Brian Micklethwait's Blog

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

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Saturday January 31 2009

Once again I am obliged to spice up this blog by stealing spice from another blogger, this time Bishop Hill, who makes a point that had never occurred to me before, namely that the very name of the NSPCC makes it an automatic threat to civil liberties, e.g. in the form of its recent opposition to home education:

Meanwhile, the NSPCC, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, has to ask itself how it can achieve its aims without destroying any more civil liberties. As I’ve hinted above, I’m not entirely sure that there is very much they can do. They can help children whose parents are abusive - by providing helplines and rehabilitating children who have been removed from their parents and so on. But this is not prevention - rather it is dealing with children who are already victims of cruelty. Once the NSPCC starts getting involved with actual prevention then they cross the line into becoming Big Brother, or at least of encouraging facilitating the creation of a Big Brother state. At this point they start to become a danger to a liberal society.

Earlier in his piece, the Bishop links to this.

My own ever more negative view of the NSPCC is formed by watching their TV adverts, which stink of a money machine whose entire purpose is to get money, and then to spend it on more advertisements, for more money.  That could be an unworthy suspicion, but that’s the effect they have on me.  Same for those adverts about dogs waiting to be adopted.

My bit of the blogosphere is impressed by ... well, I was going to put a link to fakecharities dot org.  There is news of why I can’t now do that here:

Apologies to all those trying to access fakecharities.org: your humble Devil is having some server problems, i.e. the MySQL seems to be completely fucked; it’s crashed and won’t come back up again.

We are working on a solution…

Best wishes for a speedy recovery.

Friday January 30 2009

Well here I am again, deep into the small hours of tomorrow morning, having done other things all day, with nothing to say (again), so this time instead of writing nonsense, I will steal some good sense, from Patrick Crozier:

If Britain was the first country to recover from the Depression last time round, why is it that this time around the British government is seeking to emulate the policies of the United States which was last country to recover?

This meme about how the US government didn’t end the Great Depression with the New Deal but instead prolonged it is, I think, really getting around.  Not getting around in the sense that all four bods on Question Time can now be relied upon to agree with it.  Dream on, Brian.  But getting around in the sense that all the people who would agree if they heard it are now hearing it, and are agreeing.  That’s still not many, but it is many more.  It is with such minorities, confident that they are right, that ideological victories are made.

Thursday January 29 2009

Today I took a bus trip from Englefield Green to Staines, to do some shopping and generally to scout out the shops there.  I was not disappointed.  I got everything I wanted for a lot less than I expected, and I found myself gawping in disbelief at this:

image

What is that?!?  Well, it so happens that one of the rules of Billion Monkeydom is that whenever we digital simians take a snap of a sculpture, or of anything really, we try to look around for a written explanation of whatever it is and snap that also, to save us from forgetting and, if we also blog, to save a lot of tedious writing:

image

So now you know.  I really like it.  I remember when there used to be sports teams called Staines Lino.  And Staines itself is not bad either.  They’ve paved over the high street, which is where this is.  And the cinema by the river was turned into posh riverside apartments with wine bars at the bottom, like Staines is Chelsea - which I guess it approximately is nowadays - a long, long time ago.  But there’s a big PC World where you can get giant TVs, and next to that a giant Carpet Warehouse, so who needs a cinema?

And my magic London Old Git “freedom pass” meant I didn’t have to pay anything for the bus rides.

Wednesday January 28 2009

As I said in this, family deaths can have their compensations, in the form, for me, now, of a quite prolonged surviving-family get-together.  And not just any old get-together but one where we’re all doing something important together.

The other day, my elder sister told me a lovely story about her son, my nephew, and his second day of going to school.  Nephew, aged about five presumably, goes to school for his very first day.  How was it?  Okay, I s’pose.  Next morning, sister says to nephew: Come on then, time to get up and go to school.  Says anguished and outraged nephew: “What, again?”

Less laugh-out-loud funny but an order of magnitude more remarkable was what my sister told me about her own first entrance interview to get into Cambridge University.  She had an “epiphany” (her word) during her interview.  She realised, she said, that she was sick of maths, which was what she was officially trying to get in to do, and what she really wanted to study was medicine.  And that’s what she told them.  Well, they said, no doubt somewhat startled, if you want to do medicine here are the exams you must pass.  Sister went off and crammed for them and duly got in to do medicine, and the rest is ... her medical career.

I bet when it came to the second interview a year later, they thoroughly remembered the previous interview.  Who could forget such a thing?  And I bet it helped.  I mean, she obviously meant it, didn’t she?

Tuesday January 27 2009

I’m watching a crazy TV show called “Soccer Saturday” on Channel N as N tends to infinity, and a bearded bloke has just said: Why is phoenix spelt phoenix?  “That’s always annoyed me,” he said.  “That’s foe ee nicks.  It ought to be pheonix.  Fee oh nix.  That’s okay.” Well, it’s a point of view.  I love the idea of a particular spelling being “annoying”.  He knows it.  He just really doesn’t like it, and he’s running a campaign to change it.  Now you can join.

Here’s another alternative spelling campaign for you.  Weird is spelt weird, right?  Well, I think that ought to be wierd.  Unless it is, that is.  No my spellchecker says it’s weird, spelt weird that is. It also says that spelt isn’t spelt spelt.  To hell with that.

You’re right, that’s not enough for an entire day on this high profile blog.  We need a quota photo, so here is a picture of some giant drinking straws that I apparently took just one week ago, in Victoria Street:

image

When I was a motorist, delivering number plates all over England and Scotland, they told you about any alternative routes they wanted you to take.  You weren’t expected to find your own.  But I suppose in these days of satnav, this becomes a possibility.  You just say: give me an alternative route, and it does.

Monday January 26 2009

My thanks to Alex Singleton for alerting me (in a comment on this) to this letter, in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph:

SIR – The Government’s policy towards the financial crisis is clearly not working. Having “saved” the banking system with the big bail-out last October, it now turns out that the banking system needs another big bail-out three months later, and the plunges in the banks’ share prices last week suggest that this second bail-out is not working either.

The Government’s blundering is leading towards the piece-by-piece nationalisation of the banking system, with no thought-through solution to the underlying problems.

Any solution has to provide a framework within which banks can restructure their balance sheets and restore their financial health. Were these institutions anything but banks, the obvious answer would be for them to go into receivership. Their assets would be written down and creditors’ claims on those assets would be cut; they could then be recapitalised and returned to normal operations.

Yet, radical as it might appear, this same receivership-recovery model can also be applied to banks. It could be implemented via formal receivership, as existing law provides for, but could also form the basis of a government rescue package that would stop further losses being inflicted on taxpayers.

The key elements would involve: write-downs on assets; write-downs on banks’ debts (for example, swaps of deposits for equity, with exemptions for smaller depositors); and measures to minimise disruption to banks’ ongoing ability to provide both credit and payment services (including ensuring that the rescue took place over the weekend).

The combination of asset write-downs and fresh equity would restore confidence and put the banks on a sound footing again.

Prof Kevin Dowd
Centre for Risk and Insurance Studies, Nottingham University Business School

What is so excellent about this is that Dowd absolutely does not confine himself to complaining about what the Government is doing.  He also says what it should be doing instead.  In my posting on Friday I said:

… the whole British Establishment will be yelling to the anti-bail-out mob (i.e. us): Well what the hell do you think we should be doing?  If Dowd answers that question eloquently and with precision, and does not confine himself merely to denouncing the current blunders, then he could become a major figure.

It’s almost as if he read that, decided that he would like to be a major figure, and then wrote his letter.  Not what happened I’m sure, but profoundly encouraging nevertheless.

Sunday January 25 2009

imageWell cancel, or at least modify, that rant yesterday about not being able to get photos onto Jesus anymore.  That old standbye, reboot the damn computer, seemed to do the trick, although I still don’t quite know how.  I’m still not happy about this, but am less unhappy than I was yesterday.  It’s still a mess.  It’s just that today it was a mess that worked.

On the right some modern milk containers, empty.  Earlier today I celebrated my rediscovered photoposting abilities my putting a piece up on Samizdata about an ancient milk container, full.

Oddly, I seem to have buggered up the formatting on Samizdata.  Not when you look at that distinct posting, but when you look at the blog generally, which goes far too wide, at any rate in Firefox.  This derangement dates from my posting with its photos, and I know this is what caused the widening.  PdeH said he’d fix it, but so far he hasn’t, or not for Firefox.  Since the whole shebang changes software some time very soon, he may not bother.

Saturday January 24 2009

As mentioned in the comments here, I had to take Jesus the Micro Laptop around to Michael J’s the other night, to get it to work with my laser printer.  But something tells me that another visit to MJ’s may soon be necessary (would Monday evening be okay MJ?) because Jesus is now refusing to acknowledge the existence of the SD cards that I put in.  There are a mass of things that look as if they might be the SD card I have put in, but none of them are.  Basically, Jesus doesn’t seem to be able to get its tiny mind around the notion that I might possess more than one SD card.  When I stuffed the first one in, fine.  But when I stuffed another one in later, as you do, Jesus stopped being intelligent.  It refused to realise that there was a new card in there and tried to pretend it was the old one, but the old one misbehaving.  Since half the point of Jesus is to enable me to receive pictures with an SD card, this is serious misbehaviour.

I blame Linux.  Back when I first got interested in these tiny little laptops, I believed that Linux was poised to conquer the world.  But Linux has had its chance and has now surely fluffed it.  Now that mini laptops are getting big and strong, in everything but size, that tiny moment, when a small but serviceable OS could elbow big and clunky Windows aside and into the history books, has passed.  Microsoft seems to have dropped its prices, and Gates-world now lumbers on.  Linux, if my experience, is anything to go by, is just not good enough.  It mostly works, but mostly means: not.  Getting that printer to work required an expert.  Now, getting Linux to respond to whichever SD card has been stuck in is going to require an expert again.

The other day, MJ said he might be able to download XP onto Jesus.  I just might take him up on that.  Trouble is, I can’t help thinking that might be a huge unpheaval, and huge upheavals are absolutely not what I need right now.  Would I, for example, be obliged to install some anti-virus software?  And generally, will Jesus’s tiny little brain be able to handle whatever extra load is involved?

The idea of getting Jesus was not that all my laptop demands would be answered.  It was to find out, relatively cheaply, what kind of laptop I really wanted.  It’s working.  What I want is a laptop that works better than Jesus.  And which has a slightly bigger keyboard, and a better screen, and which just works, for everything.

Friday January 23 2009

Johnathan Pearce has just done a Samizdata posting, the second half of which is a plug for the Kevin Dowd Tame Memorial Lecture on March 17th, which I enthused about here.

I left a comment there, and here it is again:

The Dowd talk, depending on just how good it is, could be huge.  The timing is absolutely perfect, although I guess the LA got lucky rather than clever with that.  March 17 looks like being, almost to the day, the moment when the Just Throw Money At It policy will have collapsed in ruins so ignominiously ruinous that the whole British Establishment will be yelling to the anti-bail-out mob (i.e. us): Well what the hell do you think we should be doing?  If Dowd answers that question eloquently and with precision, and does not confine himself merely to denouncing the current blunders, then he could become a major figure.

For libertarians, this man is a godsend.  He is both an unswervingly principled libertarian and an expert (long before such expertise suddenly became topical) on all the details of banking regulation and monopoly money which the rest of us know the broad (and bad) outlines of but not the nitty gritty.  (I exclude Paul Marks from this generalisation.  He was raging here about “Ponzi schemes” here, long before the phrase hit the headlines.)

Never in my entire life have I been more eager and anxious (i.e. that he hits the various nails on the head) about a mere speech.  I’m actually more nervous about this event than about any speech I have ever given myself, not because it could be bad, but because it could be so, so good, and must be.

That last bit is odd, I do agree.  But true.  I am actually getting very nervous about this event.  Will it be as big as I hope, or just be a tiny plop in the great pond that is public and chattering class opinion?  I really, really hope it hits home.

We probably won’t win the current battle, in the sense of getting most of the right things done Real Soon Now.  But we have a very decent chance of winning the ideological war, in the sense of deciding the lessons that are learned from this balls-up, the way that the statists won the ideological war last time around.

See also this posting, which I am getting more and more sure about, even though in it I described the failures of government policy rather poorly.  Government borrowing is only the beginning of the problem.  It was how the government encouraged so many others to borrow with equal recklessness that is at the heart of the catastrophe.  But at least the title of the posting relates to the best bit in it, which I summarised thus:

My understanding of depressions, which is what we are talking about here, is that they discredit whatever is the Official Story, and credit whatever is the Most Confident Alternative that is being put about, even though it takes a while for the Most Confident Alternative to get a respectful hearing.

Which is not to say that we will automatically be that Most Confident Alternative; merely that we must try like hell to be, and hope we manage it.

Luckily mere weight of numbers doesn’t matter at all, in situations like this.  Confidence and coherence is all.  One man talking sense and clearly meaning it trumps thousands merely bellowing with pain and rage but having no clear idea of what to do.

Thursday January 22 2009

While out and about the other day (buying a colour printer to print out photos as it happens), I espied this news story in one of the free papers:

A CLUSTER of skyscrapers dubbed “The Breadsticks” is set to change the skyline of the capital.

The Three Houses project would include a 250m-tall building, a record for a residential tower in the UK.

Developers are holding talks with Mayor Boris Johnson this week to discuss the multibillion-pound plans for three glazed towers at a site near London Bridge station.

In other words, quite near the Shard of Glass, which would seem to be going ahead.  I figured that big tower building in London might find itself credit crunched, but it would appear that the London property market is holding up quite well, for the time being anyway.  What I am hearing is that prime property is what people with cash are buying, given what a lousy deal cash looks to be just now.

image

As for this Breadsticks oddity, I’m for it of course.  The London Bridge area is one of the most bizarrely muddled places in London, and that’s saying something.  So, a bizarrely muddled building will fit right in.  It will make a nonsense of the nearby and serene Shard, assuming that also goes ahead, but that’s London for you.

For some truly spectacular sailing photos, I recommend you look here, one of my favourites of this wonderful collection being this one, because it has a splendidly bizarre bridge in it as well as a sailing ship:

image

This is the Pont Gustave Flaubert, at Rouen, over the Seine.  It was opened in the late spring of last year, in time for a big gathering of tall ships, and they went to great trouble to ensure that the tall ships, however tall, would still fit under the bridge.

Wednesday January 21 2009

Bloggers like me, in other words.  I don’t know how “successful” this blog of mine has been, but I am convinced that one of its attractions is that I keep putting stuff up.  It helps that my “put stuff up every day” rule often results in stuff that is a good deal better than that rule suggests, although not always of course.  What I mean is that I start to put up something mundane, but then a thought that is perhaps a little better than mundane occurs to me, and it immediately gets said.  Whereas if I were not writing at the time the thought struck, it would be lost and gone.  It occurs to me that “It occurs to me that ...” is a phrase I often use.

For many, this something-every-day rule would not suit at all.  Writers who write well and entertainingly only when they have something big and important to say, but cannot simply hustle up something diverting by the mere act of starting to write, should follow their own rule and their own rhythm.  But for me, the something-every-day rules seems to work well.  I hope you agree.  Presumably you do, or you’d have been long gone.

This rule of mine, imposed by me on me, often results in bizarre self-imposed deadline angst.  It may seem idiotic – it is idiotic – but many have been the evenings when I have delayed sticking stuff up hear until the very end of the evening.  I blog daily therefore I am.  Obeying this rule isn’t the whole story of my life.  I do have some other reasons to claim that I, as it were, am.  But it has become a big part of it.  Let an entire day go by, and soon I would be letting clutches of days, weeks even, go by.  And then it would become: I am a daily blogger who doesn’t actually blog daily, so; I am ... not.  Horror.

Once, I took a two month break, as you can see if you trawl through the months in my monthly archive, to your left.  Not that you would, but if you did.  But that was different.  I was on a break.  I’ll be back, I said, and I was.

Actually, my something-every-day rule has been relaxed by me somewhat, to something-before-I-go-to-bed-even-if-it’s-more-like-2 am-the-next-morning.  Then I fiddle the time to make the date go back to the previous day.  Perhaps you’ve noticed, if you live in my time zone.  It’s my blog and I’ll cheat if I want to.  We all have our various compromises that are acceptable, and others that are not.  Once – just once – I seem to remember backdating a posting by about eight hours, having already slept for several hours and with clear next-day daylight outside.  Mea culpa.  And on another occasion I cheated by a similar number of hours because although I had written it, I had forgotten to actually publish it.  But mostly, and as I say apart from quite frequent cheating during the very small hours of the next morning, I stay on track.

So anyway, if the above subterfuges are in any way familiar to you, my advice is: if you are a self-imposed daily blogger like me, try to post something (anything) quite early in the day.  Do that, and you can then wallow in the luxury of nearly two whole days before the daily rigmarole begins again.

I suppose, if I wanted a shot break without visibly taking one, I could also do what I used to do over Christmas (before the days of Jesus the Micro Laptop and Jesus’s Internet Dongle), and write about four postings at once and pre-date them, to manifest themselves daily.  But I’ve never really felt right with that.  What if an atom bomb goes off, and there I am still blogging about, basically, kittens?  (I know, the internet would not be at its best either, but you get my point.)

This nonsense was written, and with any luck will be posted, before noon today.  Deep joy.

Tuesday January 20 2009

Yes:

image

It’s the tenth one of these, which I got to via here, which I got to via here, which I got to via here.

When the Big Bad Mainstream Media prefer to downplay something, either because it doesn’t fit what they are saying, or else because it is just too revolting to give any publicity to, we unofficials can upplay it again.  Which is presumably just what the people who did the poster wanted.

Is this better?  It’s definitely different.

Monday January 19 2009
Sunday January 18 2009

Lebrecht:

There is much pain and memory still to be catharted in Vietnam and this event promises to be a new stage in the healing process.

I don’t know if “catharted” is a new word, or just an old one I’ve not heard used like that before.  If it’s new, excellent.  (I could have done without “healing process” though.)

New words like this should make immediate sense, as they often do when you turn a noun into a verb, i.e. when you verb a noun, the way I just verbed verb.  People should say: yes, that’s a good word, we have needed that word. I can use that too.  Or, maybe: I don’t need that word, but given what he was saying and how he was saying it, and the sentence he was in the middle of when he needed it, he did need it, so he made it up.

Saturday January 17 2009

Here is another death thing that now makes plenty of sense but which I did not see coming.

Time was, not so long ago, when you only had to have one doctor to sign the doctor’s certificate saying that the deceased is indeed deceased and to include in that his best guess as to how the deceased deceased.  But now, in addition to the regular doctor, another doctor with no connection to the deceased or the deceased’s family has to get involved and to co-sign the thing.  My vagueness about the exact name of what he signs is because the actual death certificate itself is something a bit different.  That’s the one signed by the local Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths.  You take the doctor one to the Registrar, and then the Registrar does the real one.  Plus, cremation is a big deal, because irreversible.  They don’t want to burn any murder evidence.  Yesterday, eldest brother was in Weybridge answering quite detailed questions from the Registrar in connection with that, many of which he did not see coming.

So it was that an unknown doctor rang us up, and gave us our chance to say that there was something a bit funny about the first doctor, something, you know, not quite right.  No doubt the first doctor also had the chance to talk through with the second doctor any hard-to-pin-down sensations she was sensing that there was something not quite right about us.

Eldest Brother, who is our Head of Paperwork, walked into another worry during his trecking hither and thither last week.  The law associated with all this is, almost exactly now, changing.  So, if EB failed to jump through all the correct bureaucratic hoops by next Friday, or whenever it is, then he has to go right back to the beginning and start again, with new and now doubt more complicated forms.

Just as Elder Sister ran the show before the death, so EB is the senior among equals now.  Mum having died on the thirteenth, EB’s seventieth birthday was on the fifteenth.  Sorry EB, we didn’t think to get you anything.  EB: no worries.  I don’t want things.  I’ve decided that I’m now turning into my mother.  She didn’t want things either.

Another birthday that matters to me, of Goddaughter 2 (see comments), was on the fourteenth, and I clean forgot about that also.  I have just emailed her apologising for that but pleading in mitigation that My Mother Just Died is a pretty solid excuse.  But I can’t use that one again, can I?

In general I am learning that, in the aftermath of deaths that matter to you, you do indeed forget things, us lot especially because our death (so to speak) was timely (she was 94) and we are all at least two thirds of the way there ourselves.  EB has got me typing out lists into Jesus my Micro Laptop, of Things To Do, Funeral Timetable, Reception Details, etc.  It is working well, if only to alleviate anxiety about forgetting things.  I am back in London just now, and partly that is to fetch my printer so that all these lists can be printed out and circulated.

I am now struggling with automatically updating dates within OpenOffice.org Writer, which until now I have only used to write pure verbiage.

Friday January 16 2009

Michael Jennings has for quite some time now been telling me that OLED is the Future of Television, and now they’re starting to announce the first pretend-commercial versions of the idea, from the likes of Sony and LG.  And they’re all talking like Michael:

OLED-based televisions are the future, boasting incredible contrast ratios, blisteringly vivid colours, and stupidly-slim panels. Thin panels go hand in hand with lower power when compared to incumbent LCDs because OLEDs don’t require a backlight; the pixels emit the light themselves.

But what is OLED?  Does this help?

OLED stands for organic light-emitting diode, meaning that the glow-y part that lights up when zapped with electricity has organic stuff in it. Because the particles light up by their own damn selves, they don’t need a backlight like LCDs, so they can be stupid thin, and they use way less power than either LCD or plasma. The problem is, they’re still a bitch to make, which is why they’re expensive and teeny.

Okay so how do you make them?

Basically, phosphorescent colored particles are fused to a substrate (glass, metallic or plastic screen), which can happen in one four ways (which are covered in more detail here):
• Vacuum thermal evaporation
• Organic vapor phase deposition
• Ink-jet printing
• Organic vapor printing

Sounds like in about fifty years you won’t need to buy a new TV, you’ll just be able to run a new one off on the photocopier.

Thursday January 15 2009

I am sure that I will be forgiven a quota photo at this particular time in my life.  This is one of my favourite recent snaps, taken in Mother’s garden yesterday, when it was misty:

image

Mist can do good things for photographers.  First, it dulls down the contrasts in light that can be such a great trial to us Billion Monkeys in particular.  When the weather is bright and sunny, our Billion Monkey cameras often tell us that we can either have the stuff in shadow clear, with the bright stuff far too bright, or we can have the bright stuff looking okay but the dark stuff pitch black.  We cannot have both looking clear, in the way that our oh-so-clever eyes present it to us so cleverly.  Mist means that sometimes you can have both things, reasonably clear.

More to the point with this particular snap, mist takes the force out of the colours in the background.  There being more mist for the light to get through from distant objects, much of the light gives up, which dulls distant objects down towards pale gray.  Of course mist can completely obliterate distant objects, but if the distant objects would usually make their presence felt too strongly, mist might be just what you want.  Which I think is what happens in the above.

Anyway, I hope you like it.

Wednesday January 14 2009

The following will soon be appearing also in the “deaths” columns of the Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Staines and Egham News:

MICKLETHWAIT Philippa, aged 94, widow of Sir Robert.  Peacefully at home on 13th January 2009.  Much loved mother and grandmother.  Funeral 4th February.  Donations in lieu of flowers to designated charities.  Enquiries: 01784 432521.

The hard thing about funerals and all the associated etceteras of wills and lawyers and accountants - setting aside the matter of a loved one having just died - is the sheer number of tasks and decisions, many very trivial and easy but therefore all the more easily neglected, which together add up to a great swamp of thises and thats and the others that must immediately be waded into.  Luckily there are four of us doing this particular bit of wading, after a death which we at least could see coming.  My siblings and I have not had a shared task of any importance to perform together like this one, of seeing to our mother before and after her death since, well, ever really.  So although melancholy, the last few days have had their compensations.

As for the death itself, it went well, insofar as such a claim makes any sense and insofar as one can ever really know about such a thing.  It involved more suffering that you want to be close to, but a good deal less than we, including Mother herself, all feared.  She had made it unchallengeably clear that there would be no medical heroics and no forced feeding, and when the end came, it was the rapid yet dignified process that Mother had long made utterly clear she wanted - i.e. the next best thing to what she really wanted, which was euthanasia.

Mother was particular well cared for on what turned out to be the afternoon and evening of her last day alive, for which I will be grateful for as long as I live.  That day (Monday) began with me on lone and fretful duty. But a call from my sister (who is a former GP) quickly told her (I would have rung her had she not rung me) that she must get here forthwith (having hastily unloaded onto a kindly neighbour the cat-sitting duties she had been performing for her son).  She then supervised everything, thank goodness.  The next morning, yesterday morning, my sister knocked on the door of the bedroom I am using, and I knew at once what the news was going to be.  I paid my last face-to-face respects, with Mother looking exactly as she had the day before, minus the breathing.  I hope she died dreaming of happier times, like those shown in these photographs.

I am now pondering the eulogy, which I am to write and which my eldest brother will be reading out at the funeral.  Suffice it to say now that there is a great deal more than “Much loved mother and grandmother” to be said about this most excellent woman.

UPDATE Thursday evening:  Many thanks for all the kind comments on this which you can read below, and for the many kind emails which only I can read but which have all been just as kind.  Much appreciated.

Also, I would like to add that, perhaps with a tidy story in mind (all of us four siblings mucking in together but nobody else), I neglected to mention the contributions made by my eldest brother’s daughter, both before Mother’s death and since.  These too have been much appreciated.

Tuesday January 13 2009

Two photos of the same building, both making me think of war.  The photo on the left is one of the sample photos that arrived with Jesus my Micro Laptop Computer, without any explanation of what it was.  In miniature, the picture reminds me somewhat of those armed troopers in Star Wars, even of Darth Vader himself.  It’s the trees in front of the arch, turning the arch gap into a mouth turned down at the sides, with windows as eyes and that roof as a helmet.  But click on that small image and the bigger picture looks more like a mosque, with some trees in front of it.

image image

I went image googling just to be sure that this was indeed the big mosque in Istambul, which indeed it is, the Blue Mosque.  Is it blue inside?  While doing that I encountered the other image (bigger version here), which makes the thing look like a cluster of rockets standing ready to roar off into the distance.

This doesn’t prove that Islam is inherently belligerent.  It is merely coincidental that a mosque looks like rockets, or like a Star Warrior.  If Muslims now rejoice at such coincidences, on the other hand ...

UPDATE: Correction.  The mosque on the left is NOT the Blue Mosque, but another one nearby, called Aya Sofia, according to commenter KMcK, to whom thanks for pointing out the error.

But although clearly distinguishable (here’s another Blue Mosque photo), they are decidedly similar, are they not?  Aya Sofia began life as a Christian Church, which means that what is now regarded as a characteristically and quintessentially Muslim style of architecture actually began life by being Christian.  That’s right.  All these helmets and rockets predate Islam entirely.  The Blue Mosque was built over a thousand years after Aya Sofia.

Blog and learn.

Monday January 12 2009

Time for another shallow bridge picture.  It’s the Seto Ohashi Bridge, linking Shikoku and Honshu.  I was puzzled by my early Flickrings.  It seemed to be at least two different bridges. 

image

It is, but laid end to end. 

Stretching across a total distance of 9.4 kilometers (5.8 miles) there are six bridge sections that span the gaps between islands that lie between the two cities, as well as four viaducts on the islands themselves. The whole route is a double-decker construction, with an expressway running above a railway. In terms of scale, it is the largest combined road and rail bridge system in the world.

Started 1978.  Finished 1988.

Here‘s the bigger original from which the above has been sliced out.

Sunday January 11 2009

I read The Lebrecht Weekly so you don’t have to, but I do recommend his latest piece, a lovely portrait of Jonathan Miller, he from Beyond The Fringe, but more to Lebrecht’s point, the operatic director.

Miller is one of very few opera directors who can lay claim to lasting innovation. With a 1982 Rigoletto set among the 1950s mafiosi of New York’s Little Italy, he invented the time-shift opera - underscoring the drama by placing the work in a different period. ‘There were other directors who did opera in modern costumes,’ he concedes. ‘I think I was the first to update the context.’

This is no small achievement. Rigoletto is still in repertoire at ENO a generation later. His Armani-suited Cosi fan tutte is on its fourth revival at Covent Garden. He has four shows on the go at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, including a Pelleas et Melisande placed in Marcel Proust’s Paris and a Rosenkavalier taken out of baroque pantaloons and relocated to Richard Strauss’s living room.

‘By and large,’ Miller explains, ‘if a composer has conspicuously backdated a work, I get worried about historical kitsch. Put Rosenkavalier in 1911, when it was written, and you suddenly hear the shot in Sarajevo. The Marschallin goes around the house trying to stop the clocks. It’s not because she’s old – she’s 35 – it’s because she knows the old world is finished. Octavian will die on the first day at the front.’

Every production he creates is rooted in a philosophical rationale and a specific visual impetus. The time-traveller of modern opera, Miller as Doctor Who is an omnivorous intellectual with an eye for telling detail. His ENO Boheme has been shifted forward from the 1850s of Murger’s novel and the 1890s of Puccini’s opera to Paris in the year of hunger, 1932. ‘I’ve always been obsessed by the photographic world of Brassai, Cartier-Bresson and Kertezsz, men looking for work stacking their bicycles against a wall, lesbian girls looking through café windows. I cannot bear to see artists in smocks and berets in Boheme. These characters are not artists. They are rich young men living a couple of years in a squat before they go back to work in Daddy’s firm.’

Boheme is his first return to the Coliseum for 12 years and it is only with kindly tuts and shushes on my part that he is deflected from having a go at the company’s present management and slamming the door in his own face once again. Miller lacks some neurological barrier that stops the bile rushing unchecked from brain to mouth. His litany of those who did him wrong, or damage art, is limitless, acute and often unrepeatably hilarious. He dismisses ‘Jurassic Park singers’ of the Pavarotti and Domingo style, ‘over-applauded and overpaid, can’t act their way out of a paper bag’. The last boss of the Met, who booted him out after he tried to stop Cecilia Bartoli singing two extra arias, enters the Miller lexicon as ‘that Tony Soprano’. Lately, he lashed out at the casting of a West End Hamlet ‘with the man from Doctor Who’. He seems incapable of suppressing rage yet, in rehearsal, you could not find a gentler, more avuncular manner of connecting singers with their inner selves.

He found a way of stopping the formidable Anghela Gheorgiu from over-emoting in the last act of La Traviata. ‘I said to her: “Take it from me, I’m a doctor. Dying is a fulltime business. You haven’t time to do a lap of honour. Chances are you’re incontinent, anyway. Do stay in bed.” She resisted me. Then she suddenly started crying and talked about sitting beside her sister as she was dying …’

That’s well over half of the piece, but highlighting and copying is so easy.  I kept on not wanting to stop.

Saturday January 10 2009

One of the most important events of my year, I am sure, is going to be Kevin Dowd doing the Chris R. Tame Memorial Lecture for the Libertarian Alliance on March 17th at the National Liberal Club.  Getting Dowd for this event may well prove to be the smartest single decision ever made by the Libertarian Alliance.  The title of Dowd’s talk is: “Lessons from the Financial Crisis: A Libertarian Perspective”.  Here’s the important bit of the blurb, which has already been mass-emailed out by the LA just before Christmas, but which deserves massive cutting and pasting:

Professor Kevin Dowd is a long-standing libertarian economist whose main work has been on free banking and unregulated monetary systems. He has written extensively on the history and theory of free banking, the mechanics of anarchist monetary systems and the failings of central banking and financial regulation. His books on these subjects include Private Money: The Path to Monetary Stability (IEA, 1988), The State and the Monetary System (Philip Allan, 1989), Competition and Finance: A New Interpretation of Financial and Monetary Economics (Macmillan, 1996) and Money and the Market: Essays on Free Banking (Routledge, 2000).

He has current or past affiliations with the Cato Institute (Washington), the Independent Institute (Oakland, CA), the Open Republic Institute (Dublin), the Freedom Organization for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco (FOREST), the Institute of Economic Affairs (London) and the Pensions Institute (London), as well as with the Libertarian Alliance. Over the last ten years or so, he has worked primarily on financial risk, pensions, insurance and longevity, but is now working on a book on the current financial crisis and the lessons to be drawn from it. He holds the chair in financial risk management at Nottingham University Business School, where he works in the Centre for Risk and Insurance Studies.

Recent events have made Kevin Dowd one of the most important intellectuals in the world.

I intend to write about Kevin Dowd, and about the things he says in this lecture, again and again in the coming months and very possible years - before, after and maybe even during.  Definitely years, if the book also turns out to be approximately as good as I now hope it will.  I call on all libertarians, British libertarians especially, to do the same or similar.  Attend - at the very least attend to, see below - the lecture.  Get the book as soon as it becomes available.  And then blog about it all, preferably not just once, but again and again.  We have a huge fight on our hands.  This is how we just might win it.

I attended the Putney Debate last night, at which Tim Evans, half of the two-man team that runs the LA (the other half being Sean Gabb), lead a discussion on the financial crisis.  We all chattered away as best we could.  But frankly, I am waiting to hear what Dowd has to say.  “I take it the Dowd lecture will be recorded”, said I to Tim.  ”Oh yes,” replied he.

If you want to attend this event, I advise you to book early.  I already have.  But if you don’t, don’t worry.  Like I say, it will be recorded, and be made available in written form, and once all that has been done the real propaganda job on Dowd’s and the world’s behalf can get seriously under way.  But it can begin now.  Well, it already has begun.  What I mean is, you can join in now, just as I just have, if you’ve not already done so.

Note the new category here.  I haven’t had any new categories here in recent months, but for Professor Kevin Dowd I make an exception.

Friday January 09 2009

This link dream posting did the trick.  It remembered a whole clutch of stuff for me, thus enabling me to forget it all and get on with my life, i.e. with piling up more links on my screen.  So here’s another expulsion onto the blog of the things I seem to be finding interesting just now.

Japanese mobile phone novels, continously updated, like a Dickens novel first published in a popular fiction magazine.  What’s happening is that suburban angsty girls are writing stream-of-consiousness alter ego stories, which are then being hoovered up by publishers and are now selling, really selling, as books.  Which has got all the publishers excited and that has got the old school book writers excited.  Is that how art forms start?  People start them, for their people reasons, and in their downmarket people languages.  Then, after the concept has been commercially proved, the artists climb aboard, or maybe some of the original creators acquire artistic ambitions.

We now living in the age when telly soap operas are going from something liked by mere people to something done with artistic as well as commercial considerations in mind.  Time was when the artists despised soaps.  Only people like those!  Now, artists take soaps seriously, and are doing serious soaps.  Not necessarily any better, mind you.

NHS accident and emergency grief.

The Best Book on the Market, the blog.

Technology Review does water into hydrogen, cheaply, and e-paper faster and in colour.

Via the always worth keeping up with City Journal, Hollywood goes right wing.

Engadgetry.  More laptops, with proper keyboards I mean, small and cheap.

Hit & Run on Two kinds of libertarians.  Most libertarians already have this distinction in their heads, expressed one way or another.  I have long thought of me and my fellow libertarians being Next Steppers and/or End Staters, with the Libertarian Alliance tending strongly towards the End State end of things.  What would improve things a bit, now?  Where should it all be heading? In this Hit & Run piece, it’s Policy Libertarians and Structural Libertarians.  The second is an unsatisfactory expression, I think, because it does not explain itself.  It has to be explained.

However you label such categories, they do tend to overlap quite a lot.  One of the most valuable Next Steps is to talk, whenever you get the chance, about desirable End States.  End States may not be practical politics, yet, but talking about them is, and that can even apply to regular politicians.  David Cameron, for instance, is not doing as well as he might right now because all he is doing is second-guessing the government with his preferred Next Steps, and trashing the government’s Next Steps.  All very well as far as it goes, but how are we all going to be rescued from this mess?  Will it just be ever more depressing Next Steps for ever?  Answer (see and hear here): talk also about the desired End State that these Next Steps ought all to be enabling us to reach, as soon as we can.

There is a particular benefit attached to the link dump technique of blogging as per this posting, for all bloggers suffering from blogger’s block - which is me, often.  It gets you started.  All you are saying is a little something about each link, and maybe not even that.  But a little something can quickly then mutate into a bigger something.  A couple of the blurblets above could easily have been separate out as individual blog postings.  The posting immediately below this one - about Michael Flatley, God, etc. - did begin life as part of this posting and was then copied and pasted out onto its own.

Butterflies and Wheels links, derisively I presume, to this piece about the “energy” healing of Michael Flatley.

Michael Flatley is hated by much of Official Opinion, because he is a successful artist who owes nothing to art critics.  A classic Only People Love Him success story.  Worse, his entire demeanour makes it clear that he knows this.  They hate that.  So he’s a twat to start with, in the eyes of Opinion Leaders.  So, if he claims to have been healed in some officially disapproved of and rather down-market, daytime telly sort of a way, that means officially disapproved of daytime telly healing is twattery, right?

B&W’s basic remit is the silliness and frequent nastiness of religion.  And religion is indeed an inherently absurd clutch of propositions, the enforcing of which on others is indeed an abomination.  Religions only makes sense to people who don’t mind how absurd they are.  Me, I can imagine no evidence that would make me believe in God, because the whole idea of God, as currently sold to me by religions big and small, is incoherent and impossible.  A supernatural being?  There can be no evidence of the supernatural, if you take the word literally.  If it’s evidence, it’s natural, or we couldn’t register it.  So, any “God” thus observed, doing weird and wonderful things in a way we can notice but cannot fathom, is just a superbeing, but natural, who outranks us biologically in a roughly similar way to the way we outrank flees, assuming we understand flees properly.  Unless of course the observed weirdness is actually a baffling natural phenomenon that merely looks like a superbeing mucking about, like the Northern Lights or a Total Eclipse of the Sun or some such spectacular oddity.  Or maybe some bizarre and super-secret contrivance being tested out in Nevada by the US Department of Defence.

There is nothing incoherent or impossible about a superbeing, a superhuman in the way that we are superflees.  There is a definite sense in which the cleverest humans are now themselves becoming “superhuman” - all of us if you count things like computing and telephony and jet travel - i.e. compared to all the humans of earlier times.  But “God” is, to me, literally, nonsensical, and to repeat: there is no evidence I can imagine that would change my mind about that.

The implication of B&W linking to a report about Flatley’s cure is that this alleged cure partakes of similar incoherence to the absurd God idea.  But, it doesn’t.  “Energy” healing may be hard to get your head around, and hard to describe, much as electricity or radio waves used to be.  It may even, in this case, be a hoax and a fraud, at best a mere placebo effect.  But that doesn’t make it logically impossible in the way that religion is.

Before you comment to this effect, in the unlikely event that anyone does so comment, I realise that “religion” includes lots of baffling but basically natural phenomena, like how religion makes the religiously inclined weirdly happy and how religion - especially communal religion - can improve your life and your credit rating if you only sort of go along with it, etc.  It’s the bundling of the weird but natural with the completely and inherently contradictory that I object to, the muddling of science and faith.  Science as in pondering the limits of the possible, definitely including possibilities that scientists have yet to observe or sort out, such as possible superhumans – super-super-flees? - who evolved with radically different biologies to ours in faraway galaxies, and such as cures that we can only describe as “miracle” cures because although they happened, we can hardly begin to explain why.  And faith as in believing the inherently impossible, but not minding.

I’m interested in this because I am now working on a longish piece about how my sister was recently and “miraculously” healed of serious allergies by methods that sound somewhat similar to those that Flatley seems to have been healed by.

Mind you, the Michael Flatley official website is one of those annoying internet places which immediately starts making a loud noise without being asked to (I was listening to the early stages of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony at the time), so by my reckoning Flatley actually is a bit of a twat.  But not because of Riverdance or because he got therapised by an alternative therapist.

Thursday January 08 2009

In my Samizdata piece yesterday, I pretty much ignored the ruckus going on in the England cricket set-up just now, preferring to focus on the latest Australia v South Africa game.  I said why I thought that to be a significant game in terms of the big picture of test cricket as a whole.  Now I will explain why I consider the recent burst of English quarrelling to be rather insignificant.

Cricket is a team game, but not in the sense that most team games are team games.  In most team games, teams play as a team, doing things together second by second, passing the ball from one to another, for instance.  A scratch team of footballers is a hopeless mess compared to the same team a few months later, once they’ve got know each other properly, sensing just where to put that magic pass and sensing just where that magic pass will go.  Cricket, by comparison, is a team game only in the sense that individuals take it in turns to do individual things for their team.  When the batter bats, he’s as alone as any singles tennis player.  Ditto the bowler when he bowls.  The rest is pretty much psycho-babble (spirit in dressing room, plan to win, etc.), in other words not complete nonsense, but far less important than what each individual does, and is capable of doing.  The trick for winning cricket matches is very simple.  Have good players!  Have better players than the players against you!  And just as soon as you’ve got the best players showing up to play, they are able to start playing winning cricket, even if the different guys in a team can hardly stand the sight of one another and have no idea what the other guys will do next.

When Surrey won a string of county championships in the 1950s, which I am just about old enough to remember, all kinds of rumours used to circulate about the rows they used to have off the field, and sometimes on it.  It mattered not.  They were the best players.  May, Barrington, Laker, Lock, Loader, the Bedsers.  Let them hate provided that they play.  It may even be that a bit of quarrelling is good, because it gets the juices flowing.

A commenter on my Samizdata piece said that he was glad England had got this rowing out of the way now and that it hadn’t erupted a fortnight before the Ashes began.  In truth, had it happened then, it would not have mattered that much, so long as the best England team showed up on the first day of the series, with someone captaining them semi-capably to say who bowls and where the fielders should all be standing.  So long as each individual, individually, then tries his hardest, and as a result a decent proportion of them consequently give of their considerable best, England will be in with a good chance, against these Aussies.  If the Aussies turn out next summer to be less good players than their predecessors, as now looks likely, then them getting along with one another splendidly won’t help them much, if at all.

On the other hand, were England to lose the services of Kevin Pietersen for the Ashes series next summer, which has not happened so far as I can tell, that would be truly serious.  He’s one of the world’s better batsmen just now, and England have far too few of those just now to be doing without one such.  Pietersen will still want to make a stack of runs for England, perhaps even more now than before all this ruckus.  And exactly the same will apply to the rest of them, whatever they think of one another.

If, on the other hand, the rowing got to the point where some of their best players didn’t want to play for England any more (as happened at Yorkshire under Boycott), that would be serious.

I’ve just bought an 8GB SDHC card, for £25.  Between buying that last week and now I thought that was big, for not much.  But get a load of this:

The SD Association has announced the new SDXC format offering greater capacities and speeds. The ‘Extended Capacity’ format increases maximum capacity to 2TB (2000GB), from the current 32GB of SDHC. Speeds will reach 104 MB/s by the end of 2009 with a target of 300 MB/s in the future. Although it is primarily primarily aimed at the camcorder market, we wouldn’t be surprised to see it become popular for holiday and travel photography.

Me neither.  It’ll be the difference between worrying if you card will last out the month, and not worry for a year.

I don’t just use SD cards for photography.  I also use the 1GB and 2GB basic ones to record music from the DAB radio, and I bought this latest 8GB one to shove into Jesus my micro laptop, to listen to all this radio stuff.  Jesus has hopelessly crappy and quiet speakers, but use headphones and Jesus does okay, even with the horribly low volume level that Radio 3 insists on for its music.  Radio 3 announcers are plenty loud enough for any purpose. Just not the music.  If I could be bothered, I would turn all these MP2 radio files into MP3s, and then maybe boost the volume, edit them into smaller and handier files, etc., but I can’t be.  Bothered, I mean.

Anyway, all I’m basically saying here is: wow.

Wednesday January 07 2009

And here it is, the first - I’m guessing - of many which consist entirely of a link to something by me on Samizdata, as prophesied here.  And as with that earlier link, this one is to a piece about cricket.

Aside from one bloke who used to be South African, the Samizdata commentariat has so far managed to contain its excitement.

Tuesday January 06 2009

Tonight I did the talk at Christian Michel’s 6/20 evening, so called because the meetings are on the 6th and the 20th of each month.  Leave a comment if you want to attend these and I’ll send you the details.  I was talking about government Arts subsidies (bad).  Those who agreed agreed, while those who disagreed disagreed.  Afterwards I got a bit tipsy and engaged in Witty Banter (as they say on Dave TV), and then I made my way home, very happy.

When I got home I found that South Africa, chasing 376 to win 3-0 against Australia and go top in the world test rankings, had already lost McKenzie.  Which is good.  McKenzie is a slow scorer, and if you are chasing a big score and you want to win, you want to lose your slow scorers and let the quick scorers do all your batting.  So, good.  Trouble is, they’ve now lost Kallis and Amla as well, and will probably lose now.  But the good news is if they do lose, and quickly, or look like they are about to, I will get a proper night’s sleep.

Earlier in the day I bought these Handel Arias, for rather less than it says there, and which includes this disc by Mark Padmore, which, judging by the aria they played on CD Review last Saturday - “Waft Her, Angels, Through the Skies” (I think that’s it) from Jephtha – is a glimpse of heaven.  Another voice I think I am going to be addicted to.  I haven’t warmed much to Handel, who is having birthday celebrations this year on the BBC, until now.  Too smug sounding.  Too content.  Not tragic enough.  Maybe this will change that.

Monday January 05 2009

I had dinner at the Evans household not long ago, and Tim said many interesting things, about such things as how he was raising his daughter, and much else besides.

He said something particularly interesting about his taste in furniture, with which I found myself concurring.  It wasn’t one of those “I think” things; it was an “I feel and that’s just how it is”.  He wasn’t arguing for it; merely reporting his sentiments, sentiments which, as I say, I seem to share.

Tim said that he absolutely hated his parents’ taste in furniture, and liked two other sorts of furniture.  He loved the furniture that his parents hated, i.e. the style that came a generation before the stuff he hates.  And, he loved the stuff that after his parents, i.e. the furniture loved by his own generation, and presumably hated by the next generation.

I concur.  When wandering around Dingestow, the ancestral home of my mother’s family, I encountered lots of lumpy cupboards that were laminated, and I absolutely hated them.  Laminated furniture is the very definition of hateful, in my head, for some reason.  I really can’t say why exactly.  These things seemed so lumpy and inelegant.  The older stuff, on the other hand, so much less frumpish and uncouth, I thought splendid.  I also hate those big armchairs with great thick arms, that my parents held in such mysterious esteem, and of which there are still examples to be found in my mother’s home.  When I bought a sofa recently, it was essential that it have thinner arms curving a little outwards, rather than those great castle wall arms about half a yard thick.

Basically, you hate your parents’ furniture, and love your grandparents’ furniture, approximately speaking, although the timescales may be a bit longer than that. Maybe I’m actually talking about successive styles.

Is this some kind of instinctive aesthetic reaction programmed into our genes, to make sure that we can’t bear to live our lives out in our parents’ home, but instead strike out on our own, thus strengthening the survival chances of our bit of the gene pool?  Could be.

I’ve just been image googling “armchair”, and I could not find the kind of armchair I hate (which is why there is no picture in this posting), which strongly suggests to me that my aversion to this particular type of design is widely shared by furniture buyers now.  Oh, you get big frumpy-lumpy-armed chairs in abundance, but interestingly, all are straight-lined rather than curvy as per my parents’ big chairs, and clearly more modern than the chairs that furniture buyers all now seem to hate.

Perhaps equally revealingly, the nearest chair to the ones I hate that I could find by this method was this kids armchair, although the covers of this are quite different to the plain light green that my parents went with.  So, the latest batch of tots seem to like the chairs I hate!

Another thought occurs, which is that what we are talking about here is the “best” furniture, the sort of furniture that children are taught to stay away from in case they damage it.  Does this, perhaps, cause said children to dislike such furniture.  It becomes a forbidden and forbidding enemy rather than a friend, which is the furniture that you can sit on, jump on, do what you like with, i.e. the furniture your parents don’t care about.  Could that be it?

Does any of this make sense to anyone else?

Sunday January 04 2009

I have accumulated lots of open windows, so let me spew them out here and then I can shut them.

I have finally got around to adding the UK Libertarian Party blog to my blogroll.  I wish them well, but am not optimistic, simply because any new political party is the very devil to get established without ridicule, internal dissension or general demoralisation, after the first thrill of it getting vaguely airborne has worn off.

Thank you David Farrer for the link to this review of the Lumix camera I keep going on about here.  But here’s a lady who explains why she hates EVFs

More on the madness of the contemporary art market.  Saatchi comes out quite clever, cleverer than the writer seems to understand.  He buys art cheap, puffs it, sells it expensive.  Sounds like he’s been making money.  It’s his customers who must now be suffering.

Iain Dale has a picture up of a funny-ha-ha gravestone of GORDON BROWNS ECONOMIC REPUTATION.  So where’s the apostrophe?

Computerised sewing machine.

Computerised skiing machine.  Meanwhile, Alan Little has been checking out where you can do the real thing, in a number of postings starting here.

Now design students aren’t just designing stuff, they’re getting it built as well.

Lebrecht lambasts the New York Philharmonic.  And here.

A cute portable keyboard, and I seem to have scrubbed the window before noting the link.  Anyway, it was very small and folded down the middle and fits in a pocket.  These things seem to have disappeared from the shops.  Maybe it’s because what you want is not a portable keyboard, but a cheap extra keyboard, to keep wherever you camp with your too small laptop.  And cheap means regular, not clever.  Ah, found it.

New double decker bus designs, which I got to via David Thompson’s latest clutch of ephemera.  But the thing about the double decker bus is that it is such a strong design to begin with that all subsequent double decker buses just look like ... double decker buses.

What’s black and white and over?  Yes, newspapers.  But it’s important to get the causal links in the right order.  What is ruining newspapers is not necessarily that they’re shit, although some are.  It’s that their advertising is deserting them and they stop being viable businesses.  While newspapers last they are supporting a generation of rather good, paid bloggers.  But what happens to all that pro-blogging when the newspaper money isn’t there any more?

And that clears my screen.  Thankyouverymuch.

This posting has been like dreaming.  Random accumulated notioins that my subconscious needs to get shot of, and which it therefore shows to the conscious mind for one final time.  Does this mean anything?  Thought not.  Just checking.  Now, about this play that you don’t know your lines for ...

Saturday January 03 2009

On Sunday nights (i.e. early Monday mornings over here) and Monday nights (i.e. early Tuesday mornings over here) Chanel 5 TV has been showing NFL football, which is the American variety, which isn’t football (apart from for a couple of specialist kickers on each team) and where touchdowns aren’t.  I usually record these on my TV hard disc, but the problem is finding the time to watch them.  Often I still have two unwatched when the next two come along.

Soccer, which is all done and dusted inside two hours, unless there’s extra time and a penalty shoot-out, has a bit of an advantage here.  You sometimes get extra time in soccer, butt then again, you sometimes get extra time with American football too.  There’s extra time going on right now, in the recording I’m watching the game between Carolina and the NYGs.  28-28.  I do a lot of fast-forwarding, and then slower-backing when someone scores a touchdown.  But not now.  What a finish by the Giants.

I think what I like about American football is the definite family resemblance to rugby union, which I have always liked more than soccer.  I reckon rugby fly halves could learn a thing or two from quarterbacks, even though they can’t through their passes forwards, only sideways.  The funny thing is, there is no particular NFL team I support, but I still like to watch them knock hell out of each other.

At half time in the show I’ve just watched, they asked a British guy who plays American football why he liked it.  He said he liked the violence.  “If you did that in the street, you’d be in trouble.” Indeed.  Maybe the secret is all that protective clothing.  When you wear all that stuff, there’s less and less of a limit on what you can be allowed to do.  So if you want violence, maybe rugby union will get better in the decades to come, because they, like the American footballers before them, are getting more and more encased in protective clothing.

Injuries still play a big part in American football though.  Somebody called Plaxico Burress was a key NYG player this season, until he shot himself in the foot by, and I kid you not, shooting himself in the foot.

Soccer has got a lot less violent in recent decades.  They used to have people called things like “Chopper Harris”.  Now, if you chop, you get banned for about ten matches.  But they still have an after-echo of all that seventies mayhem in the form of shameless public denunciation of the officials, by managers, during the game and after it.  And Liverpool’s Stevie Gerrard upheld the ancient tradition of soccer player mayhem (when not actually playing) by recently getting himself arrested for brawling.

Friday January 02 2009

One of the best things to happen recently in the moral history of homo sapiens is the way that people have switched, at least somewhat, from killing exotic and rare animals for fun to photo-ing exotic and rare animals for fun.  Fictional romantic heroes who used to kill wild animals now shoot them in a more benign way.

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Some right wingers of the more belligerent sort probably regard this switch as evidence of the feminisation (equals decadence) of modern society, of the unwillingness of me to be Real Men.  But Real Men only fight when they really have to.  They don’t practice on defenceless and rare animals.  They practice with human-shaped dummies and with guns filled with paint or blanks.

We should still be allowed to own real guns, though, because that would scare criminals and reduce crime.  Defending guns as just being for sport is stupid and doomed.  We should hang on to our guns to defend ourselves, not against amoral and endangered tigers but against immoral humans who ought to be more endangered than they now are.

That picture is partly a small bit of evidence that the rise of the fun camera and the fall of the fun gun are indeed related, in that both cater to the same human instincts.  It is also evidence of how, when something relatively new comes along, the designers and users of the new technology reach for something familiar that the new gadget seems to resemble.  The first cars looked more like horse-drawn carriages than really made sense.  The first skyscrapers looked like regular houses, only with more layers.  And I seem to recall early guns that looked rather like crossbows.

Within camera design, it is noticeable how digital cameras tend, perhaps more than is necessary, to look like old-fashioned cameras, because that is what people are used to.

My possible next camera, the Lumix DMC-G1, is now selling in Tottenham Court Road for £450 and falling.  It has been heavily advertised, so presumably heavily manufactured, which means that the price surely has quite a bit further to go, down.  This is certainly a chance I am willing to take.

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One thing though.  I definitely want one that’s red or blue (preferably blue) rather than black, because I want it to be clearly understood that I am a jumped up Billion Monkey and I don’t care who knows it.  I will not pretending to be a Real Photographer, which I would be if I insisted on getting a black one.  Sadly however, most of the cameras piled up in the shops that I saw were black ones, and they may only have black ones going cheap in a couple of months time, having overestimated the demand among Real Photographer Impersonators for this particular camera.  Real Photographers themselves wouldn’t be seen dead with this camera, because it has no optical viewfinder, and I suspect that the Real Photographer Impersonators know that they’d be fooling nobody if they had one, of any colour, so they aren’t bothering with it either.  So, I may end up getting a black one after all, if the coloured ones end up costing more, as well they might.

Thursday January 01 2009

imageYes, Happy New Year, everyone.  Or, as Perry de H put it in his New Year Samizdata address:

Although I will wish you one, do not expect a Happy New Year.

Because, goodness knows, it doesn’t look like being a very good year, does it?

Sorry it took me the entire day to get around to saying this.  But you’ve got the entire rest of the year to actually have, haven’t you?

On the right, and clickable to get bigger, is a picture of Quimper Cathedral in Brittany, where I stayed last June.  This was one of my happier moments during 2008.  Apparently you can now climb to the top of the Cathedral, which they have been restoring in recent years, so next time I go there, I will do that.  My target will be the footbridges of Quimper, which are extraordinarily numerous, but impossible to capture en masse from ground level.