Brian Micklethwait's Blog

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

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Thursday June 30 2011

Around this time of year, I often take a break from regular blogging, and I will be again, this year, starting now.  Before I went on my recent trip abroad, I warned that my usual rule of something at least once every couple of days might take a bit of a hit for the duration, but actually, regular service here continued.  But now I feel the need of a break.  So, for at least the next few weeks or so, and quite possibly for as long as two months, things will only appear here if I entirely feel like putting them here, and this time, I think I can promise some quite long gaps.  I am not forbidding myself to blog here, merely saying that for the next bit of a while, you should expect only whatever you may happen to get, and no more.

I’ll sign off with another of Goddaughter 2’s editings of one of my Rennes pictures (see below), this time of crippled bicycles:

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I hate it when people do that to bicycles.

And a happy holiday to me.

Many photographers get bored with photoing big photogenic things like famous buildings, gorgeous landscapes and spectacular sunsets.  I think part of this is because the more beautiful something is, the more people (as opposed to photographers) already look at it,and I mean really look at it, in the flesh, as it were.  And what they remember of the real thing is typically better than any photo the photographer may later show them.  Certainly better than any photo I take.  The trick therefore is to take photos of things that people don’t normally bother to scrutinise in any detail.  With your photo you are showing them something they wouldn’t normally bother with.

Like tables and chairs, without people.  I photoed a lot of these when I was in Brittany recently:

imageimage

Those were my versions.  As usual here, click to get any of these pictures bigger.

Goddaughter 2 got hold of all the snaps I’d taken that day, and those two were among the ones she picked out to play around with.  I.e. she used Photoshop to pick out everything red in the pictures and make it even redder, and probably added several doses of sharpening to the mix too:

imageimage

The reason I was photoing empty chairs and empty tables is that there did seem to be an awful lot of these about in Brittany while I was there, in Quimper, in Saint Malo and in Rennes.  (The above two snaps were taken in Rennes.) My guess is that the mostly very bad weather throughout the time I was there, together with, I suppose, the larger financial climate, had caused business, in the kinds of places with lots of tables and chairs to put out in the street and serve food and drink on, to be very hard hit indeed.  Every pile of chairs or clump of unused tables was money not being taken by people who are very much in need of it.

Wednesday June 29 2011

David Hepworth, one of my favourite bloggers, recently had something to say about the New Headquarters syndrome, in connection with the travails of the old school media and their attempts to navigate the new digitalised oceans:

All the thinking about these momentous issues is being done inside massive new architect-designed corporate HQs which have been built in the last ten or so years. The media boom of the 90s provided them with the cash to build their own temples and imbued them with the belief that the expansion would go on forever. But they never dreamed that they would be thinking such frightened thoughts inside them. Ever since these companies - and many other media and publishing firms - moved into their airy new offices they’ve been shedding the staff they were intended to house and looking nothing like the masters of the universe the temples were intended to exalt.

See also the comments on Hepworth’s piece.

Here is a snap I took in March 2008, while they were building it, of the shiny new palace that now houses the Observer and the Guardian:

image

And here is what I both hope (because I despise what I now believe is the catastrophic nature of the EU project) and fear (because I fear that I will be one of the victims of the catastrophe unless I die first) will prove to be another example of the syndrome:

image

Via here.  It looks like permanent scaffolding.

Monday June 27 2011

Indeed.  Snapped yesterday at a bus stop, pointing my camera up Victoria Street, and getting the view down Victoria Street, plus the cheeseburger:

image

This, I believe, is a good way to photo the Wheel.  Not looking straight at it, but bouncing it off of other stuff.  Its appearance is so very distinctive that it will survive almost any treatment of this sort.  Which means that doing this communicates that distinctiveness very well. More direct Wheel snapping?  That’s all been done.

Sunday June 26 2011

Indeed:

image

That’s a camera, as well as a pair of specs.

The basic reason they won’t ban digital photography in public places is that pretty soon, they won’t be able to see it happening.  (That and how such a ban would screw around with the tourist trade.)

And yes, I know, there’ll be all kinds of sneaky electronic trickery to detect photography, even when it’s invisible to the naked eye, but your basic plods, both public sector and the now equally ubiquitous private sector sort, just won’t see it happening.

Well, we’re soon going to find out.

Friday June 24 2011

I don’t always do cats here on Fridays, but I often do.  For me they signify the fundamental point of this blog, which is to entertain, and in particular to entertain me, rather than just to be serious and political about everything.  There is more to life than the fact, if fact it be, that the politicians are making a mess of everything.  So it was that, when on my recent trip to France, I kept half an eye open for cats.

Another thing I found myself snapping was motorbikes.  The French really seem to love their motorbikes, perhaps because their roads are longer and emptier than they are in Britain.

So imagine my delight when, wandering around the centre of Quimper of an evening, I came across this:

image

And I wasn’t the only one who felt that this was suitable material for digitalised immortality:

imageimageimageimage

My favourite snap of a fellow digital photographer in Cat-on-Harley action being this one:

image

Was the cat in any way disconcerted by all this attention?  On the contrary:

image

The cat loved it.

Here, I hope you will agree, is the appropriate song, sung by one of the all time great French sex kittens.  (I actually have this on CD.)

Thursday June 23 2011

Indeed:

image

I’m back from my travels in the land occupied by the above creatures, but that will have to do for today.

Tuesday June 21 2011

Here, via here and here.  Just what I thought.  To call his drivel “documentaries” is to be much too polite.

Hope this goes viral.

Sunday June 19 2011

Tim Cavanaugh, in a dissection of a muddled Keynesian rant by a son of muddled Keynesian J. K. Galbraith:

… facts matter even when you’re ranting.

Via here.

Cavanaugh’s piece ends thus:

I’m just glad to see the economic quacks are starting to fight among themselves.

And they are.  So Cavanaugh has his own facts right.

I live on my own, but am now living in a household containing about six people, the “about” being quite significant.  You have to count.  There’s Goddaughter 2, Goddaughter 2’s parents, Goddaughter 2’s twin brothers, the Romanian couple who are here for a few weeks to cook and clean (her) and do house renovating (him), and now there is also me.  How many is that?  Eight!

Where I live, alone, things stay where they are put and remain as they are, unless I personally more them or change them.  But in a household with lots of people in it, nothing remains at it is or stays where you put it.  Do some stuff on a computer, turn your back, and when you return someone else is on it, doing something completely different and your stuff is gone.  Put a vital bag containing vital objects down on the floor somewhere prior to leaving for a vital event, and cue a family row about where the bag now is and who’s fault that is.  Numbers give deniability to the perpetrator, who in any case may genuinely not remember what happened.

In particular, this is why there is no fruit juice to be had.  Just coffee, tea or tap water.  Why?  Because when you buy juice, it is usually for you yourself to consume.  But, if you do buy some, you have to put it in the fridge.  You can’t just hide it in your room, because that way it will go off.  But, in the fridge, it immediately gets consumed by others.

Coffee, tea and also milk, are like public utilities, like water, that is to say.  Everyone wants a bit of it all the time.  There may not be as much milk as you might want there to be at any given moment, but it is unlikely to be entirely gone with no warning.  Nobody drinks several glasses of milk on its own.  (If they did that might change things.) But fruit juice is not purchased continuously, as an abundant public utility.  It is purchased in quite small amounts, as a personal luxury.  And it is liable (likely actually) to be entirely consumed by someone else, when, for instance, a posse of twins or Goddaughter 2 and a friend, or just one other greedy individual consumes three entire mugs of the stuff.

So even though Goddaughter 2’s dad likes fruit juice, he never buys it to drink at home.

Which means that I, like him, have to go out into the town if I want to drink fruit juice.

Friday June 17 2011

One of the symptoms of an infrequent flyer such as me is that we IFs like to look at the view, and in my case, if it looks nice, photo it.  I’ll never top this, but in the meantime, yesterday, this looked good:

image

But what was it?  With much messing about (on a foreign computer ("ordinateur") using a foreign keyboard) which is a serious pain in the behind (every time I type an a without thinking I get a q - just as a for instance, there being lots of other things in wrong places besides thqt) I eventually identified the above as the tip of the ... and now fucking Yahoo who should go to hell for ever have fucking inserted a “canyon link” that I can’t fucking remove but which means it fucking removes the thing I’m fucking trying to put.  I have no idea how to point you at any sort of map, so you’ll just have to take my (now non-) word for it that it is what fucking Yahoo now fucking prevents me from putting, but I can tell you that the grey smudge in the middle is not a big town but rather an Usine de Retraitement.  I now want Ya fucking hoo to be thrown into this Usine to be well and truly Retraited themselves.

My original point was going to be that a frequent flyer wouldn’t care about what he happened to see out of the window.  And I now add that a frequent flyer would bring his own computer with him and connect it to his own stuff and his own internet.  I did do the former but have yet to accomplish the latter.

The tip of the Cherbourg Penninsular is what I was trying to say.  I finally managed to actually say that by getting out of (and I will never return to) Firefox (now owned by fucking Yahoo?) and into Google Chrome.

Wednesday June 15 2011

I am away in foreign parts for the next week, so service here may be rather intermittent, even non-existent.  Or it may not.  It depends on how well they understand the internet in the foreign parts I will be visiting, whether they will lend it to me to use, and, if they do, whether I will have anything to say or the inclination to say it.

Tuesday June 14 2011

I’m reading what I think will prove to be a terrific book, about The Fall of the Roman Empire by Peter Heather.  Here is some of what Heather says about the massacre of the lost legions of Varus in 9 AD (pp. 46-47):

image

The massacre was the work of a coalition of Germanic warriors marshalled by one Arminius, a chieftain of the Cherusci, a small tribe living between the River Ems and the River Weser in what is now northern Germany. The ancient Roman sources describing the defeat were rediscovered and passed into broader circulation among Latin scholars in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and from that point on Arminius, generally known as Hermann (’the German’) - the delatinized version of his name - became a symbol of German nationhood. Between 1676 and 1910 an extraordinary seventy-six operas were composed to celebrate his exploits, and in the nineteenth century a huge monument was constructed in his honour near the small city of Detmold in the middle of what is today called the Teutoburger Wald. The foundation stone was laid in 1841, and the monument was finally dedicated in 1875, four years after Bismarck’s defeat of France had united much of the Cerman-speaking world of north-central Europe behind the Prussian monarchy. The 28-metre copper statue of Hermann is mounted on top of a stone base of similar height, which itself sits on top of a 400-metre hill. The edifice was a reminder that the triumph of modem German unification had its counterpart in the Roman era.

The Hermann monument is actually in the wrong place. The name Teutoburger Wald was first coined for the forested area around Detmold in the seventeenth century, as people began to conjecture where the ancient battle might have taken place. Thanks to some extraordinary finds, part of the actual battlefield has now been identified about 70 kilometres to the north. ...

On the right there is the monument.

I regularly read in books about classical music that opera was central to rise of nationalism in Germany, and also in Italy.  But that really drives that point home, I think.

Monday June 13 2011

Lawas, Sarawak:

image

Next time anyone asks how clean my flat is, I will reply: “Fairly clean.” In fact, come to think of it, I already do.

About two hours LATER:

I could keep doing this for months.

When it comes to Michael Jennings telling me about something, this is the usual pattern, I find.  Not that he necessarily does, just that he could.

Labuan island, Malaysia:

image

I’m not bored yet.

These are coming to me as and when taken, right?  Not just from the archives?

Sunday June 12 2011

Comment from mike on this, removed from there and put here:

Off-topic notice Brian (apologies):

No worries.

Bitcoin. A virtual currency run over a distributed network with no central authority to control it.

Plenty of techie interest, e.g. here.

Hasn’t anyone at Cobden been looking at this yet?

Not that I know of.

Anyone got any opinions about Bitcoin?

Plus: any other otherwise off topic comments on whatever you feel like commenting about?  Put them here.

Incoming from Michael J.  This is Sunday so this must be Mt Kinabalu, Sabah, Borneo:

image

Where on the mountain that is, I do not know.  And nor do I know what language that is, let alone what it all says.

Saturday June 11 2011

imageYes, click on that.  The strange thing is, the light felt far worse (i.e. worse than the same cranes here) when I took this.  But it seems to have come out better.  More colour on the red cranes.  I particularly like the red cranes (see immediately below).  I guess the old rule about how you can either have good sky or good stuff in front of the sky still holds.

Plus, I think the angles and disposition of the cranes, which change all the time, are even better this time around.  I particularly like how the crane on the right aligns precisely with the church spire.

It’s my blog and I’ll be a narcissist if I want to. 

Top left: another Health and Safety Notice Cluster, this time associated with the big weirdness they are constructing next to Westminster City Hall.  Note how greenness is, in addition to being greenness idiocy, is also the new language with which property owners say: don’t mess with our property.  Fair enough.  I am keeping an eye on this edifice as it grows.  At present it is mostly just cranes.  The me bit is in the round mirror top right.  And of course there’s a surveillance camera.  Where is there not a surveillance camera these days?

Top right: Me again, reflected in the headlight of a motorbike.  Also cranes.  Cranes are good.  The same cranes as are to be seen in the crane cluster photoed here.

imageimageimageimage

Bottom left: Me an Andy Duncan of the Cobden Centre generally (his latest CC blog posting) and Cobden Centre Radio in particular.  He was doing some work in the Sloane Square area yesterday, so we met up there, for the sake of it and to ponder future CCR efforts.  That picture was taken by the obliging young man behind the bar with Andy’s iPad, of which Andy is very proud.  Click to get the original picture, 960 pixels wide.  At that size, it becomes blurry, like the blurry flat screen telly that I now have.  But the blurriness was good for me, because I have been having a Bad Face Fortnight, brought on, I think, by an ill-judged purchase of cheap nougat with too much sugar in it, of the wrong kind.

Bottom right: And that was taken by me, of my shadow and of a dead umbrella, just outside Pimlico tube, while returning home from the above assignation.  I saw the dead umbrella, and decided to photo it.  The sun was directly behind, so I included me.

Picture number five is already up on the www here.  It was taken by Goddaughter One three weeks ago, when we went walking beside London’s canals.  That was taken in Paddington Basin.

Friday June 10 2011

Here.  One of these.

Did the lion steal it because it wanted its battery?

Thursday June 09 2011

Actually it’s by Youssef Courbage and Emmanuel Todd.  And it’s not that new; it was first published (in French) in 2007.  But it has just been made available in English.  And it is exactly the Todd book that, for several years now, I have most been wanting to read.  It is entitled A Convergence of Civilizations: The Transformation of Muslim Societies Around the World.

If it is as interesting as I hope it is, this book could finally enable Todd to make his long overdue breakthrough into the English speaking world.

And it is, as Instapundit is always saying, in the post.

In all my previous Todd googlings, I had never before come across this stuff about Todd, although I am almost certain that it has been there all along.  Will read this tomorrow, or failing that, Real Soon.  (And ooh look: at the top left, under where it says “NEW!!!”, there is me, and three of my Todd postings.)

Wednesday June 08 2011

I can remember when wrapping a building up like this used to be Art.  Now it’s just Essential Maintenance, of whatever:

image

Those are offices on the Westminster Cathedral side of Victoria Street, photoed about a week ago on a particularly good day.

And here’s another kind of technological temporariness, in the form of cranes, seen from my corner of Vincent Square, looking diagonally across it:

image

Usually, sky just doesn’t come out the way it really was, complete with all its little details.  This is because I am not willing to have the ground coloured black.  But, this time, I was.

Monday June 06 2011

For ages now I have been wondering how exactly to blog some more about the big and rather beautiful footbridge that goes north south across the Royal Victoria Dock.  Well, here are a couple of pictures of this bridge, taken by me from the north side of the Dock, looking back towards the Docklands Towers, the Dome, and central(er) London generally.

This picture is probably better from the artistic expression point of view:

image

But this next one shows how the bridge works much better, because it includes the two lumpy towers that pedestrians must go up and down at each end when they use the bridge:

image

The walkway doesn’t just carrying on walking, so to speak, the way it does with the best urban footbridges.  Instead it sits above the urban fabric, disembodied, separate.  And rather inconvenient.  (But, a great place to take photos from.)

On the right there you can just see the edge of the gigantic ExCeL building.

My friend Gus, who is a structural engineer who specialises in bridges (and who knows about every bridge recently constructed anywhere), recently told me that this bridge began life as a transporter bridge.  That is to say, there was originally going to be a mobile platform, hanging down from the top deck, moving people and things across at ground level, so to speak, while still allowing tall boats to go through underneath.  That makes sense.  It does look a lot like a transporter bridge, but without the transport bit and hence able to be more thin and elegant.

I really like it.

Sunday June 05 2011

And somewhat the worse for wear, I’m afraid:

image

I think it’s fairly obvious how this hedgehog was “sculpted”.

Perhaps originally it was just a hedgehog.  But then there was a terrible accident, and they found that the result sold much better.

Snapped by me exactly a fortnight ago, beside the canal, about an hour before I took this photo, as it happens.  (I do love how digital cameras tell you exactly when you took it.)

Friday June 03 2011

Today saw yet another disappointing performance by England’s former wonder batsman Kevin Pietersen.  Once again, he was dismissed by a bowler, and England fans are now openly speculating that Pietersen’s Achilles Heel is that he is vulnerable to bowlers.  Statistics do not lie.  Almost all of his test dismissals have been to bowlers.

Pietersen denies that he has a problem against bowlers, but England legend Geoff Boycott and England Not Really A Legend But Still From Yorkshire Michael Vaughan both concur that Pietersen does have a definite problem.

“He says he has no problem against bowlers”, said Boycott, “but we keep going on about it because he keeps on getting out to them.  It’s got so every time he goes in to bat, the opposition immediately put a bowler on to bowl against him.  And it keeps on working.  He keeps on getting out to them.”

But England captain Andrew Strauss, who also got out for a small score today when he fell down the slope at Lords and was LBW, today defended Pietersen.  “We have every confidence in Kevin”, he said, “and will continue to do so until we get fed up with his relentless incompetence and sack him.”

Thursday June 02 2011

Some weeks ago, I attended a Transport Blogger supper, in some pizza parlour or other, and Rob Fisher of that tribe expressed nostalgia for the good old days of Samizdata, when you could go there at mid-day and find another half dozen or so postings that you’d not seen before.  Now, he said, you’d be lucky if there was much more than one new posting, and maybe not even that.

Well, it would appear that, at least for today, the Good Old Days are here again.

Sadly, the archiving at Samizdata is very poor.  You can’t access by month (like you can here), or by author.  Only by category, or by typing words into a box and hoping the resulting list isn’t too long.  But, if you look, say, at the first posting today, you can click on the next one by clicking the top of the three choices at the top.  And if you do that today and keep going, it just goes on and on.  Like I say, just like the Good Old Days.

I believe that the key variable is the involvement of Samizdata Jade Emperor Perry de Havilland, who was responsible for that first post today.  If he posts, that encourages us all to believe that he Still Cares, and that Samizdata accordingly has a big future.

Wednesday June 01 2011

So they bat first, and they lose their openers cheaply.  But one of them gets a hundred, others chip in handily, and they end up getting exactly four hundred, albeit rather slowly.But rain interrupts things quite badly, and it’s drifting inexorably towards a draw.  The other side also bats solidly, and indeed, a draw seems the only conceivable outcome.  But then, seemingly out of nowhere, as the match literally draws towards its inevitably drawn conclusion, the team that got exactly four hundred in its first innings and seemed completely safe suddenly gets skittled out in its second innings for under a hundred, with nobody getting beyond twenty, and is badly beaten.  How did that happen?

I am of course talking about the game between Derbyshire and Surrey, which ended today.  And there you were thinking I meant England v Sri Lanka.  By the way, I love the headline there, which now reads:

England stun Sri Lanka with improbably first Test win

… although maybe that won’t last, which is partly why I reproduce it here.

My other favourite quote concerning that England game came from Mahela Jayawardene:

Right at this moment I can’t believe what’s just happened, but I’ll probably go into my sorrows soon.

But I digress.

Because Chris Tremlett is playing for England now, and because Surrey overseas signing Yasser Arafat (I kid you not) has been a disappointment so far, because he basically hasn’t got anyone out, a space has manifested itself in the Surrey team for another fast bowler.  Step forward Matt Dunn. 

Matt Dunn made his County Championship debut against Derbyshire, and did to Derbyshire what Tremlett did to Sri Lanka, which is to say he got early second innings wickets and caused panic in their dressing room, the modern term for a batting collapse, resulting in a surprise easy win for Surrey.  Dunn took five wickets in that second innings, even though he hardly bowled at all in the first innings.  In the first innings, Jade Dernbach opened the bowling.  In the second innings, they gave Matt Dunn a go, presumably because they reckoned it didn’t matter.  And Derbyshire probably couldn’t believe what then happened, but have surely by now gone into their sorrows.

Where is Matt Dunn from?  Australia?  South Africa?  (Another Surrey quick, Jade Dernbach, is from South Africa.) Hampshire?  (Tremlett is from Hampshire.) Probably not Pakistan (Yasser Arafat is from Pakistan) but … Pakistan?  No.  Matt Dunn is from Egham, which is in Surrey.  I know that Egham is in Surrey because Egham is just down the hill from where I grew up, in Englefield Green. Many letters to us would be misleadingly addressed: Englefield Green, Egham, Surrey.  So, according to the Post Office, I grew up in the Englefield Green bit of Egham.  At the time, I resented this implication.  Englefield Green is Englefield Green, not Egham.  Egham is Egham.  But with the rise to glory of Matt Dunn, I now rejoice that I too was raised where he was raised, in Egham.

Meanwhile, yet another England bowler, James Anderson, has hurt himself, and none other than Jade Dernbach has now been promoted to the England squad, for whom he will be carrying the drinks at Lords.  This will surely solidify Matt Dunn’s place in the Surrey side.

On the other side of Egham from the Englefield Green end of Egham lies Staines, made famous by Ali Gee.  I was glad that nobody ever suggested that Englefield Green was in Staines, and I still am.

LATER:  I got the Dernbach/Dunn story wrong.  See first comment below, from Peter Briffa, to whom thanks:

Dunn’s rise is even more interesting than that, Brian. He wasn’t even in the game for the first two days, and came in as a replacement for Dernbach, who was whipped off to practise with the England team.

So it’s actually possible that if Anderson hadn’t broken down, Surrey might not have won the game.

Which explains why Dunn hardly bowled at all in the first innings and Dernbach not at all in the second innings.  This should have alerted me to what was going on, but did not.

Indeed.  Incoming from Alec Muffett:

image

I think I understand, but can someone (Alec?) explain it all, just so I’m sure.