I don’t see how this can last economically once people realise that 3 or 4 of their most active years and many thousands of dollars are providing so little value.

I also think it’s going to be very exciting to see what young people come up with when they reject college - they will still want to network with other young people, share educational experiences, learn the culture and learn about business - not just work work work. They will be doing all this online and in person.

That is the best answer I have yet encountered to the question I kept asking myself when last I was an edublogger: What will be the educational impact of the Internet?  Answer: It will denationalise higher education.  I do hope so.  And then maybe lower education too?

More educational stuff, of the kind I will be linking to at Brian Micklethwait’s Education Blog when/if it ever gets going, here.

Saturday September 15 2007

I duly did my Gabb talk last night, and although I told Sean himself that I might record it, my preparations were so hasty that in the end I just couldn’t force myself to do this.  These however, were the main points I made:

Conservatives and Conservatism.  Conservatives always lose.  It’s in their nature.  By their nature they tend to confuse universal ideas, which often have great validity, with particular embodiments of such ideas, which are doomed to pass, along with less worthy enthusiasms for the merely antique.  Thus Conservatives have a tendency to take good ideas with them into the dustbin of history.  For me, always, libertarianism has been about rescuing libertarianism from Conservatives rather than allying with them, and perpetuating the muddle and the failure.  The subtitle of Sean Gabb’s book, How Conservatives Lost England, and How To Get It Back, makes it clear that he is indeed in alliance with Conservatives, some of them anyway.  But not the mere Conservative Party, which he now despises.  What Gabb says about the Conservative Party being useless is all good, but frankly most of it applies also to Conservatives generally, if they really are conservative Conservatives (see below).

I wasn’t challenged much on the above, but could have added that treating Conservatives as useless in no way seems to prevent many people who call themselves Conservatives from joining whatever libertarian choruses we are singing.  Why?  Because they too were always libertarians first, and “Conservative” purely as a label of tactical convenience.

Class war and class analysis.  To me there is something very off-putting and contradictory about “libertarian class analysis”, and talking about an “enemy class”.  Class analysis is inherently collectivist, I think.  You are reducing individuals to the level of indistinguishable footsoldiers in an army, ignoring all the subtleties and mixtures in their thinking, and sounds like you’ve given up on ever persuading them of anything.  It may make for good knockabout stuff for the entertainment of powerless third parties, who are not being treated as members of the “enemy class”.  But if your thinking is thus dominated you constantly alienate individuals whom you ought to be seeking to influence and even convert.  (Antoine Clarke, sitting beside me on the Evans sofa and chairing the meeting, reinforced this particular point strongly.)

Grand theory combined with tactical opportunism.  That’s what I believe in, rather than wasting very much time dreaming about the in-between matter of how it all might happen.  Leave that to politicians to sort out, either because they believe in doing libertarianism, or because libertarianism has become irresistible and obviously necessary, perhaps because of some kind of crisis.  It’s not that such dreams are idle, merely that they shouldn’t loom too large.  Instead we should think our big thoughts, write our big writings, and seize whatever chances come our way to spread all this in all possible directions, as and when.

In connection with the virtue of tactical opportunism, I mentioned the success of the Adam Smith Institute in the eighties and nineties.  Plus I also boasted, yet again and at rather undignified length, about my Libertarian Alliance pamphleteering activities before the internet made such pamphleteering easy and obvious.  And now there is blogging, which has created a whole new world of opportunities for libertarians, as for all other opinion mongers.

Quite a lot more was said that I haven’t the time to mention now.  Chris Tame, for instance, loomed large in the conversation, because of the influence that he had on the lives both of me and of Sean Gabb.

I want to emphasise that although Sean Gabb often makes what I consider to be mistakes of emphasis, he is himself the embodiment of many of the virtues that I most prize in a libertarian activist, seizing the opportunities presented by the internet, and generally writing beautifully, interestingly, and a lot.  I ended by reading out the whole of a recent Libertarian Alliance press release of his, starting with the heading that one of the Little Man What Now-ers gave it, the Best Press Release Ever.  (She liked it too.) Actually I don’t think it was perfect.  Kudos to Sean for naming himself as the person saying most of what it says, but then he switches at the end to “the Libertarian Alliance says” mode, and then, after a few excellent statements of libertarian principle about which we’d all agree he then reverts to writing more Gabb.  Very choice Gabb, but still Gabb.

For me the highlight of last night was meeting with a new potential member of the libertarian movement, by the sound of him, potentially, a highly talented one.  We traded early conversational blows on the topic of the J. S. Mill harm principle, the consent principle (absolutely not the same as the harm principle and as good as the harm principle is bad being what I said), before and after my talk and later in a nearby pub.  He displayed that vital libertarian activist quality of relishing a good argument.  His big question was: What can we do?  My answer: Join the movement.  I scribbled out half a page of emails and blog urls.  Connecting with people is so much easier than it used to be.  When I speak of taking opportunities, this is the kind of thing I mean.

Friday September 14 2007

I nearly forgot that this is Friday and so a cat blogging day, here as in so many other places.

What is the point of sudden photographs of animals on political blogs? I think they are an important change of pace and a reminder to be in touch with all things which fundamentally matter: the trees, the animals the rocks, the rain, the sun. We are animals ourselves, whatever the wingnuts wish for, and we need to stay grounded. Besides, the pictures are calming and cheering and often funny. And a way to signal that the weekend is coming.

Personally I think that there are other important things besides trees, animals, rocks, rain and sun.  New gadgets, for instance.  But I like that quote nevertheless.

For me the point of cat blogging is to remind everyone here, just in case they ever needed reminding, that I blog (here) to please myself, and that, in general, there is more, much more, to blogging than merely shouting abuse at powerful people.  I like cats, so I have pictures of them and chitchat about them (here).  I cat blog because cat blogging seems to annoy a certain sort of complainer about blogging so very much.  Cat blogging signifies, for me, that these complainers are no longer in any way whatsoever in charge of what people now read and write to and for one another.  Shouting abuse at power makes power of a certain kind feel even more important.  Cat blogging puts such power in its place.  Cat blogging is about pleasure, rather than mere power.

So, a public service photo, although not a very pleasurable one this time from the cat point of view, taken in Twickenham a few hours before the one below of the crazy guitarist:


Is it true that castrating cats causes them to live longer?  If so, is it merely because castrated cats get into fewer fights and scrapes?

I am giving a talk this evening, at rather short notice, chez Tim Evans’s parents in Putney, on the subject of one of Sean Gabb’s books, the one called Cultural Revolution, Culture War: How Conservatives Lost England, and How to Get It Back.

So, since I don’t want to have to worry about blogging today, here is a photograph, slightly cropped to remove extraneous river clutter, which I took in July, of a musician:


Oh dear.  I’ve only been back blogging for two days, and already I am posting quota photos.

Thursday September 13 2007

Not really.  But commiserations, so to speak, to all those who thought that this blog, or even I, might have died for real.

The length of the pause was caused by me taking the opportunity of it to rearrange my hosting arrangements, and that took longer than I hoped.  My Guru is a good man to have on your side when you are top of his To Do list, but if someone else is at the top of that list, well, there is delay.  But all should now be well, and I will now resume posting here whatever I feel like posting here, probably every day.

I say probably because one of my slogans here is: I promise nothing.  But there is a further reason to guess that posting here may soon become a little more intermittent than it tended to be before this latest pause, which is that I intend, soon, finally, to resume education blogging.  This time my education blog will be called Brian Micklethwait’s Education Blog, if only to distinguish it from the previous effort, the ruins of which are such that they are still better not linked to directly.  If you want to know more about that sad story, try reading this.

The new education blog explains the colour change here.  Brian Micklethwait’s Education Blog will be identical in format to here, but will use the old green, which to me suggests green boards and seems educational.  The new picture at the top here is because I felt like having a new picture at the top here.  (I never did work out how to make a picture more purple than it was to begin with, but the above picture is rather purple already.) I will concoct another new picture, an educational one, for Brian Micklethwait’s Education Blog.

Since the look and organisation of this blog is about to be duplicated elsewhere, now would be a good time for people to say what they think is wrong with the way this blog now looks and is organised.  I promise nothing, so I don’t promise to act on all or even any such criticisms.  But provided they aren’t too long or too mad, I will read them, and some changes, to this blog and thus also to the new one, may result.