Brian Micklethwait's Blog

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

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Tuesday September 30 2008

As for the actual error (see below) of leaving vital top secret information around the place, well, a thought does occur to me.  Perhaps MI6 have found that, as with all other press releases, theirs remain unread and binned by the journos, who hate MI6 on principle, or what passes for principle among the journos.  So, if MI6 want to spread some info around, true or false, the latest trick might be to leave it on a train or in a taxi.  That way the journos find out about it, and think they are hurting MI6 by studying it obsessively.  The typical recipient of such lost portable hardware seems to be the BBC.  So perhaps MI6 are mindfucking the BBC?

Or how about this?  Suppose there has been a spate of genuine cases of laptops being left in trains, with genuine information in them?  And there has, surely.  So how would you damage-limit that?  Answer: leave more laptops (or in this case cameras) on more trains (or in this case on e-Bay), but this time with bogus information that undermines or contradicts the first lot of information, perhaps suggesting that the original stuff was bogus, thereby discrediting the entire source.

The more I think about it, the more I can think of all manner of reasons for leaving laptops with “top secret” databases lying around, but where the databases have been altered in some way or another.

I know, never attribute to cunning what makes sense as cock-up.  But I’ve never bought this, or not as a universal rule.  It means believing that things are never done competently.  Which I think is just as ridiculous as assuming that they always are.  This is the blindness of the cynic, who cannot see smartness and competence even when it is right under his nose.

British intelligence services have a long and, er, honourable history of sneakiness and subterfuge, which has worked because people tend to assume that the British are idiots, incapable of being that cunning, and that competent.  I mean, we diddled Hitler into thinking that the Normandy landings were not the real thing, even while they were happening.  Later, just as a for instance, or so we are now told, we had the Russians copying a doctored version of Concorde, which consumed billions of resources they couldn’t spare and culminated in a deeply humiliating crash in Paris.  Who knows what other strokes we pulled as the Cold War drew to its - triumphant for us, may I remind you - end.  Why believe, suddenly, that such stuff is no longer happening now?

The point about this headline error is that it is not carelessness; it is true ignorance.  And nobody else spotted it.  Worse, others did spot it, but didn’t know for sure, or even worse, didn’t care.

Still, I suppose English spelling keeps changing, and each change is denounced as ignorance by oldies.  Personally, after much thought, I find that I sometimes want to split infinitives.  Not that one just a few words ago, because there was no need, but sometimes you need to anchor an adverb to the subsequent verb, when there is some doubt otherwise about which verb it applies to.  So, stick the adverb in the middle of the infinitive.  When I do this, pedants sometimes think I’m careless or ignorant.  No, just thoughtful, and a creative user of my language.

But somehow I don’t think this “brought” was a thoughtful piece of spelling.  Just a mistake.

Monday September 29 2008

imageBy overwhelming popular demand, i.e. I showed it to somebody else and they liked it too, here is a Billion Monkey picture with a difference that I took on Saturday, as the light was fading.  I looks like I photoshopped it to look painted.  But, I didn’t.  That’s it, just as it came out of the camera.  Click to get it bigger.

Sunday September 28 2008

I am watching the late night rerun of 8 Out Of 10 Cats on the telly, and I have a complaint.  Carr has just said that: “It’s true.  68 percent preferred brains to beauty.” No Carr.  If you join me in thinking about this, Carr, what you will realise is that 68 percent of people said they preferred brains to beauty.

Time was when we ordinaries just had to put up with media distortions of this kind, but now, the internet has changed the balance of power.  We can now shout back at our tellies, and be heard.  The world will never be the same again.

Saturday September 27 2008

Spotted today in the big Waterstone’s at the bottom right hand corner of Trafalgar Square:

image

Where do you start?  Something tells me that this is a book whose price has a bit of a way to fall.  I won’t be buying just yet.

Friday September 26 2008

UKIP brother Toby told me today about how the Chairman at the UKIP conference had a rather novel way of introducing speakers.  His way is not to flatter them but to take the piss instead.  Apparently this Chairman did a stretch in prison, for something or other.  So anyway, this Chairman introduced a rather fat but highly regarded UKIP speaker by saying, not that he is a terrific person who needs no introduction but let me introduce him anyway by saying de dum de dum de dum, grovel grovel.  No.  Oh no.  What Chairman Jailbird says is: “So our next speaker is McPrune.  He’s a waste of space.  And what a lot of space he wastes!” Apparently McPrune (not real name) didn’t mind such witty banter, because Chairman Jailbird also introduced McPrune the previous year, by saying:  “And now McPrune.  This is a man who can light up an entire room, just by moving away from the window.” I really enjoy talking with Toby about his UKIPing, because he really enjoys his UKIPing and his pleasure is infectious.  It’s very important that none of his enjoyment is dependent upon the UK actually leaving the EU.  That would be a mere bonus.

Brother Peter contributed further to my enjoyment of the day, which happened to be my 61st birthday (although our purpose in gathering was for us all to say hello to Mum (94)), by saying: “Yes, here is a chance for your friends to buy you 19th birthday cards, and turn them upside down.” Well, I laughed.

I took some photos to show Mum, with my microcomputer.  I just went bopping through my photofiles and picked out 44.  Here’s one that was particularly admired:

image

Taken, just over two years ago, from the top of St Paul’s.

I also used the microcomputer to show Mum some photos my sister had taken of the redoing of her front drive, she having emailed them all to me beforehand.  It’s nice how technology allows families to stay in touch and share news.  I know, a commonplace observation.  But it is.

Thursday September 25 2008

Not busy here today, but at Samizdata I have set what I believe to be two records.  The eight consecutive Samizdata postings between (and including) this and this were all posted by me, and for four days on end (Sunday to Wednesday) everything there was posted by me.  I was almost sorry when Guy Herbert posted something today.

Johnathan Pearce is on holiday.  Perry de H was in foreign parts and disconnected for a crucial few hours over the weekend, which got me thinking he was dead.  He wasn’t, but he was somewhat playing dead.  Others were off, I don’t know, at party conferences?  Also on holiday?  Having lives?  Who knows?

There were times when I thought it was going to be my job to turn out the light.

Wednesday September 24 2008

Goddaughter 2 has gone to live in Japan for a year.  She is staying with a Japanese family and going to school there.  This is her first report.  There will hopefully be more, including, so she has promised, photos.  But, what does “xD” mean?

I love it here.  Japan is fantastic.  The views are beautiful.  I can see Mt. Fuji from my train station. My host sister is really cute and is a typical Japanese teenager. She has orangey hair and wears super high heels. Everyone in Japan wears huge heels but noone actually knows how to walk with them.  Really, they all look handicapped, but cute.

I get loads of strange compliments about how huge my nose, ears and eyelashes are.  Ok about the eyelashes, but if they keep on commenting about my gigantic nose and ears, I’ll hit them all.

Japanese guys are fascinating. They’re soo touchy-feely amongst themselves. In my class they do each other’s hair, touch their butts and stroke each other and other weird things.  It’s really cute, but at first quite disturbing.

High school girls have minuscule skirts, they’re not even skirts, they’re belts. I see at least 5 pants everyday.  It’s gross.

Japanese people are so shy.  It’s funny, but pretty annoying xD.  In my class this guy was staring at me.  I thought he wanted me to die or something.  And then the next day he sent me an email basically asking to be friends.  But he was REALLY glaring at me.

I make random pervy friends on the train (hum). This 26 year old asked to go watch the cherry blossoms with me in april ...

Yes, here are two lumps.

Lump 1:

image

Photoed by me last night in the below-canal-surface (i.e. basement) level of Kings Place, the big new corporate stuff plus culture stuff building with a wavey facade next to Kings Cross Station.  The blobs along the top of my photo are to stop people seeing the Lump, running desperately towards it and smashing themselves against the sheet of plate glass that is barring their path, but otherwise (perhaps) invisibly.  Had I been cleverer, there would have been just two blobs on the Lump, looking like its eyes.  Maybe when I next visit the Lump will still be there, and I can have another go.

Lump 2:

image

A battery art lump, featured at Idiot Toys.

Also featured at Idiot Toys recently was a collection of London pictures taken by a bloke, to advertise a Canon Real Photographer camera of some sort.  This picture (number 3 of the set of 40) is by several light years my favourite:

image

There is altogether too much Betfair info on the www for me to find the bit which might explain what this was about.  Caption anyone?  Some kind of Quango doing its thing?  A Gordon Brown Labour Party support group?  A Lehman Brothers reunion?

There is no question in my mind that these three Things are presented here in ascending order of artistic merit, even though the final thing was not done as Art at all.

Tuesday September 23 2008

imageI like this:

American presidents are supposed to be superheroes, and Sarah Palin has accidentally exposed Barack Obama’s fatal political flaw. He can’t fly through the air with his underpants outside his trousers.

As for the picture on the right, I found it here.  It’s a fake.  Her head is stuck on top of some body else.  But, says the Blognorian Mr Free Market:

Who cares? It’s the fact that it might be real that counts for me!

Instapundit links to this, by Jennifer Rubin:

Joe Biden is too bombastic to make the connection to the average voter. Obama has gone mean. And McCain is struggling to convince voters that he understands their everyday plight.

And Palin? She is the approachable one and someone with the ability to explain McCain’s conservative idea in down-to-earth terms. With the race taking a turn into the swamp of negative ads and speeches, she - the previous victim of many herself - may ironically emerge as the one person unscarred. In part, that is because she doesn’t sound or seem mad at everyone. She gets in her zingers, but she exudes good cheer and well-grounded character. Six weeks from now she may be the only breath of fresh air left in the race. And that counts for something - how much is unclear - with non-ideological swing voters. As for the conservative base, it’s no coincidence that the mega-crowds are turning out whenever she appears.

Now VP’s aren’t supposed to count for much in the outcome of presidential races. I suppose that’s true - except when it’s not.

Obama has gone mean, eh?  And could that be hurting him?  I told you so (even though I later told you something different).

But those I-told-you-sos aside, a thought has occurred to me about Palin and all that which is actually my own.  If it’s right that Palin was a good and interesting choice, and she seems to have been so far, then she bucks another trend.  VPs are usually chosen to make the P part of the ticket look good, or so it usually seems.  VP candidates are usually very forgettable people, even if they later make it to P themselves.  You can’t help thinking that the average P candidate is already, by the time he gets around to picking his VP candidate, thinking that he wants to be loyally supported, but not on any account upstaged.  So, he picks a nice dreary hack, who scores very low (i.e. lower than him) on the charismometer, from whatever part of America the P guy most obviously isn’t from, to “balance the ticket”, and hopes for victory nevertheless, a victory that will, if and when it happens, at least be his.  That’s why, as Ms. Rubin says, VP candidates usually don’t matter.  But, this VP candidate does seem to matter.  Did McCain think he was just picking some dreary little provincial who could balance the ticket by not being the better part of a century old, I wonder, and did the response to Palin amaze him as much as it amazed others?  Or did McCain pick Palin because he really rated her, and reckoned others would too?

My guess is that some Americans already know what the answer to that is.  If McCain did deliberately pick someone more interesting and charismatic than himself, well, good for him.  Smart decision.  Having and being open-heartedly willing to work with subordinates who are in important ways better than you are is a sure sign of the right stuff, in all walks of life.

I’m not saying I will like everything McCain does (I’m sure I won’t), or for that matter that I will hate everything that Obama does, if he wins.  Nor do I assume that Palin is Ronald Reagan reborn.  She may turn out to be, as is now hoped by many and feared by many, a younger Gerald Ford.  I’m just, as Americans like to say, saying.

Monday September 22 2008

This is the statue outside Westminster Abbey and opposite the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre.  And next to the statue are roof clutter sticks on top of an office block in Victoria Street:

image

The statue is, I think, something to do with the Crimean War.  I can find no information about it on the www, but maybe others can do better.

I went looking for entirely other photos but this appeared and I like it.  I hope some of you do too.

Sunday September 21 2008

Yesterday I went on a train and bus trip to Crystal Palace.  I viewed the giant TV and telecoms and who knows what else mast, and wandered about trying to find places from which I could see central London.  The place that had originally attracted my attention was Gypsy Hill, and maybe there’s a better view from there, but I journeyed on by bus towards the big mast, stopping off in what looked like a promising spot nearby, at the south east corner of Crystal Palace Park.  Westow Hill has streets off it to the north, plunging downwards, and through the gaps in the street they make, you can see far away towers, thus:

image

That is a slightly enhanced and slightly sharpened version of the far distance.  Click on the above to get the unenhanced original, with nearby houses in the foreground, some stray wires, and to see that this is pretty much all of the horizon that was visible through the narrow slot allowed.  No Wheel, no BT Tower, just the City, from St Pauls on the left to the Gherkin and nearby lump on the right. 

This view will soon, as always, change.  There will be more and lumpier lumps in the Gherkin area, and the big white lump nearer to us will soon have a large, spikey companion in the form of the Shard of Glass, which I hope to tell you more about Real Soon Now.  That really does seem to be going ahead, despite all the recent turmoil in the markets.

imageSo, I didn’t get the panoramic view of central London I hoped for, but I did get a close look at that mast.  The overall shape of this is nice enough, but the real fun of this thing is in the detail.  How the architects must envy the builders of such things.  Form really does follow function, and nothing is present without a purpose.  This is not a fashionable thing in the sense of following fashion.  But it is profoundly fashionable in the way that it is followed.

Had I been allowed to climb the mast, I’d have had all the views I wanted.  No chance.  I hope to get luckier with the Shard of Glass.

Saturday September 20 2008

Yesterday morning Fraser Nelson said this:

This is the moment I’ve been waiting for – China moving in to the chaos and snapping up the giants of Western capitalism. Bloomberg reports that China Investment Corp. may be buying half of Morgan Stanley.

imageAfter which came this:

There has been no bigger rise since the FTSE-100 was launched in 1984 and its strength caught traders by surprise. Bank shares led the charge, with some rising by up to 90 per cent in chaotic early trading. RBS was the most spectacular,, up 69.45p or 43 per cent to 231.25p. HBOS, the biggest British victim of the carnage in the world’s banking system, was 67.65p up at 240.25, adding 39 per cent to its value.

Cause and effect, perhaps?  I can find no reference in that Evening Standard piece to such a possibility.  But I can’t be the only one to whom this thought has occurred.  What if it’s those cunning Chinese buying lots of shares?

It would make sense, bankers steeped in Marxism thinking that by buying bank shares they are capturing the commanding heights of Western Capitalism, when all they are really doing is buying a stake in a constantly self-renewing service industry.  (It reminds me a bit of when Sony bought into Hollywood, although that could be quite wrong.)

And what if the belief, true or false, that the Chinese were doing this caused lots of others to buy back in again?

But, what do I know?

Friday September 19 2008

Television presenters should stop wishing everyone the best of luck when they are plugging competitions .  How can they possibly mean it?  Do they sincerely want everyone watching to win?  I think not.

Thursday September 18 2008

Like almost all bloggers the great Guido does his own preferred mixture of profundity and silliness, in his case mostly silliness.  But although Guido has built (and how!) his traffic with silliness, from time to time he uses it to dose his masses with profundity:

When the investment banks were owned by partners who had all their capital in the firm, the partners were keenly incentivised to control risk. When the investment banks became shareholder-owned global behomeths managed by annual bonus incentivised executives, that risk control was lost. Being fired is nowhere near as feared as being totally wiped out financially. That is a crucial difference.

Capitalism doesn’t need to be regulated for risk, it needs more capitalists like Warren Buffet who keenly feel the risk and reap the profits and losses that flow from that risk taking.

See also: this.

I also mostly do silliness.  But occasionally I boost my traffic with profundity.  Last weekend, Guido himself linked, from his Seen Elsewhere section, to this posting here.  My traffic went from tiny to tiny-times-two but is now back at tiny.

So anyway, here’s a bridge:

image

And here’s slightly better view of it, because it shows both ends.  It has a tasteless, seventies, lava lamp look about it.  The structure impresses at first, if you’ve not seen such a thing before, but then becomes obvious and ever-so-slightly ugly, especially if it is painted orange.  It’s also too easy to do, being formed entirely of straight lines (that being the whole point of these things) and is liable therefore to be done too often, although usually vertically.  But I don’t care.

Wednesday September 17 2008

Sad banks, in a newspaper shop:

image

Happy banks, in a this and that shop:

image

Both photoed today.

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to add The Big Picture to my blogroll.  I mean, I even linked not long ago to these.

All their pictures seem excellent, especially the recent Hurricane Ike ones, that Mick Hartley recently linked to, which finally pushed the penny off the table for me.

The first of the recent WTC set really caught my eye:

image

Billion Monkey, tick.  Blue and grey light, tick.  Cranes, tick.  Mist, tick.  Distant skyscrapers the other side of the mist, tick.  High tech modern glass held together with extravagant steel didgeridoos, tick.

I also love the first one of these Iraq pictures of a big fat airplane, front on.  Never fails.  And this one:

image

Bridges are popular everywhere, it would seem.

Tuesday September 16 2008

Maybe the guy I quoted in this, speculating that Gordon Brown might call a referendum on the EU, is not such a barking moonbat after all.  EU referendum’s Richard North is no moonbat, even if he does bark quite often, and here’s what he said yesterday:

On the other hand, Brown’s energy secretary, John Hutton, has demonstrated recently that he is prepared, in principle, to confront EU greenery, putting energy security above that of climate change in government priorities.

With Cameron on the back foot over the constitutional Lisbon treaty referendum, an embattled Gordon Brown – with absolutely nothing to lose – could play the “Europe” card with devastating effect, positioning Labour as the champions of the national interest against the EU, puncturing the Conservative eurosceptic credentials.

Rather than the electoral meltdown that so many pundits are so confidently predicting, Brown through this means could salvage enough seats to remain in office as opposition leader, spearheading the fightback against the new, inexperienced leader.

Or not, as North hastens to point out.

Even so, it’s quite a thought.  Interesting times.  Maybe.  If Britain managed to wriggle free of the EU, all because of the desperation of an apparently doomed Prime Minister to cling to office at any cost, what an interesting story that would be.

But then again, perhaps this is one of the reasons why the Labour Party are now deciding to dump the man.  I have always been an EU conspiracy theorist on the quiet.  An amazing number of the things that happen in British politics happen because they just happen to suit the EU, without anybody mentioning it apart from people like Richard North.  Why would the meltdown of the Gordon Brown regime be any different?

Monday September 15 2008

imageGizmodo has just featured a new Philippe Starck designed wristwatch.  It certainly looks cool, as do all those in this collection.

My wristwatch, pictured right, is not that pretty, and I dislike all the jibber jabber in black around the edge.  But unlike most wristwatches, it tells me not only the time but also the date.  When the black plastic strap on my last version of this watch came apart, I dug up another old watch from my clobber, and this didn’t tell me the date.  I was surprised how often I really wanted it to tell me this.  Date, I discovered, was, for me, essential.

Sunday September 14 2008

I am busy concocting a Samizdata piece (link added after its completion) that links to something said in this article, concerning the alleged secret racism effect, which may be causing Obama’s support to be exaggerated a little, which, given how close this race looks, actually means quite a lot.  I put a slighly different spin on that.

Something else in this Telegraph piece also caught my eye:

A Democratic National Committee official told The Sunday Telegraph: “I really find it offensive when Democrats ask the Republicans not to be nasty to us, which is effectively what Obama keeps doing. They know thats how the game is played.”

Mr Obama tried to answer that critique on Friday when he responded in kind, issuing an attack advert depicting his Republican opponent as out of touch and mocking the 72-year-old Mr McCain’s confession that he does not know how to use email.

An attack which may have misfired, because McCain’s email difficulties are apparently the result of war wounds.  And war wounds, as anyone with any knowledge of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus knows, are, in elections, good.  Especially if your opponent makes the mistake of reminding everyone about them.  Like everything else in politics, being nasty is a skill.  Do it wrong, and it hurts you.

Anyway, don’t you think this illuminates the Redford effect that I wrote about?  What this story suggests is that Obama really does want to keep it nice, and can’t do nasty.  And what’s more, the other Democrats are trying to give him just the lecture that the Old Pro Democrat did given Redford in The Candidate.  Redford did as he was told.  Can Obama, even if he wants to.  Isn’t some of his appeal that he wants to keep it nice?

And of course the whole Palin thing will have only confirmed to Obama and his people that being nasty does no good.  From what I hear, he has been begging his supporters to cut out the nastiness in their responses to Palin, because that only hurts Obama.  The real lesson of the campaign so far for Obama is that he has to do nasty right.  He seems convinced, still, that he mustn’t do nasty at all.

The Candidate is being shown on BBC4 TV tonight.

imageHere, also spied yesterday, is something you don’t see very often.  London contains many Billion Monkeys at any given time.  And it contains many people eating ice cream. But Billion Monkeys combining Billion Monkeying with eating ice cream, that’s rare!  And you don’t need me to tell you why!

Saturday September 13 2008

I had a great walkabout in London by the river today, and it only happened at all because I bought a Chopin CD that it turned out I already had from Neil in Lower Marsh and I wanted to swap it for something different.  I got yet another CD of the Brahms Violin Concerto, for 50p, and for £3, a complete historic Tristan, with Melchior and Flagstad in the title roles.  And, inevitably, some others stuff, but I got away without much damage this time.  Internet downloads cost far more than this.

Fluke number two was that the Victoria Line was out of action, so I walked across the river to Embankment tube station, on the downstream Hungerford footbridge.  And, while on it, I saw rowing boats.  Lots rowing boats.  Rowed by about six or eight or ten people each, variously decorated, of very variable speed and athletic commitment, but very photogenic, every one of them.  Appearing under bridge, and all making their way downstream, in the direction of the City.  Where they finally went, I do not know, but I had great fun photo-ing them on their way.

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Here‘s a news report of what this was all about.  Photoing boats is not easy, because, I think, the water plays tricks with the light that I don’t understand.  But some of my snaps turned out okay.  I particularly liked (a) the Smurfs, and (b) the fact that there were Billion Monkeys on board some of the boats, as the final snap illustrates.

Friday September 12 2008

Mark Holland emailed a link to me today, to a headline that he believed might interest me, because it suggests an army of digital photographers.  The headline reads Feminist Army Aims Its Canons at Palin.  Mark added: “Surely that’s a spelling mistake rather than an Americanism. Or perhaps it refers to men of the cloth?”

More to the point, the piece itself, by Jonah Goldberg, is rather good:

Whether or not Sarah Palin helps John McCain win the election, her greatest work may already be behind her. She’s exposed the feminist con job.

Don’t take my word for it. Feminists have been screaming like stuck pigs 24/7 since Palin was announced as McCain’s running mate. (Are pig metaphors completely verboten now?)

Feminist author Cintra Wilson writes in Salon (a house organ of the angry left) that the notion of Palin as vice president is “akin to ideological brain rape.” Presumably just before the nurse upped the dosage on her medication, Wilson continued, “Sarah Palin and her virtual burqa have me and my friends retching into our handbags. She’s such a power-mad, backwater beauty-pageant casualty, it’s easy to write her off and make fun of her. But in reality I feel as horrified as a ghetto Jew watching the rise of National Socialism.”

And that’s one of the nicer things she had to say. Really.

So much for what is happening.  But why is it happening?

The academic feminist left has scared the dickens out of mainstream men and women for so long, the liberal establishment is terrified to contradict feminists’ nigh-upon-theological conviction that female authenticity is measured by one’s blind loyalty to left-wing talking points. This is a version of the Marxist doctrine of “false consciousness,” which holds that you aren’t an authentic member of the proletariat unless you agree with Marxism.

I disagree with that.  Speaking as a mainstream man, at any rate for these purposes, I am not scared of mad feminists and I never have been.  Nor, as far as I am concerned, has mad feminism ever been a “con job”.  It never convinced me of anything.  I never wanted to believe it, and I never did.  But, as a mainstream man, I have been raised to tolerate the madness of mad women and not call such mad women mad, at any rate not to their mad faces.  It’s not polite.  It’s not chivalrous.  It’s cruel.  Women have babies and period pains, and they’re weaker than us.  They must be allowed their tantrums.  That’s the line I’ve been fed since infancy, and I have not dissented.  And that goes for most other mainstream men, I surmise.

What has happened with Sarah Palin is not that the mad feminists have suddenly gone mad.  They have been mad for a quarter of a century and more, and we have all known it.  No, what is now different is that now there is a woman being very publicly screamed at, by other women who are, to an embarrassingly obvious degree, less womanly than she is.  So, we mainstream men are now impelled by the very same conditioning that caused us to suffer mad feminists in silent pity, decade after decade, to defend the wronged woman against creatures who are, compared to her, not so much women as monsters.  The same chivalry that protected the mad feminists for so long now turns against them.  Back off bitches!!!  I have never before in my life said anything like that, or written anything like that, about women, but I say it and write it now.  It wasn’t fear.  It was self-restraint.  But now, duty of a different sort calls.  A damsel is in distress and must be protected.

If the mad feminists continue their mad attacks on Sarah Palin to the point where these absurdities sets the tone of the entire presidential campaign, that twenty per cent swing among women to Palin-McCain will be followed by another huge swing among men to Palin-McCain.  These men know at the merely conscious level, as I know, that Sarah Palin is not in any real distress.  She can swat aside a few dozen tenured harpies and silence their thousands of idiot devotees with a few smiling put-downs.  But this is not about logic.  This is about What Men Do.  Men Take Care of Women.  Even women who can perfectly well take take of themselves.

Since you’re probably asking, I think Margaret Thatcher was something else.  She came across as the kind of woman who would actually be insulted by chivalry.  I don’t need you to defend me, you foolish little man. So when the mad feminists attacked her, in the same stupid way that they are now attacking Sarah Palin, we mainstream men left her to look after herself, which, like Palin, she was well able to do.  The difference was that when you protect someone like Thatcher - the very idea is laughable, which is exactly my point - she is liable to hit you with her handbag.  Palin, you just know it, would smile sweetly and thank you.  It’s the difference between protecting your favourite sister, and not needing to protect your scariest aunt.

None of which is to say that Palin, up close, is not made of tempered steel, or that Thatcher, up close, was not sweet and sexy.  Not having met either, I wouldn’t know.  By all accounts, Thatcher was tempered steel and sexy, to a certain sort of man.

Thursday September 11 2008

"She doesn’t even believe that climate change is man made.” Thus speaks the Bald Dwarf on Mock the Week, of Ms. Palin.  Nor do I.  I’m with the sunspotters, who now note that in August there were no sunspots on the sun, at all, not a sausage, bugger all, etc.  And we all know what August was like.  Well, I know what it was like in London, wet and rather cold.  How was it for you?  Now the Irish Compere is pointing out that when the icecaps all melt, that won’t do much to raise the oceans, because we all know that when ice cubes melt in drinks they accomplish almost nothing, water-level-wise.  Good to know that climate indifference is making its way into the mainstream.  Comedy shows, like universities, are where ideas go to die. but at least when they get there they die laughing.

Now they’re having a go at Jeremy Kyle.  Everyone hates Jeremy Kyle except the general public, who seem to quite like him.  Could it be because he is middle class but, despite that, he tells lower class people to behave better, instead of worse as has been the usual practice in recent decades.  He thereby makes all the other middle class people feel bad about themselves, which they do not like.  I’d love to see Kyle up against someone like Polly Toynbee, who is admittedly upper rather than middle class, as I saw explained recently on some blog or other that I’ve forgotten the name of.

They have a Canadian on.  He said: “I was in a park wondering why a frisbee was looking bigger and bigger, the closer it got to me.  Then it hit me.” Arf, arf.

The Bald Dwarf (who I suspect may actually be taller in real life) is now attacking Charles Clarke, again.  So presumably the Bald Dwarf supports Gordon Brown.  How very peculiar.  But every time the Bald Dwarf did this, Hugh Dennis immediately said something vaguely right wing, so it’s all balanced out.  MTW is all completely rehearsed beforehand, so I’m sure this was entirely deliberate.  I just googled for Charles Clarke, and have discovered that Gordon Brown has indeed got allies, of whom the Bald Dwarf must be one.

Now I’m watching an advert for Hondas.  Am I the only one who hates the old American man who does the voice overs for those?  I feel I can state with some confidence that I am not.

Wednesday September 10 2008

I like this, found here:

Short is in. Online Americans, fed up with e-mail overload and blogorrhea, are retreating into micro-writing. Six-word memoirs. Four-word film reviews. Twelve-word novels. Mini-lit is thriving.

But I won’t be reading the whole thing.

Tuesday September 09 2008

Random image googling took me to this blog, which looked interesting, and then I found my way to this posting:

In a previous post, I mentioned Narendra Karmarkar’s path-breaking discoveries in interior-point techniques that helped in the solution of large-scale linear programming problems. Wherever he went to present his results, he was accompanied by lawyers from AT&T (where he was working at the time). Their purpose was to vet questions posed to him by attendees to ensure that AT&T’s patent for these techniques - one of the earliest granted for algorithms and mathematical results - was not infringed and intellectual property was not lost.

The patent was challenged in a remarkable way by Professor Konno in Japan, who published a best-selling book in 1995 about linear programming, Karmarkar, AT&T, and Konno’s reasons for opposing patents in mathematics. Check out a summary here.

This is the particular bit that particularly interests me:

It appears that Karmarkar found himself isolated in the mathematical community, and others took up his work and left him far behind. A truly tragic result.

And the posting ends thus:

So as not to end on a low, I might as well point out that in 2000, the ACM honoured Karmarkar for this work.

Terence Kealey argues that patents are not necessary to encourage scientific invention and technological discovery (which he regards as hard to separate and at least as much technology-driven as science-driven).  Rather do they impede inventions and discoveries.  What this story says is that patent law, if rigorously enforced (as here), destroys the effectiveness of scientists/technologists, by cutting them off from their club of fellow scientists/technologists, continuing membership of which is vital for any scientist/technologist to remain useful to his employers.  If you want to remain a member of one of these little clubs, you have to share what you find.  They “steal” from you, and you “steal” from them.  All of you benefit.  Refuse to share, and you’re out, and you’re useless.  I wonder if AT&T learned their lesson.  Apparently they profited little from Karmarkar’s work, but might have profited much more.

At the moment this blog is being rejigged.  But just in case I ever find myself writing for it again, or for anything similar, I wanted to have this interesting little story recorded.

See also this posting.  It seems that the Thames used to be a tributary of the Rhine.  Blog and learn.

Monday September 08 2008

Another of DT’s Friday ephemera last week was this graphic, showing the relative size of different big countries:

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I share the general amazement at the size of Africa, but am surprised by other things too, such as how big America is compared to China, and how small India is compared to everyone, including even little old Western Europe.

But I would like also to have seen how Russia shapes up in such company.  How big is Russia, compared to these other big places?

Mercator has a lot to answer for.

Sunday September 07 2008

imageIsn’t this cute?  It’s a bridge.  It wobbles.  Yes it’s the Millennium Bridge.  I could eat it, I really could.

It is one of these.  Which is one of these.

Saturday September 06 2008

Rock and roll will never die.  That’s how it seems now.  Although I daresay it will actually die with the rock and roll generation, i.e. mine.  But I’m watching an old geezer clip and chat documentary on BBC2 TV where one of the possible sources of rock and roll’s early energy in the late fifties has just been touched upon.  Someone said: they believed their parents and reckoned rock and roll would soon be over, so they really had to give it all they had right now or they’d miss the boat.

Interesting.  As with those Jews in Vienna in 1938, in fact as with most people making history, or having it made all over them, they didn’t know at the time what we know now.

Friday September 05 2008

I have for some time held to the Two Rich Lunatics theory of modern art, which says that it only takes two rich lunatics to bid against each other to turn a tin of faeces into a hyper-expensive Work of Art.  But I now realise that only one of the lunatics has to be a genuine lunatic.  The other one might simply be speculating that if he pays x squillion quid for some piece of junk, the genuine lunatic might later pay him 2x squillion quid.  Nothing lunatic about that, if he can make it work.  Ergo, if another lunatic pays x divided by 2 squillion quid for a piece of junk that the original lunatic likes, the second lunatic might be happy to pay him x squillion quid.  Again, very rational, if rather hazardous.  Thus, it actually only takes one lunatic, to create an entire market for some particular type of junk.

But then what happens is that quasi-lunatics, who combine economic rationality (i.e. noting that certain types of lunatic art can be rational investments) with artistic lunacy, i.e. with muddling together the price (value to others) with the value (to themselves), going with the herd, telling themselves that they see that certain something that the original lunatic saw, and that whatever it is is indeed worth (in some objective sense) all that lunatic money, and there you have it.  Modern Art.

It reminds me of those films which have scenes set in Louis XIV’s court, where one immensely (in this case) powerful lunatic has a caste of hundreds all running around doing completely lunatic things, the head lunatic himself being dressed as a giant chicken.  The point being that none of them thinks they’re doing anything lunatic.

The above thoughts were provoked by reading this (which I found being quotulated here):

“Who pays $12 million for a decaying shark?” Thompson asks. The short answer is insecure rich people who want “prove to the rest of the world that they really are rich.” And that they are cosmopolitan with good taste: “A great many people can afford a small yacht,” Thompson says. “But art distinguishes you.”

The best thing about Thompson’s book [link added] is that it demystifies the art world by walking through its arcane financial customs and by insisting on an economist’s appreciation for the subjective theory of value. He recognizes that value is dependent on context. Objects themselves have no intrinsic worth; what we’re willing to pay at any given time is a result of the stories we tell ourselves.

Saatchi and many of the artists he promotes are particularly good about telling stories and creating myths about what is hot, compelling, subversive, or visionary. As Saatchi has said, “There are no rules about investment. Sharks can be good. Artist’s dung can be good. Oil on canvas can be good.”

Subjective theory of value.  This is exactly what this guy also said.

Thursday September 04 2008

I just came across a piece by Alice the Architect (a recent discovery for me) about an attempt to make Robin Hood Gardens ...

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... a listed building.  Alice the Architect describes how such things were built, then fasts forward to now:

The British weather is not kind to concrete, and it is stained with dark streaks from rain and dirt. Bits are beginning to deteriorate and the wet is getting to the reinforcement, blowing off the concrete cover, causing more damage. The gardens, maintained for only a couple of years by the council before the budget was spent on Diversity Awareness Officers, are now havens for fly tippers, perverts and gangs of hoodies. The dark, graffitted corridors and stairwells stink of wee, and shifty looking men and youths push drugs, knives and guns. The windows leak and the place is impossible to heat effectively. The lifts are never working, and the young mother has to pull her child’s buggy, shopping and baby up five floors - she daren’t leave something behind for another trip as it will be stolen the minute she turns her back. Most of the front doors have bars across them. The streets in the sky are great for yobs to throw things at the neighbours, the police, the ambulance staff, the postman and whoever else is trying to carry out their normal business.

The very form of such buildings does not exactly encourage crime, as it is people, not architecture, who perpetrate it, but the design does make it a lot easier for those whose main mission in life is to make things miserable for others, or who think of nothing but their next fix and their next miserable little petty crime.

That was posted in early June, but I doubt things have changed that much since then.

For further thoughts from Alice the Architect on the complex relationship between architecture and human behaviour, see also this earlier posting, which ends on this unhappy note:

Whatever you do, whatever they are given, some people are just dirty, lazy, apathetic and disgusting.

I think the key variable is whether the monsters find it easy to monsterfy the entire place, or whether the place puts (or at least helps to put) the monsters on the defensive.

My home is a bit mosterish.  Certainly very dusty.  But, there’s no way my bad cleaning habits will spread to my neighbours, unless they’re monsters too.

Wednesday September 03 2008

Busy day doing other stuff, so quota photo time:

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I went rummaging in my “miscellaneous August 08” collection, and this turned out to be one of my favourites, partly because it is neither too dimly nor too brightly lit, neither of which my camera seems to handle very well.  I like the colours.

Those are CCTV cameras in, I think, Charing Cross railway station concourse.  I especially like the spikes on top of them, which are to prevent the pigeons from crapping all over them.

Tuesday September 02 2008

imageI’m listening to the famous Bruno Walter Mahler 9, done in 1938 with the Vienna Philharmonic.  It’s hard not to read all kinds of things into the occasion.  (Although, according to Mark Obert-Thorn, who prepared this particular version of the recording, it may have been two occasions, in the form of two different concerts.) How many Jews were playing in the orchestra?  What happened to them?

After the war, Vienna, and the Vienna Phil in particular, became notoriously anti-Semitic.  While Germans purged themselves of such thoughts, at any rate in any public form, Austrians did seem to care what they said, and this included (includes?) the artistic community, what remained of it.  When Bernstein conducted Mahler in Vienna, he had to really struggle to make them care about it a quarter as much as he did.  But, at least someone asked him to.  How did that happen, I wonder?

Yes.  Here’s what it says on the cover of the recording:

Mahler’s ninth full-scale symphonic work was Das Lied von der Erde, but such was the composer’s superstition that a Ninth Symphony might be his last, following the example of Beethoven, Schubert and Bruckner, that he refused to name the work among his symphonies.  Instead his next substantial orchestral work became his Ninth Symphony, a work of awesome scope that remains one of the towering symphonies of the twentieth century.  Mahler did not live to conduct the work, the premiere performance being given by Bruno Walter in 1912.  Astonishingly it was not until 26 years later that Walter made the first of his two recordings of the symphony, although it still stands as one of the most profound performances in recording history.

And here’s the Jewish angle:

Not only is this a unique document of the work’s first interpreter with the first orchestra that ever played it, it is also the swansong of the pre-war Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.  Mere weeks after the recording the Nazis invaded Austria and the orchestra was purged of its Jewish members – including Walter.

The blurb ends thus:

The intensity of this extraordinary performance, suffused with the tension inherent both in the work itself and in the contemporary political situation, sweeps all before it.

Well, maybe, but I somewhat prefer what Richard Whitehouse says (click where it says: “About this Recording” - doesn’t seem to work if I merely copy the link in here).  This bit is about the last movement, but in terms of Walter’s general approach it applies to the whole performance:

Again, Walter does not trade on the movement’s emotional reserves as have many more recent conductors, over-anxious to prove it the culmination of Mahler’s creativity, and the apogee of the symphonic tradition itself. A questing, onward motion is maintained through the appearances of the main theme and contrastingly austere episodes. Walter is as mindful to give the heart-easing pastoral interlude its due as surely as he makes the theme’s climactic second return the consummation of the whole symphonic process. The coda has gravitas but no false soul-searching, Walter focusing on the rationality of Mahler’s musical thinking right through to the benediction of the closing bars. It was a benediction that, in the Vienna of January 1938, was to prove tragically short-lived.

“Austere”.  “No false soul-searching”.  Yes. that’s what I heard too, despite all my willingness to hear something more overwrought and Bernsteinian.  In other words, just a very, very good performance.

They did not know then what we know now about what was about to hit them.

Monday September 01 2008

Wow:

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Don’t be satisfied with that cropped version.

Again, thank you Mick Hartley.

Like a number of other libertarians (see the comments on this), I would now like McCain to win, and then drop dead, thereby allowing Ms. Palin to be President.

I like what “Anne C” said:

I was much relieved when he chose Palin as his running mate. Aside from the fact that she’s pro-2nd Amendment and an advocate for state’s rights, she knows energy policy and has proposed real-world, long-term solutions. Something we desperately need.

In addition (and most importantly), she delivers on her promises. While running for governor, she promised to take a pay cut, cut/veto pork spending, fight corruption and stand up to oil companies. From all accounts, she has honored her promises: she put the governor’s jet up on e-Bay and deposited the proceeds back to the treasury, has utilized her veto powers on budget proposals, stood up to her corrupt Republican colleagues, fired incompetent/corrupt officials, took a pay cut, sued the fed. govt on absurd environmental bills, aggressively advocated for drilling in ANWAR and tapping into Alaska’s renewable and non-renewable energy sources. She has a reputation for fighting for what she wants and not backing down.

She’s authentic and I like what I’ve seen so far. Apparently, I’m not alone; she enjoys an approval rating of upwards of 80%. McCain, Biden and Obama can only dream of such numbers.

More to the point, these were promises that you would have wanted her to keep.

But Anne C adds an appropriate cautionary note:

However, I wish people (her campaign especially) would stop harping on the fact that she’s 1) a woman (skirt and red high-heels were a pretty good giveaway), got a baby with Down’s Syndrome, 3) a son in the military. It’s pandering and beneath her. I want to vote for the candidate not the sob story.

And, as much as I like her, I wish some Republicans would stop fawning over her as the Democrats do over Obama. She still has yet to be tested on the national stage. She’s not the second coming, she’s a politician. Remain cautiously optimistic but still skeptical.

Indeed.  But she is amazingly like the heroine of an afternoon movie, or of one of those White House soap operas and presumably such a biopic will materialise.  This is, in other words, one hell of a sob story.  See also what Mark Steyn has to say about her.

… it can’t be in Senator Obama’s interest for the punditocracy to spends its time arguing about whether the Republicans’ vice-presidential pick is “even more” inexperienced than the Democrats’ presidential one.

Meanwhile here in the UK, politics is in stasis.  Most people hate Brown, including many of his own party, who mostly wish he would vanish in a puff of smoke.  But they dare not actually depose him, because that would involve taking a chance with some other guy who might be just as bad or even worse, and because it would mean finally admitting a hundred percent that Brown is a wash-out, whom they picked, without even a general election to prove it.  “Okay, we did pick the previous dud.  But this new guy is really really good.  Trust us.”

The thing that disappoints me is that nearly a quarter of Britain’s voters still seem to admire - or at any rate they seem willing to vote for - Mr Brown, out of some vestigial class/party loyalty.  This apparently translates into about 150 Labour MPs after the next election, more than enough to keep the Labour Party staggering on for another century.  This is not nearly the complete Labour wipe-out that I would like to see.