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

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Category archive: Europe

Friday April 29 2016

This is a first:

I am at Brian Micklethwait’s place for his latest Friday. This argument against leaving the EU was made (I am literally live blogging, this is breaking news!): The good thing about Brussels is that it is impossible to be emotionally attached to it. This weakens the state.

Interesting discussion is now ensuing. And we have not even got to the speaker yet.

The liveblogger in question being Rob Fisher, to whom thanks.

The speaker and subject matter were described in this earlier posting here.

I do hope to write something soonish about what was actually said by Patrick Crozier, but meanwhile, the other interesting thing about this evening’s event, for me, was how well attended it was.  By this I mean that the room was, as it usually seems to be, comfortably but not uncomfortably full.

What was so unusual about this outcome was that when I sent that first email out last Sunday evening, flagging up the meeting, I got no responses.  Usually, one or two or three people reply by return of email that they intend to attend, and more acceptances come in as the week before the meeting (which is on the Friday) progresses.  But this time: nothing.  Not even one email.  Not a sausage.  In my reminder email, which went out yesterday, I pretty much begged people to come, and to tell me beforehand that they were coming.  And a healthy trickle of positive responses duly trickled in, and I relaxed.  And then, come the evening itself, as already revealed, pretty much the exact same number of people showed up as usually shows up.

How do people, collectively, know to do this?  There has to be some kind of mathematical law in operation here, which says that the right number of people always shows up, no matter what.

It cannot be coincidence that the only time when far, far too many people showed up for comfort was the very first of these meetings, when I restarted them at the beginning of (I think it was) 2013.  Never again.  This strongly suggests to me that The Crowd, subsequently so wise, started out ignorant, of how much comfortable space there was, but that The Crowd has subsequently learned.  And now, The Crowd knows how to turn up chez moi in the exact right numbers, every time.  No matter what I do to assemble it, and no matter what it says beforehand, or doesn’t say.

Thursday April 21 2016

Circumstances had placed me at the Angel Tube.  My business was concluded and the weather was wondrous.  So, where to next?  There is a canal near there, but I didn’t fancy another canal walk, so instead I just walked along whatever road presented itself to me, in the general direction of the Big Things of the City (one of them (the Heron Tower) having been turned blazing gold by the early evening sun).  The road turned out to be Goswell Road.  A place of slightly down-at-heal struggle, where you felt that for some, the struggle wasn’t worth it, but for others, maybe.  That kind of in-between sort of a place.  Not as affluent as you’d expect for something that close to the City, but trundling along as best it could.  Big, shabby-modern university buildings.  Building sites.  Ethnic shops.

And then in amongst all this middlingness, a glimpse through what looked like a shop window, into a world of money-no-object designer gloss and nouveau riche ostentation.  What is all this stuff?

It all looked rather Zaha Hadid, especially this shiny but strange object, presumably for sitting on:

image

And hey, look, there’s a picture of Zaha Hadid.  This is obviously a place that takes Zaha Hadid pretty seriously, and is very saddened by her recent death:

image

Zaha Hadid, I should explain, is the world-renowned starchitect and designer, who recently died at the shockingly young age of 65.  When a starchitect dies at 65, that’s like a rock star dying at 22.  At 65, starchitects, rather like classical conductors, are just getting started.  The thing is, starchitects need power, and their target demographic is old decision-makers, so they tend to be old too.

What was this rather strange place?  I stepped back to see if there was any clue on the outside.

Here was a clue:

image

Good grief.  This is an actual Zaha Hadid place of work.

I crossed the road, to photo the whole thing:

image

To be more exact, this is not the one place where Hadid and all her underlings did everything.  This is the Zaha Hadid Design Gallery, which opened in 2013 (I now learn), which would perhaps have been open for me to walk into had I encountered it earlier in the day.  The place displays many of Hadid’s numerous designs for Small Things, like furniture, lamps, sculptures, jewellery, paintings, and suchlike.

Considering what a wacky designer Hadid was, that’s a surprisingly prosaic building, isn’t it?  I’m guessing that it was not built specifically with her in mind, but was adapted.

So, no wonder that this place now contains memorials to Zaha Hadid, like this:

image

There is some reflection of the outside in this next snap, but it gives you an idea of what the place as a whole is like, and what kind of stuff is in it:

image

Frankly, for me, all this indoor small stuff does not show Hadid at her very best.  For that, I think, you have to go outside.

Her only building in London so far is the Aquatics Centre, which I photoed, very hastily, when I visited the top of the Big Olympic Thing.  Had I know then that Zaha Hadid had been about to die, I would have taken more photos of this building, and more carefully:

image

I would, for instance, have placed it in a gap in that safety netting, rather than just randomly.  Another time.

But notice that even in that casual photo, the beauty, I think, of the building still asserts itself.  It’s like a sports helmet, of the sort worn by cyclists, and by some cricketers.

Even more remarkable is this amazing ancient-modern juxtaposition:

image

This is now, apparently, nearing completion.  It might be worth a trip to Antwerp, just to see it.

Zaha Hadid’s underlings are going to try to keep the Zaha Hadid enterprise going, at least the architectural bit.  Good luck people, but you’re surely going to need it.

The rumour I heard is that Hadid was “difficult” to work for.  Maybe this was just an example of that law that says that bossy men are masterful, but bossy women are bossy.  But maybe she really was difficult to work for.  If so, this difficulty looks like it was all of a piece with the sorts of designs she created.

The thing is, Hadid was not some logical, everything-has-a-reason systematic, machines-for-living in, presider over a system of architectural problem solving.  She was the kind of architect who unleashed drama, excitement, at vast extra expense, if what you’re comparing it all with is a big rectangular box.  You only have to look at her stuff to see that any logic involved is just an excuse for a cool looking design.  Why does it look that way?  Because I, Zaha Hadid, say so, and I’m the boss, that’s why.  I make beautiful shapes.  Other people like them and buy them.  Deal with it.

That’s going to be a hard act to replace.

Wednesday April 20 2016

As regulars here know, I am fascinated by unusual vehicles, and by almost all commercial vehicles.  Whereas cars tend to be reticent about making any sort of personal statement, commercial vehicles have to communicate.  They have to radiate an atmosphere.  They have to dress themselves like they’re going on the pull in a nightclub.  Well, they don’t have to.  But most commercial vehicles are an opportunity to do marketing, so why turn it down?  And these vehicles consequently radiate as many different atmospheres as there are commercial purposes being pursued in and with them.

Here are a couple of vans I spied today:

imageimage

Both are somewhat self-conscious, I think.  There is a lack of earnestness here, a certain ironic distance, a certain slightly bogus artifice, not to say Art, involved.

But, all part of what makes wandering about in London such an endlessly entertaining pastime.

Sausage Man website here.  I tried googling “Oliver London”, but all I got was a lot of stuff about a stage musical.  The small tricycle van looks oriental to me, and that its presence outside an oriental restaurant is not coincidental.

Thursday April 07 2016

I am in the habit of denouncing the notion that science is a precondition for technology (and therefore needs to be paid for by the government).  The tendency is for technological gadgetry to lead science, and often to correct science, by defying it and proving with its success that the relevant science needs to be redone.

But there is another even more direct way in which technology leads science.  Here is yet another excerpt from Steven Johnson’s The Invention of Air (pp. 73-77).  Click on the illustration, which I found here and which is the illustration in the book at that point in the text, to get it properly visible:

The study of air itself had only begun to blossom as a science in the past century, with Robert Boyle’s work on the compression and expansion of air in the late 1600s, and Black’s more recent work on carbon dioxide. Before Boyle and Black, there was little reason to think there was anything to investigate: the world was filled with stuff – people, animals, planets, sprigs of mint – and then there was the nothingness between all the stuff. Why would you study nothingness when there was such a vast supply of stuff to explain? There wasn’t a problem in the nothingness that needed explaining.  A cycle of negative reinforcement arose: the lack of a clear problem kept the questions at bay, and the lack of questions left the problems as invisible as the air itself. As Priestley once wrote of Newton, “[he] had very little knowledge of air, so he had few doubts concerning it.”

So the question is: Where did the doubts come from? Why did the problem of air become visible at that specific point in time?  Why were Priestley, Boyle, and Black able to see the question clearly enough to begin trying to answer it?  There were 800 million human beings on the planet in 1770, every single one of them utterly dependent on air.  Why Priestley, Boyle, and Black over everyone else?

One way to answer that question is through the lens of technological history. They were able to explore the problem because they had new tools.  The air pumps designed by Otto von Guericke and Boyle (the latter in collaboration with his assistant, Robert Hooke, in the mid-1600s) were as essential to Priestley’s lab in Leeds as the electrical machines had been to his Warrington investigations. It was almost impossible to do experiments without being able to move air around in a controlled manner, just as it was impossible to explore electricity without a reliable means of generating it.

In a way, the air pump had enabled the entire field of pneumatic chemistry in the seventeenth century by showing, indirectly, that there was something to study in the first place. If air was simply the empty space between things, what was there to investigate? But the air pump allowed you to remove all the air from a confined space, and thus create a vacuum, which behaved markedly differently from common air, even though air and absence of air were visually indistinguishable. Bells wouldn’t ring in a vacuum, and candles were extinguished. Von Guericke discovered that a metal sphere composed of two parts would seal tightly shut if you evacuated the air between them. Thus the air pump not only helped justify the study of air itself, but also enabled one of the great spectacles of early Enlightenment science.

The following engraving shows the legendary demonstration of the Magdeburg Sphere, which von Guericke presented before Ferdinand III to much amazement: two eight-horse teams attempt – and, spectacularly, fail – to separate the two hemispheres that have been sealed together by the force of a vacuum.

image

When we think of technological advances powering scientific discovery, the image that conventionally comes to mind is a specifically visual one: tools that expand the range of our vision, that let us literally see the object of study with new clarity, or peer into new levels of the very distant, the very small. Think of the impact that the telescope had on early physics, or the microscope on bacteriology. But new ways of seeing are not always crucial to discovery. The air pump didn’t allow you to see the vacuum, because of course there was nothing to see; but it did allow you to see it indirectly in the force that held the Magdeburg Sphere together despite all that horsepower. Priestley was two centuries too early to see the molecules bouncing off one another in his beer glasses. But he had another, equally important, technological breakthrough at his disposal: he could measure those molecules, or at least the gas they collectively formed. He had thermometers that could register changes in temperature (plus, crucially, a standard unit for describing those changes). And he had scales for measuring changes in weight that were a thousand times more accurate than the scales da Vinci built three centuries earlier.

This is a standard pattern in the history of science: when tools for measuring increase their precision by orders of magnitude, new paradigms often emerge, because the newfound accuracy reveals anomalies that had gone undetected. One of the crucial benefits of increasing the accuracy of scales is that it suddenly became possible to measure things that had almost no weight. Black’s discovery of fixed air, and its perplexing mixture with common air, would have been impossible without the state-of-the-art scales he employed in his experiments. The whole inquiry had begun when Black heated a quantity of “magnesia alba,” and discovered that it lost a minuscule amount of weight in the process - a difference that would have been imperceptible using older scales. The shift in weight suggested that something was escaping from the magnesia into the air. By then running comparable experiments, heating a wide array of substances, Black was able to accurately determine the weight of carbon dioxide, and consequently prove the existence of the gas. It weighs, therefore it is.

Thursday March 10 2016

I like to photo the covers of newspapers and magazines.  Such snaps can be very evocative, when looking back at them.

One of the more memorable of such snaps recently was this:

image

The whole Brexit argument seems to be turning into a clash of pessimisms.  Which would be more ghastly?  Britain staying in or Britain getting out? 

Here is a piece that argues that Brexit would be ghastly, for the EU.  As well as all the hoo-hah about refugees, there’s also the little matter of the EU economy collapsing.  If Brexit happens, so might that.

So, will the Remainiacs argue, come the Referendum, that we must stay in, to save EUrope?  Could be.  The argument will be: if we leave, that will wreck EUrope, and that will wreck Britain.

And the Leavers will say: well, if EUrope is a wreck waiting to happen, we’d do better to get out.  Whatever happens, the immediate future looks terrible.  If we get out, at least we could then look toward our own longer term future with a bit of optimism.  We will save ourselves by our exertions, and then EUrope by our example, bascially by turning EUrope back into Europe.  Brexit will be like Dunkirk.

There has for some time now, I think, been a breed of “national” politician – Cameron and Osborne are such – whose first loyalty is to the global elite and to such enterprises as the EU, rather than to their own mere countries.  They are not really our leaders anymore.  They are more like District Commissioners for The Empire.

Personally, I do not oppose The Empire just because it is an Empire.  I oppose The Empire, now, because I don’t think the Imperialists are running it very well.  And I favour Brexit now both because I think that, on balance, Brexit will be better for Britain, and because the Imperialists need a good kick up the bum.  More politely, I think these people should stop being so “anti-patriotic”.  They need to stop regarding patriotism as their enemy.

More exactly and less windily, the Imperialists also need to follow better financial policies.  I think they are more likely to do this if Britain competes with EUrope than if Britain is a province of EUrope.  And what might these policies be?  Well, the world needs competing currencies, both because the best of these will be quite good, and because they will stir the world’s fiat currencies into being better.  That’s more likely to happen if the world consists of a looser affiliation of semi-sovereign states than a tight Empire of provinces, ruled unchallengeably by Cameron, Osborne, and their gaggle of rich, powerful, and actually somewhat stupid, friends.

Thursday March 03 2016

Blog buddy 6k recently did a posting about a Finnish word, “kalsarikännit”, which apparently means: “getting drunk alone at home, while wearing your underwear”.

I came across the big word in the title of this posting as a result of photoing a van, as it entered Victoria Street, on Tuesday:

image

What got me photoing this van was not any long word on it, for there are none.  No, what got my attention was how amazingly posh this van looked.  Amazingly posh like one of those amazingly posh magazines about Design, two-thirds full of posh car, posh frock, posh watch and posh property adverts.  Goddaughter 1, if she sees this, will surely be delighted.  The market for aesthetically sophisticated architectural photography (which is what she mostly does for a living) has now spread to the sides of vans.

But what is BRS?  BRS.NL was a big clue.  Dutch, yes?  Yes.  Here’s the website.  I had a rootle around in it, and that was when I came across “Toegangsbeveiligingsproducten”.

Here is the original Dutch:

Het accent van de werkzaamheden van BRS Traffic Systems BV ligt op het ontwikkelen, produceren, installeren en onderhouden van toegangsbeveiligingsproducten zoals Xentry® Speedgates, Pevac® Traffic Blockers®, Pevac® Road Blockers, Pevac® Spike Barriers®, Pevac® Bollards, Xentry® Speeddoors en Pevac®Traps.

By the way, “van” is not the Dutch for a van.

The only translation of “toegangsbeveiligingsproducten” that I could coax out of the internet was the English translation of the above verbiage:

The emphasis of the work of BRS Traffic Systems BV is the development, production, installation and maintenance of access security as Xentry® Speedgates, Pevac® Traffic Blockers®, Pevac® Road Blockers, Pevac® Spike Barriers®, Pevac® Bollards, Xentry® Speed Doors, and Pevac®Traps.

So, “access security products”?  Fancy metal gates, in other words.  That’s not as good as “getting drunk alone at home, while wearing your underwear”, but I reckon “kalsarikännit” is not as impressive as “toegangsbeveiligingsproducten”.

Thank heavens for copy-and-paste.

German, I know, and Dutch, which I presume to be very similar, would seem to have this ability to construct infinitely long words, like good trains.  So perhaps this particular word is not that surprising.  But I like it.  I wonder if there is a single German, or Dutch, word for “a word that is in principle infinitely long, to which you can keep adding stuff for ever, like a goods train”.  Probably.  It could, that is to say, be devised.

Wednesday March 02 2016

Photoed by me, when I visited Barcelona in the summer of 2005:

image

This began like as an advert, but has mutated into Art.  It seems to be quite a big deal, over there in Barcelona.  My picture is of it supported by a structure which has since been replaced.

I have been a bit ill.  Still am, rather.  Hence this rather random posting, even by my random standards, and hence also the fact that although I tried to find out what this owl originally advertised, I pretty soon gave up.  Anyone?

I was going to put up a picture I took of the Sagrada Familia (the big spikey Gaudi cathedral), with cranes.  But the internet is full of pictures of the Sagrada Familia, without cranes, and also with cranes.

Monday February 29 2016

Indeed:

Anyone trying to fly a UAV over the outdoor sets where the next installment of the Star Wars saga is being filmed in Croatia might be met by drones owned by the production company.

I knew there were such things, but it’s good to actually read about them.

The fun really starts when drones on spy missions like this are also armed, so they can fight off the drones that attack them.

Drone v drone fighting is going to be a spectacular sport, just as soon as it starts getting organised.

When me and the Transport Blog gang visited the Farnborough Air Show, way back when we did, it was good, but it felt rather antiquated.  Drone v drone contests – real contests – would liven that up no end.

Anti-drone drones
Cat and cubs
Bike fishing in Amsterdam
Syed Kamall MEP wins by playing five and losing five
Matt Ridley on Epicurus and Lucretius
Four towers joined together by two bridges
Ronald Harwood on Karajan
A viadukt and a tunnel
Jim Glymph gets Frank Gehry past the limits of what is buildable
Another The Wires! Building in Japan (plus more Dezeenery)
London Biggin Hill “Jet Centre”?
William Hague on the collapse of the centre left
Cranes and a bridge (but not in a good way)
Londres
How David Irving put himself on trial
Paul Johnson on Mozart and Da Ponte
Paul Johnson on what the young Mozart was up against
Strange London buses
A forgotten war
Richard J. Evans on how evidence can become more significant over time
Big cat scan
Photo-drones fighting in the Ukraine and a photo-drone above the new Apple headquarters building
Non-faceless architecture in Rome
Marginal Eurostar economics
Pictures of Guy Herbert
The “colorful and curvilinear forms” of Herr Hundertwasser
Michael Jennings at the Rose and Crown
PID at the Times
Cat photo and cat news
Football comment
Umbrellas!
Brazil 0 Germany 5 after forty minutes
GARBAGE SHED AND JUMP INTO THE SEA IS PROHIBITED
Emmanuel Todd talking in English (about how the Euro is doomed)
Bennett and Lotus on how Emmanuel Todd’s family provoked his Grand Theory of Everything
Lego bridge in Germany
Movable bridges
Michael Jennings photoes Cape Bojador
Friend on telly
Michael Jennings photos the bridges of Porto
Relocating the Porto bridge
Eurostar before St Pancras
Sperm Bike
Art gallery made of scaffolding
Craig Willy on Emmanuel Todd
Emmanuel Todd links
Pictures from Georgia and Warsaw
Michael Jennings - pictures of globalisation
Steven Pinker’s description of The Enlightenment
Michael Jennings on how the taxis at Skopje airport are an evil racket and what he did about it
Malta Day procession
Outage
More shiny new headquarters buildings
76 operas and a monument in the wrong place for Hermann the German
Friday link dump
Gormley’s South Bank Men
A Spanish geography lesson
A Spanish high speed train bridge and a Spanish aqueduct
Delayed action Dubrovnik cat
The Brusio spiral viaduct also looks like a toy train layout
303 Squadron in the movie and on the telly
Two bridges in Portugal
BrianMicklethwaitDotCom blog posting title of the day
Two real cats sighted in Spain!
My sleep and luggage and bus and fluid travel hell
In Alicante
Possible holiday interruption
How some cats are dividing Cyprus
Reds against Blues in Munich
Stepping forward into the abyss!
Luxembourg church in hill and Luxembourg footbridge
A great Johnathan Pearce Britain-can-dump-the-EU blog posting - and the value of informative titles
Polish anti-semitism - a history lesson at last night’s dinner
Making the IOC feel important with a personal lubricant
Changing faces of Europe
Daniel Hannan and the shape of the media to come
“Vivid characters, devious plotting and buckets of gore …”
Toys and big toys
Sheep under wolf’s clothing
Might Gordon Brown pull an EU referendum rabbit out of the hat?
Africa is big
Mahler’s 9th in Vienna in 1938
Photo of some foodski
Switching from dumb bombing to smart bombing
The new Lowe look
Terence Kealey on the Wright brothers and their patent battles
I predict that Germany will win
Computer blues
What I have seen so far while abroad
Nanpu Bridge in Quimper
Keyboard blues
Were any of them really that nice?
Eurovision sense from Squander Two
Wired bridges
The IPL is a new face for India but Harbhajan slapping Sreesanth is no big deal
The Messina Suspension Bridge is on again
Eusociality
Billion Monkey Alan Little?
Dominic Lawson on Herbert von Karajan
Brian Hitler!
Theodore Dalrymple on the menace of honest public officials and much else besides
Underground art
Eurostar says goodbye Waterloo hello St Pancras
On the appeal or lack of it to Young Europeans of “capitalism”
Old cranes - new cranes
Free trade explains the success of the Swedish Model
Gatito
Another link to a friend and that’s your lot today
Other people’s photos (2): New architecture in Hamburg
Geoffrey Blainey on Ivan Bloch - the man who predicted World War One
Tourists on the move
The extreme memes spread by moderate Muslims
I’m back
Antoine Clarke talks with me about votes for women (and teenagers) – and about Sweden
Brian and Antoine democracy mp3 number twelve
I also miss Transport Blog
Brian and Antoine mp3s now into double figures
The latest Brian and Antoine mp3
Election Watch podcast number three
“What on earth gives every computer owner the right to exude his opinion, unasked for?”
4th Generation Warfare in the middle of an advanced Western Country