Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
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Most recent entries
- To Covent Garden (2): Rough roofs – smooth roof
- Christmas tree with scaffolding
- Santa’s tired helpers
- To Covent Garden (1): The twisty footbridge
- Trousers keyboard
- Cameras photoing the Wheel (in 2007)
- Was Guy’s Tower a key building in the architectural history of London?
- Photo-drone wars to come
- 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
- Sign blocked by surveillance camera
- My digital photos on his TV
- ASI Christmas Party photos
- Photoing at the ASI party
- Quota roof clutter
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6000 Miles from Civilisation
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Adventures in Capitalism
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Category archive: France
I was in Paris in the freezing February of 2012, and while there, on the coldest day of the lot, I visited an amazing exhibition of Relief Maps. Thank googleness for the internet, because instead of having to explain this, I can just give you the link, and let you learn as much or as little about this event as you want to.
Here is the photo:
I can’t remember how exactly all the things that you see there came to look the way they do in that photo, but I’m pretty sure that a big mirror was involved, and also the glass of the big case that this map was in. I can say with absolute certainty that no Photoshop(clone)ing is involved.
The big near-white thing in the middle is a map, on the floor, of France.
Go to the very middle of the picture, and then across a bit to the left and then down a bit, and you will see: me. Wearing a scarf indoors, as was everyone else.
Something a lot of people don’t get about rather small and incremental improvements is that even if they don’t mean anything to you (by which I mean to them) they can definitely mean something to someone, and potentially a great deal, and to quite a lot of someones. My understanding of economics is that this is one of the most basic ideas embodied in it. (The notion even has its own intellectual revolution: the Marginal Revolution.)
A price increase of around fifty pence for something costing, say, thirty quid may not seem much, and it may not change your behaviour. But for some people this will be the proverbial straw that changes a light bulb to parsnips, the difference that makes all the difference.
Consider these slightly new, slightly snazzier trains, that have been announced by Eurostar, to replace their existing trains, next year. Their front ends, so we are now being told, will look like this:
The Evening Standard (where I found all these pictures) tells us that these new trains will slash the journey time from London to Paris, but it neglects to reveal by how much. Google google. Here we go. The Daily Mail supplies the answer to this obvious question. It turns out that the journey time from London to Paris will be “slashed” (their word too) by … fifteen minutes.
But this posting is not (see above) a rant about how little difference this will make to most people. It is a rant about how much difference it will make to some people. For some people this fifteen minute reduction will make the difference between being able to go to Paris in the morning, get the job done, and then return to London that same day in time to read a story to a daughter. Or … not. Connections just missed will turn into connections just made, and fifteen minutes (doubled for the two journeys) will stretch out into something more like two hours.
Not for most people. Just for some people. And when you consider how many people might or might not choose to use Eurostar, depending on considerations like the above, that “some” people turns out to be really quite a lot of people.
In short, fifteen minutes does make a difference.
Or consider another small improvement that these new trains will involve, this time an improvement measured not in minutes but in inches.
Here is how the new trains will look on the inside:
Now that may not seem very interesting. But it interests me greatly. It’s been a while since I travelled on Eurostar, but my abiding memory is of how small and cramped and dreary the interior of the carriage was. For such a supposedly twenty first century experience, the whole thing had a very twentieth century feel to it, in a bad way. The above picture immediately makes me think that these new trains will be a significantly more spacious and less soul-destroying experience than the old ones, the old ones that I will still be partaking of when I journey to France and back, just after Christmas.
Judging by this photo ...:
… it would appear that they have done to the design of the Eurostar what they have also been doing to some of the trains in the London Underground. These new London tube trains now bulge outwards, over the platforms. Not by much, but by just a bit, just enough to make a real difference to the inside.
A few days ago, I overheard a conversation between some out-of-towners who were enthusing about the new and wider tube trains that were recently introduced on London’s Circle Line. They were rhapsodising. It was like listening to the scripted pseudo-public babbling away on a TV advert, so delighted were these truly regular members of the public about the new train that they and I were travelling on. And I agree with them. Whenever a train that I am awaiting emerges from its tunnel and reveals itself to be one of these new and slightly wider trains, my spirits are lifted.
And that was just inside a tube train. When it comes to Eurostar, we are talking about two hours. Two hours stuck in a dreary little tube, or in a rather less dreary, rather less constricted sort of tube. That is quite a difference. I can easily imagine, when some future decision about a cross-Channel journey presents itself to me, that these extra few inches ("cramped" is all about inches) could be the difference that will be all the difference, to me. At the very least, I will try to give the new carriages at least one try, when they do finally appear.
There I was, lying in the bath, listening to Radio 3. Some music had ended, and I was now being subjected to a programme which I do not usually listen to, called Words and Music. And I heard the actor Jim Broadbent saying these words, by Michel de Montaigne:
I take the first subject that chance offers. They are all equally good to me. And I never plan to develop them completely. For I do not see the whole of anything. (Nor do those who promise to show it to us.) Of a hundred members and faces that each thing has, I take one, sometimes only to lick it, sometimes to brush the surface, sometimes to pinch it to the bone. I give it a stab, not as wide, but as deep as I know how. And most often, I like to take them from some unaccustomed point of view. Scattering a word here, there another, samples separated from their context, dispersed, without a plan and without a promise, I am not bound to make something of them, or to adhere to them myself, without varying when I please, and giving myself up to doubt and uncertainty, and my ruling quality, which is ignorance.
Sounds like a blogger, doesn’t he? A blogger, that is to say, like me. Especially where he says “without a promise”. I keep saying that. Above all there is that “this is what it is and if you don’t like it you know just what you can do about it” vibe that so many bloggers give off. With Montaigne, we are arriving at that first moment in history when writing and publishing new stuff had become easy. Not as easy as it is when you blog, but a whole lot easier than it had been.
I transcribed the above quote from Broadbent’s reading of it. The punctuation is somewhat uncertain, and at one point assertively creative on my part. I added some brackets, around what is clearly a diversion from his main line of thought to which he immediately returns. It’s a sideswipe at others and it is then forgotten.
Such is the wonder that is the internet that I had little difficulty in tracking down the quote. It is near the beginning of Montaigne’s essay entitled “Of Democritus and Heraclitus”, in volume three of his essays.
The BBC used a more recent translation, which I much prefer the sound of, it being less antique and long-winded. And if Montaigne himself was also antique and long-winded, then I still prefer intelligibility to stylistic accuracy.
LATER: More about Montaigne, also emphasising the modern social media angle, here.
Yes, dezeen (Dezeen?) continues to be a favourite wwwspot for me. Here are some recent dezeen postings that got my attention, for this or that reason.
First, news that there will be a viewing platform on top of the Walkie Talkie:
The Walkie Talkie Skygarden has yet to open and will, I’m sure, come with a catchier name. But already it is in obvious competition with the Shard – pricey versus free, ascetic steel and glass versus sylvan repose, supreme height versus not being able to see the Walkie Talkie. ...
Very droll. The original was about how you couldn’t see the National Theatre from the National Theatre. But me, I am warming to the Walkie Talkie, and I don’t just mean I’m standing under it and being fried. I especially like how it looks from a distance. The point being: it looks like the Walkie Talkie. Not just some anonymous rectangular London lump, no, that particular Big Thing. Yes it is not properly beautiful. But neither is London. Besides which, anything that just might compete down the price of going to the top of the Shard has my vote. I’ll definitely make my way up there, as soon as they’ll let me
Next up, isn’t fun when someone hitherto impeccably cool suddenly turns into Grumpy Old Man:
Speaking to Dezeen, the 85-year-old English designer said tech products like the iPhone and Apple Watch were turning people into zombies, adding: “I’ve got a certain cynicism of Apple and their motives. It’s a bit of a monster.”
“It’s a game they’re playing and it’s an absolutely straightforward, commercial, ruthless game, and it’s dressed up nicely because they’ve got some talented people in their employ,” he said.
Grange, who was knighted in 2013 for services to design, believes that the tech giant has successfully turned Modernism into “good commerce”, using aesthetics to dress up a self-perpetuating product cycle.
“There are probably few companies around now that absolutely answer the prospect that Modernism is good commerce,” he said. ...
Modernism is good commerce? Can’t have that.
… “They’ve been so bloody ruthless that you almost get no choice in the matter.”
“Almost” there means “not”. (See also: essentially, basically, fundamentally, etc. etc. etc.) Because actually, you get plenty of choice about whether to buy Apple stuff or not. Apart from one rather nice keyboard, I never have.
People always talk about the behemoths of capitalism like this, just as they are starting their long slide down into moderate size and moderate success, into business as usual. How do I know Apple is now at the top of that slide? Easy, they are building a custom-designed headquarters. It absolutely yells: from now on, all Apple-persons will talk to each other and keep everyone else out. And what they will be talking about, to an appalling degree, will be their own living arrangements inside this huge circular corporate burial chamber. They’re doomed, I tell you, doomed. Someone tell Sir Grumpy (above) that he can relax.
Next: what a driverless car might look like. Not. But, it looks very pretty. The basic point, that driverless cars will in the longer run utterly transform the look of the outdoors is, I think, a very good one. Maybe that is how some of them will look.
I really do not like the way this floating bikeway along the River Thames looks, in the pictures there. At the very least, I say, find a way to avoid having those obtrusive shapes above the level of the track, which makes it look like an infinitely extended item of tasteless garden furniture. I get it, that crap is there to enable it to float up and down on the tide. Well, find another way to do that.
Next, some excellent photos of the High Line, in New York. I especially like the distant aerial view of it curving its way over the Rail Yards, with the spontaneous architectural order of Manhattan’s towers in the background.
I do like this rectangular block of a house, but with one end lifted up. Usually the rectangular block houses featured at dezeen are impeccably, terminally tedious. But this one, I like. Apart from the fact that whenever the damn architect called round, you’d have to tidy up all your domestic crap all over everywhere, and turn the place back into the dreary corporate office it resembles in the photos. What is it with architects not wanting homes to look, inside, like homes, but instead like some kind of dystopian hell with nothing in it besides a wooden floor?
Here are some impeccably, terminally tedious rectangular type houses, in Japan. To me, by far, by several hundred miles, the most interesting thing about these photos of them is the amazing amount of electrical crap in the sky over the street outside. If I was photoing in Japan, I would be all over that. More Japanese sky clutter here, in photos of another impeccably, terminally tedious block house with an interior that also looked like a corporate office reception area when the photos were taken.
Google drones. Spooky.
Parisian blocks become wavey.
Finally what with this being Friday, some black cats with bronze bollocks. I kid you not.
One of David Thompson’s latest clutch of ephemera.
Yes, I’ve been in France, and now I’m back. Have been for several days actually, but I spent my recent blogging time doing this, which is a photo-decorated ramble on various things I saw in France, or thought I did, for Samizdata.
I really want to get back into the swim of things over there, after a recent dry spell, and was accordingly determined to finish that ramble before I resumed rambling here.
Since this is Friday, here are some French cats.
Cat number one stands outside Vannes town hall:
Cat number two is impressively perched on an impressively high ledge, somewhere or other. Cat number three, the cat of the friends I was staying with, is shown here, not being very impressed with cat number two:
This photo was taken by Tony, to whom thanks, and to whom thanks also for emailing it to me.
Here, on the other hand are two further photos that I did take of cat number three:
No, I don’t know why his right ear is green on the inside. I only noticed this when I got home.
His name is Caesar (sp?), and he actually does answer to that name. It’s not tone of voice, it’s the name, because when I said this to him for the first time, he immediately looked up to see what I had in mind.
There is another cat, Basil, who drops by at the home of Tony et famille from time to time, but he is more shy. He was otherwise engaged, on my last day there which was when I finally decided I wanted to photo the two cats. Caesar showed up, but not Basil. Another time, maybe.
Caesar is now very old, and I may never meet with him again. We got on well.
Trawling through the archives this evening, I came across this fine feline:
Photoed by me, in Battersea, about two months ago.
Back here in evil Britain, hundreds of black cats are being abandoned by their owners because, according to the Daily Mail, these black cats don’t look good in SELFIES (their capital letters):
Today the RSPCA announced a rise in the number of black cats being abandoned by their owners, and attributed it to them not photographing well.
A spokesman for the animal welfare charity said that more than 70 per cent of the 1,000 cats in its care were black, and blamed the trend for people taking pictures of themselves with their phones.
He said: ‘There are a number of reasons for us having so many black cats, including the fact that black animals tend not to photograph as well as other cats with more distinctive markings.
Other cats are also easier to tell apart, he said.
The spokesman added: ‘There is a national problem with rehoming cats of this colour.
‘We really are puzzled as to why this still happens but we would urge people to never judge a cat by its colour and look at its personality instead.’
This story is everywhere. I sense hostility towards digital photography, and in particular towards the evil practice of taking photos of yourself, an evil practice which now has its own word.
However, a selfie is when you take a photo of yourself. Owners are including themselves in their cat photos on incidentally. Often only the cat is in the picture. These photos are not being taken by cats, so they are not selfies.
Cats don’t take photos of themselves. If they had been caught doing this, on video for instance, I would definitely have learned about it and passed the news on to you people. All that is actually going on here is that black cat owners are finding it hard to photo their black cats and are consequently abandoning their black cats, and obtaining other cats, more like the one in my picture above, that are easier to photo. That’s a wicked enough story as it is, without misreporting it and put your mistake in capital letters. Socks, Daily Mail. Pull yours up.
Next up, an Italian shooting champion is on trial for using live cats as target practice. I sense hostility towards shooting champions, but it may just be towards Italians.
Finally, Cats is being revived, in the Millenium Centre, Cardiff:
The highlight of the evening was the singing which included lots of harmonies ...
Which is what you want. What with Cats being a musical show, consisting mostly of people dressed as cats, singing, and trying to be harmonious about it.
Rachel Howells continues:
Cats is at the Wales Millennium Centre until Saturday 9th August and includes many matinee showings so you have no excuses not to miss it.
Once again, we see the mainstream media getting their facts in a twist, this time because of faulty grammar. No excuses not to miss it? It would appear that, at least when it comes to their online content, the writing and/or editing at the South Wales Argus has gone to the dogs.
I plan to be going to the land of the foreign people. Quite soon. Early August. The air tickets are already bought. But, have just discovered that my passport needs renewing. It gave up the ghost in about February.
Bugger. Passports are just now being particularly delayed. Questions are being Asked In The House about it. So I guess they are now throwing money at the problem.
There is also a throw money at it option for us punters, about an extra hundred quid, which I have in mind to use, just to make sure that all goes well. But first I have to get a haircut and then I have to get some “passport photos” done. I know how to take photos of myself. I do not know how to take “passport photos”. This is why God invented shops.
Emmanuel Todd talking in English (about how the Euro is doomed)
The joyful excitement of the Festival lyrique international de Belle-Île-en-Mer
Bennett and Lotus on how Emmanuel Todd’s family provoked his Grand Theory of Everything
Selfies of me – 2001, 2007 and yesterday
Three more Paris pictures
Eiffel Tower with chimney pots – La Défense ditto
Eurostar before St Pancras
Craig Willy on Emmanuel Todd
A Fleet Street lunch
Little Lady Liberty - still in France
Mon chat se tient debout tout seul
I’m Charia Hebdo!
Les Rillettes Henaff
Summer blogging break
Empty tables and empty chairs
Quimper cat on Harley-Davidson
Signs from the Frenchosphere
Rugby shirts on drugs
Pronouncing on the Six Nations
Another link enema
Great speech by Kevin Dowd in Paris which should be available to listen to soon
France falls in love with Hugh Laurie
Sailing photos – and another bridge for the collection
Happy New year (if possible)
The Fat Man is not alone
Flat viaduct and spiral bridge
Talking about St Pancras at St Pancras
Millau Viaduct with goats
Australia out! – New Zealand out! – pass forward!
Antoine Clarke on the French National Assembly elections
Lots of links
Antoine Clarke on Sarkozy
Somebody else photos Billion Monkey photo-ing Notre Dame!
Antoine on Sarko’s win
Serious tax cutting
If they don’t get who they would have preferred then silly them
“What do YOU think?” - “More -isationisation!”
“It’s a shame that copyright was infringed in a thesis about copyright itself”
Other people’s photos (6): More bridges
Other people’s photos (5): Red balloons on a monochrome bridge in Paris
Deceiving the eyes of Paris
Singing Frenchmen in stripey T-shirts
A dangerous development