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Wednesday June 30 2010

Yes, my friend Kevin Dowd has a new book out, about the financial mess the world is in just now, and it was launched earlier this evening at, as you have perhaps already guessed, the Institute of Economic Affairs:


On the left, the IEA’s new boss Mark Littlewood.  Middle left is Kevin Dowd’s co-author Martin Hutchinson.  Then there’s Kevin, looking happy, perhaps because being photographed at least twice.  And finally there’s Kevin looking a bit angry.

My preliminary guess, based on what I heard the authors say this evening rather than on having read their book (which I have not done yet), is that it will be a good blow by blow account of the catastrophe, but that the What Is To Be Done? bits at the end may cause me to dissent.  I suspect the authors of being too keen on saying how to run this particular nationalised industry differently and better, but not keen enough to say that the root of the problem is that it is nationalised.

They identify lots of bad ideas that have been swilling about in the world of high finance.  But bad ideas are to be found swilling about everywhere.  Why is it that these bad ideas did such damage in this particular industry?  Other industries have been making rapid progress of a sort that shows no sign of stopping, despite there being plenty of bad ideas around about how they should operate too.  So, why the difference?

The above prejudices may be quite wrong.  As I say, I’ve not read the book yet.

Tuesday June 29 2010

Ever since I stopped doing the pamphlets, in the far off days of pamphlets made of paper, for the Libertarian Alliance, I have had this great big stash of A3 paper lying around in my flat, doing very little.  When the internet cut in, my demand for such paper went, suddenly, from voracious to nearly zero.  The paperless office is as much of a chimera as ever, but most of us now print stuff out on A4 paper.  We don’t painstaking fold things into A3 mini-magazines, with staples half way across.


So, do I throw all this paper away, in the paper and cardboard bin outside?  It seems such a waste.  But I almost certainly will.

More and more objects become candidates for simply chucking out, as time goes by.  Chucking out such a thing twenty years ago would have been unthinkable, even if one had no use for it oneself.  Now?  Well, once any time and travel becomes necessary, the sums just don’t add up.

Does anyone want it?  Anyone who can be bothered to come to my home to collect it?  It seems very unlikely.  But, if you have a deep need for A3 paper, and would rather travel to get it free, than nip round the corner and pay for it like a normal person, get in touch.  I would be very surprised if there were any takers, but feel free to prove me wrong.

What’s the betting I chuck it all out, and then immediately after that I get a knock on my door from the person across the landing?

Sunday June 27 2010

I just came across this during a cricinfo commentary (on the third England Australia ODI):

Those of you in Europe who want to follow the cricket, but unfortunately not the UK, there’s ESPN Player which will service all your needs today and for the rest of the English summer.

Does this mean uninterrupted and free telly type coverage on a computer?  Maybe I will have that trip to Brittany after all.  More to the point, how about a trip to Brittany next winter, to watch Australia England, aka The Ashes?  Having now gone to this ESPN site, full of talk as it is of £8.99 for this and £12.99 for that, I get the strong feeling that the answer is: forget about it.

As for the actual cricket today, Australians should be told that throughout Michael Clarke’s innings, whenever an Australian wicket fell, I was thinking: I hope it’s not Clarke.  And I bet I wasn’t the only England fan thinking this.  Clarke is now the kind of batsman we England fans want to stay in.  There is no more horrible criticism of a one-day batsman.  Today Clarke batted at number four for over an hour without hitting a single boundary.  A real match-losing innings.  Australia lost momentum fatally (after a good start), and were all out for 212.  If England don’t knock that off and go to a 3-0 lead, they’ll kick themselves.  Ponting is also having a horrible run with the bat, but England are surely still very pleased to see the back of him for very little, as they did today.

As for the footy, now under way between Germany and England (1-0 to Germany now), I am surprised more has not been made of England’s failure to score just one more goal in the group games, and thereby avoid Germany, and Argentina if they get past Germany, in later rounds.  I seem to recall this happening in earlier World Cups.  Now it’s 2-0.  So that would seem to be that.

I promise not to turn this blog into uninterrupted sport.  There will be kittens.  Bridges.  London photos.  And reasons for the private ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange.

Oh God.  Now England have scored, and for the first time, I heard noises in Pimlico, howls of joy.  Dear God it was nearly 2-2, with what looked like a rerun of the England was-it-or-wasn’t it goal in 1966, that was, but this time was not.  Then Germany nearly scored at the other end.  I can not take much more of this.  I will now go out and buy fruit in Pimlico’s deserted supermarkets.

They just showed the replay of the goal-that-wasn’t.  No doubt about that one.  Russian linesman?

LATER:  I have my fruit, and actually the supermarkets were not that deserted, although they were quieter.  I heard no more howls of triumph, only the odd cry of frustration.  Plus, I put my head round a couple of pub doors.  3-1.  4-1.  Oh dear.  Crifinfo again:

It’s full time in Bloemfontein, and England have crashed out of the 2010 World Cup ... Meanwhile, at Old Trafford we have a double change with Ryan Harris back into the attack.

SQOTD I think.  Indeed.

Friday June 25 2010

My summer is being ruined by county cricket.

The thing is, a cricket fan like me, you can tell an awful lot from something like this, about what is happening, or in this case what just happened, in a cricket match:


Infuriatingly, by the time I did that screen save, the all important line that goes just above where it says “Current partnership” had disappeared, as that line does once the game has ended.  It went thus:

Recent overs 2nb 4 1 4 4 6 6 | 4 . 2 . 2 6 | 1lb . 1 1 . W | 4 6 2 4 6

If you know nothing of cricket, then all of the above will of course mean nothing to you.  But if you do know cricket, you will recognised that as pretty remarkable, with fortunes lurching back and forth wildly between the two sides, until Essex finally won.

And watching these numbers, dots and letters slowly inching their way across the screen in a line, and the statistics above this line slowly accumulating, can be addictive.  From such numbers, I can tell exactly what is going on, especially if I have seen these various people play on television.

And the thing about “t20”, i.e. twenty overs per side slogfests lasting just over three hours, is that a lot can change in a very few balls.  In terms of the game as a whole, you actually learn more from watching something like than you do watching the corresponding numbers and dots and letters for a longer game, where less hinges on this or that delivery, except in extreme circumstances.

Thus, I find I am perfectly content to give only occasional attention to longer games involving teams I support, but in contrast find these silly “t20” games downright addictive, even if no team I really care about is involved.  I have lost count of the number of recent evenings when the plan was to Do Something, but when I instead, thanks to these numbers and dots and letters, I ended up accomplishing pretty much nothing.

The World Cup, by comparison, seems to have no effect on my productivity at all.

In this particular game, Surrey (hurrah!) looked to have Essex (boo, although they are also quite near to civilisation-equals-London) well beaten.  Anything Scott Styris was likely to be able to manage was going to end up filed under futile gestures, jolly well tried, splendid innings, well played mate, blah blah, etc. etc.  But then, suddenly, Styris started hitting with real ferocity, and Essex grabbed the game, with an entire ball to spare.

In contrast, I have absolutely no idea what the state of play was when I took this photo, last night, in Twickenham:


All I was was there.  Being there on its own tells you nothing, about a game of cricket, other than that, oh look, there’s a game of cricket.  You need to know the score.

Time for a flat picture, this time of a Tornado entering Berwick:


Click on that to get a bigger picture, with two more bridges.  Actually, better, click on the bigger bigger picture.

Wednesday June 23 2010

Photoed by me last night in Victoria Street, just outside Rymans:


It helped a lot that he was asleep and with his back to me, oblivious.  But it was the book that had me taking out my camera.  I zoomed in a bit:


It’s this.  Quote from a very satisfied Amazon reviewer:

This is the greatest science fiction novel ever written, and in my humble opinion one of the greatest novels of the 20th Century. Strangely, it has long been known to me as “Tiger Tiger” and I have never got used to this, its original title.

Underneath the superb and imaginative futuristic setting is the story of a man transformed from a Dave Lister-style space bum into a raging, semi-literate savage intent on killing the spaceship Vorga that left him stranded. Through his weird and often violent trials and tribulations he is transformed into a powerful, intelligent and finally great man on whom the future of civilization rests. The story he uncovers and the “driven” people at the centre of the immense power struggle in which he finds himself, are remarkable and yet terrifying.

Sounds rather good.  He seems to have just started it.  Hope he enjoys himself.

Tuesday June 22 2010

No, nothing to do with this man.

I had a phone chat with my friend Antoine Clarke this afternoon, mostly about the football.  He seemed relaxed about France’s then likely exit from the World Cup, now confirmed by them losing to South Africa.  He was more upbeat about England.  Apparently the teams in the England group are better than many have assumed, with less of a gap between the rankings of the best and worst teams in the group than the same gap in any other group.  So England drawing twice is not as big a scandal as our media are saying it is.  See this by Antoine.

Plus, Antoine told me something else I didn’t know, which is that other teams have for a few months now been practicing with the World Cup balls that have been causing such angst to the England team, and that the reason England haven’t been is because of some idiot scenario involving the balls having been sent to the British Football Association months ago, but the FA having - get this - lost them.  Antoine speaks and reads French, and thus is able to read L’Equipe where this story has apparently been told, unlike here.  If this has been said here, I entirely missed it.  The way the few TV commentators I have heard talking about this have talked about this, you’d think that these peculiar balls had been sprung on everyone completely out of the blue, only when the tournament began.  Not so.  Everyone was warned, and sent spherical samples of the problem months in advance.  It was just that England did nothing about it.

I would hate to have been in the same room when Sir Clive Woodward, mastermind of England’s not-now-so-very-recent Rugby World Cup victory in Australia, heard about this balls balls-up.  Hell, I wouldn’t want to have been in the same post code.  Woodward, master of every detail, wanted, after his rugby triumph, to get into soccer management, soccer having been his first love as a boy.  But, they froze him out.  What could he teach them?  Preparation for a start.

I am amazed by this failure to practice with these different balls.  Other teams did.  Having watched Algeria play against England, I’d bet that Algeria did.  The England people must have heard on the grapevine that these balls were a bit different.  Yet, they allowed them to come as a surprise to their players.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s only a game.  It really doesn’t matter at all, big picture wise, who wins these things, and I believe that better preparation would only have changed England’s disappointment from single and sudden to a bit more up-and-down.  After all, England may now very well still progress into the later stages.  All they have to do is beat Slovenia tomorrow.  But I don’t think England are remotely likely to win the tournament, now that Beckham (the best England player of the last generation in my opinion) is gone, despite all the hype following England’s untroubled qualification against a great mob of lesser sides.  I’m just, as the Americans say, saying.  I’m saying I’m amazed at this elementary balls blunder, and I am.

Monday June 21 2010

I recently read a piece saying that the age of the big box computer is drawing to a close, and that such dynosaurs are being driven slowly but surely to extinction by laptops.  Fair enough.  If that’s how other punters feel, I’m not going to tell them otherwise.  But speaking for myself, I think my next computer, which I am pondering now, is probably going to be a ... another big box computer.

imageIt’s not just that you can still surely (comments?) get more power into such a thing than you can squeeze into a laptop.  There are other considerations in play.

I also have a laptop, and the most important feature of this laptop, apart from it being small and having a sane operating system identical to the one on my real computer, is that it is extremely cheap and contains only what I am doing during that particular bit of mobility.  Which means that if I lose it, or drop it, or have it stolen, it’s not even the temporarily the end of my world.  My big box computer could also get kicked, or even stolen, but this is far more unlikely, I think.

There’s a line in a Brit gangster movie that I like, which goes: “You can’t steal a warehouse.  It’s big.  It’s heavy.  It’s stuck to the ground.” Okay, my big box computer isn’t quite that heavy, or quite that stuck to the ground, but you get my point.

There is also the matter of something being temporarily lost to take into account.  This is why I still have a phone that is attached by a piece of wire to the wall.  You don’t need wire any more for phones to communicate with the rest of the world, but wiring them to the wall sure makes them stay put.  I have never yet temporarily lost my laptop, by leaving it in a strange place, the way people temporarily lose car keys, but it could well happen.  I have lent it to people, in fact it is being lent out now, which is a very useful feature.  Which obviously wouldn’t be happening if that was my only computer, with everything important of mine on it.

Last night, and I’m not changing the subject I promise, I attended a talk about art, and how people “ought” to buy more of it.  I know.  Why “ought” they to?

The matter of people having the sheer wall space was raised.  What if there is nowhere to put all your art?  People with an art habit need space, which is seriously expensive stuff.  And it really helps if you are not constantly moving from place to place.  Art is for people with big and settled abodes.  Does not the same, on a smaller scale, apply to computers?  I am one of that lucky demographic that has somewhere big and unchanging to put my big box computer, where I also do all my serious work.  I have a big box computer, which is more desirable than a laptop for the reasons stated above (can’t be lost, dropped, stolen etc.), because I can.  Many don’t, not because a laptop is automatically superior, but because they can’t have a big box computer.  They have no one place to put it.  They live in constantly changing accommodation or work in offices where they likewise have no fixed abode.  Or, they just have to have their whole computing story with them both at home and at work.

What I’m saying is: if you don’t need your computer to be portable, you need it not to be portable.

Of course, the day may come when computers get so cheap that most can afford to lose them, damage them, have them stolen, like cheap mobile phones.

Also if our important computer stuff is not stored on our own computers, but is instead stored somewhere out there in virtual-land, and our computers are merely cheap tools to access our stuff - which (notice) remains on big box computers, in big information warehouses which are big, heavy, and stuck to the ground – that changes things.  Suppose the computers we own cost next to nothing.  Then, they become something we could afford to lose, break, have nicked, etc.  People have been saying that would happen for years, but it keeps not happening.  Is it now happening?  Is that another reason why laptops are conquering the big boxes?

The person I am currently lending my laptop to is, come to think of it, probably using it a lot like that.  Is this the future?  And is one of the reasons why this is the future is that people have now to use laptops, so are obliged also to find a big box somewhere else to store their vital stuff, owned and controlled by someone else?  It’s not that they want to live like this; it’s that they have to.

Saturday June 19 2010

They’re starting to put glass on the Shard.  It is the Shard of Glass, so it was bound to start happening eventually.  Well, now, it has started:


Taken last Thursday.  That’s Guy’s Hospital reflected in the glass.

Viewing from a distance, little appears to be changing just now, Shardwise.  All the visible action now is at the lower levels, where the floors are stacking up around the central concrete tower.  But for that, you have to get close.  Which I did, so you don’t have to.

In other Shard news, it now seems that Transport for London will not be occupying it after all.  They’ve now been bought out.  Partly this is because office rents in London have gone up.  But my guess would be that TfL was looking to make cuts in its future spending plans, and what better cut could there be than for it to be paid to not spend tons more money on swanky new offices?  So a deal was there to be made.  TfL wanted out, and was willing to get out for far less than the extra that the developers can now make on other tenants.  Another way of putting it is that TfL have been let off the hook.

Friday June 18 2010

The other day, and it really doesn’t matter which other day it was of the vast number you are choosing from, I was in the Covent Garden area.  I used to go there a lot, because the Alternative Bookshop, where I worked, was very near.  Now, I go back about once every year or two, and look to see what has changed.  I don’t remember the big semi-open-air market on the river side of Covent Garden, where they sell not completely downmarket bric-a-brac, like these two china cats:


I like them.  I wouldn’t buy them, but I am glad to have a photo of them.

Their faces look to me more human than feline.  I don’t know why exactly.  Perhaps the mouths.  Perhaps the eyebrows (which makes me think of this).  Perhaps the absence of whiskers, even painted on.  Don’t know.  Facial analysis welcome from my massed readership.

I learn from this posting at Instapundit, where a bit from the Economist is quoted, that “BP” stopped calling itself “British Petroleum” in 1998.

This is ridiculous.  If you don’t want people to think you’re “British Petroleum” then it is not enough to drop the name “British Petroleum”; you have to dump the initials “BP” as well.  You have to call yourself something completely different.  That way people might eventually forget about you ever having been BP equals British Petroleum.  If, on the other hand, you persist with “BP”, people are always going to ask: So what does “BP” stand for?  Claiming that it does not stand for “British Petroleum” even though it did for several decades up until 1998, and that “BP” now stands for absolutely nothing is ridiculous.  Someone will always remember the answer, even if BP aka British Petroleum pretends it has forgotten, and BP just looks stupid.

People get paid vast sums to recommend preposterous and doomed subterfuges like this.  Who on earth do they think they are kidding?  They ought to be fined vast sums, as should the slug-brains who took their advice.

I seem to recall BAT once upon a time pretending that BAT did not stand for British American Tobacco, but a little googling reveals that if such foolishness was ever attempted, it has long since been abandoned.

There’s nothing especially great about either of these two photos, but they do make a nice double act:


The orange one last night, and the blue-grey one a couple of nights earlier.  The tower is the one next to Vauxhall Bridge, on the north side of the river.  Not long ago it was much uglier, but then they redid the outside.

Thursday June 17 2010

Frank J. of IMAO says that the answer to the Big Oil Spill over in America is for President Obama to Nuke It.  Arf arf.

Joke, right?  But now read this:

Russia has an old-fashioned and highly effective option for sealing oil leaks. Alexander Moskalenko, head of GCE, a Russian oil consultancy, tells the Moscow Times an underwater nuclear explosion could be used to bury the leaking oil well. The suggestion is not as bonkers as it sounds.

According to the Russian newspaper Komsomol Pravda, the Soviet Union used the method five times to seal off hydrocarbon spillages. The first time was in 1966, near Bukhara in Uzbekistan, when a 30-kiloton atom bomb was used to blow out and seal a burning gas well. (The bomb used in Hiroshima was 20 kilotons.)

The idea is simple: the explosion buries the problem under tonnes of rock, sealing off the flow of oil. According to Pravda, some of these nuclear bomb civil engineers are still alive: perhaps BP should give them a call.

Neither of the links in that seem to be much use, but there they are anyway.

My thanks to my friend Patrick Crozier for blogging about this, which is how I heard about the notion.  Is there, asks Patrick, nothing that nukes can’t do?

And here is what, appended to the above, I came within an ace of posting at Samizdata, last night:

This is one of those postings I started writing purely for my own blog, in a spirit of unmitigated frivolity, but then realised might make more sense to put on Samizdata, because Samizdata’s commenters might actually be able to offer some intelligent answers to the question at issue.  The question here being: Does this notion, of nuking the oil spill, make any sense, or is it completely mad?  Nothing else seems to be working.  I can’t imagine any President of the USA saying yes to such a plan, but if he did, might it actually do the trick?  Or would it only make things even worse?  Might it leave the leak still leaking, but much harder then to stop by other means?  Would it completely destroy the fishing industry in those parts?  Start a nuclear war with Cuba?  Break various international treaties?  Cause earthquakes, and hence even more oil leaks?  Unleash a tsunami?

Or, might it actually solve the problem?

Samizdata commenters, the floor is yours.

But then, in the nick of time, I realised that we no longer live in the age of unanswerable questions, that there is such a thing as Google, and that here was a question - “nuke oil spill” - that Google was likely to be able to supply answers to.  I quickly found my way to another piece, and if it is right, nuking the Oil Spill is probably - surprise surprise - a rather bad idea:

The first cautionary note would be to observe that there’s a big difference between a gas well on land and a deep-water oil well. The primary reason why the Deepwater Horizon spill has proven so difficult to stop is precisely because the wellhead is 5,000 feet underwater, and the well bore penetrates another 13,000 feet below the seabed. Solutions that are possible on land or in shallow water are not readily applicable, or the well would already be plugged.

It’s also worth noting that in the Soviet case, additional “slant wells” had to be drilled in order to get the nuclear explosive deep enough and close enough to the original well to be able to seal it off. Although some armchair nuclear option quarterbacks have recommended exploding a nuclear device at the seabed in the hope of fusing the surrounding seafloor into a giant cap, it’s not clear that such a cap would be able to withstand the immense pressure exerted by the oil and gas bubbling from below. To properly place any explosive - conventional or nuclear - deep enough to be able to permanently plug the well would require drilling a new well - a process that we already know is time-consuming.

This is just speculation, but I’m also guessing that we don’t have a whole lot of data about what happens to the geology of a deepwater oil reservoir when a nuclear bomb is detonated in the general vicinity. I’d hate to be the president who authorized a nuclear strike against an oil well and discover that the blast created numerous fractures in the seafloor that allowed even more oil and gas to escape. It seems to me that one might want to hold such a tactic in reserve as a last resort.

And then there are the worst-case scenarios - such as the possibility that a nuclear explosion might ignite a chain reaction of methane hydrate eruptions that could result in the most horrific global catastrophe since the Permian extinction ...

It seems that my bad version of the results was nearer to any good version, and that the answer from the Samzidata commentariat would probably have been very loud and very clear.  Mad.  The suggestion is exactly “as bonkers as it sounds”.  And me included for even asking.

Normally I avoid using the the words “London Eye” to describe the Wheel.  It’s not an eye, or if it is an eye is a very peculiar one which rotates, and although the eye has evolved numerous times in nature, the wheel never has (which seems to me to be a powerful argument against Intelligent Design (but I digress)), and certainly never in combination with a big collection of eyes arranged in a circle.

But, rootling through Flickr, having typed in “from london eye” (because I am afraid the name has well and truly stuck), I came across this great snap by Damien Laidler, taken on December 28th, 2007:


That whatever-it-is at the bottom on the right is the only blemish.  Maybe a slice off the bottom of the picture?  Not sure.  Pity about that.  Otherwise, brilliant.  Taken in the morning.  It’s taken through glass, from one of the Eye pods (ho ho), so cut Mr Laidler a little slack on the detail/focussing/precision front.

Until this picture, the only Eye shadows I’ve seen have been the ones it casts in the evening on the buildings nearby.  These can sometimes be quite dramatic (I took a few goodish shots like this last night), but I don’t want to draw any attention away from the above photo by, in this posting, by showing any other lesser Eye shadows.

The big lump at the far end of the spiky bridge is Charing Cross railway station, or to be more exact, a big pile of offices, on top of Charing Cross railway station.  And the tall and thin tower behind it is the Telecom Tower, or the BT Tower, or whatever they are calling it this decade.  I remember it as the GPO (as in General Post Office) Tower.

Wednesday June 16 2010

Yesterday I did something very stupid and very bizarre.  I tripped over nothing in the street, just near Pimlico tube station, and damaged both myself and my glasses.  Neither badly, however (today I got the glass straightened out, free of charge, with no damage done at all to the lenses), and I was able to proceed with my journey.  On my way home, I walked back along the river, my idea being check if the Shard could be seen through the Wheel yet.

Well, I did spy the top of what there is so far of the Shard, but only through a gap between boring office blocks, a bit like this.


Click to get that even bigger and even duller.

The Shard is right there in the middle, under the crane.  Here’s a closer up look at it, taken moments earlier:


And no, I do not know what those purple things are.

As you can see, it will have to really go some before it is visible above such buildings as those in the foreground.  Nevertheless according to my calculations some sort of big spike (top of) will eventually be visible through the Wheel, from around where I was, and definitely from further afield.  According to my calculations just a moment ago, looking at a London map, if you stand outside Buckingham Palace, where all the tourists do, at the far end of St James’s Park from me, you will see the Shard through the Wheel, and you can maybe see it already, although I doubt it.  Since that spot is only a walk away from me, I’ll check that out anyway, sometime Real Soon Now.

More interesting and far more dramatic last night was this notice.  I was still feeling a bit shaky after my accident and didn’t feel up to reading it all, while standing right in front of it.  But then I thought, I know what, I’ll read it when I get home:


So now you know.

I don’t know why, but somehow I feel that the absence of the letters w, w and w, all in a little clump, followed by something along the lines of pleasedon’, says that these people are really serious.  Such threats as the ones on this sign have been around a long time, since well before the www even existed.  Besides which, www stuff is to sell stuff to you and to persuade you and generally to beg you to think well of whoever is www-ing.  In the case of a government department it is to disguise rather than proclaim the fact that you have to do what it says.  And that, says this sign, is not us, matey.  We are flat out telling you, right here, right now, no arguing.  Land a pet here?  From abroad? It dies, and by the time we’ve finished with you you’ll want to die too.  We are the government we are, and you will obey.

I rather like that.  I know, I’m a libertarian and I’m not supposed to, but I really do.  At least they’re telling it like it is.

One of the most disagreeable aspects of our present generation of rulers is how they pretend ( that they aren’t giving us orders, when really they are.  To which I reply: tax us if you must you bastards, but at least spare us the crap about how taxation “doesn’t have to be taxing” (that being my least favourite bit of of all).  Yes if does you lying morons.

Click on the picture of it to get the sign even bigger and even scarier.

UPDATE Thursday: re those purple things.  See first comment.  This was the most informative shot of it that I could find.  Horrible, I think.  But temporary, so what the hell.

Tuesday June 15 2010


Palin’s quest to make “feminist” a non-derisive terms seems to be angering a lot of feminists.

Not that I am promising any more Frank J random thoughts for the day.  That could be the final one.

I write a piece recommending linking back to yourself.  I say it shows that you don’t assume that everyone has already read all your stuff, or remembers it if they have read that particular bit.  It saves you repeating yourself.  It enables you to say “as I’ve said before” without saying, again, all of what you said before, just enough of it to (re)make the point.  A clutch of such links can make many points in one posting without wearying the reader.

Natalie Solent (see the comments) is uneasy about this.  She sees my point, but feels that linking back to yourself is pompously flogging your own dead horses.  Keeping saying “as I’ve said before” is annoying, no matter how you slice it.  And of course I see her point.

Here is a compromise between our two attitudes that I can live with.  Natalie does a short bit for Samizdata, briefly summarising how she feels about this by linking back to me.

I’ve just been reminded of another reason why I support Israel, at Counting Cats.  Fidel Castro doesn’t, surprise surprise

The former communist leader published an article in local press in which he said, “The State of Israel’s hatred towards the Palestinians is such that it would not hesitate to send 1.5 million men, women and children to the crematoriums in which millions of Jews of all ages were killed.”

It really is time this lying, tyrannical old bastard died, isn’t it?  Sadly, it looks like being of natural causes and at a very advanced age.

I have long believed that if the only thing you know about something is that the Communists dislike it, then that is a seriously good reason for liking it.  And yes, that is yet another link back to me.  See below.

Monday June 14 2010

One of the things I recently talked about with Patrick Crozier, apart from Murray Rothbard, was the whole thing about how to blog those Big Important Thing pieces that we bloggers all yearn to do from time to time, in among babbling about kittens or their equivalents for each of us.  Where to begin?  How to begin?

The answer is: to just begin.  Do a posting about it, at least saying one thing, such as what it is you would like to be able to prove, but leaving anything in the way of an actual proof for later.  A big piece describing the nineteen most important things about X, but confining yourself to saying what X is.  Or, in my case recently, a big piece about all the reasons why I support the state of Israel.  I just started by saying that I do.  I can start on why later.  And if I ever want to pull it all together into a Big Piece, well, what’s to stop me?  Repetition?  So what?

Never wanting to repeat yourself is a form of arrogance.  It says: everyone takes in and remembers everything that I ever said, first time, and remembers it for ever.  Having already said this on Feb 3rd 2007, I don’t need to tell you again that I think this or that, do I?  Well, in most cases: yes.  Mostly, the reader now didn’t even read that.  If he did, he doesn’t remember.  If he vaguely does remember, he won’t mind being reminded.  If he remembers it perfectly, he won’t mind being reminded, because he will know perfectly well that he is the only one who does remember it, apart from you.  If you actually do remember it yourself.

Which means: that every big Final Statement, perfectly written, can happily be preceded by small fragments of it, imperfectly written.  You could have written it better?  So write it better, again.  Then pull all the best bits together.  There’s nothing that says you can’t do this.

To put this another way, and as I often say (what with repetition not being a problem), decisions come in two varieties: baby decisions, and loaf of bread decisions.  A bit of a baby is useless.  Worse than useless in fact.  Downright harmful.  But a slice of bread is a slice of bread.  It is not as much as the entire loaf, but it is still something to eat.  It is still bread.

And contrary to what is often unthinkingly assumed, bits of Big Statements are not bits of baby, they are slices of bread.  They don’t say everything but they do say something.

Besides which, if you pre-announce the Big Thing that you are trying to put together, others may add crucially good bits that you would have missed to the early bits that you write.  Which means that posting an early bit will probably turn out better than if you don’t post anything until it is entirely done.  Thinking aloud.  Blogs, the universities of the twenty first century, discuss.

I think I have said quite a bit of this before (see especially the end of that piece) in a somewhat different context.  Obviously, not a problem.

Sunday June 13 2010

One of the symptoms of Grumpy Old Manness is that you start to find socialising a bit of an effort.  But, it is still an effort worth making.  Not socialising at all is worse even that quite bad socialising, and quite bad socialising can usually be improved greatly ... if I make the effort.

My Dad was also like this.  He also, as he got older, had to make a conscious effort to have a good time in company.  In the hours before a social effort was required, he tended to be particularly unsociable.  During that time, he was carefully charging up his limited reserves of bonhomie, and was determined not to eat into any of those reserves beforehand.  Those in his vicinity as such times knew to keep clear of him, or if near him to expect a wall of grumpiness.

I greatly enjoyed the last three or four bits of socialising I have done.  Before each, I very deliberately told myself to ... make the effort.  And it worked.  I don’t mean that I sparkled in the eyes of others, although that’s not impossible also.  I merely mean that I had a good time.  I learned things.  Others sparkled in my eyes.

Why make the effort of being there, if you don’t then make the effort (if further effort is needed) to enjoy being there, and as a result instead just sit there waiting for it to end?  That’s no way to live.

Friday June 11 2010

It’s been a bit of a day today.  I spent most of it in pyjamas struggling with one of my big Samizdata rambles, still not finished, and then spent far too much time following a bunch of T20 county cricket games, of which my favourite one was this one.  Just look at the Hampshire fall of wickets.  I knew you’d be excited.  I was going to go out and snap some new photos, but it never happened.

So, it’s quota photo from the archives time:


That was taken, at the Adam Smith Institute itself (although I don’t think they had that blog then), on June 14th 2003, with my ye olde Canon A70, a type of camera which one of my friends still uses!  What an old fogey!  (I think it’s him, because I think I remember him showing me his Canon A70 the other night when he dropped by for dinner.)

And let’s just savour that bottle label, shall we?  Yes we shall:


Profound point warning.  Here comes a profound point.  If you don’t want to read a profound point, stop reading now!

Profound point: lots of people think the free market is something horrid that you only do when you have to, when socialism cannot be afforded.  As soon as the free market has cleared up the mess caused by socialism, it’s back to socialism again.  But socialism is crap.  It doesn’t matter how much of it you can afford.  You shouldn’t buy it!  Only the free market is strong and sweet.  It doesn’t matter how well your country is doing, you should still stick with the free market!

Wednesday June 09 2010

Just done a bit on Samizdata about the Three Gorges Dam, which is having, er, teething troubles (e.g. earthquakes and landslides), and which happens also to be a fine excuse for a vertically challenged picture:


All the categories below refer to my thoughts at Samizdata, which rambled somewhat, as you can see.

I never actually knew what this thing looked like until now.  I googled my way to an enlarged version of the picture here.

Tuesday June 08 2010

One of these days - months, years - I must write that piece I’ve always wanted to write about why my attitude towards the state of Israel is one of, for all practical purposes, unconditional positive regard.  I support Israel against all comers, for all the usual reasons, and for maybe a few slightly interesting ones.  I not only despise and detest the numerous enemies of Israel; I also disagree strongly with those who sit on the fence about it, who indulge in moral equivalence, who say that they brought it on themselves, make lots of mistakes, are “their own worst enemy”, and so on and so forth.

So devoted a supporter of Israel am I, at any rate in my own mind, that if there were to be a pro-Israel demonstration in London, along the lines of this recent one in Los Angeles, and I heard about it in time, I might actually go.  Usually I hate demonstrations, and hate with savage vehemence the idea of me actually going on one.  But I think this one might make sense, and make me glad to have gone.

I think that’s because the state of Israel is an enterprise already in existence which I want to do my tiny little bit to defend, warts and all, rather than some pie-in-the-sky piece of futurological imagining.  All the other causes I can think of that matter to me are too philosophical and abstract to be demonstratable, as it were.  They don’t lend themselves to people interested in them waving placards, because then the placards would be misunderstood and misrepresented (in the unlikely event of them even being noticed) by the media.  But a pro-Israel demo would be one where my participation would be understood correctly, where the placards would be reported accurately.  Oh, much of the media would call us fascists or whatever, supporters of torture, aggressors against defenselessly heroic Palestinians, blah blah, but at least they’d get which side I was on even if they were on the other one.

It is also a demo that probably would be noticed by the media in the first place, even if it was small, in fact especially if it was small.  And the smaller it was, the more difference, percentage-wise, my presence would make and gladder I would be to have been there.

A spot of googling tells me that there was a recent demo in London allegedly in defence of Israel.  Trouble was it was also in favour of other stuff, in the form of the organisations that organised it, that I don’t necessarily agree with and don’t want to have to spend time checking out.  I’d want one organised by the Israeli embassy and/or by kosher Israel-supporting Jews, or by something like the Anglo-Israel friendship society, if there is one, not by lots of local British types using the pro-Isreal agenda to spread other agendas.  Although these people seem a bit too tame and behind-the-scenes-ish to be organising demos.  Maybe such demos as that one that actually happened are all that are on offer in London.  In which case I will have to stick to blogging.

Monday June 07 2010

So today, Instapundit linked to something about cricket sex, but alas ...

Sunday June 06 2010

To quote my own recent words, here, in connection with this new London building:

There you are, groping your way home from an unwelcome appointment in an arkward part of town, perhaps trying to find something edible to sustain you on your journey back, and suddenly you look up and you see Big Ben in the distance, or the Wheel, or the Gherkin, or Tower Bridge, or the BT Tower, or (the Daddy of them all) St Paul’s Cathedral, at the end of the street whose curve just happened to line up with the Big Thing (as above), or through a gap between a nearby brick warehouse and a nearby and horribly ugly sixties office block with a row of boarded up shops at the bottom. And it cheers you up. Well, it cheers me up. It is partly because of such chance sightings that I am so keen on my camera having a good zoom lens.

Yesterday I needed to get to Vauxhall railway station, which is just across the river from me.  This is only a short journey, but I now tend to do it by bus, because I can now do this without paying.  But this time, after two full buses refused even to open their doors to me, I walked.  As a result I enjoyed further Strata sightings that I had not seen before:


Both these shots were from towards my end of Vauxhall Bridge, looking out across the river.  On the left is the zoom shot, showing Strata unmistakably.  But the shot of the right, taken a moment later, and provided you can make out where Strata is lurking (click on both pictures to make them bigger), probably shows the experience rather better.  Big ugliness in the foreground, rumoured to contain lots of James Bond organisations with “Global” or “World” or “Universal” in their names, wired in to the MI6 building just up river, next to the bridge, to the right of those views as you look.  But, a gap in the ugliness, through which things like Strata may occasionally be seen.

Saturday June 05 2010

I just stuck up an all very sane and sensible SQotD about the banking industry, so I’ll put this pearl of wisdom on a closely related matter here.  Ready?  Here we go:

You can’t watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” these days without thinking how much sense Mr. Potter is making about irresponsible lending.

Originally here. I found it here.  Frank J Fleming, for those who don’t know, is the senior blogger here, and is a genius.  And oh look, I just found the above twitterlet in a list of similar stuff in an IMAO blog posting, much of it about nuking things.  Nuke the oil leak, says FJF.  Well, to be more exact, he wants Obama to nuke the oil leak.  But, maybe this is because FJF actually wants Obama to be disliked.  For him, this would be a win win.  A nuclear explosion and Obama being disliked.

Friday June 04 2010



Taken a couple of months ago, in the Kings Cross area, near to the St Pancras Eurostar Palace.  Slightly Photoshop(clone)ped(sp?).  Should it be in black and white, I wonder?  Click to enlarge.

I have no idea what they are doing with the building.

LATER: I’ve just realised what I particularly like about this picture.  The thing is, all the scaffolding makes what is actually a quite ordinary brick building, with chimneys as its best feature, look, because it is smothered in wildly excessive and important looking scaffolding, like a medieval castle.

Thursday June 03 2010

Because, the transition from regular city to giant hole is just too abrupt, and also maybe because the lighting looks different between the city and the hole:


I encountered it first at this Instapundit posting.  But GR didn’t mention the Photoshop possibility, which immediately made me think: this can’t be for real.  But he found it at Boing Boing, who said:

Not Photoshop, sadly.

And they found it at the Guatemalan Government Flickr site.  And the Guatemalan Government isn’t going to make up a story like that, just for a laugh, now is it?

It swallowed up an entire three story building.  A defective sewage pipe apparently.

Count your blessings.

Wednesday June 02 2010

It frustrates me that I only properly heard about the blog MUTLEYTHEDOGSDAYOUT because Robert Chambers, who wrote it, whom I very vaguely knew, once upon a time long gone, and who I very vaguely recognise in the photo here and very vaguely remember liking, recently died.

I already knew this, in the sense that I knew that someone called Robert Chambers had died.  And then my friend Christine sent me the above link, where it says he was a blogger, which I did not know.

Long may the link to his very amusing blog survive.  People shouldn’t have to die for you to get back in touch with them.

I don’t know to how many people Paul Marks sends his emails.  To lots, I hope.  I hope this because as the years have gone by, my admiration for Paul has gone up and up.  Here is the latest.  Rather than put it all as if mere quoted paragraphs, I have put this bit, by me, in italics, and the rest as a regular posting, as if I were recycling a bit from a book.  Me publishing this doesn’t mean I agree with it all, although if I knew enough to do so, I probably would.  The two embedded links near the end flag up two of my moments of particular ignorance.  I thought: What is that?  And I further thought that others might share my ignorance and appreciate a quick way to learn more.

Paul refers, in the text below, to him, Paul Marks, being a “semi-illiterate”.  By this I take him to mean that there is a slight touch of the suicide note style about his way of writing, in that there are quite frequent spelling errors, as well as occasional grammatical infelicities, often in the form of sentences lumped together with dashes, brackets or commas, that I think ought to be separated by full stops.  I have taken the liberty of correcting all the mistakes, as I consider them, of this kind that I have spotted.  More editing, and I would probably have cut out even more of the brackets.

Paul mentions a distant cousin of mine, with the same surname as me, John Micklethwait, now the editor of the Economist.  Paul does not admire this member of my clan.  In another recent email, also critical of John Micklethwait, Paul expressed the hope that I am not hurt by this criticism of my “kinsman”.  I am not.  Especially since he went out of his way then to say kind things about me, just to prove that his was not a general anti-Micklethwait bias.

Anyway, here it the latest of Paul’s emails.  If it turns up in a few hours on Samizdata, well, sorry and all that.  If Paul Marks approves of me doing this, I will probably (although I promise nothing) continue, and post more of his emails.  If he disapproves, I will note this, and refrain in the future.  At present, I think it is a great shame to waste these thoughts as mere emails, although, as I say, I have no idea how many people get them, as mere emails.

When I praise someone or stick up for them in any way, it should not be taken as meaning that I would support them politically.

For example, saying that the words of a candidate for Governor in Alabama were not “racist” should not be taken to mean that I would have voted for him in the Primary (far too moderate for me). And what I am about to say should not be taken to mean that I support the recently resigned Prime Minister of Japan.

I think the Prime Minister of Japan who has just resigned was a well meaning and honest man. The last point will get some laughs (given the level of corruption in the government that was elected only nice months ago), but looking at his rabbit-caught-in-the-headlights face I cannot believe that he knew anything about the corruption (and it is the corruption, not the failure to move the American military base from Okinawa, that is the real reason for the decline in support for the Prime Minister that has led to his fall).

As for him being well meaning - his plan for office was to take money from waste and corruption (especially corrupt government building projects - the Japanese equivalent of Crossrail in London, or the 2012 Games) and use the money to improve education and social services.

Of course, being the evil reactionary that I am, I would point out that the Japanese Welfare State has been growing out of control since at least 1972 (not 73 - it was not the Oil Shock that caused the Welfare State to expand and expand as a percentage of the economy), so yet more and expanded schemes were not exactly a good idea - however much “openness” and “public input” went into their design.

However, what the Prime Minister of Japan tried to do is entirely in line with the international ideology of the elite (with their love of ever expanding “public services") which is why they supported him and his Democratic Party against the Liberal Democratic Party government of Japan nine months ago. The Economist magazine was very strong in its support - and they are usually a good guide to who the international establishment favour.  For example John Howard former Prime Minister of Australia was hated by the Economist magazine - so, in spite of his many faults, it is hard for me to believe he was all bad.  The Economist magazine never supports open Marxists.  Chavez, the Castro brothers, the Dear Leader in North Korea – these all are too much for establishment folk.  But as long as someone keeps the corporate welfare cheques coming (in accordance with the ideology of bailouts and “stimulus") it does not look too deeply into their background or objectives.

It is hard to see reform coming to Japan - not with the powerful Civil Service against any real change (a Civil Service the now former Prime Minister tried to get under control) and an education system dominated by the left.  (Should anyone doubt that statement check the political allegiance of the teachers union.)

The very effectiveness of Japanese education (so admired by semi-illiterates like me) is actually a problem when they are teaching political attitudes, rather than reading or mathematics.

Still why do I say that this man was unlike Barack Obama?

Firstly when the now former Prime Minister said “I take responsibility” he meant it. He meant he was resigning.  Barack Obama would only use those words (and he does) because a focus group told him to.  He has no intention of leaving office voluntarily. So the moral character of the two men is quite different - that is clear just by looking at them or hearing them talk. It was clear to me nine months ago that the new Japanese Prime Minister was a well meaning, gentle soul - and it was clear to me in 2008 that Barack Obama only cared about ideology and himself, not about other human beings, although some might say that I spotted that in Obama because I see a man like that every morning in the mirror.  “It takes one to know one, Paul.”

Also, their policies were rather different.  True, both men wanted an ever bigger Welfare State. But please remember what I mentioned above, that the Japanese Prime Minister went to great lengths to find savings by cutting corrupt spending.

Barack Obama, on the other hand, has not only pushed Bills vastly increasing Welfare State spending (such as the health care Bill which will see ever increasing numbers of people dropped by their employers and forced into government care), but has also increased corrupt pork project spending by something close to a TRILLION Dollars.  (Of course the Economist magazine supported all this.  The corrupt, Apollo Alliance designed spending was a “stimulus” according to the editor, Mr John Micklethwait.) This is quite different from what the Japanese Prime Minister was trying to do.

Unless one is utterly corrupt it is impossible for someone who knows the facts to claim that Barack Obama is “well meaning”.  On the contrary, it is quite clear that he has a deliberate aim of spending the United States into economic breakdown - along the lines suggested long ago by the Marxist husband and wife team Cloward and Piven. But this was not the aim of the now former Prime Minister of Japan.  He was a nice man, well meaning and (I believe) honest, but educated into mistaken ideas.