Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
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Rob Fisher on ASI Boat Trip 7: Other photographers
6000 on Nine reflections
Simon Gibbs on The River Thames carpet
Brian Micklethwait on The River Thames carpet
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- Something at Samizdata
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- ASI Boat Trip 8: Bridges
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- Quota selfie from 2006
- ASI Boat Trip 7: Other photographers
- Nine reflections
- The localness of London’s weather
- Round headlights equals an old car
- The River Thames carpet
- Cats … on scaffolding … with shadows …
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6000 Miles from Civilisation
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Adventures in Capitalism
Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise
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we make money not art
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This and that
Snatched from Cricinfo this morning, when bad weather had them padding it out with anecdotage:
Joe Hardstaff jnr, Notts and England, on Larwood:
‘I’ll tell you about that ‘Silent Killer’ nickname I gave him. I used to field at cover point and as Loll [Larwood ] came up on that smooth, carpet-slipper run of his, and I moved in to the batsmen I used to listen hard - to find out what kind of delivery he was going to bowl. If I could hear his feet tip-tapping over the turf I knew he would be well within himself - he would still be quick, mind.
But when I couldn’t hear him running up I used to look at the batsman and think: ‘You’re a split second away from trouble, son,’ because I knew that Loll was coming in on his toes and he was going to let slip the fastest he’d got.’
“Carpet-slipper run”. Sounds like the kind of thing they later all said about Michael Holding.
On TMS, they had long-time cricket fan Eric Clapton filling in for there being no live cricket to talk about. And Clapton said something interesting about the West Indies, where, like lots of showbiz celebs, he has a second (or third or fourth, who knows?) home. He mentioned how all the kids there were watching basketball on the TV and getting keen on that. But, said Clapton, this enthusiasm, having been very big a few years ago, has now faded, and they’re back to cricket again. Interesting. My guess is Brian Lara had a lot to do with that. If so, good for him.
England win the toss and put South Africa in. 39 overs each way. They’ll be lucky not to get further interruptions, if the weather forecast I saw last night is anything to go by.
Another Cricinfo fast bowling anecdote, sent in by a certain David Butler, to whom thanks:
Speaking of Larwood, a similar story about Lindwall. In the opening match of the 1948 tour Don Kenyon of Worcs was out lbw to Lindwall. As they crossed, the No. 3 said “Is he swinging it?” Kenyon said, “No. He isn’t swinging it. There isn’t time.”
If such things are not snatched from the ever-updating flux that is Cricinfo in full flight, they’re gone for ever.
South Africa off to a flyer: 36-0 after 5 overs. 15 off the last over.
LATER: It’s raining again, and there’s been further fast bowling chat. Surrey, in a desperate bid to rescue something from the ruins of their season, want to sign the Rawalpindi Express.
Photoed this afternoon, outside Westminster Abbey:
I thought I was photoing the Billion Monkey Lady on the right, and in the original she was in the centre. But I think you will agree that what was happening in the background to the left of her as I looked was more interesting. Two pigeons caught in flight, in the bright sunlight, and a couple photoing themselves!
One of the many things accomplished by blogging is the memo-to-self function. It’s my blog and I’ll put stuff up that only I can see the point of if I want to. Thinking aloud, bafflingly to all but the blogger, you know the kind of thing. So, here is a page of notes I just scribbled down on the subject of how to do libertarian propaganda that I don’t want swallowed up in my random paper mountains. I included the date in the title to make it more likely that I will be able to find these notes in the future and maybe write about them more coherently, e.g. for Samizdata.
So here it all is:
the value of tactical guidance and debate - write things down it makes you think better – words matter (I demand words not action!) - New Media don’t usually destroy Old Media they feed back into them essays and books worth writing reading and reviewing – writing what is obvious to you often others find it revelatory and vice versa – sincerity (what actually convinced you? why do you truly think that?) - optimism (we are actually doing quite well many libertarians depress with pessimism) – do what you enjoy don’t sacrifice yourself for The Cause – teamwork (others enjoy doing other things so help them by doing what you enjoy) – Many Voices - disagreeing with your comrades (if they’re wrong The Cause benefits if they are told) – weasel words – separating out the memes and getting each accepted and spread separately – the practicality of extremism (shifting the agenda) – lone libertarian who breaks a specialist consensus (Peter Bauer James Tooley) - reversing the burden of proof – the uncommitted third party – silent victories – completions half a baby versus a slice of bread actions
That’s all I have so far. I can now chuck away the original bit of paper. Wow. See also these.
Here‘s a footbridge with a difference:
As it says in the caption:
Good luck stumbling back to your ancient Japanese castle across this thing after too much sake.
Indeed. But I think it’s a good design. The crazier and more arbitrary the design of something is, the simpler and more austere should be the visual language or kit of parts from which the craziness is constructed. Then, it works. In this bridge, for instance, the planks are, I think, all identical, and the poles are, I’m more sure, similarly identical. If, on the other hand, the design and the kit of parts by means of which the design is made to happen are both all over the place, then the result is just a muddle. My guess would be that designers have a regular name for this rule.
Squander Two, commenting on this earlier bridge posting, said he liked this bridge, having recently visited it. Going only by that picture, and others that I also dug up and looked at, my prejudice is that this design breaks the above rule and is just a muddle. But if, like Squander Two, I saw it for real, maybe I’d think differently. It could be that it’s just a very difficult thing to photograph.
Last night I set my TV hard disc to record the cricket highlights. One of the features of these hard discs is that you can change the timings, and what I always do when recording something is add time on at the beginning and the end, to make sure I get all of it. Thus, last night, I changed 00.00 to 23.55, or thenabouts, and 01.00 to 01.05, or thenabouts. Later, if I want to keep this recording, I edit out the bits at the beginning and the end, and all adverts, and then shove it onto a DVD.
However, what I forgot was that the date had not changed. By the time I had made my adjustments, I had ordered my hard disc to record the stuff on Channel 5, starting at 23.55, on the 27th. I.e. not last night, but tonight.
Had I not been actually watching these highlights as they happened, I would have missed them completely, because I would also have failed to record them. Which would have been a pity, because England bowled South Africa out for 83 and won by 10 wickets. As it was, I did watch the highlights as they happened, and, noticing that the recording function was for some mysterious reason not functioning, I started that in the nick of time, by hand, so to speak, and recorded everything, apart from the regular opening sequence and a tiny bit of the jabbering at the beginning by the commentator.
Later, I discovered that my machine still had it in mind to record an hour and a bit of irrelevant nonsense on Channel 5 this evening, starting at 23.55, and the penny dropped.
I knew you’d be excited.
I’m encouraged that of the Total Politics top 20 UK libertarian blogs, I had until now only heard of 9 of them, although I will now be investigating some of the other 11. Success in propaganda is when your team acquires followers you know nothing about. I was an active member of the libertarian team from about 1980 to about 2000, but have since been a more indolent supporter from the touchline. There are 33 UK libertarian blogs listed in all.
Brian Micklethwait dot com is somewhere in among the other 13, near the bottom presumably. So be it. Anyone clicking on it and expecting daily gobs of rage at the activities and proclamations of politicians will be disappointed. This is a blog, and I am a libertarian, and that has consequences every now and again, although not always consequences that all readers would be aware of. And that’s the way I like it.
I know that there are more libertarian blogs out there - both active and passive, so to speak - that Total Politics has not heard of, although that particular one has been rather quiet lately. Lots more, I hope and assume. Failure in propaganda is when you have heard of everyone who supports your team.
At least half of the libertarian story that really interests me is automatically scrubbed out of this calculation by restricting it to UK blogs. See the top left of this blog. The object of my attentions here is the entire world, not just the UK, which in any case looks like it won’t be “U” for very much longer.
... should pull their trousers up.
Photoed April 2006.
Ken Livingstone’s former media director Joy Johnson has written a ludicrous piece in the new edition of the British Journalism Review (sadly not online). It’s all about the horrible Evening Standard and its role in the London mayoral election. At the beginning of the article she says “I do not believe it was the ‘Standard wot won it’”. She then proceeds to spend the rest of the article explaining all the damage the Standard did to Livingstone’s cause. Indeed, she hilariously blames his defeat not on the paper, but on all the newspaper’s billboards.
I don’t know why Iain Dale should think it hilarious that these billboards should have helped to swing an election. They are very distinctive. There’s nothing else in London remotely like them. Millions read them every day, and take what they say seriously. They frequently say very true and very momentous things. So, when they say, in among all that true momentousness, something along the lines of: LIVINGSTONE IS A SHIT, that’s got to count for something. When they say it about every three days, that counts for really quite a lot.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s silly for politicians to complain if the media hates them. Not all of reality is as you would like it to be. Ken had lots of employees on his various payrolls, paid, among other things, to vote for him. And, he had journos crawling around hating him, not least because of all those hired voters, or maybe because the journos were being paid by pissed-off capitalists whom Livingstone had antagonised. Successful politicians don’t whine about things like this. They face them, and they deal with them, either by somehow changing them, or by finding a way round.
But I don’t agree with Dale that this particular something was not actually something.
UPDATE Sunday: I was rootling through my picture archives, and came across this, which perfectly illustrates the above:
That was taken last December. In the vicinity of Tower Bridge, as it happens, but it could have been anywhere in London on that day. On the right: momentous events. On the left: Livingstone is a shit, in this case a shit because he or one of his minions was being investigated by the police for corruption. Put it this way. Do you think that headlines like that made it more likely he’d be re-elected?
As already noted here, I’ve been reading John Carey’s book What Good Are The Arts? In this he presents a radically subjective definition of “art”. Art is anything that anybody reckons to be art, even if it’s only art for them. And he similarly debunks highbrow proclamations about the objective superiority of high-art over merely popular art. Shakespeare, for instance, is now high-art. But he didn’t use to be, as Carey explains in this passage (pp. 61-63):
Shakespeare is probably the writer that most high-art advocates would select as a universally acclaimed genius, whose reputation proves that there are indeed artistic values that surmount place and time. But even here the consensus argument breaks down, not only because there are clearly more people in today’s world ignorant of Shakespeare’s works than knowledgeable about them, but also because even among the intelligent and educated across the centuries there has never in fact been consensus about Shakespeare’s greatness. The disparaging opinions of Voltaire and Tolstoy are well known. Charles Darwin found ‘tremendous delight’ in Shakespeare as a schoolboy, but his view changed when he grew older. ‘I have tried lately to read Shakespeare and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me.’ Norbert Elias, in his book The Civilizing Process, quotes from Frederick the Great’s treatise On German Literature (1780):
To convince yourself of the lack of taste which has reigned in Germany until our day, you only need to go to the public spectacles. There you will see presented the abominable works of Shakespeare, translated into our language; the whole audience goes into raptures when it listens to these ridiculous farces worthy of the savages of Canada ... How can such a jumble of lowliness and grandeur, of buffoonery and tragedy, be touching and pleasing?
This, Elias stresses, was not an idiosyncratic view, but reflected the standard opinion of the French-speaking upper class of Europe in the late eighteenth century. For that matter, university-educated intellectuals in Shakespeare’s own day such as Thomas Nashe and Robert Greene would have found the suggestion that he was a great writer utterly ridiculous. On the contrary they derided him as an ‘upstart’, semi-educated plagiarist, on the fringe of the literary world. The orthodox educated view in the seventeenth century, as represented by the contemporary cultural commentator George Hakewill, was that the only work by an English author that could possibly challenge comparison with the classics of Homer and Virgil was Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia. It was certainly not Hamlet or King Lear, which Hakewill does not even mention. Shakespeare himself, it might be added, made no effort to publish his plays, or to correct or proof-read those his acting company had printed. Far from regarding them as a cultural treasure of which the human race must not be deprived, it seems he did not care whether they survived or not.
To dismiss the opinions of Voltaire, Darwin, Tolstoy and the rest as stupid and blind, and insist that our own estimate of Shakespeare’s universal value is the correct one, is to fail to understand that cultures change, and that their most fundamental convictions fade and change with them. If we are intent on finding something of’universal significance in our culture, it is likelier to be in science than art. Richard Dawkins, in his book A Devil’s Chaplain, imagines superior creatures from another star system (they will have to be superior, he notes, to get here at all) landing on our planet and acquainting themselves with our intellectual stock-in-trade. It is unlikely, he suggests, that Shakespeare, or any of our art and literature, will mean anything to them, since they will not have our human experiences and human emotions. Equally, if they have a literature or an art, they are likely to seem alien to our human sensibilities. But mathematics and physics are another matter. Though the star-travellers will probably find our level of sophistication in these disciplines low, Dawkins suspects, there will be common ground. ‘We shall agree that certain questions about the universe are important, and we shall almost certainly agree on the answers to many of these questions.’
None of this, of course, is a reason for thinking less of Shakespeare. But it is a reminder that talk of the ‘universal’ value of his or any art is meaningless. Nor can Shakespeare’s value be established by a ‘consensus’, whether it is organized on democratic, head-counting lines, or by restricting the ballot to intelligent and educated people across the ages. Well over a century after his death many such people did not consider his plays ‘high’ art at all. The fact that they were once popular art, despised by intellectuals, but are now high art, itself suggests that the differences between high and popular art are not intrinsic but culturally constructed.
Which I found starting from the same place. I forget the details.
These pictures are without doubt some of the most stupendous skyscraper photos I have ever laid eyes on.
Isn’t that amazing? It’s Dubai, from the top of of the Burj Dubai tower, which I believe is not finished yet, but for photography, who needs finished? You just have to have a contact who can get up there.
They look like models. Something to do with the light?
Obama reminds me of the Robert Redford character in The Candidate. In that, Redford started out saying why can’t we politicians be civil to each other, and talk to each other like humans, instead of shouting at each other like insane robots. The media loved him. But by the end Robot was shouting like an insane robot, and because of that, he won his election.
The trouble with being nice is that what politics is actually about is stealing money from people on a huge scale, telling them to do things they don’t want to do and forbidding them from doing things they do want to do. This generates lots of anger, between all the different and deeply nasty politicians each with his own particular take on exactly who should and should not be robbed and tyrannised over, and further anger from all the poor bastards on the receiving end of all this legalised criminality, viz: us. Wanting this argument to be nice is, as is forcefully explained to the Redford character in the course his campaign by one of his hired hands, is a childish fantasy. Basically what the “nice” style says is: why can’t we all just stop being nasty and agree with me. Nicely. When Obama said: let’s be nice, this worked, with all the people who agree with him, for they too want everyone else to agree with Obama, nicely. It does not work with anyone else. In fact it only gets them all the angrier.
The difference between Obama and the Redford character seems to be (a) that Obama is and always was a machine politician, from Chicago I believe, where politicians are nothing if not mechanical. As such Obama didn’t need to be told what the Redford character was obliged to actually learn during his campaign. But (b) Obama was so good at faking the “be nice” stuff he did at the beginning of his campaigning (which the Redford character did in all sincerity) that he has seriously undermined his ability later to do the insane robot thing, which is what he now needs to be doing. Trouble is, if Obama now gives McCain a good kicking, like McCain has been giving Obama just recently (vacuous celeb, un-American, all puff and no spine, etc. etc.), Obama makes a nonsense of his own earlier “be nice” spiel. What Obama needs to be saying now is something along the lines of: McCain is a crusty old coot with a vile temper who could fall down and die at any moment. Plus all the rest of the dirt on McCain that I don’t know about, but of which there is surely plenty. But, that would not be nice. If he did this, the media might turn against him. Ooh. Obama. He was only pretending to be nice. What else has he been fibbing about? Obama has, in other words, boxed himself in.
But, what do I know?
A man who challenged police reversing the wrong way up a one-way street - to visit a chippie - was thrown in a cell and threatened with trumped-up charges.
Andrew Carter, 44, was told ‘F*** off, this is police business’ when he protested about the officers breaking traffic laws.
When he photographed the police van outside a Bristol fish and chip shop, PC Aqil Farooq told him he was under arrest for assault, resisting arrest and being drunk and disorderly.
See also this, where I actually felt some sympathy for the police. They were obviously in a bad mood, but probably at least as much at the people who made them do this as at the man they were doing it to.
Incoming from Alex Singleton:
I think this is one of the most exciting things to happen in the classical music world for a while.
Gramophone is putting its entire back catalogue of articles since 1923 online for free. Sometimes several decades of old issues are put on sale second hand, but the problem is that they would take too much space to store and sellers presumably want a fair amount for them - far more than can be justified on what might just be a couple of weekends of geeky reading ... anyway, I think this is going to have me glued to my screen when it goes live next month.
Wow. I missed that. Be sure to remind me about that when it happens, Alex. I’ve just worked out how to put the Gramophone logo up here, so here it is:
Sticking up all these back articles sounds like a fine idea, sure to get the Gramophone’s name up in lights and linkage throughout the www-osphere.
Ever since I first observed Robert Hughes parading about on the television, spouting mostly nonsense about mostly nonsense in his television series about modern art called The Shock of the New, I have had him tagged in my mind as a pompous windbag, orating in the manner of a right-wing curmudgeon, perhaps to try to appeal to stupid but genuinely right-wing curmudgeons who would otherwise automatically dismiss anything about modern art as a waste of good TV time. Since then Hughes has written things that embody genuine dissent from the new academic orthodoxies, such as a book (which I have not read) called The Culture of Complaint. The reason I have not read this book is because my prejudice about Hughes is that life is too short to be reading elaborately vacuous and pompous prose such as I assume this book to be full of, even if the vacuities, once decyphered, turn out to contain some banal truths in among other banalities that are not true. (That prejudice could of course be quite wrong. That’s what a prejudice is.)
One of Hughes’s most celebrated books is The Fatal Shore, which is about the history of Australia but in a way that concentrates especially on the early, brutal convict-immigrant phase. Again, not read it, although I’m pretty sure I own it. (I certainly own the book version of The Shock of the New.) Because this time, I have tended to assume that Hughes had in this book presented a more of less accurate version of a very nasty and shameful episode of Australian history.
Not so, says another Aussie, Keith Windschuttle. The facts in The Fatal Shore are indeed facts. But other pertinent facts are omitted, and Hughes’s interpretation is thus seriously skewed. Via David Thompson, I found my way to this highly recommendable lecture, given by Windschuttle in Chicago in 2001, about the importance of and continuing ability of historians getting at and to get at the historical truth of history, and about the perniciousness of the anything-goes it’s-all-dead-white-men no-such-thing-as-objective-truth school of academic gibberising that has been doing so well for itself lately. In this lecture, I found this:
Take the case of the book that, to many Americans today, is the only one they know about Australian history, Robert Hughes’s international best-seller The Fatal Shore. The first Australian settlement in 1788 was established as a place to which convicts from Britain were sentenced for seven to fourteen years penal servitude. Hughes portrays the penal colony as a place of unnatural cruelty and horror, where male convicts were starved and flogged in labour camps and where female convicts endured enforced whoredom. The underlying politics of his thesis derive from the moral equivalence arguments that were common during the Cold War. Just as Stalin’s commissars hid their own labour camps deep in Siberia, this thesis claimed the English imperialists had their own nineteenth century gulag archipelago hidden half way around the world. Most professional historians in Australia, however, were aghast at Hughes’s portrait because they had spent the previous twenty years uncovering research that showed it was largely a myth.
Now, it is true that Hughes has got the facts right about those events he chose to write about. There were some brutal prisons and some convict women were forced to become prostitutes. But the great majority of convicts never experienced these conditions. Most never even saw the inside of an Australian prison. The great majority served their sentences as assigned servants, that is, they were labourers obliged to work for certain employers. They earned wages and they lived openly in society. When their period of servitude was over, or they received a pardon for good behaviour, some of them, including the women, became leading citizens of the colony. They comprised Australia’s first traders, industrialists and architects. One of the founders of Australia’s first bank in 1817 was a female ex-convict. The first novel written and published in Australia was by a convict author. Charles Dickens’s character Magwich in Great Expectations, the convict who made a fortune out of wool, was based on real life. The Australian convict system, it is now clear, was a remarkable success story of the rehabilitation and reform of convicted felons. So, while the facts of Robert Hughes’s book are not all in dispute, his exceedingly narrow selection of those facts and the way he has organised his argument are a very different matter. His interpretation, his value judgement about Australian history, can be challenged by the presentation of a different set of facts, that is, those he omitted from his story. So, even though we are dealing with an ultimate value judgement - whether the convict system was unnaturally cruel or a considerable success - it is factual historical evidence that decides the issue, not the ideology, not the ethnic background, not the colour, not the sex of the historian. In good history, debates about values are settled not by each side simply asserting its own values, but by empirical evidence.
Windschuttle makes much in his lecture of historians who contradict themselves by asserting that objective historical truth is a myth but who also challenge a particular historical myth by comparing and contrasting it with ... objective historical truth! He mentions in particular Simon Schama, who has recently (i.e. nearly a decade ago now) done very well on Brit TV.
Windschuttle ends his lecture on a note of pessimism. But what I think he illustrates is that the truth-is-true orthodoxies of real historians are a lot more deeply embedded, even in the minds of historians who say that they don’t accept them, than they would have to be to be in serious danger of being discarded. Many university departments have indeed been engulfed by nonsense. But the fightback is well underway and will win, just as it has won against all the other challengers to it in the past. The truth about history is just too true and too interesting to be ignored by everyone.
Blognor Regis links to and quotes from a fascinating piece about the potential resurrection of the Euston Arch, destroyed by modernist fanatics in 1961. Apparently they now know where quite a lot of the bits are to be found:
And so the arch was demolished. Some of the stones ended up in Bromley, in the garden of the demolition contractor. Then, in 1994, the broadcaster and architectural historian Dan Cruickshank discovered that about 60 per cent of them had been used to plug a large hole in the bed of the Prescott Channel, a canal that runs into the River Lea in the East End. Part of a fluted column was raised, and - Cruickshank told me - turned out to be “in extremely good nick, with the surface tooling intact from 1837”.
Cruickshank, who has been crusading on this issue for many years, feels it is “incredibly important” that if the arch is reconstructed, as much as possible of the original fabric - grit stone from Yorkshire - should be used. One of the imponderables is how damaged the rest of the dressed stone may be.
Last year it was announced there is to be another redevelopment of Euston, in 2012. This creates a real chance that the arch could return from its watery grave. That could be, as Cruickshank argues, a great asset. “It would make the new station internationally significant and much talked about,” he says.
An important factor will be the attitude of London’s new mayor. The arch - ancient Greek, yet in its time a great symbol of modernity - ought to be a perfect cause for Boris Johnson, classicist and modern-minded conservative.
“Modern-minded conservative”? What does that mean? I think it means he has a big job with big powers of patronage and favour, so let’s slobber all over him.
Here’s a picture of how the Euston Arch used to look:
The last time, and the last time before that, and the last time before that, etc., that I visited the photoblog of Jonathan Gewirtz, blogrollee and an occasional commenter here, I got to this picture. But more recently there has been a surge of new pictures, all up to JG’s usual high standard. One of my favourites is this one, of a vulture next to the Moon. (Real photographers are so much better at photo-ing the Moon than Billion Monkeys. When BMs photo the Moon it is usually just a all-white smudge.) But, they’re all good.
One of the big things keeping the classical CD business going is, I believe, voice addiction.
I will begin with a list of voices that I am more-or-less addicted to, in no particular order: Janet Baker, Barbara Hendricks, Gundula Janowitz, Lucia Popp, Ruth Zeisak, Anna Kratochvilova, Heather Harper, Margaret Price, Luciano Pavarotti, Fritz Wunderlich, Franco Corelli, Gwyneth Jones, Arthur Davies, a few others whose names temporarily escape me but which I would greet with a shout of delight, and, most recently, Christian Gerhaher. By addicted, what I have in mind is the experience of hearing one of these singers do some singing, often just of a single phrase, and to hear the doors of heaven open, if only for a moment. This is odd, because in general, I don’t much care for the way that classical music singing is done. The average way, so to speak, that classical solo singing is done is a noise I do not care for, rather as I do not care for the typical sound made by jazz or hip-hop or disco music. But my favourite solo classical singers cut right through that generalised dislike. I would rather hear Janet Baker sing something very ordinary, than hear, say, Elizabeth Schwartzkopf, sing something great. For me, the difference between the one singer and the other singer is an absolute, the difference between more-or-less fervent adoration and, if anything, more-or-less definite dislike.
With instrumental or orchestral music, provided it is decently played, I find the differences between this or that recording of a Beethoven or Brahms symphony or concerto, a trio, a piano sonata or a string quartet, to be not that gigantic. I love, that is to say, the typical sound of the various classical instruments and instrumental ensembles. There are differences between different recordings, especially in the matter of recording quality. Why else would I have so many recordings of my favourite pieces? But these are not differences anything like as extreme as the differences I hear between classical singers whom I adore and classical singers whom I do not adore.
But there is another difference, which is of great import to the classical recording industry, or what’s left of it. When I hear a great piece of instrumental music and get seriously into it for the first time - addicted to it in other words, my reaction is to get hold of and listen to every other recording of that piece that I can find without too much expense or inconvenience, often in the form of CDs I already own but have never really listened to properly. (My most recent such mania was for Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony.) But when, however many years ago it was, I first heard Fritz Wunderlich sing the tenor re-entry in the first track (the “Drinking Song of the Sorrow of the Earth") of Mahler’s Das Lied Von Der Erde, as conducted by Otto Klemperer for EMI, my reaction was from then on to buy every other CD that I ever encountered of Fritz Wunderlich singing. Fritz Wunderlich singing anything. Because, for me, it was Fritz Wunderlich who was the magic in that magical Klemperer Lied, rather than Mahler, and definitely rather than Klemperer, even though there’s nothing at all wrong with Klemperer’s conducting. Any other tenor, for me, brings that exact same magical moment crashing down to earth horribly, so if anything, I have tended to shy away from other recordings of that piece, as a brief look at the Mahler section of my CD collection has just confirmed. Lots of Mahler symponies, but only a few recordings of the Lied, most of them being ones in which Janet Baker is singing the contralto part.
The only exception I can think of to the above few paragraphs is Schubert songs. To my ear, Schubert songs make everyone who sings them into potential heavenly door-openers, which is the basic reason why I think - and I am well aware that this is in no way an original thought - that Schubert was the greatest songwriter ever. I will buy Schubert song CDs sung by anyone. (But of course especially by the people on my addiction list.)
Please understand that this is not a posting about my particular preferences in classical voices, other than by way of illustration. Nor is it the claim that Janet Baker is a better musician than Elizabeth Schwartzkopf was - or even, in any objective sense - a better singer, although maybe she is. Many of my favourite voices were and are in the care of decidedly imperfect musicians, while several of the undeniably greatest singer-musicians (Dietrich Fischer-Diskau and Placido Domingo spring to mind) leave that heavenly door, for me, stubbornly shut, even as I can entirely hear how very, very well they sing, or to put it in the language of my chosen metaphor for this, how close to that heavenly door they routinely get without, for me, actually opening it. A couple of the voices on my personal list are people that even regular opera and singing buffs may not have heard of. Ruth Ziesak? Arthur Davies? As for Anna Kratochvilova, she only appeared on two ancient Supraphon CDs of the music of Martinu, and then she vanished completely, mourned, it would seem, only by me. A number of these favourite singers of mine had, for me, only a short time as heavenly door openers, usually rather early in their careers. I often get later recordings of such voices in the hope of hearing that special thing once again, but am then disappointed.
I speak of voices rather than singers, because it’s the voice I adore, and because the thing I adore is a gift, rather than anything that seems earned by the singer in question. Yes, the singer must work hard, to clear away the barriers between me and that wonderful voice. But if there’s no wonderful voice there, then all that clearing away is (for me) pointless.
It is clear to me, as I wander around the CD shops and note the prices and the availabilities of these and those CDs, that I am not the only one who responds to voices in this extreme, yes-or-no, love-it-or-leave-it way, and not the only one who will do almost anything to hear that perfect sound once again, if that’s what anyone thinks it is. This is the basic reason why classical singers are still being recorded by the major profit-seeking labels. Such a singer has addicted fans, who will buy anything that this singer sings. Better yet, they will pay whatever price is demanded. Their demand is, as the economists say, inelastic. That the stuff the singers thus adored record has already been recorded hundreds of times by hundreds of other singers matters not. And because it can be the same old stuff being sung by a new and unique star with a (for some) uniquely beautiful voice, that makes it something (for them) wonderful and new. Thus, new star singers get the big classical recording labels serenely past their otherwise biggest problem, which is the stagnation of the classical repertoire.
Star singers are also critic-proof. Critics disapprove of several of the singers on my list. Critics routinely prefer Domingo to Pavarotti, and almost any soprano to Barbara Hendricks, whom I worship, but who is lucky to get three stars out of five for her recordings these days. (Typically she gets two.) She still cries all the way to the bank, or such is my understanding of her continued CD selling power.
In contrast, as I say, when I hear a new instrumental CD that captivates me, my likely response is to keep an eye open not for other recordings by the same artist or artists, but for other recordings of the same piece or pieces, recordings made by other labels and as likely as not quite a long time ago. This is no good to the record label which put out the recording that first got me hooked. They don’t have exclusive contracts with particular pieces, only with particular performers. And the performers who, for them, really perform, are not the instrumentalists but the singers.
Thus it is that the star singer aspect of the classical music recording business has an odd, rather anachronistic feel to it. The old rules still apply. Huge sums of money are still exchanged. Huge cardboard cut-outs of the stars still haunt the CD shops. It’s like the crisis of the classical recording industry doesn’t apply to singers. To a big extent that’s true.
It’s beside my central point in this posting, but I will end by mentioning that musical addiction, both to voices and to instrumental pieces, is one of the big reasons why I like CDs, and almost fear attending concerts. What if I show up at a live event, and the door of heaven is opened? (For me.) I may never hear this moment again, or anything even resembling it, unless I get lucky and my evening just happens to become the basis of a live recording. On the other hand, if a moment in a CD opens that heavenly door for me, I sometimes, if I am not careful, play it over and over again, at which point the door may stop working and get stuck shut. But what the hell, even if the door only remained open a few times, that’s still better than just the once, followed by a life of longing to hear the magic again.
This is rather good:
As Mr Gladstone rightly said, in the old days one bribed individuals, but in modern democracy one bribes whole classes. Or, as Koestler put it, a Communist who is a deputy will have more in common with a non-Communist deputy, than he will have with a Communist who is not a deputy. Sociologically, the professional historian of today, with his pension, is deeply ‘inside’, deeply encased in something, some form of stability and predictability and also limitation, in a way that will both define his habits of thought and separate him from his predecessors. Something rather big has happened, and squeaks of pained non-recognition cannot regain for him a position of entire freedom in the sociology of knowledge, the position of freebooter or lone adventurer. So it is with bias. In the old days, bias was primarily individual, a product of personal commitment. As such it might be a path to understanding. Under modern conditions, bias is more likely to be socially determined, and the face it wears will be that of the minor official.
This is from John Vincent’s book An Intelligent Person’s Guide to History, which I very much like the look of and of which I suspect myself of having bought two copies, including the one I bought today in an Oxfam shop.
That quote reminds me of another nice bit in a book, this time in John Carey’s What Good Are The Arts?, in which Carey describes a prominent London museum boss as “officialdom”. These people do not like to be thought of as “officials”, with its implication that they are rather “minor” (see above) and that they do what they are told by the government, and they hate that book. They prefer to think of themselves as artistic directors, that is to say as artists, and beholden to nobody and to nothing. That such people all think rather alike is, presumably, sheer coincidence.
I’ve no idea whether Helen Szamuely is doing anything here except whistling in the wind, but I still like it. The “gentleman in question”, I should explain, is speaking on behalf of the Russian government, and the two of them were arguing on the BBC Russian Service, along with a man from the Heritage Foundation:
Indeed, the gentleman in question remained very calm and full of certainty throughout the discussion, losing his temper only when I started enumerating the various ways in which the West can respond without any military intervention. “And who are you going to buy gas from,” he asked me angrily. “Lots of people,” replied I airily. “Who are you going to sell it to if we don’t buy it? There are no pipelines to China.” This did not make him very happy.
Helen reckons the Russians may have taken a bit more of a beating in Georgia than they are letting on. These photos do seem to suggest that there has been quite a lot of head-to-head (as opposed to one army barging in and the other one just running away) fighting, by somebody against somebody. But, what do I know?
The quest for weird bridges continues:
This bridge was definitely rated a success, the proof being that having built one, they built another one next it, just like the first one. Presumably it helps if you have no ships trying to go underneath.
New category: South America. South America, well done.
Yes. Here’s the lady:
And here’s the Gherkin and the Monument:
The Gherkin is the Gherkin. And the Monument, which is a tall, thin spiral staircase inside a column with a gold bobble on the top, built to commemorate the Great Fire of London, is being repaired and restored, hence the scaffolding.
Photoed yesterday. The lady BM was standing on the Millenium Bridge, the footbridge that links Tate Modern to St Pauls.
Ever since I got home earlier this evening, from having been out, there has been a relentlessly repetitive high pitched electronic noise going on, somewhere quite near. It is only just audible. To hear it I have to try. Often I think it has stopped, but it turns out this is only because I have stopped trying to hear it. As soon as I resume trying to hear it, there it is.
If the idea of this noise is to alert me to something wicked going on (or having gone on when the noise began) to the point of me actually doing something about it, it is failing. When it stops, I will forget about it. Until it stops, all I will do is sit here wanting it to.
This is probably one of the things that, in the eyes of the kind of sociologists who actually go out and observe things and count things, instead of just waffling unintelligibly, defines a “failing neighbourhood”. In failing neighbourhoods, nobody does anything about electronic noises except regret them, on their blogs if they have blogs, otherwise silently. In “successful” neighbourhoods, the damn neighbours are all over you at the slightest excuse, borrowing sugar, wanting you to have their keys when they are away on holiday and feed their pets, telling you what their names are and what they do.
I know which I prefer. (I also prefer failing pubs, because they are almost completely deserted. Lovely.) Crowded trains or crowded pavements are different. Unpleasant yes, but you are spared the threat of people wanting to get to know you. We all know that any stranger who tries to chat you up on the Underground or on a pavement is either insane, or just doing an annoying job. There are places and occasions for getting to know people, and whenever I feel the lack of people in my life, I go to such places and such occasions, just like anyone else. I’ve helped to organise such things myself in my time, and I have many friends as a result.
Now you may be asking: if I hate people in general so much, why do I live in a big city? But that’s the whole point of big cities. In big cities you can avoid getting to know nearly everybody, and still have lots of excellent friends, in the form of the 0.000001% or whatever it is of people who live there who make really nice friends for you. You can cooperate with people without having to like them. In small places, where everybody has to like everybody and where something is actually done, spontaneously, about repetitious electronic noises, you are stuck with whoever happens to live nearby. They are your friends. Or, your enemies.
Non-Londoners often complain that most people in London are unfriendly. That’s pretty much the point of the place. That’s exactly what’s so great about it.
This short posting began life as a posting for here. Forgive me if today I do no more here than link to that.
Forgive me? Well, you can if you like, but why am I asking? My only rule here is (a) something every day, but (b) I promise nothing. I have a headache, as perhaps you already guessed. This was not so much the result of yesterday’s partying, although more than a tiny amount of alcohol does give me an almost instant hangover, as it was the result of walking home last night in only shirtsleeves and a light jacket, on what was actually a rather cold evening. This afternoon, I was wearing a woolly top, indoors. Whatever happened to global warming? Well, follow the link above, which in its turn links to this, to find out.
UPDATE Tuesday am: I thought I’d posted this on Monday night, but I’d done everything except that. So, I’ve cheated with the date. Just as well I promise nothing.
Blogging can really bite you in the bum sometimes. Yesterday morning, all oblivious to events in Oss ... whatever it is, I posted, on Samizdata, this piece of Russian trivia. Worse, it remained the lead posting at Samizdata for the rest of yesterday. Not good.
I will soon be off partying. I will be taking Jesus with me and will try to post something from the party, preferably involving a photo. But, I promise nothing, so this may be it for today.
Actually it’s Southwark Cathedral, but apparently it was a church for the best part of a thousand years, and they only decided to call it Southwark Cathedral rather recently:
London’s oldest gothic church building. A place of worship for over 1000 years. Originally the Augustinian Priory of St Mary Overie (overie = over the water, or over the bridge) it became the parish church of St Saviour at the Dissolution. In 1905 it became the Cathedral for the Diocese of Southwark.
The Dissolution being this. There’s probably something clever I could do with Photoshop to make the dark bits lighter, without making the light bits
darker too light. But, you know how to do image googling, or Flickring.
Here’s one end of what is apparently Canada’s longest suspension bridge, cropped and rotated to make it BrianMicklethwait.com friendly:
How do they decide how much to let a thing like this sag?
The things you see on Flickr:
This is a 3kg right ovarian cyst that was growing inside my friend.
One fine morning, she woke with an allergic reaction to shellfish that manifest itself in one of her eyes. She went to check it out, and then also ask the doctor about the weird flat hard feeling she had in her abdomen.
Feel-feel, x-ray, results, panic, hospital, surgery. ...
Turns out there was this tumor growing inside of her, right. Turns out the tumor was cancerous. They removed it, along with her right ovary (which the bastard was attached to).
Essentially, she had cancer, but had it all in one easy to remove balloon that was tethered to the ovary.
Just look at that monster.
If you want to.
Here is some Polish food, photoed recently in my local Tesco, which has recently undergone a re-arrangement. I don’t remember this from before the re-arrangement:
And here is the same photo, photo-edited to enable you to read some of the labels:
I’m in favour of my country being flooded with Polish immigrants, and regret only that so many of them may go back to Poland. Those who stay here will be no more of a problem to locals than my Huguenot ancestors (on my mother’s side) were when they first came over. Although a bit of a problem, because those Huguenots and these Poles tended to and tend to work harder and be more enterprising than the locals. Were I a plumber or a building worker I would probably think differently when surveying all this food with its foreign labels.
Photoed locally this afternoon:
Never mind Doctor Who doing Hamlet, it was the faking of the fakeproof e-passport that got my attention. Thank goodness for the “sharpen” button. WIthout that, these pictures of newspapers would just be a blur.
New microchipped passports designed to be foolproof against identity theft can be cloned and manipulated in minutes and accepted as genuine by the computer software recommended for use at international airports.
Tests for The Times exposed security flaws in the microchips introduced to protect against terrorism and organised crime. The flaws also undermine claims that 3,000 blank passports stolen last week were worthless because they could not be forged.
In the tests, a computer researcher cloned the chips on two British passports and implanted digital images of Osama bin Laden and a suicide bomber. The altered chips were then passed as genuine by passport reader software used by the UN agency that sets standards for e-passports.
The Home Office has always argued that faked chips would be spotted at border checkpoints because they would not match key codes when checked against an international data-base. But only ten of the forty-five countries with e-passports have signed up to the Public Key Directory (PKD) code system, and only five are using it. Britain is a member but will not use the directory before next year. Even then, the system will be fully secure only if every e-passport country has joined.
Some of the 45 countries, including Britain, swap codes manually, but criminals could use fake e-passports from countries that do not share key codes, which would then go undetected at passport control.
In my opinion, the passion that many state officials seem to have for identity cards, e-passports, etc., is not because they think that these things can’t be faked, but because even a fake e-passport leaves a trail of e-ness behind it, which can be tracked, easier than if people are allowed freely to just wander around at will, giving off no electric signals at all. You photo someone being suspicious. You clock the electric lies they then tell to some policeman, or hotel receptionist or department store, and tell the Big Machine to say whenever that same lie is told again. Couldn’t it work like that? That’s how it was in The Day of the Jackal, even though they never worked out who Edward Fox really was.
I’m not saying that’s a sufficient reason to love these tagging systems, but there’s no sense in underestimating the attractions of them to officialdom.
On Saturday I hazarded the guess that since the rain had cleaned the sky in Beijing, and that nothing was now dirtying it again, it would stay clean. Luckily I added, as I often do: “But what do I know?” Not much, it would seem:
Bad news: Well, it doesn’t appear to have just been “morning mist” today, as I speculated earlier. Below and after the jump, a few pictures from the Olympic site early this afternoon. At this point, 100 hours before the opening ceremony and seven years after the decision to hold the Olympics in Beijing, there is really not anything to “do” about the city’s air anymore - except hope that whatever cleansing wind blew through over the weekend comes again.
To be totally selfish about this, I would like everyone in Beijing for the next month to choke to death, because that would make little old me look like a clever little old blogger for airing this issue here. Ho ho.
That has always struck me as the most pervasive sort of media bias, namely media bias in favour of themselves and their own correctness and cleverness and wonderfulness, or in this case, myself and mine.
My basic verdict ever since I tuned into this story has been: Bad Choice, and this has already been proved entirely right, even if the Beijing sky goes back to blue for the the duration. The IOC were mad to take this risk, mad to believe the Chinese government that it wasn’t a risk. However, when it comes to predicting whether or not the Beijing sky really is going to turn blue again, I now officially Give Up.
UPDATE: I’ve just learned that the architectural planning for the Beijing Olympics is being done by one Albert Speer. Yes, he is related. Son.
I’ve just watched (and recorded) part one of Dawkins’s three part show on Channel 4 about Darwin. So far so okay. And it was fun seeing Randal Keynes, a descendant of Darwin who specialises in the history of Darwin and his ideas, who I was in the same house as at Marlborough. I vividly recall Keynes one day having an argument with another boy (apologies if you’ve read me saying this before as I surely have) about the value of dressing well. You won’t get a proper job, said the other boy, if you don’t dress right. I don’t want a proper job, said Randal Keynes with almost feral ferocity. Actually, Randal Keynes did dress very properly indeed, for the sort of job that he did want, which turned out to be arguing about and in favour of Darwinism.
Such incidental felicities aside, this show only made me impatient to read a systematic summarised exposition of the basic arguments for evolution, and against intelligent design.
It seems to me that proofs can be arranged along a spectrum. At one end of this spectrum is the kind of proof which simply, logically, in half a page, proves whatever it is, in the manner of a maths proof. This simply cannot be. This simply has to be. At the other extreme is the kind of “proof” that assembles a vast range of evidence, of many different kinds, no one bit of which is decisive, but which together form of huge weight of evidence in favour of and against whatever it is. And I have the sense that the arguments (plural) for evolution work not because each one of them is decisive, but because they combine being all pretty good with being so very numerous.
I became persuaded of the truth of Darwinian evolution in much the same way that I later also became persuaded of the truth and wisdom of libertarianism. No one thing was decisive, but add it all up, and I really didn’t - don’t - see how it could be otherwise. (Incidentally I believe far more strongly in Darwinian evolution than I believe in libertarianism. I can just about imagine dumping libertarianism, in favour of some moderately close neighbour. I cannot conceive of ever not believing in evolution.)
I suspect that people often get angry, on both sides of the evolution debate, because they wrongly assume that the argument in favour of what they believe resembles a mathematical proof, when really it is the moderate strength but large number of the arguments that convinces them and which, they think, ought to convince others. Thus, no one argument can be decisive, and they must not get angry when any particular argument duly fails to be decisive. (See this and this, which are both about the nature of the arguments in favour of and against libertarianism. At no point in either did I say that what I was saying about libertarianism also applied to arguments about evolution, but I might have.)
After all, when one is arguing with someone who believes in God, one is arguing about the existence, or not, of a being who is by definition the greatest conjuror in the universe. God can fake anything to look like anything else. God can fake the fossil record. God can fake DNA strings to make us think that rats and mice are close relatives. It is not just what I am told about the nature of rat and mouse DNA which “proves” to me, on its own, that God is not doing this. It is also all the other arguments for God’s non-existence that together persuade me that such DNA fakery by God is not happening.
Note that in this posting I am making a statement that might be agreed with by an opponent of Darwinian evolution, and one that might be disagreed with by someone who is, like me, a strong believer in Darwinian evolution. I am making a statement about the nature of the arguments for and against Darwinian evolution, rather than actually assembling all those arguments and explaining why my side is right and the other wrong. If I were doing that, this posting would have to be massively longer than it is.
This is a technical first for me:
That’s because I used my blogging software to resize the picture, rather than my clone photoshop. Necessity was the mother of discovery, because I only started asking if I could do this after discovering that I couldn’t do this any other way from Jesus, Jesus’s photo-editing software being such a nightmare. (My way of discovering this was to go round to Michael J’s and see if he could do it, and he couldn’t, or if he could it was a prolonged shambles of impossible-to-remember commands.) Resizing with Expression Engine is really easy, and has been staring me in the face for years, but not needing it I didn’t see it.
The bigger question behind all this is that I need to be able to post photos using only Jesus. If I can do that, then it will be worth me getting a ten-quid-a-month internet connection for Jesus, which Michael J has already shown me how to do. If I can’t post photos, then this is a waste of money. Now, it would seem, I can.
As for the mere picture, this is a headshot of the statue of Field Marshall Slim that I took yesterday, outside the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall. I find photo-ing statues hard, but this has come out quite well I think. See also the photo of this same Slim statue here.
The word is that Michael Vaughan is about to step down as England cricket captain. His batting has just not been good enough, and his captaincy is starting to look tired. Since that 2005 Ashes win he has been regularly breaking the first rule of captaincy, which is: have good bowlers. Also, he has had a deal too many injuries recently for comfort.
How thin are the threads that these things hang by! In England’s second innings the day before yesterday, Vaughan was looking good, until he got himself out with a silly shot. And yesterday, South Africa’s captain Smith would have been given out, caught off the glove off Panesar, if “Hotspot” (the latest analytical gizmo - it shows where balls strike by photoing heat rather than light), had been helping the umpires instead of only helping the commentators to make idiots of the umpires. Smith was then on about 70. He went on to make 150 not out and win the game for his team. England might well have won if that decision gone their way, and if England had won, Vaughan would not now be stepping down. He might have made some runs in the final test against South Africa, and gone on to lead England in the Ashes next summer. As it is ... In contrast, as I said the other day, Collingwood’s hundred puts him in the frame as a potential successor captain, although it will probably be either Pietersen or Strauss. Pietersen has the advantage of being the only potential captain with a completely solid place. (The outside bet is Robert Key, now the Kent captain.) There’ll be a news conference at 1 pm, at which this Vaughan decision looks like being announced.
Meanwhile, Ramprakash finally got his hundredth hundred.
Yes, Vaughan is standing down.
UPDATE (Monday): The new captain is Pietersen, for everything. Yesterday Collingwood also stepped down as one day captain, which strongly suggests to me that it was all arranged beforehand. No harm in that. I’m just saying.
Well, it looks like they’ve done it:
“You see, we have done it! You can even see the mountains,” enthused one Chinese student volunteer near the magnificent, newly built “Bird’s Nest” stadium that is the main venue.
Pollution fears have dogged the build-up to China’s biggest ever international event. Authorities here hope it will show off China’s economic progress and modern face to the world.
About half of Beijing’s 3.3 million cars are off the road, $18 billion (9 billion pounds) has been spent on clean-up measures, and major manufacturers in and around the city have closed down.
The average air pollution index was Grade I, or “good” on Saturday, China’s official Xinhua news agency said.
According to the BBC they got lucky with some rain, which washed the air. Such luck should not have been necessary. Even if the air is perfect from now on, I still say Beijing was a stupid choice.
No word during the last couple of days from Fallows. But keep clicking on that, and maybe there’ll be something there soon.
So now, will it last? Presumably, yes. The rain has cleaned the air, and there is now nothing dirtying it. But, what do I know?
Yesterday I bought a hard copy of the Times, and right at the back, in the far right hand bottom corner, it says this:
Not for the first time, Moores defended Collingwood, who was recalled to provide an extra batsman after the Headingley Test. ‘He has had a bad run of scores, but we are supporting him because we think he can come through,’ Moores said.
And if you don’t believe me, you can read it in the bottom right hand corner of The Internet, here.
And today? This. Like Cricinfo’s Andew Miller, I was particularly impressed by how Collingwood celebrated when he got to a hundred. I.e., not too much:
Collingwood’s acknowledgement of his century was muted in the extreme; a modest bat-wave to the dressing-room and a half-cock nod towards the riotous Hollies Stand.
“I wanted to keep the same rhythm and I didn’t want a celebration to upset that,” he said. Sometimes you see people get out after a hundred, because they think they’ve made it and done their job. Really I wanted to stay focussed as much as I could, instead of running round like a loony tune.”
Hear that KP?
Until his 101 not out today (which is apparently five more first class runs than he’s scored in all of the rest of the season so far), Collingwood had had a wretched game, missing out in the first innings, dropping two catches (the second one this morning – normally he’s an excellent catcher), and bowling two ineffective overs in a vain attempt to provide some rest for England’s front line bowlers. Yet today, he has suddenly gone from waste-of-a-place to potential next captain to replace Vaughan. Vaughan today failed again, hitting a handful of boundaries and looking good, but then picking out mid on.
Here’s a further cricket thought. In normal world, “www” means The Internet. But, in the world of cricket www means a hat trick, i.e. three wickets (hence the “w") in three consecutive deliveries. Thus, in the cricinfo info about a hat trick it would go: “www”. Clear? Americans? Got that? I am surely not the first person to have thought of this. In fact I am probably not among the first ten thousand to have thought of it. Yet typing internet and hattrick into the internet only yields a lot of guff about a silly football game.
Okay, what do you reckon these are?:
It turns out they’re crop circles.
But, what is that diagonal line? A road? A railway? A power line?