Brian Micklethwait's Blog

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

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Saturday June 24 2017

Yesterday, I was outside Kings Cross Station, and while there I tried to photo one of London’s more amusing little buildings, which looks like a lighthouse.

The camera I have had for the last three years still works, after a fashion.  But it is misbehaving, in ways that cause me to miss crucial photos.  So, I treated myself to a new one, which is very fine, but very complicated to operate.  Which partly explains why, instead taking a still photo of this lighthouse building, I made a movie which merely included the lighthouse building, lasting twenty one seconds, by mistake.

Here is a screen capture from that movie, paused at a moment that makes it look a lot better than it mostly was:

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This short movie also contained pictures of passers-b at crazy angles, of the pavement in front of me, along with occasional snatches of my bright blue bag.  (I’d happily show the whole thing, but as of right now, I don’t know how that works.)

But, the interesting thing was that there was also a soundtrack.  So, it was a real movie, rather than a silent movie.  You can hear those passers-by shouting, in some cases with their lips moving in perfect time with their shouting.

Hollywood, be very afraid.  Because, perhaps I will try repeating this, while pointing my new camera back at me (for which the twiddly screen (it has a twiddly screen (all my cameras have twiddly screens)) will be very handy), and with me saying something coherent.  Or maybe someone else cleverer than me.  Or both.  Or more.  But, I promise nothing.

The lighthouse building is in the middle of the above screen capture, and in the distance (this kind of situation being why I do love a zoom lens).  More about this building, and in particular about its recent renovation, here.

Friday June 23 2017

The internet loves animals, especially cats and dogs, and I went looking for Grenfell Tower animal stories.  Because, there’s always an animal angle, to just about any story, even if it wasn’t an animal story to start with.

Did many pets die in the Grenfell Tower disaster?  I wasn’t able to answer that one.  But there have been a number of stories about pets who either can’t now stay with their current owners, or whose owners have died.  Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, for instance, is helping out with temporary pet accommodation.

Animals were also heavily involved in the search for bodies in the wreckage, as MSM news explains:

Specially trained dogs are also vital to the mission. The search process is painstaking, and as dogs are smaller, more agile, and have such a keen sense of smell (better than any technology), the animals have been deployed at more challenging areas.

The upper floors of the 24-storey high rise, those most damaged, and where people are most likely to have been killed, benefit particularly from the dogs’ expertise.

The canines come from the LFB and the MET’s urban search crews. They’re given special equipment, and even little boots to protect their feet from heat and broken glass. While obviously dangerous, no fire dog has ever been harmed while out on an operation.

...

The dogs mean the sad and devastating process of finding the missing will be quicker. They can get into parts of the building humans simply can’t get to.

I particularly like the bit about those “little boots”.  Nice touch.  Both in the sense of what this detail adds to the story, and in the sense that this must make life easier for the dogs, despite any doubts the dogs might have when first made to put their little boots on.

More about these dogs and their boots, with a picture, here, in a story from last year.

Thursday June 22 2017

Well, two really.  Theirs, and mine:

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We are in the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern, which features a huge west-facing window that sucks the afternoon sun in, creating wonderful effects.  These are sharp and dramatic when you look at the whole picture, more subtle when viewed closer up.

I observe a couple having a photo session.  I do a big picture photo of the big scene (1.1).  Then I zoom in for more detail (1.2) complete with reflections, and to see the light in a different light, so to speak, less sharply drawn, more like a watercolour.  As they look at their photos, I zoom out again (2.1), and then as they walk off, satisfied. I zoom in again (2.2).

Things were made easier for us all by the fact that there was no Art cluttering up the place, or not that I could see.  That the Art in Tate Modern is so easily avoided is one of its best features, I think.  The architectural views, both inside and looking outwards upon London, are magnificent.  The Art, on the whole, less so.

Wednesday June 21 2017

One of the many aspects of the horrible Grenfell Tower fire that makes it such a compelling news story is that the scene of the crime (which is what most now assume it to be) is so very, very visible.  This is not the kind of horror that can be sealed off by the police and hidden from view.  There it is, in all its photogenic horror, and there it will remain for quite some while yet.

Yesterday I lunched with GodDaughter 2.  She has been allowed no time to recover from her recital (the pizza in yesterday’s posting was consumed just after that happened), but instead has been plunged into rehearsals for this showVery hot, apparently.  Lots of stage lighting, and lots of standing around, as is the way with complicated rehearsals.  I, meanwhile, was also nearly immobilised by the heat, and just wanted to get home again and be truly immobile.  So, we spent less time together than we would have had the heat been less hot.

imageBut she did show me this photo, on the right there, which was taken by a friend of hers and along with a million other such photos, has been circulating on social media.  This particular photo was taken (I think I have this right) after the fire had erupted, and then been turned entirely black and dormant by the firemen.  But then, the fire got back into business, nearly a day later.  And I bet the heat made a difference to that too.

As for the politics of this, I don’t think Mrs May will recover from the bad press she has had as a result of this disaster.  (GD2 was very eloquent about that.) But my hope is that the Corbynistas are overplaying their hand.  People, says John McDonnell, have a right to be angry.  Of course they do.  But if too many of the people being angry are thought to be politicos who are merely pretending to be angry but who are really having the time of their lives, the Corbyn project might suffer.  I’m sure the Corvbyn high-ups are aware of this danger, but knowing what is happening with something is not the same as necessarily being able to stop it.  (Ask any fireman.)

In general I hope that what I heard Matthew Parris saying on the television on the night of the election is right, to the effect that the Corbyn phenomenon will now be subjected to the sort of serious critical scrutiny by the voters which last time around they bestowed only upon Mrs May.

Tuesday June 20 2017

Why do people get so angry about other people who photo their food before eating it?

Here is a pizza that I photoed, before eating it, when we all went out to dinner following GD2’s end of third year singing recital:

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And very tasty it was too.  Thank you Da Mario‘s, if that’s how you say it.

Does the very thought of me taking the above photo, in a restaurant, annoy you?  Why?  Seriously, why?  By this I don’t mean: stop feeling annoyed you fool.  By why I mean why.  What is this feeling?

I’m not sure I can prove it, but I am rather sure that a similarly small but definite spasm of annoyance is felt when the same people who disapprove of food photoing observe other photoers using selfie sticks.

Yes, I think I have it.  What food photoing and selfie sticks have in common, beyond the obvious fact that both involve photoing, is that both practices are very visible.  If they bother you, they are hard to ignore, like a slight but irregular noise when you are trying to get to sleep, or people shouting near you in an already noisy (but predictably so and thus ignorably so) tube train.

The fact of these practices being so visible is what amplifies the annoyance.

Getting back to that food photoing thing in particular, why be annoyed?

Could it be that photography has now become something very different in recent years, but that some people need to do some catching up?  The marginal cost of the next photo you take is now: zero.  The marginal cost of the next phone communication you send: also zero.  So, taking and sending a photo of what you are about to eat is of no more consequence than just telling someone you are about to consume a rather good pizza, over the phone, with mere words.  A pizza photo says, quickly, what is in it, what sort of pizza it is, how big, and so forth, just as you might if you were talking about it.  A photo thrown into the conversation is just illustrated chit-chat.

But photography, traditionally, has tended to be a much more slow, solemn and artistic and expensive thing.  And the more artistic and cultured you are, or think that you are, the more you will know this.  Do these damn people think that every damn food photo they commit and emit is some sort of eighteenth century Dutch still life painting?

Well, it kind of is, or kind of can be.  But basically, no.  If you think they think this, you’ll think them very silly.  But, they don’t think this.  What they are doing is not Big Art, even if at its best casual photoing can resemble Big Art.  What they are doing with their food photos is small talk.

Could that be something to do with it?

Also in play are the more ignoble feelings aroused by others (a) enjoying themselves (b) not caring who knows it, and (c) not caring, in particular, about you and any moans you might have about what they are doing and how they are drawing attention to themselves.  You just know that if you said to them: Excuse me, would you mind not doing that? - they’d say something along the lines of: yes we would mind not doing that, get stuffed.  Eat you own damn food and stop complaining about us photoing ours, you idiot.  And they’d be right.  And you’d know it.

Monday June 19 2017

Indeed:

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The date I did the photo is on the bus.  The place is just past the 507 bus stop at the top end of Horseferry Road, which I go past on my way to the nearest tube station.  I cropped the photo a little, but was careful to include the flowers.

Whenever I see Chinese looking couples getting married in London, having a marriage photo-session, I take all the photos I can, of them and of their photoer.  The above is a nice variation on that theme, I think.  If there’s no photoing going on, the next best thing is an interesting vehicle.

Not much today.  Too hot.  Hot indoors.  Even hotter out of doors.  So, stayed indoors.  Mostly next to my big old computer, and its fan-stroke-fan-heater.  But at least I wasn’t running around getting even hotter.

Sunday June 18 2017

Yes, time for another collection of photoer photos, taken by me a decade and more ago.

Usually, if anything on a camera twiddles, it’s just the screen.  But there was a brief moment, just over a decade ago, when a tiny few cameras had lenses that twiddled.  The thinking presumably being that by storing a lens at right angles to its position when in action, a more powerful, because much longer (or maybe that should be deeper), lens could thus be deployed.

Here are eighteen photoers using such cameras.  That sounds like a lot, but it represents pretty much all of the photoers armed with this particular sort of camera that I managed to photo, ever.  Barring a very few that I missed when trawling through my voluminous photo-archives.

The idea never really caught on.

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There seem to be four basic models involved.

These are: the Nikon Coolpix 995, the Nikon Coolpix S4, the Nikon Coolpix SQ, and the Kyocera Finecam SL300R.  Everyone shown above seems to be using a variant of one of those three models.

What the mobile phone (I think) in the penultimate photo is, I do not know.

Perhaps someone can explain to me why such devices never caught on.  I would have thought that, then and now, this design or something like it would enable you to fit a lot more photographic bang into your pocket than would be possible otherwise, in cameras where the lens and the processing are all done in the one untwiddling and hence photographically very thin object.

I suppose another way of phrasing the same question would be: How the hell do the cameras in phones work, and work so well, what with them being so thin?

Saturday June 17 2017

I just did a posting at Samizdata about the flypast over London today, that went with the Trooping of the Colour.  That I photoed from my roof, insofar as I saw it.

I stuck up a lot of Samizdata-friendly photos there, but my favourite flypast photo was this, of a couple of planes seen through some foreground roof clutter:

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You may say: not very remarkable.  But I say: this is not the kind of thing I usually see from my roof when I go up there with my camera.  For me, this is remarkable.

Friday June 16 2017

It feels hard to write about anything else in London, other than that towering inferno.  This story will run and run, because it partakes of both genuine emotions of the strongest sort, and politicians and media people eager to fan the flames.  What happened?  Who exactly has died?  Whose fault was it?  You can’t blame the media.  Their job is to tell true stories, and this is one hell of a true story.

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Daily Mirror story about a barking dog.

Politically, if you had tried to hand-craft a disaster calculated to do the most possible damage to the Conservative government, and to most encourage what now seems to be a rising tide of Corbynism, you could hardly have done it more perfectly.  Those political people who are now fanning the flames are filled with passionate moral self-confidence.  How on earth the long-term politics of all this will pan out, I have no idea.

Would a Corbynite government really turn Britain into Venezuela?  Probably not, but why take the chance?  That’s what I say.  But will enough of my fellow Brits agree with me, when the time to say comes round again?  As of now, it feels like: no.

Oh well:

Spero infestis metuo secundis.

6k liked that too.

Thursday June 15 2017

I have posted here recently about the design of tube maps.

And I have posted here about how the Roman Empire surrounded the Mediterranean Sea.

But I didn’t expect ever to be posting about both, in the form of the same piece of graphics.  But now, Colossal has a posting entitled The Roman Empire’s 250,000 Miles of Roadways imagined as a Subway Transit Map:

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If you click on that, you’ll get it big enough to clock all the station names.  (If your eyesight is in the same zone of dodgyness as mine.)

I actually think that this drives home the point, about Rome surrounding the Mediterranean, very well.  Just giving all the various tribes and countries and kingdoms involved a spanking on the battlefield is one thing.  Roman roads are something else again.  A Roman road says: We’re here to say, and we can do it again whenever we want.

Wednesday June 14 2017

In the movie of that name, the inmates were all rich and glamorous.  Well, they would be, they were played by movie stars.  And the fire spread slowly enough to last for a whole movie.

This tower contained mere people, and the flames spread very quickly, like … wildfire.

I presume that the social media are ablaze with images of this tower, but for me, being the age I am, it’s the Evening Standard that really brings these sorts of things home:

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As you can see, they originally went with “Inferno”, but later changed it to the more politically charged “Death Trap”.  On the telly, the story was already developing, along the lines of: they were warned.  But they did nothing.

The Evening Standard story so far.

Tuesday June 13 2017

Indeed:

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According to Laura Gibbs, this translates from Latin into this:

I am hopeful in times of danger; I am fearful when things are going well.

I love the internet.  Before the internet I would have seen this, been momentarily baffled, and would have forgotten it at once.  Now I photo it and later I learn what it means.  I then blog it and only then do I forget about it.

The building that proclaims this wisdom is now the Milestone Hotel.

Monday June 12 2017

Today I was part of a impressively numerous gang of friends and family who attended GodDaughter 2’s end of third year recital, at the Royal College of Music.

The RCM, seen from outside the Royal Albert Hall, looks like this:

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This photo was taken from just beyond the statue of Prince Albert outside the Royal Albert Hall, to the south of it.  By most standards, this statue is pretty imposing, but it is a miniature compared to the vastly bigger Royal Albert Memorial, which is to the north, the other side of Kensington Road, in Hyde Park.

After GD2’s recital, we went out and celebrated.  We ate.  We drank.  We photoed each other.  I photoed us photoing each other.  And I also took a few dozen photos in and around the RCM and its various Albert memorials, both before and after the recital.  More of that may follow (although I promise nothing).

For now, I’ll just say that although it is very hard to be objective about a person whom I have known since she was about four or some such tiny age, GD2, who is a mezzo-soprano, really seems like she is going to be the real deal.  Her voice gets stronger and more expressive, and her command of it more impressive, every time I hear her.

GD2 herself is not in the slightest bit strange, but when singing, she does strange, wonderfully.  Her performances of two of the songs from Day Turned Into Night by Iain Bell were particularly fine.  These songs feature Queen Victoria describing the life and death of – you’ve guessed it – Prince Albert.  The two that GD2 sang are very strange indeed.

Sunday June 11 2017

Indeed:

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Click on that sliver of horizontality to see the building in question.

No doubt this has already received much www attention.  And now, I attend to it.  Photos taken by me, outside Hampton Wick Overground Station, yesterday.

The graffiti in the Hampton Hackney Wick and surrounding areas is dispiritingly ubiquitous.  I prefer the way my part of town handles graffiti, which is for it all to happen in a tunnel.

Friday June 09 2017

I don’t go to Quotulatiousness every day, but I went there yesterday, and what did I find?  I found that this Samizdata piece of mine from 2015, was quotulated again.  The piece was about war and sport.  The earlier quotulation was from the sport bit.  Now he quotulates the war bit, which is how the piece begins.

I also told you here about the earlier quotulation.  Grander people than me have others to bang their drum for them, but if I don’t bang my own drum, nobody will.

I am consoling myself for the depressing current state of British politics by thinking about cricket, which has been pretty good, despite the weather.  The Champions Trophy is in full swing, and the hosts, England, have not been eliminated after their first two games.  They have, on the contrary, already got to the semi-finals.

The big victims of the weather have been the Aussies.  They were about to win their game against Bangladesh by a mile, and if twenty overs of their run chase had been completed they would have won.  But, to the tune of four overs, their run chase did not last for twenty overs.  Instead there was rain, and they got only a draw, or whatever it’s called.  The Aussies could well lose tomorrow, to nothing-to-lose already-through England, and if they do, they’re out.

On Tuesday, England beat NZ in Cardiff, with Cardiff seeming to be just about the only place in England (so to speak) where a nearly full day of cricket was possible.  On Wednesday, the South Africa Pakistan game was another of those Will-They-Complete-Twenty-Overs-Of-The-Run-Chase? games.  They did, and Pakistan won it, which was a surprise.

But then, whatever Pakistan do, it’s a surprise.  The cliché question is: Which Pakistan team will turn up?  And the cynic’s reply is: Either the Pakistan team that has been paid a small sum of money to win, or the Pakistan team that has been paid a rather larger sum of money to lose.  That may be a monstrous slur, and of course no official-type commentator would be allowed to say such a thing out loud.  But really, the contrast between the rubbish that Pakistan served up in their first game, against India, and how they played then against South Africa was downright bizarre.

Especially dramatic was yesterday’s amazing run chase by Sri Lanka, to beat India at the Oval.  And guess who won that game for Sri Lanka.  Yes, it was BMdotcom’s favourite cricketer:

Mendis was named Man of the Match for his innings of 89 off 93 and Mathews said that he and the team had benefited from speaking to Sri Lanka’s previous No. 3 before the match. “He [Mendis] met Kumar Sangakkara to get a few batting tips, and he’s the king, and we all look up to him. We all get advice from him, all the batters. He taught us a lot of good things on how to play on these tracks. Yesterday the guys met him and took a lot of advice and went out there and implemented it.”

With luck, after King Kumar has ceased playing for Surrey at the end of this season, Surrey can, from time to time, get him to come back and talk to them before big games too.  Without him, their batting now looks like it will be decidedly thin.

To digress a bit from the Champions Trophy, Surrey (complete with King Kumar) will today be starting a four day county game against Essex, and outside my window it was, when I starting concocting this, raining.  Which means that it was quite likely raining also in the Guildford area, Guildford being not far away from me and Guildford being where this game is happening.  Yes, there has been a bit of rain in Guildford today, but otherwise the forecast is good for the next few days.  Play is scheduled to start at 1.10pm.

Contrary to cliché, it actually doesn’t rain that much in England.  It does rain, of course it does.  But not nearly as much as most foreigners seem to think it does, given how much we talk about it and grumble about it.  The problem is that English rain is not predictable, like a Monsoon Season, or some such thing.  And when it comes to cricket, it doesn’t take much rain to screw things up.

Today, it’s NZ v Bangladesh in Cardiff, but oh dear, I see that a “wet outfield” is delaying things.  But it looks like they’ll get a game.

One day ...  One day, someone will invent a magic lazerbeamy thingy that you will point upwards from the perimeter of a cricket ground, like a circle of upward-pointing searchlights zeroing in on a Lancaster bomber over WW2 Germany, which will divert the rain into big buckets on the perimeter and keep it off the pitch.  Rain stopped play will then be history.  We can all dream.

Meanwhile, King Kumar should lead prayers for the rain to hold off for the rest of this tournament, and for all rain currently earmarked by the weather gods for England to be deposited instead in South Africa.

Photoed by me in Leake Street, a week ago:

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I have no idea what most of the stuff in this photo is about, but the Theresa Who? bit certainly looks like happening pretty soon.

Thursday June 08 2017

Yes, Jamie Bartlett spoke to Libertarian Home last night, at the Two Chairmen, Dartmouth Street, London SW1, and I was very impressed.  So impressed that this morning, I went to this much bother:

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Click on any of those little squares and get to the bigger picture.  They all look much the same to me, apart from the first two.  If you want to make further use of any of them, further use away.  If you would like a larger original version of any of these photos, get in touch.

The thing is, I took lots of photos of Jamie Bartlett, as he spoke.  Normally, most of such pictures would be a blur, but just like me, my camera really liked this guy, and almost always focussed amazingly well, considering the deeply unhelpful lighting that always seems to prevail at these talks, with the wall behind perfectly lit but the face of the speaker in near darkness.  But all cameras these days see better than humans do, so no worries about that.

Bartlett told a few stories about successful radicals of his acquaintance, which are also told in his book Radicals, which I will definitely be reading in the near future.  I prefer paperbacks to hardbacks because they weigh less and take up less space, but I may not be willing to wait until Jan 2018 for the paperback version of this book.

Going by what he said last night, the radicals he writes about are people who use their media savvy to turn hitherto rather somnolent movements into media circuses, thereby waking up and alerting the wider world to these movements.

I am not surprised that amazon reviewers wrote about what a good read this book is.  Jamie Bartlett is definitely a very engaging and thoughtful speaker.  Hewas late arriving, on account of buzzing around Europe speaking to lots of other people, but he was well worth the wait.  And because of this delay I got to do some enjoyable LH socialising.

My thanks and admiration to LH’s Simon Gibbs, for organising this excellent event.

Wednesday June 07 2017

Last Saturday, I walked from Waterloo to the City, but stopped by at Tate Modern to have another look at the views from the top of the Tate Modern Extension.  But I have learned that the things to be seen within the space at the top there can also be quite striking:

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Click to get the bigger original picture.

That’s all for today.  Tomorrow, I will try (although I promise nothing) to do something rather more substantial.

Tuesday June 06 2017

Incoming from Simon Gibbs, in the form of an email, containing all the necessary links, entitled:

Michal Huniewicz combines drone, very good camera & photography, and a bit of Photoshop

He does indeed.

At the Michal Huniewicz Twitter place, I started scrolling down, and (of course) stopped when I got to this, posted on March 15th of this year:

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Bigger here.

Yes, it’s the London Gateway, on or just before March 15th.  When I visited London Gateway in 2015 there were only five cranes.  Now look at it.  Still not the complete set according to my calculations, but well on the way to that.

Here is another shot, also (I assume) contrived by Michal Huniewicz, of LG in action, from directly above:

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Personally I am not fond of that Photoshop Look, which boosts the contrast of everything to a wildly unrealistic degree, butchering mere landscapes into a state of kitschified unwatchability.  Huniewicz doesn’t unleash this kind of ugliness very much, but, as Simon’s email hints, he does this a bit, and his landscape photos suffer, I think.  But cranes are visually strong enough to survive this kind of falsification with ease.  Their essence, which is structure rather than mere colour and colour contrast, shines through.  And actually, Huniewics doesn’t Photoshop around with his crane pictures, or not so you notice.  They look to me much as they came out of the camera.  Or maybe it’s just that when painted boxes are made to look brighter it looks no more like a crap picture on a Scottish biscuit tin than it did before.

Monday June 05 2017

A few hours after I took this photo (and not before all the latest terrorist dramas that were happening on the other side of the river (which I later crossed)), I took this photo, outside the Bank of England:

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This combines four things that interest me.

First, most obviously, it is a photo of an unusual means of transport.  Rather confusingly, this contraption had “PedalBus.com” written on it.  But when you type that into the www, you get redirected to pedibus.co.uk.  Where you also discover photos of contraptions with “PedalBus.com” on them.  Very confusing.

Second, the persons on the pedibus/PedalBus are making a spectacle of themselves.  People who make a spectacle of themselves are not entitled to anonymity, or not at this blog.  Photoers going about their photoing business do, mostly, get anonymity here.  But people yelling drunkenly, albeit goodnaturedly, and striking dramatic attitudes when I photo them, not.

Third, I like these downward counting numbers on the pedestrian light bits of traffic lights, which London apparently got from New Zealand.  (Blog and learn.) Very useful.  I like to photo them, preferably in combination with other interesting things.  Score.  Score again, because there is not just one 7 in this photo, there are two 7s.  This particular time of the day, just when it is starting to become dark, is the best time to photo these numbers.

And fourth, I am becoming increasingly interested by London’s many statues, as often as not commemorating the heroes of earlier conflicts.  I think one of the things I like about them is the sense of a very particular place that they radiate, just as the more showoffy Big Things do, but even more precisely.  They thus facilitate meeting up with people.  “In front of the Bank of England” might prove too vague.  “Next to Wellington” pins it down far more exactly.

The Wellington statue makes a splendid contrast with the pedi/PedalBussers.  Wellington is Wellington, seated on his horse (Copenhagen presumably), very dignified and patrician.  And the peddlers are the kind of people he commanded in his battles.

I don’t get why this statue is in front of the Bank of England.  Why isn’t there a Wellington statue at Waterloo?

Sunday June 04 2017

This morning I went looking for any copies of the Koran that I might have downloaded, to do some more reading of it, in order to confirm that it is indeed as disgusting a piece of writing as I recall it being last time I tried to read all through it.  I did not find any Koran, but I did find the piece of writing below.

I started writing what follows in November 2006, but then stopped writing it, for some reason.  It still reads quite well, but I probably stopped because I found myself trying to say too many things, most of them somewhat more complicated than how I described them.  But I think this piece, which I reproduce here with no alterations from what I wrote over a decade ago, is a lot more right than wrong.  For all its first-draft-itis, it serves today as my response to yesterday’s terrorism in London, which I wasn’t far away from as I wandered about in London, as recounted in the previous post.  Only a bit more transport confusion and I might have got more directly involved in that.

The thing starts with seven subheadings, but as you will discover, I only got as far as elaborating on the first four.  But the others, still pack quite a punch, as single words.

Anyway, here it is:

Engage – notice – think – define – isolate - surround – destroy

What I mean by the West

I do not have in mind a mere geographical area, even though what I do have in mind definitely has its origins in a geographical area.  What I mean is a style of government, a style of political culture, composed of constitutionally divided political power, rather than despotism, and all the habits of political debate and political turbulence that go with that.  And, divided economic power, and all the habits of competitive trade and inventiveness that go with that.  And, the way that these two things feed off each other.

1. Engage

The West engages its enemies without even trying to.  This is because it is supremely powerful and supremely productive.  Without even knowing it, it outrages ancient pieties, entices primitive youths into involvement with it, starting with jeans etc., but only starting with that.  It smashes temples and turns them into supermarkets and car parks.  It commits sacrileges of every sort.  It paves paradise.  It turns objects of religious worship into priceless (i.e. very pricey indeed) antiques for the antiques market.  It will be many decades yet before it has no external enemies, probably centuries, and it will always have internal enemies, disgusted by its failures and successes.

That last point is particularly important.  The West doesn’t just make enemies in the regular sense, it helps to make them in the literal sense.  Communism, Fascism, and now Islamo-fascism all had tremendous input from the West itself.  In a way, you could say, the world is already entirely Westernised, but is, Western style, quarrelling.  One team wants the West to stop being the West, in the sense I have defined it, to stop quarrelling and to take its orders from some particular permanent despot or permanent elite.  The rest of the West wants the West to remain the West, and to continue quarrelling for ever.

2. Notice

So, contentedly, selfishly, complacently, the West is beset with enemies, and every few years or decades, one of these enemies persuades the West that it might be a serious threat, or at the very least a serious nuisance.  The recent enemies of the West have been Despotic Germany, in due course Hitler’s Germany.  Then the USSR.  Now there is Islam, Islamism, or whatever we call it.  (See below.  The confusion is a lot of what this posting is all about.) And maybe, also China.  Or maybe neither of the above, and we ought still to be at peace, contentedly, selfishly, complacently, and Clintonian contentment should still reign.  We are now quarrelling about that.

9/11 may or may not have been the latest moment when the West became aware of its next great enemy, but it certainly feels like one of those moments to me.

3. Think

9/11 certainly got a lot of people in the West thinking, and this, I suggest, is the stage we are now at when it comes to confronting Islam, Islamism, etc..  But, there is fierce disagreement about what, if anything much at all, should be done about this apparent new enemy.

The reason I didn’t put “disagree” in that list above is because the West always disagrees with itself, at all times.  It always argues.  None of the processes described here are unanimous, and wanting them to be is an un-Western way of thinking, I suggest.  I repeat, at no point in the process I describe is the West ever united.  Even the victory stage is hotly contested, with victory often being achieved by a minority which merely worked out how to do it.

President Bush, the by-default (and much contested and resented) leader of the West just now, has made a brave (or stupid according to taste) stab at defining, isolating, surrounding and destroying the Islam(ist) enemy, and although it is hard to see this now, I believe that his effort might yet prove sufficiently successful to sort that problem.  I can easily imagine a world, in about ten or twenty years time, say, in which we occasionally say, in among fussing about the Chinese or the South American Union of Bastards or whoever is next on the eternal list of enemies: Remember that 9/11 thing?  Yeah, whatever happened to those guys?  Well, well, history eh?  Talk about a dog that stopped barking.  I know, that doesn’t now seem likely, but

Many of the enemies of the West never get past the being noticed stage.  Think of rock and roll.  Some said that was an enemy of the West.  Now, it is the West, along with everything else we like, such as Hellman’s Mayonnaise, cricket on Sky TV, motorised Zimmer frames, the internet, etc. etc.  Rock and roll got noticed as a potential enemy, and then . . . well, that was pretty much it.  By and by, the people who had become agitated about it just relaxed and went on to fussing about something else.  Or just died.

Back to that thinking stage.  In a way, this is rather like “disagree” in that of course we think.  We in the West think, all the time.  It’s what we do.  So, why do I still award it a separate category of its own in this progression.  Well, because I think it is important to understand the bull session, thinking outside the box, anything-is-allowed nature of the process.

Take the Islam(ist) confrontation we are now thinking about so furiously.  Is there a problem?  Many say no.  Others say yes, there’s a huge problem, and we’re getting stuck into it, and why the hell don’t you stop bitching?  (I haven’t heard anyone say that yes there is a huge problem but it is now being taken care of and soon it will all be over, but, what the hell, you just heard me say that things could be like that, in this, only a few paragraphs ago.) If there is a problem, what kind of problem is it?  Is it religious of secular?  Ancient or modern?  Religious, political, economic or social?  Is the USA the real problem here?  Is the only problem that the damn USA is built for launching itself at problems, and if it doesn’t face a real problem it will launch itself at a fantasy problem, just for the fun and the profit of it?  Is the answer for all the religions to get along, by forming a kind of anti-modern religious cartel, and then for the relatively modern bits of the cartel to civilise the more primitive bits?  Is it All About Oil?  (And is the answer therefore to invent an oil substitute?)

Define

Define the enemy.  This is the argument which, historians may well decide, is the one the West is now having.  This is the particular object of the thinking.

For whatever it may be worth, and just to give you an example of the kind of argument this process involves, there is now a huge argument going on in the West right now about the nature of the Islamist threat.  Is it a threat from “extreme Islamists”, terrorists, people who are betraying Islam?  And is the answer to isolate these extreme Islamists terrorist, etc., from the rest of the Muslim world, by persuading “moderate” Muslims to suppress the extremity in their midst?  Or is Islam as a whole the problem?

My answer is a hybrid.  I think it highly unlikely that Islam as such will be totally defeated in the nearish future.  But I do think that it makes more sense to say that Islam is the problem, rather than mere Islamic extremism.  My understanding of the contents of the Koran, based on some reading of English translations and on a lot of hearsay and opinion from those (of all state of pro- to anti-Islamic opinion) who have read it a lot more than me, is that the Koran is a manual for conquest of the world by Islam.  Violence and savagery are definitely recommended, but so is making nice, when that will work better.  But, conquest – submission – is the objective.  The idea, to put it in terms of the West as I am defining the West, is for the West to be shut down.  Stop quarrelling.  Submit.  So, Islam itself is a mortal enemy of the West.  They can’t both win.  Either the West is shut down, or Islam is castrated into a bizarre group of people who believe their bizarre things but never actually do any of it, and spend their time unanimously explaining that it is all only metaphorical, and that Holy War really only means studying harder for your exams and doing your work better, and generally being nice and civilised.  Islam is absolutely not like this now, and is accordingly the West’s enemy.  The West faces the task, I would say, of destroying Islam.

In practice, what this means for the time being is for Islam to be sufficiently subjugated by the West for it not to be any kind of immediate problem.  Western victory would mean not Islam ceasing to exist, but Islam ceasing to exist as even a minor nuisance to the West.  Any excitable adolescent who read the Koran and wanted to act as if it means what it says would be suppressed at once, by other Muslims.  The rest of us wouldn’t need to be much involved.

So, how to do this?  Well, I am doing what I now recommend, which is to think about the problem, and to define the enemy.  And I now define the enemy as Islam.  Not Islamic extremism, or people betraying Islam, but: Islam.  What it is.  What is says.  Islam must now either be either destroyed, or, and in practice this amounts to something very similar, transformed into something completely different.

To the so-called Muslim majority moderates, I have this to say.  Get real.  You insist on your right to your religious beliefs.  Fine.  And we Westerners are going to insist on acquainting ourselves with your beliefs, now that you have our attention, and we are now doing this.  And the conclusion we are reaching is that your beliefs are a huge problem for us.  Even if you do not take them seriously, what if your crazy children do?  Ideas have consequences.  So if you repeat ad nauseam that the Koran is the unchallengeable word of God and must be followed, even if you do not follow it yourself, then in our eyes you, and not just the crazy kid suicide bombers etc., are doing something wicked.  You are spreading ideas that are hostile to the West, and we now blame you for this process.  Not just the crazy kids who take the ideas that you are spreading seriously.  We blame you for spreading these ideas.  You, as you now behave and now think, are the problem.

I often hear “moderate Muslims” say that “we are being blamed for things we didn’t do”.  But I am blaming you for things that you are doing.  You are spreading beliefs that you say under cross-examination that you do not really believe.  Then stop spreading them.  Stop worshipping the Koran.  Stop declaring it to be the word of God.  You say “we are under attack”.  So far as I am concerned, you are under attack.  You say that you are frightened.  You should be.

We Westerners are now quarrelling about whether we should allow ourselves the right to say that we hate Islam.  Well, while it remains legal to say it, I say it now: I hate Islam.  It is a vile and disgusting religion.  Its purpose is to ruin my life and to terrorise me into believing things that are the opposite of what I now believe, into living in an opposite way to how I now live.  Of course I hate it.

How, to digress a little, does this square with me being, as I am, a libertarian?  Well, I do not think that Islam should be illegal.  But nor do I think that me saying I hate Islam should be illegal.  And since this is an argument about ideas and the spread of ideas, the way that my side will win this argument is by arguing, not by passing laws which will suppress the public expression of ideas, but which will not argue them into no longer being believed in.

My team won a crushing ideological victory in the West over Soviet Communism.  We did this without, on the whole, ever making it illegal for Westerners to be Communists.  We just denounced all Communists for the idiot, evil freaks that they were, until eventually they were so demoralised by our contempt for them that they just shut up, and switched to things like Greenism.  They continue to spread many of their separate little Communist ideas, but they have mostly now stopped spreading the idea of Communism itself, and in fact this defeat predated the collapse of the USSR.  It left my team free to proceed with the destruction of Soviet Communism itself, pretty much ideologically unimpeded by Western Communists.

As I say, no laws against believing evil nonsense were necessary to win this ideological victory, and in fact such laws would have got in the way.  Illegal ideas are much harder to engage with and destroy, if only because they are so much harder to find, and because the temptation is to declare them already defeated when in fact they have only been forbidden and are still in rude health.

Saturday June 03 2017

Today I journeyed to Waterloo, and then walked from Waterloo to the City, there to inspect the latest batch of City Big Things that they are busy erecting.  My inspecting done, I made my weary way to Monument Tube Station, which I reached just as it was starting to rain.

And Monument Tube Station was shut.  No District Line.  The City is like a morgue at the weekend, that being why I chose the weekend to be there.  I wanted to see buildings, not people.  The City being the City, there were no buses to anywhere, or not that I could detect.  So I trudged, in the rain, as it got heavier, across the river, intending to get to Southwark Tube if all else failed.  I did have my umbrella with me, thank goodness, but rain with an umbrella is still far worse than no rain.  But then a bus showed up on its way to Waterloo, and at Waterloo I quickly found another bus back home, near enough.  So there I was, home, damp, knackered.  It could have been far, far worse, but I was still in no state to be doing anything fancy here.

So, here is just one photo that I took today, in Leake Street, right at the beginning of my wanderings.  Leake Street is the graffiti tunnel under Waterloo:

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Photoers, surprise surprise.  But, I like it.

I took a lot of other photos that I like.  Later, maybe, although I promise nothing.

Friday June 02 2017

I have lots of Daily Mailish views on Modern Art, and like many such grumblers, I thought Art ought to be more skilful.  When observing a work of Art, it ought to be impossible to say “my kid could do that”, unless one’s kid was a very talented artist.  Skill.  That is what is so often missing from Art, these days.  Grumble grumble.

Two things to say about that.  First, that the skill of persuading the world to treat your random pile of junk as Art is no mean skill.  Most people can’t do this.  I certainly can’t do this.  And it isn’t only that it wouldn’t occur to me to try.  If I did try, it would never work.

But more seriously, the skill test suggests that when something clearly is skilful - and when it is also “of something” (another Daily Mail complaint about Art (i.e. that Modern Art isn’t of anything)) – the result ought to be wonderful.  And sometimes it sort of is.  But it also, to me, often feels rather pointless.

imageThe internet site that I know about that most embodies these antiquarian, but rather beside-the-point-now, artistic virtues is Colossal.  Posting after posting there is about amazingly skilful representational art, of this or that bizarre kind.  Famous people’s faces carved out of melons.  Flowers made of different coloured paper.

Or take this latest report, of a Japanese bloke who makes bugs and beasts, out of balloons.  On the right there, his version of a house fly.  Tremendously skilful.  How does he do it?  But also, honestly, why does he do it?

If you want a house fly, or a proboscis monkey, or a crab, or anything, made out of balloons, and will pay Mr Matsumoto for such a thing, I’m very happy for you.  If you think the object in question is unquestionably a work of Art, I’ll not quarrel with you.  And maybe I would agree that it is Art.  But it is still rather peculiar, I think.  Sculptures of monkeys made in more obvious ways are surely very easy to obtain.  So yes, your monkey is made of balloons.  But why?  Where’s the logic in that?

But then, more and more, I find Art as a whole to be very peculiar.  How do you define Art?  What qualities do all the things that have been called Art possess, that other things don’t possess?  I read a book not long ago where he just said: Art is whatever anyone says is Art.  Which is just a fancy way of saying: I don’t know.  But neither, he explained patiently, does anyone else know.

Thursday June 01 2017

Incoming from GodDaughter 2, who has been in foreign parts for a friend’s wedding.  She did tell me where, but the only thing I remember for sure is that this is a picture, as luck would have it, of the very same sea, the Mediterranean, that I was posting about yesterday:

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I recommend clicking on that.  There’s nothing special going on.  Nobody is photoing, apart from GD2.  There are no distant cranes, no container ship on the horizon.  I just think it’s very beautiful.

Taken with an iPhone.

Should a tube map look like this, which shows the real places and distances of everything, but is confusing, especially if you are looking at the middle …

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… ?

Or like this, which is the usual way you see tube maps, all designed, with inner suburban distances shortened, to make everything more clear, especially in the crowded middle …

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… ?

Answer, do the map as a .gif and show both, morphing into each other.

Now that TV screens for advertising are becoming ubiquitous at tube stations, seemingly costing hardly any more than paper of the same size (changed by hand from time to time), why not have TV screens at tube stations with .gifs like this on show?  Maybe you could have buttons on them, so individual viewers could switch from one to the other in their own time?  Would this cause arguments between rival viewers?  Revised suggestion: Have three displays on one screen: on the left, real distances; .gif in the middle; “designed” on the right.