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: Current events

Friday November 28 2014

The biggest cat news right now is that a tiger is causing an international incident, between Russia and China:

Chinese media claims the feline in question is Ustin, one of five electronically-tagged Siberian tigers released by Russian authorities in May and June 2014.

The big cat has since wandered into northeastern China where, national news agency Xinhua reports, he entered a farm, killing fifteen goats over two nights and leaving another three missing.

Xinhua claims Ustin was among the first group of tigers released in May by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russia denies this claim, suggesting that he was released in June, by Russian conservationists.

Apart from that, the only decent cat story is about a place in America that smells of cat piss.  They don’t yet know why.  They may never know.

Monday June 09 2014

This morning, did an SQotD about Uber.

Other Perry (Metzger) added this:

Uber does not always offer cheaper service. They operate on a market pricing mechanism to assure availability.

This means that, for example, on New Year’s Eve in NYC, you are assured you can get an Uber car even though normal taxis are essentially unavailable because of excess demand, but you will also discover the Uber car will be quite expensive. This is, of course, as it should be — the spike in price encourages as many Uber drivers as possible to work during a rush period. However, it is also decried by those who do not understand economics.

You could turn this around and say that Uber will be a sort of ongoing economics lesson for the citizenry.

Libertarians like me are always going on about how prices are a signalling mechanism.  Uber makes this extremely clear, I think.

Tuesday April 22 2014

The speaker I had previously arranged had to cancel, hence the delay in me telling the world about it, but … my speaker at my last Friday of the Month meeting on April 25th, i.e. this coming Friday, will be my good friend (and frequent commenter here) Michael Jennings, talking about Russia.  Russia is lways an important topic of discussion, but it is of course now also a particularly timely and newsworthy one.

Here is what Michael has just emailed me about what he will be talking about.

On the 21st of last month, I arrived in Moscow. This was my first trip to Russia. That this was my first trip to Russia was somewhat curious. I have been a frequent traveller for twenty five years and a compulsive one for the last ten years, and throughout that time I would have always put Russia in the top few countries that I wanted to visit, and yet I never did.

This was not, however, remotely, my first trip to the lands of the former Soviet Union. I had previously been to Latvia and Estonia (twice). I had previously been to Ukraine (five times). I had previously been to Moldova (twice). I had previously been to Georgia (four times). I had previously been to Armenia (twice). The former Warsaw Pact countries further west than that, I have been to many times - around 20 times in the case of Poland, half a dozen times to Romania, and multiple times to all the others.

My reasons for visiting these countries have always been private. I go where my curiosity takes me. I go where my financial resources can take me. And I go where other, bureaucratic and practical obstacles are relatively easy.

What factors led to my choice of destinations? Well, two practical factors. One was the ease or difficulty of obtaining a visa. The other was the ease, of difficulty of physically travelling there. The rise of discount airlines was a key factor in all of this, also. Their presence in markets not only makes it easier and cheaper to get there, but is at least an indicator in how open to the west the country is trying to be.

Going east, there has long been a psychological boundary between places looking east to Moscow and places looking west to, well, no particular city or place, but western Europe in general. The business with the visas and discount airlines has made it easy to go up to that boundary, if you will, as it moves around. At times, it has allowed me to go over that boundary, sometimes to slightly hairy places such as Transnistria and Abkhazia - breakaway regions of Moldova and Georgia respectively. More commonly, though, what I mean by this is the drabber regions of Ukraine or Moldova.

However, it was time to bite the bullet, and go completely to the other side. So, Moscow. As it happened, the wall appeared to be permeable. The western discount airlines have started flying to Russia, at least in a small way. The visa process was baroque and Soviet, but the customer service was with a smile. I had Russian contacts who were happy to catch up for a beer in one of the many English pubs in Moscow and St Petersburg. Even when they worked for the Russian government, they were happy to talk pretty frankly about what was going on.

And yet, in the couple of weeks before I arrived, Russia had been asserting its power over Crimea. On the day I arrived, (according to Russia, at least) Russia formally annexed Crimea. (I got to see a lovely fireworks display over the Moskva river in the evening.) The places I could go on a discount airline without a visa retreated that day, possibly for the first time since 1991.

And that was the overall impression I got of Moscow and St Petersburg. There is a feel of modern cities in both places, but certain things are askew. And certain things are absent. (Soviet style customer service still exists in many places. But in others it doesn’t.) Middle class life feels like middle class life in many places, although if you are poorer, I suspect life is very different. On Friday I will describe some of this, and if I am bold I will try to draw some conclusions.

Excellent.  And to Michael, my gratitude for having got me out of a small bind with what will, I am sure, be an excellent talk at rather short notice.  Not that the short notice will affect its quality.  If it is as good as the talk he gave at my home last year about globalisation, all those who attend this Friday will be much educated and much entertained.

I’m guessing that the mood of the meeting will be a lot like this Samizdata QotD from Michael Totten.  But that’s only a guess.

Tuesday March 04 2014

Incoming from Rob Fisher, about a Bitcoin vending machine in London.  I wonder how that works.  It would probably defeat me.  There was no mention of this on Friday night, when Dominic Frisby spoke at my place about Bitcoin, or not that I heard.

Now that I am mentioning incoming from Rob Fisher, there was also earlier incoming from Rob Fisher about a Lego photographer, which sounds like someone merely photographing Lego.  But it’s a lot sillier than that.

While saving the Lego Photographer I came across a photo I had saved in the same directory of a Lego Hawking, so here is that also, on the right there.  I found this photo of Lego Hawking … somewhere on the internet.  Google Lego Hawking and you’ll get many hits.  Best to get all such nonsense blogged and forgotten, all in one go.

image image

Sometimes I blog to remember (and I intend to remember the Bitcoin vending machine), sometimes I blog to forget.  Welcome to the hotel BrianMicklethwaitDotCom.

Thursday February 27 2014

imageAnd here is a photo I took yesterday.  I once thought that these Evening Standard headlines would by now be a thing of the quite distant past, but they are still with us, for the time being anyway, along with the Evening Standard itself, which has survived being given away and as of now shows no sign of disappearing.

There is something charmingly antiquated about the word “swoop”, isn’t there?  This swoop took place - when else? - at dawn, yesterday morning.

Yes, welcome to Operation Octopod.  Truly:

Detectives set up a specialist team which worked in secret for months to gather evidence against the gang in an inquiry codenamed Operation Octopod. Most of the 200 officers involved in the raids were not even told of the targets, only given the addresses they were raiding.

This sounds like it might eventually become quite a good story.

Interestingly, this Evening Standard story goes out of its way to say that the family being arrested have not been named.  But the link to the story contains these words:

couple-held-in-north-london-as-two-hundred-met-officers-stage-adams-family-swoop

And later they changed the headline above the story on the website, to include the word “Adams”.  And indeed, it seems that the arrested family really is called Adams.  Expect the phrase Adams Family Values to crop up a lot in the next few days and weeks.

And in a few years, another movie, about London’s own Adams Family and their dastardly deeds.

Friday November 22 2013

Mark Steyn may be a grump about such things as the future of Western Civilisation, but he sure can write:

For much of last year, a standard trope of President Obama’s speechwriters was that there were certain things only government could do. “That’s how we built this country - together,” he declared. “We constructed railroads and highways, the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge. We did those things together.” As some of us pointed out, for the cost of Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill alone, you could have built 1,567 Golden Gate Bridges - or one mega-Golden Gate Bridge stretching from Boston to just off the coast of Ireland. Yet there isn’t a single bridge, or a single dam (“You will never see another federal dam,” his assistant secretary of the interior assured an audience of environmentalists). Across the land, there was not a thing for doting network correspondents in hard hats to stand in front of and say, “Obama built this.”

Until now, that is. Obamacare is as close to a Hoover Dam as latter-day Big Government gets. Which is why its catastrophic launch is sobering even for those of us who’ve been saying for five years it would be a disaster. It’s as if at the ribbon-cutting the Hoover Dam cracked open and washed away the dignitaries; as if the Golden Gate Bridge was opened to traffic with its central span missing; as if Apollo 11 had taken off for the moon but landed on Newfoundland. Obama didn’t have to build a dam or a bridge or a spaceship, just a database and a website. This is his world, the guys he hangs with, the zeitgeist he surfs so dazzlingly, Apple and Google, apps and downloads. But his website’s a sclerotic dump, and the database is a hacker’s heaven, and all that’s left is the remorseless snail mail of millions and millions of cancellation letters.

And then it disappears behind a paywall.  Which is to say a place where links probably don’t work for you.  Which is why I never pay to get beyond paywalls.  I pay for things I want.  But paywalls, walls I cannot direct every single one of my readers through (in the event that they wish to be directed so), I do not want.

But, I’ll bet you anything, at least this paywall works properly.

Wednesday November 20 2013

I just left a comment at Samizdata, on this posting by Natalie Solent (who has been very productive there of late) about the lack of security of the ObamaCare website, and this Guardian story on the subject:

The insecurity of the site, probably incurable in less than several months (from what I’m reading), has always struck me (ever since I first read about it a week or two back) as the absolute worst thing about ObamaCare, though I admit it’s a crowded field. The Bad News letters from insurance companies at least put a number to how much money is now going to be screwed out of you, that Obama said (about forty times) you would not be screwed out of. But all that data lying around for any tech-savvy passer-by to grab means there’s no upper limit to what you just might lose, if you have anything whatsoever to do with this horrible horrible thing.

It took me years to trust Amazon with my bank details. Only when about half the world seemed to be signing up for that deal did I take the plunge, and I still fear that in some mysterious way I might one day regret this. I mean, what if Amazon gets taken over by greedy incompetents, skilled only at crookedness, of the sort now already running ObamaCare (and also “advising” people about it)? I know, there are safeguards in place, but my fear is, although small, real. My fear with Obamacare would now be big, and real. My attitude to ObamaCare would be (a) I want nothing – absolutely nothing – to do with it, and (b) If the President and his gang say I have to have something to do with it, then I hope the President and his gang rot in hell.

Obama, it seems to me, has been treated like a great many other bad black Americans.  He has been cut a million miles of slack, never criticised, never taught any morals, and now suddenly, patience has run out and he faces a lynch mob of enraged citizens.  He is going to get the political version of a life-time prison sentence, namely a place in the Presidential Hall of Infamy.  (I know what you’re thinking: wishful thinking on my part.  Maybe.  But his friends are all abandoning him now.  He surely now realises that he has screwed up big, and that there is no way back.)

Heinlein had things to say about this.  If you are going to punish big later, then it is kinder to give your punishee some warning, with small punishments earlier, when he does small things wrong when younger.  I’m not talking physical abuse here, just the odd harsh word when the kid does a bad thing.  That way he learns, instead of being hit with the kitchen sink, out of the blue, when he turns 18 or 50 or whatever.

LATER: Some cyber security experts recommend shutting Obamacare site.

Wednesday September 04 2013

The Walkie Talkie has a problem.  It is frying nearby shops and passers-by with a concentrated death-beam of sunlight.

Here is a picture that I took of the Walkie Talkie earlier this year, the Walkie Talkie being the big downward tapering lump on the right:

image

As this picture shows, one of the Walkie Talkie’s faces, the one pointing towards the river, is a giant concave mirror, pointing a bit downwards, which (had anyone used those words to describe that face) should have said that it would cause exactly the sort of trouble that it has now caused.

I am currently attempting a piece about modernism in architecture for Samizdata, and it would help me to be able to link to a picture of the Walkie Talkie which shows not only the building itself (which is what the news stories are all now showing), but also the building in its wider urban context.  This piece of writing is already a very complicated and unwieldy one, and it may never get finished, but meanwhile there is the kind of picture I need to be able to link to.

The footbridge is the new Millenium Bridge, which also had a problem when first built.  It wobbled.

This photo was taken from inside the new Blackfriars Railway Station, the one on a bridge.  It was taken through glass, hence the occasional bits of reflected light.

(But, hence also the rather agreeable blueness of the sky.  All glass, however clear it seems, acts as a photographic filter.  This explains also why views reflected in windows often come out looking better than the views themselves.)

The Walkie Talkie and its surroundings
Interesting software NewZ
Craig Willy on Emmanuel Todd
BMdotCOM mixed metaphor of the day
New crane up
Close-up of the ruined Vauxhall crane
Are Christian social conservatives using the Tea Party to impose social conservatism?
Some more presidential debate prophecy
Pat Caddell on mainstream media bias
Reasons to think Romney is going to win big
And on my other personal blog …
Meow
University of California chickens coming home to roost?
Occupy St Paul’s pictures
Street social services management integrated command sub-centres
The England rugby aftermath
Go Gary Johnson!
The Jobs difference
Freedom Tower and Gary Johnson at Samizdata
A review of Detlev Schlichter’s new book (multiplied by 4)
Kevin Dowd last night
Friday link dump
Gordon Brown curses the United Kingdom
Go Not Obama!
BrianMicklethwaitDotCom not threatened by the end of the Big Thing Boom
Quota choke?
That’s what I call a Health and Safety Notice
Cat news
Absolutely not a private navy (except that it probably is)
Wisconsin question
Why I prefer blogging to writing for a magazine
Wot inflationz?
Julian Assange drove Daniel Domscheit-Berg’s cat Herr Schmitt crazy
Me and Patrick Crozier talk about the banking crisis and its possible consequences
Wagga Wagga has been flooded by the Murrumbidgee River
Scientology enthusiast is now Climate Change Minister
Rockets are a great improvement on balloons
Toby Baxendale on what went wrong and what to do about it
Peaceful time in war zone
Tim Evans looking happy
Choosing the best pictures by waiting a few days
At the launch of Alchemists of Loss
Nuking the Oil Spill is probably a rather bad idea
Apple passed Microsoft in market capitalisation today
Incoming from Molly Norris!
Voice and exit
Does Google now rule the world of computing?
Antoine Clarke on the Massachusetts election and the online effect
Talking about The Hockey Stick Illusion with Bishop Hill
SAY NO TO GOVERNMENT MOTORS
Photographic coup
Three airplane photos
Stepping forward into the abyss!
Yet more ramblings about Guesswhatgate
Picture of an aftershock of the credit crunch rippling around the world
ClimateGate roars on and Man(n)-made warming is taking on a whole new meaning
Gaddafi looking rather like Alan Rickman
Paul Marks on the financial crisis and on the badness of Obama
Prodicus (and me) on the shitness of the LibDems
Bercow versus the party which picked him
The Instadaughter on the morals of actors
Old Holborn lets rip at Labour in a Guido comment
Why I object to Madam Scotland and why I don’t
In which this blog indulges in an I Told You So moment concerning Speaker John Bercow
Great speech by Kevin Dowd in Paris which should be available to listen to soon
What Bercow does next
Another politician who looks like a noted comedy actor of yesteryear
What next for Guido Fawkes?
Go Gordon!
Thoughts on the Go Gordon petition
My opinion of yesterday’s budget
Two Samizdata comments on the sinking of Brown and on the sinking of the Daily Telegraph
“What did you just say?”
Patri Friedman versus Chris Tame
At Samizdata: cricket - crime - Kevin Dowd quote
My confusion about free banking
What the previous two postings here have in common
Daniel Hannan and the shape of the media to come
Kevid Dowd video now up and watchable
Headlines of the times
MBA - necessary but insufficient
Paul Marks on the financial crisis
TARP stuff - and a trip to Sheffield
Not cricket
Do nothing?
Meme for the New Depression
Kevin Dowd says what should be done
Evening Standard hand-done billboards go printed shock
Is the contemporary art bubble bursting?
P. J. O’Rourke confuses the average with the significant
Why Willem Buiter blogs and why I do
Photo-ing the news in Evening Standard headlines
Another pendulum theory
Reasons to be a bit more cheerful
Antoine and Michael on what to do now
Not the book I want to read right now - maybe later
Banks
Obama still won’t do nasty
“Who are you going to sell it to if we don’t buy it?”
Clang
Turmoil
Armed is less dangerous
More Beijing smog-blogging
Brown leapfrogs Cameron with 36 point jump
Guido on Gordon
The personal and the political
Paul Marks told us so
Big, Bigger, Biggest - starring Heathrow Terminal 5
Talking with Antoine about the US election and about libertarian politics in the US and in the UK
Antoine Clarke talking about the US Primaries
Tatiana the normal tiger
Billion Monkeys and a Real Photographer at the Golden Umbrellas
Photoing dusk on automatic
Nothing untoward happening!
Three … thirty six … sixty one … a hundred a forty eight …
Alisher Usmanov is now better known for being nasty
Personal choice
Richard Dawkins on the Muhammad cartoons affair
Back lit Billion Monkey lady and back lit Saturn!
Volte-face
I know the feeling
Armed police in Hertford hunt big cat
The Great Global Warming Swindle debate now begins
What are the world’s biggest problems?
Emmanuel Todd (1): Anthropology explains ideology
And further talk at Christian Michel’s about water and power
Islam is evil - and that’s me carrying on normally
Billion Monkeys and people waving blue things!
Rubble
Antoine says why he got the midterms wrong
The West disunited versus the Pesky Muslims
The extreme memes spread by moderate Muslims
Antoine Clarke talks with me about votes for women (and teenagers) – and about Sweden
Latest Brian and Antoine mp3 - Middle East, Mexico, USA
Treacle
Something to bore everyone
Latest Brian and Antoine elections around the world mp3
Brian and Antoine mp3s now into double figures
Billion Monkeys stop cover-ups!
Trouble
Listening to Peter Briffa’s first podcast
I won’t be doing any television myself in the near future but in the meantime have a watch of this
Those cartoons
Cloudscape
4th Generation Warfare in the middle of an advanced Western Country
Riotous assemblies
Car bomb in Bogota
China is economically way ahead of India
Daniel Cuthbert - wrongly convicted “hacker” - and photographer
Phrase of the day
Get back
FEMA - not as well informed as the general public
More on Katrina
Two interesting predictions
Katrina as art – and Katrina as proof of What I’ve Always Said