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Thursday July 31 2008

I hate the weather in London just now, especially the humidity.  I have a Pifco plastic fan on the go in my kitchen, but all it does is blow hot air from one part of the kitchen to another.  Which is not nice.

I’m watching Never Mind The Buzz Cocks, which I greatly enjoy.  (I can remember the original Buzz Cocks.) Simon Amstell is funny.  Apparently Lethal Bizzel (sp?), who is guesting on tonight’s show, is a rap singer, and he once called Conservative Party Leader David Cameron a doughnut.  Why?  Because he (Cameron) was blamin’ like black musicians for like what de kids like were doin’ on de street ‘n’ stuff.  Yes, said Amstell, how dare he accuse rap artists of glamourising violence and crime.  What a ridiculous accusation.  “You should have shot him!” Arf arf.

What else can I tell you?  What crumbs from the media banquet that you didn’t notice first time around, can I rescue from the floor and serve you again?  In truth, nothing occurs.  Most of television is a vast desert of “reality” TV and idiot competitions, which, unlike Buzz Cocks, people are mostly taking seriously.  But I see no sense in going on about this.  The popular electronically contrived and distributed culture of the twenty first century is so abundant that there is surely no excuse for attending to anything you don’t like, and then moaning about it, unless you actually like doing that, as many do of course.  When there were only two channels, both showing documentaries about cheese (small prize for the film alluded to there), then such complaining was very reasonable.  But when there are hundreds of channels, you find yourself (I find myself) grateful that so much of it seems like shit and you don’t have to watch it.  Seriously, when I look through the Radio Times and I see absolutely nothing I want to watch, I say to myself: “Great, there’s absolutely nothing I want to watch.  I have the evening to myself.  I can read a book or compose deathless prose.  Life is good.” Plus nowadays, if there is something you want to watch, you can record it, put it on a DVD, and watch it later.  You still don’t have to actually watch anything, this evening.  Isn’t that great?  I think so.  We all have our individual ways of responding to the multi-media cornucopia.  That’s mine.  By the way, it’s not Bizzel, it’s Bizzle.

From the weather, on the other hand, there is, for as long as it lasts like this, no escape.

Wednesday July 30 2008

The cricket today was disastrous.  Collingwood will be dropped, again, and Vaughan’s days are also numbered if he doesn’t start making runs.  Strauss doesn’t look too solid either.  Cook and Bell both played well, but then got out for non-huge scores, as is their habit.  Only Flintoff made runs and didn’t get out, on account of running out of partners.

So who will come in?  The two names I hear are Shah of Middlesex, already a one day England regular, and Key of Kent.  Interestingly, these were the guys who played the two best innings in the Twenty20 final, as already noted here, which does rather throw doubt on the idea that Twenty20 and test cricket are two completely different games.  As does the fact that Vaughan’s form is also now consistent across all forms of the game.

Surrey, fresh from Kenny Kennington’s triumph in the Twenty20 Finals Day county mascot race, came down back to earth with their now customary crashRamprakash, still seeking his hundredth first class hundred, was out for 6.  Can’t take the pressure is what all the commentators are saying.  Same as he couldn’t take the pressure of test cricket.  Unkind, but, you suspect, true.

Even more – no, far more - depressing is the current shambles in the relationship between India and England in the matter of cricket administration.  I don’t claim to understand the finer points of it all, but basically, both England and India seem to want to be the boss of the Twenty20 world championship.  And a further refinement of chaos is added that in India there is one of those fights-to-the-death (think bitter custody battle – DVD versus Blu-ray) going on between two different Indian versions of such a championship.  The IPL is now winning, and is trying to hunt down and kill all who have signed up for the hated ICL, which includes people now playing for English counties.  Ergo, no English county with ICL players can take part in IPL events.  Kent would have been invited to the IPL show in the autumn, but have not been, because they have ICL people in their squad.  Middlesex have been invited, because they don’t, but maybe forbidden to go, on account of Kent not having been invited.  What a mess.

Still, the good news is that Twenty20 has finally made it possible to have an annual international tournament not only between countries but also between clubs.  Think: soccer World Cup, and soccer (okay only European) Champions League.  It is because this is the prize that is (these are the prizes that are) being fought over that it is all getting so nasty.  You can’t reasonably have two, or three, or four, “World Cups”.

Except that actually, you can.  Speaking as someone who has been involved in one of these fights to the death, I can tell you that sometimes they never actually result in a death and a winner.  The fight can go on for ever.  It may turn out that the only way these fights will be settled is if the entire nation of India refuses to support any tournament until they are joined together into one.  But even that might not work.  Even then, they might still each persist, and cricket, in the words of the cliché, would be the loser.  Horribly.

An extra drop of poison is added to the mix in that England is used to running world cricket, alongside other white men.  But India is now where most of the spectator power suddenly is, and the Indians have a great chance to get back at England for all the grovelling they’ve had to do in the past.

Michael J, is all that about right, or is there more involved, or maybe different things involved?

I wanted to stick this up yesterday, but yesterday I had internet problems.  As it is, the Beijing sky doesn’t seem to have changed much since 8am on the 28th:

image

That’s my flattened version of this picture.

Fallows says we should all hope that these Olympics are a success, because if they aren’t the Chinese people will all blame the foreigners for moaning:

Outsiders who think that a pollution emergency or a spiraling protest would focus domestic blame on the Chinese government are dreaming.

Sounds like they just don’t want the foreigners criticising.  Personally, I don’t blame Beijing for the filthy air, if that’s what it turns out to be.  I blame the Olympics people for picking Beijing.

More recent news?  Well this headline sounded better, from the blue sky point of view:

The Beijing Sky Is Blue

But the final paragraph of the story puts sneer quotes around that:

Beijing is used to managing the flow of information to the public. But with more than 20,000 foreign journalists due to report from China during the Games, telling people that gray is blue is not going to work as well as it used to.

Fallows seems to be assuming that the only thing that matters about all this is what the Chinese people themselves think about it all.  (And that’s quite aside from the matter of whether or not he’s right about what the Chinese people think.) But there is also the matter of what the rest of the population of the world makes of it, and what conclusions they draw from all this.  And the world’s many non-Chinese people are hardly going to accept that the Beijing smog is all their fault, and will not take kindly to being told by the “Chinese people” that it is.

My understanding of China now is that it is an increasingly capitalist economy guided-stroke- bossed by an as-yet unreformed Communist political system.  The Chinese people are now allowed quite a bit of latitude, especially in economic matters, and especially if you are rich with lots of friends in high places.  But they are not encouraged to tell people like James Fallows that their government has cocked up the Olympic Games and that they wish the damn things had never come anywhere near them, even if this is what a great many of them might think, on the quiet.  But, I’ve never been anywhere near China, so make what you want of that opinion.

Tuesday July 29 2008

Billion Monkey cameras are for taking amusing photos of amusing or pleasing circumstances and sticking them up on the internet, yes?  Yes.  Definitely.  But they are also portable photocopiers.

image

That bit about Jerry Sadowitz looked like it might be worth writing something about for here, so I snapped it, to remind myself.  And indeed it is.  I wonder how newspapers feel about having their front pages copied like this.  (See also, this.)

Monday July 28 2008
Sunday July 27 2008

Last night was a good night for me.  Not only was I (see immediately below) enjoying some great televised cricket, I was also and simultaneously recording some great televised music, back home, where my faithful TV hard disc was soaking up Nigel Kennedy playing the Elgar Violin Concerto at the Proms.  I’m watching it and listening to it now.  It is fabulous.  Very good violinists can come a total cropper in this piece.  They play the notes - although sometimes not even them, for it is a fiendishly hard piece to play - but then they find that they can’t make them mean anything.  Kennedy makes every single moment come totally alive.  He has already made two EMI recordings of this piece, and he’s recently been touring it around Germany, I believe.  It is clear that he knows it inside out and every which way.  He’s completely in command of every nuance, and is taking amazing risks with the tempo and phrasing, all of which are working beautifully, to my ear.  It’s a strange thing, watching a sweaty bloke dressed like a tramp, shaved like a man who doesn’t know what shaving is, playing music like this, so completely well.  A lot of it is the conducting.  It’s being played rather faster and more tempestuously than is usual, less Elgar the grandly serene Edwardian British imperialist and more Elgar the extreme romantic actor-out of extreme emotion.  I recently heard Kennedy say that he reckons the old Albert Sammons recording to be the best there is.  I believe I detect a strong influence from that.

I’ve been trying to think who Kennedy reminds me of.  Got it!  It’s Neil, the guy who sells unbelievable good and unbelievably recent classical CDs for unbelievably low prices in the Lower Marsh open air market. The same stubble, the same pudgy complexion, the same shaped face, the same look even.  How odd.

I’m not, I’m afraid, looking forward very much to the jazz that Kennedy will be playing later, recorded at the other Kennedy Prom.  Jazz rarely does anything for me, wonderful music though the most wonderful jazz clearly is.  But I am glad to have recorded it, and will pay careful attention to it.  My prejudice is that Kennedy is no huge shakes as a jazz violinist, but that the experience and discipline of playing jazz, to a jazz audience, makes him an even better classical violinist, particularly in pieces like this Elgar.  But who knows?  Maybe I’ll like it a lot more than that.

Saturday July 26 2008

Spent the second half of the day at Michael J’s watching the Twenty20 cricket.  Am now exhausted, mostly because I left my camera there and had to go back to get it, on account of wanting to have it with me tomorrow, for more socialising.

But the cricket was terrific. There’s no need for me to tell you what happened.  If you care about that, then go (e.g.) here, which is a description of the final, and where there are links to descriptions of the two semi-finals.  Rather will I offer a few general observations.

First, TV is often accused of stopping us all from socialising as much as we might.  People often deny this, out of duty, but for many, including me, it’s true.  I am sure I would have socialised more in my life if TV had not been invented.  But, on this occasion, TV obliged me to socialise.  Michael J has Sky Sport.  I don’t.  I wanted to watch the Twenty20 on the TV.  Ergo I socialised with Michael.  Which was very nice, of course it was.  But this would have been less likely to have happened had Sky TV not had the rights to this cricket and I had been able to watch it, say, on regular TV.  By the same token, pay TV causes more people to assemble in pubs than might otherwise.  Clearly the pub owners think this, or they’d not make such a point of having TVs scattered about in their premises.  I don’t care for pubs myself, but I quite often visit them despite that, to catch up with some sporting event or another.

The cricket itself, what I saw of it, was superb.  When I got to Michael’s, the first game had been and gone, and the second was half over, at which point Durham had made a wholly insufficient 138-6.  I had followed the first semi on the radio, but I only started watching when Middlesex started their sprint to victory against Durham.  Durham never got started, but Essex, Kent and Middlesex all did things to remember with pleasure, especially Middlesex of course, what with them winning both their games.

The thing about Twenty20, when it works, is how much every ball matters, the way only certain balls seem to matter in the longer versions of the game.  When Kent were chasing their target against Middlesex in the final, a couple of dot balls would have Michael and me reckoning that Middlesex were now probably favourites, but that it would change if one of the Kent guys were to hit a couple of sixes.  At which point a Kent guy did hit a couple of sixes and the advantage would lurch in the opposite direction.  We lost count of the number of times the advantage switched from Middlesex to Kent, and then back again, in the final.  In the end, the result was in doubt until the very last ball of the tournament.  Superb.

Closely related to what a great day’s entertainment this was for everyone, not just at the ground in Southampton but for all those, like me and Michael, watching on TV, is the fact that cricket is now awash with money.  Finally, cricket has found a way of being played that can rival football, and rugger and tennis and golf and motor racing, in fact pretty much any other sport you can think of.  Instead of it requiring a minimum of a whole day, and often day after day of devotion, much of it very tedious, and what is worse, devotion that quite often ends in no result, or in a result that wipes out whole days of potential entertainment by coming far too soon – instead of all that, it can now offer games that are won and lost in the space of about two and a half hours.  I mean, what other form of entertainment arranges an event that goes from Wednesday to Saturday, say, but then quite often finishes on the Friday afternoon, leaving the whole of Saturday completely blank?  Ludicrous.  Cricket has now pretty much got all this sorted.  Traditionalists may grouse, but the money is talking, loud and clear.  So much so that test match cricket is seriously threatened by the arrival of a new generation of cricketers who shamelessly specialise in limited overs cricket, the more limited the better.  Well, why not?

My other big recollection of the day was how very global was the pool of players that the counties now choose from.  The two best innings of the day was played by English players, Owais Shah and Robert Key.  But crucial contributions were also make by the Pakistanis Azhar Mahmood and Yasir Arafat (really), the Kent opening bowlers, by the Indian Murali Kartick, the Middlesex spinner, by South African attacking batters Tyron Henderson of Middlesex and Justin Kemp of Kent, to say nothing of Irishman Joyce and Welshman Morgan, both of Middlesex.  The final and decisive over of the tournament was fought out between two South Africans, Henderson and Kemp, with Henderson just prevailing.  Neither man seemed indifferent to the result, merely because playing for a foreign cricket team.  Again, many traditionalists grumble.  But I see nothing wrong with English county cricket becoming a showcase for many of the best players, not just in England or Britain, but in the world.  That the finalists and the winners of today’s proceedings will go on to participate in other even more glamourous Twenty20 cricket-fests in India and the West Indies only adds to the fun.  And to the huge tidal waves of money that will saturate the lucky players.

Apart from the entire Durham team, the other three big disappointments on the day were Napier of Essex and Malan of Middlesex, and Chanderpaul of Durham.  Napier, after all his heroics in earlier rounds, faced just five balls before being brilliantly caught by Robert Key, the Kent captain.  Malan didn’t bat at all against Durham, and only featured briefly at the end in the Middlesex innings against Kent, Henderson and Shah having made all the running in that.  Chanderpaul did worse than that.  He crawled to 48 at a mere run per ball, and was more responsible than anyone else for Durham doing so seriously badly.  I was travelling during his innings, but it seems to have been the kind of performance where his opponents would prefer him not to get out, because he was slowing his own side down so horribly.  Sad, because Chanderpaul has done wonders for the West Indies in recent years.  Today, he would have done better to get out first ball.

I loved being able to actually see lots of people who until today had only been names on scorecards.  Chanderpaul I have even seen batting in person, at Lords, against England.  And I already know what Robert Key looks like, from when he played for England a few years ago.  But Darren Stevens of Kent, for instance, who with Kemp nearly won it for Kent at the death, was new to me.  It turns out that, like Key, he’s another who-ate-the-pies? kind of a guy.  Shah, whose 75 in the final was the innings of the day, I know about, from his England exploits, but people like Udal and Kartick, the Kent spinners, Henderson, Denley of Kent, Kemp, Azhar Mahmood, Arafat, Joyce (who dropped a sitter that would have seen the back of Kemp and made things a lot easier for Middlesex) and several more, are now people I can picture when I next read about them, instead of just wondering.

Oh, and I also got to see the highlights of Australia beating the All Blacks at rugby.  In the interval between the second semi-final and the final.

In the first interval, between the first semi and the second, there was a race between all the mascots of all the English counties, or quite a lot of them, it wasn’t made clear which.  I listened to this on the radio before I journeyed out to Michael’s.  Kenny Kennington of Surrey won that.  This will probably prove to be the highlight of Surrey’s otherwise completely wretched season.  Hurrah!

Sorry once again about the lack of links in this.  It’s late and I’m knackered, and links are hard work.  The weather today has been almost Asiatic in its combination of heat and humidity, and as I say, I did a lot of travelling today, twice as much as I should have done because of that camera.  Apologies also for the inevitable miss-prints in this.  I reserve the right to correct the worst of the mistakes here in the hours and days ahead.  Also, links may be added.  But, I promise nothing.

CORRECTION: Eoin Morgan is, like Ed Joyce, Irish, not Welsh.

Friday July 25 2008

imageSpied on my travels earlier this week.

I do love hardware stores, knick-knack shops, whatever shops, that sell pots and pans and mugs and flanels and lemon squeezers and cleaning fluid you’ve never heard of and lots of other similar stuff.  This is where I buy my black plastic rubbish bags.  Theirs are my favourites, I find.  I especially like these shops when, as here, they put lots of stuff out on the pavement during the day, like in Open All Hours.

Oops.  Picture busting into posting below.  That should sort it.

I seldom buy the paper, but I love the signs:

image

You can say that again.  I just did.

Thursday July 24 2008

Superclass really is a great read.  (See also this earlier posting and this one.) I still haven’t got seriously stuck into this book, but today I dipped into the middle of it, as I like to do with books I have in mind to read right through, and came across another great little snippet, on page 87 of my 2008 hardback edition.  During the final years of the Clinton Administration, there was a cruise on the Potomac River in honour of Rothkopf’s pal, colleague and former national security adviser “Tony” Lake.  At this gathering, a man called Leon Fuerth was apparently holding forth, on the subject of bombing:

Fuerth, like a good many others at the party, was deeply involved in managing the war in the former Yugoslavia, and he spoke about the frustrations of the seventy-plus-day bombing campaign the United States was waging against Milosevic.  He then began to describe a shift in tactics that he and others had been recommending.  Apparently the bombing of “strategic targets” like bridges, roads, and military installations was not producing the desired movement in the Milosevic regime (the idea was to bomb them into submission so a costly ground war did not have to be fought).  At the time there was much skepticism that such an air-power-only approach would work, but Fuerth and the others recognized that Milosevic was hardly a leader who worried about the plight of his people.  Rather, he ruled the country with and for the benefit of a small cadre of his closest associates – his network.  Instead of bombing the standard targets, therefore, Fuerth and the group advocating a new approach recommended destroying the factories and assets of those closest to the ruler so that they would feel the pain and transmit their dissatisfaction to the barbarous head of state the United States was trying to depose.

Soon after the policy was implemented, it began to bear fruit.  Shortly thereafter the campaign ended and Milosevic was on his way out.  The Serbian leader, like all of us, was perhaps a man of his country, but mostly he was a man of his circle of friends.

I guess those friends of Milosevic reckoned that the Americans was also fairly barbarous, don’t you?  Once again, I’m not necessarily agreeing.  I’m just saying: interesting.

Wednesday July 23 2008

Now I know what you’re thinking.  I’ve forgotten all about those Billion Monkeys (scroll down past this posting).  But I haven’t.  If anything, my recent DSLR envy has made me all the more focussed on the virtues of my Billion Monkey camera.  It may not do big panoramas, but it does people a few feet away a treat.

So here were a few Billion Monkey snappees I snapped the other day, the same day I later took this masterpiece

imageimageimageimageimageimage

I like the first two snaps because of the advertising, for the Doors and for the Proms.  I like the next two because of the stance.  Imagine trying to get a person to do such a thing if he/she wasn’t weilding a Billion Monkey camera.  And I like the last two because they feature particularly interesting ladies (even more than number 3 I mean), which is always a plus.  Pink China lady is especially good I think.  In London, oo often for complete comfort, you see white bloke Asian babe couples where he is depressingly old and ugly, and you suspect, you know, an arrangement.  Which is fine.  No law against that, nor should there be.  But, I think it was good to see a couple where the white guy is young and good-looking, to the point where maybe she even arranged him.

And here are three snaps, also taken that day, of Billion Monkeys photo-ing themselves, a Billion Monkeys genre I never seem to tire of.

imageimageimage

Click and enjoy.

If, like me, you want some panoramas of London, taken from a Zeppelin, presumably by a seriously Real Photographer, go here.  Such is the internet that I first chanced upon these via here.

Tuesday July 22 2008

If the preface of a book is supposed to make you want to read it, so that then you tell others you’re reading it, then the preface of this book is great.  I’ve already quoted here from this preface, and here I am doing it again.

The books is about the world’s movers and shakers, and what makes me eager to press on, as and when it fits in, is that author David Rothkopf has actually shmoozed with some of these people.  Here’s an anecodotal snippet of what I mean:

… Some of these business leaders were chillingly deal-oriented, as I saw at dinner one night when I was seated between the CEO of a leading aircraft manufacturer and Representative Pat Schroder, then the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.  The CEO leaned across me to speak to Representative Schroeder.  “Here’s the deal,” he said.  “I want to sell a plane to Muammar Qaddafi and he wants to buy one.  But we have sanctions in place that won’t let me sell to him.  The U.S. wants this guy dead.  So, what I’m thinking is, if you help me get the okay to sell him the plane, I’ll build it with explosive bolts connecting the wings to the fuselage.  Then, one day he’s up flying over the Med and we push a button.  He’s gone.  I make my sale.  Everyone’s happy.” It was so bald-faced that even the experienced Representative Schroeder seemed nonplussed.

This CEO had built a fortune by outright asking for what he wanted. ...

Yes, I can’t help thinking that this fellow may have arrived at his level of competence, just below the elite level, where the useful but not truly influential billionaires are kept, in a stalling pattern.  I mean, you don’t want things like this spelled out in front of low-ranking strangers, do you?  Especially not if they later go off and write a book about it all.  There’s a self-indulgent honesty about this guy’s villainy that lacks the true right stuff.  For such devilry to work, it would all have to be far more discreet, with all concerned presenting a virtuously unified front.  He sounds like one of those crooks who confesses everything in a crowded police station, because only that way can everyone know how tremendously clever he is.  Which is: not actually all that tremendously clever.

But true or false, clever or daft, that’s fun, don’t you think?

Monday July 21 2008

Today I took a trip, to Greenwich, to find out about this place.  I went by tube and Docklands Light Railway, but that was a shambles of “planned engineering”, which involved no fewer than three different DLR trains.  So I returned by bus, and my favourite photo of the day was taken from that bus.

image

The reason I want a new DSLR (which does not stand for Docklands Single Light Railway) camera is that I am becoming more interested in photo-ing big panoramas, and I realise that my photos of all the good London panoramas that I have taken so far are, frankly, not very good, because much too blurry.  But the stuff in that picture is close enough and black and white enough for my camera not to have been taxed.  I particularly like that thing with reinforcing rods sticking up out of half finished structures.  They look like pencil lines, done by an expert artist who can make pencil lines look exactly like something, in this case reinforcing rods.

Sunday July 20 2008

Fingers crossed.  Today is apparently the day when the smog disperses in Beijing.  James Fallows is who I am reading about this, and here’s what he said yesterday:

Tomorrow the even-odd license plate rules go into effect to cut car traffic in Beijing. Three long-awaited subway lines (are supposed to) open. Factories are shut down in the neighboring provinces. Construction projects in the city (are supposed to) stop. And new extra-tight security measures go into effect at the airport, on the subways, in public places, just about everywhere. I’m going to the airport tomorrow afternoon and will leave plenty of time.

On whether the environmental rules will bring clear skies for the games themselves, I remain optimistic. By the time I get back in a week, I really do expect a different vista.

As in different to his still rather murky picture.  I still think it was demented to choose a place where foreign correspondents have to “remain optimistic” about pollution, with only days before the kick off (or whatever is the Olympic equivalent), rather than a place where pollution would definitely not be a problem. But, maybe they’ll get away with it.

Saturday July 19 2008

Yes, here I am at Michael J’s, shoving nonsense up on my blog, and watching England getting slaughtered in the cricket, on Sky.  It doesn’t help that Surrey are being bollocked also.  Good news though.  Michael and I will be having a little Twenty20 party, when four English counties twist and bust, all over in a day.  Yes, the Twenty20 is next Saturday.  Excellent.  I will be supporting Essex.

They’ve been talking about the South African quota system, and about how well Prince and Amla have been doing.  The implication is that by artificially picking coloured players, they turn them into genuine test cricketers.  Interesting.

Also interesting was the discussion they had about the matter of people moving from country A to country B, and then playing test cricket for country B.  Hick, Lamb, Pietersen, etc.  Atherton was saying that a world in which people could choose and commit to a country was the kind of world he wanted to live in.  A world where they’re stuck with where they were born, on the other hand, ...  Amen.

Rain stopped play was, in several ways, a blessed deliverance.  They will resume at 6.25pm.  England will have to bat very well in the second innings.

Links are hard to do when you aren’t wearing the proper specks.  But nobody reads my cricket postings here anyway, Only me later.

My visit to Michael’s was to find out what I should do to connect my little laptop to the www.  That took about twenty seconds.

On the basis of no solid knowledge whatsoever, I’ve always been unpersuaded by the claim that oil is a “fossil” fuel, that is, created by the plants of the past.  I don’t know why, but it just seems too abundant, and too deep in the earth, to be done by mere plants.  And why would such oil not contain other and more interesting fossils floating about in it, like ancient insects and suchlike?  Oil, on the basis of what I’ve heard of it, just doesn’t feel like a vegetable thing.  And of course the notion that it might not be made by plants has been around for along time.

I arrived at my uneducated opinion before the internet even existed, for the likes of me, but now I am able to learn more about this controversy.  One of the problems is that many of the scientists arguing what I now ignorantly believe to be the truth of the matter were appointed by Stalin, as this article explains.

Towards the end, it summarises the situation as follows:

To recapitulate, Stalin’s team of scientists and engineers found that oil is not a ‘fossil fuel’ but is a natural product of planet earth - the high-temperature, high-pressure continuous reaction between calcium carbonate and iron oxide - two of the most abundant compounds making up the earth’s crust. This continuous reaction occurs at a depth of approximately 100 km at a pressure of approximately 50,000 atmospheres (5 GPa) and a temperature of approximately 1500°C, and will continue more or less until the ‘death’ of planet earth in millions of years’ time. The high pressure, as well as centrifugal acceleration from the earth’s rotation, causes oil to continuously seep up along fissures in the earth’s crust into subterranean caverns, which we call oil fields. Oil is still being produced in great abundance, and is a sustainable resource - by the same definition that makes geothermal energy a sustainable resource. All we have to do is develop better geotechnical science to predict where it is and learn how to drill down deep enough to get to it. So far, the Russians have drilled to more than 13 km and found oil. In contrast, the deepest any Western oil company has drilled is around 4.5 km.

The problem with this argument is that it is still heavily politicised.  The idea that oil is running out instead of something that will last for ever is not something that the enviros want to be told, hence something that appeals to anti-enviros.  And believing that oil will last for ever predisposes you to at least hope that the carbon dioxide that results, for ever,, will do no environmental damage.  Yet the explanation for why this theory has been ignored is that the evil oil companies want you to ignore it, to keep the price of oil up, which is also an enviro-type opinion.  So even if you are anti-enviro, you still have a big reason to not like this stuff.

Personally I don’t think you need oil companies to explain if the fossil fuel orthodoxy is bad science.  All it takes to get bad science is bad science.

I would just like to know if this alternative non-bio theory is true.

This controversy is linked to here, but I only twigged it was there by reading this.  By the way, DK seems to be on fucking good form at the moment.

Friday July 18 2008

This is a detail, as they say, from a picture I took a while ago, in the rain, in Warwick Way.  On the left: a fortuitous bird.  On the right: the metal bird I was deliberately photo-ing, on its way in to Heathrow.

image

Click on it to get the original, which has what I hoped would be dramatic clouds.  But clouds are rather difficult with my camera.

With which I am becoming increasingly dissatisfied.  I used not to mind the somewhat crappy quality you get from Billion Monkey cameras like mine, in fact I didn’t even see how bad it was.  Now, I am starting serously to want a DLSRs.  But I also want a see-it-before-I-click twiddly screen on the back, like I have now, and Image Stabilisation, all the Billion Monkey bells and whistles.  You can now get that, but for now it costs too much.  So I am forcing myself to wait.

Anyone got any opinions about that camera?  My immediate fear is that it’s too big and bulky.  Olympus also do smaller DSLRs, I believe.  But, no twiddly screen.

Thursday July 17 2008

I’ve been meaning for quite a while to do a posting about the Hearst Tower in New York, basically just to say: I like it.

image

Click on that photo to get to the Flickr original.

I picked this particular photo because it shows particularly well the feature of this building that I most admire, which is the way that the new bit grows out of the old bit.  I think this is a general principle that works really well for city architecture.  Instead of simply destroying the old stuff, to make way for brand new skyscrapers, let the new skyscrapers still be built, but within and above the old buildings.

More about this beauty here.

imageYou assume, said Clarkson on Top Gear earlier this evening, that Ferraris are beautiful, because they’re Ferraris.  But, they’re not.  None of them since the last one that was beautiful, quite a long time ago, have been beautiful.  Sort of like Sarah Jessica Parker, he said, who you assume is beautiful because she’s in Sex and the City, but, said Clarkson:

“She looks like a boiled horse.”

I googled for SJP pictures, and in this picture she actually rather does.  Nice horse, though, with excellent teeth.  The blog I found this picture at plays silly buggers by inserting a stupid advert, so no link.

Tuesday July 15 2008

Nick M had a dose of bloggers-block, but he seems to have found a cure.  However, at the end of the cure he unleashes another disease.  Yes, PID.  PID timed at 12:04 am, 16/7/08:

Tomorrow night I’m gonna have a very>/em> big fire.

Soon it will be corrected.  Meanwhile, all it takes is to put ”<" as ">“, and the plague sweeps through the rest of the blog like the Black Death, only of course it’s the Italic Death.  Black is merely the background colour of the particular blog in question.

Robert Lefever - I know, good name for a doctor, and his real one - is not your ordinary blogger.  He almost never links to anyone else, and has no blogroll, only archives and links to his own work websites.  He writes his blog, but presumably doesn’t read other blogs that much.  Too busy doing life, I should guess.  But we can’t all be taking in each other’s postings or nothing truly new would ever get said, and in any case where does it say that you have to link?  When it comes to blogging, Lefever is one of those selfish people whom altruists need if they are to have anyone to altruise for.

Lefever’s postings are short, epigrammatic descriptions of small events or circumstances with big implications, some personally confessional, most concerning the various efforts of himself and colleagues to help his patients to become less afflicted.  There are often criticisms, never names.  They are a bit like prose poems.  (I vaguely recall Vaclav Havel having once written things a bit like this, but that could be quite wrong.)

The only thing I truly didn’t like about Lefever’s blog was that it used to be that you couldn’t link to his individual posts.  This defect has now been rectified, for some while actually.  Congratulations to whoever did that.

I think that my favourite of his recent posts is this one.

And how about Step IX:

Most of the people to whom I should have made amends are dead.  I took too long in getting round to this Step.

Say more than that with fewer words if you can.

Fat Man:

Am I the only person who has to call their mobile from their land line so that they can follow the ringing sound to find out where on earth it is?

Oh no.  (7 commenters agree.) I tried this recently.  Trouble was, I had left it in France, and that’s too far away for me to hear.

The song there is also worth a try.

Monday July 14 2008

I already know that I am going to enjoy reading Superclass, by David Rothkopf.  From the Preface (p. xvi of my hardback edition):

As a Jew, I have always had a particularly soft place in my heart for the old notion of a world Jewish conspiracy. I figured there were not so many Jews and so if we were in control, the odds were pretty good I could secure a respectable position in the inner workings of the world-domination machinery. (I had a friend who used to assert that such a conspiracy really did exist, and that he was responsible for global zinc prices.) As far as I can tell, however, either there is no such conspiracy or I have been the victim of some kind of special discrimination against Jews from New Jersey - or Jews who would be unable to keep the conspiracy a secret if we were let in on it. To this day, I am always astonished when people attempt to assert that somehow Jews are running the show, when the headlines of the past several millennia of Jewish history include exile, the Inquisition, the Holocaust, the acquisition of a tiny desert nation surrounded by enemies, and more or less relentless hatred and abuse. Had we really been in charge, surely we could have done better on all counts.

Superclass is about ... well, here’s the subtitle: “The Global Power Elite and the World They Are Making”.  As this review puts it:

Rothkopf’s credible, if not especially original argument in “Superclass” is that over the past several decades a “global elite” has emerged whose connections to each other have become more significant than their ties to their home nations and governments. They schmooze regularly at conferences like Davos, go to the same schools, serve together on corporate and nonprofit boards, and above all do business with each other constantly - to the point that they have become a kind of culture in themselves, a “class without a country,” as Rothkopf puts it. Furthermore, these people are “the new leadership class for our era.”

Not myself being a nationalist, I do not regard the above as any sort of scandal, the way some people in my part of the political landscape often seem to.  On the contrary, the emergence of a global elite strikes me as a more or less inevitable consequence of the invention (a) of instant, global electronic communication of ever greater power and ease, and (b) of atomic weapons, which turn the world into a place where the world’s most powerful people, in sheer self-preservation, simply must get along with each other without too much national conflict.  National rivalry, yes.  Superpower rivalry even, yes.  Superpowers having all-out wars with one another, not on.  These guys simply must, in their own interests, keep in touch and avoid too much rowing.  They just have to get along.

And now, more and more, they do.  Good, on balance, so long as they don’t take it too far, and put a stop to any kind of competition.  But good or bad, also: very interesting.  I hope to do a review for Samizdata of this, Any Month Now.  But, I promise nothing.

Sunday July 13 2008

Nothing here today, but Party Questions from me, here, and here.

Saturday July 12 2008

Photoed earlier this evening. after attending a very good party.  Make of it what you will:

image

The relevant urls are here and here.

Friday July 11 2008

I always scrutinise David T’s Friday Ephemera.  This time, my personal highlight was a comment, from Matt M, about something that might have been included in the collection, but wasn’t:

Have you been following the great wafer controversy?

Some American academic is taking the piss out of Catholics for supposing biscuits to be able to turn into Jesus, and various psycho-Catholics are angry about this.  (You hate us because we’re nice.  Die!) In among all the joshing about crackers, there was this comment from this guy:

If you make it a hobby to disrespect people you will get hurt - and the people that hurt you don’t have to be religious fanatics. They just have to be “human”.

Hm.  His answer seems to be for us all to respect each other.  Can’t see that working.  Taking the piss is also “human”, isn’t it?

Meanwhile, Mick Hartley sticks up for another group of people who are frequently disrespected on account of their weird beliefs: cyclists.  The weird beliefs of cyclists also involve transubstantiation, this time them being transubstantiated from (very thin) motorists to (wheeled) pedestrians and then back to motorists, all in the space of a few seconds, in whatever way entitles them to go wherever the fuck they like, partaking of the extremest possible interpretation of the rights of whichever thing-that-they-actually-aren’t that they (absurdly) believe they have turned into at any particular second.

Thursday July 10 2008

I’m always blaming bad weather on test match cricket, so a word of praise for the weather today, which was day one of the test series between England and South Africa.  The weather in London for the last week or so has been horrid, and it was horrid today, still, in most places.  But not in London, where Lord’s is.

Boycott was his usual brilliantly perceptive self.  That sounds ironic and sneering, but I mean it.  He said at the beginning of play that the big variable wasn’t so much the South Africa bowling as the England batting.  The England batting, he said, can be great or it can be crap depending on its mood.  And England’s batting today was just that, great, and crap.  It was great until it got to 114-0.  Then it lost 3 wickets for 3 runs, which included leaden-footed England captain Vaughan getting clean bowled for next to nothing.  Then it added another 192 with no further losses.

In particular, all are now agreed, the England batting depends far too much on Kevin Pietersen.  When he does well, it does well. When he does badly, it does badly.  That is the current tendency.  Today, he was the better half of that 192.

Pietersen is a plonker when he talks, but what a cricketer!  I always think that the sign of a truly great sportsman is that when it really, really matters, and when it is blindingly obvious to all those present, or even absent but lending it half an eye or ear, like me today, that it really matters, and that he really wants to do really well ... he does really well.  And if ever there was a time when Pietersen wanted to do well it was in his first innings in test cricket against his own country, South Africa.  And you can be equally damn sure that the South Africans really really wanted to get him out for about 10 or thereabouts.  The South Africans had been really cranking up the pressure on Pietersen, basically by telling him about a week ago to shut up and play, after which what could he do except shut up and play?  Which today, he did.  And he did really well, making a century, and the South Africans didn’t get him out at all, let alone get him out for anything resembling 10.

Apparently he made a speech afterwards, at the end of which he said this:

“I’ve never really had any beef with the South Africans. ...”

Sure you haven’t, mate.  No beef whatsoever at all.  All is now forgiven, now you got a hundred against them and made them look like plonkers.

“… Graeme [Smith] and I had a bit of an altercation, but that for me is something that happens in life, and it’s gone. I get on well with the South Africans, and Andre Nel’s just given me a big hug, and said well done.”

Well, what the hell else could they say?

But then Pietersen said this:

“We play sport to make friends around the world and enjoy ourselves, ....”

... which is okay, but then came this:

“… and today I’m humbled.”

Humbled?  No Pietersen, humbled is when you get out for ten, and they are the ones saying that everyone is now friends, now that they’ve humbled you, and when you have to grin like a fool and pretend you love them.  Not when you are not out a hundred and rubbing the other fellows’ faces in it, and telling them all is forgiven and you love them.  You weren’t humbled today.  They were.  And you bloody well know it.  Stop using these emotionally incontinent and irrelevant plasticene cliches.  But if talking properly would mean you not batting so well, then okay, stick with the plasticene.

Apart from that, and a near run out right at the start of his innings, great.  (A direct hit, which it damn near was, and he was gone.) I stopped off in a pub and watched Pietersen just as he was seriously getting into his stride.  In particular, I had the pleasure of seeing his one six, live on Sky TV.  But, the previous ball was a close thing.  It went for four, but he miss-hit it rather, and if it had gone five yards to the left, mid-on would have caught it.  He’d have broken his hand as well, probably, but assuming he’d clung on, that would have made it about 180-4 and a different game.  Strauss was earlier given out lbw, wrongly, and that was the beginning of the England mini-collapse.  Near the end Pietersen was lucky not to be given out lbw.  That’s another thing about great sportsmen.  Great sportsmen are lucky.

Recently I did a couple of pieces for CNE, here and here, about the rise and rise of mainstream media blogging.  To quote my own words of wisdom, from the first of them:

Perhaps the biggest cultural upheaval that the old-school journalists and editors have had to endure is the notion of actually noticing the competition, their rule for decades having been that the only newspaper worth reading, or that even existed, was their own. But now internet logic forces them to admit that both personal bloggers and the columnists and reporters writing for their direct rivals constantly say good things. The practical embodiment of this revolution in journalistic etiquette is, as I say, the link. It took the mainstream media a long time to admit that enabling their readers to go somewhere else might be sensible. For several years clunky old-school websites referred to all kinds of stuff, but omitted the obvious links. We bloggers looked on with lofty contempt. They just don’t get it, do they?

Well, now, more and more, in Britain anyway, they do get it. Many old-school amateur bloggers are now either struggling to retain readers, or else switching over to the professional paid-up side of things themselves.

In short, the paid bloggers are starting to get seriously good at it.

It’s as if, when the telephone first arrived, only a few hobbyists had seen the point of it, and had at first enthusiastically chatted to one another on it, while grander people in “mainstream institutions” had sneered.  Have you actually listened to the drivel that these phoners say to each other?, said the mainstream institutions.  No, said the mainstream institutions, it’ll never catch on.  We, said the mainstream institutions, give it five years, then it’ll be gone, and good riddance.  And then five years later, they all had their own telephones.  Which for all I know is what really happened.

What this means for my own blog is that my blogroll has to be re-organised.  It used to be that bloggers were bloggers, and the mainstream media were the mainstream media, with never the twain communicating or overlapping in any way.  We might blog about their articles, but they did not deign to notice.  They might write about “blogs”, but would not deign to link to them.

But now things are very different, and I must rethink my blogroll to do justice to the world of mainstream media blogging.  It’s silly to have a separate name for each mainstream media blogger, for instance a separate entry, in the now vast list of bloggers, for Melanie Phillips, who is no longer her mere self any more, but now part of the Spectator blog-swarm.  There needs to be a separate list of mainstream blog-places, and I have to become resigned to getting to the likes of Melanie with more than one mere click.

But is that the right way to do things?  Bearing in mind that the purpose of my sidebar is to make things easier for me, and only incidentally to suggest linkage to others, how should I organise it?  I realise that this is my problem rather than yours, so if you are not inclined to help me with this, I will perfectly understand.

But then again, maybe something like this is one of your problems.

Wednesday July 09 2008

Nothing to add to this today:

image

Photoed yesterday, in Kings Cross.  But, I don’t live in Kings Cross.

This signs are one of the pleasures of London.  As you can see, they are the work of these people.

Tuesday July 08 2008

Recently I read an article by some idiot or other of an academic, linked to by Arts & Letters Daily which was how I got to such a piece of nonsense.  It began well.  Poetry has become too difficult.  You need a PhD in literature to make out what the hell it is saying.  George Steiner is a big bag of wind.  All of which is true.  But then came the idiotic bit.  He said something like: but poetry is difficult.  You have to work at it blah blah blah.  In other words, this twat was not the solution, he was the problem.

If poets want to get with the modern world and shift some of their stuff, they have to forget about being literary and concentrate on entertaining.  They need to sound like real people now do, and do poems about how real people now talk and feel about things.  They need to write poems that would be worth reading even if they didn’t rhyme or scan, but they must rhyme and they must scan, or they won’t be proper poems.  Just crap prose arranged in poetic-looking lines, randomly chopped up.  Poets, in other words, need to be like the poetic equivalent of Nick Hornby.

The thing is, “literary” used to be what everyone who read poetry already knew about.  Pre-TV education included lots of “literature”, plus stuff about the Romans and the Greeks, and the Roman myths and the Greek myths.  People knew about these things.  They didn’t have to look them up. Nowadays, people know about TV shows and sports stars and big global news events.  If the poems are now to contain references and allusions, these are the kinds of references and allusions that they should be.

To put it in only a slightly more highbrow way, what the poets must do if they wish to avoid reading their bollocks poems only to each other, is to stop trying to be a cross between T. S. Eliot and Jackson Pollock, and try instead to be an updated Kipling.  Which is just what she (see link above) seems to be attempting.  I’m actually thinking of getting her book of poems.  And that’s not a sentence I ever thought I’d write.

Graham Napier of Essex, already flagged up here, is looking more and more like an England player of the future, and probably the quite near future. 

imageLast night Napier hit a rapid 40 in 20 balls, with 3 fours and 3 sixes, which was good.  Even better were his bowling figures (scroll down here).  4 overs 1 maiden 10 runs 4 wickets.  Of those numbers, only the initial 4 is unremarkable.  That spell settled the match.  The picture on the right of Napier bowling is the best I could find, but it was taken in or before 2004.  His batting is understandably what everyone is now talking about, but his bowling massively boosts his England claims.  He was an England prospect in his teens, but partly because of injuries, since then found the going with Essex very tough.  Until a few weeks ago.

Like more and more professional cricketers these days, Napier resembles Ian Botham.  He hits sixes and bowls fast medium swing.  He is beefy.  In old school test match cricket, specialist batters bat, preferably for a day an a half.  Then specialist bowlers bowl for a day and a half.  But now, in the new and newly popular Twenty20 format, it’s twist or bust for about 4 overs, and an allrounder like Botham, or Napier, has twice the cards in his hand compared to a specialist batter or bowler.  The chance that he will fire are doubled, and he might well fire on both fronts, as Napier did last night.

How soon before all cricket team consists of ten Graham Napiers, plus one Gilchrist to keep wicket?  You want everyone to be able to bat aggressively, so early wickets don’t slow you down.  And it’s also not enough to have a mere five bowlers to bowl twenty overs.  Pitches and conditions vary.  Opposition batters vary.  If a bowler misfires and concedes 20 off his first over, you want three more overs from other bowlers, not from him.  And if that happens, the unlucky bowler wants to be a batter too.  The same applies to the fifty overs game.

Actually what you want is seven Napiers, and three Ansaris.  (And Gilchrist.) Ansari made 193 and 80 not out for Cambridge University in the recent four day Oxford v Cambridge university match, and took six wickets with his leg spin.  He also top scored for Cambridge with 73, when Cambridge also beat Oxford in the fifty over game at Lords in June, batting at number one.  Akbar Shahzaman Ansari, born Ascot July 3 1988, already plays for Surrey.  Watch out for him too.

The internet has taken me back to my childhood as a cricket fan.  In those days, the 1950s, cricket scores and analysis were all over the sports pages of the newspapers, but have since then retreated - at first gradually, then headlong - before the advancing tide of soccer.  But now, when I can scrutinise obscure cricket games from a month ago, I am back being a cricket geek.  Then as now, it’s all done simply by tracking the numbers.  I still have little idea, other than from the occasional photo, how the likes of Napier look when they bat or bowl.

Monday July 07 2008

Maybe this is, as many commenters said, wishful thinking.  But I do indeed wish that more people in Britain thought the way Rob thinks:

The BBC has a report about a Texas man who shot burglars and was let off without charges. I’m not sure why the BBC reports this particular case when this sort of thing happens all the time without the BBC mentioning it. After all, Texas is a civilised place where one does not expect to break into another’s house unchallenged. Perhaps it is because the burglars were black, and there were protestors who claimed the shooting was race related. The reporter says this is an example of America’s “difficult” relationship with guns. Seems like a perfectly healthy relationship to me.

And, to repeat the argument in the Samizdata piece, I think there is at least reason to hope that people in Britain soon might start thinking this way in quite large numbers.  Including, once more them start being robbed and pillaged, people who matter.

Commenters on that Samizdata piece pointed out the interesting truth that gun control in Britain was introduced as an anti-left wing measure.  It was imposed not to stop gun crime, but armed revolution.  True.  But if the ruling class decides in sufficient numbers and with sufficient conviction that gun control, that is, them being disarmed against armed attackers, is not in their interests, then they will at least consider dumping it.  And having considered dumping it, they might actually dump it.

In about 1980, our rulers realised that an ever increasing rate of taxation, which had been a fixture of British government policy for well over a century until that amazing moment, was no longer serving their purposes.  The British economy was becoming so enfeebled by this policy that there was a serious risk that it would no longer be able to keep them in the manner to which they had long been accustomed.  So, they dumped the policy, and replaced it with something nearer to a flat-line percentage.  From then on, the country would pay only as much tax as it could afford to pay.  No less, but no more.

Until the above policy switch, it was confidently asserted that the percentage tax take would go up and up, for ever.  That was its nature.  Nothing and nobody could prevent this.  Disaster would ensue, but no matter.  The voters would not tolerate the consequences, in umemployment and general disruption, of switching off this policy, and would hurl themselves over the cliff into economic perdition.  Yet, the switch occurred.  The voters pulled back from the brink, aided by a few leaders who told them that they should.  Recently, the Labour government has departed from this policy, in the upwards direction.  That is the biggest single reason why this government will presently cease to be the government.  And this reassertion of the new policy will be imposed by the very same voters who were earlier said to be unable to imagine such a decision let alone to support it and vote for it.

Now, it is said that gun control is an ineradicable feature of British life.  The Samizdata commentariat told me I was deluding myself.  Some wondered what drugs I have been taking.  “They” are wedded to gun control, regardless of its consequences, they said.  Mere logic counts for nothing, they said.  No mere idea, to the effect that gun control is bad rather than good, could possibly make any difference or have any consequences in the form of changed minds, they said.  It constantly amazes me how often people who seem to spend all day long proclaiming their opinions include among their opinions the opinion that mere opinions cannot ever make any difference.

Maybe those commenters are right, in the particular matter of gun control.  Maybe gun control in Britain is here to stay.  But maybe they are wrong, and maybe it isn’t.

Note this long overdue addition to the blogroll.

Sunday July 06 2008

According to this guy, the epic pollution of Beijing really is going to be a serious problem, and even a deadly one for some.

Here’s another Beijing smog photo to add to this one, from here (via here):

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All concerned will be praying for a north wind, it seems.

What on earth were the Olympics people thinking when they gave their silly games to Beijing?  Presumably: ooh, lots of lovely money for me.  This looks like being the biggest PR disaster for the Olympics since Hitler.  Killing Tibetans is one thing.  Killing the damn athletes is something else again.  But it is far too much to hope that they will then be scrapped for ever, and that London will be spared.

UPDATE:  The people in Beijing don’t sound at all confident.

UPDATE FROM DOWN UNDER:

Olympic authorities are shocked and dismayed at Athletics Australia’s decision to ban track and field competitors from marching at the opening ceremony, partly because of fears that the city’s pollution will harm their health and performance.

It is the first pollution-related boycott, and the decision has upset some of the Australian athletes who will miss the ceremony on August 8, instead remaining in training camps in Japan and Hong Kong until ready to compete.

“Wow, you’re kidding,” said the spokesman for the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, Jeff Ruffolo, on hearing the news yesterday from the Herald. “That’s the first time we’ve heard anything about athletes themselves pulling out of the opening ceremony.”

Finally, the penny dropped.  If you really want nice horizontal pictures for your blog that pack a punch but do not require a lot of scrolling up and down to be appreciated, then type “horizon” into Flickr, and see what you can find:

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Here are two more Horizon pictures, but for a different reason:

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Click on any you want to investigate further to get to the Flickr originals.  Yes, they each look better in their originals, with their vast expanses of land, sea and sky.  But imagine how much bloggage it would have taken to accommodate them all here.

I did the searching for and work for this posting several weeks ago, but then forgot about it.

I like this:

Labour have become rather bad at expectation management, for the simple reason that reality is starting to outstrip their worst predictions.

However, I really must do that piece for Samizdata saying that Labour now in free fall and the Conservatives now looking like a shoe-in is no sort of victory for My Opinions.  The British Public hasn’t become converted to too-high-but-falling taxes, the way I hoped – and still hope - that it might.  It is merely that Labour has slowly (byt its own standards) but surely reverted to too-high-and-rising taxes, and the British Public finally noticed.  The British Public never liked too-high-and-rising taxes, and doesn’t like them now.  Nothing has changed British-Public-wise, merely the government.  It used to be tolerable but now is not.  All the Conservatives have to do is smile nicely, and they get to be the government again.

Still, at least the British Public has not become converted to too-high-and-rising taxes, as some of my more excitably pessimistic friends were saying a year or two back.  Perhaps Mr Brown made the same error as them, and supposed that the British Public had been so converted.  He believed that, taxwise, he could get away not just with daylight robbery (which he can) - but with something more like murder.  Which he can’t, or not beyond the next general election.  Be grateful for small mercies.

From a comment number 4 on this, by Jerome Thomas:

What irks me about the Economist that it publishes all its articles without a byline. Any article that appears in its pages simply reflects the omniscient opinion of The Economist. I find this sort of Voice of God journalism annoying in the extreme.

Me too.  I know, don’t buy it.  What annoys me is that I still regard The Economist as somehow part of the furniture, as do many others.  Ergo, it matters what’s wrong with it, even if I’m not reading it.

Saturday July 05 2008

More pictorial thinness:

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It’s the SN 1006 Supernova Remnant, a ribbon of gas that floats in our galaxy, as seen by the Hubble Telescope.  And it has history, as in human history:

It looks like a piece of ribbon floating in space but this is actually the 1000-year-old remnants of a stellar explosion.

The supernova explosion which caused it has been dated to around May 1, 1006 AD when the light caused by it would have been so bright the star would have even been visible on earth during the day.

It was caused by the final death throes of a white dwarf star nearly 7,000 light-years away and was probably the brightest star ever seen by humans.

So that 1006 is not just the one after number 1005 and just before 1007 in some list.  It refers to the year when our ancestors actually saw this thing.  I wonder how long it went on for.  Try this at WIkipedia, where there’s another great photo to be seen.  How the bobble and the stripe photos can both be of the same thing, though, I do not understand.

Blog and learn.  Or in this case, blog and learn, but continue to be a bit baffled.

Friday July 04 2008

I did two postings on Samizdata today.  I did them because yesterday there was only one posting there, and I don’t want Samizdata ever to die, even for a single day.  Nor did loads of us, so today there were eight postings!  And over at my Education Blog, I did a posting about Ray Lewis, harking back to an earlier posting where I said: he will regret this.  And he did.  Since I wrote this morning’s I-told-you-so posting, Ray Lewis has resigned as Deputy Mayor or whatever.  It is now clear that Ray Lewis is what we call in England a chancer, with too much political-shark-attracting blood still on him from his chancer past.  Had he just stuck to helping wayward boys, of which he quite obviously used to be one which is why he was so good at helping them, he’d be doing fine now.  I hope he gets back to that.  My friend Tim Evans has been saying for months that Boris Johnson is a disaster waiting to happen, and it looks like he’s being proved right too.

After that I was preoccupied with my new mattress, which has been waking me up stewed in the middle of the night for the last week or two.  I had a futile conversation with a nice lady called Amelia in Peter Jones, who was deeply concerned, just to the point this side of taking the mattress back and knowing what would be a better one to give me instead.  Keep trying it, she said, maybe you’ll get used to it, she said.  Great, I thought, continue being stewed.  I went back downstairs to floor 1, to buy the magic mattress cover that the nice man down there had talked about, which is hot or cold depending on which way up you put it on the mattress.  So then he tells me that sorry, this is the summer sale, which means he doesn’t actually have any of them in stock.  Come in again next Wednesday.  Sorry mate, I said, I need to avoid getting stewed right now.  So I took the tube from Sloane Square to Oxford Circus and walked towards Bond Street, looking for big, linen bedding department type shops, and immediately found one and immediately found in it a magic mattress cover which may very well freeze me to death this very night, such are the wonders of applied science.  When I touch it on its cold side, it actually is really cold, like it’s a fridge only in bendy sheet form.  Amazing.  I’ll keep you informed, assuming I live.

And now I’m watching 8 Out Of 10 Cats.  Someone says: “As John Donne said: No Man Is An Island.” And this other bloke says: “What about the Isle of Man?” Good point, I think you will agree.

There ought to be lots of links in this.  But I can’t be bothered.  Type whatever you want to know about into The Google, as we old people call it, or else follow the links to the other blogs I write for in the “other blogs I write for” section to the left.

Now they’re blathering away on the television about “The Disarming Britain Series”.  As I said in the second of my Samizdata pieces today, which by now you would have been off reading instead reading this any more if I’d put in a link to it, the disarming of Britain (now pretty much complete) is the problem rather than any sort of answer.  The answer is for Britain to be not disarmed but REarmed.  And of course to change the laws about what you may do with your arms, by which I mean your weapons.  The English needs clarifying on that “arm” thing, a point I also made at Samizdata.

Thursday July 03 2008

Poor sad, wistful Kristine:

… ten years ago, I really fancied glasses. I thought they’d rather suit my personae, or perhaps the persona I wanted to project stronger to those who did not know me.

But my eyesight was much too good, ...

Ah shame.

But now, Kristine’s eyesight has deteriorated!  Now, Kristine’s dream has come true!

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Hurrah!

This is not one of the pictures in the slideshow that is linked to from here, because having seen those I then went searching on Flickr to try to find a bigger and better one, of the Beijing Bird’s Nest, with smog:

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Click on that to get to the Flickr original.

The Olympics illustrate more vividly than almost any other phenomenon the total lack of fit between the fantasies of politics and the realities of real life.  As an example of the fantasy, giant-pod-from-outer-space-money-no-object style of architecture, I think this is very fine indeed.  But the smog brings it all down to earth with a bump.  These Chinese Olympics are already something of a propaganda disaster, having served so far mostly to highlight – and intensify, most people seem to reckon - the nastiness of the Government that is staging them.  They could turn into another kind of disaster both for China and for the people who chose China as the place to have them.  Marathon runners may soon be seen on worldwide television choking by the side of the road, and 10,000 metres champions may soon be taking one breath of the foul air and saying: The chance of a medal is not worth ruining my health for ever, pass.

I was going to put: Why do politicians compete to make their countries stage these lunatic activities?  Why can’t they just leave the athletes to organise their own games, in sensible venues that mostly already exist?  But I already know the answer.  Politics is politics.  Politicians, for all their political reasons, love them.  They get to play with their cities like children playing with their toy bricks and trains.  They get to put their giant thumb prints all over history, as good as, at other people’s expense.  So, no point in complaining about them not doing their job.  Nonsense like this is their job, par excellence.

But I can’t be so relaxed about all the mere Londoners who got so excited when our city was condemned to suffer the next manifestation of all this foolishness.  My favourite idiocy from one of these people was when somebody said: “This is really going to put London on the map.” Yes, just think.  After 2012, everyone in the world who is anyone will know where London is.

And here’s a picture that someone else took, but in my home:

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They thought they were photo-ing their cup of herbal tea.  But it turned out they were photo-ing my new CD shelves.

Wednesday July 02 2008

I’ve not done much photoing in recent weeks, apart from in France (and I keep meaning to stick up some of those, sorry about that).  Of the local snaps I’ve taken, this is probably my favourite, which I took my local Blockbuster:

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It’s the slogan at the bottom that I like.  You think you’re hip, happening and cutting edge and all, and then they advertise your latest collection of tunes by saying they’d be be perfect for dads.

Tuesday July 01 2008

One of the most forceful cases against the currently dominant assumptions about “intellectual property” is now being put by Terence Kealey, most recently in his new book Sex, Science and Profits.  Here is what he says at the start of his chapter entitled “Let’s Abolish Patents” (pp. 362-4), about the Wright brothers:

The Twentieth century opened with three memorable technological advances.  In 1901 Guglielmo Marconi sent the first transatlatic radio signal, in 1903 Henry Ford launched his production line to bring cars to the masses, and in the same year Orville and Wilbur Wright flew the first manned heavier-than-air powered aircraft, Flyer 1.  But what is now forgotten is how all three advances were handicapped by patent fights.  Marconi fought Nikola Tesla through the courts for no fewer than twenty-nine years (before losing), while Henry Ford fought the patent on the motor car held by the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers (a cartel of bespoke manufacturers that refused to license a mass producer like Ford) through another morass of courts, winning only in 1911.  Meanwhile, the Wright brothers patented the aeroplane, which was the biggest mistake of their lives.

The Wright brothers were bicycle manufacturers from Dayton, Ohio, who invented the aeroplane in tlieir spare time. They were amateurs. The person who felt he should have invented the aeroplane was a grander figure, Samuel Pierpoint Langley, the director of the Smithsonian Institution. Since 1885 he had been trying to fly his own planes, Aerodromes l to 6, yet each had crashed on take-off into the Potomac River, over which Langley launched his Aerodromes to allow his pilots a chance of survival. A reporter described the crash of 7 October 1903 as Aerodrome 6 ‘entering the Potomac like a handful of mortar’. Yet on 17 December Orville and Wilbur Wright took off near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

The Wright brothers had financed their own R&D (a mere $1,000) whereas the federal government had provided Langley with a grant of no less than $73,000. The federal government then, of course, funded only military and agricultural research, but Langley had exploited the Spanish-American War of 1898 to persuade Congress to finance him, only to have created, in the disenchanted words of one Representative, ‘a mud duck’. Both the government and the Smithsonian were therefore chagrined by the Wrights’ success.

But the chagrin was soon aggravated by the Wrights’ patents because, after the brothers’ success with Flyer l, other American aviators, including Glenn Curtiss, soon built their own planes. But each time Curtiss or any other aviator took to the American skies, the Wrights sued for patent infringement. Official America took Curtiss’s side, and in court the Smithsonian and the relevant federal government agencies claimed, falsely, that the Smithsonian’s Aerodrome had flown first. The Smithsonian even got Curtiss to adapt Langley’s surviving Aerodrome to show it could have flown, and for years the Wrights were reduced to protesting that it was only on being adapted in the light of later experience that Aerodrome (nearly) flew. But official America so denigrated the Wright brothers that in 1928, when Orville Wright (the surviving brother) sought a museum for Flyer l, he found no US institution prepared to take it nor one to which he was prepared to donate it. He sent it instead to the British Museum in London. Only after Orville died in 1948 did the Smithsonian ask London for America’s plane back - the Smithsonian did not want to give a Wright brother the satisfaction of knowing that it acknowledged his priority.

Yet this unpleasant story was not just one of frustrated amour propre: the federal government had legitimate concerns. The aeroplane was of strategic value, and the Europeans (who readily paid the Wright’s licence fees) were pulling ahead in aeronautics, but the US was threatened with obsolescence because the federal authorities would not pay those fees.  It is hard to understand why America could not reach an agreement on licence fees, but the federal government had funded Langley’s research, so it did not want to recognize its waste of money, and the Smithsonian colluded with the charade because it needed to sustain the credibility of future government grants. ...

Okay so far, but this next bit seems to me to overstate Keeley’s case:

If the federal government was determined not to pay the licence fees, it would have been more honest of it to have modified the relevant patent laws.  Indeed, in a key episode, the federal government did, as a war measure in 1917, revoke the Wrights’ patent rights, a revocation that it sustained until 1975.  Between 1917 and 1975, therefore, the federal government forced all US aeroplane manufacturers to pool their patents collectively – and the consequence was the vast growth of the US aeroplane industry.  ...

And here comes what seems to me to be a serious non sequitur:

Thus we see that the Wright brothers’ patents destroyed aeronautical innovation in the US, and that only on their revocation in 1917 did America’s planes take off.

But how, if the Wrights and their patents had stymied aeroplane progress in America, was Europe still able to make progress?  Answer: Europe paid the fees.  What stopped American progress was the unwillingness of any Americans to pay such fees.  The federal government refused to do business with the Wrights, and presumably that reluctance was shared by the likes of Glenn Curtiss.  (Why?) Then, the federal government switched off (a supporter of patents would say “stole") the Wrights’ patents, and American aeroplane progress resumed.  Americans started to make proper use of the Wrights’ invention.  But surely if they’d paid up, as the Europeans did, they could have done that anyway.

I agree that the period between 1917 and 1975 suggests that patents are not necessary for technological progress, assuming Kealey has his facts about that period right.  But I do not accept that the period before 1917, the way he describes it, proves anything except that the federal government was an ass.

And what about the period since 1975?  Aeronautical progress in the USA has not exactly ground to a halt.  Has it?

The conclusion I draw from this story is not that patents are a huge bar to progress, but that, actually, they don’t make that much difference, either as a bar to progress or as a stimulus to it.  Which, interestingly, is the opinion that I recall Michael Jennings (the new British citizen of the previous posting) expressing in this recorded conversation (which I wrote about in this posting here).

A few pages later (p. 368) Kealey concludes his account of the Wright brothers thus:

In any case, the Wright brothers did not invent the aeroplane in a vacuum: in a letter of 1899 the brothers had written to Langley asking for information.  And the irony is that the Wrights would have produced Flyer 1 in the absence of patent laws.  They did not create powered flight for profit; instead , like most great researchers, they were driven by the love of discovery.  The patent laws being in existence, however, they naturally exploited them. But their persistent litigation brought them only unhappiness.

Indeed, from about 1908 the Wright brothers produced no more innovations, they simply fought patent case after patent case.  They won their cases at vast expense, but, ironically, they would have made real money if, instead, they had focused on growing their very considerable first-mover advantage.

Here is a case against patents, that they entice glory-seeking inventors away from invention and into money-seeking litigation.  If patents do no good, in terms of encouraging innovation, but harm by side-tracking successful innovators, then that is a reason to abolish them.

I have more reading to do.  I anticipate (although I promise nothing) that there will be further gobs of Kealey here, and then probably a review of this book here, and further writings about it here.  Also here, because there are big competition issues in Kealey’s work as well as intellectual property issues.

Michael Jennings is about to become a British Citizen, and explains what that means here.  The big thing seems to be a shorter queueing ordeal at British airports.