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Wednesday November 30 2011

I here at BrianMicklethwaitDotCom do love a good bridge, and here is a bridge with a difference:


It’s the Rainbow Bridge next to Lake Powell in Utah, USA.  The difference from regular bridges being that nobody built it.  It just happened.  It is very big.  Bigger, I suspect than it looks in the many, many photos that have been taken of it, on account of the clear air making everything in those parts look nearer and hence smaller than it really is.

I learned of it because Stephen Fry went to visit it, in the course of making his TV series about America.

Monday November 28 2011

This blogging stuff really works.  I blog here about Emmanuel Todd, and a blink of an eye (i.e. about a couple of years or more) later, these two American guys are writing a book about America, concerning which they say things like this:

America 3.0 gives readers the real historical foundations of our liberty, free enterprise, and family life.  Based on a new understanding our of our past, and on little known modern scholarship, America 3.0 offers long-term strategies to restore and strengthen American liberty, prosperity and security in the years ahead.

America 3.0 shows that our country was founded as a decentralized federation of communities, dominated by landowner-farmers, and based on a unique type of Anglo-American nuclear family.  . . .

The two American guys in question are Jim Bennett (of Anglosphere fame) and Michael Lotus, who are also Chicago BoyzOthers are talking about this also.

And that “little known modern scholarship” is, among other things, the work of Emmanuel Todd.  If you look at the (quite short) “Essential Readings” list to the right at America 3.0 you will see, among other links, these:

Emmanuel Todd (1)
Emmanuel Todd (2)
Emmanuel Todd (3)
Emmanuel Todd (4)

America 3.0 will be on my Essential Reading list just as soon as I can get my hands on a copy.

Friday November 25 2011

Than it was a short while ago.

But, you still still can’t tell exactly how high it will finally be.  Will the converging glass cladding insist on entirely joining up into a point at the top, like … a shard of glass?  Or will the various converging shards of glass be content to get quite near to each other, and then just have a little extra roof in there?


Note also the excellent fifth finger of the left hand of the digital photographer, on the right.  This reminds me somewhat of the Star Trek salute that Trekkies do, which was featured on an episode of The Big Bang Theory last night.  But it is of course more sensible, being rooted in the necessity for the fifth finger not to feature in any photographs.

Although, I suppose the Star Trek salute might also be rooted in something “sensible”.

Friday November 18 2011

Indeed.  Try to guess what this next oddity is before you follow any links.  Or, don’t.  It’s entirely up to you.

First there was this photo, which I took yesterday.  And now a picture, which I did not take but which I have horizontalised a bit:


It’s one of these.

Overheard while channel surfing last night:

Her, trying to persuade him to carry on with the romance: “Do you believe in fate?”

Him: “No.”

Her: “Neither do I.  You see.  This was meant to be.”

This is from the movie Wedding Daze.  One of those unregarded little movies which only gets two stars in the Radio Times, but which I think is a bit better than that.

Tuesday November 15 2011



Incoming (click to get it slightly bigger) from Michael Jennings, taken during his recent expedition to China.

Which seems to have been very interesting.  I have already urged him to write it up, or down if that is preferable, at greater length.

Sunday November 13 2011

The weather in London has been very grey and grim of late, but today it brightened up, and I walked over to Westminster Abbey to take some topical photos of massed crosses commemorating dead warriors.  Is it wrong to turn vast rectangles of small wooden crosses into photo opprtunities?  I hope not.  No disrespect is intended:


Now I will go to Samizdata and link to them, as talked about here yesterday.

Saturday November 12 2011

Usually, when a blog goes rather quiet for no explained reason, one of two things then follows.  Either the hiatus just goes on indefinitely, and the thing is eventually seen to be what it has been for some time, dead.  Or, a mournful little posting appears in which this circumstance is made official.  It’s over.

This blog is not dead, however.  It is simply taking it easier.  I did my customary period of relaxation over the summer, and found that this time I wasn’t inclined to get things here back up to speed, on the first day of some subsequent month.  Instead, I have made a conscious effort to put more of my thoughts at my mothership, Samizdata, where many more will read them.  And that means that less stuff goes here, what with there being only so much blogging that I seem able to do.

Quite a few of the recent postings here have been photo clutches, too photographically voluminous to be welcome at Samizdata, but which I have then linked to from Samizdata.  I daresay that will keep happening.

Other postings, of the sort which go well here but not so well at Samizdata, have been fewer and further between.  So, there’s been less here.  However, Perry de Havilland does not encourage navel-gazing postings about the process of writing for Samizdata, and about its internal workings generally.  So, if I want to say anything about that, as in this posting, it has to go here.  Other things, which I just can’t be bothered to think about with the thoroughness that posting for Samizdata automatically encourages, also go here.  Posting here is easier.  Which might explain why so few people read this blog.  They sense the casualness of it all.  Life, for most, is too short for such casualness.

Another kind of posting that I prefer to put here, precisely because it doesn’t draw too much attention to itself, is a big gob of stuff copied from a book, in a way that maybe flirts with copyright law.  The most recent one of those being this.

I have been doing more for Samizdata and less here for purely selfish reasons.  It is to my personal advantage for Samizdata to continue to flourish.  So, if it seems not to be flourishing as much as I would like it to at any particular moment, it is in my interest to make it flourish a bit more.  Which is not that hard to do, but it does involve a bit of effort.

It’s kind of the opposite principle to the Tragedy of the Commons.  What would that be?  The Comedy of the Commons?  That’s not the right phrase, but I do like it.

Sunday November 06 2011

Early last week, via the Londonist, I heard about a big occupation of Regent Street that was going to happen yesterday, not by idiot hippies with no agenda (thank god), but by cars – veteran cars, E-type Jags, Minis, boringly modern cars, and surely plenty of etc. type cars.

But, come yesterday morning, I really wasn’t in the mood to get out, and nor was the weather very getoutful.  But I am very glad that I forced myself to attend.  I have never seen so many interesting cars assembled in one spot.  Any one of them would have deserved a photographic effort.  All of them congregated together was stupendous.

The light was poor, the kind where you have to hold your camera still or it’s disaster.  But I held it just about still enough, and snapped away like a mad thing.

There were, as promised, lots of E-Type Jags:


Lots of E-Type Jags and Minis:


Yes, lots of Minis, and we’re not talking the fake German Minis of recent years, that aren’t even that Mini.  These were real Minis:


The reason for all that Mini Jag action being that both are this year celebrating their fiftieth birthdays.

Better yet, there were lots, and lots, and lots, and lots of vintage cars, of the sort constructed over a century ago, when they were still trying to work out what a car was:


There were other cars, some exciting, like the knee-high red rocket car, and some dreary, like all the cars that demonstrated different varieties of fuel, such as electricity.  The dreary thing about the modern cars on show is that they look exactly like ordinary cars, i.e. in the nature of this, dreary cars.  You can’t see all the bizarrely new mechanical stuff, or not most of the time, because it is hidden behind dreary metal, just like a regular car:


But despite the dreary modern cars, it all added up to digital photographer heaven.  Many of the above pictures contain photographers, whom I couldn’t have avoided snapping had I been trying to avoid snapping them, and of course I wasn’t.  Was I going to be the only digital photographer present?  Of course not.  Here are some more of my tribe in action:


But what exactly, besides cars, were we all photo-ing?  I believe I was not the only one who was particularly noticing all the details of the vintage cars.  Like I say, they hadn’t (around 1900 or so) fully worked out what a car was supposed to be, and you can see them experimenting and juggling around with this and that arrangement, these and those luxury appendages, these and those sorts of seats, these and those sorts of bonnet shapes, right there in front of you.  Things had to be somewhat different from horse-drawn carriages.  But how different?


Amazing.  That all took hardly more than an hour.  Throughout, it was threatening to rain, but it never did until I was ready to leave.  I love how, when you visit something with a camera, you can photo it, and then go home and look at it all at your leisure.

Including “Sport” in the category list is because today, many of these cars will have been racing down to Brighton.

Friday November 04 2011

I love what James Tooley has been doing with his life, namely telling the world about how the world’s poor are now getting themselves educated.  The world’s poor are not getting education from their governments.  They are purchasing it from their fellow citizens.

This is Tooley’s description of how he got started learning about this global educational miracle, and triumph of the free market economy.  It’s from his book The Beautiful Tree (Chapter 1, pp. 3-7):

imageAfter a stint teaching philosophy of education at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa, I returned to England to complete my doctorate and later became a professor of education.  Thanks to my experiences in sub-Saharan Africa and my modest but respectable academic reputation, I was offered a commission by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation to study private schools in a dozen developing countries.

The lure of faraway places was too enticing to resist, but I was troubled by the project itself.  Although I was to study private schools in developing countries, those schools were serving the middle classes and the elite.  Despite my lifelong desire to help the poor, I’d somehow wound up researching bastions of privilege.

The first leg of the trip began in New York in January 2000.  As if to reinforce my misgivings that the project would do little for the poor, I was flown first class to London in the inordinate luxury of the Concorde. Forty minutes into the flight, as we cruised at twice the speed of sound and two miles above conventional air traffic, caviar and champagne were served.  The boxer Mike Tyson (sitting at the front with a towel over his head for much of the journey) and singer George Michael were on the same flight.  I felt lost.

From London it was on to Delhi, Chennai, and Mumbai.  By day, I evaluated five-star private schools and colleges that were very definitely for the privileged.  By night, I was put up in unbelievably salubrious and attentive five-star hotels.  But in the evenings, sitting and chatting with street children outside these very same hotels, I wondered what effect any of my work could have on the poor, whose desperate needs I saw all around me.  I didn’t just want my work to be a defense of privilege.  The middle-class Indians, I felt, were wealthy already.  To me it all seemed a bit of a con: just because they were in a “poor” country, they were able to latch onto this international assistance even though they as individuals had no pressing need for it at all.  I didn’t like it, but as I returned to my room and lay on the 500-thread-count Egyptian-cotton sheets, my discomfort with the program was forced to compete with a mounting sense of self-criticism.

Then one day, everything changed.  Arriving in Hyderabad to evaluate brand-new private colleges at the forefront of India’s hi-tech revolution, I learned that January 26th was Republic Day, a national holiday.  Left with some free time, I decided to take an autorickshaw - the three-wheeled taxis ubiquitous in India - from my posh hotel in Banjara Hills to the Charminar, the triumphal arch built at the center of Muhammad Quli Shah’s city in 1591.  My Rough Guide to India described it as Hyderabad’s “must see” attraction, and also warned that it was situated in the teeming heart of the Old City slums.  That appealed tome.  I wanted to see the slums for myself.

As we traveled through the middle-class suburbs, I was struck by the ubiquity of private schools.  Their signboards were on every street corner, some on fine specially constructed school buildings, but others grandly posted above shops and offices.  Of course, it was nothing more than I’d been led to expect from my meetings in India already - senior government officials had impressed me with their candor when they told me it was common knowledge that even the middle classes were all sending their children to private schools.  They all did themselves.  But it was still surprising to see how many there were.

We crossed the bridge over the stinking ditch that is the once-proud River Musi.  Here were autorickshaws in abundance, cattle-drawn carts meandering slowly with huge loads of hay, rickshaws agonizingly peddled by painfully thin men.  Cars were few, but motorbikes and scooters ("two-wheelers") were everywhere - some carried whole families (the largest child standing in front; the father at the handlebars; his wife, sitting sidesaddle in her black burka or colorful sari, holding a baby, with another small child wedged in between). There were huge trucks brightly painted in lively colors.  There were worn-out buses, cyclists, and everywhere pedestrians, whose cavalier attitude toward the traffic unnerved me as they stepped in front of us seemingly without a care in the world.  From every vehicle came the noise of horns blaring - the drivers seemed to ignore their mirrors, if they had them at all.  Instead, it seemed to be the responsibility of the vehicle behind to indicate its presence to the vehicle in front.  This observation was borne out by the legend on the back of the trucks, buses, and autorickshaws, “Please Horn!” The noise of these horns was overwhelming: big, booming, deafening horns of the buses and trucks, harsh squealing horns from the autorickshaws.  It’s the noise that will always represent India for me.

All along the streets were little stores and workshops in makeshift buildings - from body shops to autorickshaw repair shops, women washing clothes next to paan (snack) shops, men building new structures next to the stalls of market vendors, tailors next to a drugstore, butchers and bakers, all in the same small hovel-like shops, dark and grimy, a nation of shopkeepers. Beyond them all rose the 400-year-old Charminar.

My driver let me out, and told me he’d wait for an hour, but then called me back in a bewildered tone as I headed not to the Charminar but into the back streets behind.  No, no, I assured him, this is where I was going, into the slums of the Old City.  For the stunning thing about the drive was that private schools had not thinned out as we went from one of the poshest parts of town to the poorest.  Everywhere among the little stores and workshops were little private schools!  I could see handwritten signs pointing to them even here on the edge of the slums.  I was amazed, but also confused: why had no one I’d worked with in India told me about them?

I left my driver and turned down one of the narrow side streets, getting quizzical glances from passers-by as I stopped underneath a sign for Al Hasnath School for Girls.  Some young men were serving at the bean-and-vegetable store adjacent to a little alleyway leading to the school.  I asked them if anyone was at the school today, and of course the answer was no for it was the national holiday.  They pointed me to an alleyway immediately opposite, where a hand-painted sign precariously supported on the first floor of a three-story building advertised “Students Circle High School & Institute: Registered by the Gov’t of AP.” “Someone might be there today,” they helpfully suggested.

I climbed the narrow, dark staircase at the back of the building and met a watchman, who told me in broken English to come back tomorrow.  As I exited, the young men at the bean-and-vegetable counter hailed me and said there was definitely someone at the Royal Grammar School just nearby, and that it was a very good private school and I should visit.  They gave me directions, and I bade farewell.  But I became muddled by the multiplicity of possible right turns down alleyways followed by sharp lefts, and so asked the way of a couple of fat old men sitting alongside a butcher shop.

Their shop was the dirtiest thing I had ever seen, with entrails and various bits and pieces of meat spread out on a mucky table over which literally thousands of flies swarmed.  The stench was terrible.  No one else seemed the least bit bothered by it. They immediately understood where I wanted to go and summoned a young boy who was headed in the opposite direction to take me there.  He agreed without demur, and we walked quickly, not talking at all as he spoke no English.  In the next street, young boys played cricket with stones as wickets and a plastic ball.  One of them called me over, to shake my hand.  Then we turned down another alleyway (with more boys playing cricket between makeshift houses outside of which men bathed and women did their laundry) and arrived at the Royal Grammar School, which proudly advertised, “English Medium, Recognised by the Gov’t of AP.” The owner, or “correspondent” as I soon came to realize he was called in Hyderabad, was in his tiny office.  He enthusiastically welcomed me.  Through that chance meeting, I was introduced to the warm, kind, and quietly charismatic Mr. Fazalur Rahman Khurrum and to a huge network of private schools in the slums and low-income areas of the Old City.  The more time I spent with him, the more I realized that my expertise in private education might after all have something to say about my concern for the poor.

Khurrum was the president of an association specifically set up to cater to private schools serving the poor, the Federation of Private Schools’ Management, which boasted a membership of over 500 schools, all serving low-income families.  Once word got around that a foreign visitor was interested in seeing private schools, Khurrum was inundated with requests for me to visit.  I spent as much time as I could over the next 10 days or so with Khurrum traveling the length and breadth of the Old City, in between doing my work for the International Finance Corporation in the new city.  We visited nearly 50 private schools in some of the poorest parts of town, driving endlessly down narrow streets to schools whose owners were apparently anxious to meet me. (Our rented car was a large white Ambassador - the Indian vehicle modeled on the old British Morris Minor, proudly used by government officials when an Indian flag on the hood signified the importance of its user - horn blaring constantly, as much to signify our own importance as to get children and animals out of the way.) There seemed to be a private school on almost every street corner, just as in the richer parts of the city.  I visited so many, being greeted at narrow entrances by so many students, who marched me into tiny playgrounds, beating their drums, to a seat in front of the school, where I was welcomed in ceremonies officiated by senior students, while school managers garlanded me with flowers, heavy, prickly, and sticky around my neck in the hot sun, which I bore stoically as I did the rounds of the classrooms.

So many private schools, some had beautiful names, like Little Nightingale’s High School, named after Sarogini Naidu, a famous “freedom fighter” in the 1940s, known by Nehru as the “Little Nightingale” for her tender English songs. Or Firdaus Flowers Convent School, that is, “flowers of heaven.” The “convent” part of the name puzzled me at first, as did the many names such as St. Maria’s or St. John’s. It seemed odd, since these schools were clearly run by Muslims - indeed, for a while I fostered the illusion that these saints and nuns must be in the Islamic tradition too.  But no, the names were chosen because of the connotations to parents - the old Catholic and Anglican schools were still viewed as great schools in the city, so their religious names were borrowed to signify quality to the parents.  But did they really deliver a quality education?  I needed to find out.

Thursday November 03 2011

imageThe usual routine.  Magazine publishes picture of Mo.  Moists firebomb the office.  C’est la vie. I got to the story from here, and here.

However, I don’t believe the Moists actually care that their precious prophet has had his picture flashed about.  I think they’re just looking for a fight, and I am giving them the oxygen of publicity.  Oh well.  But you can’t just ignore this crap.  Here’s hoping the Gendarmes get them.

Don’t agree with the French politician (second link) who wants everyone to “respect” all opinions.  Just tolerate, even as you despise and/or detest, is quite sufficient.

What’s Mo saying, by the way?  Anyone?  Ah, answer here.

LATER: Longrider takes a well deserved whack at a cowardly creature called Bruce Crumley.  He got to it from Julia.

At Samizdata yesterday, I told the world and its blogs to get behind this lecture recently given by Matt Ridley in Edinburgh.  This is a blog, so ...

Says Anthony Watts:

If there’s one speech about the climate debate worth reading in your lifetime, this is it.


Arguments can be placed along a spectrum.  At one end there are arguments which hinge on people understanding just one simple chain of logic.  Many other things, which seem to matter, don’t.  It’s not complicated.  Are you older than me or younger?  If we know both our birthdays, there’s our answer.  Which of us merely looks older, for whatever complicated reasons involving the look of our bodies or the sound of our voices or the colour of our hair, can be set aside, if we have the dates of birth to compare.  Your birthday comes before mine, therefore you are older.  Simple.

But other arguments are complicated.  No one little bit of logic clinches things.  The things being argued about are complicated, and the number of different considerations involved in the argument, all of them significant, are similarly complicated.  Climate is complicated.  The case for not getting excited about C(atastrophic) A(nthorpogenic) G(lobal) W(arming), and in particular not in the ways now being recommended to and inflicted upon the world, is complicated.

Ridley’s summary of the case for climate skepticism is the best I have yet read.  As long as it has to be, but as short as it can be.  Understandable to the intelligent layman, and especially to the non-climate scientist.

I believe that the argument against CAGW has long been won.  But news of this victory has been slow to circulate amongst the wider public.  This lecture could change that.  And the number of comments accumulating at Bishop Hill and WUWT proves that I am not the only one who feels this way about it.  Thank you Ridley, for speaking our minds so well.