Brian Micklethwait's Blog

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


Recent Comments

Monthly Archives

Most recent entries


Advanced Search

Other Blogs I write for

Brian Micklethwait's Education Blog

CNE Competition
CNE Intellectual Property
Transport Blog


2 Blowhards
6000 Miles from Civilisation
A Decent Muesli
Adventures in Capitalism
Alan Little
Albion's Seedling
Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise
Alex Singleton
Another Food Blog
Antoine Clarke
Antoine Clarke's Election Watch
Armed and Dangerous
Art Of The State Blog
Biased BBC
Bishop Hill
Bloggers Blog
Blognor Regis
Blowing Smoke
Boatang & Demetriou
Boing Boing
Boris Johnson
Brazen Careerist
Bryan Appleyard
Burning Our Money
Cafe Hayek
Charlie's Diary
Chase me ladies, I'm in the cavalry
Chicago Boyz
China Law Blog
Cicero's Songs
City Comforts
Civilian Gun Self-Defense Blog
Clay Shirky
Climate Resistance
Climate Skeptic
Coffee & Complexity
Coffee House
Communities Dominate Brands
Confused of Calcutta
Conservative Party Reptile
Contra Niche
Contrary Brin
Counting Cats in Zanzibar
Скрипучая беседка
Dave Barry
Davids Medienkritik
David Thompson
Deleted by tomorrow
diamond geezer
Dizzy Thinks
Don't Hold Your Breath
Douglas Carswell Blog
Dr Robert Lefever
Dr. Weevil
Englands Freedome, Souldiers Rights
English Cut
English Russia
EU Referendum
Ezra Levant
Everything I Say is Right
Fat Man on a Keyboard
Ferraris for all
Flickr blog
Freeborn John
Freedom and Whisky
From The Barrel of a Gun
Fugitive Ink
Future Perfect
Gaping Void
Gates of Vienna
Global Warming Politics
Greg Mankiw's Blog
Guido Fawkes' blog
Here Comes Everybody
Hit & Run
House of Dumb
Iain Dale's Diary
Idiot Toys
India Uncut
Jackie Danicki
James Delingpole
James Fallows
Jeffrey Archer's Official Blog
Jessica Duchen's classical music blog
Jihad Watch
Joanne Jacobs
Johan Norberg
John Redwood
Jonathan's Photoblog
Kristine Lowe
Laissez Faire Books
Last of the Few
Lessig Blog
Libertarian Alliance: Blog
Liberty Alone
Liberty Dad - a World Without Dictators
Lib on the United Kingdom
Little Man, What Now?
listen missy
Loic Le Meur Blog
L'Ombre de l'Olivier
London Daily Photo
Mad Housewife
Mangan's Miscellany
Marginal Revolution
Mark Wadsworth
Media Influencer
Melanie Phillips
Metamagician and the Hellfire Club
Michael Jennings
Michael J. Totten's Middle East Journal
Mick Hartley
More Than Mind Games
mr eugenides
Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism
My Boyfriend Is A Twat
My Other Stuff
Natalie Solent
Nation of Shopkeepers
Never Trust a Hippy
NO2ID NewsBlog
Non Diet Weight Loss
Nurses for Reform blog
Obnoxio The Clown
Oddity Central
Oliver Kamm
On an Overgrown Path
One Man & His Blog
Owlthoughts of a peripatetic pedant
Oxford Libertarian Society /blog
Patri's Peripatetic Peregrinations
Picking Losers
Pigeon Blog
Police Inspector Blog
Power Line
Private Sector Development blog
Publius Pundit
Rachel Lucas
Remember I'm the Bloody Architect
Rob's Blog
Setting The World To Rights
Shane Greer
Shanghaiist The Violin Blog
Sinclair's Musings
Slipped Disc
Sky Watching My World
Social Affairs Unit
Squander Two Blog
Stephen Fry
Stuff White People Like
Stumbling and Mumbling
Style Bubble
Sunset Gun
Survival Arts
Susan Hill
Technology Liberation Front
The Adam Smith Institute Blog
The Agitator
The AntRant
The Becker-Posner Blog
The Belgravia Dispatch
The Belmont Club
The Big Blog Company
The Big Picture
the blog of dave cole
The Corridor of Uncertainty (a Cricket blog)
The Croydonian
The Daily Ablution
The Devil's Advocate
The Devil's Kitchen
The Dissident Frogman
The Distributed Republic
The Early Days of a Better Nation
The Examined Life
The Filter^
The Fly Bottle
The Freeway to Serfdom
The Future of Music
The Futurist
The Happiness Project
The Jarndyce Blog
The London Fog
The Long Tail
The Lumber Room
The Online Photographer
The Only Winning Move
The Policeman's Blog
The Road to Surfdom
The Sharpener
The Speculist
The Surfer
The Wedding Photography Blog
The Welfare State We're In
things magazine
Tim Blair
Tim Harford
Tim Worstall
Transterrestrial Musings
UK Commentators - Laban Tall's Blog
UK Libertarian Party
Unqualified Offerings
Violins and Starships
Virginia Postrel
we make money not art
What Do I Know?
What's Up With That?
Where the grass is greener
White Sun of the Desert
Why Evolution Is True
Your Freedom and Ours


Mainstream Media

The Sun
This is London


RSS 1.0
RSS 2.0


Billion Monkeys
Bits from books
Bloggers and blogging
Brian Micklethwait podcasts
Career counselling
Cats and kittens
Civil liberties
Classical music
Computer graphics
Current events
Digital photographers
Emmanuel Todd
Expression Engine
Food and drink
Getting old
How the mind works
Intellectual property
Kevin Dowd
Latin America
Media and journalism
Middle East and Islam
My blog ruins
My photographs
Open Source
Pop music
Quote unquote
Roof clutter
Science fiction
Signs and notices
Social Media
South America
The internet
The Micklethwait Clock
This and that
This blog

Category archive: History

Monday November 30 2015

Incoming from 6k ...:


… which he encountered here.  As is noted in that tweet, Wikipedia has things to tell us about this scheme, as does this posting

This was a 1960s scheme to sell glass, dreamt up by minions of glass superbusiness Pilkington’s.  It was never going to get built, but had it been, it would have been a walk away from where I live, and would have been my route to Vauxhall railway station.

6K is right that this kind of thing, and in particular this kind of bridge, interests me.  See the first picture and the commentary on it in this posting here, July 2015.

Quote (if I don’t regularly quote me, who will?):

… this shows old London Bridge, with all its buildings.  What fun it would be for London to build itself another such bridge.  One of the reasons I so welcome the new Blackfriars Station, on its bridge, is that it sets a precedent for just such a bridge with buildings some time in the future.  This new Ponte Vecchio on Thames probably shouldn’t be in the middle of London, though, because that would spoil a lot of views.  Why not a big bridge of this sort further downstream?  Any decade now …


LATER: Meanwhile, a very different bridge ...:


... is to be built across the river, just upstream from the actually existing Vauxhall Bridge. That is the picture the winner of the competition produced.  On the basis of that, among other things, this winner will “design” the new bridge.  Looks to me like he already has designed it.

Also, yet another bridge has been proposed to join Docklands to the other side of the river.

Sunday November 29 2015

I have begun reading Matt Ridley’s latest book, The Evolution of Everything.  Early signs: brilliant.  I especially liked this bit (pp. 7-10), about modern ideas in the ancient world:

A ‘skyhook’ is an imaginary device for hanging an object from the sky.  The word originated in a sarcastic remark by a frustrated pilot of a reconnaissance plane in the First World War, when told to stay in the same place for an hour: ‘This machine is not fitted with skyhooks,’ he replied.  The philosopher Daniel Dennett used the skyhook as a metaphor for the argument that life shows evidence of an intelligent designer.  He contrasted skyhooks with cranes - the first impose a solution, explanation or plan on the world from on high; the second allow solutions, explanations or patterns to emerge from the ground up, as natural selection does.

The history of Western thought is dominated by skyhooks, by devices for explaining the world as the outcome of design and planning.  Plato said that society worked by imitating a designed cosmic order, a belief in which should be coercively enforced.  Aristotle said that you should look for inherent principles of intentionality and development - souls - within matter. Homer said gods decided the outcome of battles. St Paul said that you should behave morally because Jesus told you so. Mohamed said you should obey God’s word as transmitted through the Koran.  Luther said that your fate was in God’s hands.  Hobbes said that social order came from a monarch, or what he called ‘Leviathan’ - the state. Kant said morality transcended human experience.  Nietzsche said that strong leaders made for good societies.  Marx said that the state was the means of delivering economic and social progress. Again and again, we have told ourselves that there is a top-down description of the world, and a top-down prescription by which we should live.

But there is another stream of thought that has tried and usually failed to break through. Perhaps its earliest exponent was Epicurus, a Greek philosopher about whom we know very little.  From what later writers said about his writings, we know that he was born in 341 BC and thought (as far as we can tell) that the physical world, the living world, human society and the morality by which we live all emerged as spontaneous phenomena, requiring no divine intervention nor a benign monarch or nanny state to explain them.  As interpreted by his followers, Epicurus believed, following another Greek philosopher, Dernocritus, that the world consisted not of lots of special substances including spirits and humours, but simply of two kinds of thing: voids and atoms.  Everything, said Epicurus, is made of invisibly small and indestructible atoms, separated by voids; the atoms obey the laws of nature and every phenomenon is the result of natural causes.  This was a startlingly prescient conclusion for the fourth century BC.

Unfortunately Epicurus’s writings did not survive.  But three hundred years later, his ideas were revived and explored in a lengthy, eloquent and unfinished poem, De Rerum Natura (Of the Nature of Things), by the Roman poet Titus Lucretius Carus, who probably died in mid-stanza around 49 BC, just as dictatorship was looming in Rome.  Around this time, in Gustave Flaubert’s words, ‘when the gods had ceased to be, and Christ had not yet come, there was a unique moment in history, between Cicero and Marcus Aurelius when man stood alone’.  Exaggerated maybe, but free thinking was at least more possible then than before or after.  Lucretius was more subversive, open-minded and far-seeing than either of those politicians (Cicero admired, but disagreed with, him).  His poem rejects all magic, mysticism, superstition, religion and myth.  It sticks to an unalloyed empiricism.

As the Harvard historian Stephen Greenblatt has documented, a bald list of the propositions Lucretius advances in the unfinished 7,400 hexameters of De Rerum Natura could serve as an agenda for modernity.  He anticipated modern physics by arguing that everything is made of different combinations of a limited set of invisible particles, moving in a void. He grasped the current idea that the universe has no creator, Providence is a fantasy and there is no end or purpose to existence, only ceaseless creation and destruction, governed entirely by chance.  He foreshadowed Darwin in suggesting that nature ceaselessly experiments, and those creatures that can adapt and reproduce will thrive.  He was with modern philosophers and historians in suggesting that the universe was not created for or about human beings, that we are not special, and there was no Golden Age of tranquillity and plenty in the distant past, but only a primitive battle for survival.  He was like modern atheists in arguing that the soul dies, there is no afterlife, all organised religions are superstitious delusions and invariably cruel, and angels, demons or ghosts do not exist.  In his ethics he thought the highest goal of human life is the enhancement of pleasure and the reduction of pain.

Thanks largely to Greenblatt’s marvellous book The Swerve, I have only recently come to know Lucretius, and to appreciate the extent to which I am, and always have been without knowing it, a Lucretian/Epicurean.  Reading his poem in A.E. Stallings’s beautiful translation in my sixth decade is to be left fuming at my educators.  How could they have made me waste all those years at school plodding through the tedious platitudes and pedestrian prose of Jesus Christ or Julius Caesar, when they could have been telling me about Lucretius instead, or as well?  Even Virgil was writing partly in reaction to Lucretius, keen to re-establish respect for gods, rulers and top-down ideas in general. Lucretius’s notion of the ceaseless mutation of forms composed of indestructible substances - which the Spanish-born
philosopher George Santayana called the greatest thought that mankind has ever hit upon - has been one of the persistent themes of my own writing.  It is the central idea behind not just physics and chemistry, but evolution, ecology and economics too.  Had the Christians not suppressed Lucretius, we would surely have discovered Darwinism centuries before we did.

Monday November 23 2015

I have been reading Peter Foster’s book, Why We Bite the Invisible Hand: The Psychology of Anti-Capitalism.  And very good it is.  Here are some of the things Foster says about Robert Owen (pp. 86-69, pp 92-95:

After he built Cromford, Arkwright became involved in the development of another even more spectacular water-driven venture, at New Lanark in Scotland. The fast-flowing river below the beautiful Falls of Clyde made the site ideal.  Arkwright’s partner there was David Dale, a respected Glasgow merchant. The notoriously prickly Arkwright fell out with Dale, reportedly over a triviality, and withdrew. Dale took control and continued to expand, but the reason New Lanark is so well preserved today is not that it is seen as a monument to capitalism.  Quite the contrary. Dale’s son-in-law, Robert Owen, turned New Lanark into the promotional centre for a Utopian dream, where he nurtured anti-capitalist sentiment. A fair amount of anti-capitalist sentiment still seems to pervade the site today.

Owen’s New Lanark was very far from being an experiment in socialism understood as collective ownership and control.  Workers had neither shares in the mill nor much - if any - say in how it was run.  Nor was Owen a political revolutionary.  What he did share in common with more radical socialists was opposition to religion; belief that human nature was an indeterminate clay ("blank slate"), there to be moulded by men such as himself; distaste for the “individual selfish” competitive system and private property (even though they enabled him to promote his muddled ideas); demonization of money; and a generally woolly notion of how economies - as opposed to individual businesses - work.  Owen rejected Adam Smith’s idea of gradual improvement under a system of “natural liberty.” For him, cotton masters, the men who owned and ran the mills, were (except for himself) greedy and selfish, while workers were oppressed sheep to be led, with himself as the Good Shepherd.

Adam Smith had shrewdly noted that people by nature give far more deference to the ideas of the wealthy than they deserve.  Of few people was this more true than Robert Owen.

Owen was born on May 14, 1771, in Newtown in Wales, five years before the publication of The Wealth of Nations. He received only a rudimentary education before being shipped off by his parents to work in the drapery business. He proved an assiduous employee and developed a keen interest in the then-booming textile industry. He started his own business but soon returned to employment as a mill manager in Manchester.  Close to his 20th birthday, he was reportedly managing 500 workers, at the then substantial salary of £300 a year.  Owen soon found investors to help him start his own mill.  He also became interested in education and social reform (which was the rule rather than the exception for industrialists of the time).  However, when he visited New Lanark he saw a place where he might indulge a nascent vision of industrial harmony, a New Jerusalem in which he would be the secular Messiah.

Owen courted David Dale’s daughter, Anne Caroline, married her on September 30, 1799, and took over New Lanark early in 1800 on what seemed generous terms, essentially promising to pay Dale out of the mill’s future profits.  New Lanark was the basis for the fortune and reputation that enabled Robert Owen to indulge his ideas. The scale of New Lanark seems extraordinary even today, but to visitors from the present, if they could travel back to Owen’s time, the most arresting feature of the place would be that most of its employees were children, supplied by orphanages in Glasgow and Edinburgh.  Child labour has become one of the great fixed images of the Industrial Revolution, but it is inappropriate to take our modern sensitivities back to earlier times. Child labour was common - as it still is in many poor countries - because it was, and is, necessary for the survival of both the children and their families.  It was most necessary for orphans.  Indeed, orphanages paid cotton manufacturers to take their charges off their hands.  David Dale reportedly treated his young employees well.  By 1796 he was employing 16 teachers at the site.

Owen’s desire to prevent children under 10 from working appears wholly admirable, until we remember that this might have led them to starve. His desire to educate children and provide an early equivalent of daycare was worthy but ultimately self-interested in business terms, since these measures increased the skills and contentment - and thus productivity - of the workforce, as did his organization of medical insurance, savings opportunities, food and other provisions. There was no conflict between good business and morality. Indeed, Owen himself constantly, at least in the early days, stressed the importance of these measures for increasing profitability.

The village shop that Owen set up at New Lanark was reportedly an inspiration for the modern cooperative movement, which was founded in the town of Rochdale in Lancashire.  According to a potted history at the New Lanark site, when Owen arrived, there were lots of small traders in the village, “selling poor quality goods at high prices.” He was able to buy in bulk, lower the prices and still make a profit.  But of course this is exactly what supermarkets and big-box stores do today, even as they are castigated for putting the “little guy” … out of business.

Robert Owen put the little guy out of business too. He also made sure that no other traders could survive in the village, by paying his workers with “tickets for wages,” which they could spend only at his village shop.  Elsewhere such enforced commitment to the company store would be cited as evidence of corporate villainy, but Owen declared that his own motives weren’t “selfish.” The important thing was not what was good for him, but what was good for mankind, although he clearly expected a little kudos for showing mankind the way.

At New Lanark, Owen in fact displayed more of the enlightened capitalist than of the Utopian dreamer.  One might not doubt his good intentions when it came to spreading education and advocating factory reform, but he seemed eager to bury the fact that many other cottom masters, and businessmen of the time more generally, were enlightened and reform-minded.

As the Napoleonic Wars drew to a close, both mill owners and authorities were disturbed by Luddite riots that resulted in the breaking of new machinery, which was seen as destroying jobs. Robert Owen claimed that what had brought about these awful, and worsening, conditions was economic liberalism and the competitive system, which, he declared, was based on “deception.” He came forward with a series of bold proposals for “villages of unity and co-operation,” which struck many as workhouses by a more glorified name.

Although the great and the good expressed polite interest in Owen’s solutions to what were, after all, pressing problems, many were profoundly skeptical.  John Quincy Adams, then U.S. ambassador to Britain, described Owen in his memoirs as “crafty crazy ... a speculative, scheming, mischievous man.”

Owen managed to draw the ire of both radical reformers, the political economist heirs of Adam Smith, groups that rarely saw eye to eye. The radicals saw Owen’s communities as oppressive, while the economists viewed them as impractical and counterproductive. The reformer William Cobbett described them as “parallelograms of paupers.” The political economist Robert Torrens said it ws difficult to decide whether Owen was a “knave” or an enthusiast “in whose brain a copulation between vanity and benevolence has engendered madness.”

Owen welcomed a steady stream of “philanthropic tourists” at New Lanark. Their number included Grand Duke Nicholas, future czar of Russia.  Some - although presumably not the grand duke - found disquieting authoritarian overtones to Owen’s operation. After watching Owen’s child labourers drill like little soldiers at the mill’s Institution for the Formation of Character (which has been lovingly restored with taxpayers’ money from the European Union), the poet Robert Southey compared the place to a slave plantation.

Parliament ultimately rejected Owen’s scheme. One member suggested that “this visionary plan, if adopted, would destroy the very roots of society.” Owen responded to criticism by making his schemes more grandiose.  Undaunted, he set off to proselytize in the New World, and not merely to lecture but at last to put into effect his grand plan.  He bought an existing cooperative community in Indiana, which he renamed New Harmony.

Owen attracted a large number of settlers, described by one of Owen’s sons, Robert Dale Owen, as a “heterogenous collection of radicals, enthusiastic devotees to principle ... and lazy theorists, with a sprinkling of unprincipled sharpers thrown in.” Owen Sr. soon went back to Britain to spread the word of his success.  Another son, William, confided dolefully to his diary, “The enjoyment of a reformer, I would say, is much more in contemplation, than in reality.”

New Harmony soon started to fall apart.  Skilled labour did not feel inclined to have its income, under Owen’s plan, “equalized” with the unskilled or, worse, with those who did not wish to work at all.  A collectivist scheme such as Owen’s could in effect work only if powered by either religious conviction or forced labour, a lesson that would not be lost on Owen’s more revolutionary successors.

The abolition of money led to a bureaucratic nightmare.  When even lettuce had to pass through the company store, it inevitably wilted before it reached the plate.  (Moscow McDonald’s would encounter analogous problems in trying to get supplies through the collapsing Soviet system almost 200 years later.)

After an absence of two months, Owen returned to New Harmony, arriving by river with intellectual reinforcements dubbed the “boatload of knowledge.” He forced the community through numerous reorganizations, all the while churning out portentous exhortations such as the “Declaration of Mental Independence:’ which promised to free man from the “slavery” of private property, religion and marriage.

One visitor, the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, wrote, “He looks forward to nothing else than to remodel the world entirely; to root out all crime; to abolish punishment; to create similar views and similar wants, and in this manner to abolish all dissension and warfare ... He was too unalterably convinced of the result to admit the slightest room for doubt!’ Every other member of the community to whom the duke spoke acknowledged that Owen was “deceived in his expectations!’ The final blow to the community was a falling-out between Owen and William Maclure, a wealthy emigre Scotsman, which led to the two men suing each other over property, the concept New Harmony was meant to transcend.

The one undoubted benefit Owen did bestow upon the former colonies was his children, who turned out to be a good deal more level-headed than their father and who would become prominent in American affairs. Owen then set off on an even more quixotic scheme: to persuade the government of Mexico to grant him a huge swath of land on which to test his theories.  He required Mexico first to abandon Catholicism.  Mexico demurred.  Owen returned to London and embarked upon expansive new ventures.  He became the first president of the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union, an organization that lasted a year.  Seeking to trump both the pecuniary root of all evil and “unnecessary” middlemen, he set up “labour exchanges,” whereby merchandise was exchanged for “labour notes,” whose value was meant to be calculated according to the hours of sweat embodied in each product.  The administrators found that they could not possibly calculate values this way and were forced to copy market prices.  The labour exchanges collapsed too.

Owen staunchly opposed the “superstition” of religion, and yet his own views were at root profoundly religious, based on a “New Moral World” set up in opposition to a demonic set of greedy capitalists. He founded the Rational Society, complete with Halls of Science instead of churches, and “social hymns.” Sample verse:

Outcasts in your native soil,
Doom’d to poverty and toil,
Strangers in your native land;
Come, and join the social band.

Owen’s acolytes founded another Utopian community, at an estate called Queenwood in Hampshire, whose collapse Owen hastened by spending it into the ground.  One of his more clear-sighted disciples noted that “Mr. Owen was no financier, and had no idea of money.” Queenwood, like New Harmony, imploded amid lawsuits, yet again over property.

Robert Owen represented a psychological type that would persist throughout the business world.  Although such businessmen have a good grasp of their own business, they fail to understand the nature of markets more generally and believe themselves to be morally exceptional in a world marked by short-sighted greed.

Friday November 20 2015

I see that of Counting Cats, in the person of Julie near Chicago, recently linked to a piece by the late Antony Flew entitled The Terrors of Islam, a piece which I had totally forgotten about.  But I am sure that this piece influenced me very strongly when I read it.  And I definitely did read it because I published it, for the Libertarian Alliance (Chris Tame Tendency).

It always pleases me hugely when someone links to an old LA effort of mine like this.  Not exclusively mine, you understand.  Somebody else had to write it.  But … mine.  And this particular piece of Flew’s is downright prophetic.

Counting Cats had a strange outbreak of junk postings about fake university essays a week or two back but seems to be over it now.

Sunday November 15 2015

This is a hastily drawn illustration of a characteristic urban phenomenon of the late twentieth century, namely: the Meaningless Triangle:


The blue lines are the edges, aka the curbs, of two city streets, which, for reasons lost in history, meet each other at an angle.

The black lines are are piece of Modern Movement type Modern Architecture, circa 1970, made of grey concrete, with big, boring windows.  Something like an office block or a department store.  The Meaningless Triangles are the pink bits.

In the days of Modern Movement type Modernism, architects were obsessed with making everything rectangular, which explains that jagged, saw-like edge to the big Modern Movement type building, at the bottom of my diagram.  In order for the building to be in line with one of the streets, it has to be at an angle to the other street, because the streets are not themselves at right angles.

So, why not just have wall to the building that are not at right angles?  This is what is done now.  Why not then?

There are many reasons.  One is that doing this kind of thing, in the days before computers, was a bit difficult.  But more fundamentally, right angles were, you know, Modern.  Only the despised higgledy-piggledy Past had walls at crazy angles.

More fundamentally, Modern Movement architecture was not so much about building a mere building, as about building a small fragment of a potentially infinite urban grid.  In a perfect world, the Modern Movement type building would not stop at the boundaries of the site.  It would instead stride madly off in all four directions, covering the whole earth in a single rectangular grid.  You think that’s mad?  Sure it’s mad.  But this was how these people thought, in those days.  Hey really did publish schemes to cover the entire world with just the one new building, and smash all the others.

The boundaries of the site were an affront to the building.  The building did not end gracefully and decorously at the boundary, and then show a polite face to the world.  No.  It merely stopped, as gracelessly and rudely as possible, and in a manner which threatened to go bashing on, just as soon as a socialist upheaval (preferably worldwide) could clear all the higgledy-piggledy crap of the past out of the way.  In a perfect world, there would be no boundaries, no property rights.  No arbitrary lines where one bit of “property” stops and another bit starts.  Oh no.  All would be owned by the People in Common, and our architect is the instrument of the People in Common, and supplies tham all, all I say, with a new and infinitely huge new building.

I know, insane.  Don’t blame me.  I’m just telling you what these lunatics were thinking.

Luckily, the higgledy-piggledy old world kept these maniacs under control.  They had to stop their damn buildings at the edge of the site.  If they had tried to bash on beyond the site, they’d have been arrested.  But, they could make the ragged edge of the building look as ragged and ugly as they liked, and they did.

Hence all the Meaningless Triangles.

If you want to hear me talking about the above, go to this video, of me giving a talk about Modern Architecture, and start watching at 41 minutes.

What got me blogging about Meaningless Triangles was that I recently, in the course of wandering through my photo-archives, came across this photo:


What we see there is a very meaningful building, built to fill in a Meaningless Triangle.  As I recall, this is a few dozen yards from the entrance to Kensington High Street Tube station.  Yes, I just found the Caffe Nero in Wrights Lane, near that very tube station.  That’s the one.  I took my photo of it in 2010.

Saturday November 14 2015

I never did get to see that gas holder park I was on about yesterday.  I had thought it would be clearly visible and clearly signposted, but it was neither, and I placed myself on the wrong side of a big building site, and never got near it.  I only worked out exactly where it had been hiding when I got home.

But none of that matters.  The point of having a photo-objective of this sort is to get me to a part of town that I might not otherwise be visiting, and in general, to get me out into the town. Gas Holder Park isn’t going anywhere, and my failed attempt to visit it, I got to be on the exact right bit of pavement to take this photo, which is definitely one of my recent favourites:


It’s not just the craziness of the vehicle.  It’s the way that, with no other traffic - or even pedestrians - choosing to get involved in the short, and with my camera tracking the crazy vehicle and thus blurring everything else, the crazy vehicle becomes a sort of disembodied presence, liberated from the urban bustle that it was in fact surrounded by, like it was a movie character on drugs, or something similarly unenmeshed in reality as the rest of us perceive it.

Seconds later, I took another shot of the crazy vehicle as it sped away from me, hoping that it tell me what the white sphere was in aid of.  It wasn’t a great picture ...:


... but it did the job:


And (see above) it’s a recently opened ping pong drinkery.  The white sphere is a ping pong ball.  More about the place here, where there is another picture of the Morris Minor, surrounded by urban bustle, so not on drugs.

Thursday November 12 2015

Not to say the sexist-est.  Those Victorians often used to let their hair down in public.  It’s all around us, if only you are willing to look at it and see it.  It’s only a matter of time before the feminists start defacing such things, because they are already in a state of fluttering Victorian spinsterish hysteria about the sort of feelings expressed in this statue.

This statue is in honour of Sir Arthur Sullivan.  A while back, I and Alex Singleton did a recorded conversation about him, and about Gilbert of course.

So yes, In among yesterday’s picture archive rootling, I came across this amazing picture:


That picture, like yesterday’s effort, was taken in 2010, by which time I was in the habit of photoing the bit on statues where it tells you what it is.  So I had no trouble learning more about this statue today.  The great thing about the internet is how you no longer have to do “research” when you write about something like this.  All that is required is a link, and all is explained, by somebody else.

And the somebody else at the other end of this link, “Metro Girl”, has this to say about this amazing statue:

Situated in the slimmer part of the gardens nearer to the north-eastern exit, it is located looking towards The Savoy Hotel. Sullivan and his frequent collaborator, dramatist WS Gilbert were closely linked to The Savoy Theatre, which was built by their producer Richard D’Oyly Carte in 1881 using profits from their shows. Gilbert and Sullivan’s last eight comic operas premiered at The Savoy Theatre, so it is only fitting that the Sullivan memorial is so nearby.

And, more to my particular point, this:

The monument features a weeping Muse of Music, who is so distraught her clothes are falling off as she leans against the pedestal. This topless Muse has led some art critics to describe the memorial as the sexiest statue in the capital.

Not knowing every sexy statue in the capital, I can’t be sure that this is indeed the sexiest.  But I’ve not seen anything to top it.

Monday November 09 2015

The German conductor Herbert von Karajan probably did more to popularise classical music after WW2 that any other single person.  His LPs and then his CDs and DVDs sold in their millions.  I have many Karajan CDs myself.  So, the question of whether he was any sort of Nazi and if so what sort remains a hot topic.

Playwright Ronald Harwood, author of a play about Wilhelm Furtwängler, was recently interviewed on BBC4 TV.  During this, Harwood mentioned, in contemptuous passing, that Karajan was obviously a Nazi.  Furtwängler was interesting because it wasn’t clear, hence that play.  Karajan?  Not interesting, because clearly he was.  He hired a Jewish secretary after the war.  What more do you need to know?

Well, I for one needed to know a bit more than only that, so I did some googling and came across this by Peter Alward, former vice-president of EMI Classics:

I first met Karajan in 1976, and we remained friends up to his death. He was one of EMI’s flagship artists in the late 70s and early 80s; most of his operatic work was for us, his symphonic work for Deutsche Grammophon. Yes, he cultivated the cult of the maestro - he was a shrewd businessman and recognised his market worth. He was not slow in coming forward and speaking his mind, but no conductor is a shrinking violet. I feel he was misunderstood. There was the glamorous image - the jet-set lifestyle - but this was all a defence. He was really very shy, a simple man with simple tastes. I vehemently oppose the theory that he was a Nazi. He was an opportunist. I’m Jewish, and if I believed otherwise, I wouldn’t have spent a minute in his company.

Opportunist sounds about right to me.  Karajan, like all conductors, needed power, over an orchestra.  Needing this sort of power, he had to avoid antagonising whoever the politicians were, the ones with the more regular sort of power.  But he did not care about politics for its own sake, merely as a means to the end of his music making.

Trouble is, you can surely say the same for a great many other servants of the Third Reich.  I bet plenty of rocket, airplane, tank, bomb and ship designers were equally opportunistic, and equally free of any positive desire to be Nazis.  But whoever happened to be Germany’s politicians, these people would have served them.  All they cared about was rockets, airplanes, tanks, bombs and ships.  Classical music was not as important to the Nazi regime as armaments were, but it was quite important.  Karajan did help.

The most interesting titbit I learned from this little burst of Karajan-googling was that apparently his second wife, Anita, whom he married in 1942, was burdened with a Jewish grandfather.  But hKarajan wasn’t merely “burdened” thus.  He burdened himself.  Wikipedia:

On 22 October 1942, at the height of the Second World War, Karajan married Anna Maria “Anita” Sauest, born Gütermann. She was the daughter of a well-known manufacturer of yarn for sewing machines. Having had a Jewish grandfather, she was considered a Vierteljüdin (one-quarter Jewish woman).

Just marrying a quarter-Jewess, before that was dodgy, is one thing.  Being a celeb and marrying a famous heiress with a famously rich and half-Jewish dad, and doing all that in 1942, is something else again.  That’s more than just hiring an entirely Jewish secretary after the war.

When I read about such people and about such times, I don’t feel inclined to condemn.  I merely wonder how I might have behaved, or misbehaved, had I been confronted by such pressures and such temptations.

Ronald Harwood on Karajan
Anton Howes on the idea of (and the unstoppability of) technological innovation
Old photos of Enceladus
18/07/2007 - 18:01-19:33
Steven Pinker on the (im)moral message of the Old Testament
A viadukt and a tunnel
Now I know what a Mews is
The culling of the Northern Hemisphere
Big house
An underground history lesson
Here begins the Essex Way
Juliet Barker on Knights of Old: A lot of history in one paragraph
A Real (cat) Photographer
Close departs
William Hague on the collapse of the centre left
On clapping in between movements at classical concerts
Big Ben through the legs of Gandhi statue in Parliament Square
Designing and building with glass
Trois Citroens (et deux chevaux)
One day cricketers playing at test cricket
A blast from the photographic past
How David Irving put himself on trial
Palestra House – then and now
May 2005 was my first big month for photoing photoers
White cat – Mick Hartley’s photos and other photos he likes – black and white and colour
When David Irving called a British Judge “Mein Fuhrer”
London dragon
Out and about with GD1 (4): On the survival of professional photography
A new Grand Chose for Paris
It begins (badly)
Photoing old Dinky Toys in Englefield Green
Smart face on smartphone
Old London by the Buck Brothers
Ed Smith on sporting maturity – Burns and Henriques collide – Secretariat and his jockey
Paul Johnson on Mozart and Da Ponte
The new Wembley Stadium under construction plus a white van
Paul Johnson on what the young Mozart was up against
The view from outside Waterloo Station
A new not very big Thing in Paris
A Shiny Thing and a friend also photoing it - with an iPhone
Reading Anton Howes again
Richard J. Evans on how evidence can become more significant over time
Another from the archives
Marc Morris on how the Bayeux Tapestry ought not to exist
The receiving station at Swains Lane (and the previous version of it)
Paul Kennedy on centimetric radar
You don’t see this any more
Bizarre designer furniture in a Covent Garden window
Marc Morris on medieval evidence (there’s more of it than you might think)
How bet hedging explains the perpetual terribleness of everything
At the top of the Monument - in 2012 and in 2007
Pete Comley talking about inflation on Friday February 27th
The Bayeux Tapestry small enough to fit in this blog
True hearts and warm hands
Miniature photographic fakery
The Bayeux Tapestry – the ultimate horizontalised graphic
BMdotcom What if? of the day
A feline Friday at Guido
Hand done photos
Golden Gate being built – Severn Road Bridge ditto – C20 photography – Hitler’s paintings
Colourfully painted modernity
Old Quimper Cathedral
Trousers keyboard
Cameras photoing the Wheel (in 2007)
Was Guy’s Tower a key building in the architectural history of London?
A link and a photo of a photographer
Matt Ridley on how technology leads science and how that means that the state need not fund science
To Tower Bridge: Shadow selfie – Peace memorial – Big Things old and new
Dominic Frisby on the Hype Cycle
Phone (and cash) box
Quota photo from Paris (also a selfie)
The Poppies (1): What they look like
Why I am a point-and-shoot photographer rather than a Real Photographer
Pictures of Guy Herbert
My chance to ride a bus almost as old as me
The illustrations for Christian Michel’s talk this Friday (plus some thoughts from me)
How Bill Bryson on white and black paint helps to explain the Modern Movement in Architecture
An old story about colour perception
Michael Jennings at the Rose and Crown
Rob took photos
Chippendale without Rannie
Keeping up appearances
Bill Bryson on the miracle of crop rotation
Headlights with cleaning brush
Happy Friday (eventually)
On not letting either God or (the other) God do everything
Postrel goes for Gray
Bond car
PID at the Times
Something at Samizdata
Smaller Old Thing in front of Big New Things
Round headlights equals an old car
Football comment
Russian tanks in London
Vespa GS in Lower Marsh
The Not-V2 at London Bridge Station
Emmanuel Todd talking in English (about how the Euro is doomed)
The Lib Dem cat is out of the box
Tower Bridge before it got covered in stone
Building as ornament
Bennett and Lotus on how Emmanuel Todd’s family provoked his Grand Theory of Everything
Lilburne on a T-shirt and Lilburne on a mug
A old bus doing regular bus stuff
Michael Jennings talking about Russia this Friday
James II dressed as a Roman
Ten years ago today
Anton Howes – James Lawson – Will Hamilton
Two badly lit views of “Victoria Tower” and why Big Ben is not St Stephen’s Tower or Elizabeth Tower
South Bank signs
Green screen blue screen
A selfie taken in 1955 - another taken in 2014 - another being taken in 2014
Another photographer photo from the archives
Amusing cats versus important people
Remembering another Christian name (and flagging up another talk)
Quota quote
Feline ephemera
Don’t judge a new technology by its first stumbling steps
The Met swoops on the Adams Family
Colour photography
Omaha dead
The text of my talk for Christian Michel last night
Making sense of digital photography
Digital photography as telepathy
How hydrogen bombs work
Boris Johnson’s London
Old London photos
On having written about the 1958/9 Ashes series before the 2013/4 Ashes series had started
Tough going in Australia
I’m not the only one who suffers from rightward lean
Jane Austen’s naval brothers
Donald McCloskey?
Michael Jennings photoes Cape Bojador
Comrade Blimp
Digital photographers holding maps
Daniel Hannan’s latest book(s?)
The Kelpies of Falkirk
They did not die to make us free
Rob Fisher on old things not looking old
Eurostar before St Pancras
Wedding photography - old and new
A vanished building and a bendy bus
A Strutton Ground shop and a Strutton Ground pub
Otherwise blogging (and a Burgess Park butterfly)
Anton Howes at the Rose and Crown
Algernon Sidney sends for Micklethwait because Micklethwait is wise, learned, diligent, and faithful
The next four Brian’s Last Fridays (including December 27)
The Times of May 24th 1940
Antoine Clarke on life and libertarianism in Britain in 1913
Billy Fury Way
The Alex Singleton blog
Views from Kings College
An old Mini and a new Mini
Craig Willy on Emmanuel Todd
Steve Davies talk last night
Emmanuel Todd links
Cassette iPhone photographer
Wedding photography (6): The Wedding and the Reception
Pictures from Georgia and Warsaw
Bookshops as Amazon showrooms
Feynman Diagrams on the Feynman van
Wedding photography (3): Technology as sculpture
So painters also used to “take” pictures
Crossrail grubbings
Me and the Six Nations under the weather
Classical CDs from Gramex
Bad times for the NHS
Crusader latrines
Steven Pinker’s description of The Enlightenment
Bomber Command Memorial pictures
How gun control works and how it will defend Libertaria
A camera in each hand
Changing views from the Monument
America 3.0
Remembrance Sunday photos
A review of Detlev Schlichter’s new book (multiplied by 4)
Kevin Dowd last night
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
Bizarre History - Johannes Brahms did not murder cats
Do not climb on the Thing!
Pictures of Detlev Schlichter
Shostakovich with cat
Gormley’s South Bank Men
Everything competes with everything
Photographing change from the Monument
Soviet health and safety posters
Let us now trash infamous men
A Spanish geography lesson
Bouncing bombs and spinning cricket balls
Me and Patrick Crozier talk about the banking crisis and its possible consequences
An amazon reviewer defends Alex Ross
October 2007 conversation about modern architecture with Patrick Crozier
St Valentine’s Day talk by me on architecture
Mozart might have become a criminal
Alex Ross on Hollywood film scores
Professor C. Northcote Parkinson on the Edifice Complex
More redirection
Obamanomics dod not work
English will not last for ever shock
James Waterton on a very smart very dumb Russian
Rockets are a great improvement on balloons
Defeating Islam (2): Conversion to Christianity will trump higher birth rates in Islamic countries
More bridge magic
What if the British Empire had stayed together?
St Matthew reinterpreted
Soros and his money
Happy hundredth
Links to this and that
Toby Baxendale on what went wrong and what to do about it
Anti-aircraft guns may not have killed many enemy airplanes but they did point them out
Perfectly clear politics
Obama raises the price of tanning
Farnborough redirect
303 Squadron in the movie and on the telly
I do love a steam train on a viaduct
Castro slams Israel
As strong and sweet as the free market itself
Soviet space leftovers
I love television
Photos of things past
Steve Davies lecture - photoing and videoing the lecture - post-lecture chat
One child poster
Everybody draw Mohammed every day!
God is not One
Why my libertarianism has the look and feel of socialism
Why David Hepworth is wrong about podcasting
The cats from out of town that cleared out the rats during the siege of Leningrad
You had a hard disc?  Luxury!
Cricket talk tonight
Three more headlines and how the internet remembers it all
Photographic coup
Short posting (with short photo) about SpaceShipTwo
ClimateGate roars on and Man(n)-made warming is taking on a whole new meaning
In Gorbachev we trust?
Luxembourg church in hill and Luxembourg footbridge
How building St Peter’s Rome split the Catholic Church and how marzipan was invented in Luebeck
Frank McLynn: “Counterfactual history is the essence of history …”
Going global
Polish anti-semitism - a history lesson at last night’s dinner
Death to all who try to tiptoe past our guards while wearing giant baby costumes!
At least libertarianism is understood over there
Alex Ross on Sibelius
The concrete monstrosities of the South Bank may be about to get colourful
Changing faces of Europe
A little archaeology
What Bercow does next
Model T parts flatvert
Tienanmen + Twitter = Teheran
Hislop fluffs the rhyme
What next for Guido Fawkes?
Handel in London – and an angelic tenor aria
There weren’t a billion of them then
Patri Friedman versus Chris Tame
Lawrence H. White on the Scottish experience of free banking
Signs of the times in Belfast
My confusion about free banking
What the previous two postings here have in common
Daniel Hannan and the shape of the media to come
“Vivid characters, devious plotting and buckets of gore …”
Bike made entirely of wood
Long platform ticket
Clay Shirky on newspaper doom
Reading Kasparov
Ancient Sheffield dwarfed by modernity
Professor Dowd and I contemplate a stately home from a distance
Monsal Viaduct
Who is Arnold Leah?
Philippa Micklethwait - the Eulogy
Jennings did it
Flat train picture and regular train picture
Another strange Staines statue
Meme for the New Depression
Roll out the Lino
Milk containers ancient and modern
Commenting about the Dowd lecture at Samizdata
“Dying is a fulltime business. You haven’t time to do a lap of honour.”
Making the new look and feel like the old
My parents and my uncle and two aunts
Another antique
Four Minutes
Old postage stamps
Michael Jennings on shoring up the bad old economy versus building a good new one
And here is a real quotation
Quota quotes from Wodehouse
More Englefield Green strangeness
Further thoughts on Karajan’s conducting
P. J. O’Rourke confuses the average with the significant
The Official Story and the Most Confident Alternative
Thoughts concerning FDR’s warmongering nature
Lang Lang crushes Yundi Li!
Billion Monkey hits 40
“I will cause a boy that driveth a plough to know more of the scriptures than thou dost.”
Another pendulum theory
Reasons to be a bit more cheerful
Wingtipping a V1
They aren’t complete idiots all the time
Chinese Friday?
Rock and roll will die very soon!
Monster buildings and monster people
Mahler’s 9th in Vienna in 1938
Another great viaduct
Cricket chat
John Carey on Shakespeare and the high-art/ popular-art distinction
Keith Windschuttle on history - truth - Robert Hughes
Official bias
Billion Monkey lady! – Gherkin! – Monument!
Strange weather
Modernity dwarfed by church
Photo of some foodski
Resizing Slim with Expression Engine
Cricket misery
Switching from dumb bombing to smart bombing
Non-bio oil
A poetic Hornby
Armed is less dangerous
Star and stripe
Terence Kealey on the Wright brothers and their patent battles
Guido Fawkes gets Douglas Jardine wrong
Photos are better
Were any of them really that nice?
Pictures with words
An impulse posting about procrastination
The absurdly derided excellence of British weather forecasts
Voting for Boris?
Perkins photos
Slow day here
Billion Monkey Alan Little?
Dominic Lawson on Herbert von Karajan
Nothing there
Celebrating a victory
Brian Hitler!
Ed Smith on how baseball defeated cricket in America
A soundbite to describe Britain a hundred years ago
Cuba before Communism
Theodore Dalrymple on the menace of honest public officials and much else besides
Me talking about the great twentieth century musical divide
Flat viaduct and spiral bridge
“At that moment I suddenly started to view Nagi as an enemy …”
Blogging – the end of the beginning
Fifty million Bible bombs
Books on the go and on a machine
Probably not right - but definitely written
The romance of new technology – or the drudgery of it
Operation Cat Drop and some Hello Kitty Bags
The bridge that was going to make Westminster a fine city and London a desert
Remembrance photos
Fourteen British viaducts
She’s alive I tell you! Alive!
Socialising with the Social Media
Understanding is the booby prize exclamation mark
Architecture talk
Will China fail?
The Emperor Jones
Yes this is cat blogging
Smelling the smoke in the Microsoft machine
A train called Professor George Gray
Che Guevara was a murderer and your T-Shirt is not cool
New word alert
Did Hitler have a plan to conquer the USA?
A conversation - and another outage
A dreadful age
Juan Bautista Alberdi
American war memorial by the sea at St Nazaire
Three … thirty six … sixty one … a hundred a forty eight …
Blogs are not cacophonous
At the dogs
Lots of links
Test match special
Four Billion Monkey snaps!
Cold War winner
Islam was peaceful and tolerant until the Christians attacked it
Lost Bach
Mean bombers
Emmanuel Todd (5): A CrozierVision podcast
Emmanuel Todd (4): From ideology to economic progress
Lebrecht daily?
Alan Turing – dead earth and cold wires
Thomas Edison - from cheat to creator
Alessandro Volta feels electricity on his tongue
The Great Global Warming Swindle debate now begins
Random London snaps from last year
Church dwarfed by modernity
Will twentieth century aerial warfare be repeated by toys?
Susan Hill on not having to be up-to-the-minute about book blogging
Svensmark – for and against
Gandhi on equality for all … except …
Harold C. Shonberg on how to perform Bach
Emmanuel Todd (2): The eight family systems
Micklethwait’s Four Star Theory of the Internet
Emmanuel Todd (1): Anthropology explains ideology
Another link to a friend and that’s your lot today
And further talk at Christian Michel’s about water and power
World War One talk at Christian Michel’s
Islam is evil - and that’s me carrying on normally
Geoffrey Blainey on Ivan Bloch - the man who predicted World War One
Back to the future with the virtuoso violinists
Billion Monkeys and people waving blue things!
Happy day after Christmas Day
History of the Middle East as a moving map
Sullivan and Grove find some Schubert diamonds
Pictures of and from Albert Bridge
Geek girl I like your thinkings - are nice - I want have sex with it
I really hope that the Samsung SPH-P9000 catches on
Admiral Coward
Alex talks (clearly) with me (not so clear) about classical music
The West disunited versus the Pesky Muslims
Sssssssss!!!! White man!  Take my photo!!
The extreme memes spread by moderate Muslims
“Liberty might be defended, after all” - Tom Holland’s account of the Battle of Marathon
A little transport history
A digital SLR that a Billion Monkey could lift!
Alex and Brian’s latest classical music mp3 – Saint-Saëns etc.
Shaftesbury Avenue over half a century ago
Patrick and Brian mp3 about libertarianism and spreading libertarianism
Quota quote – Victor Davis Hanson on the Western way of war
Adriana’s Thing mp3
Debussy denounces Massenet but Puccini follows him
Roll playing
Theodore Dalrymple is an Islamic Fundamentalist and so am I
On trust and obviousness
Brian and Antoine number 9
Giving up rouge for Lisbon
Four stars at Amazon
Skill and Post-Skill
Quoted but not linked to
The dilemmas of defence
Some economics
Charles Rosen on Richard Taruskin and on the socially unbound nature of some of the greatest music
The problem of long blog postings
Talking about my generation
The Great Gulf War?
Last night’s talk
Still ill
Thoughts after watching Abbado’s Lucerne Resurrection Symphony
What we eat but not what we say
Rylance’s Richard again
“They needed one another”
Two faces of Horatio Nelson and the excellence of Findlay Dunachie
Civilisation turns its attention to Chinese despotism
iPods From Space
Mitchum - MacLaine – Fonda – and Cota
The old USSR: good for thirty more years . . . then it collapsed