Brian Micklethwait's Blog

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

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Wednesday April 30 2008

Amit Varma calls this the WTF quote of the day:

The bold new face of modern India now stands exposed as hollow following the slapping drama starring Harbhajan Singh and S Sreesanth.

imageVarma found that here.  Says he:

Both cricket and India are far too complex and nuanced to be captured in such lazy clichés. No?

Well, not quite.  This is indeed a lazy Indian journo stirring it hysterically by being contrarian about the IPL.  But I think that the IPL is indeed India showing a new face to the world.  But one IPL cricketer slapping another IPL cricketer is all part of the drama, along with Gilchrist hitting a century in 42 balls.  I’m not saying I’m in favour of cricketers slapping one another, and I agree with Harbhajan being punished.  It’s just that the bigger IPL story is how great it is.

In other sports news, what does it take to eject an English club from the Champion’s League?  Answer: another English club.  (Seriously.  London Arsenal were ejected by Liverpool, Now Liverpool have been ejected by London Chelsea.  In the final, either London Chelsea will lose to Man U or Man U will lose to London Chelsea.) Patrick Crozier ((London?) Watford) and I (London Spurs) watched the first half of tonight’s London Chelsea v Liverpool game in a pub near me, after doing a podcast.  London Chelsea were leading 1-0 at half time, which for them would have been sufficient.  That’s probably all the drama there’ll be, we said, as we left.

It’s amazing what they can do with pixie dust nowadays:

How? Well that’s the truly remarkable part. It wasn’t a transplant. Mr Spievak re-grew his finger tip. He used a powder - or pixie dust as he sometimes refers to it while telling his story.

Mr Speivak’s brother Alan - who was working in the field of regenerative medicine - sent him the powder.

For ten days Mr Spievak put a little on his finger.

“The second time I put it on I already could see growth. Each day it was up further. Finally it closed up and was a finger.

“It took about four weeks before it was sealed.”

Now he says he has “complete feeling, complete movement.”

The “pixie dust” comes from the University of Pittsburgh, though in the lab Dr Stephen Badylak prefers to call it extra cellular matrix.

It comes from the lining of a pig’s bladder, apparently.

If they can perfect the technique, it might mean one day they could repair not just a severed finger, but severely burnt skin, or even damaged organs.

It reminds me of a story I recall reading as a child, about the Apples of Youth.

Tuesday April 29 2008

I recall writing once about how our Mum used to take us on buses when we were small to expose us to lower class germs and build up our immune systems.  Various bloggers and friends quoted this because, I don’t know, they thought it was funny or something.

Well now, scientists have discovered – so it must be true – that the same principle applies with dogs:

Children run less risk of being sensitive to allergens if there is a dog in the house in the early years of their lives, scientists have found.

The conclusion, based on a six-year study of 9,000 children, adds weight to the theory that growing up with a pet trains the immune system to be less sensitive to potential triggers for allergies such as asthma, eczema and hay fever.

Imagine what it would be like to live, when young, with a lower class dog.  Not even the Black Death could touch you.

Monday April 28 2008

As regulars here know, bridges are a big deal here, so the biggest story in Italy just now, from the point of view of this blog, is the plan to build a huge, huge suspension bridge across the Strait of Messina.

Apparently Mr Berlusconi, Italy’s recently victorious Prime Minister or President or whatever it is, had this to say about the Messina Bridge:

He said that work on his pet grand projet, the planned suspension bridge over the Strait of Messina to Sicily, cancelled by Romano Prodi’s government, would resume without delay.

To quote Wikipedia about this bidge, under the heading Controversy and concerns (so take with pinch of salt):

There are concerns about the role of the local mafia.  It is feared that organised criminals obtain a monopoly on construction contracts by intimidating competitors and bribing local officials and then overcharging for the work, generating large profits.

Many also question the priority of the bridge, since some towns in Sicily are still without running water, and claim that the money used for the bridge would be better spent elsewhere.

There are also those who claim that the bridge would be totally unnecessary, since the local economy is already providing for the conversion of a local former NATO airport into a commercial terminal to export vegetables to northern Europe.  Alternatively, a much cheaper revamping of the current structures is claimed to be sufficient (for instance, the ferry lines on the Calabria side are now accessible by trucks only by driving through very narrow streets, which are a tight bottleneck for transport).

Finally, there are concerns about the environmental impact of the bridge, its actual feasibility, and whether it could resist earthquakes, not uncommon in the region.

Well quite so.  I’m sure that if this thing does ever gets built it will be a huge political bribe of some kind.  But most bribes don’t look nearly as good as this one will.  If they do build it.  And assuming it stays up.

Sunday April 27 2008

imageAnother excellent addition to the Billion Monkeys Flashing collection.  And she’s carrying a big bag.  And she’s holding another camera besides the one she’s using.  And she crouching down with the best of all those in the Billion Monkeys Crouching archive.  Tick tick tick tick.  Taken yesterday.  Click for the bigger picture.

And, I’ve just remembered, I want to do a collection of Billion Monkey pictures which do not violate anyone’s privacy, for exposure on such places as Flickr.  Tick tick tick tick tick.

(And here.) It’s not compulsory.  You can do a blog any way you like.  But, it’s easier:

One of the things that holds me back from waking up this blog is the feeling that any post that comes after a long silence ought to be important.

I know that feeling, and I don’t like it.  If you want something by moi that is deep, try this.  Or this.

See what I mean about easier?

Mark Steyn is always going on about how the EU is failing to reproduce.  Maybe he can make some use of this, which I found on page 3 of this (linked to this weekend by Arts & Letter Daily):

Eusocial species (termites, ants, wasps, naked mole rats, and others) live in large colonies in which many individuals forego reproduction to assist a single queen. Mr. Wilson’s classic 1975 book “Sociobiology” attributed eusociality to the close genetic relationship along the colony members. But careful observations have since shown that sterile workers cannot recognize each other, much less base their behavior on fine calculations of relatedness - a finding suggesting that the broader mechanism of group selection, rather than the more direct kin selection, was responsible. Mr. Wilson now suggests that eusocial behavior evolves in rare species that have the flexibility to be reproductive or not, and that live in circumstances inhibiting the dispersal of nests. Once forced to live together rather than founding new colonies, species preadapted to cooperation successfully adopt eusociality precisely because it is evolutionarily advantageous.

Well, Steyn wouldn’t want all of that, ending as it does with the claim that “eusociality” is “evolutionarily advantageous”, his whole point being that eusociality of the sort he observes is not evolutionarily advantageous.  But, if he dug around a bit, he would find nuggets, I think.

I particularly like bit about “circumstances inhibiting the dispersal of nests”.  That sums up the European situation from WW2 onwards very well.

Saturday April 26 2008

Amit Varma quotes Nick Hornby saying that reading should be fun.  Should.

Every time people force themselves to carry on with a book they’re not enjoying, they reinforce the idea that reading is a duty.

Varma adds:

So if you’re in the middle of reading a tedious book that seems more like a chore than a joy, put it aside. Read this blog instead. Let India Uncut be your guilty pleasure!

You can’t help suspecting, though, that Varma and Hornby both do still see reading as a duty, and they are merely looking for ways to fulfill this duty not so much with the maximum of fun as with the minimum of pain.  Pleasure is still a bonus, rather than the entire purpose of the thing.  When they do finish a book, they feel just that little bit smug, even if they didn’t always enjoy it.  (It was still a bit like a chore.)

So!  Read BrianMicklethwait dot com!  It is your duty!  And you will have fun, whether you like it or not.  Study all the photos carefully, and carry on doing so until you find pleasure in this.  Read all the comments, and, if you have something pertinent and intelligent to add, add.

No custard until you’ve eaten your greens.

Friday April 25 2008

As semi-promised in this earlier piece of cat-blogging, a couple of photos (borrowed from my Mum) of Perkins, the Micklethwait family cat in the 1950s and thenabouts:

image

image

As you can see, Perkins (apart from being a male rather than a female) bears a remarkable resemblance to the cat dreamed of in this posting.

Big brother Toby stated very firmly that Perkins was by far the best cat we ever had.  That is my recollection also.

This, from Shane Greer, is rather shrewd, I think:

It’s important to bear in mind that Clarke’s criticism, like that of the others, is a direct result of Brown’s approach to personal relationships; namely that they exist in black or white, enemy or friend.  The simple truth of life under Brown is that if you aren’t a ‘friend’ you have absolutely nothing to lose by attacking him, and indeed in the current climate have everything to gain.

This is the exact personal equivalent of the principle that the law must make a distinction between, for instance, how it punishes armed robbery and how it punishes murder.  Don’t make that distinction, and there goes any motive for armed robbers not to kill people.  From time to time, judges have to remind politicians about such things.

Most of the explanations I have read about why Labourites are now rebelling in such numbers and with such vehemence concern the political situation.  Tax changes, marginal constituencies, etc.  But this personal angle adds a definite extra something to the mix.

There’s a sort of automatic process (one of quite a few) that ruins governments.  Nowadays governments can’t just, you know, let things be, and confine themselves to governing.  Unsatisfied with the mere governing of things, governments now insist on controlling how things turn out.  They have a “vision” of what the world should be like, to which, eventually, everything must conform.

So, as time goes by, they stick their sticky fingers into more and more stuff, until eventually you can feel their prodding and poking in everything you do, in everything that ever happens.

At which point they get blamed for absolutely everything that goes wrong.  Every cock-up, made by anybody, is blamed on them.  So then, after a period of furious recrimination, another government is installed and the whole nonsense begins all over again.

imageThe current British government is now rapidly approaching the they-get-blamed-for-everything stage.  But even if it were not, this glorious logo cock-up, perpetrated by something called the Office of Government Commerce, is actually quite close to the New Labour heart of things.  New Labour is obsessed with logos, with redesigning things in a way calculated to annoy The Forces of Conservatism and to inflict a “radical shake-up” on whatever it is.  (One simple way to irritate and to generally make it clear who and what is now in charge is to make the capital letters at the beginnings of the proper nouns that describe the enterprise into small letters.) New Labour people notoriously have jobs like designing stupid logos at vast expense, instead of real jobs.  So, New Labour will get the blame for this glorious fiasco, and they probably do actually deserve a lot of it this time.  Either way, the more any of them protest that it is nothing to do with them, the more idiotic they will look.  It’s not in the Northern Rock or Ten Percent Tax Rate category.  But, like I say, this government is reaching the point where every little hurts.

Apparently a mere £14,000 was pissed away on this particular logo, which is nothing by the standards of your usual saga of government waste.  But, then again, there is this:

OGC helps the public sector get better value on goods and services across a wide range of categories.

Which is far too good an open goal to miss.  The whole idea of “Government Commerce” is ridiculous, and is itself a guarantee of vast waste.  I bet these people have presided over cock-ups massively more expensive than this one, many times.  Just not such funny ones.

All the reportage of this logo fiasco that I have seen coyly presents the logo in its horizontal form.  Now I usually like horizontal pictures, but this time, I think I prefer the vertical version, as will almost all bloggers, surely.

Deepest thanks to David Thompson for spotting this.

UPDATE: Pollard had all that two days ago, including the OGC quote.  And he goes vertical too.  Oh well.  One of his commenters supplies this.

Thursday April 24 2008

Incoming email entitled ‘Another “I saw this and thought of you” moment’, from Six Thousand.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  It seems they’re building two more Wheels, even bigger, in Singapore and in Beijing:

image

Wheels are great and all that, but there’s more to Wheels than just the Wheels themselves.  It helps a lot if there are good things all around them to look at.  From that point of view, you could argue that the London Wheel might have worked better if it was a bit further down stream, because there, the London townscape gets rather more dramatic.  Okay, not Parliament, Big Ben, etc., but more it east, and you get Tower Bridge, St Paul’s, the Gherkin, and the Docklands Towers, with more to come.

What will the views be like in these new Wheels?

Will it even be possible to see the ground from the top of the Beijing Wheel, on an average day, with an average day’s pollution level?

Wednesday April 23 2008

Today I went a-walking and knackered myself, so here are a couple of quota photos, of something I like photo-ing a lot but have never yet got around to exhibiting here, namely tourist crap:

imageimage

Many photos are duller than the originals.  I mean, seeing Big Ben or the Wheel or a telephone box is nice.  But what could be duller than a basic picture of Big Ben or of the Wheel or of a telephone box?  But photos of tourist crap are better than seeing the actual tourist crap face to face, provided they’re good photos.  Well, that’s what I think, and I’m too tired to argue about it, even with myself.

Tuesday April 22 2008

Until today, I didn’t have a clue where Sausalito was.  But I found out today, while doing this posting, and this Sausalito view got me viewing for the same view on Flickr, with a view to adding another view to the vertically thin view collection.  Here’s the result:

image

Which I got by slicing the slice that matters out of this picture.

That bridge must be the Golden Gate.  And is that lump this side of it by any chance Alcatraz?  This map says yes, I think.

imageCute.  You wait weeks for a decent engadget posting, and then two come along.

Actually this posting, about “OLED” screens, also interested me, because I didn’t know what OLED meant, and I wanted to find out.  Should I hold off getting a flat screen TV?  Probably yes, for the simple reason that with tech buying the rule is always: if in doubt, wait.  It’ll get better, and cheaper, and cooler, if you do wait.  But, what does “affordable” mean, when it comes to, say, 22 inch OLED TVs?

I agree with LynnThis is stunning.  You can even link to particular shots.

And SausalitoAnd Chiang Mai.  Never heard of Chiang Mai until today.  And no doubt many more places in the future.

imageI read engadget so you don’t have to, and today, all that ploughing through meaningless boxes for doing nothing and stupid satnav things that ought to be proper computers as well but aren’t has yielded gold, even though in this case the gold is light blue in colour.  The blue elephant is not lady-pissing in the urinal.  It’s cleaning it.  The engadget headline is a classic.  There is video.

I was rather sniffy about these pictures, as contributions to the vertically thin picture genre, but this is splendid:
image
More car art of the same era hereThis is particularly fabulous.

Monday April 21 2008

Yes, home to Mum’s today, and this time it was slightly different, because my Mum has reached the age when she just might be gone at any moment.  She may, and I hope will, live for at least another decade or more, but ... she may, now, not.  Some time soon or soonish, she, and her house (the house), and her garden (the garden) may all be gone, smashed up and replaced by about five new suburban houses.  And I found myself looking at the house and the garden with new eyes, those of a stranger.  I saw all kinds of things I had not really noticed since I lived there in my childhood.

I noticed the chimneys.  If you had asked me to describe those chimneys any time before today, I wouldn’t have been able to even say how many of them there were.  Yet there they are, and have been ever since my family moved in, in 1945, two years before I did.  And where on earth did that nest (a bees’ nest apparently) come from?  When did that happen?  And who knew that Mum has plants that produce pink flowers that look like they are made of sugar (at any rate when I photo them)?

imageimageimageimageimageimage

The car is the UKIP battle wagon of brother Toby.  He drove me back down the hill to Egham station via the territory which he is trying to persuade to elect him as a councillor, and which he has flooded with UKIP posters.  If posters determined elections, he would win by a landslide.

The final picture merely shows how very rural Clapham Junction has become lately.  Looks more like somewhere deep in the countryside, doesn’t it?  Of the sort that Doctor Beeching closed down.

Sunday April 20 2008

Here is a very good piece about Brian Ashton, and about sporting leadership in general.  It reminds me of some of the stuff in that book by Ed Smith, where he writes about the great Zinedine Zidane, and the fact that failure by the Great Me is just ... impossible.  The Universe obviously misbehaved.  (And had to be head-butted.  That head-butt came just after a great shot header by Zidane was brilliantly and inexplicably saved by French Italian goalie Buffon.)

Anyway, back to Barnes on relatively ego-free Ashton, and on his fatally normal tendency to answer questions truthfully and normally, because he thinks normally:

image

How tough had the preparation been prior to the World Cup? Bloody tough, he said, and admitted to human vulnerability. How shaken was he by the 36-0 defeat in the pool stages? Bloody shaken. He was asked questions and he told the truth as most of us, in his situations, would have seen it.

Here is where it unravelled, indicating that maybe he was not cut out to be the Head Man for England. When Woodward made an awful mess of the 2005 Lions tour, he returned from Auckland airport convinced that the series could have been won had a few small details dropped his way. It was deluded, but to be the very best in this job such delusions are part of the package. Listen to those outstanding football managers, Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger, in reaction to defeat. The excuses are never just excuses, they are the toiling workings of minds that cannot believe they could fail.

While I’m on the subject of international rugby bosses, I finally worked out, a few weeks back, who Wales coach Warren Gatland (on the left below) reminded me of.  See if you agree:

image  image

On the right is this bloke.

Saturday April 19 2008

Nothing here today, because today I was building more shelves, and because Samizdata needed replenishing and I’m the only Samizdatista who has no life and hence is free at the weekend.  So, I did a(nother) piece about the Indian Premier League, which strikes me as being at least as important a thing as the ghastliness of Brown or Mugabe.  (About the only dignified thing the first of those has done lately is complain about the second.)

So anyway, here’s a flat picture, suggested for inclusion here (or at least a mention here) in an email from David Thompson:

image

Actually, I consider panoramas to be a cheat for getting pictorial flatness.  All panoramas are flat.  It’s in their nature.  If you shove six snaps in a horizontal line, the result is bound to be horizontal.  What I prefer are things that are horizontal by their nature, such as horizons.  Or bridges or pencils or blog top pictures.

Friday April 18 2008

The Spectator’s Coffee House Blog (otherwise very good) is doing something rather undignified, in order to shake off regular bouts of PID.  It’s not nearly as bad as PID itself, but it is not good.

The Coffee House rule was that all quotes were in italics.  But now, if a particular paragraph of a quote gets cut automatically off in the middle, that paragraph is entirely de-italicised, even if a previous paragraph of the same quote is italicised immediately above.  Most illogical.  God knows how much fiddling about this involves.

In other PID news, Samizdata itself was even affected (briefly) by PID, about a fortnight ago.  What happened was that Dale Amon put up a posting which caused an outbreak.  But since I had already done a posting immediately below his (about the LPUK), I did some vanity editing of Dale’s post.  What he had done took a little spotting.  At the end, he had switched off the italics like the good blogging boy that he is.  However, he had two italicised paragraphs, rather than just one, and he had switched on the italics at the beginning of each one, but had mis-written the switching off of the italics at the end of the first paragraph.  Instead of < slash e m >, he had put < slash a > by mistake.  So italics got switched on twice, but only switched off once.  When he edited his post, he could not see this, but the result was that italics were still switched on at the end of his post.  Result: PID.

I see that the ilaticising of Dale’s final two paragraphs, originally done to flag up that they had been added to the posting later (which is what the whole posting is about), has now been entirely deactivated.

Here‘s an interesting story:

Global news and photograph agencies will carry out their threat to boycott coverage of the Indian Premier League because of the restrictions on the distribution of photographs. Agencies are prohibited from providing photographs of the Twenty20 tournament to cricket-specific websites.

The News Media Coalition (NMC), the umbrella body that comprises global news and photograph agencies Reuters, Associated Press, Agence France-Presse (AFP) and Getty Images, called the restrictions “discriminatory”.

“It is discriminatory for the accreditation terms to prohibit international news agencies from being able to serve a specific group of users, such as cricket websites,” the NMC said in a statement. “The interests of the IPL are protected by the fact that its accreditation terms limit news content generated by the news agencies to be used for editorial purposes only. The NMC calls upon the IPL to remove remaining obstacles in the way of full editorial coverage of the tournament.”

The Editors Guild of India also called for the withdrawal of “unacceptable conditions” while the Press Trust of India, India’s leading news agency, had said it would cover the event “under protest”.

What this shows is the overwhelming importance to cricket of the biggest fact in cricket now, which is the number of Indians who are fans of it.  Foreign fans of cricket in India just don’t matter, or not enough register seriously in anyone’s calculations.  The combined might of all those foreign press agencies counts as nothing besides those Indian fans.  Meanwhile the Editors Guild of India has “called for” this, that and the other, and the Press Trust of India, which would look idiotic, to all those Indian fans, if it ignored this new Indian cricket league, only agrees to cover it “under protest”, in other words: it agrees.  The bottom line is, if only Indians pay any attention to this new league, that will be more than sufficient.  This won’t stop it being mega-profitable, and in search of their shares of all those mega-profits, all the world’s best cricketers will still want to play in it.  Even if at the moment the only white people involved seem for the time being to be made of plastic:

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Calling Michael J, my expert commenter on cricket, football, science, technology, travel, history, geography, television, etc. etc. etc..  Have I got that right?  Or will this news agency boycott actually count for something?  And will there eventually be pictures I can copy and paste to here of Pietersen, Flintoff, Mascarenas, Luke Wright, and other expert Anglo-sloggers giving their all to Bangalore Royal Challengers (or Birmingham City?), when they should (according to MCC old farts and the like) be playing boring old test and county cricket in front of very few people indeed in England?

Time for the Billion Monkeys of India to snap a million IPL snaps, methinks.  18X zoom lenses have arrived just at the right moment.  (But, will Billion Monkey cameras be banned from the grounds?  And if so, will that make a blind bit of difference?)

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More informative IPL reportage here.

Thursday April 17 2008

Patri’s Peripatetic Perigrinations is a blog which I blogrolled pretty much entirely for nepotistical reasons.  His dad is this guy, and his grandad is this guy, so he must be some kind of a guy, was my reasoning.

Anyway, sure enough, I dropped by today, and encountered this excellent man-demeaning-women quote, from Bill Cosby:

“Women don’t want to hear what you think. Women want to hear what they think - in a deeper voice.”

These things get very dreary when you hear them the seventh time, and if that’s what you’re doing with this one then apologies.  But this is the first time I encountered this particular anti-female insult.

imageIt reminds me of another good gag, in the movie John and Mary, starring Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow.  She is telling her friend about her latest lover.  The lover is stroking her stomach and saying: “I love you I love you.” She says: “Lower please.” So the lover says: “I love you I love you” in a deeper voice.  It’s funnier when Mia Farrow tells it, because she doesn’t have to say “in a deeper voice”.  She just says the second “I love you I love you” in a deeper voice.  Never mind.

Come to think of it, was the appeal of the young Dustin Hoffman that he was, basically, a woman, but with a really quite deep voice?  I think there may be something in that.

Day one of the County Championship was yesterday, and I only just noticed.  And what did it bring?  This (I don’t trust cricket reports on the internet to stay put so I do photos off of Ceefax):

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One wicket to the recuperated Flintoff.  One century to the inexorable Ramprakash.  It’s as if Ramps is a CD that was merely paused at the end of last season and has been spinning at the same spot all winter, ready to resume as if nothing had happened.

Wednesday April 16 2008

Michael J sends this picture:

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And says of it, and of a second snap of people just drinking beer, this:

Two shots of Alan Little in a gigantic beer tent in Munich on Sunday.  The two of us concluded that the first is not a Billion Monkey photograph as he was using a Real Photographer’s camera. I am not sure if the fact that I was also using a Real Photographer’s camera disqualifies things further.

That’s Alan Little as in this.

Do we need a separate category for SLR users?  How many are there of them.  Two hundred million gorillas?  Four hundred million?  Trouble is that the categories merge into each other.  A few years ago they said you couldn’t have proper SLR cameras which showed you the picture beforehand on a little screen.  Can’t be done.  No more possible than ships made of metal floating or heavier than air airplanes taking to the air.  Which rather neglected the fact that so many people, people like me for instance, very much wanted this.  So, now, these combined SLR/Billion Monkey cameras now exist.  The best one is truly brilliant, with the screen not only showing pictures beforehand but also twiddling, just like on my Canon S5 IS.  It costs two arms and three legs now, but that will soon change, once the loony millionaires buy it anyway (thereby proving that non-millionaires would like it also), and the competitors move in.  My next camera will probably be like this.

Another recent Munich pic from MJ here.  The picture is called “nazi1.jpg” so I’m guessing the building has an unsavory history.

One of the joys of blogging is that you can get your own back on tradesmen who muck you about.

Last Thursday I went to Travis Perkins in Pimlico Square to order some timber.  So far I have always just carried my timber home, which has worked very well, albeit very strenuously.  But I am getting too old for such labour and this time I asked if they did deliveries, which they did.  They said it would be delivered on Monday.  On Monday I got a call saying that the timber I ordered wasn’t yet available, but would Tuesday be okay?  I said make it Wednesday afternoon.  They said fine.  That was this afternoon.  This morning a driver showed up, buzzed the door and I went down in my pyjamas, blogger style, to sort out the timber arriving.  But, it turned out he didn’t have the timber on his lorry.  I was on the list, but my timber hadn’t been loaded up.  Christ almighty.  I’ll get back and sort it out, he said.  Six hours later, with the afternoon fast disappearing, wanting to get out to do stuff, and I ring them to find out what’s happening.  “It didn’t get put on the lorry today.  We’ll get it to you tomorrow morning.” This after about two minutes of moron propaganda on the telephone about the wonderfulness of Travis Perkins from a moron propaganda telephone machine, while the first person to answer the phone found someone who knew what was going on.  I said: Why didn’t you ring me when you knew that I wasn’t getting it today either?  (They’d rung on Monday with the first lot of bad news.) And: If it doesn’t get here tomorrow morning, I’ll call round in person and collect my money back.  The voice at the other end was managerially implacable.  He sounded like he’d been been on a course to learn how to deal with annoying customers who are angry when they don’t get what they’d paid for.  Stonewall, “assertively”, i.e. repetitiously, without emotion.

Time was when this kind of shite just had to be endured in, as far as the rest of the world was concerned, silence.  But now, I can blog it.  Or go looking for other things about Travis Perkins, or the timber supply business, and comment the story there.  Now, anyone else with a Travis Perkins bad service story can go a-Googling, and maybe encounter my story.  If this is a one-off, then nothing follows, but if there is a pattern of Travis Perkinsian incompetence out there, these things are much easier to put together than they used to be.

This little annoyance is nowhere near bad enough to get onto television.  To qualify to be on Watchdog or whatever it’s called, the one with Nicky Campbell, they’d have to fail to deliver my timber for about two months and charge me far too much for it, twice.  And then disappear without ever delivering it.  But, it is annoying.

It’s very important that I am allowed to put the exact name, the way I might not be allowed to in a big media begging letter.  It’s not the law as such that makes the difference.  You know the kind of thing: “I have recently been screwed around by ...” [name withheld – ed.].  Wouldn’t want to upset the advertising department, would we?  Well, this is the twenty first century, here there is no advertising department and I’m not withholding any name.  Travis Perkins, Pimlico Road branch.  Got that?

I am still pissed off, but somewhat less so.

Tuesday April 15 2008

The trouble with showing themed sets of Billion Monkey snaps is that I collect these sets, but then it’s too much like hard work to stick them up.  Occasionally I manage it.  But often, not.  Often, they just fester away on my hard disc, not enlightening the world in any way about the ways of – or the soon to be obsolete cameras of - Billion Monkeys.

So, while looking for something else in my ever more gigantic photo archive, I encountered this, which I consider to be well worthy of posteritisation.  So here it is.  No collage of like-minded snaps.  No muss.  No fuss.  Just this one, now:

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It’s not just the picture on the camera of one of London’s great modern landmarks.  It’s also the hand.  The ring is nice too.  A small ring, and a big ring.

Photoed in September of last year.

While you thought you are only treading water you were actually getting poorer.

That’s it really.  That’s my thought for the day.  It arose from the travails of the national economy, recently not so much perpetrated as revealed.  Wise souls like Paul Marks have been saying for years that the British economy was heading for a grim reckoning, but to most of us it just felt like the British economy was jogging along okay.  Not doing as well as it might and should (tax cuts, deregulation blah blah blah) and maybe drifting downwards a little, like a glider.  But not nose-diving.  But then, suddenly, disaster.

It’s like that for individuals and families.  You live in a nice area.  You are paying your bills, and getting by.  But then, rather suddenly, it is revealed that actually your whole area has been slowly going down in the world.  People as well off as you used to be now pay four times as much rent and get paid four times as much for the same kind of work as you used to do, and you, without the numbers looking so very different, are suddenly revealed as far poorer.  (As of now, by “you” “your” I actually do not mean “I"and “my”, although perhaps this is also happening to me and I don’t yet realise it.)

Speaking of Paul Marks, someone should really dig out him ranting away three or four years ago about the fact that the British economy is doomed, doomed.  Now everybody is talking like this.  They are merely telling us so, now.  He told us so, years ago.  With luck, it will be possible to find an entire Samizdata posting, from way back, in which this last week’s cursings are all there.  At the moment Samizdata doesn’t do a complete listing of everything by each single author, more’s the pity, but I hear that this may in due course be changing.  Hope so.  If so, finding things like this will get a whole lot easier.

I spent an hour wading through Samizdata postings from the past, but did not encounter Marks saying things about the money supply.  Taxation going inexorably up, yes.  Money supply going up, no.  But I’m sure he said this stuff.

Monday April 14 2008

I’ve meaning to do a blog posting about Tajo, literally for years, because Tajo, who was a dog who lived in Norway, once saved the life of one of my favourite people.  Trouble is, I tend to be reminded that I mean to do this blog posting only when meeting with that favourite person, which tends to happen when I’m not at my desk.  Then, when I was at my desk, this posting reminded me again, but still I kept postponing it, for some stupid reason or another.

This posting at the Tajo memorial site tells the story:

One fateful Christmas night, when Tajo was 16 months – still a boisterous puppy - and Kristine was 17 years, Kristine took him to the shopping mall to post delayed Christmas cards. On their way back from the mall Kristine was run down by a car and thrown into a tree by the roadside. She ended up lying with her face down in the snow, unconscious, bleeding heavily, not visible from the road. The car didn’t stop, but there is evidence that Tajo tried to wake her before he sat down in the middle of the road and stopped the next car that came along. When the driver got out to remove this creature that refused to let him pass, Tajo took a bite in his trousers and dragged him over to where Kristine lay. From there things must have happened very fast: more cars stopped, the ambulance arrived, and Kristine was rushed of to the hospital in what may have been the last minute – for the first 24 hours they didn’t know if she would survive.

In the meantime, Tajo was put into a police car where he remained for quite a while before the police officers were able to locate his family. When he finally got back home, he was unable to relax: for days on end Tajo refused to eat or lay down - he just kept on walking up and down the floor. Eventually Kristine’s mother smuggled him into the hospital’s ambulance hall, and someone rolled Kristine’s bed down there so Tajo could see that she was alive. Tajo was besides himself from joy, all wild and crazy and violently happy as he was at that age; even the hardened ambulance drivers had to shed a few tears - and when he got back from the hospital Tajo was able to relax again.

Which makes Tajo one of my favourite dogs, despite the fact that I never came anywhere near to meeting him.

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That’s Tajo, photographed over a decade after this drama, by Kristine.  And that’s Kristine, photographed by me, when she was living in London.  Which she would not have been doing anywhere, had it not been for Tajo.

Sunday April 13 2008

Talking of Lebrecht and Karajan, as I was in the previous posting, I totally agree with this piece by Dominic Lawson about Karajan, and think it very well expressed.

Quote:

Some have seen his early affiliation to the Nazi Party as an indicator of strong political belief in the doctrines of Adolf Hitler. In fact, Karajan’s only faith was in himself and his ambition to become Germany’s – and later the world’s – dominant interpreter of classical music. There is no evidence that he had any interest in politics, other than the politics of personal achievement in the always brutally competitive world of classical music. In other words, he used the Nazis as much as they used him. Indeed, he once admitted that he “would have sold my grandmother” to get the orchestral appointments that the cultural commissars of the Nazi Party had it in their gift to award him.

Norman Lebrecht wrote a characteristically stirring article in the London Evening Standard a couple of days ago, damning the classical music business for launching the celebrations: “It amazes me to see Karajan’s demagogic pose in Paris, where he conducted the Horst Wessel Lied during Hitler’s occupation. It astonishes me no less to hear the self-made Valery Gergiev and Simon Rattle claim Karajan as a mentor, as if they secretly covet his power.”

Well, perhaps they do, although no conductor will ever again wield the power that Karajan exercised. Apart from anything else, it is hard to imagine any modern orchestra tolerating the dictatorial behaviour he inflicted wherever and on whomever he conducted. Surely, however, what the likes of Sir Simon Rattle worship is not Karajan’s character but his musicianship. Lebrecht describes him as “a moral and creative nullity” but it is hard to avoid the conclusion that he believes the first part of that accusation leads inexorably to the second.

It doesn’t follow. Much as we would like it to be the case, there is no connection between good character and good art ...

Having not read very much about Karajan’s supposedly Nazi past, but a bit, I said pretty much all of that stuff about how Karajan wanted only the power to make music the exact way he wanted to, in this talk.  It is good to have it all confirmed by someone else who has presumably researched Karajan a bit more thoroughly.

Radio 3 played the Eroica Symphony this afternoon.  I knew it was the Berlin Phil because the Radio Times said so, but I missed the beginning so I didn’t know who the conductor was.  It sounded very fine to me.  Excellent, but a tad too “Germanic” and to be the recent, excellent Abbado recording.  So who?  It sounded so beautiful, while still sounding suitably like Beethoven.  So, probably Karajan.  Yes, Karajan.

I’m listening to a CD of the Riccardo Chailly/Concertgebouw version of Bruckner‘s Fifth Symphony, a piece that has been an obsession of mine ever since I chanced upon Christian Thielemann’s superb (I think) DGG recording of it.

Once again, I am enthralled.  But this time, it is not because I find Chailly’s to be an especially enthralling performance, although it does indeed sound well above averagely splendid to me.  No, what is giving the experience a special edge of excitement, not unlike that of attending a live concert, is that the CD is in an appalling state of decrepitude, and I am listening to it for the first time since I bought it, second hand.  Most second hand CDs work fine, and anyway, all the second hand CD dealers I deal with are extremely eager to stay on the right side of me, and will swap anything back if it doesn’t work properly.  So, I often don’t check the condition of CDs when I buy them.  I should, but often I don’t.  I didn’t check this Chailly Bruckner 5, for if I had, I would probably not have bought it.

So anyway, now that I have bought it, I put it on the machine anyway and hoped for the best.  And I’ve reached the fourth of the four movements, so far without any mishaps.

Normally when you listen to a CD, you know it’s going to be perfect, especially if it’s a conductor like Chailly conducting an orchestra like the Concertgebouw.  There will be no untoward squawks from the woodwind, no scrappy string playing, no out of place drum bangs, no obvious failures of ensemble.  The brass will be predictably magnificent, the chords impeccably – nay sumptuously - blended.  Which means that there is a fatal tendency for the ear and mind to wander.  It ought not to be so, but, with me, it is so.  When I am listening to a live performance, one of the things that keeps me listening is the possibility that something will go wrong. This is especially the case when a difficult concerto is being played by a new young soloist who may not be quite up to all its demands.  Well, nothing will go wrong with the Concertgebouw, I know that.  But the fact that my particular plasticated manifestation of this particular recording could go horribly wrong at any moment lends a whole new intensity to the experience of listening to this wonderful piece.

It occurs to me that perhaps some of the intense and to me inexplicably irrational loathing that some people still seem to feel for the late Herbert von Karajan is the result of the fact (if fact it was – I never witnessed his conducting live) that when you were at one of his concerts, you did not get that feeling you usually get, of a quarter of a per cent possibility of disaster, or indeed the feeling that things might go in any way differently to what Karajan had decided beforehand.  Listening to Karajan, that is to say, was like listening to a pristine Karajan CD.  Which is okay if it is a pristine Karajan CD, costing a tenner.  But not what everyone wants for their fifty quid in a concert hall.

Fingers crossed.  Still no catastrophes, and I do confess that my mind did wander a little during the last few minutes.  I was, after all, writing this.

Aaaaargh!!!  A blemish.  Half way through the final movement.  Clickety click.  Not bad enough to bring the whole thing to a grinding halt, but ... clickety bloody click.  Damn damn damn.  I took it out, cleaned it, and tried again from just before where it happened.  Still there.  And I fear there will be more because some of the scratches are circular in direction rather than spoke-like, if you get my meaning.  Circular ones are the worst, because they blot out a whole gob of what the machine is trying to read.  It’s the difference between an easy little fence for a horse, or a huge fence involving a great stretch of water.

Finished, with no further horrors.  I then really cleaned it, and the blemish is less bad, in fact hardly detectable.  It’s just that a fraction of a second of this marvellous music goes missing.  Infuriating.  Now that I’ve been listening to this recording, really listening to it, I find that it is truly excellent, and I want to own it in pristine form.  I will keep a particular eye out for another second hand copy.  It really is very good.  Buying it again, at full price, would just be too sad.

I don’t know what this posting is about.  (It’s something, I think, to do with the environment, and about some BBC bloke telling untruths about the BBC’s reportage of the environment.) I haven’t been following this particular contretemps and am not very inclined to want to find out about it.  But what does already and immediately interest me greatly about this posting is that here is a blogger, who has so far mostly contented himself with commenting and editorialising, becoming, almost in spite of himself (i.e. the fact that he already has a life) ... a journalist.

One of the things about life in general that has long struck me is that just because things don’t necessarily have a very dramatic impact immediately, this does not mean that they won’t have a dramatic impact in the longer run.  It takes time for people to fool around with new techniques and new technology.  They wander down blind alleys.  They try to work it, and give up when they can’t, only coming back to it weeks or months later, when their nephews tell them what to do.  And so on and so forth.

The logic of blogging is that you end up specialising in whatever happens particularly to interest you.  And the process of learning more about that particular thing, and writing it down as you go, inexorably turns you into a journalist on the subject.  Not overnight.  But, that’s the eventual tendency, if you persist.  What Bishop Hill needed was a particular circumstance that happened really to interest him, where the official explanations he was offered did not make sense to him, and eventually in the form of ... whatever this circumstance is ... he found it.  And then he started doing journo-type things about it, like dending in a Freedom of Information request, whatever that is.

The same thing may in due course happen to me, here.  The general opinion seems to be that the only widespread-interest type writing there so far has been stuff about Kings Cross Supplementary.  That’s the only stuff that people have really talked to me about.  My mere opinions about the educational news are of interest only to me.  Well, that KCS stuff is journalism, in its very small way.  And as I learn more and write more, I can imagine it getting bigger.

Saturday April 12 2008

One of my favourite photo genres is “airplane next to interesting bit of architecture”.  Here’s a rather pretty example of the kind of thing I mean.  I don’t know exactly what the building is, but it’s on the south side of the Thames at Putney, near where they start the boat race, photoed from the other end of Putney Bridge.  The plane is on its approach into Heathrow.

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Photoed last night, on my way to a Putney Debate, at the home of the parents of Tim Evans.  Somewhat cropped.

Friday April 11 2008

I don’t read Violins and Starships as often as I’d probably enjoy reading it, mostly because it begins with V, and for some reason the majority of my favourite blogs are to be found nearer to the beginning of my rigidly alphabetical blogroll.  So, I tend not to get to it when looking for something randomly amusing to read.  So, I only noticed this a couple of days ago.  But of course I waited until today, a Friday, before noting it here:

Do you ever dream about the Internet and the people you know only online? That in itself is probably a little weird. Last night I had a dream about Brian that was both less weird and more weird than other Internet people dreams I’ve had. It was less weird because we were never actually face to face in my dream. The really weird thing was that he sent me a cat in the mail (I think they say “post” over on his side of the big pond) - an actual living cat. In the mail. From England to the USA. And the poor creature didn’t even seem the least bit upset by the ordeal.

Link in the original so no doubts about which Brian Lynn is talking about.

He sent something else too but I can’t remember what it was. He told me he was sending the “something else”, whatever it was. The cat was a surprise. A very nice, calm, friendly cat. She was mostly black with white feet and white on the front of her neck. It seemed like I spent a lot of time in the dream just petting her while she was asleep.

When I was small we used to have a cat, called Perkins ("Purr"-kins – I’m guessing one of us children chose that slightly cringeworthy name), who fits the above description, except that Perkins was a male.  He was black, with white boots and a white bib.  He also had a white inverted vee over his nose.  He was nice, calm, and friendly. 

Anyway, what was that all about? Brian doesn’t post pictures of cats on his blog. I don’t even know if he likes cats, though I assume he does because he seems like a pretty nice chap. There’s something a little bit eeewwwww about people who don’t like cats.

My mother still has a photo of Perkins.  When next I visit, I’ll ask her if I can borrow this, and if I can (as is likely) I’ll scan it and stick it up here.  Because, as omnivorous readers of this blog a few months back may recall, I did have a spell of weekly feline blogging here, every Friday.  The last such posting being this one.  I didn’t just have pictures of cute cats, although that’s how it started.  I had such things as cars that are cats, and blokes called cat and even a posting once about atrocities committed on cats, in San Antonio.

I’ll end with some more cats, in the form of the two sculptured cats that now guard my mother’s strawberry patch.

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Photo taken last month.

On July 7th of last year I visited Patrick Crozier, who lives out in the wilds of Twickenham.  While there, I photoed what looked like a very peculiar shop window.  Click on these, to see what that looked like:

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Patrick recently emailed me with the news that this shop had been catapulted into the news:

A British prop designer who created the armour for the Star Wars characters is being sued for £10 million in the High Court by the film’s director, George Lucas.

Andrew Ainsworth, who is based in a modest workshop in Twickenham, south-west London, provoked the movie mogul’s wrath by churning out replica outfits from the original moulds and selling them for up to £1,500 each to fans.

But Mr Ainsworth has also gone on the offensive, countersuing Lucasfilm for a slice of the £6 billion in merchandising generated by Star Wars since 1977.

It’s always exciting when something that you’ve actually seen, and better, photographed, beforehand, later becomes world-famous, isn’t it?

Thursday April 10 2008

They’ve been playing the Vaughan Williams symphonies on Radio 3, each afternoon this week.  No 2, one of my favourites, was on Tuesday, and I was once again struck by how there were passages in it that would not have sounded out of place if they had been plucked out of this “London” Symphony and placed in the midst of Miklos Rosza’s music for the Jesus Christ scenes in Ben Hur.  I think I wrote on my old Culture Blog about how artificial are the associations between particular orchestral sounds and particular nationalities, using this same orchestral coincidence to illustrate the point.  The typical Vaughan Williams Tallis-drenched string sound has become attached to the English countryside, but this association is merely the product of certain pictures constantly being shown, especially on television, alongside certain sounds.  Vaughan Williams actually took orchestration lessons from Ravel, I recall learning recently.  So, if a Frenchman had written those symphonies, would they now be regarded as typically French.  Yes they would.  Was Vaughan Williams Jewish?  No.  Had he been, would his music (with not a note changed) have been described, then and ever since, as sounding decidedly Jewish?  Yes.  No question.  Are they now described as sounding Jewish?  Not that I’ve ever heard.
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Now I am listening to a Naxos CD of two symphonies (2 and 5) by Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924).  This is very good music, definitely two notches above average, which isn’t always true with more obscure stuff.  Sometimes, there’s a good reason it’s obscure.  Anyway, while listening to this very good CD, I heard another mismatch between the actual nationality of the composer (Irish/British – born in Dublin – career in England), and what his nationality sounded like while I was listening.  The last movement was apparently inspired by a Milton poem involving ancient Greece.  Yet if I had had to guess who wrote it, blind, I would have guessed: Glazunov.  The last movement sounded particularly “Russian”.  There was something about the way the brass instruments were combined with the strings, and something about the rhythm.

The inverted commas being there because all I mean by “Russian” is that it sounded like the sort of stuff that Russian composers, most particularly Glazunov, just happened to be composing at the time.  We now think of that kind of sound as typically Russian.  Again, that is merely how it turned out.  That sound could have ended up being regarded as sounding typically somewhere quite different.

There’s no great mystery about why Stanford might sometimes sound like Glazunov.  Both Stanford and the Russian composers who were his contemporaries were steeped in the same Germanic orchestral sounds and traditions, as this guy explains very well.  I heard Glazunov.  He heard Brahms.  As did I, before I started hearing Glazunov instead.

Of all the arts, music is the one that is least dependent upon the particular circumstances in which it is created, the most abstract.  Painting tends – often if not always - to be painting of the people and places it was painted in.  Literature and poetry, ditto.  But music has a life of its own.  What is music, especially purely instrumental music, about?  Anything, and nothing.  What connection do particular sounds have with particular people and places and words, only the connections that creators choose to create.

Wednesday April 09 2008

I almost feel sorry for our beleaguered Prime Minister.  The Peter Principle is a horrible thing, when it happens to you.  The only cure is to get out of there, and if you want to hang around the place in some other capacity, go down a rung.  See: William Hague.

Even on the frontbench, fear of the formidable Brown machine has been replaced by fear of the electorate.

Cruelest cut of all, from TV funny man Rory Bremner:

“It’s like having an uncle who’s been building something in the shed at the bottom of the garden for 10 years … you look through the window and there’s nothing there.”

Prediction: Mugabe lasts longer than Brown.  It’s starting to look like a melt-down, along the lines of May 1997.

Although, re Mugabe, as soon as I put that, I did some googling and came up with this.  Blog and learn.  Sounds promising:

Zambia has called an emergency summit of southern African leaders for this weekend to discuss Zimbabwe’s post-election impasse.

Levy Mwanawasa, the Zambian President who chairs the Southern African Development Community (SADC), said that the crisis required a concerted effort by all southern African countries to find a solution.

The SADC summit will be held in Lusaka on Saturday. It was the first move by Zimbabwe’s neighbours to intervene after the March 29 elections and is likely to anger President Mugabe, who clashed bitterly with Mr Mwanawasa when the Zambian leader tried to put Zimbabwe on the agenda at an SADC meeting last year.

About bloody time.  But, they’ll have to make him an offer he can’t refuse.  Anything less, and he will refuse.

Tuesday April 08 2008

On my education blog I have just taken a gratuitous whack at that ghastly press release thing where so-and-so “added” or “remarked” or, in this case ”commented”, on the previous paragraph in the damn press release.  What bollocks.

This is much better:

Muxtape founder and CEO Justin Ouellette said, “Jakob [Lodwick] and I have worked closely together for over 1 year - a lifetime on the web - and I am thrilled he’s joining the Muxtape team. Jakob’s accomplishments speak for themselves; he has shown an uncanny ability to attach himself to successful projects right before they take off, contributing no real value but hogging the bulk of the spotlight.”

It’s still bollocks that Muxtape founder Ouellette “said” all this, word for word Again, he, or some other bloke, concocted it laboriously at a keyboard and then emailed it everywhere.  But at least what he “said” is amusing, and anyway, this is a send-up of a bollocks press release, so using this bollocks usage is all part of the fun.  It’s not, as Jackie claims, the best press release ever, but better than the average crap by quite a way.

Monday April 07 2008

I have felt this way for some time about the Olympics:

It is all very well banging on about the way the Chinese government treats the people of Tibet, and indeed its own people, but it remains important that we do not lose sight of the true meaning of the Olympic ideal in all this. Remember - Our bunch of drug takers is better at certain bizarre and irrelevant activities than Johnny Foreigner’s bunch of drug takers!

That’s one of the commenters on this posting.

I feel rather sorry for athletes, because I truly now believe that what the Olympics measure is a combination of how good an athlete you are and how good you are at cheating.  When some athlete pulls a “surprise”, I simply assume it’s drugs.  I remember an Irish swimmer lady, I think it was, who got three gold medals, out the blue, and who looked suspiciously muscular.  The belief that it was drugs seemed to be near universal, although nothing was said in public for a while until some clever journo proved it.  I think that was the story.  Sport is rather pointless in an atmosphere like that.

By the way, I’m talking about the serious athletic bits of the Olympics, not the bizarre extreme-minority sports that emerge from the shadows every four years, like that daft thing they do with big lumps sliding along, with people brushing brooms in front of the lump’s path to divert it by a fraction of a degree.

One of the things I like about cricket is that I suspect that drug-enhanced performance wouldn’t be that different from regular performance.  But is that true?  In particular, would bowlers be more effective if they were allowed to take lots of drugs?

Given advances in drugs and genetics, is it the case that a whole swathe of sport will become ungovernable, because it won’t be possible to stop people cheating, and because in any case, “cheating” will be indistinguishable from regular medical treatments and in particular anti-aging treatments.  You can imagine honest athletes retiring, simply so that they can have the sort of proper medical treatment that everyone else has as a matter of routine.

Or will athletics retain its appeal by becoming something more like Formula 1 racing.  In F1, the contest is not between individual drivers, so much as between teams of engineers and mechanics, with the driver doing the final bit of actually driving the wonder-machine around the track, but with brilliant driving being powerless in the face of mechanical inferiority.  Will top athletes take huge teams of doctors with them everywhere they go?  That might keep it interesting.

Sunday April 06 2008

I haven’t actually done much snapping lately, but this evening I was rootling through my photo-archives for good snaps to show you, and came across a whole lot I took of the spectacular sunset that graced western Surrey last Christmas Day.  This was the day I took this photo.

Here are four more that I took on that same day.  In a way they look better small than big, because when big they are a bit blurry.  But, you decide.  The blond Billion Monkey lady in all of them is my niece, my eldest brother’s daugher.

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I like the contrast of the blue on the camera screen with the lurid red of the sky, which really was that red

Saturday April 05 2008

All photoed rather hastily, and the lighting is the usual Billion Monkey indoors artificial mostly dark with occasional blinding patches of white caused by the proximity of a lightbulb, but, you get the pictures.  On the left: the problem.  On the right: the solution.

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This kind of posting will cut no ice with mere readers.  But every so often I have to remind you people that my most important reader is me, in a few months or years time.  Oh look, that was when I had all those five foot tall CD heaps.  And there’s that giant CD shelf that collapsed into the room and killed my brother and maimed me for life, before I filled it up.  This will warm the cockles of my faltering heart, the way me burbling on about the Cold War ending, and what a Good Thing that is, never could.  Oooh.  I see that in April 2008, I was of the opinion that the Cold War ending was Good.  Well, twiddledidee.

Friday April 04 2008

English Russia is a great source of quota posts, for when you write what you like to keep as a daily blog, but have spent the whole day doing other things.  Today, for instance, I renewed that parasitical outrage, my “freedom pass”, which enables me to clog up London’s public transport system not at my expense but at the expense of Westminster City Council.  Appalling.  But, great.  But, it involved a lot of queueing at a Post Office.  I spent the rest of the day doing CD shelves, again.  Oh yes, having spent much of the morning doing some writing for here.

So anyway, here’s a classic photo from post-Soviet Russia:

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Yes it’s Lenin.  In bits.

It’s good that so few people any longer query whether civilisation winning the Cold War was a good thing.  For several years immediately after the victory, idiot leftists did query the goodness of this victory of virtue over vice, of sanity over crackpottery.  They said that Eastern Europe would now come to no good, and would soon regret its liberation.  Such jabbering has now ceased entirely, with the economic success of Eastern Europe, at any rate compared to what it has suffered before.  Eastern Europe certainly has its problems.  Who doesn’t?  But they are as nothing compared to the horror and hopelessness of communism.

As for Russia itself, people now talk of a renewed Cold War.  I don’t see that.  I see conflict, but it is only Great Power conflict such as 19th century Russia was also involved in.  There is now no attempt by Russia to plug itself into a world-wide ideological idiocy which makes mischief everywhere, simply by the local idiots threatening it, or just seeming to.

And as for that other world-wide idiocy, militant Islam, well, the longer the Cold War went on, the longer civilisation would have been in alliance with it, and the stronger it would have been when the Cold War did finally end.  The sooner that coalition ended the better, and with the end of the Cold War, it did end.  Should that coalition have ended sooner?  I still don’t think so, even with the wisdom of hindsight.  The thing with the Cold War was to finish the damn thing with a good solid victory.

Thursday April 03 2008

I’ve been busy all day, mostly making CD shelves, and in among it, putting stuff up at my Education Blog.  So here’s a photo which I thought of sticking up there but which will do just as well for here, suggested by Bishop Hill, who chose another from the same set:

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On the left is Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, whose job is to pretend to continue with the Blair education “reforms” while ensuring that any point they ever had is now utterly lost and that we get all the turmoil and expense and none of the improvements.  And on the right, with his trousers about to split, is a Mr Burnham, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

How all occasions do inform against them.  The next government will be just as bad in its own new and distinct way, but it is fun watching the government we have disintegrate.  Five years ago, the journalists would have chosen the most dignified shot of these two people cavorting about, and everyone apart from a few right wing buffers and anti-Iraq war freaks and loony libbos like me would have said: “How democratic!” and: “How relaxed!” and: “And yet how dignified!”.  Now, the journalists choose the three shots that make them look most completely like a pair of pillocks, and everyone says: “What a pair of pillocks!”

A lot of this is that almost everyone now hates Mr Brown, apart from people like Balls and Burnham.  But it is also partly Mr Cameron’s doing.  Mr Cameron has managed to persuade what used to be called Fleet Street that he agrees with them about everything, nudge nudge wink wink, and that he too finds your typical Conservative abominable just as Fleet Street does.  This has made Fleet Street relax about hating Labour, and they’ve been systematically putting the knife into Labour for about two years now.  The risk Cameron is taking is that he will alienate all his own natural supporters, who might abstain or vote UKIP or something.  But Cameron has gambled that those people just want to win, and that most voters now hate Labour so much that they will vote Cameron just to get Labour out, no matter what Mr Cameron says.  The gamble has worked.

And then, when he is Prime Minister, Mr Cameron will be able to do whatever he likes.  Which will start off being democratic and dignified, and by and by degenerate into being ghastly and ridiculous.

Wednesday April 02 2008

I have a category called Brians, but have done very few actual Brians postings, and not any for quite a while.

Well, this, from Danny Finkelstein, livens things up, don’t you reckon?

Paddy Hitler.  Adolf Hitler did not have a son, but he did have a nephew, Paddy. Paddy, the son of Hitler’s brother Alois, lived in Liverpool as a young boy. In 1933 he moved to Germany, trying to be a car salesman and cash in on his family name. Things didn’t work out and he moved to the US, denouncing his Uncle and serving in the US Navy in the war. Finally he settled in Long Island where he had three sons, including Brian Hitler. I am not making this up.

Nor am I.  Heil Dizzy, for featuring this on his blog.  And yes, I did check the date.  Not April 1st.  March 31st.  So, presumably, true.

Tuesday April 01 2008

Yes!  Permanent Italics Disease now strikes Instapundit! From this posting onwards, as of 8.44 pm London time.

Later (9.18 pm London time): It’s been corrected, some time between then and now.  Not bad.  But not good.

Last night, that TV show I was watching, about Heathrow Terminal 5 etc., also mentioned something called the Gatwick Beehive.  Here‘s the best picture of it that I could find:

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Architects love this building, because it is a very rare example of something they go on and on about, namely of form following function.

Usually form follows fashion.  You can usually tell at a glance, if you know your architectural fashions, when a building was built (as you can with this one).  But you can seldom guess what on earth it was originally for.  Churches tend to look like churches, and for many centuries houses tended to look like houses, but as soon as “architecture” got seriously into its stride, with lots of different stuff being done inside buildings other than sleep, eat, worship and shelter from the rain and snow, it became impossible to tell which particular stuff it originally was.  This is because, actually, provided there is a decent amount of space inside, you can do pretty much whatever you want inside a building, provided only that it is big enough.  You can usually tell what it’s being used as when you get inside, but from the outside, all buildings built at any particular time tend to look alike.

But here is a case of a building which simply had to be this particular shape, in this particular case circular.  Any other shape and the airplanes on the edge of it might impede one another.

In general, architects love aviation, because aviation tends to impose very strong spacial and sculptural demands, which often means unusual demands.  Architects love unusual demands, because they so hate the usual way of doing things, whatever that is.  For, if the usual way of doing things will suffice, why bother with an architect, beyond a dull journeyman who knows the usual way of doing things?  If the usual way would suffice, all you need is a builder.  Urgh.  (And contrariwise, builders far prefer it when there are no fuckin’ archy tecs around fuckin’ everything up with their insane fuckin’ demands.)

The reason the best picture of the Gatwick Beehive is a picture of a model of the Gatwick Beehive is that just as the Gatwick Beehive had, originally, to be that shape, it soon became obsolete.  Soon after the Beehive was built, airport terminals had – simply had - to be a different shape, mainly because they simply had to be a bigger size, which changed the rules for how to put the airplanes around the outside.  The Beehive still exists, but is no longer a terminal, merely a sad old building in the middle of a roundabout:

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But for a brief shining moment, air terminals had to be circular, and thus had to be “architectural”.

Heathrow’s Terminal 5 is back to being a dull old rectangle.  But its roof, because of the unbreakable demand that passing airplanes not be interfered with, is very peculiar and hence very architectural.  Basically, they couldn’t use cranes to make it, so they had to make their own special smaller cranes, with funny little pulleys on them, and make those cranes part of the building.  So again, form followed function!  Hurrah!