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

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Sunday November 29 2009

imageThe news from Dubai is not good:

The crisis in Dubai has been a sharp reminder that there are still more aftershocks of the credit crunch to ripple around the globe.

Yes.  And that’s a picture of one of those aftershocks setting out on its journey around the globe from the top of the Burj Dubai.

Thank you Rob, who found that picture here, and knew I would like it, what with me being fixated on skyscrapers, the more financially ill-advised (i.e. taller) the better.  Joking aside, the Burj Dubai gets struck by lighting all the time, apparently.

One of the categories for this posting is “current events”, and that certainly is one, I think you will agree.

Friday November 27 2009

And since it is Friday, let it be cat news.

Have hours of fun playing cat and mouse.

Via Instapundit, news of Unbelievable Cat-friendly House Design from Japan.

An island’s population of wild cats has been culled in a bid to save the endangered corncrake. And in order to avoid an accident I drove into the other car.

Officer says mummified cat found in live trap at Toronto Humane Society.  The headline got my attention, but I don’t really want to know how this happened.

Uncertain future for 1,300 cats rescued from dinner table.  Must have been a big dinner table.  And quite a dinner!  Joking aside, you can see how that would happen.  First you rescue them, but then what?  Save some horses and you can release them into the wild.  But there is no cat wild, really, is there?

Last night I heard about Keyboard Cat, from one of those old people TV shows about crap on the internet, for old people who don’t know how to find it for themselves.  What I especially like about Keyboard Cat is the way, right at the end of his performance, he looks away from the piano while continuing to play, with a look of extreme pain on his face.  The reason Keyboard Cat does this is that he doesn’t want to be playing the piano at all, but is made to keep on playing, probably by his arms being out of his own control, or so I believe.  Yes:

In reality, Fatso was manipulated by Schmidt.

There you go.  Pianists, on the other hand, do this looking away in pain thing on purpose, without being made to, in order to seem ultra-sensitive.  And Keyboard Cat looks just like he’s doing that!

As most of us are aware, camels are not cats, but I think today is probably also the day to be passing on this news, from Australia: The community of Docker River is under siege by 6,000 marauding, wild camels. So, while the Times is making a total prune of itself on Climategate, it does have its uses.  The camels have run out of water, and the moral of the story is presumably that the water has run out because of climate change, and to prevent all further climate change we must ruin the world economy.  Even so, an interesting story.

Thursday November 26 2009

The day before yesterday I posted a big piece about ClimateGate at Samizdata, or whatever we’re calling it all today, my second Samizdata effort on this topic, hence my relative inactivity here during the last week or so.  All about why I think this story is huge (so far so obvious), and how I think it will stick around for quite a while because of the peculiar nature of the climate argument (that being the vaguely original bit), and because of the sheer number of individual, guilty persons who are now ready for and in need of skewering, because they fell for this fraud and decided to bugger up the world in accordance with it.

The first draft of this even made the claim that we are now be living through is the second great History Date of the twenty first century, the first being Sept 11th 2001.  Sadly, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, however much I might wish it to be.  To be an authentic History Date an event has to be agreed by everybody in all parts of the political solar system to be a Big Thing, even as everyone simultaneously slags each other off about what it all means and what to do about it.  The trouble with ClimateGate - and, as I’ve already hinted above, one of the problems is that we aren’t even agreeing what to call it - is that a huge slab of dupes and frauds would like nothing better than for the whole ghastly business to be totally forgotten.  For ClimateGate, or whatever, to win out and find its place next to Hastings, Magna Carta, the Great Fire of London, the Glorious Revolution, Trafalgar, Waterloo and the rest of them, then my team in this ruckus would have to win the battle of the history books.  Which we yet might, but this is not certain, to put it mildly.

This piece (one of the many on this topic linked to by the ever-invaluable Instapundit – never forget what a difference he has made and still makes to the world) confirms everything I said in my Samizdata pieces, about how the internet has totally changed the rules for arguments like this.  Love the 2001 A Space Odyssey pastiche.  Apparently, in the USA, whenever and wherever a big, pompous, biased, dead-tree organ now ventures onto the www with a piece about Global Warming, Copenhagen, etc., but without mentioning the shenanigans at UEA, CRUgate, ClimateGate, GlobalWarmingGate, ... commenters are piling in in their derisive dozens and even hundreds to remind them.

Fox News is all over it, in the person of Glenn Beck.  (I loved his mispronunciation of “East Anglia” - something like “Angleela"- the other day, on an earlier video, I think, than that one.) My friend Adriana Lukas recently told me that she told a good mate of hers at Fox News about this story when it first broke, and it was the first he’d heard of it.  Kudos Adriana.  Although they would have heard about it from someone soon enough.  It’s a different world, like my piece says.

And what do you know, only seconds, literally, after I had put up my big bit, Johnathan Pearce posted another bit on the same topic, just as foreseen/feared here.  I hope JP and others commenting on that earlier piece are right that this kind of duplication doesn’t matter, helps even.  Certainly this story is big enough to merit constant multiple Samizdata postings, every day.

A commenter on that Johnathan Pearce Samizdata piece said this:

At least now we can all agree, on both sides of the Climate Change debate, that Global Warming was caused by Mann.

Hah!  Wonder why I never thought of stroke came across that gag before.

And this may just be my favourite SQotD ever.

I recently emailed Bishop Hill (one of ClimateGate’s global blogstars) asking if he’d be willing to do an interview with me, along the lines of this one, in connection with his wit and wisdom generally, but in particular in connection with his forthcoming book.  And guess what, he has just emailed back saying yes.  But he is mind-bogglingly busy just now, so don’t hold your breath.  That won’t be happening any day soon, but in a few weeks, probably.  I’m looking forward to that a lot.

Michael Jennings has now just put up another excellent ClimateGate piece, also at Samizdata.

Regular readers of this blog will know that many a day of torpor here has been rescued by an incoming Michael J email, often (as there) with follow up comment from him of far greater sophistication, interest and intelligence than all but my very best postings here.

Michael Jennings is one of those people who likes - needs even - to know that people are interested in what he has to say before he says it, as is not quite the case with everyone, is it?  Hence some of his best bits of writing often take the form of comments, in answer to direct questions to which he happens to have a very good answer which someone has just asked and clearly would really like to know about.  But with this ClimateGate thing, I imagine he feels confident that people all over the place will be extremely interested in anything even semi-coherent that he has to say about that, and of course what he does say is far better than that.

Next, a couple of quotes from others about how this is all rather Bolshevik.

An incoming email to Instapundit recently went thus:

I now have a sense of what it was like living under Communism in Eastern Europe. The state-owned (in our case, establishment) press won’t report on reality so people had to turn to Samizdat to learn what’s actually happening in their world. It’s rather amazing. Also, having an Army of Davids go through these emails will pay dividends for years.

Indeed, and another Army of Davids asking those who swallowed this nonsense whole what they were thinking of, and what they are still doing, and why, and meanwhile what their expenses claims are looking like, should also now be assembling.  Count me, in.  (And see below.)

And see also this, from one of the comments on Michael J’s piece:

I had a sudden thought last night with regards to the “mainstream” response, particularly the self-serving response from UEA itself.  It is rather like claiming that Lysenko was just a rogue element within Soviet biology, and in any case his findings are supported by the overwhelming majority of Soviet biologists working in many places around the Soviet union and its satellite states, so the Lamarckian consensus within Soviet science remains intact.

I am now working on a piece provisionally called something like: Now is the time to subject the government of the world to Guidoisation - i.e., basically, to start blogging about it in a big (i.e.much bigger and more mainstream A-list blogger way), and to make it personal.  Who are the people doing it, where (Copenhagen will be a good place to accelerate the rolling of this ball), when, how, at what cost both in terms of public policy and in terms of the hotel and salary bills for their fatcat selves, what did these people do in the past (i.e.what mere countries have they already screwed with), and what have they said in the past (before they’d even got to the screwing their own country stage), what crackpot bolshevik groups were they in when even younger, who are they now arrived to, and why won’t the regular damn media report on all this (because they are part of the damn problem is why – let me tell you about what the owner of the Daily Deadtree was doing with whom last weekend), blah blah, blah blah.  I believe I may have some rather original and fruitful insights to offer about this.

Who the hell, exactly, and just for starters, is this Michael Mann creature?  (I’ve not read that Wikipedia entry and would not trust it as far as I could spit it.  When the left fascists have an axe to grind about anyone or anything, then Wikipedia is just leftist agitprop, with all critical but true additions edited out pronto.  And did I recently hear something about Wikipedia collapsing, or did I merely imagine it?) Last night at a book signing I attended, somebody told me that Michael Mann is a total bastard, far worse than any kind of regular scientist gone wrong, more like a cross between Lysenko and Beria.  So, as Arthur Seldon of the IEA used to ask of anyone interesting in a bad way: who he?  What he making from all this?  Who he married to?  Where he based?  Who he conned?  How many years he deserve in jail?

But, I promise nothing.

I wonder, might “Cruleak” be a good name for all this?  Just a thought, and probably not a very good one.  But I do agree with another of the commenters on Michael J’s piece that all these thingy-gates are becoming very tedious.

Wednesday November 25 2009

Photoed by me in a charity shop, this afternoon:

image

Bizarre.  And what does it say under the bit where it says: “THE SHA MEN”?

This:

image

Google took me here for the explanation of this strange phenomenon.  It turns out it’s some kind of pop album, with the words of the title track going like this.

Says Alan Campbell “Cams” of the Isle of Arran, Scotland, that being his real name, in his Amazon review of this record:

It has aged well and I would say that this album in particular of the Shamen’s has earned a place in musical history. It was groundbreaking stuff at the time, a sort of pre-techno, pre-industrial mix of music that was very refreshing at the time.

For those more familiar with the Ebeneezer Goode era of the Shamen, I would recommend this if only to see where they were coming from; and what is a raspberry infundibulum anyway?

What indeed?  All that Google tells us is that it is in one of the lyrics on “In Gorbachev We Trust”, by The Shamen, which gets us nowhere.

0 of 2 people found that, which was written in September 2002, helpful.  So, now that’s 1 of 3.

I remember writing a letter to an American lady friend during the eighties, in which I said that I too trusted in Gorbachev, to bring the USSR crashing down in ruins.  More exactly, what I think I said was that although Gorbachev is, on balance, probably not a CIA agent, if he is a CIA agent, then he is doing a superb job and should carry on doing exactly what he is already doing because it is working an absolute treat.

Monday November 23 2009

More and more I like to get those familiar London Things lined up in unfamiliar juxtapositions, for instance, like this:

image

That’s the Tate Modern tower, in front of the Gherkin.  And: a crane!  I think I snapped that in rather a hurry, when hurrying from Waterloo station to Waterloo East station, on a weird covered footbridge which afforded that particular view.

Okay that was a quota photo.  I’ve been using today’s and yesterday’s blog time to keep up with ClimateGate, or whatever is today’s agreed name for it all.

Saturday November 21 2009

I’ve just done a piece at Samizdata on the CRU hack, summarising the story so far as best I could, and thanking the internet for making it all possible.  Interesting times.

However, the experience of writing a piece like this, about a big breaking story that’s bound to be of interest to the Samizdata readership, did have a downside.  When you write for a group blog like Samizdata - where we are basically picked and then allowed to get on with it, with no “guidance” other than the odd round-robin email about once every six months about doing the links properly (i.e. not properly), or some such nit pick - you never know if some other Samizdatista might also be working on a very similar piece to the one you are working on.  If this happens, either the loser in the race will, cursing, dump his piece as superfluous, or both pieces will get shoved up, with their severely overlapping agendas, and both of you will look a bit to a lot foolish, especially the one who loses the race.

So it was that throughout the writing of my bit, with all its time-consuming links and with the story itself developing fast, I kept checking Samizdata to see if anything else had appeared there on this subject.

If there was a race, I at least won it, and of course I hope that nobody else on the team has been discombobulated by me getting my piece up just before they had finished their similar piece.  I hope, that is, that there was no race.  But if there was a race, and if someone else had to bin something laborious, I may only find out much later.

Unless Johnathan Pearce leaves a discombobulated comment here, soon, saying yes, damn you Brian I did nearly finish something on this, but then I did have to bin it.

Friday November 20 2009

And I don’t mean glasses, plus two eyes.  I mean four eyes:

image

Here.

imageA week ago today, I journeyed to White Van Land (aka South East London), to record an interview with Toby Baxendale - businessman, Austrian economics devotee, social activist, boss of Direct Seafoods, and founder of the Cobden Centre, among other things.  We - mostly he - spoke for just on fifty minutes, which is a longish time for a thing like this, but worth anyone’s time (I hope those who give it a go will agree), because he is an impressive individual.  You don’t get from seventy grand in debt at the age of twenty one to running a company that turns over a hundred million quid a year before you are even properly middle aged without having something about you.

Listen to it by clicking here.

The thing I find particularly intriguing about Toby is how his thinking in the academic sense and his business and social thinking are so deeply intertwined, which is sadly not true of far too many businessmen.  His early acquaintance with the economic facts of life, due to his parents divorcing early and him being raised by his single mother, meant that he came to the study of economics with a well developed sense of how the economy worked and how wealth gets created, and regular economics didn’t add up.  Too abstract.  Simply: not right.  He paid for much of this education by himself working, first by part-owning and running a night club, then by buying food for a restaurant that he part-owned, the latter activity being the basis of his later business success.  An early burst of anti-left politics in his teens got him in touch with the legal and social thinking of Friedrich Hayek, and he made a note to chase up Austrian School economics later, once he had got his business life motoring.  Which it did, not least because of his willingness to use the dispersed-knowledge dispersed-profit model of business organisation and business cooperation, rather than just putting all his underlings on a fixed salary and telling them what to do.  He didn’t want the do-as-you’re-told life for himself, and figured they wouldn’t either.  Plus, profit-sharing is more profitable.

His ideological advocacy and social activism now takes several forms.  He is a magistrate.  He is active in a microfinance organisation, for the kind of people for whom any kind of finance is liable to be something of a battle.  He talked eloquently about the example set by such persons as the Quakers - before going to the London School of Economics, he attended a Quaker school for a few years - and by the Manchester liberals, such as Cobden.  And, with his Cobden Centre hat on, he compares the privilege-breaking Repeal of the Corn Laws that the Manchester liberals accomplished with a similar job that needs to be done with the world’s current politically privileged banking system.  What these persons now do, he is at pains to admit, is all perfectly legal.  But, like the Corn Laws, it ought not to be.

So, recommended.  And even if nearly an hour listening to one and half people just talking does not appeal, at least remember the name: Toby Baxendale.  He will surely be making waves in the next few years.

The older I get, the more convinced I become that a lot of getting on and getting ahead in the world is a matter of sheer physical energy, of getting things done, first time, fast, lots of them every day.  I, on the other hand, was not at my physical best when recording this conversation and got quite a lot more ill soon after it, hence the delay in sticking it up here.  Luckily nothing of importance is lost because of this delay, but still, my apologies to Toby for any irritation this delay may have caused.  Toby Baxendale, I sense, doesn’t do ill.  Did I mention that he is an Ironman Triathlete?  No I did not and nor did he.  I only found out about this afterwards.

My thanks to Antoine Clarke for suggesting this recorded conversation, and to Tim Evans for putting Toby Baxendale and me in touch.

Just got an email, entitled “Check out Watts up with That ... now!” (i.e. check out this), sent to the Samizdata team:

Someone has hacked into Hadley CRU and deposited a 63 megabyte file on a Russian server. It will need serious investigation but it looks like Jones, Briffa and Mann have been caught red handed falsifying temperature records.

Just sent my email reply to Samizdata HQ:

My first guess: piles of genuinely hacked trivia, and a little “smoking gun” invention added, in the same style as the rest of it.  And if that’s not it and the smoking gun stuff is genuine too, how would anyone prove it?

But I’m no techy, so what do I know?

Another for the Too Good To Be True So Probably Not True file, in other words.  True or not, that’s surely what Jones, Briffa, Mann and their numerous friends will say, and who will be able to say they’re wrong.  Whatever happens, to the exact degree that we climate deniers (or whatever we’re called this week) get excited, it will be proved that the climate deniers will believe what they want to believe.  Won’t it?

This blog has a few tech-savvy commenters, certainly tech-savvier than me.  So what do they (you) think?  Is the adding of incriminating falsehood to a hacked file as easy as I have made it sound?  Could it be proved if that had been done, or not done?

Meanwhile, I am a skeptic on this too.

Although, I do want to believe that Jones, Mann, Briffa, etc., have royally screwed up, because then it will be yet another illustration of the variant of Parkinson’s Law of Custom Built HQs that says that the better a new and snazzily modern building looks, the crappier is the stuff going on inside it:

image

That is very cool, I think.

UPDATE:  Follow some debate about this here.  Similar points are made there.  And for various techy reasons, it appears that you can check whether stuff has been added or not.

Sadly, if this posting is to be believed, that snazzy building has nothing to do with it.

LATER UPDATE: The Bishop is all over it.  Bless him.

Thursday November 19 2009

I saw this picture of Gaddafi, here, and the resemblance did strike me.  It’s not complete, but it’s there.  The eyes and the nose, in particular, I think.

image   image

Perhaps add a dash of Art Garfunkel to the mix, to get Gaddafi a bit more.

Most pictures of Rickman, especially the recent ones, have him attempting an insincere-looking grin.  He has evidently been told not to look grumpy, because with him, grumpy looks evil.  Finding that picture of him took a while.

Meanwhile, the story Hartley links to is downright weird:

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi invited hundreds of attractive Italian “hostesses” to a villa in Rome last night for an evening at which he urged them to convert to Islam and told them Christianity was based on a fraud, Italian reports said today.

The Libyan leader is in Italy to attend a United Nations summit on world food security. Reports said that Colonel Gaddafi’s aides phoned an agency which provides elegantly dressed young women to act as hospitality staff at events.

The agency was asked to send 500 women to the residence of Hafed Gaddur, the Libyan ambassador in Rome, where Colonel Gaddafi is staying, over a series of evenings during the three day summit.

Imagine Alan Rickmans doing that, in the film version of the occasion.  Maybe Gordon Brown should try something similar.  What’s to lose?

The scary thing is, a tiny few of the assembled five hundred actually might convert to Islam.  Attending something like that would tend to play on the mind, don’t you think?

Tuesday November 17 2009

Incoming:

Hello Brian

Are you interested in dredgers? Bert Visser is the world expert and he has lots of pics here.

Best

Barry Wood

Not sure about that one, Barry.  Have to give that some thought.

Meanwhile, I don’t care for pictures with www dot this is mine don’t you dare copy it dot com in the corner at the bottom.  Still, at least they don’t have www dot fuck off dot com in big (albeit opaque) letters right across the middle, ruining the whole effect.

Monday November 16 2009

6k has got me thinking bridges again (see below).  But why did my search for “bizarre bridge” get me to this:

image

Search me, but I’m not complaining.

This church is built into the hillside on which it perches. One of the reasons the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg has survived as an independent state for a thousand years against such powerful neighbors as Germany and France, is that the area is eminently fortifiable. Even in the capitol, the gorges are deep and difficult to pass, with only a few bridges spanning the distance high above. It’s easily one of the most dramatically sited capitols in Europe.

I’d always kind of imagined that Luxembourg was flat, like Belgium.  That explains a lot.

Next search: “luxembourg bridge”.  And I have my winner:

image

Great shadow.

UPDATE: Incoming from Michael J:

Luxembourg City is on a hill that is almost surrounded by a river that almost encircles it: it loops around and heads back in something like the direction it came from. This is itself surrounded by more hills, so the city pretty much has a natural moat around it. The attached pictures (taken by me) capture some of this, but one really needs a full 360 degree view.

imageimage

Slight smudge on the lens top left there, but we get the pictures.

One consequence of this geography (and the fact that Luxembourg has long been rich) is that the city contains many, many bridges, and bridges of many different eras.

If you imagine Luxembourg as one of the French speaking cantons of Switzerland, but one that for some reason got lost and ended up at the wrong end of the Rhine, then you get the gist of the place, I think.

Nice to have a guest blogger when I’m not feeling well.

Saturday November 14 2009

Not been feeling my best for a couple of days now, so glad of this incoming:

Hi Brian,

Perhaps of some interest?

Best regards,
6k

Indeed.  Strange bridges.  Mmmm.

The strangest one, for me, partly because I have never encountered it before (quite a few of them have already been featured here), is number 16, the Slauerhofbrug.  The picture that I found that shows what it does best is this one:

image

Found that here.

Thursday November 12 2009

The de Havilland effect is really kicking in at Samizdata.  As I write this, at lunchtime, there are already four postings there, by four different people, one of them Perry himself, all good stuff.  The most recent is this from me, which links to a posting by Patrick Crozier about how things may also be improving in Zimbabwe.

If Perry’s newly invigorated blog leadership efforts persist, might Samizdata any month now reclaim its throne as the premier British libertarian blog (UPDATE: apart from the small matter of this one!!!)?  Once it was the first, then it was the best of several.  Then it settled back into being just another beast in the great libertarian blog stampede.  A big beast, yes, still, but ever so slightly dependent upon its past glories.  Is it now making a serious comeback?  Or is this just wishful thinking on my part?  (Zimbabwe: ditto.)

Oh dear.  I just (sort of) compared Perry de Havilland to Robert Mugabe.  But the big difference is that when Perry’s blogging flagged, Samizdata flagged too.  Now that he seems to be un-flagging again, Samizdata is picking up in response.  In Zimbabwe, on the other hand, things are only looking up (or so it would appear) because Robert Mugabe seems, finally, to have run out of puff.

And speaking of Samizdata, and just in case anyone who reads this missed it, see Michael J’s big posting on Monday about his visit to Chernobyl.  I have been hearing about this intended posting from Michael for months.  Was Michael encouraged to finish this and post it partly by the de Havilland effect?  It wouldn’t surprise me.

Wednesday November 11 2009

Incoming email from Michael J, entitled “An interesting fact”:

Apple makes about 2.5% of the mobile phones sold in the world. With that 2.5% market share, its mobile phone division makes around 35% of the total profits made by all of the mobile phone manufacturers in the world. In particular, it makes more profit from mobile phones than does Nokia, which has a 40% market share.

So there.

I’m watching Simon Russell Beale telling the story of Sacred Music, checking that the two DVDs I’ve been making have got it all, from off my television’s hard disc.  Beale does this kind of thing very well, with none of that over-emphasis that some announcers insist on, or are made to do despite themselves, that make you feel like you’re being treated as a six-year-old.  And he has just told the story of the Reformation, in the fourth of the four hour long programmes. 

I hadn’t realised until now how directly the building of St Peter’s Rome lead to the great schism in the Catholic Church.  Once again, we see that other Parkinson’s Law in action.  Any institution which constructs for itself a brand spanking new headquarters building is heading for trouble. The more magnificent the building, the worse the trouble will be.

This time, the story - no doubt familiar to many of my readers, but it never got my attention until now - is that the Pope tried to pay for his new building by selling indulgences, more flagrantly and graspingly than ever before.  (I’ve long known about those indulgences, but had not clocked the St Peter’s connection.) This angered Martin Luther, who protested, a protest which, in the form of Protestantism, has echoed down the centuries from then on.

Not exactly news hot off the presses, I know, although it was all mixed up with earlier presses when it first happened.  But interesting, I think.

There’s nothing like commissioning splendid new architecture to take an institution’s eye off the ball, to cause it to forget what it is really supposed to be doing.

Perhaps less well known is that, during a siege of Luebeck (where Bach went which is why it’s being talked about) when (as it just happened to happen) all they had to eat was almonds and sugar, a local baker invented marzipan.  Although, that’s somewhat contradicted by Wikipedia, which suggests much earlier versions from further east.  Maybe it was re-invented in Lubeck.  Or maybe that should be re-discovered.  Either way, I had no idea about that, and I bet you didn’t either.

imageTemporary structure that will soon look quite different.  Silhouetted people.  Setting sun.  BrianMicklethwait DotCom heaven.

Found it here.  My response to the article (which says that China’s economy is about to implode) here.

It makes the structure look a bit like a tartan, I think.

Tuesday November 10 2009

This is something I often see when I am walking home in the late afternoon, after an afternoon out and about, although this is only a small bit of the view, along Chapter Street and across Vauxhall Bridge Road:

image

The big chimney is one of Battersea Power Station’s four chimneys.  The building work that is the cause of the picturesque scaffolded clutter seems to be never ending.  I think that’s a big site on the opposite side of Vauxhall Bridge Road, but it could be on the left side of Chapter Street.  And as you can see, London street lamps are often very handsome.

Monday November 09 2009

I have just begun reading a book called 1759, by Frank McLynn, subtitled The Year Britain Became The Master of the World.  In its preface, there is a ringing endorsement of the value of counterfactual history, of the sort I wrote about so enthusiastically a few years back on Samizdata, here and here.  Says McLynn:

Above all, I wish to concentrate the reader’s mind on what might have been.  Counterfactual history is never popular with straitlaced students of socio-economic structures or devotees of la longue durée, but to my mind it is the essence of history.  1940, which likewise could so easily have turned out differently, may have been Britain’s finest hour when backs were to the wall, but 1759 was the finest hour of the infant imperial nation.

Quite so.

But I think I am becoming more tolerant of the way regular historians look askance at counterfactual history.  What it comes down to is the division of historical labour.  Counterfactual history comes into its own when, like Frank McLynn, you are telling your story to a general, amateur readership, pulling all the work of the specialist historians together into one larger story.  If you want to explain what it felt like to be alive in 1759, and to be making and carrying out the decisions that exercised the people of those times, then the various contrasting futures that those decisions might make, depending on how they are made, must be presented, simply to understand what was decided and what was done, and to explain what was at stake.

But for the professional specialist, what matters is what actually happened.  He has enough on his plate worrying about that and arguing about that with his colleagues.  He absolutely does not want to be sidetracked into speculations about what merely might have been, especially if such speculations did not even enter the minds of the particular people he is studying.

Both points of view have their place.  No need for there to be a quarrel.  No need for me to tell the professional detail-grubbers to think differently.  But no need for them to talk rubbish about how general history for punters like me should best be written.  There is more to explaining what happened than merely saying what happened.

Sunday November 08 2009

Exactly two weeks ago today, I was at the LA/LI Annual Conference.  During the talk given by Anthony Evans, a rather good soundbite appeared on the screen, and I tried to photo it.  At which point, Tim Evans (no relation), one of the Head Honchos of the LA, asked me to take some photos of Anthony Evans.  The two Evanses are among the leading lights of the Cobden Centre, and Tim needs likenesses, it seems.  The mission of the Cobden Centre would appear to be to get Austrian Economics into the news.  Good luck with that, and I mean it non-ironically.  Seriously, good luck with that.  Not before time.

Sorry about the delay with the photos, Tim, but I’ve now got around to rootling about in the snaps I took.

My first efforts were unsatisfactory.  Here are the two best that I took during the talk itself.  Fun photos, but not much good for telling the world what Anthony Evans looks like:

imageimage

I hate flash photography, and not just because it annoys everyone else in the room.  Worse, it creates horrible shadows, and in general, a totally unrealistic effect, to say nothing of red-eye.  But no flash, and you need the objects of your snapping to keep still, which speakers, when speaking, seldom do.

So thank heavens for the Q&A session.  During this, the speaker stands motionless, in extreme contrast to his demeanour earlier.

imageimage

Still a bit blurry, what with the artificiality and dimness of the light, but better, I think you will agree.

More information about Anthony Evans, in the form of a Guardian piece by him, about the fact of and the case against the nationalised banking system, here.

UPDATE: The soundbite that got me started.

Saturday November 07 2009

Yesterday I went to Peter Jones, in Sloane Square.  I did this partly because I am fond of the place.  It’s rare for me to be fond of a shop that sells nothing that I especially like, just because I like how it looks, but there you go.  There, that is to say, I go, from time to time.  And partly I went, as in went yesterday, because I wanted to buy an ice-cube-making machine, but having looked at one first, to be sure that it wasn’t too big and elaborate.  They didn’t have such a thing, but I did take a rather good snap of some of the decor that adorns Peter Jones just now.

imageimage

On the left is what it looked like, photoed in a regular way, just so you know what it looked like in a regular way.  On the right, the same thing photoed less regularly, from a more dramatic spot, right underneath it all.  It reminds me somewhat of the special effects in a sci-fi movie where we switch to faster-than-light speed.  A bit blurry because of the indoor light, but I like it.  Hope some of you do also.

Any suggestions for an ice-cube-maker, and where I might find such a thing in London, on a see-before-you-buy basis?  In other words, who knows of a shop where, unlike Peter Jones in Sloane Square, they sell such things?  You remember shops.  The smaller, the simpler and the cheaper the device is, the better.  I don’t need hundreds of ice-cubes at a time, just half a dozen or so.

Friday November 06 2009

When I meet fellow Samizdata contributor Johnathan Pearce, I often praise him, but often only faintly.  I often thank him for those days, disturbingly numerous in recent months, when his postings have been the only postings there.  Generally, I tell him, he does a solid job, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, looking at the world - especially the financial world (which he understands way better than average because he has a job doing that) - from a libertarian point of view.  The rest of the Samizdata crew owe him a lot.

However, the not very subtle sub-textual implication of all this has tended to be that Johnathan Pearce is one of life’s worthy middle-rankers, who makes the best of his less than uniquely stellar talents.  In cricketing terms he is Andrew Strauss, but no Kevin Pietersen.  (Even if you know nothing of cricket, you will immediately have learned what sort of cricketers those two gentlemen are.)

A recent Samizdata blog posting by JP is, however, something else again, I think, definitely touched with Pietersenesque magic.  It makes one very simple point, briefly, concerning a ferocious policy debate which has exercised Brits for many years now, and especially during the last few days on account of Conservative opposition leader David Cameron’s referendum vacillations, but which is routinely neglected by all parties to the debate.

We can leave if we want to, says JP.

My point is not so much that I agree, although I do.  My point is: this is what blogging is all about.  A small clutch of words says something very large and very easily understandable.  Already, the comments are very informative and interesting, and just as much from those who disagree as from those who agree.

However, I do have one quite big criticism to offer.  I am becoming ever more conscious of the importance of good titles for blog postings, by which I mean informative concerning what is being said, rather than (at the opposite extreme) wittily opaque and punning.  I now believe strongly in sacrificing brevity to get greater accuracy, as the above title of this posting nicely illustrates.  Opaque and punning is for old school newspapers, from which the option of migrating elsewhere with one mouse click is not available.  Opaque and punning means you have to read the damn piece to find out anything of what it actually says.  (I arrived at the same rule for Libertarian Alliance pamphlets.  This made them far more influential than they would otherwise have been.)

The point is that, more and more, the titles of blog postings appear on their own.  Not just in google searches, but at other blogs and embedded in other postings.

Headings that are a bit longer, but which accurately summarise your main point (or as here: points) mean that even if all that people read is the title, they still get a lot of the point.  “We can leave if we want to” is pretty clear, if you know the kind of blog that Samizdata is.  But something more like “Britain can leave the EU any time it wants to” would have made things much clearer, and might well have caused this blog posting to travel far further and far wider, even if only in the form of its title.

Thursday November 05 2009

Well, it’s the night of November 5th, Bonfire Night, in central London, and the silence is positively deafening.  I have hardly heard any fireworks at all.

image Just about the only reminder I’ve had all day of what the date is was Guido linking to this picture of himself, shrunk for here to our right.  It gets Guido beautifully.  “Nick Drew” drew it.  Good name for a cartoonist.  Unless Nick Drew is some kind of computer programme which goes straight from photo to graphic.

In Guido-related sports news, the curse of Gordon Brown struck again this evening, just as Guido foretold.  It gets worse.  Brown wished “all British teams” well.  So, no surprise that London Fulham also lost, with two Fulham players being very harshly sent off.  And Celtic, who desperately needed all three points in Hamburg to have a realistic chance of progressing in the tournament, could only draw.

It really is uncanny how our Prime Minister can bring immediate ruin just by wishing someone or something well.  His Christmas cards, wishing the unlucky recipients nothing on the face of it any worse than “a Happy Christmas”, will spread misery throughout the land.

Wednesday November 04 2009

Yes, this afternoon, Antoine told me about all the elections they had ... whenever ... not long ago, in the USA.  The electoral shine is off Obama, but the Republicans also have huge problems.  Listen here.

Antoine’s central explanatory tool was the fact of a great mass of American conservatives, the right nation described by my fourth cousin in a book of that title, subtitled: why America is different.  The nightmare scenario for the Democrats would be if this entire demographic voted, election after election, for a political party that was truly congenial to it.  The Dems would be out of office for ever if that happened.  But the Republicans seem to have mastered the trick of persuading a large, often decisive, proportion of these American conservatives to stay at home and vote for nobody.

The key fact of American politics, and what separates America from most of Europe, is that the Republicans have more to gain by appealing more successfully to these conservatives than they do by making nice to voters who aren’t part of this huge group.  They do better by having candidates like conservative Hoffman, in upstate New York, rather than RINO (Republican in Name Only) Scozzafava.

Antoine agreed with many other commentators that whereas the Obama electoral earthquake last year seemed to suggest that this huge conservative group had somehow become a thing of the past, it now looks very much a permanent fact, with Obama, electorally speaking, looking more like a blip.  But, as Antoine said, the Republicans still have their problems, problems of the sort that cost them NY-23, which was something of a surprise result, not least to Antoine.  He put it down to the timing of Scozzafava’s withdrawal, late enough to get a lot of the postal voters still voting for her.  Had they all switched, as they probably would have done had they known she was out of it when they voted, Hoffman would have won.

More from Antoine in a blog posting he did in the early hours of this morning, before we talked, here.  Some live blogging by Antoine here, complete with prediction of Hoffman victory, but the news of his defeat.  And see also Antoine’s admiring link to a Scot Rasmussen piece.

I referred during the chat to this piece by Roger L. Simon, with which Antoine, on the basis of my summary of it, disagreed.

Here.

Thanks to Frank S, commenting on this Samizdata posting for supplying this link to the list, which is complete with further links to each article listed.

I’ve not read even the list, which is quite long, too many items on it for me to be bothered even to count them, let alone the articles listed.  I’m just passing it on.

Every few months, some reader of this blog asks me how my attempt to become the Ruler of the World is going.  (See the bit at the top left.) It happened again at the recent LA/LI Conference.  Well, it’s a bit dormant just now, but you never now.  Since I stopped doing LA pamphlets I have been at a bit of a loose end.  Maybe I’ll have a go at that.

Mostly this is a joke, but there is a serious point involved, which is that politics is getting ever more global.  This trend has been in place for a very long time, of course.  The very rich and very powerful have always been able to communicate on a vast scale, and have always tended to have global ambitions.  They have regarded the world as their playing field for many centuries.  With the invention of the electric telegraph, globalisation really got into its stride big time.

So the internet has not created this trend.  But it has intensified it greatly, by making globalisation far cheaper for just anybody to have a go at, and most particularly by dethroning the printing press, the great engine of nationalism.  Never forget that the mechanised printing press, combined with national railway systems, was the communicational basis for national mass-membership political parties, during the decades after the electric telegraph had got everyone’s hopes up about globalisation.  The most characteristic expression of globalisation in the twentieth century was, until the final decade, global conflict, including two horrible global wars.

Like the mechanised national presses of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, so the globe-spanning internet is now creating water for all manner of global fishes of greatly varying sizes and plumage to swim in.

These thoughts of mine were stirred up again by this posting by Douglas Carswell, about his friend and collaborator Daniel Hannan, and about how people are marching about in the streets of Washington waving signs saying: Daniel Hannan for President.  Of America, that is to say, not the world.

imageimage

I got found those here.

For Hannan, it all began with The Video (video again), with distance lending enchantment to the eyes of Americans in particular.

But a global political career is a tricky thing to handle.  How do you combine it with seeking votes from a merely local or national electorate?  Yes, you use all that clapping elsewhere to get admiring attention from the particular voters whose support you seek, but you also risk suggesting to your local voters that you care more for the applause of faraway audiences than you do for them.  (See also: Obama.)

It will be interesting to see what happens to Hannan’s career as the years go by.

PS: I forgot to mention that it was Bishop Hill who linked me to the Carswell posting, the former blog being one I visit more often than the latter one.

PPS: Hannan resigned today as the Conservative legal affairs spokesman in the European Parliament, in order to campaign for a referendum on Britain being part of the EU.

Tuesday November 03 2009

Yesterday morning I did something I have never done before.  I listened to Rush Limbaugh for nearly half an hour.  I don’t know why, but I’ve just never got around to doing this, until yesterday.  I clicked on the video embedded in the page here, and I listened.  That’s him on Fox TV, putting the knife into Obama.  Thanks to Instapundit for the link.

I found it impressive, apart from the bit near the end where he talked about how he had been addicted to pain-killers but had now learned to be himself.  Very un-British.  But then, he is un-British.

I get the feeling the Americans are now experiencing the sort of national crisis that we in Britain went through in the late 1970s, and are now going through again with a consequent feeling of been-here-before-ness.  Oh shit, here go again.  Last week I heard, for the first time in decades, a serious equating of Britain (now) with Argentina (always), which is very late seventies.  Something to do with the level of public indebtedness.  Trouble is, once you get relaxed about national crises, they are liable to become permanent.

There are now many differences between things in the USA and here, the biggest one surely being that the USA has never been in this kind of mess ever before, or not in anything remotely like living memory.  Americans are now staring into the abyss for the first time.  Another difference is that when their crisis struck, the Americans didn’t elect Thatcher, they elected a much younger, slightly blacker version of Michael Foot.  Will Sarah Palin eventually do a Thatcher?  There is much discussion about that in this posting and its comment thread.

Today I watched another interesting snatch of video here, also linked to by Instapundit.  One of Guido’s constant memes is that that it is internet video that is really changing things.  Video quotes you in context.  It quotes, that is to say, both your words and how you said them.  You cannot, for instance, backdate into a mere joke something that, when you first said it, you clearly meant and believed in.

Monday November 02 2009

Busy day today at Samizdata.  There was even a picture of a beautiful woman, which takes me back to the early, glory days of Samizdata, when life was fun and credit was easy, and every posting was not a tale of politically-inflicted disaster.  I remember when there were yachts and space rockets and girls in skimpy costumes.  Ah, happy days.  A lot of it is down to Perry de Havilland having sprung to life.  Although maybe it is just insomnia.

When it comes to posting on Samizdata, I now tend to follow the herd, if there is one.  When the bandwagon is in motion, I climb aboard.  On the other hand, if the wagon depends on me to stay in motion, what kind of a crap wagon is that?  Not a band wagon, that’s for sure.  Time was when, on a slack day, I would post, out of a sense of duty.  Now, I tend only to post if truly inclined.  Or if a stampede of others have already posted.

So it was that, encouraged by all the other postings today, I added one myself, in which I tried to turn the Samizdata clock back by dreaming of how a victory might one day be snatched from the jaws of current, apparently permanent defeat.  If, however, you insist on remaining miserable about things, in the current Samizdata manner, go to the piece I was referring back to, and ignore my optimism.

This:

on a completely seperate note, how much are hitmen these days?

I found out about that here, where Swann also offers some words of wisdom concerning the difference between him merely looking as if he is trying very hard, and him actually doing what will work best:

… “If I get angry and uptight, I am rubbish. I don’t perform. If people see me having a smile on my face as not knuckling down, then more fool them because they don’t know what they are talking about.

“I have just found over the years I am my own best shrink and I know if I am doing badly. Nine times out of ten, it is about taking it too seriously. ...”

Sports fans are far too ready, I think, to accuse players of not trying.  The problem is generally simpler.  They are not always succeeding.  When that happens, they then get sad, and look as if they aren’t trying.  And it’s in the nature of competitive sport that they can’t all succeed.

imageAs for Swann, it is an interesting little trivia quiz answer that he took the final clinching wickets, off the final balls of each of the England Ashes wins this summer.  In other words, his captain rated him highly enough to pick him, each time, as one of the two bowlers most likely to finish the job.  And his captain wasn’t wrong, was he?  That’s some double memory for a cricketer to have with him on his death bed, don’t you think?

Sunday November 01 2009

Just before telling a story about Bela Bartok, that I didn’t properly catch (something to do with playing one of his string quartets to his dead body), Radio 3’s David Owen Norris just said this:

There are some stories that are just too good to check.

That particular Bartok story sounded to me entirely dreary enough to check, but the quote above remains very quotable.

Other better stories had been told earlier, about how the man who commissioned Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, Walter Hussey, Dean of Chichester, paid Bernstein either with a fountain pen or with nothing, depending on which version you go with.

The nothing version went like this.  Hussey and Lenny are having dinner:

Hussey: “Now Lenny.  We’ve not talked about money, have we?”

Bernstein: “No we haven’t.”

Hussey embraces Bernstein warmly: “How very kind!”

The usual story here in Britain is that it is the Scots who are the tight bastards.  But a constant theme of Anglo-American stories, both true and made-up, is what freeloading scroungers we English often are.  I seem to recall an English journalist in The Bonfire of the Vanities who conformed exactly to this stereotype.  Maybe we Anglos should be a bit more uncomfortable about such tales, and a bit less ready to laugh at them.

Often the problem is simply convention.  Suppose that in Culture A the rule is to offer favours and for them to be refused.  But what if someone from Culture A finds himself in Culture B where there is no such reluctance, or worse, in Culture C, where there is a positive obligation to accept, no matter how unwelcome the gift, to avoid causing offence?

Maybe Walter Hussey was not so much scrounging as punishing Bernstein for rather sneakily conducting the premiere of the Chichester Psalms in New York, rather than in Chichester, where what should have been the premiere happened a fortnight later.

Or then again, maybe Hussey should have talked about money a bit sooner.

Someone has just emailed in to say that the Bartok-cadaver/Bartok-string-quartet story is true.  “I was there”, said the emailer.  So, whatever it was really happened.