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Tuesday March 31 2009

imageWell done the IEA for doing a new edition of Lawrence White‘s Free Banking in Britain - Theory, Experience and Debate 1800-1845, and my thanks to Johnathan Pearce for flagging this up.  Here, quoted in its entirety below, is the Preface to the original 1984 edition, ocr-ed by me today so that others can copy and paste at will.  The IEA is giving away a crudely scanned-in but perfectly legible version of this for free on line, so there’s no way they are going to object to me recycling a chunk of it here.

Economists who today support open competition in other industries commonly balk at the prospect of unfettered competitive supply of currency. Theoretical concerns notwithstanding, this attitude may ultimately be an outgrowth of early 19th-century English experience. England was beset with notoriously unstable country banks whose instability was an indirect consequence of the Bank of England’s privileges. The seeming perniciousness of the competition among the country banks in England turned many English economists and policy-makers away from free trade in banking. The supposed inherent instability of unregulated banking provided the pretext for the Bank of England’s accumulation of centralising privileges and powers through legislation, culminating in the Bank Acts of 1844 and 1845.  It was as the result of legislative acts that the Bank of England came to play its central roles in the English monetary system; virtually the sole holder of gold reserves, guardian of the foreign exchange, lender of last resort, and banker to the state. Thereafter the English system, centred on the Bank of England, served as a model for national banking systems throughout the world. Today the triumph of central banking is largely taken for granted.

One of history’s great What If?s, in other words.  It’s the old statist one-two.  First wreck the free market, then get everyone blaming the free market for the resulting mess and wreck it some more.

Yet England might have moved in another direction in the second quarter of the 19th century. It might have allowed free banking, the unrestricted competitive issue of specie-convertible money . . .

Yes, I often read that phrase “specie-convertible” but am never entirely sure exactly what it means.  What, in particular, does “specie” mean?  I did a bit of googling but could only find circumstances where the phrase was used, rather than defined.  I think that specie-convertible money means being able to swap a bank note for stuff, but would like that confirmed, clairified or modified.  Anyone?

. . . by unprivileged private banks. In the banking system of Scotland the English had close at hand the example of a free banking system operating successfully for more than a century. The coronation of the Bank of England as a central bank in 1844 was not compelled by lack of a viable alternative. Nor did free banking lack cogent defenders.

This work re-examines free banking in Britain, both as it existed and as it was regarded by economists of the day. After building a theory of free banking, its central chapters explore the history of Scotland’s experience with free banking and the contemporary policy debate over the question of whether Parliament should allow free banking in London. The results begin to provide, we believe, a vindication of free banking in theory and in practice and a rehabilitation of the advocates of free banking. The resuscitation of the heretofore neglected Free Banking School in the British monetary controversies of the 1820-50 period yields, as an important by-product, a revised picture of those famous debates.

As the final chapter emphasises, the question of free banking or central banking need not be solely of antiquarian interest.  . . .

You can say that again, so I will: “. . . the question of free banking or central banking need not be solely of antiquarian interest.  . . .”.

Our recent banking turmoils have brought the free banking debate roaring back into the centre of our intellectual - if not quite yet our political - life.  Until a few months ago, there was a widespread if not universal consensus that banks had to be regulated, and that they were being regulated satisfactorily.  For die-hard statists, the lesson of the last few months and years is merely that the banks have been wholly unregulated by the state, and that the answer is lots of state regulation.  For other slightly less ferociously statist statists, i.e. for many of the current political leaders of the rich countries, banks have been state-regulated, yes, but wrongly and insufficiently, and there must now be more and better state regulations.  Think: Angela Merkel and John Redwood.

In the short run, this may be right.  It may be that practical politics only now allows a choice between bad regulation and not-such-bad regulation, and in such a world, not-such-bad regulation may be the sensible thing to argue for, if you are a politician grappling with the here-and-now within the bounds of what is politically possible now.  Analogy: suppose you lived in a world where railway nationalisation is a politically unchallengeable given.  You are choosing between having good signals, or bad signals.  You would choose good signals.

But such unsatisfactory policy dilemmas are inevitably making the keenest young minds of the next generation, the ones who don’t know what the ideal monetary regime would consist of but who want to know, to ponder one of the proposed ideal answers: a free market in money.  I don’t claim that such thoughts dominate the minds of the next thinking generation.  But I do say that such thoughts are being thought by enough of them to make a decisive difference to the intellectual atmosphere in the medium-term future, and thus potentially also to decision making in the long run.

Back to 1984:

F. A. Hayek (1978) is foremost among those trying to make it a live issue once again. Whatever the chances of political success for “denationalisation of money” in the near future (they admittedly seem to be small), it is necessary to consider the feasibility of free banking in order to gain a proper perspective on the role of central banking in a market economy. If the market process is competent to evolve a stable and self-regulating monetary order in the absence of a privileged central bank, as seen in Scotland, then central banking cannot be regarded as a necessary framework without which a free market economy would collapse. It must instead become evident that centralbanks exist for a different reason, principally that central governments have sponsored them as an effective source of revenue through money creation.

An unintended consequence of central bank activity, one stressed by economists beginning with the Free Banking School and moving on to Mises (1912; 1928) and Hayek (1935) and on still farther to Friedman (1960) and Lucas (1981), is the creation of monetary instability and business cycles. The severity and recurrence of business cycles in modem industrial economies should be viewed as evidence of endemic fumbling not on the part of the market order’s invisible hand, but on the part of the non market institutions of monetary authority. This point of view has been put forth strongly by Hayek (1978, p. 97):

‘The supposed chief weakness of the market order, the recurrence of periods of mass unemployment, is always pointed out by . . . critics as an inseparable and unpardonable defect of capitalism.  It proves in fact wholly to be the result of government preventing private enterprise from working freely and providing itself with a money that would secure stability.’

It may seem odd that a work on free banking by an American economist does not examine the well-known American experience and debates over free banking. It became evident early in the research stage that this work could not cover both American and British free banking in adequate depth. The choice was made to focus on Britain for three reasons. Firstly, the trial of free banking in Scotland was both longer and more indisputably free of significant government regulation than the various trials of free banking in American states. Scotland made a clearer case study. Secondly, the debates over free banking in Britain show a higher overall degree of sophistication than the American debates. Thirdly, and most importantly, the fact that Britain both experienced and debated free banking on a major scale is far less well known at least to American economists - than the fact that the United States went through a period of controversy over and experimentation with free banking. There remain for other works the interesting tasks of reinterpreting the American experience and debate, and contrasting them with the British experience and debate explored here.

I see that my earlier posting on free market money and free market banking has stimulated some refreshingly basic thoughts about money and about how governments intervene in and control money from Patrick Crozier.

Monday March 30 2009

. . . because the clock on my blog software is the same as the clock clock.  During the months over Christmas, if the clock clock says 11:53PM today, as it does right now, my blog sofware clock would say 0:53AM tomorrow, which is very confusing, and makes me think my deadline was due an hour earlier than it was.  I could probably find out how to keep these two clocks in permanent alignment, but can’t be bothered.

British Summer Time is also better because there is an hour more each day to take photos.  Low light is doom for us Billion Monkeys.

Swords into ploughshares, or in this case troop carrier into hotel:


I chanced upon this mighty beast - built by Russians, and refurbished by Americans - here.  My first thought: Photoshop, or maybe a plastic kit, or a combination of the two.  But it seems to be real.  That last link worked, but has now, as I now write this, stopped working.  No, hurrah, it’s back.

Don’t fancy this thing’s chances post credit crunch, do you?

Each soundproofed room is equipped with a queen-sized bed, fine linens, a mini-bar, coffee machine, wireless internet access, and all the luxurious appointments you’d expect from a flying five star hotel. Room service is available one hour after liftoff and prior to landing.

Although that makes it sound like an aerial brothel, so maybe it does have a future.

Sunday March 29 2009

A couple of photos, chosen from this set, taken by Adriana Lukas in Belfast, in October of last year.  I’ve only just noticed them properly.


And for political balance:


Click on either of those to find your way to the Flickr originals, where you can get them bigger if you want.

They illustrate perfectly the fact that some of the best Billion Monkey snaps are of signs and notices, with lots of wording.  Also important with snaps like these is that in some of them at least you get urban context, as well as just the messages themselves.

(And thanks for dinner last night.)

Saturday March 28 2009

I had this evening set aside to put something here, but it turns out that this evening I have a life!  Takeaways at Chateau Perry de Havilland.  Jesus is available, me having (at vast expense) now replaced His power connection thingy, so I can still blog.  But Jesus then got stuck and had to be rebooted.  Still, Jesus working, after a fashion, means there’s no need to panic, like I panicked last time God misbehaved.

Nothing more today, I don’t suppose.  The usual apologies to any Christians who read this, hoping for something imaginary.

Friday March 27 2009

I have spent a lot of today reading the first draft of the expanded, written version of Kevin Dowd’s Lecture about the banking crisis, the good news being that the public version will presumably be available Real Soon Now.  And a good thing too, because, the diagrams of how Dowd says the banks ought to be reorganised didn’t (through no fault of his) come out at all well in the video version of his lecture.  For that reason, and for other reasons besides like cut-and-pastability, I think a text will make a big difference to this ongoing argument.

My biggest problem with the talk is that I still can’t fully get my head round what happened in Scotland in the age of “free banking”.  To me, the phrase could mean two rather distinct things.  On the one hand, there is the matter of who is and is not allowed to issue currency in the first place.  And on the other, there is the matter of who looks after your money for you (nationalised or competing) and helps you to make payments with it and who receives payments into your bank account for you, pays you interest on what you have deposited, and so on.  There is the issuing - and maintaining the value of the - currency itself.  And there is all that “banking as the plumbing of the economy” that Dowd talked about.

My understanding is that in Scotland, the latter activity, the banking-as-plumbing, was a completely free market, and worked very well, in fact it lead the world into modern “high street” (i.e. banking-as-plumbing) banking.  But how free was the market in currencies in Scotland at that time?  What legal tender laws were there?  Was “the pound”, as issued by the Scottish banks, a literal pound weight of gold, the same for every bank, which was the only means anyone took seriously of storing and exchanging value?  And was “the pound”, in Scotland, a universally followed standard that was the outcome of a totally free market in currencies as well as in banking-as-plumbing, or in some way a legal imposition, however light and deft and rational compared with the much more statist arrangements imposed upon England by London’s politicians and central bankers?

This actually matters quite a lot, because it influences rather profoundly what kinds of changes we should be agitating for in the meantime.  I had the feeling, when listening to Dowd, that he was switching back and forth, both in his complaints about the status quo and in his recommendations for improvement, between (a) the claim that banking should not be a nationalised industry in any way whatsoever, currency or banking-as-plumbing, and (b) proposing various preferred ways of running the banking industry, given that it is now very much a nationalised industry which “we” consequently get dragged into arguing about the management of, because “we” own it, and we have to start from here, rather than only talk about alternative free market nirvana that we (as in libertarians) favour.

I put these ruminations here rather than anywhere more public (like Samizdata) because basically I am thinking allowed aloud (thinking definitely is allowed at Samizdata!) here, reminding myself of my own thoughts, rather than telling anyone else what to think.  I am very ready to believe that it is I who am in the muddle here, and am merely projecting my confusions upon Dowd’s lecture.  After all, when it comes to banking, whether free market or of any other kind, what do I know?  Only that I favour a free market, because markets work in all other economic areas, so why not banking?

I hope, some time soonish, to do a follow up recorded conversation with Professor Dowd, at which point I can ask him questions like these, and any other good questions that others may suggest between now and then.

Meanwhile, for those who miss the cat blogging that I used to do every Friday, here is a picture of the Dowd family cat which I took when I visited them in Sheffield a few weeks back, before the lecture was given:


In the foreground: crocuses, and some green shoots of recovery.

Thursday March 26 2009

Well I seem to be having a lot to say for myself here just now, don’t I?  And I have just noticed, as a distinct thing, how much the two bits immediately below, i.e. earlier today, have in common.  Both are about local hierarchies being trumped by the force of global demand, which is making its presence felt thanks to the latest technology.  Dan Hannan’s speech (a savage attack on our local Prime Minister) goes global (and in particular American), despite being ignored by the BBC.  West Indian cricketers can now tell their local cricket bosses to take a hike, because India will pay them more to play in their Indian cricket tournament, which features the best sloggers on the planet.

The times they are a changing.

This Hannan thing reminds me of a media event during my faraway youth when a certain Stokely Carmichael went from local not-that-much to global media sensation (at any rate in England), by stepping in front of a TV camera and having a good old rant about black power and such things.  It was very dramatic.  The BBC loved that, as I recall.  Given that what Carmichael was doing in the USA was actually quite dangerous, his sudden global media status must have strengthened his hand quite a bit.

I have a very 1960s take on what the internet is.  Basically, the internet is our alternative press.  All of which was entirely predictable, and has been predicted many times.  But during the last day or two, it has been really noticeable, at any rate from where I happen to be sitting.

I am still feeling rather smug about having realised quickly what a global sensation the Hannan speech would make of itself, and having blogged about it, and having blogged that many others would blog likewise, as they have.  I am also proud of having, only a bit later, with commenter help, copied and pasted-into-Samizdata the entire text of the speech.  It contains many juicy soundbites, of which my favourite is “. . . you have run out of our money”.

Ire is being aimed from all right-of-centre parts at the BBC for ignoring this speech (has that yet changed?), the way the BBC ignores so many other things.  My take on that was expressed in this Samizdata comment:

As for the BBC angle, I agree with the commenter that the BBC had some good reasons for ignoring this last night. That said, the BBC does feature masses of junk from people at least as insignificant as Daniel Hannan, as news.

But, as the youngsters now say: what ever. The really good news about this news/not-news is that if bloggers think it’s news, and lots of bloggers do think this is news, then it is news. The BBC and similar organisations no longer get to decide.

My guess is that the BBC will pay some attention to this, once it realises how many other people are paying attention to it, if only because if it doesn’t at least give it a nod, probably in the form of the little bit about ships (because that bit was rather ungainly and fogeyish) it will look stupid.

Andrew Neil concurs (did I read somewhere that he interviewed Hannan for his BBC show?):

This is the shape of things to come. Before the net became a vehicle for video, people depended on pretty much what established media thought they should know. Now they can make up their own minds what’s important—and the established media has to follow their lead.

As does the man himself:

How did it happen, in the absence of any media coverage? The answer is that political reporters no longer get to decide what’s news.

The media “shape of things to come”, in other words, is starting to clarify.  Basically, there will be a big state sector (i.e. every arm of every state churning out its own propaganda – at our expense), and a big amateur and semi-pro sector, with a smaller-than-now private sector professional bit in between.  What “the news” is will be quarreled about rather than agreed about.  The lines between top-down statist propaganda and anti-statist or just non-statist conversation will be a lot clearer, in other words.  Good.

Private-sector pro-statists are now saying that in the absence of their news, there will be no news.  This is delusional, as this Hannan episode illustrates very nicely.

I have been following the cricket regularly on Cricinfo during the last few months and years.  Latest news: NZ doing well against India.  But this story is something else again, cricket-history-wise.

Basically, what it’s about is a bunch of “greedy” West Indian cricketers threatening to play for the IPL (the Indian run 20/20 tournament which will shortly be held in South Africa, between teams named after Indian cities (not in India because of security concerns)), rather than play test cricket against England, in England, for the West Indies.  The bottom line here is that Indian cricket fans (there are more of them than there are people in Europe) prefer to watch 20/20 on their TVs rather than boring old test matches between countries they don’t care about.  Therefore the money Windian players get from playing IPL dwarfs what they can now get for test cricket.  So, they are willing to kiss test cricket goodbye.  The West Indian bosses either can’t or won’t match the IPL’s offers.  My guess is, the Windian bosses believe that their willingness to select people as test cricketers is still the axiomatic fact of all this, while the players don’t.

If this is what the players think, I think that they are right, and that their opponents in this matter are wrong.  Players are already going straight from non-Indian provincial cricket to the IPL, and there will soon be many IPL stars who have turned their backs on test cricket.  Not that they won’t ever play test cricket, you understand.  It is merely that they will be willing not to.  You want me to play for England, do you?  Okay mate, make me an offer.

How soon before Kevin Pietersen decides that playing for England counts for less (and gets him less money) - when asked to play, for instance, against an IPL weakened Windy team - than playing for the Bangalore Royal Challengers?

Call it the Manchester Uniting of cricket.

UPDATE: More cricket globalisation.

Wednesday March 25 2009

imageIncoming from Sean Gabb, co-supremo of the Libertarian Alliance:

Dear Brian,

Here is a review of Richard Blake’s “Terror of Constantinople”. It was published in The Daily Telegraph on the 21st March 2009. Mr Blake has been a good friend of the Libertarian Alliance over the years, and anything that enriches him can be taken as a benefit to the libertarian cause in England.

Ah, that happy feeling you get when private interest and public duty align themselves so precisely.

If you could pass this review to your friends or add to your blog, Mr Blake will be most grateful - as shall I. It goes without saying that you are invited to buy the book or order it from your local library. Mr Blake is all signed up for public lending right.



Happy to oblige.  Buy it, if you want to, for £17.99 (plus £1.25 p&p) from Telegraph Books.

Now that Transport Blog seems to have ground to a halt, I put this here:


A carpenter in a Chinese village, perhaps unwilling to spend what would amount to a month’s pay on a bicycle, has created a 100% wooden one to ride around town instead.

55-year-old Peijia Wu, from Shandong province, allegedly took three months to build his DIY wooden bike. It features no metal parts whatsoever – joints are fixed with small wooden bungs and a rod-crank system has replaced where the chain would normally be.

Yesterday I saw a TV show - something to do with life on a Victorian farm, as I recall (I was only semi-watching) - where they added just one metal part to a thing like this, namely a metal tire to go round the outside of each wheel, to (a) protect the wheel from being destroyed by the road, and (b) to hold all the extremities of the wheel in place.  The trick was to make the entire tire beforehand, then cook it to red hot thereby expanding it, then shove it onto the wheel, and then throw cold water on it to make it contract into place, and presumably not set fire to everything.  This used to be a routine procedure for all carriage wheels, was the basic message, something every blacksmith understood and could do, along with (for similar reasons) putting similar contrivances on horses hooves.

Without a couple of such tires, I don’t give that bike many weeks, or even days, before its wheels disintegrate.

Have you received a spam-mail saying this? Mine was from someone called “Rick David”:

Hey Brian, how’s it going? I was wondering if you could do an entry on this on your blog.

Hopefully, I think this would be a great opportunity for everyone to speak their mind and get out what’s in their chest and you can get a little action in yourself.

Could you post this so everyone could see it?

“Get out what’s in their chest”?  “Get a little action”?  Sounds like Nixon’s Ratfuckers are back in business.  Anyone know what, if anything at all, whatsoever, this means?

In the rather unlikely event that this is a genuine communication direct from the very White House itself, then clearly if I got it, that means that a zillion other people did as well.  In other words, this is bellowing in a football stadium, trying pathetically to disguise itself as conversation.  How not to do the internet, in other words.  I recall reading something rather good lately, about how the internet is conversation, but that when Big Bastard Organisations fake such conversation, then the nearer they get to getting the tone of voice right, the more you hate them.

But maybe I am reading too much into this, and it’s really penis enlargement or some such nonsense, and the White House has nothing to do with it.

Tuesday March 24 2009

At Quotulatiousness, there is a charming video on show, featuring the largest model railway in the world, which is in Hamburg.

I’d like to see all London’s main termini kitted out with tiny (i.e. at least as small as 000 (a technical toy train term for “very small")) real model recreations of themselves, to entertain otherwise bored passengers, to divert children, etc.  Such models might eventually recreate in real time the comings and goings of the real trains.

This Hamburg toy train extravaganza illustrates how much the toy train way of doing things, now involving copious computer control of course, has moved on, most notably to include computer control of road vehicles.

Given that there now exist computer controlled railway networks - real-life toy trains, you might say - such as the Docklands Light Railway, how soon before the roads start to go the same way?

Now I’m watching this.

Monday March 23 2009

I use Writer for all my word processing.  On God (my big clunky old box of computerness at home), and on Jesus (my ultra-mobile laptop).  But, on God, Writer does double inverted commas straight up in the air, thus: “ .  But on Jesus, double inverted commas go at an angle - a different angle, depending on whether Jesus reckons it’s the beginning of a quote or the end of a quote.  I prefer God’s way with inverted commas, that is, I like them straight up, the same for the beginning and for the end of a quote.

Samizdata doesn’t like any inverted commas at an angle, which is one reason why I prefer them straight up too.  Also, if you do internet links in OOW, beforehand, as I often like to do, these also involve inverted commas, but go all haywire if said inverted commas do not go straight upwards.

So, how do I persuade the version of OOW running on Jesus to do double inverted commas straight upwards?  The answer, or any clues towards the answer, would be greatly appreciated, from anyone in my small but highly intelligent commentariat, or from anyone else who happens to be passing by.

Sunday March 22 2009

Another curiosity found at Mum’s house:


I remember buying that myself.  Not a particularly long platform, you understand, but a long ticket.

Saturday March 21 2009

How do you embed videos in blog postings?  I’ve never been any good at making that work.  So what I did here was “View Page Source” here, and I just copied and pasted what seemed to be the bit that mattered.  And then just hoped for the best.  Which seemed to work:

Let me know if you are seeing this, i.e. the video embedded in the posting linked to above.  More particularly if you are not seeing it.  It’s like when people say “hands up those who are not here”, but you presumably get the idea.  I will have to post this before I can check how it registers in the two big browsers (I use both IE and Firefox), so apologies in advance if that causes a bit of havoc.

There’s a further clue in the categories list below.

Friday March 20 2009

I’ve only just noticed last Sunday’s London Daily Photo, and it’s a cracker.  Here’s a horizontal slice of the bits that matter:


Billion Monkey.  Skyscrapers.  The Dome.  Cranes.  BrianMicklethwaitDotCom heaven.

That’s like a vantage point I will soon be visiting myself.  It’s great that Ham of LDPh always gives you a spot on a map for such photos.

Thursday March 19 2009

That’s it really.  I’ve just watched the first twenty minutes or so.  Not having been able to get to the event itself until after the talk had stopped, I am particularly grateful to Sean Gabb for (a) video-ing it at all, and (b) for getting the video up and watchable on the www so quickly.  Okay not quickly by the standards of quick people, but in a flash of lightning in Libertarian Alliance time.

imageCan’t yet comment much on content, but I already very much like the manner of it.  Dowd is everything you would want a Northern Rock middle manager to be, and the opposite of what you suspect they mostly now are.  Downbeat, charisma-bypassed, unphotogenic, balding, drab northern accent, dry northern sense-of-humour.  And that’s all good, if only because he absolutely does not sound like a London wide-boy wanker-banker in red braces, or an idiot toff, or a NuLab apparatchik.  We all know that the world is fucked!!!!!! and that the fuckers who fucked it are fucking fuckers!!!!!!  What the world wants now to hear is solid, rational, calm, clear, convincing, downbeat, unphotogenic, untheatrical talk about why things are as they are, and what to do about it, from people who never use the word fuck in public from one month to the next, and above all who do not, at all, in any way, look or sound like the people who got us all into this mess.

I took the snap to the right in Sheffield when I visited The Dowd a few weeks back.  A bit light-drenched, but it will do, along with the snap here.

I have a busy day of gizmo-searching (see previous posting from last night) but will try to get back to watching this vid later this afternoon and evening, and to saying more about it.  My hope always was, and is now, that I will have a lot more to say about the various themes in this lecture, and happily for me, I actually think that this is how it will be.

Meanwhile, Johnathan Pearce of Samizdata has already written some longer thoughts about it all, having already been there on the night.  Not yet read that either, but that shouldn’t stop you.

UPDATE: More interest being expressed here, and here.

Wednesday March 18 2009

Apologies to all visiting Christians, imagining that this posting will supply evidence for their worldview, which I do not share.  Jesus is my little laptop computer (Asus = Hayzoos as they say in Hispanic places) and thus God is my big immobile computer.

So anyway, it is now 2am tomorrow morning (if you get my meaning), and I’m cheating with the time again. This time it was because I had horrendous internet connection problems.  God’s internet connection went wrong and for long hours refused to connect itself, and Jesus had already lost his cable, both at the same damn time.  But then God deigned to reveal His “system password” in the form of a row of blobs which presumably meant that God had typed in His own system password, and so it proved.  I added some gibberish from my filofax, and I was back in.

So now, I will catch up with India versus New Zealand (India seem to well on top and heading for a big first innings lead), and then go to bed.

Tuesday March 17 2009

imageI went trawling through the archives for this, which was taken nearly three years ago.  I’ve probably said it before, but one of the best things about digital photos is how they tell you exactly when they were taken.

I liked this as a thumbnail, so here it is, thumbnail size.  Click if you want it big.

Monday March 16 2009

Indeed.  And what’s more, today:

Despite the withdrawal of lenders such as Credit Suisse during the recent credit crunch, the project looks set to complete by May 2012 thanks to the financial backing of a consortium of four Qatari banks, as well as UK-based property developers Sellar.

The new landmark, which requires more steel than the entire Olympic site, will become home to Transport for London which has already signed up to lease around 20 per cent of the floor space - although a total of 60 per cent remains unlet.

One of the many Micklethwait’s Laws states that the more splendid a modern building is - and this one, if completed, will be very splendid indeed - the more disgusting are the activities that go on inside it.  Transport for London?  What does that do?  Mark my words, it may be okay now, but when it moves into the Shard of Glass, it will definitely be evil.

Michael Jennings, you may recall, in a comment here (and as already discussed here), promised to eat his laptop if “any of this”, which included the Shard of Glass, happens.  That could get interesting.

imageIn the months and years ahead I will (probably (I promise nothing)) be returning frequently to the site of the Shard of Glass to take photos of the great sky-stabber as it thrusts its way upwards.  And then, suddenly, this blog will inexplicably cease, so let me explicate this now, beforehand.  I will have been arrested as a terrorist.  Hurrah, the police will say, we’ve caught a white old atheist terrorist.  Now we can say we aren’t prejudiced against brown young Muslims.  We are equal opportunities bastards.

Sunday March 15 2009

It’s half time at Twickers, and it’s England 29 France 0.  What has happened to the French?!?!?  They’ve suddenly become Italy without the defending.

After yesterday’s tedium I was grumbling to myself that we just don’t seem to get try-fests in the Six Nations any more, not by England, not by anybody.  And then, this.  I’m blogging this now, because the final score will probably be something like 32-20, and the rule with sport is: enjoy it when your team does well, and when it doesn’t relax and let the other fellows enjoy it.  Win-win.

Up until this, my abiding memory of this Six Nations was going to be what crap it was, and how much of the crapness was down to Italy, whose rugby genius seems to consist only of dragging all the sides they play against down to their crap level, while nevertheless contriving always to lose.  But, nobody says that the Six Nations would be better off without Italy, because well, they don’t want to say that.  That would be an admission of defeat, like saying: Okay Italy, you’ve tried you’re best, now run along home and stick to soccer, okay?  But nobody cares what I say, so I can say it.

The French commentator, Ibanez I think, has just predicted that the final score will be 29-13.  That’s about what I think.  I can’t see France being this crap, again, for another whole half.

England have just scored another try! What, as I often say here, do I know?

UPDATE Monday: Well, despite England not scoring anything more after that try at the beginning of the second half and France then managing two consolation tries (final score 34-10) that’s still a DVD to wallow in in the days, weeks, months, years and decades to come.  By the way, re-listening to it, I now realise that Ibanez predicted a twenty-nine thirty win for France and he was joking.

Having beforehand mostly said that England might win only very narrowly, all the English commentators were babbling at half time about England winning by fifty or more.  So: I did know something this time.

I don’t know who Clay Shirky is, or didn’t until Instapundit linked to him some hours ago.  Now I know, a bit.  I’m sure others know a lot.


Yes, that was one of lots of pictures I quickly found.  You can’t tell what he’s thinking there, but you can tell where, because the thought is giving off green light.

So anyway, this is one of the best things I’ve read recently about newspapers and their forthcoming doom.  What I like about Shirky is that he has a sense of history, what it is and what it does.  In particular, history is not fair.  Economically, Shirky is entirely right that the future often starts as a teenage hobby rather than a real business with a real “business model”.  And the money for the future comes not from a Proper Investor, but from your auntie or your regular job wages.  (But I would say that wouldn’t I?  Because that puts layabouts like me back in the centre of history.)

Typical good bit (one of two dozen equally good bits I could have picked):

“You’re gonna miss us when we’re gone!” has never been much of a business model.

And I for one will miss the newspapers.  Look no further than the previous posting here for goodness sakes!  But, I didn’t pay for those newspapers did I?  I merely photoed them, having actually paid for some milk and a new light-bulb (over the odds because this was very near to where I live and directly on the way to the tube), which is why the shop-man didn’t make a fuss about me photo-ing and why I felt comfortable doing it.  Had he made a fuss, I would have left, I would merely have not taken any more photos, and then used the first one I took instead of the second one.

We bloggers do endless “riffs on the news”, as I recently read this point being put by some old newspaper hack somewhere or other.  Our own personalised editorials, in other words.  True.  But newspaper people still talk as if, in the absence of their “news”, we’d have nothing to editorialise about, and whole days would pass when all we’d do would be just suck on our keyboards, whining “there’s nothing to editorialise about”.  This is insane, for two reasons.  One, it’s insane.  Two, we’d get our “news” from other sources, and from each other.  Or, we’d just wander about and find it for ourselves, and tell each other about it.  Maybe this won’t be so nice, so informative, so publicly concerned, so elevated.  Tough.  And in a lot of ways it will not be fair.  In a lot of ways, cars are not as nice as horses, engine ships not as nice as sailing ships, but cars and engine ships still won.

Although, in my opinion, in the not that long run, “it” will be nicer, more informative, more publicly concerned, more elevated and much, much more.  As far as the niceness bit is concerned, from where I sit, it already is much nicer, and much better informed.

UPDATE Monday:  These people will not miss them when they’re gone.  Quote of quote:

“I was thrilled at the turnout here in Cincy, however I wasn’t thrilled with the lack of coverage by the local media. Trust me on this, during the Bush Adminstration when they had 4 people show up at the local Federal Building and protest against the war they were all over it. When 3500 (estimated) people show up to protest the bailout they just shrugged. People were pissed and are realizing that the media is doing much more that shilling for Obama, that they are willing participants in the propaganda effort. Every time they do so they lose a bit more credibility and people are turning them out and getting there news elsewhere.”

“There” news?  I come over all old-fashioned about things like that.  More seriously, I get the impression that in Britain we don’t have nearly such a problem with bias in our print newspapers, which are far more politically varied than in the USA, but this merely means that the crucifixion of the old print media in Britain will be more prolonged.  In the USA, the newspapers are being guillotined, with huge slices of their ex-readers saying: good riddance.

The BBC, on the other hand . . .  JP also talks “guillotine”.

Snapped yesterday evening in a nearby shop:


When all the front page headlines in the newspapers refer to the same depressing story, that’s depressing.  When each newspaper seems to have its own individual depressing front page headline, that can be even more depressing.

This is the Guardian story.  I can’t find the Telegraph story, but presumably it’s much the same as this, in the Mail.

Even more depressing is that the Guardian is pleased.

Saturday March 14 2009

Yes, Bishop Hill has done a redesign.  Quoth he:

Let me know what you think.

Well here’s what I think.  I think that, as a general rule, you shouldn’t mix centred text with left justified text.  The Bishop’s headings and date-and-times are centred.  The rest isn’t.  So, I don’t think it looks that good.  But, Bishop Hill remains a brilliant blog.  Better by far a brilliant blog that looks a bit crap, than a crap blog that looks brilliant.

Actually, I’ll tell you what I really think about blog design.  It’s main purpose is to amuse the blogger.  Its purpose is to make him/her feel good about his/her blog, thereby encouraging him/her to keep at it.  If the readers would prefer it to look different, it doesn’t matter, and it mostly doesn’t matter even to them.  I certainly won’t stop reading the Bishop merely because I disapprove of his centred headings.  If the Bishop decides he likes his new blog-apparel, then he should stick with it.

I too could use a new look, here, to cheer up me and my readers.  New looks, regardless of what they look like, are good, from time to time.  They demonstrate renewed commitment.  They say: this blog continues to matter to the person who writes it.  It’s going to be around.  If you ignore it, it won’t go away, so just surrender to it and read it every day.

UPDATE Sunday: Re-redesign.  I should have photoed the old centred headings.  As it is, you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Friday March 13 2009

Today I was in Acton, which is in west London, getting some new keys cut.  Don’t ask.  While I was waiting for the keys, I had a bacon sandwich and a cup of tea in a nearby café.  The bacon sandwich looked about as disgusting as it is possible for a bacon sandwich to look, being made with big, square, white bread, which was too thick.  But considering what it looked like it tasted okay, especially with brown sauce added.

While eating it, I took the following photo.  One of the cafe-persons asked: What are you photo-ing?  Was he thinking espionage by a rival café?  Was I perhaps some kind of bastard government café inspector collecting evidence?  I replied that I liked the way that the lettering on the front window, facing outwards and hence back to front in appearance when viewed from within the cafe, is transformed by means of a mirror into writing the right way round, looking as if it is back to front when viewed from outside.  Which I find entertaining, I said.  Or words to this approximate effect.


Oh, he replied.

I went back to the shop where my keys had been cut, collected them, and emerged to witness this apparent grammatical outrage:


“. . . your comfortable”?  And your illiterate, you moron bus letterer.  Unless it’s your comfortable something, and a window got replaced, but not relettered.

In Acton, you snatch happiness where you can.

When I got home, Michael Jennings showed up with a bottle of wine and a tale of woe about his bust hand.  I had a glass of wine, and now have a headache.

I had asked for three copies of the small key and two copies of the large key.  Instead I find I have two copies of the small key and three copies of the big key, which means that I must soon return to Acton.  My fault?  Probably.  Certainly for not checking on the spot.  So, further snatches of Actonian photographic happiness may materialise here.  Your excited, I know.

Thursday March 12 2009

Lynn Sislo regularly links to bon mots here, and the latest link from her to here is to those crisps.  In the same posting, she links to these amazing roads photos.  Actually, I don’t like most of these snaps nearly as much as Lynn seems to.  I don’t care for that garishly-Photoshop-enhanced look that many of them are presented in.  I mean, you can make anything look garishly colourful these days, if Photoshopping is allowed.  Which means that if nature itself is being garishly colourful, you start suspecting that it wasn’t being so colourful really, and it was done with Photoshop even when it wasn’t, which is not good at all.

For me, the rule with Photoshopping to make a nice looking photo (it’s different if you are trying to explain something or read some blurry-to-begin-with lettering or something) is that the result should look like it could easily have been a real, straight-from-the-camera, regular photo.

But, because it is not garishly-Photoshop-enhanced, and because unlike with many of the others, the photo is only average but the road itself is truly amazing, I do very much like this photo:


But, where on earth is this amazing road?  I’m guessing it is very well know, to those to whom it is well known.  But I can find no clues in the amazing roads photos posting itself.

But, I do agree with Lynn about these.

Wednesday March 11 2009

Linking at Guido’s from this back to this (both about the ridiculous Derek Draper), I find this, from Rachel Sylvester:

Twitter is reality TV without the pictures.

Which may be true, but in my opinion the potential of reality TV (if maybe not actually existing reality TV) is much underrated.  I find this comment, from “Thatcher’s Child”, on this earlier post more intriguing and subtle:

This all depends on your ability to use Twitter meaningfully. I’m not interested in knowing what you had for breakfast, but I would like to know what problems are on your desk. I would like to know what your mind is wondering about - I would like to know so I can sell it to you.

Twitter is a fantastic collection of real people’s thoughts and problems - unlike the media which is full of media people’s thoughts and problems - that is Twitter’s USP - We can now do media without the media - and you lot don’t get it!

I think that overstates The Death of The Media.  The Media are also real people, in their own particular way.  Arguably, The Media now includes me. Or to put it another way: The Media never dies, but it does keep on changing, a lot.

Plus: what if you are wondering about what to have for breakfast?

Many years ago I fantasised about ruling the world from a TV studio.  Reality TV done by someone of actual significance, in other words.  Someone sending text messages from that, either The Man, or a commentator (in the manner sports text commentators), would be worth paying attention to, if someone ruling the world happened to be your thing, as it surely would be for quite a few.  Twitter might help with that, by putting The Man in touch with people who had answers to his questions.

I worked out even way back then that “The Media” would be, if not cut right out of the loop, at the very least held at arm’s length.  At present The Media, when they are confronting politicians, insist that “Vee Ask Ze Kvestions”, in the manner of a Nazi baddy in a movie, or in the manner of TV detectives investigating a murder.  (TV detectives get asked all kinds of questions by the people they are questioning, but never answer the question, ever.  It’s one of their rules.)

In Brian Fantasy world, The Man (guess who) asked the questions in public, and Real People Who Knew answered these questions.  The Man then selected his preferred answers, in the manner of an investigating judge in a law court.  The Media commentated but did not interrupt.  They would no more join in with their own spoken-out-loud questions than cricket commentators would now wander onto the pitch during a test match, or than a newspaper crime reporter would now interrupt the proceedings at a criminal trial.  (By the way, in passing, surely almost all law court proceedings should be internet-televised unless there are overpowering reasons for them not to be.)

At present, the one thing you do not see The Man (i.e. big time politicians at the Obama or Brown level) doing is asking big questions.  They are supposed to know all the big answers already.  This typically makes them look very weak, because these people only rather rarely enter their jobs with all their answers even approximately finalised.  At present the only way The Man can look strong is by wangling his way into a position where he can ignore The Media’s questions, in the manner of Reagan, Thatcher or Blair (whose answers were sufficiently finalised from day one for them to be able to ignore all the questions put by The Media).

But I would like to have witnessed these people asking their further questions, while in office.  They did ask plenty of further questions, if only about how to put their already semi-finalised answers into practice.  As it was, we could only guess about that, or read about it months or years later.

Tuesday March 10 2009

Yesterday I was mildly rebuking Garry Kasparov for being a bit obvious about things like tactics without strategy not being a good thing.

On the other hand . . .

When I was a student at Harvard Business School, between 2004 and 2006, I recall a distinguished professor of organisational behaviour, Joel Podolny, telling us proudly of his work with Fred Goodwin at RBS. At the time, RBS looked like a corporate supermodel and Podolny was keen to trumpet his role in its transformation. A Harvard Business School case study of the firm entitled The Royal Bank of Scotland: Masters of Integration, written in 2003, began with a quote from the man we now know as Fred the Shred or the World’s Worst Banker: “Hard work, focus, discipline and concentrating on what our customers need. It’s quite a simple formula really, but we’ve just been very, very consistent with it.”

The authors of the case, two Harvard Business School professors, described the “new architecture” formed by RBS after its acquisition of NatWest, the clusters of customer-facing units, the successful “buy-in” by employees. Goodwin came across as a management master, saying: “A leader’s job is to create the conditions that enable people to believe, in their hearts and minds, in the value of what they are doing.”

Then just last December, Harvard Business School revised and republished another homage to RBS - The Royal Bank of Scotland Group: The Human Capital Strategy.

It is tragic to read now of all the effort put in by those under Goodwin, from “pulse surveys” to track employee performance to “the big thank you”, a website where managers could recognise individual excellence in customer service.

Every trendy business school idea was being implemented, it seemed, while what really mattered - the bank’s risk assessment, cash flow and capital structure - was going to hell. To be fair, neither Podolny nor the authors of the case studies were finance professors, but it’s still pretty shocking that a school that purports to teach general management should fail to see the gaping problems at a firm they studied in such depth.

The guts of this piece is that an MBA, from pretty much anywhere, is a highly trained business tactician, with at best a random grasp of strategy, but just as likely a grasp of strategy fatally loosened by concentrating too much on tactics.  All spelling and grammar, you might say, but nothing to say, or worse something deeply stupid to say, on account of not having thought it through.

However, a commenter says this, which strikes me as shrewd:

I think the author is missing the point - in spite of all this I still want a Harvard MBA because it opens doors. It’s a sure path to success, allowing those upon who it has been bestowed the opportunity to run companies, governments, economies (and to publish books) and to do it well OR poorly.

That “who” should be “whom”, but the point is a very good one.  The MBA, in other words, is an exercise in upward social mobility.  You have to have one to be in the new Ruling Class, but it is no guarantee of wisdom.  This reminds me rather of Sandhurst.  You have to go there before they let you command a British army, and they teach you the nuts and bolts of how to do that.  But you still might completely cock it up.  The Sandhurst comparison illuminates that merely switching our future rulers back to Latin and Greek, etc., will not guarantee better results.

Michael Jennings has been telling me that, like a Harvard MBA, Dubai (which is where the above commenter, “Sama”, comments from) is, from the point of view of city building, also all tactics and no strategy.  They’ve been building fantastic skyscrapers there like there’s no tomorrow, and there won’t be much of a tomorrow for most of them.

Monday March 09 2009

I’m now reading How Life Imitates Chess (2007) by Garry Kasparov, which I suspect might be better entitled A Chess Player Looks At Life, but never mind because it’s good.  I find myself frequently unimpressed by the many banalities this book contains, like: tactics without strategy is stupid, or: strategy without tactics is stupid, or words to similarly obvious effect.  But, this is a world chess champion talking, I do know a tiny bit about chess, and there are plenty of anecdotes and recollections to back up these thuddingly unrevelatory revelations, There are also real life examples, like Churchill arranging for Iran to be conquered during WW2 so that the USSR can be supplied better - to illustrate something about strategic persistence, if I recall it right.  (Kasparov is a great admirer of Churchill.) Because these real life stories are supplied by a Russian rather than an Anglo, they are often stories I’ve not heard before, or if I have heard them before, I haven’t heard them told by a Russian.

Kasparov is good on the limitations of logic in chess, and hence of computers (p. 53 of my 2008 paperback edition):

. . . it is impossible to reduce chess to arithmetic simply because the numbers involved are so huge.  For every move there might be four or five possible responses, then four responses to each of these moves, and so on.  The branching of the decision tree grows geometrically.  After just five moves from the starting position there are millions of possible positions.  The total number of positions in a game of chess is greater than the number of atoms in the universe.

Well, I don’t suppose that’s a very original thought, but somehow it counts for more when it comes from the world champion that was, and when he then uses this observation to tell you about how he thought about crucial chess games while he was playing them.

I tend to me more excited by a book while I am reading it, rather than when I have finished it.  At that point, my interest often nosedives, because what is there left to be excited about?  It’s like a chocolate bar you’ve completely eaten.  Accordingly, most of my blog-writing about books tends to be done while I’m reading them and am excited, at least as much by what I am looking forward to reading as by what I already have read.  So it is with this Kasparov book.  When I’ve finished it, I may be disappointed and let down.  Now, I’m enjoying it a lot.

What I am basically hoping for is lots of further entertainment, plus the inside dope on how Kasparov is going to rescue Russia from the evil Putin.

Presumably this book is one of the moves in that game.

Sunday March 08 2009

This guy, who blogs from a “Libertarian Perspective”, left a comment on this, and I followed up the link he supplied to his own blog.  He is a Randian, that much is very clear.  But, like many Randians, he is not a completely blind follower of her (or perhaps it’s not a completely informed follower of her), because Rand herself abominated the word “libertarian”.

Randism, and with it the libertarian movement in general, gathers strength.  This new blog, started only this February, is a yet another straw in the gale.

I should now supply some Rand-related profundities, but I now tend to prefer gibbering about such things as Sheffield and potato crisps.  Commenters?

My most severe criticisms of Rand centre around architecture, i.e. on the principles she expounded in The Fountainhead, probably because architecture ("modern" architecture in particular) happens to be something I know quite a bit about.

Very briefly, just as a for-instance, Rand did not understand how architectural traditions embody knowledge.  Or traditions generally, for that matter (such as the traditions of good manners).  Hayek is hugely better on this kind of this.  Fountainhead hero Howard Roark, in order to be the perfect architect that Rand assures us he is, had to know everything and to have learned everything, all by himself, by going back to first principles.  Not possible.  Or as Patrick Crozier would put it (see potato crisp photograph comment below):  Not.  Possible.

Going back to first principles - i.e. to whatever damn-fool principles happen to enter an architect’s head without the moderating, error-avoiding influence of architectural tradition - is one of the many things that went wrong with architecture in the twentieth century.  To offer such thinking as a cure, when actually it is a big part of the disease, is absurd.

The problem was that architectural traditions had been destroyed by “Modern Movement” modernists of the European fascist/socialist sort, just as these people had pissed all over traditions of every other sort.  But the answer was not to collude with and welcome this destruction.  It was to reconnect architectural modernism (and modern life generally) with architectural tradition (and tradition generally).  (And I am not a “Conservative” because Conservatives are, on the whole, extremely bad at doing this.  They have a fatal tendency to ossify tradition rather than to renew it, and to make defying tradition illegal or following tradition compulsory.  Wrong.  Libertarianism is, I think, a superior tradition to the tradition of Conservatism.)

By “tradition”, I don’t necessarily mean (in architecture) making modern buildings look like ancient ones, although I definitely do include that kind of thing.  More generally, I mean following building recipes that accomplish things like avoiding leaking or collapsing roofs, and avoiding great ugly stains all over the outside of a building, below the windows for instance.

As Hayek would himself have pointed out if he had ever turned his mind to such matters, many so-called “classical” architectural devices are often impeccably functional, in this kind of way (in rather the same way that apparently irrational religious restrictions turn out, all unknown to those who follow them, to embody impeccably modern medical wisdoms, which Hayek did write about).  Classical motifs often, for example, turn the menace of moisture-staining on the outside of a building into something more like carefully guided make-up, which positively emphasises what the architect has done as the building ages.  This explains why cleaning an ancient building often makes it look worse and less characterful.  Contrast this with how modern buildings often look their best only during the first summers of their lives, when all the pictures are taken and the prizes awarded, but from then on rapidly become squalid and soiled monstrosities.  You see these tendencies - good and bad - everywhere you go in a city like London.  (And by the way, it is usually no answer merely to make the building look unmodern, so to speak.  With this kind of thing, you have to know what you doing, which in practice means that you have to have been taught.)

To bring this back to Rand, let me put the above like this, as I often have before, in bloggery and in conversation: I prefer that Roark-designed skyscraper with the ancient front door slapped on the front of it. Big front doors serve a purpose, as modernists have in recent years been busily rediscovering.  They tell you where the front door is!  Doh!  Forgetting about a thing like that is utterly typical of back-to-first principles Modernism.  What is the “function”, shreak the Modernists, of a big old ornate front door?  They give it thirty seconds thought and can’t think of a decent answer.  So, they get rid of the entire front door.  Did Rand herself give her hostility to big front doors for extremely big buildings much more thought than that?  I seriously doubt it.

Oh dear.  I’ve just been profound.  Oh well, that’s blogging for you.  You start out just waffling, but almost before you know it, you find you’ve actually said something.

Saturday March 07 2009

Robert Hale, commenting on this, said that Walkers also did Chilli and Chocolate flavoured crisps.  I thought he was taking the piss, but it’s true!!!:


imageSo now: the taste test.

Crunch crunch crunch.

No, don’t like it.  It’s just pure Chilli, which I don’t like, on account of it being Chilli, with a tiny touch of chocolate added, which might as well be the sweepings from the bottom of a birdcage.  And I wonder what made me think of that.  Pass.

Crunch crunch crunch.

I prefer Builder’s Breakfast.

Friday March 06 2009

At the end of July of last year, I rather abruptly ceased being an education blogger.  I’ll maybe (but I promise nothing) tell the story of why it ceased some other time.  Meanwhile, ever since, and given that the circumstances that had provoked the interruption have since abated somewhat, I have fretted about whether to resume.  But, I kept deciding not to.  After all, I can resume education blogging at any moment, but if I were to resume but then to discontinue, again, that would be rather undignified.  So, I let it slide.

I am now thinking that this slide really ought to be, if not permanent, then at least indefinite.  The daily grind of doing a daily libertarian take on education “policy” never really appealed.  The idea was that I would myself become a teacher, and write about that.  Well, I am becoming a teacher.  But the process is very small and slow and fragile, and could end at any moment.

Today, however, another thought about my teaching, and about how it might indeed suddenly end, clicked quietly into place.  Which is this.  I have to be willing to give up teaching in order to do the teaching I want to do properly. The idea is similar to (i.e. similar in logical structure but less dramatic than) the idea I blogged about at Samizdata the other day, that a warrior, to increase his chances of being a successful warrior, needs to be willing to die.

My teaching, if it is to work, has to involve the threat, if threat it be, to stop teaching.

I try to make the education I do fun for my few (very few as of now) pupils.  But it must also be fun for me, especially given that I am not being paid to do it in any coinage other than respect.  And that means they must play by my rules, even as I try (this being one of my rules) to work within the confines of theirs.  (I have rules.  We all do.  If you think you don’t have rules, you are kidding yourself.)

It now turns out that one of my rules is that Smart Boy must cease entirely from having his “hood” up, for the duration of his attendance at Kings Cross Supplementary.  I have already told him that I would like him to stop this.  At the end of last week’s proceedings, it went a bit further.  The senior Real Teacher present said to me that as far as she was concerned, the hood-up look should be completely banned.  Fair enough.  I don’t want my pupils causing easily avoidable unease to the Real Teachers.  So, next Tuesday night, the no-hood-up rule will be presented to Smart Boy.  No negotiation.  No hood-up.  I will happily explain the decision, but I will not alter it.  Either his hood-up habit ceases entirely for the duration of his attendance at Kings Cross Supplementary, or Smart Boy’s attendance there also ceases.  Not fair?  Not nice?  Welcome to the world kid.

But for me to be able to make this rule stick, I have to be able to look Smart Boy in the eye next Tuesday evening and say that I would rather not teach at all than tolerate his hoodedness for one minute longer.  I only have two pupils, Smart Boy and Clever Girl, and if Smart Boy goes, my teaching career, already hanging by a thread, will be that much closer to snapping into oblivion entirely.  Smart Boy is smart and knows this.  If I don’t come here any more, that means you’ll have failed, Sir, Mr Brian.  Right?  Right indeed.

But, so be it.  If me ceasing altogether from being a teacher, even though I do love to do it, is what it takes to convince Smart Boy that hoodedness pisses off the adults upon whom he depends for the educational topping-up which he says he wants from us, and in particular from me, and will consequently not be tolerated, well, that’s a swap I am willing to accept.

But now, the trouble with me maintaining a specifically educational blog based on my ongoing experiences as a teacher is that this makes me dependent upon my teaching continuing.  That would remove from my hand my most important - actually, given my other rules, my only - source of control over my pupils, namely my unwillingness to be their slave.  I will not be their drill-sergeant.  I will not torture them.  I will not bully them.  But nor will I allow them to bully me, by refusing to accept non-burdensome but (to me) important rules that I find I want to insist upon.  If they cannot accept that, then: no deal.

And what is more, I can’t see any of this changing very much in the near future.  If my teaching career suddenly explodes, and I become able to write my own ticket with each pupil in a way that in no way threatens the entire operation, then maybe I will resume education blogging.  But frankly, I don’t see that happening any time soon.  Ergo, no Brian Micklethwait’s Education Blog.  Not now, and probably not ever again.

Any education blogging I now feel like doing, and I have rather missed it (because I was saving it up for if I resumed it at BM’sEB), will instead be done here, as much of it or as little of it as I feel inclined to do.

Thursday March 05 2009

Sheffield, which I visited last weekend, and was able to walk about in on the Monday before my journey on the Hell Bus, is a fine place.  What I especially like about it is that it is surrounded by hills.  I walked up the nearest one I could see, on top of which sits the notorious Park Hill housing ... thing.  (More about that later, maybe, but I promis nothing.) And I was then able to look down on the city.

And what did I see?  Well, many things, but in particular a fine example of a pub dwarfed by modernity.  This is the pub:


And here it is being dwarfed by modernity:


Here it is being dwarfed by the same modernity, but not so much, because this picture was taken nearer to the pub:


Let’s have another look at that modernity, i.e. the tall concrete thing that’s still being built.


That’s it looking as if it trying to dwarf a church, but actually that’s Sheffield Town Hall.

More Sheffield pictures may follow. If I decide to do that.  If I want to put up lots of pictures of Sheffield, I will, and nobody can stop me.  B, IPN.

Wednesday March 04 2009

I like this, which is to be found in this (which I got to via this):

Evolution is true in whatever sense you accept it as true that New Zealand is in the Southern Hemisphere.

I am glad that the “scientific theories are only theories” meme is getting a good kicking these days, in this case from Richard Dawkins.  I used to sort-of agree with this kind of talk, because Karl Popper (the man I most associate with it) said so many other things that were sensible, or which seemed sensible when last I looked.  Of course, many scientific theories are “only theories”, but a lot of them are a lot more than that.  A lot of them are true, beyond all reasonable doubt.  Only if, as Dawkins’s New Zealand in the Southern Hemisphere example illuminates, you are ready to abandon all reasonable use of the word “true” is evolution not true.

I finally cured myself of this kind of evasive and cowardly fluff in the course of writing this, in which I asserted the evil of communists and communism in the same way that Dawkins asserts the truth of evolution and of New Zealand being in the Southern Hemisphere.  My equivalent statements were that communism is evil and that it is very cold at the South Pole, the latter being a truth which I have not come anywhere near to personally experiencing but which I nevertheless know to be true, as do you, again whether you have been anywhere near the South Pole or not.  Ditto the evilness of communism, come to that, for this is another truth I have been spared in-my-face experience of.  The argument in that piece was that if you did not then assume communists to be doing evil things in a particular circumstance about which you knew little other than that communists were involved, you were being very silly and should be ashamed of yourself.

More evolution stuff from me in this posting at Samizdata.

Tuesday March 03 2009

Again I don’t have time to say much more than something like: I like this:

If you saw a line of dominoes falling over you wouldn’t blame the second one would you? You’d blame the first. So, why, in the current Depression, is everyone blaming the banks?

Well put, I think.

To back this up with some insider knowledge, over on Samizdata I’m just about to put a link up there to this, which lasts nearly and hour an hour and a half and is also very well put.

UPDATE Wednesday.  I went to bed in a rush and did everything to this last night except actually publish it.  Truly.  Apologies, and a semi-lie about the date.

Monday March 02 2009

Otherwise known as a bus.  Hell is other people, and the way to meet these other people, and listen to their interminable mobile phone conversations and pish-clatter-pish-clatter personal music machines is to travel by bus.  It’s both too hot and cold-drafty, if you can imagine this combination.  Details may follow, but I promise nothing, and certainly no more stuff here today.

Don’t get me started on Northern English showers.

Sunday March 01 2009



That’s me on the right and him on the left.  I’ll try to do more tomorrow, but I promise only what I always promise each day here, namely: something.

That’s Chatsworth, by the way.  It even has a blog.