Brian Micklethwait's Blog

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

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Thursday September 29 2011

My internet connection is doing weird things, going on and off and on again and off again, for no apparent reason.  I fiddle about with the connections, which sometimes seems to work, but this could be coincidence.

Times like these remind me of how much my life revolves around times like these not happening too often.

Tuesday September 27 2011

Remember what I wrote here, a week or so back, about how Surrey have recently supplied England with two excellent quick bowlers, Tremlett and Dernbach?  And remember how I also mentioned that Meaker and Linley had filled in so well for Surrey that Surrey still got promoted to Division One, despite Tremlett and Dernbach being away playing for England all the time, the way England players now do?  Course you do.

Well, now Meaker has been picked for England.

How long before Linley gets to be part of the England set-up also?

Sunday September 25 2011

I see that there are today a couple of postings up at Samizdata of particular relevance to things I have already written about here, both concerning the USA.

First, there are pictures taken by Dale Amon of the Freedom Tower, rising up in New York out of the ruins of the old Twin Towers.  I showed a fake photo of that here.  Dale’s photos are of the actual thing itself, and of its neighbour edifices.

Second, you may recall that I decided to choose which US Presidential candidate I liked best, and the last time I talked about this was when I said I still prefer Gary Johnson to the Other Perry (i.e. Candidate Perry as opposed to Samizdata Perry).  Well, this posting links to Diana Hsieh saying much the same, mostly by quoting from this magazine article.  So, I am encouraged to stick with Johnson.  If you say, oh but he can’t win, I say that we now live in very interesting times in the worst possible sense of that phrase, and a Presidential candidate who one week looks all calm and presidential and oozing centre appeal might in a matter of only a few more weeks look like he has no idea what is happening or what to do about it.  Johnson wants seriously to cut federal spending.  This is, I think, going to happen.  What if my opinion about just how interesting the times now are comes to be shared quite soon by many more?

In times like these, it makes sense to vote how you actually think, and how you wish everyone else thought.  Don’t be clever, because, during seriously interesting times such as these times are, clever is liable to disappear up its own rear end.  Keep it simple.  Be wise.

Thursday September 22 2011

Today I had a bizarre and rather troubling experience.  I listened to a recording I had made of a single orchestral piece, performed at some point in a broadcast concert earlier this summer.  My recording began, not with an announcement of what the piece was and who was playing it, but with the beginning of the performance itself.  As it began, I was wondering what it was, what with the sound file being called 09081930.MP2 rather than anything more informative.  That says when it was recorded (Aug 9 at 7.30pm), but not what it is.

I continued to listen to the piece.  It was totally familiar, but what the hell was it?  I knew I knew it, but I … did not know its name!  Every note was familiar.  I knew exactly what was coming next.  I knew how it would end.  I knew it, I knew it, I knew it.  But, I did not know it.

Even more irritating was that, presumably because I obviously knew it, my recording of the piece ended with a snatch of truncated applause, rather than any further announcement of what it was and who had been playing it.  What the hell was it?

After much further research of a silliness that I need not bother you with, I finally found my way to the programme of the event I had been recording.  And all was revealed.  Finlandia.

Finlandia, by Sibelius.

Finlandia!!!! This is one of the most famous pieces of classical music ever written, just about at the pinnacle of the classical pop chart.  And what’s more, I don’t just know this piece, and I haven’t just known it for half a century, possessing an increasing number of recordings of it as the decades have passed.  I fXXXing played in it when I was at Marlborough.  I played the flute, and Finlandia has lots for the flutes to do, and I did it, week after week, and then finally at the end of term concert.  Not long after that I got a recording of the piece (along with the Sibelius Violin Concerto - also wonderful) by Herbert Von Karajan, to hear how it should really sound, and listened to it over and over again with huge pleasure.  Yet, until I had consulted that concert programme, I could not remember the name of the piece, or who had written it.

I’ve had experiences like this before, such as not recognising the Beethoven Violin Concerto when hearing Beethoven’s own version of it for piano and orchestra, or not recognising some famous pop tune, that I also knew I knew, when someone sang it.  But this was truly bizarre.

This is not the end, but it now feels a lot like the beginning of the end.

Monday September 19 2011

The cricket County Championship ended on Thursday, and I am now suffering severe withdrawal symptoms, having this year got completely sucked into it.  Surrey, my preferred county (on account of me having been born and raised in it and it having won the County Championship every year from when I was four to when I was ten) got into a promotion battle.  To win promotion to Division One they had (a) to win their last four games, and (b) to get enough bonus points (which you get for batting and bowling well in the first inningses) to get them ahead of the opposition.  Winning one County Championship game is hard.  Winning four is a considerable achievement.  They did win four, which at first looked totally impossible.  They did get just enough bonus points.  And they got promoted.  I tracked all this, with growing fascination and growing admiration, because I wanted to, and because, thanks to the www and local radio, I could.

It was a three horse race, from which two horses would be promoted, between Middlesex, Northants and Surrey, the three of them in that order when the final round of games began, last Monday morning.  If all three won their final games (which they all did) then Middlesex, way out in front, would be Division Two champs, which they were.  The interesting action concerned Northants and Surrey, the former being ahead of the latter by one point when the final round of games began.  Surrey had one more win than Northants, so if Surrey got one more bonus point than Northants in the final games, with both winning, they’d have equal points totals and Surrey would would be promoted.

The other thing you need to know about Division Two of the County Championship is that this year they have been using a kind of cricket ball which has two important properties.  It is very hard to bat against when it is new.  And it is very easy to bat against when it is old.  What this means is that batsmen who can merely survive when the ball is new are at least as valuable as batsmen who can flog it around to all parts when the ball is old.

On Monday morning, Surrey, batting first against Derbyshire, lost two very early wickets, captain Hamilton-Brown, and Ramprakash.  (Ramps has finally, it would seem, run out of puff.  He has had a bad season, for the first time in well over a decade.  But part of his problem is that he bats at number three and frequently goes into bat when that ball they are now using is new.) Things looked very bad.  But Steve Davies (badly dropped early on) and Zander de Bruyn (pronounced de Brain) then batted until lunch, taking the score past 100, in other words they not only survived, they actually flourished.  They both got out soon after lunch, and Tom Maynard then made a century, others also chipping in with important support.  But that very early batting by Davies and de Bruyn was crucial.  Thanks to Surrey batting aggressively, they were 400 for 8 by the end of day one, which got them maximum batting bonus points.  But if it hadn’t been for Davies and de Bruyn on that first morning, they wouldn’t have got anywhere near to 400 (the exact number of runs you have to get to get maximum batting points), because by the time the ball had got old and easy to hit everywhere, the way Maynard did hit it everywhere, Surrey would have been more like 200 all out.  Even if they had then contrived to win the game, their bonus points would not have been sufficient.

Northants, meanwhile, also batted well enough to go on and win their game, but they were all out in their first innings, on the Tuesday morning, for 343.  They also needed to get to 400, given that Surrey already had.  But they didn’t.  Ergo, they lost out on promotion by two points out of 227.

I love that I knew all this (scroll down here for all the rules about how many points you get for what) at the time, and consequently knew exactly what was going on, and why the batting of Davies and de Bruyn was so crucial, even as it was happening.  Cricinfo and BBC Radio London (aka Mark Church) were my two main sources, but in truth Mark Church, busy describing a cricket match, doesn’t always get all the subtleties of things like bonus points exactly right.  For that, you really need to be able to read something.

Mark Church is an amiably rambling old codger on the radio, but an intensely scripted, driven, humourless young professional on Surrey TV.  Odd.  Something to do with doing radio for six hours on end each time, but telly for more like six minutes each time.  Surrey TV’s picture and camera coverage is now appalling, but give it a few years ...

Davies and de Bruyn weren’t the only ones doing vital stuff for Surrey.  I pick them out merely because what they did was not quite as obvious as other other stuff that Surrey also did (or even as obvious as other things that Davies and de Bruyn did), like win four games in a row, which was, as I say, an amazing achievement.  Much more obvious was the contribution of Pragyan Ojha, the Indian spinner that Surrey signed for their last few games.  The thing about him was that he was not only able to bowl well.  He was able to bowl well when the ball was old and when nobody else could bowl well.  So he kept opposing sides down to much lower totals.

In general, Surrey’s bowling just gets better and better, which tells me that their new coach, Adams, is very good at coaching indeed.  Surrey not only triumphed themselves this year.  They also supplied England with two of their best new regular bowlers, Tremlett and Dernbach, supplying England with regular bowlers meaning, basically, saying goodbye to them.  Linley and Meaker, the next two Surrey quick bowlers in the queue, have done very well.  Hence, along with Ojha, all those wins.  You can’t win proper games of cricket without getting people out.

As for Surrey’s batting, I even suspect that Ramps may have done them a favour by not scoring centuries two games out of every three.  That meant the other batters couldn’t say, oh well, Ramps will bat properly, we don’t have to.  They had to.  They did.

Talking of proper cricket, two days after getting promoted, Surrey also won themselves an improper cricket title, the forty overs each way slog final against Somerset having been at Lord’s on Saturday.  Ojha didn’t play, but Surrey did play numerous other spinners, who tied Somerset into all kinds of knots.  In slogfests, the slower it comes at you, the less it just bounces off your bat to the boundary.  You have to really hit slow deliveries, and that can get you out.  Surrey made a bit of a meal of slogging off the runs, and rain complicated things, but they never really looked like not winning.

So, Surrey promoted.  Surrey win a cup competition. The other London county also promoted.

Plus, England beat India 8-0.  4-0 in the tests, once in the twenty over slog, and 3-0 in the fifty over slog series.  Surrey have a bowling line-up India could only dream of.  (Why Odja didn’t do any bowling for India this summer is very mysterious to a Surrey fan like me, although I presume English 2nd Div batters are far worse at playing spin than sub-continentals in test matches, so they didn’t realise how good he’d be until he proved it for Surrey, too late.)

Cricket lovely cricket.

Actually, the funniest single thing in the entire cricket season was the extraordinary public attack launched by the Chairman of Yorkshire CC on his own players, Yorkshire having this year been relegated to Division Two.  (So Surrey won’t play Yorkshire next season either.) In the same season that Lancashire won the Championship, which won’t have improved his mood any.  (No more Roses matches in the Championship.) Usually when sportsmen do badly these days, those in charge of them are impeccably polite about them in public, taking “full responsibility” for their own errors, blah blah, and keeping any complaints about their underlings strictly private.  Look at Indian captain Dhoni’s relentless public politeness, every time he was interviewed after yet another Indian debacle.  But t’ Yorkshire Chairman went ballistic.

Thursday September 15 2011

I have been reading and thinking about Detlev Schichter’s Paper Money Collapse for quite a while now, but until today had not written anything.  When I heard yesterday that the time to be talking it up had now arrived, I was taken a bit by surprise, the exact release date never having been made very clear to me.  Maybe to others, but to me, not.

There is already quite a buzz out there about this book, and even more of a buzz about its author, thanks to all the blogging he’s been doing on the basis of the ideas in the book, and I surmise that there is a demand for opinions about the book which, just for the time being, is not being met adequately.  In a fortnight, that probably won’t be true.  Now, it is.

I further surmise that I am not a grand enough personage for my opinions about a book to count for anything much, in a world where several dozen reviewers and bloggers have already sounded off.  My opinion will only have impact if I get it out there now. 

So I decided to move quickly.  Something okay, at once, would get my opinions about this book noticed (as in noticed at all), and the book noticed the tiniest bit more than otherwise, because I would be beating the drum for it at a quite time, so to speak.  Instead of spending further days being ultra-clever, at ultra-length, by which time nobody would care what I thought of the book, I immediately (in the small hours of this morning) wrote an adequate little review of it, for American Amazon, which is where the action now is, because Americans can already buy it there. My review is brief enough to be Amazon friendly, but long enough to suggest that I had really thought about it, and meant it when I said it was very good.

Then I put it this same review up at Samizdata.

Commenters at Samizdata suggested I also put it on UK Amazon, so I did.

Then the Cobden Centre also stuck it on their blog.

Very satisfying.

What the book says is that the end of the world as we know it is nigh, but never mind about that.  The point is, people are reading my stuff.  Hurrah.

Tuesday September 13 2011

I nearly included this photo of Kevin Dowd in my Samizdata posting last night about his performance for the Adam Smith Club, but I wanted to get that posting posted more quickly and more briefly than including it would have allowed, so here it is here:

image

I took that right after Dowd’s speech (it is misleading to call it a mere talk), which was a tour de force of detailed pessimism.

Dowd and Detlev Schlichter are now approximately equal in my estimation, both about as high as it is possible to be, Schlichter for his doggedly Germanic theoretical rigour, Dowd for his command of the details of the disaster as it is actually playing out.  A year or so ago, I began to fear that Dowd was missing the forest through concentrating too closely on one of his preferred clutch of trees, namely his scheme to sort the banks out by supervising their bankruptcy instead of just squirting ever more money at them.  This scheme sounds good to me, but Dowd sometimes gave off the vibe that he thought this was the heart of the problem and solving it would sort everything.  I was, in short, starting to have doubts about having called Dowd one of the most important intellectuals in the world.  Last night, such doubts melted away.  Which, I now realise, is another reason why Dowd’s talk gave me such profound satisfaction.  (See my Samizdata piece for the other reason why Dowd made me cheerful last night.)

The heart of the problem, as Schlichter is now painstakingly explaining to anyone who will listen, and as Dowd made absolutely clear last night that he also understands, is the inevitable forthcoming collapse of all the paper currencies and the need to get the world’s currencies back to gold.  Last night was different.  Last night Dowd painted the big picture in all its horror, and also found time to allude to What Is To Be Done, as and when the world ever becomes ready to think intelligently about such things.

Schlichter also supplies media brilliance.  Dowd is at his best when he is doing his own big, set piece performance, untinterrupted, as he was last night.  That way he can deploy detail, yet remain on top of it.  Stick him in a TV studio and whichever mere detail the interviewer chooses to ask about is liable to swallow the big picture.  Schlichter’s grasp of the big picture is undeviating, and, unlike Dowd, he looks and sounds the part.  Schlichter has rationality and fluency and authority and cleverness and been-there-done-thatness and Good Germanness oozing out of every pour.  His accent is definitely Germanic but his English impeccable, which is the perfect combination for sounding really clever.  Dowd (to quote some words I cut out of my Samizdata posting) looks and sounds more like a man who ought to be wearing a brown coat and working for the Gas Board, rather than like any kind of economic policy Moses.  He only looks and sounds impressive if you agree with every word he is saying, as I did last night.  But even then there is a mismatch between the extreme excellence of his performance and his helpful and friendly service industry demeanour.

Monday September 12 2011

A couple of days ago, Antoine Clarke dropped by chez moi, and gave me one of these:

image

This evening I had it for supper.  But what was it?  If Antoine told me, I immediately forgot.  Pate (please add appropriate accentage - also to Henaff above) made of pork, I think.  But my French is hopeless and I cannot be sure.  All I can be sure of is that it was delicious.

Indeed.  Incoming from Alex:

Thought you might like to know about my new blog.

image

And I thought my readers might also like to know about it.

I wonder what they’re paying him.

Sunday September 11 2011
Friday September 09 2011

Further to that Post-it notes notice board of mine, for blogging notes to self, most of the things on it are what I like to think of as Big Things.  Big Things like the Great Big Post I want to do some time between now and my death about (as many as I can think of of) the various things meant by the phrase “Rule of Law”.  Hear ye, hear ye.

But this doesn’t mean that I intend to neglect small things.  On the contrary, some of the best blogging I have done, and I bet this applies to thousands of other bloggers, has been of pieces I had no idea I would write, until, provoked by some weird small thing or other, I wrote them.

The purpose of this board of Big Things is not to make me write more Big Things and fewer small things.  It is, rather, to ensure that I remember the Big Things I want to write about, any year now, despite all the small things that I blog about in the meantime.

The notice board will also help, I surmise, by making it easier for me to weave Big Thing themes into smaller observations about the passing scene.

Thursday September 08 2011

Although I like the look of this camera, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150, maybe I might prefer this camera:

image

That being the Sony Cybershot HX100v.

Anyone able to say anything to help me choose?

In particular, is being able to play with RAW files (which the Lumix can do but the Sony can’t) a big deal?

The decisive thing would, for me, be picture quality.  Whichever one takes snazzier snaps is the one I would prefer.  But which one is that?

My Post-it Notes board is working very well.  Throughout the last week or so I have been remembering all the things I want to write about, and have been adding them to the board.  The really good news is now many notes will fit on it.  That it is right in front of me where I sit is crucial to its success.  I can consult it, and add to it, without moving from my seat.

The thing about To Do lists is that they are not just reminders of what to do.  They end anxiety about remembering all the things you want to do.  Even if you never actually do them.

I have, of course, taken photos of it as it has filled up, but will not be showing any of these here at all soon.  That would look like a huge bundle of public promises, and I promise nothing.

Software is included in the category list below because, as I said in the first piece, software was not the answer to my problem.

Wednesday September 07 2011

Yes, there are still cranes operating on either side of Vincent Square, which I see as a great big cluster every time I go to my local supermarkets:

image

Never the same pattern twice.

Cropped.  And “slightly sharpened”, which seems to make quite a difference.

Monday September 05 2011

Cricinfo boffin Anantha Narayanan:

My surmise was correct. In the 210 4/5/6 match Test series played so far, the England win over India is the most comprehensive and devastating in history of Test cricket. That is what many experts are saying but this is now proved here with hard analytical conclusions.

Remarkable.

I found the series utterly fascinating from beginning to end, despite its ever more extreme one-sidedness.  Partly, this was ignoble sadism, watching my team slaughter the other fellows.  But there was another slightly more honourable impulse at work, I think.  The thing is, England have never played like this before.  England don’t do whitewashes, or whatever such slaughters are more properly called when the white guys beat the non-white guys. They don’t win the series with a succession of wins, with no draws, and then win the dead test match at the end as well, also by an innings.  If anything, I found the final test the most riveting of all.  Would England keep it going, and win the lot?  Yes they would.  Yes they did.  Wow.  Fancy that.

There was also a backhanded compliment involved in my gloating.  I can remember when England slaughtering India at cricket was about as much fun to contemplate as someone torturing a cat.  It proved only that England were being horrid to poor defenceless India.  It didn’t prove anything about England’s prowess.  Ditto New Zealand.  But India, in cricket and in the world generally, is now a major force, a fact reflected in their recent number one test match status and nouveau riche economic status, second only in public esteem in that particular contest to China.  This result was as freakishly bad for them as it was freakishly good for England, which is all part of how freakishly good it was for England.  India can live with us poor little Brits gloating about beating them at a mere game, while they continue to take over our steel industry.  So, I gloat.

This, by the way, and I apologise for tangenting off, is one of the sources of anti-Americanism.  Anti-Americanism is a similarly backhanded compliment, paid by the world to the top country in the world.  Americans, we all instinctively know, can take it.  If people ever start hating China more than America, then watch out America, because that will mean that China is the top country.

But this is a cricket posting, so I really don’t want to end with that digression.  And yes, there are a couple more things I want to say about cricket.

The first concerns a disagreeable new habit that the television cricket commentators have suddenly acquired, probably from Geoff Boycott.  Whenever anything happens, instead of pausing, thinking, and then saying something pertinent, in clear-as-a-bell English, they are now groaning.  Boycott and Michael Vaughan are the main offenders, so maybe it’s a Yorkshire thing.  Ooooooh.  Ooooor.  Awwwww.  Errrrrr.  Often there is a rising inflection to it, as if they are disapproving of what they see.  In short, the television commentators are starting to sound exactly like spectators.  This is not what they are paid to do.  They should be sent away on courses, presided over by Richie Benaud, the Pope of the pause think say something pertinent school of commentating.  The worst offence was right at the end of one of the games.  Instead of saying: England have won by however many runs it was, Boycott groaned and moaned and said something highly non-pertinent.  Terrible.

The second thing I want to say about India is that I hope England slaughter them in the one-dayers also.  England have already won the only T20 game, but then got the worst of a rained off start to the 50 over series.  I hope that is no portent and that England come back hard and win the rest of the ODI series 4-0.

I do not say this out of sadism.  I say it because cricket needs India to be good, and nothing provokes cricket goodness like a jolly good thrashing.  England’s current excellence is directly traceable to earlier humiliations, when the Aussies five-nothing-ed them in 2006-7 or thenabouts, and when the Windies blew them away in Jamaica, just after Andy Flower became the coach.  If India win these ODIs, lots of Indians will say: there you are, when we try, we win.  Test cricket is boring, who needs it?  We are the one day kings and we just proved it.  Our team’s okay.  It’s test matches that are the problem, blah blah blah.  Cricket very much now needs Indians not to be able to say this, but instead to say to themselves: bloody hell, we are rubbish at ... cricket.  All of it.  We must spend some of our new money by not being so rubbish, across all the formats. 

Saturday September 03 2011

Snapped by Darryl:

image

In a comment on this.

Thursday September 01 2011

imageThis evening, half watching a TV show about 9/11, I learned that there actually soon will be a big new tower where the old Twin Towers were.

One World Trade Center is the address, but since that is rather ambiguous, what with there having previously been two towers, I assume that the real name of it will be the Freedom Tower.

With high profile sites like this one, and profiles don’t get any higher, it is often hard to sort out the internet image which is the actual thing, that they are actually going to build, from all the internet images which are just various people’s suggestions from a few years back of what they might build.  But it would seem that the object on the right is It, and that it will be finished in about two years time.

About time too.  It doesn’t look that great to me, but maybe that computer “rendering” makes it look like just another tower, when in truth it seems that it will be half as big again as anything else in Manhattan.  Besides which, with architecture, you never really know until it is finished.  Models and computer pictures never quite tell the true story.