Brian Micklethwait's Blog

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

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Friday April 30 2010

On the left Darling, and on the right cat that looks a bit like Darling:

image image

Cat picture here.  See also cats watching Gordon on the telly.

Darling picture here.  Semi-serious news of Darling here.  Apparently he is not going to be the next leader of the Labour Party.

Thursday April 29 2010

I really like this, in connection with a visit to Tate Modern, at a time they had a huge sun lighting up the place:

Thinking about it some more, I think what we may be witnessing here is the divergence along two separate paths of, on the one hand, “art” (i.e. paintings, sculptures, stupid objects), and on the other hand the process of attracting people to, and entertaining people in, what are still called “art” galleries.

This is a trend I thoroughly approve of, because on the whole I think that “art” these days is too big for its boots, and depends far more than it realises on the fact that people simply like going to art galleries, regardless of what’s in them, simply because they are nice places where you can hear what any person you go with is saying and have a nice cup of coffee and a bun and buy an amusing biro. Discos without the bloody disco music, you might say, and with less disastrous drugs.

If that’s right, and it is, it follows that there is no particular reason for “art” galleries to contain only things which Tate Czar Nicholas Serota has decided are art. Why not veteran cars, tea trolleys, old games machines, underwear, hand held weapons through the ages, CD sleeves, potato crisp packets, batteries, food magazine illustrations, shoes, stills from the movies, Christmas cards, ancient photos taken by regular people rather than just by famous photographers, letters from the front, videos of buildings being demolished, etc. etc. etc. etc.???? Who needs art, and who cares whether the stuff in the gallery is art or not?

It would be a nice irony if a temple supposedly devoted to the worship of Modern Art actually became a force for dethroning the stuff.

I like it and I wrote it, for my old and partially collapsed Culture Blog.  You (I) can still read the individual postings.  Alas, the comments have all gone.  I found it while looking, without success, for something else clever that I thought I might have said.

Something bloggers should do before they die, if they care about posterity at all, is go through their back catalog and say: obviously if your choice is between reading all of my stuff or none of it, you’ll read none of it.  But I’ve made the choice for you.  Read all or at least some of these.  I think the above might be in the frame for inclusion in my Best Bits.  But of course there may be so much brilliant stuff to choose from that it might have to be cut from the list.

Actually, thinking about it some more (see above!), I suspect that my Best Bits might actually consist of best bits from blog postings, rather than entire postings.  I recall saying of Woody Allen once that not many of his movies are Truly Great, but that the guy sure does Truly Great scenes from time time.  I think I do great paragraphs from time to time, while tangenting off from some passing triviality that wasn’t written about with any great distinction at all and often downright badly.  Blah blah blah blah, brilliant, blah blah.  That’s a typical blog posting by me.  The above bit was sliced out of a blog posting much like that.  So, I will have to rescue all those brilliant bits.  Some anyway.  If I don’t, nobody else will, that’s for damn sure.

Wednesday April 28 2010

This might have been today’s Samizdata quote of the day, but that already got taken:

Cocky, fake, slimy, inelegant, ineloquent, charmless, witless, weird, sinister, glacially cold and luminescently remote, he may be the most chillingly repulsive politician of even this golden generation. If Pixar set out to create a CGI character to embody everything the public has learned to despise about its political class, they’d be thrilled to come up with this lizardy schemer, ...

It’s Matthew Norman, describing Ed Balls, evil mini-Brown heir to Gordon Brown himself, in the Indy.  Norman seems to want the Labour Party to survive, courtesy of that nice Lord Mandelson, rather than be taken over by Balls and his pals (Whelan, McBride etc.) and buried for ever.  Why?

Today - for the benefit of me when I read through this in the years to come, if I ever do - was the day when Gordon Brown dug another huge hole for himself by calling a Labour-voting widow whose husband died of cancer and who looks after handicapped children, a bigot.  And then he dug even deeper by going back to her home to get her to say, in public, that she forgives him, but without success, and by then apologising for being such a shit while grinning.  For years I’ve been hoping that the earth would open up and swallow Gordon Brown.  And the entire Labour Party also, for allowing Gordon Brown into Number Ten unopposed despite them knowing all about his total ghastliness, what with him having occupied Number Eleven for a decade.  Or worse, what with lots of them thinking that Gordon Brown was and is a good thing, aside from little things like insulting the voters.  So I’m not now holding my breath.  I mean, what does Brown’s ghastly gaff today, or Matthew Norman’s anti-Balls vituperation, tell anyone about these ghastly people that anyone did not already know?  But I am hoping.  Will the Labour vote now do some more melting down?  To around twenty?  And then to less even than that?  I do hope so.

The great Guido saw this Brown electioneering fiasco coming years ago.  He never deviated from his opinion, expressed as soon as Gordon Brown made himself Labour leader, and about once every two or three days from then on, that Labour leader Gordon Brown trying to win votes in a general election would be a catastrophic failure.  It’s certainly looking that way today.

UPDATE Thursday morning: Guido says ”I told you so”.  Indeed.

From an Amazon description of a book called God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World - and Why Their Differences Matter:

Islam: the problem is pride / the solution is submission
Christianity: the problem is sin / the solution is salvation
Confucianism: the problem is chaos / the solution is social order
Buddhism: the problem is suffering / the solution is awakening
Judaism: the problem is exile / the solution is to return to God

Article by author Stephen Prothero summarising the argument here.  Learned about this here.

Prothero notes that it is not only sentimental hippy types who say that deep down, all religions agree.  He also describes New Atheists as “another species of religious lumpers”.  I must be an Old Atheist.  See, e.g. this and this, to say nothing of recent stuff here about Islam.

Monday April 26 2010

Presumably I’m not the only one getting this:

Hey Brian,
This whole thing has totally freaked me out.
I can’t even eat and ... I usually eat constantly!
Fox issued a new article today.
My site has a statement on it that is au courant.
There is no place to send in drawings that I know of.
I heard that someone has set up a CACAH site.
This was always about the first amendment for me.
Keep up the swell work!
I need to get my sense of humor back!
Thanks,
Molly

Fox News

mollynorris.com

She sounded nice in that little radio interview I linked to yesterday, and that sounds nice too.

Good news, though.  We have a new diet: the Insult Mohammed diet.  Insult Mohammed, and with all the cacah you might find yourself stirring up, you won’t be able to eat!.

At mollynorris.com, which (unlike MN’s Wordpress blog) I had no problem getting to, a new Molly Norris cartoon:

image

I told you she was no right wing carnivore.

And underneath that, the statement, which includes this:

I hope for the sake of this country that moderate Muslims will speak out with everyone else against any violent members of that or any other religion. That way I would know that there is a difference. Maybe this cartoon I made, this fictional poster of “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!” had such a wildfire effect because it is finally time for Muslims and non-Muslims to understand one another more.

Hm, yes.  But what if, the more Muslims and non-Muslims understand one another, the more they decide that they hate each other?

One thing I can say with absolute certainty.  I do not feel in the slightest bit let down.  This is like a really good farcical novel.

As I have just commented at Samizdata, it turns out that the originator of this idea, one Molly Norris, was just kidding!  From the WSJ today:

After the massive response to the cartoon Norris posted this on her website:

“I make cartoons about current, cultural events. I made a cartoon of a “poster” entitled “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!” with a nonexistent group’s name - Citizens Against Citizens Against Humor - drawn on the cartoon also. I did not intend for my cartoon to go viral. I did not intend to be the focus of any “group.” I practice the first amendment by drawing what I wish. This particular cartoon of a “poster” seems to have struck a gigantic nerve, something I was totally unprepared for. I am going back to the drawing table now!”

Once again I find myself disagreeing with James Taranto, this time respectfully (see earlier posting by me). He thinks this is a bad idea (i.e. a bad idea to take seriously), because it will piss off peaceful Muslims and make enemies of them.

I, on the other hand, think that all Muslims, however peaceful, say that they worship a thoroughly nasty collection of printed writings. If they believe what these writings say, they already are enemies. If they really are peaceful, and don’t believe what these writings say, they should stop saying that they do. (End of Samizdata comment.)

Taranto quotes one the first US critics of Everybody Draw Mohammed Day (serious version), Ann Althouse (linked to from here yesterday), who said this:

Depictions of Muhammad offend millions of Muslims who are no part of the violent threats.

But, to repeat my above point, they are part of the violent threats.  They are Muslims, which means they perpetuate the notion that what it says in the Koran, etc., is the unchallengeable word of god.  They should stop doing this.

Am I wrong about this?  Are there “Muslims” who explicitly say that all the belligerent, jihad stuff in the Koran is evil nonsense, either not said by Mohammed, or said by Mohammed in error.  In short, do any “Muslims” say that the Koran is wrong?

Blog and learn and all that, but I’d be very surprised to learn that there are such Muslims.  My understanding is that most Muslims have been taught at a very early age - and from then on they assume that - the Koran is the definition of goodness, many (most?) of them pretty much leaving it at that.  Of those who have actually studied the Koran in some detail, they either take what it says in the Koran very seriously and become very anti-infidel and anti-Western, or else they tie themselves in knots pretending that what it says in the Koran isn’t belligerent and threatening towards unbelievers, Christians, Jews etc., seizing upon the occasional friendly-sounding bits and ignoring all the nasty ones.

If anyone says Christians also cherry pick the Bible to make that nicer than it is, well, I think I have good answers to that, but this posting is about Islam.

Molly Norris is the apparently name of the cartoonist lady who began this Everybody Draw Mohammed Day thing.

image

But although the catalyst of it all, and hats off to her for having been that, she is not in charge of the chemical reaction itself, the nature of which will be determined by the combined interactions of all the participating substances.

There is a report on Ms. Norris’s catalysis, here:

Norris has asked other artists to submit drawings of any religious figure to be posted as part of Citizens Against Citizens Against Humor (CACAH) on May 20th.

I will not “submit” any drawings.  I’ll shove up any drawings I do here.  Submit?  Like she’s going to refuse to publish them if they’re too insulting?  The following bit of the report does indeed suggest something rather like that: 

On her website Norris explains this is not meant to disrespect any religion, but rather meant to protect people’s right to express themselves.

And how about that “any” religious figure?  We already have the right, maybe not in law but definitely in practice, to be as insulting as we like about all the other religious figures.  This is not about all religions.  This is about Islam and its particular demand just now that it not be insulted.  The campaign has not been entitled Everybody Piss On Effigies Of Christ, or Everybody Say Nasty Things About Buddha.  This is specifically about Mohammed and his alleged coyness about being depicted in drawings and art works.

As far as I personally am concerned, this is absolutely is all about disrespecting Islam, which I consider to be an abominable clutch of notions.  Islam asserts the absurd falsehoods that God exists and is great and that Mohammed is his prophet, says that every human should abase themselves before these falsehoods, claiming that all methods - ingratiating and attractive but also utterly evil - are positively required of all Muslims to achieve this evil outcome.  I hate Islam and ask all other humans to do the same, and to say so.

But Ms. Norris is half right, in the sense that whether the above paragraph is right or wrong is not the central point of this viral campaign.  The true point being that we should all be allowed to say such things.  And all who disagree should be allowed (potential commenters here please note) to be as insulting as they like in reply.  Morally, such conduct may be rather disgusting.  But the point here is legality.  Can we all insult this ridiculous prophet and his demented and brainwashed followers and get away with it, without being bullied and coerced back into silence by Muslim death-threateners who do get away with it?  That is the legal point that is here being insisted upon.  And I really don’t see how you can assert your right to insult Islam, without actually insulting Islam.

Also, Ms. Norris says “artists” should submit these works to her.  So is it everybody, or just “artists”?  This rather makes you wonder who exactly Ms. Norris considers to be an artist, and who is a mere scribbler/political stirrer.  What’s the betting that most “artists” stay schtum about this, and that the political stirrers make all the running?  Maybe I’m imagining it, but I get the feeling, listening to this, that Ms. Norris’s political preferences are much more touchy-feely than and not nearly as carnivorously right wing as the preferences of many of the early adopters of this campaign in the blogosphere.  Like I say, she’s not in charge.  She merely started it. 

Besides which, her blog is stuck behind a registration wall.  Reluctantly, I gave that half a minute, but was then informed that I had forgotten my password, when from where I sat I had only just typed it in.  Forget that.

However, Ms. Norris surely has her reasons for this arrangement, under the circumstances.  Ms. Norris may, it seems to me, be suffering from the problem that she may now be considered to be the one with her head stuck furthest above the parapet, and may accordingly now be the one in line for the death threats.  If she were now to back out of this, either because of that or because she didn’t care for all the carnivorous Islam-insulters like me who are now piling in, that would make sense to me, although it would still be a shame.  But the rest of us should not let that bother us.  I’m Molly Norris.  No I’m Molly Norris. Etc.  The best outcome of all would be for both the carnivores and the touchy-feelies to join together in this campaign, all the while insulting each other as well as Islam, and pointing out that if our fellow Mohammed-drawers are saying daft and stupid and nasty things in the course of this campaign and believe and say a lot of other daft and stupid and nasty things, well, fine, that’s the very right we are all agreeing about and asserting.  But, I’m not optimistic about this, especially not after reading stuff like the comments on this.  (I think “Tulpa” is wrong, but he/she makes some points that are worth responding to without swearing, as well as with of course.  Maybe I will.) I now guess/predict that the artistic touchy-feely lefty greeny artistic tendency will wimp out on this, and say that all these sweary loony libbos are being offensive arseholes, to do with whom they want nothing.  And I shouldn’t be surprised if Molly Norris herself recoils in horror from what she has started.  But, let’s see.  I wouldn’t want my nitpicking about how Ms. Norris is now handling her little corner of all this, or what are only guesses about what she might do next, to detract from my immense admiration for her for having kicked this off and for having named the date.  Her achievement is like one of those scientific breakthroughs where all the other scientists immediately shout: Why oh why didn’t we think of that?!?

I put this stuff on my personal Z-list blog rather than at Samizdata, which is a middling sort of blog and where I could have mentioned it, because I wanted to make the Z-list blogger point, which was also Molly Norris’s original point, about diluting the target.  This is about lots of insignificant people blowing a giant collective raspberry at Islamofascism, or in my case at Islam as a whole.  The insignificance being the point.  They can’t death-threaten us all into a state of grovelling apologetic retreat.  But I see that Dale Amon has now posted at Samizdata about this.  See also Counting Cats.  It’s great that this thing is spreading to this side of the Atlantic.  Europe needs it even more.

Sunday April 25 2010

Last night on the telly news I spied a rather impressive floating crane in action, the one being used to rescue that South Korean ship that the South Korean government is, for now, carefully not accusing the North Koreans of having sunk.

I went looking for pictures. I found nothing that was as impressive as what I saw on telly, but I did find this:

image

... which I have of course thinned out vertically, as is my wont here. I was at first delighted to learn that this photo was at the Flickr site of the Commander of the US Pacific Fleet, no less. I had visions of some Admiral constantly breaking off from his regular duties, of deciding where to point his ships and what they must do, to take snaps of the men under his command. Yes, yes, in a moment Lieutenant, just let me do this rather nice shot of these men with ropes, with the sun behind them.  And again.  Lovely.  Carry on, gentlemen.  Now, you were saying ...

But it would seem, not.  The above photo was taken by Lt. Cmdr. Denver Applehans.

This seems to be the Fleet Commander’s site in name only, as in, presumably, someone responsible to the Fleet Commander receives photos from lots of different guys, and okays them for inclusion.  All the photos I’ve looked at are described as “US Navy photos”, and many of them as having been taken by this or that “Mass Commmunication Specialist”.  Does that mean a full time photographer?

Here:

image

That one is definitely lived in.  Not so sure whether this next plane, which is on top of a restaurant, actually gets to have people inside it:

image

Maybe this Lockheed Super Constellation is just decorative and promotional, like those giant doughnuts on top of other food emporia, only more so.  I really hope that people do get to eat inside it.

These and all the other excellent airplane-architecture pictures have been up at DRB since early March.  I only just noticed them.

I suppose if that volcano cloud flying ban had persisted, there would have been a lot of spare airplanes going, for this kind of thing.

Saturday April 24 2010

Brilliant:

image

And I recommend it to all my fellow Z-list bloggers.  I mean, what’s the worst that could happen?  Nothing.  Your “traffic” will remain beneath the contempt level, just like mine.  Nobody will complain.  Nobody will even comment.  But, what’s the best that could happen?  You could be threatened, and then you would have something real and interesting to blog about!  The bad guys might even actually kill you, and then every hundredth blogger on earth (and that’s a lot of bloggers) would read your posthumous ravings, just for background to the story!  A hitherto worthless footsoldier currently achieving nothing (you) in the war against Islamic or for that matter all other forms of stupidity will have tied several dozen stupid Islamists, minimum, in police and legal chewing gum, virtually for ever.  What will the killers accomplish?  Nothing.  All they will have done is kill you.  And when dead, you won’t even have to fend off seventy two crazed virgins in your afterlife, because as everyone sensible knows, there is no afterlife!  It’s just win win win, as far as the eye can see.

As the big day approaches, blog about it.  If nobody else is blogging about it, blog about that!  When the fateful day has passed, blog about that!  Whatever the bad guys do!  If they commit mayhem, blog it.  If they do nothing, blog that.

This is a beautifully crafted piece of internet virality, guaranteed to piss off exactly the people who should be pissed off, and to strengthen the hands of all of us would-be pissers, to coin a phrase, and generally push the world in exactly the direction it should be pushed in.

Via here and here.

UPDATE: He‘s behind it too.

She disapproves, but I’m with her commenters.

Thursday April 22 2010

I say this kind of thing a lot I know, but I do like how, in these ever more technologically kitted-up days, you can go from seeing something slightly out of the ordinary like this:

image

... to snapping it with your point and shoot camera that you take everywhere with you.  And then also zooming in on and snapping this:

image

... and then, thanks to the internet and its instant searchability, to this, and by and by to this.  Okay, you could have phoned in 1982.  But would you have?  And how would you have remembered the number?  Forget it.

Old double decker buses don’t look that different from the latest double decker buses.  But there was something distinctively antique and you-don’t-see-those-anymore about this single decker that made me notice it, although I’m not really sure what.  Perhaps something to do with it being more obviously higher up off the road than the latest single deckers?

A lot of fuss about a bus?  That’s my point.  No.  Such a bus is indeed absolutely not a big deal.  But nor, now, is noting it and finding out about it, and then moving on to more significant things.

Johnathan Pearce has just done a good Samizdata piece about the phenomenon of first generation money being politically sensible, but the descendents of that money being political idiots, who don’t just waste that money, but wreck the political and legal framework that made the making of that money in the first place possible.  Capitalists breed socialists, and finance them, in other words.

I am quite proud of the comment I have just added to this, and will now record it in this, which is (among other things) my personal diary:

I am exactly the kind of descendant of a rich entrepreneur type that you describe. And one of the reasons I have worked so hard to spread libertarianism is that it presents the views of “granddad”, and argues for the legal framework that made his achievements possible, in a way that might actually appeal to his relatively ignorant and unworldly grandsons. It has the intellectual content of pro-capitalism, but psychologically it has quite a lot of the look and feel socialism, and answers all the complaints from socialists in terms of alleged socialist ambitions, for the poor especially. Therefore, it may, at least somewhat, displace socialism in the intellectual and political landscape, in a way that a political movement launched by granddad never could. It will thus keep the spirit of granddad alive.

Both my father’s and my mother’s families made big fortunes, although it happened a lot longer ago than at the time of my own grandfathers.  Dad’s family did it with coal, in the north of England, in the early nineteenth century I think.  And Mum’s family had a most fascinating ancestor, of an even earlier vintage, who was some kind of big dealing trader in the Middle East.  The resulting smallish (compared to some) but still quite stately home is still in the family, just.

Tuesday April 20 2010

Incoming from Goddaughter One, who is a Real Photographer and who now has a website.  And:

I even started a blog yesterday - totally against my natural instincts but already after one post I can see why people do it - really it is just an opportunity to talk to yourself without people saying you are mad.

Well, I think the difference is that if you talk to yourself in the street, you actually hear people saying you are mad.  When you blog, people probably still say this, but you mostly don’t realise.  Although, this thing about talking to yourself causing people to think you mad is now rather out of date.  Stick a couple of wires in your ears and you can march along a crowded pavement babbling about anything you like, and nobody will think any the worse of you.

Based on the photos up at the blog so far, it is amazing how exactly Goddaughter One’s taste in photos resembles mine.  She even likes taking photos from railway platforms which are at the level of the roofs of the surrounding buildings, and from which London’s Things can consequently be seen from afar.  I plan an entire year of taking snaps like that, and have already identified that particular station as one to return to.  She photoed the platform itself, but I do see Things in the background.

I also like the photo here, in the main website where the Real Photographs are to be found, of the man in the chair.  This man is Goddaughter One’s dad, with whom I went to school half a century ago.

I also see, in various parts of the website, three pictures of photographers taking pictures.

Sunday April 18 2010

Yes, the Shard is starting to assert itself in the London skyline, having now got just above that bland London level of eight or ten stories, where most London buildings give up, and all used to.  It’s not big yet, but it is starting to say: I’m gonna be.  You don’t have to get right next to and on top of this Thing anymore, to take photos that prove it’s happening.  I didn’t even bother with climbing onto that footbridge that overlooks the sight, when I journeyed there on Friday evening:

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For the first time, in my snapping of the Shard, I thought I’d cross the river, over London Bridge, and see whether I could now see anything of it from over there.  I could:

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Like I say, not yet dominant, but you can see now where it’s going to be, in the bigger picture.  Which I will of course be taking, from all over.  The big block of hellfire in this picture is what I was concentrating on at the time.  It is of course the evening sun, reflected by that big window, which is at forty five degrees to the rest of the plan of the lump in question, and then reflected again in the big handrail on London Bridge.

One of the many things I really like about the Shard is how it’s going to make visual sense of what until now has been one of the ugliest collection of London Lumps in all of London.  It will utterly dominate them, which is absolutely all they are good for.

Also, kudos to them for putting SHARD at the top of the Shard, in all four directions, while they’re building it.  The pictures don’t have to be explained; they explain themselves.

Friday April 16 2010

Incoming, in a way that is ideal for one of my feline Friday postings, which I don’t want only to be cuddly little kitty-witties (not that there’s anything wrong with that):

Hi Brian,

I saw this and thought of you ...

Eric Raymond has been cat blogging.

The best stuff on this blog is often in the comments:

“I’ve wondered if this were the case ever since I saw footage of Dr. Irene Pepperberg’s work with the African grey parrot Alex. She was apparently able to challenge the bird into a whole new realm of cognitive capability, and I wondered if we, by placing them into a cognitively challenging environment and exposing them to unusually complex stimuli (speech, ambient noise such as television, regular tool use in their presence) might do the same for our cats and dogs to a lesser extent?

The possibility is tantalizing. I know our cats had varying success in attempting to manipulate doors, seemingly in mimicry of human behavior. There was no “training” involved, no explicit reinforcement.  They’ve also developed relatively sophisticated desires regarding yogurt (a favorite treat), and strategies for achieving them.

Then of course, there is the fact that cats simply don’t talk to us the way they do other cats. In the wild adult cat-to-cat communication is mainly about stance and body posture, and of course smell. Cats meow because they learn that’s what we respond to. And given that an adult cat’s meow is in the same frequency range as a baby’s cry … is this a case of us operant-conditioning them or them operant-conditioning us?”

Rob.

Rob, this is the second time in as many days that you have recycled a comment for the benefit of this blog, once in the above email, and then another (which I also highly recommend) quoted within a comment of yours, on the previous posting about Devil’s Kitchen.  I strongly agree that comments are a great source of further postings.  That often happens at Samizdata too.  Many a posting there began as a comment on a previous posting.

Here’s another classic comment from the same Raymond cat posting:

A few years ago there was a story of a mentally deficient man on death row in Texas. Every year they would give him an IQ test to see if he was intelligent enough to execute and for a few years he failed. One year he finally passed. Researchers believe that his IQ increase was due to the time that he spent interacting with his lawyers and participating in his own defence as they were trying to get him off of death row.

Proof positive that passing exams doesn’t always enhance your life chances.  Proof also that IQ is not always all it’s cracked up to be.  A truly intelligent man would have made sure he kept failing this particular exam.

Thursday April 15 2010

imageI’ll only say it quietly, that is to say here, but I think this earlier posting of mine is looking rather good today, what with the Devil’s Kitchen that was having now decided to stop swear-blogging.

The thing is, Chris Mounsey aka DK can be a swear-blogger, or he can be the leader of a political party, but not both.  Shame it took a bollocking from the mainstream media to make this clear to him, but he has now made his choice.

On the other hand, the still swear-blogging Obnoxio, who actually saw Mounsey’s telly performance, which I have yet to do, said he thought it wasn’t a bollocking, and that he did very well:

Chris did very well.  He is, I fear, a natural media whore.

Let’s hope so.

Wednesday April 14 2010

I like books.  For years I have haunted remainder shops and charity shops.  Now that my nearest proper bookshop has just shut (the big one in Victoria Street) I have also taken to buying books from Amazon.  For years I resisted this, along with all other internet buying, on account of my suspicion that Amazon, or whoever, would know all it needed to know to steal all the money in my account.  Why would they stop at two pounds seventy nine, merely because they have promised to?  Yet clearly, they do, or I would have heard about such dramas.  If Amazon had had a plan to steal everyone’s money and run away to Brazil, they would surely have done this by now, and are now making far more money by resisting this temptation.

Did anyone predict beforehand that one of the great business successes of the early years of the internet would be, at a time when the world has been awash with predictions of the book’s inevitable demise and replacement by something more ethereal, bookselling?  Amazon is now busily destroying book shops.  Now that “my” bookshop has closed, I have wasted no time seeking another, because the obvious alternative is Amazon.  Which means that you can now, if you are lucky, keep a bookshop going, but you can’t any longer start one.  Nobody needs a new bookshop, because the entire world already has one, just as soon as the old one shuts.  So, bookshops are presumably doomed, by the Amazonian ratchet effect.  But books will be hanging around for quite some time yet, it would seem, again, because of Amazon.

One of the reasons I prefer the fact of books to the idea of electronic books is that when I am reading a book, I like to know where I am.  What stage in this story or argument have I reached?  How near am I to the end of the story or to the conclusion of the argument?  When I am reading a book, I always know the answers to such questions, but my fear about electronic books is that all I will be able to do is read the current page, without knowing whereabouts in the book as a whole I am.  That may be quite wrong.  Maybe on Kindles, there is some kind of toolbar which tells you how far you are into the book and how far there still is to go, just as when you are reading a regular book and you can compare how much you’ve read with how much remains.  You can do the electronic equivalent of flicking through.  Maybe, on every page it says: this is page so much of a total of so much.

Not my point here.  Which is: that I have just been experiencing what I have just been imagining the Kindle (or whatever) experience to be like, but with a regular book, or nearly a regular book.

I have recently become a Rebus fan.  After a false start reading Rebus books at random and not being grabbed, I started reading them in chronological order of their writing and of the events they describe.  Much better.  Now I know approximately all there is to know about Rebus at any particular point, it all makes far more sense and for a far better yarn.  When, for instance, a passing mention is made of a Rebus past in the Parachute Regiment, I know what is being referred to, insofar as any mere Rebus reader can.

However, snag.  For some reason, I was unable to obtain a cheap, charity shop or remainder shop, separate and small paperback copy of Strip Jack, and had to be content to read it as part one of a remaindered trilogy of novels, grouped together under the heading “The St Leonard’s Years”.  Very inconvenient.  In particular, despite being a paperback, far too big and heavy to lug around London in any comfort.  Even rather heavy and cumbersome to read in bed, which I like to do on my back, holding the book up in front of my face.

But also, another oddity.  Throughout my reading of Strip Jack I had no clear idea of when Strip Jack would end, and novel number two (The Black Book) would cut in.  When the final scene, of great drama and violence, did finally erupt, I only realised about two thirds of the way through the scene that this was indeed the final scene, and was only absolutely sure when I turned over a page and confronted a shortened page of text to the left, and on the right a page empty of all words other than the words “The Black Book”.  Oh, this is it.  Right.  The End.  Hm.

Odd.  I prefer the regular system, where you know where you are.

A further point about those Kindles, etc..  My attitude to them is really much the same as my attitude was to Amazon itself, for a long time.  I’ll let others do it first, and clear out the bugs.  Then when it is so ubiquitous that it obviously does work well, and when it is finally, obviously, working the way it actually will go on working, and very cheaply, far cheaper than regular books, then maybe I’ll give it a go too.

Tuesday April 13 2010

Yesterday I posted a piece on Samizdata about the IPL, in the course of which I mentioned that, in addition to enjoying how very well various of the world’s very good cricketers are playing cricket in the IPL, I am also rather enjoying how IPL-ers Matthew Hayden (because I didn’t like his commentating for the BBC last summer) and Muttiah Muralitharan (because I have never liked his bowling action) have both been doing rather badly.  Writing things like that is rather like placing a bet.  If those two continue to do badly, I win.  But if they suddenly start doing really well, they make a twat of me.  So, how have those two bets been doing, since I placed them yesterday?

Well, today, the team that Hayden and Muralitharan both play for, the Chennai Super Kings, absolutely slaughtered the Kolkata Knight Riders.  Almost everyone playing for Chennai did well, if they had to do anything at all.  But two Chennai players did badly.

During the Kolkata innings, which was quickly reduced, mostly by Indian spinner Ashwin, to 19-4 and which never really recovered, one Chennai bowler conceded more than twice as many runs in his four overs compared to any of the other Chennai bowlers: Muralitharan.  Muralitharan is, like Ashwin, a slow spinner, but one of huge renown, having taken more test wickets than anyone else.  But he had been dropped from the Chennai team after conceding over fifty runs in four overs in an earlier game.  But today he was back, and things looked very good for him, because the wicket was taking a lot of spin, as Ashwin had already demonstrated.  All the worse for Muralitharan, then, that he did so badly.  The only time in the entire game that Kolkata looked like they had a chance was when Muralitharan was being hit for sixes.  He did get one wicket, but only in the final over of the innings, which hardly counts.

When it was Chennai’s turn to bat, they thrashed off the runs with six and a half overs and nine wickets to spare, a totally crushing margin.  The one wicket that did fall?  Hayden, who got out for nought, bowled by the second ball of the Chennai innings, a gentle delivery from Chris Gayle which Hayden swiped across completely unnecessarily.  Raina and Vijay (whom I also mentioned in my Samizdata piece but in a good way) then flayed the remaining hundred and thirty something runs that Chennai needed in an unbroken and utterly dominant partnership, thereby making Hayden look even more foolish.

File under: guilty pleasures.

Remember a posting I did last autumn about how I bought a new, small, Apple Mac keyboard?  Probably not.  Why would you?  Anyway, I did.  It still looks like this:

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The thing is, you often read enthusiastic endorsements of products by purchasers, immediately after they’ve bought the thing.  But such purchasers have a vested interest in being enthusiastic, because if they aren’t enthusiastic, why did they buy it?  Less often do you read follow up pieces months or years later, about whether the initial enthusiasm has persisted.  Well, in this case, I just want to say that this has, so far, proved to be a very successful purchase indeed.  The keyboard is still working fine.  It remains the solid, unclunky thing that it first seemed.  It continues to be the difference between a conveniently clear desk and a hopelessly cluttered one.

I am becoming more and more open to the idea that my next computer will be a Mac rather than yet another clunky old PC.

Here, on the other hand, are some less admiring reflections about Apple, this time concerning the way that Apple handles the software on their nevertheless legendarily successful iPhone.  Actually, it’s because the iPhone is so fabulously successful that Apple can handle its software so badly.  Which Paul Graham reckons may cost them in the longer run.

Their model of product development derives from hardware. They work on something till they think it’s finished, then they release it. You have to do that with hardware, but because software is so easy to change, its design can benefit from evolution. The standard way to develop applications now is to launch fast and iterate. Which means it’s a disaster to have long, random delays each time you release a new version.

Apparently Apple’s attitude is that developers should be more careful when they submit a new version to the App Store. They would say that. But powerful as they are, they’re not powerful enough to turn back the evolution of technology. Programmers don’t use launch-fast-and-iterate out of laziness. They use it because it yields the best results. By obstructing that process, Apple is making them do bad work, and programmers hate that as much as Apple would.

My utterly casual and probably quite worthless opinion of Apple is that as soon Steve Jobs stops being their boss, they’re doomed.  While Jobs sticks around, everything they make will look and feel great, because this is what Jobs does insist on and can insist on.  He has total power and impeccable taste, which is, if you think about it, an extraordinarily rare combination of circumstances.  He knows exactly what we all want, years before we do, and he screams like a horrifically spoilt child until he gets it.  A few years back, Jobs did abandon Apple, or maybe it was vice versa (what with all the horrific spoilt child screaming), and Apple did then nosedive towards inevitable doom.  Only when Jobs returned did the Apple glory days resume.  Without Jobs, Apple will become just another clunky computer company with a glorious past and a ton of money to waste that they made in the glory days.  Which they will waste and that will be that.  Apple keyboards will duly degenerate into being no better than any other kind of keyboard.

Which in my opinion is the single big reason not to buy, which means to commit to, Macs.

Those complaints about Apple’s turgid software approval process were written last November.  I wonder if anything has changed since then.  It seems rather improbable.  After all, the iPhone hasn’t got any less successful.

Monday April 12 2010

Last Friday, i.e. on April 9th, I recorded a conversation with Tim Evans, friend of many years, libertarian (in fact President of the Libertarian Alliance) and free market think tanker of growing renown, about what David Cameron has been up to and what he thinks he is doing.  It lasts a little over half an hour.

I introduced Tim’s words-to-be as in being opposition to those who say that Cameron is a waste of space and heading for disaster, of one kind or another, electoral or Prime Ministerial.  He is a lightweight in a world that has become heavyweight.  He is the answer to a question that is not being asked any more.  That kind of thing.  But actually, although what Tim said was a most convincing explanation of what Cameron reckons he is doing, it was not any sort of proof that the critics of Cameron are necessarily wrong about him, as I somewhat found myself arguing.  Britain’s voters seem to be rather unimpressed by Cameron just now.  Tim’s picture of what Cameron is doing is very convincing as a description of his state of mind and party political tactics, but that doesn’t necessarily make Cameron’s state of mind either admirable or guaranteed to result in electoral success.

Yes, Cameron’s various Conservative predecessors did not get what they were up against.  But Cameron’s strategy (if what now follows is indeed what it is) of waiting until the last possible moment before offering alternative policies to Labour policies, having spent years giving Labour’s - and particularly Brown’s - statist inclinations a deliberate free ride, to sucker them and him into being more statist, struck me on Friday and strikes me now not only as morally dubious, but also, because so morally dubious, also electorally hazardous.  What if the voters decide that Cameron is not the nation’s solution, but a mere aspect of the nation’s problem?  At one point, Tim said that Cameron will now be reckoning that his current nine point lead in the polls is evidence that he is on the right track.  I blurted out at that point that he should be thirty points ahead.

However, the last thing I want to do is suggest that the conversation was other than extremely interesting.  It certainly interested me.  The central point is that Tim was concerning himself with how Cameron thinks, with how things are.  Not with how he or I might like them to be.

What Tim says may also illuminate the rest of the campaign. Tim says that Cameron has just executed a major tactical switch.  When in mere opposition, Cameron refused to propose good alternative policies for our disastrous government, because the government would have stolen them.  But now, in the heat of the campaign, such policy theft won’t work so well.  Too undignified, too fresh in voter memory, making too much of a nonsense of the Labour manifesto of only a few days before.  So, Cameron is now, finally, proposing a few anti tax and spend policies, and if Tim is right, can be expected to propose quite a few more in the days and weeks to come.  We shall see.

I was not feeling a hundred per cent last Friday, so my performance in particular needed quite a bit of editing, hence the delay in posting this (what with me still not feeling a hundred per cent between then and now), but it should all sound okay now.

Sunday April 11 2010

Am working on long piece about IPL cricket, which will be up here Real Soon Now.  (UPDATE Monday: Here.)

Meanwhile, for here here, here is a vapour trail, rotated through ninety degrees and sharpened somewhat, which I snapped earlier this evening:

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The photos I took of this pleasing effect spanned about half a minute.  It went from almost straight, to what you see, to nothing, with amazing speed, so I was lucky to catch it.

I remember thinking as I left for the nearest food shop to buy bread and milk and meat and cheese, well, I’ll take my camera not because I will have any use for it but because that’s my rule.  And that’s why that’s my rule.

Friday April 09 2010

I finally worked out where that green cat email went.  It turned out it wasn’t a proper email at all.  It was a comment on the original green cat posting, to the effect that the green picture is, quote: copyright Sarah Hartwell/Messybeast.com.  I get emails every time anyone (except me for some reason I don’t understand) comments on this blog.  But not to my regular pile of emails, to a special pile, and all such emails look identical until I open them, to find them spam mostly, at the moment.  So, in my mind, the green cat email was a regular email, and it vanished.  This is what illness does.  You make stupid mistakes if you persist in trying to accomplish stuff while suffering from it, which not long after that confusion I stopped trying to do.  Once I had a proper name for my befuddlements, discomforts and disfigurements, I was able to take to my bed, confident this was the proper thing to be doing.

The trouble is, I now have jet lag, despite hardly having ventured for longer than about an hour from my home for the last month, simply because of getting into the habit of sleeping by day and then getting up at night even more than usual.  So now, at 6pm I cannot stay awake.  At 3am, I am totally alert, or as alert as I ever am these days.

Wednesday April 07 2010

Yes.  Went out to lunch today, travelling on the tube for the first time in about a month, and returned home absolutely knackered.  So here, instead of a real posting, is a swan, photoed in Feb 2007:

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I know.  It looks like two swans.  But look in the mirror, and you see that it is probably just the one swan, in two halves.

Monday April 05 2010

imageWhat with being shingled lately, I have been a bit slow to notice the new plan, apparently now going ahead full steam, to build another big London Thing, to coincide with and to gaze down upon the various lesser Things even now being constructed in East London to contain, for a few fleeting and inconsequential weeks, those accursed Olympic Games.

This Olympic Games Thing will be the work of Anish Kapoor, he of Chicago Bean fame.  Like the Thing’s political godfather, Mayor Boris, the Thing will be muddled, eccentric, rather unsightly, but not easily ignored.  Unlike with Mayor Boris, we will all be able to climb up it to view the surroundings, which I consider a major plus.  If you think the Thing is ugly, as many inevitably do, fine, go up it and view everything in London other than the Thing, from the Thing.

I’m pretty sure I am for it, in the sense that although a bit grumbly about its muddledness and ugliness now, I will end up liking it a lot, and like everyone else in London with a camera I will be snapping away at it, from near and far.  Since I, along with all other Londoners, will be paying for those idiot Olympic games for the rest of my life, I will at least have something good to show for it in return.

My thanks to Michael J for the incoming email reminding me of this Thing.  He thinks he rather likes it also.

Sunday April 04 2010

So, before I got ill, I was in Gramex, where I buy second-hand classical CDs cheaper and better than I can get on the internet, and I got chatting with this guy, or rather he got chatting to me, about his left leg, which was playing up in some annoying way or another.  I was somewhat bored, but for the sake a chance to sit down in one of Gramex’s big leather armchairs, polite.  Okay, I get it, your left leg is a bit of a mess.  Yes, he said, and showed me.  But then it emerged that what made the state of his left leg so particularly distressing was that his only fully functioning leg was his left leg.  So what’s wrong with your other leg I said.  And he showed me that too.

At which point I remembered something I had recently written here about how being a good photographer means being a bit of pervy, and I said, can I photo it and stick it on my blog?  He was at first not fully comfortable about this idea, and I immediately said no forget it.  But soon he had become quite content with the notion.  No name, no face, just the leg.  Okay, he said.  Yes, no problem about that.  So, here it is:

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The story here is that when he was a tiny little kid his right leg had an accident which permanently interrupted its growth, and he has spent his entire life with his right leg seriously shorter than his left leg.  Hence this leg extension.

Count your blessings, eh?

Friday April 02 2010

Or so I hope.

Shingles is a frustrating disease.  I started out feeling bad the way I do now, but then by becoming properly ill.  But since that burst of feverishness, I have been swithering between illness and recoveredness.  Now, it’s like I’ve got a mildly painful - rather than excruciating - stitch.  Remember those?  When someone makes you run faster and longer than you want to, and you get a pain under the ribs?  Plus, all around the right side of the middle, front and back, there’s this strange sort of mildly burning sensation, like I’ve been sandpapered.  But sort of under the skin rather than on it.  Weird.

For the last few days, I’ve felt like it’s been up to me to decide whether I’m better, and yesterday I decided that, although still not in the pink (an unfortunate turn of phrase under the circumstances but let that be), I was sufficiently better to treat the remaining lack of in-the-pinkness as just a nuisance, like a blister on the heal or a sore finger.

Trouble was, yesterday was April 1st.  Nothing you blog on April 1st will be taken at face value.  What if I was just saying I was feeling better, but really I was about to die, or better yet, had already died and had arranged for someone else to fib about this?  Hah!  Got you!  Etc.  Today, I will presumably be believed when I say that I seem to be past the worst.

Meanwhile, thanks for the emails, the get-well-soon card and the phone calls.  I’m still not up to proper socialising or real work, but blogging of the irregular sort I so here shouldn’t be a problem.