Brian Micklethwait's Blog

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

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Category archive: Books

Wednesday November 19 2014

From time to time I like to stick bits from books up here, usually quite short, but sometimes quite long.

With the short bits, there is no legal or moral problem.  Fair use, etc.  But with the longer bits, there might be a problem.  Here’s how I operate.  I put up whatever bit it is that I think deserves to be made much of, on the clear understanding that it might disappear at any moment.  Because, if anyone associated with the book I have got my chosen bit from complains and says please remove it, I will do so, immediately.

Many might think that such persons would be being rather silly.  I mean, what better way could there be to reach potential readers of the entire book in question than for readers of a blog, and a blog written by someone who already likes the book, to get to read a relatively small chunk of it?  Win-win, surely.  Because of course, I only put up big chunks of writing if I approve of what the chunks say.

But what if a publisher is trying to insist on the principle, that copyright damn well means what it says?  Such a publisher might want to proclaim, and to be seen to proclaim, a no-tolerance attitude to the copying of bigger than small bits of any its books.  Even if that particular book might be assisted by this particular recycled chunk being here, the larger principle might feel far more significant to the publisher.  That principle being: If we allow this, where will it then stop?

And I get that.  As I say, if any publisher or author did complain, for these kinds of reasons or for any other, then I would get it, and the bit from the book in question would at once vanish from this blog.  So far, I’ve had no such complaints.  Which could just be because they reckon this blog to be too insignificant to be worth risking a fight with.  They wouldn’t have a fight, but they might have a rule about letting sleeping puppies, like this one, lie.

Whatever.  All I am saying here is that if I put up a big bit of a book, and anyone connected to that big bit cries foul, then the big bit will immediately vanish from here, with no grumbling, or worse, self-righteous campaigning, attempts to mobilise other bloggers, etc. etc.

Think of all this as an example of Rule Utilitarianism.  And I am myself a Rule Utilitarian.  My libertarian beliefs are not the absurd claim that libertarianism is inscribed into the very physical fabric of the universe, an inherent fact of life itself, which we humans either recognise or fail to recognise, but which are there anyway.  Tell that to the spider I just squashed into the pavement on my way home to write this.  No, I like libertarianism because it works.  Libertarianism is a set of basically fairly simply rules which all we humans either choose to live by or choose not to live by.  If we choose to live by these rules, life is good, happy, comfortable and it gets better and better.  If we don’t live by such rules, life goes to shit and stays there.

And here comes the Rule Utilitarian bit.  Even if this particular bit of thieving, by the government or just by some bod like you or me, is very insignificant, and even if what the government or the bod like you or me wants to spend its or his or her ill-gotten gains on is wonderful, absolutely wonderful, my rule says: No.  Not allowed.  Don’t get into complicated discussions about just how little thieving is too little to be bothering about, or just how noble a noble project has to be for it to be noble enough to be financed by a spot of thieving, because that way lies the slippery slope we are now on, where the government gobbles up at least half of everything, to very little benefit for anyone other than itself.  Stick to the rule.  No thieving, no matter how petty its scale or how noble its supposed object.

So, I get Rule Utilitarianism.  And if any publisher decides to inflict his Rule Utilitarianism, in the manner described above, upon me, I would get that, and act accordingly.

What got me wanting to spell all this out is that I have recently been reading Dominic Frisby’s excellent Bitcoin book, and I find myself wanting to put bits of it up here, quite longish bits.  And in general, having just followed the link at the top of this and read some of them, I feel that postings of this sort are among the better things that I do here, and I want to do more of them.  But, to all of the bits from books that will follow, I want to attach the above mentioned caveat about how the verbiage that follows may vanish without warning, and a link to this posting is the way to summarise what is going on in my head without me banging on for however many paragraphs there are here.

Friday November 07 2014

Yesterday I took this photo, in the remainder shop on the other side of the intersection from the Old Vic.  I thought I was photoing that book about procrastination.  My immediate thought was that I should buy it, read its contents carefully and apply those lessons straight away to my hitherto hideously postponed life.  But then I thought: I’ll get it later.

image

But look on the right there.  A cat book.  I didn’t even see that when I took the photo.  They’re everywhere, I tell you.

And as if determined to prove my point, today is also a Feline Friday at the Daily Mirror:

image

I’m talking about the front page on the right.  The story, of which I can make neither head nor tail, can be read here.

The catification of the mainstream media continues.  Make way tasered cannibals.  Flesh eating zombies, your days dominating the front pages are also numbered.

Wednesday October 22 2014

Did the junk mail phenomenon always exist?  Or is it relatively new?  What I have in mind is the way that an entire category of communication becomes broken because it is overused by semi or total crooks shouting rubbish at you, thus overwhelming the actual human persons sending you individually useful messages.  Even real messages just sound like arseholes yelling at you.  The signal-to-noise ratio becomes so stupid that eventually, no genuine signals get through.

A few days ago, I received an email from something called Macmillan Distribution (MDL).  A package was due.  There were various buttons for me to press so that I could track the package, or tell them where else to deliver it, or some such thing.  I immediately assumed that this was an industrialised garbage message, the purpose of which was for me to tell crooks about myself by pressing one of the buttons.  Having received many junk messages just like this in the recent past, I assumed that this one was similarly fraudulent.

I noted that they had my name and address, and this might have supplied me with the clue that this was actually a genuine message about a genuine delivery, from a genuine enterprise, with buttons for me to press which actually did what they said they would do.  But instead, I merely thought: oh dear, now the international conglomeration of bastard junk emailer fraudsters knows my name and address.  Oh well, more crap to delete.

But this morning, the package actually arrived, at a time that the emails had been referring to.  The emails from Macmillan Distribution (MDL) (there were three emails in total) had all been genuine.  It was a book that I had already paid for and wanted to read.  So, good.

The actual delivery was a mess.  Some arsehole just smacked the door of my flat (sounding like when the cleaners vacuum the landings and bang their machines into our doors), and then just stuffed the package through my mail flap (which very luckily was big enough).  No electronic buzzing from outside and downstairs, to get my attention while I slumbered, like a proper delivery.  And how the hell did this arsehole contrive to get through the downstairs front door in the first place?  (We’ve had robberies from people claiming to be delivering things, but actually hoovering up the deliveries of others from our (unlocked and wide open) cubby holes.) So, very unsatisfactory, as home deliveries so often are.  But, the thing itself did arrive, which means the delivery scored one out of one on the one measure that really counts.

And, as I say, those emails were all for real.

No doubt there are various twenty first century, social media like methods that I could have used to track this parcel and its delivery, methods which screen out junk and preserve a benign signal-to-noise ratio.  Maybe, any decade now, I will have to get with the twenty first century and dump email completely.

I vividly recall when having email first became a necessity, when you suddenly started getting dirty looks at parties if you didn’t have it.  And when fax numbers ceased mattering.  (Remember those?)

As of now, regular twenty first century people half my age still seem to do email, or so it says on those little cards they give me.  But how long will this last?

More about package delivering from 6k, here.  “Wumdrop” sounds sort of like Uber, only for things.

Friday August 29 2014

Spent the whole day fretting about not enough people coming to my Last Friday of the Month meeting this evening.  Richard Carey would, I knew, be fine, but would the number of listeners be insultingly small?  Happily, two people showed up who hadn’t emailed that they were coming, and the room was, if not full, at least not embarrassingly empty.

Better yet, I also fixed my speaker for next month, which I had also been fretting about.  Priya Dutta, who attended this evening, will be speaking about Education, libertarianism and similar things.  The Gove reforms, the various attempts to set up cheap new free enterprise schools of various sorts, that kind of thing.  She is a teacher, so this is bound to be good.  I’ll say more as I learn more.

Too tired to expand on what Richard said (about English Republicanism and its influence in the American colonies and later the USA), other than that in the brackets is what it was about and that it was very interesting.  But since this is Friday, here is news of Cats on Kickstarters, and of Catstarter , which I think is a book, or maybe a blog.  Also cat related: Ceiling Netanyahu is watching you tunnel.

Tuesday August 26 2014

I’ve started reading Virginia Postrel’s The Future and Its Enemies, years after everyone else who has read it.  I haven’t got very far yet, but I am delighted to discover that one of the Enemies that Postrel takes several cracks at is John Gray, that being a link to a crack that I took at Gray at Samizdata a while back.

And I see that Postrel, like me, does not confine herself to analysing and criticising Gray’s arguments, but notes also the cheapness of the tricks that Gray often uses to present his arguments.

What disguises the trickery, at least in the eyes of Gray and his followers, is the air of profundity that is regarded as being attached to the process of foreseeing doom and disaster.  In truth, incoherent pessimism is no more profound than incoherent optimism, which is to say, not profound at all.

Says Postrel (p. 9):

Although they represent a minority position, reactionary ideas have tremendous cultural vitality.  Reactionaries speak directly to the most salient aspects of contemporary life: technological change, commercial fluidity, biological transformation, changing social roles, cultural mixing, international trade, and instant communication.  They see these changes as critically important, and, as the old Natinoal Review motto had it, they are determined to “stand athwart history, yelling, ‘Stop!’” Merely by acknowledging the dynamism of contemporary life, reactionaries win points for insight.  And in the eyes of more conventional thinkers, denouncing change makes them seem wise.

Seem.  Amen.  I’m still proud of this in my piece about Gray, which makes that same point about the seeming wisdom of being a grump rather than a booster:

He trades relentlessly on that shallowest of aesthetic clichés, that misery is more artistic than happiness, that any old rubbish with a sad ending is artistically superior to anything with a happy ending no matter how brilliantly done, that music in a minor key is automatically more significant than anything in C major.

There are plenty more Gray references in Postrel’s book, if the Index is anything to go by and it surely is.  My immediate future is bright.

Saturday August 02 2014

Overheard in a TV advert for sweeties:

You can’t trust atoms.  They make up everything.

Talking of which, I am now reading Lee Smolin’s book about String Theory.  Basic message: It’s a cult.  I haven’t yet read him using that actual word, but that’s what he is saying.

I am, of course, not qualified to judge if Smolin is right, but you don’t have to be qualified to express a judgement, and I judge that Smolin is right.  And the way I like to learn about new stuff is by reading arguments about it, starting with the argument that says I am right about it.  Smolin is basically telling me that my ignorant prejudice that String Theory is one of the current world’s epicentres of the Higher Bollocks is right, although he is careful not to express himself as crudely as I just did, for fear of upsetting his physicist friends, and because, unlike me, he sees some merit in String Theory.

I have known that String Theory was in trouble for some time, because Big Bang Theory’s resident String Theorist, Dr Sheldon Cooper, has been having doubts about it.  He wanted to switch to something else, but they said: We hired you as a String Theorist and a String Theorist you will remain.

The above link is to a blog I had not heard of before, entitled Not Even Wrong.  Not Even Wrong is the title of another book I have recently obtained with has a go at String Theory.  I have not yet started reading this.

It’s true.  You can’t trust atoms.  And grabbing both ends of one and stretching it out into a string doesn’t change that.  It makes it worse.

Sunday June 15 2014

Mick Hartley writes about England’s loss to Italy last night in their opening World Cup game:

Much football punditry has always seemed to me to be an effort to provide a plausible post-hoc storyline for what was to a considerable extent a matter of chance.  … as though the whole enterprise must be made sense of by virtue of the winning team being the team that deserved to win.

Very true.  (I’m guessing that, with luck (ho ho), this book will have a lot more to say about this tendency.) Actually, much of the appeal of football (to those to whom it appeals) is that the “best” team on the day often doesn’t win.  This means that the supporters of bad teams can live in constant hope of upsets.

This also explains why, at the early stages of a season, surprising teams are often at the top of the table.  Later, the law of averages asserts itself inexorably, and the best teams arrange themselves in logical order at the top, and the surprise early leaders sink back into the pack where they belong.

All of which makes something like the World Cup quite good fun.  All you have to do to win it is win five or six of your first six games.  All the best teams have to do not to win is lose one or two of their first six games.  One of the great moments of all World Cups is the one when a Much Fancied Team gets on its Early Plane Home.

What the pundits seem to have been saying about England is that, because the “expectation level” is low, they might do quite well.  The expectation level is low so it’s high, in other words.  My take on England is that they are a fairly bad team, who played fairly well against Italy, and lost, and that they will probably do fairly badly, but you never know, because there are only half a dozen games for each team to play.  I will video-record all of England’s games, such as they are, just in case.  I live in hope of a small series of upsets.

I also video-recorded the Spain Netherlands game, by far the most remarkable one so far.  Will Spain be this time around’s Much Fancied Team early departure home?

And I also videoed the first game, between Brazil and Croatia, with its truly dire opening ceremony.  This was a real collector’s item of awfulness.  What is it about these terrible opening ceremonies, with their meaningless costumes and absurd dance moves?  Witnessing them is like listening to someone talking in a language has only recently been invented - for aliens to speak in a movie, for instance - which consists of no actual words, only meaningless sounds.

The opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympics in London contained many things I disagreed with, and I continue to disagree with the entire principle of me and all other anti-Olympickers having to pay for the damn thing for the next thousand years.  But at least that ceremony contained stuff that meant something.  Although come to think of it, maybe the only people who understood it was us Brits, and for countless mllions elsewhere, that was also the gibbering of aliens.

Friday June 06 2014

Incoming from 6k, alerting me to a New Statesman piece by Ed Smith, about how, after a small digger has dug out a deep hole under a posh London house to make the house bigger, it makes more sense to leave the digger in the hole than go to the bother of extricating it.  Makes sense. What a great story.

So, many of the squares of the capital’s super-prime real estate, from Belgravia and Chelsea to Mayfair and Notting Hill, have been reconfigured house by house. Given that London’s strict planning rules restrict building upwards, digging downwards has been the solution for owners who want to expand their property’s square-footage.

So, enter the digger, and dig dig dig.  But then:

The difficulty is in getting the digger out again. To construct a no-expense-spared new basement, the digger has to go so deep into the London earth that it is unable to drive out again. What could be done?

Initially, the developers would often use a large crane to scoop up the digger, which was by now nestled almost out of sight at the bottom of a deep hole. Then they began to calculate the cost-benefit equation of this procedure. First, a crane would have to be hired; second, the entire street would need to be closed for a day while the crane was manoeuvred into place. Both of these stages were very expensive, not to mention unpopular among the distinguished local residents.

A new solution emerged: simply bury the digger in its own hole. Given the exceptional profits of London property development, why bother with the expense and hassle of retrieving a used digger – worth only £5,000 or £6,000 – from the back of a house that would soon be sold for several million? The time and money expended on rescuing a digger were better spent moving on to the next big deal.

Today being a Friday, I was delighted to learn that there is a feline aspect to this, in the form of Ed Smith’s final speculations.  This man is clearly learning fast how to get noticed on the Internet!

In centuries to come, says Smith:

… they will surely decipher a correlation between London’s richest corners and the presence of these buried diggers. The atrium of the British Museum, around 5000AD, will feature a digger prominently as the central icon of elite, 21st-century living.

What will the explanatory caption say? “Situated immediately adjacent to the heated underground swimming pool and cinema at the back of the house, no superior London address was complete without one of these highly desirable icons, sometimes nicknamed ‘the Compact Cat’. This metallic icon was a special sacrificial gesture, a symbol of deep thanks to the most discussed, revered and pre-eminent god of the age, worshipped around the world: London Property.”

Ed Smith is a former first class (and occasional test) cricketer, and now occasional cricket commentator.  As well as a writer of books.  Writing this posting also got me ordering a copy of his latest.

Compact Cats buried under London’s poshest homes
Building as ornament
Bennett and Lotus on how Emmanuel Todd’s family provoked his Grand Theory of Everything
Well that’s a relief
Two bits of hospitality trivia
Alex Singleton at the ASI last night
Making sense of digital photography
Boris Johnson’s London
Scott Wiener on pizza boxes
Tough going in Australia
Jane Austen’s naval brothers
Daniel Hannan’s latest book(s?)
Guido in the Spectator (and in Free Life)
Cli-fi
Huge semi-submersible ships
Emmanuel Todd links
Bookshops as Amazon showrooms
So painters also used to “take” pictures
Typing on the new smartphone
The mystery of the one good photo
Better a year late than never
The Qur’an is not science – science cannot be ignored
Classical CDs from Gramex
Steven Pinker’s description of The Enlightenment
James Hamilton on self help and class
America 3.0
A review of Detlev Schlichter’s new book (multiplied by 4)
76 operas and a monument in the wrong place for Hermann the German
Emmanuel Todd’s latest book - in English
Science can relax about the harm done to it by Climategate
After the wedding
Pictures of Detlev Schlichter
The bike behind the theatre
Let us now trash infamous men
Julian Assange drove Daniel Domscheit-Berg’s cat Herr Schmitt crazy
I can now copy and paste from .pdf files
Bouncing bombs and spinning cricket balls
Lancaster
An amazon reviewer defends Alex Ross
Alex Ross on Hollywood film scores
English will not last for ever shock
Happy hundredth
Mmmmm … bookshelves!
At the launch of Alchemists of Loss
Sleeping rough and reading an SF classic
As strong and sweet as the free market itself
God is not One
Molly Norris was just kidding!
You know where you are with a book - usually
Cat tales
Talking about The Hockey Stick Illusion with Bishop Hill
In Alicante
Unravelling the puzzle – and making it into a movie
Trying to become an adequate interviewer of promising libertarians
Frank McLynn: “Counterfactual history is the essence of history …”
Under a hundred copies
Our shortening atten … ooh look!
What a difference a g makes
France falls in love with Hugh Laurie
“Vivid characters, devious plotting and buckets of gore …”
MBA - necessary but insufficient
Reading Kasparov
The Rand revival - and some thoughts about Rand’s failure to understand architectural tradition
What-iffing
And here is a real quotation
Quota quotes from Wodehouse
On autobiographical ruthlessness
Thoughts concerning FDR’s warmongering nature
Redirect
Not the book I want to read right now - maybe later
Official bias
Switching from dumb bombing to smart bombing
“I’ll build it with explosive bolts connecting the wings to the fuselage …”
If the Jews have been running the world they haven’t been doing it very successfully
A poetic Hornby
Me elsewhere
An impulse posting about procrastination
You must enjoy reading!
Professor Wenger
Theodore Dalrymple on the menace of honest public officials and much else besides
Bookcase staircase many books electric book manybooks.net