Brian Micklethwait's Blog

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

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Monday June 30 2008

The category list below provides various clues.

image

Answer here.  Alas, here, I was unable to make it wobble.  That’s another clue.

Sunday June 29 2008

I have a prediction to offer as to the result of the Euro Cup Final this evening.  I predict that Germany will win.  I could be wrong, because I am not an expert on football, but I am plainly right in supposing, as I have ever since this tournament began, that Germany are a very good side.  I only wish I had blogged my earlier predictions in various mere conversations that they would (and Holland would not) reach the final.

There are, this time, no British teams involved in this tournament, not even England.  And it is becoming ever more embarrassing listening to British “experts” taking it in turns on the television to describe Germany as “poor” and “ordinary” and “mediocre” and “not what they were in ...” (fill in the blank with a random date from the past).  Does it not occur to these – in this matter – pathetically inexpert experts that there might actually be reasons why you should “never write off the Germans”, and that if said inexperts were doing their jobs properly they would give some thought to what exactly these reasons might be, and tell us about them?

Germany almost always do better in later rounds, when they really need to, than in earlier rounds, when it isn’t fatal.  (Or in non-crucial qualifying games.  They got to the final after that one.  England got nowhere near the final.  This time around, they lost 2-1 to Croatia in one of their group games.  Holland, on the other hand ...) Germany regularly get to finals that they were confidently described as not good enough to get to by inexpert experts, only a fortnight or a month before.  Why?  And what is more, when they get there, they frequently win.  Why?  If it ever goes to a penalty shoot-out, they damn near always win.  Again, why?  I don’t know.  But clearly there are reasons, to do with spirit, and not being over-cooked too early, or exhausted, or prepared in such a way that they freeze on the big night.  Maybe they do exhaust themselves a few times, and then practice penalties, with huge cash prizes to the winners, or nights out, and then in, with all the Miss Germany finalists.  I don’t know, I really don’t.  But clearly, Germany does lots of vital things superbly well, and better than almost anybody else.  What?  How?  Real experts would find out, and pass it on.

Lots of things like: score great goals, goals being the things you need at this level of the game.  Schweinsteiger has scored two absolute blinders in this tournament already.  Remember Portugal?  They were one of the “great” sides in this tournament, until “poor” Germany knocked them out.  That first German goal against Portugal was a masterpiece of energy, speed and above all nanosecond timing, with the cross being met by Schweinsteiger going at full tilt at the one exact moment that made scoring possible.  The first German goal against Turkey, the first equaliser, was likewise brilliantly taken by Schweinsteiger.  This came from another perfect cross, but this time, instead of merely meeting it perfectly, Schweinsteiger deflected it perfectly.

image

Schweinsteiger is already in the Gary Lineker class as a finisher, in fact he reminds me very much of Lineker in the way he scores his goals.  The commentators all yell “Schweinsteiger!!!” just as he scores, exactly as they used to yell “Lineker!!!” as he scored.  Usually it’s: here’s a chance for Buggins, and Buggins shoots, and Buggins scores!!!  But when Schweinsteiger scores, there’s scarcely time to say his name once, let alone twice or three times, because the commentator only realises that Schweinsteiger has a chance to score as Schweinsteiger is scoring, that’s how blindingly quickly it all happens.

And here’s another thing I noticed about Schweinsteiger that no British “expert” seemed to spot.  If he did, he kept it to himself.  In that Portugal game, Schweinsteiger took an early free kick.  He ran up and blasted it as hard as he possibly could, in the general direction of the Portuguese goal.  Of course it bounced off some hapless Portuguee who had been put in the line of fire, and the Portuguese all said: he’s a thick blond German.  So, when Schweinsteiger took his next free kick, the commentators and the Portuguese both said: he’ll blast this one too.  Again, I wish I’d been live-blogging when I watched this.  I said: no, this will be a real free kick, curving in, and headed in.  And that’s just what happened.

Yet, say the doltish Brit commentators, only Ballack in this German side has any class.  Are they blind as well as stupid?  The very least that these “expert” Brit commentators could do is acknowledge what everyone else knows, that Germany are, now as always, extremely good at football, and good bets to win any tournament they enter.  If these Brits on the sidelines don’t know why, they shouldn’t regard that as any reflection on Germany, only on themselves.

If and when these British pundits do ever crack what Germany are doing so right, maybe British teams will start doing better in these things.

Saturday June 28 2008

imageThere’s an amazing collection of Russian cheerleader photos, here.

The one on the right is so good, they stuck it up twice.  I was trying to work out what it reminded me of, and then I had it.  It’s this excellent retro-styled pop video by Christina Aguilera.  (Following this recent posting, I should say that if you click on that, there will be noise.)

It isn’t just the hats.  It’s what they’re doing with their hands and wrists and knees.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the Russian cheerleader boss (and I bet they’re scary people) had seen that video.

Friday June 27 2008

I am not always convinced by claims about BBC bias, but this is rather amazing:

image

I found out about this from this posting, but it isn’t made very clear where the picture came from, apart from the fact that Natalie Solent and “Moonbat Nibbler” had something to do with it.

Reality check here.  Says Guido, of the Henley by-election Labour wipe-out, Lib Dem disappointment and Conservative triumph:

Currently Tories could pin a blue rosette on a donkey and win.

I still think that this is a very good analysis of what is now going on.  But then I would, wouldn’t I?

Thursday June 26 2008

imageHere.  Apparently the work of James May of Top Gear.  Had to write an extra sentence to stop the picture smashing its way downwards.  It’s should be okay now.

Yes, feast your eyes on the original Edward Burtynsky picture of the Nanpu Bridge plus approaches, first referred to here in this:

image

Click on it to get the even bigger version.

I think it’s one of my all time favourite photos.  All that’s missing is another photographer in the top right hand corner.

Wednesday June 25 2008

I’ve just been rootling around at the Guardian, chasing up a story about President Bush arriving at Heathrow and plunging the place into chaos, and I must have put my mouse arrow in the wrong place, because suddenly a vile advert leapt across the screen and starting screaming vilely loud pop music at me.  It was an advert for Cisco.  “Welcome to a network where instant feedback creates instant success”.  Instant fucking obnoxiousness, more like.  And here’s some instant feedback for you Cisco: Cisco, you are vomit.

This happened quite late at night.  I wasn’t at the time trying to share my home with anyone who was, say, sleeping, or trying to having a quiet and important conversation, but imagine if I had been.  Even with just me and one other person in the next room, it was all pretty damned intrusive and unsettling.  I cannot believe that unleashing this shite on total strangers can do Cisco any good at all, whatsoever.  The visual intrusion is very, very annoying.  The sudden burst of deafeningness is fucking intolerable, and resulted in this entire enraged blog posting, so enraged was I.  To spell it out, my immediate reaction to this intrusive fanfare was not: Ah, Cisco, how interesting, I wonder what Cisco is up to these days and what it has to say for itself just now.  It was: Cisco, fuck off and die.  I now want some internet genius to find where the supreme boss of Cisco sleeps and blast him with three seconds of deafening rock music, and then when, pompous bastard that he is, he complains about this intrusion, I want it to be said to him: Now you know what it’s like you evil-mannered vomit-monger.  Like that mobile phone grandee who had his Sunday golf round deservedly wrecked when he was dragged away to receive a “vital” phone call, from someone who just wanted his (the grandee’s) fucking mobile phone company to stop subjecting him (the suffering non-grandee) to annoying fucking junk phone calls from phone-slaves in India every hour of the fucking day.  How dare you interrupt my spare time with such an outrageously insignificant phone call, said the grandee.  Now you understand, said the non-grandee.  Mikado, eat your heart out.

I don’t normally go in for swear-blogging, but there are times when only swear-blogging will do.

Perhaps I should have a “better late than never” category.  This posting, for instance, was put up by my friend Julian Taylor on May 23rd, but I do like it:

Can’t afford to make your own music video? Simple. Perform your video in front of some of the 13 million CCTV “security” cameras available in England and then file a Freedom of Information request to get the footage back, which is exactly what a band called The Get Out Clause did. Unable to hire a production crew for a standard music video, they performed their music in front of 80 of the 13 million CCTV “security” cameras available in England, including one on a bus, then filed an FoI request and used a computer to stitch it all together.

Now okay, Julian didn’t do the clever bit.  The Get Out Clause did that.  But how else would a (mostly) pop-indifferent person like me hear about such things if my friends didn’t pass on the news on their blogs?  Sadly the video at Julian’s no longer plays, but I assume that the mere music is - unless anyone says otherwise and probably even then - relentlessly dreary and derivative, in the manner of most badly dressed, politically aware, play your own instruments, sub-Coldplay, screw Girls Aloud - well, no, not screw, just “to hell with” – semi-pop.  But they deserve a hit anyway because of the video production method.

Yes, I was right.  You can watch and listen by going here.

First there was PID, now there is PBD.  As of the writing of this posting, this posting at the Telegraph’s Brassneck blog, has switched on some emboldening, but omitted to switch if off, and all subsequent postings are emboldened.  Scroll down to that posting here, and then down some more, and you’ll see what I mean.  Unless they’ve now corrected it.  But since the offending posting has been up there for nearly a month, I’m guessing it’s still there.  I seem to recall reading something about a revamp at the Telegraph blogs.  Maybe it didn’t show up before but does now.

My friend Alex Singleton is one of the writers thus polluted.  You don’t mind your friends being bold on purpose.  But for them to be bold by (someone else’s) mistake is not what you want.

I repeat.  The software should not allow this.  To the end of the one posting, yes.  All subsequent postings, ridiculous.

Tuesday June 24 2008

This evening I was semi-following the Twenty20 county games on Cricinfo, and without doubt the most diverting circumstance I found myself tracking was was this amazing innings.  At one point, Essex had about 150 from about 16 overs.  They ended up with over 240 from 20.  Which means the last four overs were utter mayhem.

imageSomeone called Graham Napier made 152 not out, including 29 off the final over.  Yet Napier did not even open.  He only got to the crease after Essex number one Pettini got out, Pettini having already faced nine balls, and four other runs having somehow also been scored, presumably by Essex number two Gallian.  How many balls did that take?  Basically, Napier did his thing in about 18 overs.  McCullum made a Twenty20 record 158 not out in the very first IPL game, which caused an entirely justified sensation, but he was out there for the entire 20 overs.  That BBC report linked to above describes the Essex start as “sedate”, so it could have taken even longer for Pettini to get out, and Napier might have done it in even less than 18 overs.  Napier’s 16 sixes is the most ever in a Twenty20 innings.

Further evidence of the sedateness of the Essex start is that Robin Martin-Jenkins (son of Christopher M-J the commentator) bowled his 4 overs right at the start for a mere 17 plus the wicket of Pettini.  The rest of the bowlers were massacred, notably Kirtley (who played for England a few times) who conceded 67 in his 4 overs including that final over of 29.

Yes, concerning that sedate start, here’s what Cricinfo says:

What made Napier’s display even better was that he actually took time to play himself in as Essex pottered through the opening six overs. But once he’d middled a few to the short straight boundaries he was unstoppable. There was a cleanness to his striking that was wonderful to watch, the constant crunch of the ball off the middle of his heavy bat resonating around the ground.

And the really great news is that this is not some South African mercenary (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  The guy is English.  English as in he’s qualified to play for England.  (Although, these days, you can be both.)

I’m looking forward to reading what Cricinfo blogger James Foster has to say about this innings.  Foster was at the other end of much of Ravi Bopara’s recent double century for Essex.  He was also at the other end with Napier this evening, scoring 48 in 23 balls, which is only slow when compared to Napier’s rampagings.  Bet you anything Foster says: Napier for England.

Suddenly I’m learning about the photos of Edward Burtynsky.  First there was this, and now Mick Hartley features another one.  Here’s one of my horizontalised slices, of a big photo of Shanghai:

image

The smaller version of that is here.

That was in 2004.  I heard someone on the radio yesterday say that they’re building another Shanghai tower every day, so add another fourteen hundred towers to that picture.  Even if it’s actually only one a week, that’s still two hundred more.

This is exactly what photographers should be doing.  There is not a huge amount of point in photoing things, like Big Ben, that will probably still be there in fifty years time, looking much the same.  But something like Shanghai, which is more like a one-off weird natural phenomenon, just demands to be photoed.  Ideally, it should be photoed every day, every hour, from the exact same high-up spot, to make a time-lapse video.  Let’s hope that’s happening.  (And isn’t it great that digital photos automatically record exactly when they were taken?) It’s one of the great facts of the world just now.

UPDATE: See also this revealing cement production graph.

Monday June 23 2008

Nothing from me here today, but elsewhere, a rather long book review.

Sunday June 22 2008

Maybe it’s because he’s Irish.

In this posting, about how the Conservatives are now playing dirty against Gordon Brown, Guido quotes himself saying, in 2007:

To borrow a cricketing metaphor; the Tories will need to bowl bodyline. Coulson is a player, not a gentlemen, he could be their Larwood, they have far too many Jardines already.

Too many Jardines?  Jardine, the England captain who unleashed Larwood, was, if anything, more ruthless than Larwood.  Larwood, and Voce, and Bowes, were only obeying orders.

Too many Gubby Allens would be more like it.  Although himself part of the England fast bowling attack on the Bodyline tour, Allen disagreed with the Jardine policy.  He thought it ungentlemanly.

Saturday June 21 2008

Wow.  Sunset with birds, linked to from here, and here.  And here are some birds snapped on a muggy Friday in London town:

image

Click to get the whole picture.  No, I don’t know why it says Chariots on the windows either.

And perhaps one of the pigeons is called Brian.  Here’s the same row of pigeons snapped a few moments later.

image

This time it wouldn’t work to just have the pigeons, because they’re mostly too hard to see, and there’s no point in me making you click to get it bigger, because everything is too blurry as it is.  But you see what I did.  I kept the pigeons flat, but let perspective and all that make everything else go wonky.  It doesn’t count as real photography, but fun was had by me.

Friday June 20 2008

Friday being Friday, time for cats, and I always think it’s a bit of a bad sign if you own more than two cats.  According to my calculations this person ...

image

... has about twenty, and has started to become a cat herself.  I include this picture here because the artist who did it is a friend of Goddaughter 2, whom I have just been visiting in France, and GD2 emailed me the link to the blog where this and many other drawings are on display.  The style is not one I’m especially fond of, but there’s no denying that these drawings are done very well.  Derivative?  Maybe.  But personally I think that a very good way to start out as an artist is to begin by doing straight copies, as accurate as possible, of the work of others that you particularly like.  Then, let your own ideas seep in gradually.  I don’t thing this person will lack for gainful employment, do you?

Here is another cat, one I met in France.  Just the one this time.

image

I like the way its front feet are crossed over.

I also like photo-ing shop window displays.  And here is a cat-related one of those, which shows that in France they know all about crazy cats.

image

Yes, I do like snapping shop windows, come to think of it.  I was at it again only this evening, snapping away at some mannequins with silver reflective bodies wearing bikinis, in Oxford Street.

Ring ring.  Pick up.  Silence, so it’s a junk call.  Eventually, after the great international message machine has connected whoever it is to me, with unimaginable ingenuity and as a result of vast amounts of capital outlay, a Female African Accent: Blah blah blah, I need to check that this is still the Liborarrain Alliance, blah blah.  Me, interrupting: What’s this about?, because chances are it’s of no interest. FAA, and I swear I did not make this up:

“Okay.  My company just released a new concept on the market and it’s called synergy.”

Me, immediately: no thanks, puts phone down.

Synergy.  Synergy.  (Or is it “Sinergy”?) The poor bitch is expected to say this nonsense about sy(i)nergy to anyone who asks what it’s about.  What a miserable life.  Dickensian novels should be written - or now soap operas should be enacted - about ghastly tasks like this.  Dothecalls Hall, presided over by a brutal taskmaster with a truncheon who forbids any deviation from the despicable drivel in the script.

Much is written and said about spam emails, rightly.  But spam phone calls are becoming an increasing problem.  They are much more of an interruption, e.g. when I am doing the washing up and have to dry my hands.  And the danger is that, just as you will delete real emails, you will also say fuck off you lying lunatic (having just been pestered by an Indian accent claiming to be called “Charles") to someone real who is trying to phone you about something real.

There are also an increasing number of robotic phone calls, read out by voice-over wankers, about things that are pretending to be and which sound “official” but which are surely not.  But at least you can always tell those are what they are, and no human being is in the slightest bit hurt when you hang up.  I sometimes listen to those things right through, and leave them connected, thereby, I hope, costing someone else some money.

I blame Chris Tame.  He spent weeks of his now ended life getting the Libertarian Alliance into various idiotic guide books and directories, under the impression that these would be read by real people seeking actual political organisations, instead of by junk phone pests.

I am not nearly at the stage of suffering from phonerage, but I can entirely understand and sympathise with people who are.

Thursday June 19 2008

So yes, I’m back from my little holiday, and very pleasant it was too.  But I’m glad I didn’t promise to sustain my at-least-once-a-day blogging schedule, because the computing side of things kept going relentlessly wrong.  I’ve already mentioned the keyboard incompatibility thing, and that posting certainly seems to have poked a spanner into a Pandora’s Box of worms.  At first I thought I had this under control, in the form of my little laptop with its Human as opposed to French layout.  However, it turned out that the electricity in Brittany made no impact on that computer, and it refused to recharge (accident number one).  And even if it had, I had forgotten to bring my card reader (error number one), which meant I couldn’t transfer stuff from my Human computer to the French computer my hosts provided me with, thereby avoiding all that keyboard nonsense.  You ask: Why should that have mattered?  Couldn’t my own computer be used to post stuff direct?  No, because it refused to connect to the Wi-Fi set up at my host’s home (accident number two).  I typed in the interminable code my hosts were eventually able to supply me with, about eleven times, and each time it just said some gibberish about how it wanted this or that in ASCII, and went no further.  I did not have my computer book of words with me (error number two), which might have told me what to do about that.  Had I been staying a month, I might have tried to sort this out.  As it was, I just said forget about it.

So how, I hear you all asking in a mighty chorus, did I manage to post anything, and in particular, any pictures, at all?  Forget Mr Davis and his Freedom Crusade.  Ignore the Irish saying No.  Gordon Brown has.  To hell with the Euro-soccer.  How come, the world wants to know, did I manage to post this? Well first, I did use the French keyboard, very slowly and with lots of going back to correct.  And second, there was another computer in the house which did have an SD card reader, so I could stuff photos into that.  I could have used that machine to post stuff, but others in the house also wanted to use that machine, to play games, and me using it would have involved me being surrounded by clouds of silent we-can’t-say-anything-because-he’s-a-guest hostility.  He already has two computers.  Why does he need a third one?  And remember, that computer also had a French keyboard instead of a proper one, so everything there would have taken three times as long also.  After one session transferring pictures from my SD card to a CD (we tried with a DVD but that went completely wrong – it turned the pictures into a slide show that couldn’t be broken into), which all took about an hour, so I didn’t dare ask for that again.  But, I was able to read my first batch of pictures.  But then, of course, I had to use the picture-manipulating programme I eventually discovered on my French computer, which was most inconvenient not least because it was all in French.  I made this programme work eventually, but once again, my reaction was: no, I will not be doing that again.  French people all know how to speak and write in Human, and they do, behind our backs and amongst themselves.  Why can’t they do it all the time?  Holidays don’t need to be this comlicated.

In the end, I simply forgot about putting stuff here, or here, or for that matter here, and did other things, holiday things, like taking lots more photos.  At least I didn’t run out of SD card space, and now have a zillion photos of it all, some of which I will be showing you, as and when I feel inclined.  But, I promise nothing.

Wednesday June 18 2008

My favourite of David Thompson’s latest batch of ephemera is this 3D recreation in miniature of the Milky Way.

image

I eagerly anticipate the time when, at the clicks of various buttons, we will be able to change the picture to anything 3D that anyone cares to provide.  Then, it will be 3D “movies”.  I used to assume that this would somehow happen in empty air, but presumably it is more likely to be arrangeable inside a solid lump of transparency.

Followed by the inevitable, interminable, generation-spanning wait for flat screen versions of the same thing.

By the way, I think having the mere earth in the exact centre of this Milky Way object, and hence the Milky Way itself off to the side, is silly.  Some kind of winking red light for the earth, switch-offable, would be far better.

Sunday June 15 2008

As yesterday’s posting demonstrated, I can put stuff up here, and with photos; but it is very hard.  Even text is annoying to do because of the AZERTY nonsense, AZERTY being the only word I can type with total confidence.  So this may well be it until I get home.

But just to remind myself, I have seen: a demo (here: manifestation) involving burning rubber tyres attended by wankers of all ages from all over Brittany; a great vintage car; a peculiar round house that you can buy in kit form; European football on the television; Senor Something Manuel Barroso squirming and wriggling on the subject of the Irish NO – even he realised that immediately saying, in the manner of a rapist, that NO really meant YES was a bit off.

Mostly what I have discovered is that computing in foreign parts is hard.  So there will continue to be nothing substantial here until I get home, and very possibly nothing at all.

Saturday June 14 2008

Quimper, the town in Brittany where I am staying, is famous for its many bridges, this being one of the particular reasons why I particularly like it.  But oddly, the best Quimper bridge picture I have so far snapped is this:

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It’s a better picture than any I’ve found before of the Nanpu Bridge and most especially its amazing approaches.  It’s a movie poster that I saw around the town somewhere.

Friday June 13 2008

I reqlly hqte the QWERTY keyboqrd:  This is zhqt hqppens zhen I touch type zith it:  I cqn*t even type QWERTY properly:  It co,es out qs AZERTY:

Thursday June 12 2008

I’m off on a little holiday, although potential burglars who fancy my CD collection should be aware that a friend is minding my house with orders to shoot first and ask questions afterwards.  Plus, when I get back from my travels, I may decide to make the sporadic thing last a few weeks longer, to enable me to concentrate on other things.  As usual, I promise nothing.

Wednesday June 11 2008

I like this posting by Mick Hartley, about why most of us respond so much more intensely to old photos of now dead people than to old paintings of now dead people:

Is that just because photography’s a newer art form? That we’re more used to paintings, and so have lost that sense of the power of a portrait that perhaps our forebears felt? In which case we should expect our descendants, in a few hundred years time, when photos of people who died centuries before will be utterly commonplace, to have lost that feeling of ... of what? Sadness? Poignancy is the word I’ve used, and I don’t know how else to describe it.

It’s plausible, I suppose, but there seems to be more to it than that: something about the reality of it, even if, as sophisticates, we’ve been told not to rely too much on that naive trust in what’s real and what isn’t. We still see a person - not a portrait, a person - looking back at us from the distant past, and we get some kind of shiver, some intimation of mortality.

As David Hockney for one has well explained, there is a much more intimate connection between photographic technology of various kinds and hand-done pictures than many artist type painters of our own time feel happy about, which is why what Hockney says is so controversial.  Painting, for many old-time painters, was just a primitive way of making likenesses, by hand, until something better came along.  Which is why so many of the first photographers were ex-painters.  This was just a better and more accurate way, a more real way, as Mick Hartley says, of doing the exact same job, in much the same way that railway trains were an improvement on horses.

The automaticness of photos means that we are seeing people in their real setting without any intermediate and untrustworthy editorialising, through clear glass rather via someone else’s mind and hand, each liable to insert both deliberate and inadvertent falsehoods.

Paintings are okay, but photos are, in short, better, because more accurate.

Seen on the tube, i.e. the London Underground railway system, last night:

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They can do no other.  God help them.  Amen.

Tuesday June 10 2008

This time the offending italics, beneath which all else is italicised, are: Because They Are All At It.

I’m sure they are, but this is no excuse ... for whatever bunch of prats perpetrated Guido’s blogging software.  It is pardonable that the rest of the posting below this error is italically polluted.  That the rest of the entire blog, including all the stuff to the right, is polluted is ridiculous.

This may be cleared up at any moment, but take my word for it, it did happen.  And at a time when there was already another (unpolluted) posting above the offending post.

By the way, this error does not register on Firefox.  I checked this, and all was fine in Firefox.  It was still wrong in Internet Explorer.  So maybe we should add PID to the Microsoft charge sheet.

Monday June 09 2008

Incoming from my friend Chris, to whom thanks, who thought this might be of interest to me.  I don’t fully agree but am indeed most interested.

Quote:

During the seventies, with the help of his equally talented brother Rob, Krier began producing designs showing how the urban fabric of Europe could be conserved, enhanced, and expanded, while answering to the real needs of modern people. A few enlightened city councils - notably those of Luxembourg and Bremen - commissioned plans and projects from the Kriers, though largely of an exploratory kind. But it was only in the eighties, when the Prince of Wales invited him to plan the new town of Poundbury, adjacent to the city of Dorchester, that Krier found a real opportunity to put his ideas into practice. His work immediately began to attract the critics’ attention.

Professional architects, appalled at the threat to the modernist monopoly, did their best to destroy Krier’s reputation and to dismiss his work as that of a nostalgic dreamer. But to their consternation, Poundbury has attracted enthusiastic residents, as well as industries and shops; it has become a place of pilgrimage, as popular with tourists as any medieval city, and a model that others are following elsewhere. ...

I do not share Scruton’s or Prince Charles’s loathing of skyscrapers, but I think it is excellent that this loathing should be expressed not by such persons merely agitating against skyscrapers, but instead in the form of a completely different sort of place, of the sort that they do like.  If you think about it, one of the great dogs that didn’t bark of modern British design is new towns.  Oh, there were a few New Towns, but none were popular hits.  If Poundbury is a popular hit, right up there in public affection with the Gherkin and the Wheel, then suddenly it becomes politically possible to build lots of new houses, in England’s green and pleasant land, when at present all this does is cause grief and complaint.  I will investigate Poundbury some more.

In accordance with one of those little coincidences that life bestows from time to time, I was watching a DVD of The Lives of Others.  But, I was pausing it from time to time to keep up with the Holland Italy game, and in among all the pausing, I also read this:

Who were the people who carried out the daily atrocities? What and how did they believe? Where are they now? Did they go back home to their families at the end of the day, having broken a few more bodies and spirits? Did they do this out of fear? Or were they merely sadists gravitating to the communism sanctioned violence towards their fellow human beings?

Pretty much, would be my guess.

However, the character at the centre of The Lives of Others, played by Ulrich Muhe, is made of very different stuff.  His demeanour and mentality is almost saintly, certainly rather priestlike.  He means well, and he feels the pain of those he spies on almost as if it were his own.  Were any of the Stasi really like this?

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This movie has been hailed as a masterpiece from all parts of the political spectrum.  Perhaps part of the hailing is because it makes the Stasi seem, in at least some cases, nicer and more morally and aesthetically exalted than any of them really were.  It’s not a bad movie, you understand.  Just, I suspect, profoundly unrealistic as far as the central character is concerned.  All the other Stasis we see, and especially the politician to whom they all owe allegiance, are pigs.

But, I do not have intimate knowledge of communism, or indeed of any saintly looking men who were or who are actually doing piglike things.  Perhaps many of the Stasis were like this man.  I must ask my friend Adriana Lukas, who grew up under Communism in Slovakia, and who is the writer of the piece linked to and quoted above.

It would appear that at least one East German border guard was very like Ulrich Muhe, for the simple reason that one of them, once upon a time was Ulrich Muhe.  Muhe died last year of stomach cancer:

The cause of death was stomach cancer, but the Hollywood Reporter obit includes “Lives” director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s statement that the ailment stemmed from Muhe’s experiences in the East German military in the 1970s, when he developed stomach problems after being ordered to shoot fugitives escaping over the Berlin Wall. (The Spiegel Online obit has further details.)

He literally didn’t have the stomach for it.  Blog and learn.

It occurs to me that I had already noticed that Muhe, at any rate for this movie, had a very particular way of walking, which is the complete opposite of clumping about.  His walk was all feet and ankles, shorter than usual steps, almost balletic.  I put it down to him wanting to look like a man who did not want to be noticed or to cause any sort of stir to others.  But this would also be your walk if you wanted to subject your stomach muscles to the minimum of stress.

By the way, I wrote that bit about how he “feels the pain of those he spies on almost as if it were his own” before I knew anything about the man dying of cancer.  Spooky.  I only got to the cancer stuff because I wanted a good picture of the man.

Sunday June 08 2008

It was posted over a week ago, but I still think it worth noting.  This is the best thing I’ve read about the ridiculous Eurovision Song Contest:

The Great British Public’s attitude towards the Eurovision Song Contest is a thing that baffles me. Firstly, we seem to be obsessed with winning the damn thing. Why? Why are we so determined to beat those colossi of popular music, Latvia, Hungary, and [cough] France, in this one pan-European pop music contest that happens on just one day every year, when we totally wipe the floor with them and every other country in the world bar one in that other international pop music contest, called “sales”, every single day, and have done for the last fifty years? All these people that, on Eurovision night, vote for the Croation entry over the British one, when they’re actually in a record shop deciding what to buy with their hard-earned cash, what music they’d actually like to own so that they can listen to it again and again and again, they don’t buy Croation records. They buy British. We know this. They know this. So why on Earth do we give a damn about how they vote on the one night every year when their decision costs them, and means, nothing?

I also read somewhere that the ESC is crap because it is done with political decision-making rather than economic decision-making.  But, I forget where.  Maybe Samizdata.  Squander Two suggestion that Britain enters the Rolling Stones is great, but they would never agree to it, would they?  Nobody who’s any good would want to be dragged into that madhouse.  It’s like a vote for the most ludicrous novelty record.

Micklethwait’s variant of Sod’s Law, Micklethwait’s Law of English Summer Weather, states that there is plenty of great weather in the English summer, but that it gets switched off during test matches.  So, for instance, the abrupt end of the best spell of summer weather so far this summer coincided precisely with day one of the first test match between England and New Zealand.

So, today’s weather is and tomorrow’s weather will be great.  But, there is a test match, number three of three, going on, against New Zealand, finishing tomorrow.  What gives?  What gives is what has just given, which is that New Zealand just lost.  This law doesn’t merely state that if there’s test cricket the good weather switches on.  It also states that if the weather is good during a test match, the test match switches itself off.  Which is what just happened.  Two lovely days that should have been full of great test cricket will now be almost entirely test cricketless.  The series is over, and summer is well and truly back.

You can always tell when a visiting team is being well and truly beaten at test cricket.  The home fans start cheering for the visitors, so they can get more cricket to watch.  Today, all England’s fans, me definitely included, wanted Jacob Oram to have a serious slog.  Sadly, just when he had reached a mere fifty, he ran out of partners, and NZ lost by an innings.  This after England had been 86-5 on the first day.  I persist in believing that England are not that good just now.  But it’s been many years since NZ have been this bad.

Saturday June 07 2008

My favourite stupid internet story at the moment is about floating ducks.  Red beavers are also involved, but the Daily Mail failed to mention them in their version of this:

They were toys destined only to bob up and down in nothing bigger than a child’s bath - but so far they have floated halfway around the world.

The armada of 29,000 plastic yellow ducks, blue turtles and green frogs broke free from a cargo ship 15 years ago.

Since then they have travelled 17,000 miles, floating over the site where the Titanic sank, landing in Hawaii and even spending years frozen in an Arctic ice pack.

And now they are heading straight for Britain. At some point this summer they are expected to be spotted on beaches in South-West England.

That was a year ago, so presumably now they’ve started arriving.  I heard about this at Counting Cats, where they also link to the relevant Wikipedia page.

I realise this is a crap posting.  I’m now watching Galaxy Quest.  To do a decent posting I’d have had to interrupt that.  Put yourself in my position.

The leader of the good aliens in that movie, played by Enrico Colantoni, might at first seem qualified to be on that list of movie-stealing great performances:

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However, Galaxy Quest is a great movie, so: no.  By the way, is the dopey brunette alien now in one of those CSI things on the telly?

They look like bloggers, don’t they?

Friday June 06 2008

In this report of the day’s dramas in the England v NZ cricket game, the text commentator compares Stuart Broad to Malfoy in Harry Potter.  Yes!  I’ve just been watching the TV highlights, and that’s exactly who he reminded me of.  I’d already got to the “he reminds me of someone” stage, but hadn’t pinned it down.

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And while we’re on the subject of likenesses, how about this photographic juxtaposition of Jimmy Anderson, England’s other and leading hero de jour, and the actor Timothy Olyphant?

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Broad and Anderson contrived a very useful if rather dull late order stand in the morning which got England, who just after lunch yesterday were 86-5, past 350.  Then Anderson swung into action again by getting all six to fall in NZ’s so far disastrous reply.  The commentators were all asking if anyone had ever done a batting personal best and a bowling personal best on the same day, like Jimmy A did?  Doing this on your first day, they all agreed, doesn’t count.

As for Timothy Olyphant, one of my favourite listing games is listing Great Performances in Otherwise Less Than Great Movies, and I hereby nominate Olyphant for his mesmerising turn as a pornographer in the otherwise distinctly average The Girl Next Door.  See also: Edward Fox in A Bridge Too Far, and lots of others I can’t think of just now.

A thing that people sometimes forget about Guido Fawkes, what with all the scandal and the drinking and the rage of the lefties, is that he can write.  His blog wouldn’t be nearly such fun were this not so.

Gordon is not enjoying power as much as Guido is enjoying the destruction of the Labour Party as an electoral force under his leadership. Odd is it not that what Guido was dreading and Gordon was craving - Brown as Prime Minister - has made him miserable and Guido cheerfully jump out of his bed every morning. Be careful what you wish for ...

I too am enjoying the seemingly inexorable fall and fall of Gordon Brown, although unlike Guido, I did not see it coming.  The temptation, now that he is looking so very miserable all the time, is to feel sorry for this ghastly man, and part of me does.  But one must remember how truly ghastly he is, and has always been.  Now that he is down, he must be kicked.  His unreconstructed devotion to state centralism as the means of achieving anything at all, ever, is, given all that happened in the twentieth century, unforgiveable.  All his virtues, such as they were, were forced upon him.  All his vices would have been even more pronounced had he had his way more.  It took him a decade to turn a fairly satisfactory (by its own recent standards) British economy into a mess.  Given a freer hand, he would have done this in half the time or less.  He raised taxes sneakily, but inexorably.  Had he had his way, he would have raised them in a defiant lurch towards disaster.  The time to feel sorry for him will be when he has been well and truly removed from office and thoroughly disgraced.  Then he can become a national treasure for all I care, and probably he will.

In the meantime, he could do quite a lot more harm, especially if forthcoming electoral defeat looks certain and he and his party decide to go down with all their socialism blazing, so maybe I will soon start enjoying all this a lot less.  It also may become less enjoyable if he does a turnaround, and manages to squeeze out an electoral victory.  From now, it may turn out that things can only get better.  What if he develops some positive momentum?  Two years is a long time in politics.  James Forsyth of Coffee House reckons he might have bottomed out.  But on the whole I go with Guido’s unswerving belief that the Gord is totally wrong for the job and will take his party with him into the wilderness.  And if they do follow some kind scorched-earth damn-you-bourgeoi-bastards policy, they could stay there for a long time.

Thursday June 05 2008

Yes, snapped today and blogged today!  I went a-walking and a-snapping, along Victoria Street (where I finally found a window to bounce the Wheel off), through Parliament Square, over Westminster Bridge, past the Wheel, along to the Royal Festival Hall.  Here are some of the better ones.

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The entire trip would have been worth it for that last one alone.

Wednesday June 04 2008

One of the oddest things about art criticism is how it sails on serenely despite the obvious vacuity of so much of it.  And this piece by Christian Demand gets as close as any I have read lately to explaining why this happens.

Key quote:

… Since the critic ... is on a par with art, he always stands on the right side of the expertise gap. His task is essentially to educate the people: from the lofty heights of expertise he informs the audience about what art is and how to behave towards it. Shocking amounts of writing about art follow this view to a greater or lesser extent. Against this current, there is something I want to cling to: “Art” is – and always was – a value judgement, in other words a term whose application reflects the likes and dislikes of the person using it. Art is therefore anything we call art, because for whatever reasons we find it interesting, exciting, enriching or delightful. Since however experience tells us that people find very different things interesting, exciting, enriching or delightful, it follows that the popular pedagogic declaration “That is art!” is trivial (in that it simply denotes that the object in question is, let’s say, being exhibited in a museum) or presumptuous (in that it assumes that something which I find interesting, automatically has to be interesting to others).

Which is, I suppose, a rather longwinded way of saying: it’s all subjective.  The problem is that most of those who complain about art criticism merely insist on the supremacy of rather different kinds of art (usually older and more established sorts that they and the people they are trying to persuade to support them against the dominant art critics are more familiar with), rather than conceding the point about subjectivity.  Thus, their criticisms partake of just the same bogus objectivity as that which they complain about.  Yet if critics of the vacuity of art criticism concede the point about the subjectivity of art, well, it all becomes so much harder for them.  To topple the art critics they disapprove of, they must first topple their own assumptions.

I’m not sure about any of this.  But I did want to record the link, and my first thoughts about the piece linked to.

I remember some emailer getting very angry about my old Culture Blog, and the bit at the top that said something like: Culture means what I say it means.  I was, as I hope was and is clear, asserting not my own superior understanding of culture (or art), but the subjectivity of all such claims.  And I think he understood me very well.

Tuesday June 03 2008

Another bridge, a quota bridge, you might say, this time in Seattle, the AMGEN footbridge:

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Interestingly, Flickr did not yield any pictures which explained what this strange object actually consists of, merely what it looked like from inside, which is another matter entirely.  I found the above picture with Google.  But, I only learned of the AMGEN Bridge in the first place by trawling through Flickr.  I found it by looking for a crazy bridge.

Monday June 02 2008

The side of a car, snapped a few days ago, near where I live:

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Click on that to get a slightly different angle on the car as a whole.

There’s something very poignant about wildly out-of-date political stickers on cars.  It’s as if they are telling the world: This was my moment, my magic moment, and it has now gone.  Then, I believed.  Nothing since then has worked for me.  All of this is greatly reinforced by the fact that they still have the same car.  Then, they could afford a nice car.  Now, they have to make do with what they bought then.

Another vehicle often to be seen around where I live sports a CLINTON/GORE sticker.  ‘96, I think it is.

Sunday June 01 2008

A day or two ago I was out and about in London with a friend, and encountered a largish group of identically dressed sportsmen.  They were wearing black kit, with the word “Australia” on it, which seemed odd.  The kit all looked pretty expensive and smart and shiny and sponsored and all that, so presumably they were a real team, and maybe quite a famous one. I asked one of them what team they were.  “Barbarians”, he replied.  The Barbarians rugby team are indeed playing England today.  I said something vaguely arse-holish about how I hoped they lose by one point in a good game.  The guy walked on, as if anxious to avoid any interaction whatsoever.

I was a little surprised by this somewhat stand-offish and abrupt conduct on his part.  On those occasional occasions when I say hello to a celeb, it’s usually to tell an actor that I like his acting, and invariably, in my experience, actors are charm itself, however irritated they may be underneath the charm.  Presumably I am the same arse-hole when I talk to them that I was with this sports guy, yet the actors all respond with huge kindness and grace.  Not long ago, for instance, I encountered the distinguished actor Michael Pennington (coincidentally, he was in this, on the telly earlier this evening), and I said hello and I told him I liked his acting (which I very much do) , and he said who was I?, and we got into how I and my elder brother and he had all been at the same school (my brother was in the same house as him and an exact contemporary), and Michael Pennington was just as nice as I could possibly have hoped.  Yet this little grump of a rugby player just couldn’t get away from me quickly enough.  What had got into the guy?  Seriously, what was going on here?  I gave it some thought.

Well, for starters, it helped that I knew who Michael Pennington was, whereas I was merely asking this guy who he was, which is a very different experience.  But there was surely more involved than that.  Sport is an entirely different thing to acting.  Sportsman, unlike actors, are paid to work themselves into a competitive frenzy and then actually to compete, in a manner not at all unlike warfare and which is constantly described with warlike metaphors.  They simply are not trained to fake niceness with strangers.  Quite the opposite.

Plus, I should imagine that, what with all the quasi-warfare involved, the strangers are often a lot less charming to the sportsmen, when they meet the sportsmen in the street.  I’m a nice guy, but the sports guy couldn’t be sure of that.  That being so, you can well understand that the default rule for handling twats who talk to you in the street is: get away from there as quickly as possible, before your competitive streak cuts in and you find yourself banned from playing for three months, or worse.  I mean, what’s going on here is that these sports guys, if they hung around to talk about it all, would risk having to make nice while some little runt of the sort they were routinely nasty to at school is nasty to them.  Probably, there would be no problem.  But every ten or twenty times, the meeting could turn nasty like this, at which point the everyday social equivalent of the sportsman’s usual way of handling nastiness - tackle you into the mud, smash it past you, whatever, and publicly humiliate you, while all the while shouting up a storm - would have to be strenuously resisted.

You can see how they would want to steer clear of this kind of stuff.  The wonder is not that sportsmen sometimes get into fights with the public.  The wonder is that it doesn’t happen more often.

So, I entirely forgive my Barbarian (if that’s what he was) tormentee, and hope that, in the unlikely event that he remembers me, he forgives me.