Brian Micklethwait's Blog

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

Home

www.google.co.uk


Recent Comments


Monthly Archives


Most recent entries


Search


Advanced Search


Other Blogs I write for

Brian Micklethwait's Education Blog

CNE Competition
CNE Intellectual Property
Samizdata
Transport Blog


Blogroll

2 Blowhards
6000 Miles from Civilisation
A Decent Muesli
Adloyada
Adventures in Capitalism
Alan Little
Albion's Seedling
Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise
Alex Singleton
AngloAustria
Another Food Blog
Antoine Clarke
Antoine Clarke's Election Watch
Armed and Dangerous
Art Of The State Blog
Biased BBC
Bishop Hill
BLDG BLOG
Bloggers Blog
Blognor Regis
Blowing Smoke
Boatang & Demetriou
Boing Boing
Boris Johnson
Brazen Careerist
Bryan Appleyard
Burning Our Money
Cafe Hayek
Cato@Liberty
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
CrozierVision
Dave Barry
Davids Medienkritik
David Thompson
Deleted by tomorrow
deputydog
diamond geezer
Dilbert.Blog
Dizzy Thinks
Dodgeblogium
Don't Hold Your Breath
Douglas Carswell Blog
dropsafe
Dr Robert Lefever
Dr. Weevil
ecomyths
engadget
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
ft.com/maverecon
Fugitive Ink
Future Perfect
FuturePundit
Gaping Void
Garnerblog
Gates of Vienna
Gizmodo
Global Warming Politics
Greg Mankiw's Blog
Guido Fawkes' blog
HE&OS
Here Comes Everybody
Hit & Run
House of Dumb
Iain Dale's Diary
Ideas
Idiot Toys
IMAO
Indexed
India Uncut
Instapundit
Intermezzo
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
Languagehat
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
Londonist
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
Neatorama
neo-neocon
Never Trust a Hippy
NO2ID NewsBlog
Non Diet Weight Loss
Normblog
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
phosita
Picking Losers
Pigeon Blog
Police Inspector Blog
PooterGeek
Power Line
Private Sector Development blog
Public Interest.co.uk
Publius Pundit
Quotulatiousness
Rachel Lucas
RealClimate
Remember I'm the Bloody Architect
Rob's Blog
Sandow
Scrappleface
Setting The World To Rights
Shane Greer
Shanghaiist
SimonHewittJones.com 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
Teblog
Techdirt
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
TigerHawk
Tim Blair
Tim Harford
Tim Worstall
tomgpalmer.com
tompeters!
Transterrestrial Musings
UK Commentators - Laban Tall's Blog
UK Libertarian Party
Unqualified Offerings
Violins and Starships
Virginia Postrel
Vodkapundit
WebUrbanist
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


Websites


Mainstream Media

BBC
Guardian
Economist
Independent
MSNBC
Telegraph
The Sun
This is London
Times


Syndicate

RSS 1.0
RSS 2.0
Atom
Feedburner
Podcasts


Categories

Advertising
Africa
Anglosphere
Architecture
Art
Asia
Atheism
Australasia
Billion Monkeys
Bits from books
Bloggers and blogging
Books
Brian Micklethwait podcasts
Brians
Bridges
Business
Career counselling
Cartoons
Cats and kittens
China
Civil liberties
Classical music
Comedy
Comments
Computer graphics
Cranes
Crime
Current events
Democracy
Design
Digital photographers
Drones
Economics
Education
Emmanuel Todd
Environment
Europe
Expression Engine
Family
Food and drink
France
Friends
Getting old
Globalisation
Healthcare
History
How the mind works
India
Intellectual property
Japan
Kevin Dowd
Language
Latin America
Law
Libertarianism
Links
Literature
London
Media and journalism
Middle East and Islam
Movies
Music
My blog ruins
My photographs
Open Source
Opera
Other creatures
Painting
Photography
Podcasting
Poetry
Politics
Pop music
Propaganda
Quote unquote
Radio
Religion
Roof clutter
Russia
Scaffolding
Science
Science fiction
Sculpture
Signs and notices
Social Media
Society
Software
South America
Space
Sport
Technology
Television
The internet
The Micklethwait Clock
Theatre
This and that
This blog
Transport
Travel
USA
Video
War


Friday February 24 2017

Here via here (Ephemeraren’t?).

My favourite (scroll down here) is this one, a Buddha under construction in Thailand:

image

Sculpture that’s of something.  Scaffolding.  A magnificent crane.

Excellent.

Thursday February 23 2017

Another drone application hovers into view:

image

Yes, it’s UPS:

“This is really a vision for the future for us,” UPS senior vice president for engineering and sustainability, Mark Wallace, said in an interview with Business Insider.

The drone will work as a mechanized helper for the driver, reducing the number of miles a driver will need to drive. According to Wallace, UPS can save $50 million a year if everyone of its drivers reduces the length of their delivery routes by one mile.

UPS sees several potential usage cases for its autonomous drones. This ranges from inventory control at warehouses to the delivery of urgent packages such as medical supplies. However, this latest test is geared towards the company’s  operations in rural areas where drivers have to cover vast distances between delivery points.

But all this is still some way off:

Currently, the technology [is] still in the testing phase and UPS doesn’t have an exact timeline for its introduction into service, Wallace said.

Timeline being the twenty first century way of saying: time.  See also learning curve (learning); learning experience (fuck-up); etc.

I once had a job delivering number plates, in a white van, all over Britain.  Much of it was lots of unassembled number plate components in big heavy boxes, to big suppliers, which we delivered direct.  And the rest of the job was one-off finished number plates to motorbike shops, which the other drivers often used to deliver by posting them.  I always went there direct, because I enjoyed the drive, but either way the economics of those one-off number plates was ridiculous.  A drone to do the final thirty miles or so would have been most handy, if it could have been organised.  (A digital camera would have been very nice also.  But alas, I had to wait a quarter of a century for that.)

The serious point: drones are useful tools for running big and visible and trustable (because so easily embarrassable and controlable) businesses, for example the big and very visible enterprise that provided this.  Drones are, basically, tools for workers rather that toys for funsters.  They may supply fun, but they will mostly be operated by workers.

In London anyway.  Things may be different out in the wilds of the countryside.  But even taking photos out in the wilds of Yorkshire involves – I bet – getting some kind of permit.  If not, it soon will.  Because there will be complaints, and drones are highly visible.

Also audible, yes?  Anyone know how noisy drones tend to be?  6K?  How noisy is your drone?

Wednesday February 22 2017

The chapter of Tim Marshall’s book Prisoners of Geography (see also these earlier excerpts: Africa is (still) big. And Africa’s rivers don’t help, Tim Marshall on the illiberal and undemocratic Middle East) that I found the most informative was the one on The Arctic, because this is the part of the world that he writes about concerning which I know the least.  How catastrophic - if catastrophic at all - global warming will eventually become, and whose fault it will be if it ever does become catastrophic and what to do about it , are all matters of fierce dispute.  But the fact of global warming is not in doubt, as Marshall explains (pp. 267-271):

That the ice is receding is not in question - satellite imaging over the past decade clearly shows that the ice has shrunk - only the cause is in doubt. Most scientists are convinced that man is responsible, not merely natural climate cycles, and that the coming exploitation of what is unveiled will quicken the pace.

Already villages along the Bering and Chukchi coasts have been relocated as coastlines are eroded and hunting grounds lost. A biological reshuffle is under way. Polar bears and Arctic foxes are on the move, walruses find themselves competing for space, and fish, unaware of territorial boundaries, are moving northward, depleting stocks for some countries but populating others. Mackerel and Atlantic cod are now being found in Arctic trawler nets.

The effects of the melting ice won’t just be felt in the Arctic: countries as far away as the Maldives, Bangladesh and the Netherlands are at risk of increased flooding as the ice melts and sea levels rise. These knock-on effects are why the Arctic is a global, not just a regional, issue.

As the ice melts and the tundra is exposed, two things are likely to happen to accelerate the process of the greying of the ice cap. Residue from the industrial work destined to take place will land on the snow and ice, further reducing the amount of heat-reflecting territory. The darker-coloured land and open water will then absorb more heat than the ice and snow they replace, thus increasing the size of the darker territory. This is known as the Albedo effect, and although there are negative aspects to it there are also positive ones: the warming tundra will allow significantly more natural plant growth and agricultural crops to flourish, helping local populations as they seek new food sources.

There is, though, no getting away from the prospect that one of the world’s last great unspoiled regions is about to change. Some climate-prediction models say the Arctic will be ice-free in summer by the end of the century; there are a few which predict it could happen much sooner. What is certain is that, however quickly it happens and dramatic the reduction will be, it has begun.

The melting of the ice cap already allows cargo ships to make the journey through the Northwest Passage in the Canadian archipelago for several summer weeks a year, thus cutting at least a week from the transit time from Europe to China. The first cargo ship not to be escorted by an icebreaker went through in 2014. The Nunavik carried 23,000 tons of nickel ore from Canada to China. The polar route was 40 per cent shorter and used deeper waters than if it had gone through the Panama Canal. This allowed the ship to carry more cargo, saved tens of thousands of dollars in fuel costs and reduced the ship’s greenhouse emissions by 1,300 metric tons. By 2040 the route is expected to be open for up to two months each year, transforming trade links across the ‘High North’ and causing knock -on effects as far away as Egypt and Panama in terms of the revenues they enjoy from the Suez and Panama canals.

The north-east route, or Northern Sea Route as the Russians call it, which hugs the Siberian coastline, is also now open for several months a year and is becoming an increasingly popular sea highway.

The melting ice reveals other potential riches. It is thought that vast quantities of undiscovered natural gas and oil reserves may lie in the Arctic region in areas which can now be accessed. In 2008 the United States Geological Survey estimated that 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, 44 billion barrels of natural gas liquids and 90 billion barrels of oil are in the Arctic, with the vast majority of it offshore. As more territory becomes accessible, extra reserves of the gold, zinc, nickel and iron already found in part of the Arctic may be discovered.

ExxonMobil, Shell and Rosneft are among the energy giants that are applying for licences and beginning exploratory drilling. Countries and companies prepared to make the effort to get at the riches will have to brave a climate where for much of the year the days are endless night, where for the majority of the year the sea freezes to a depth of more than six feet and where, in open water, the waves can reach forty feet high.

It is going to be dirty, hard and dangerous work, especially for anyone hoping to run an all-year-round operation. It will also require massive investment. Running gas pipelines will not be possible in many places, and building a complex liquefaction infrastructure at sea, especially in tough conditions, is very expensive. However, the financial and strategic gains to be made mean that the big players will try to stake a claim to the territories and begin drilling, and that the potential environmental consequences are unlikely to stop them.

Tuesday February 21 2017

I like London’s (England’s?) long, thin, very vertical, outdoor maps.  Whenever I am out and about photoing, I photo them:

image

There’s nothing like a photo of a map with “You are here” on it, to tell you exactly where you were.  That’s where I was, early on, on the day I later took these pictures.

Seriously, it is often quite difficult to work out exactly where I was when I look through the products of one of my photographic perambulations.  This kind of snap turns it from difficult to obvious.

Especially if you can actually see the bit where it says “You are here”, like this:

image

I’ve recently been on several expeditions to this intriguing part of London, with its convoluted waterways.  Maps are nice, but there’s no substitute for actually being there.  With a camera.

Monday February 20 2017

Last night I sent out the email concerning the Brian’s Last Friday meeting this coming Friday, at the end of which email I found myself blurting out this:

Whenever I concoct these promotional emails I end up feeling very excited about the forthcoming talk.  This time, this effect was especially pronounced.

This was what got me “very excited”:

Marc Sidwell will give a talk entitled: Promoting Freedom in a Post-Expert World.

He will be speaking about “the ongoing erosion of power and technocratic authority (most recently visible in the Brexit vote and the rise of Trump) and proposing some ways libertarians can respond to this shift.”

Other talk titles that were considered: “Twilight of the Wonks” and “The Revenge of Common Sense”.

Marc Sidwell is an journalist, editor, publisher, and writer, most recently of a How To Win Like Trump, now riding high in the Kindle best-seller List.  More about Marc, his career and his publications, here.

For further information about the kinds of ideas Marc will be presenting, I strongly recommend a visit to: marcsidwell.com/.

It was there that I gleaned this quote, from Brexit campaigner Dominic Cummings:

“All those amazed at why so little attention was paid to ‘the experts’ did not, and still do not, appreciate that these ‘experts’ are seen by most people of all political views as having botched financial regulation, made a load of rubbish predictions, then forced everybody else outside London to pay for the mess while they got richer and dodged responsibility. They are right. This is exactly what happened.”

It wouldn’t surprise me if that quote gets a mention at some stage during Marc’s talk.

I would add that there are some kinds of expertise that continue to be held in very high esteem.  Nobody doubts the expertise of the people who make all the machines and devices, mechanical and electrical, that keep our world ticking over efficiently and entertainingly.  Not all expertise is now held in low regard, only the kinds of expertise that Cummings itemises.

The room is already starting to fill up.

Email me (see top left of this blog) if you want to know more about these monthly speaker meetings at my home.

I’ve been meaning to post this image here for some time:

image

Guess what it is.  If in doubt, look at the categories list below.  Then go here, to confirm what you must surely have worked out.

Many have described the event at which this happened as historic, but not because of this.  But I reckon what you see in the above picture is what historians will end up being most impressed by, about this event, because it was a very public manifestation of a very impressive sort of technology, which is going to have a very big future.

Sunday February 19 2017

This Dezeen story about robots doing construction work includes this very tasty image:

image

This is when google image searching does work.  You type in “robot bridge” or some such word combo, click on images, and find the story immediately.

MX3D’s CTO Tim Geurtjens explains:

“We start with a piece of metal attached to the canal bank. The robots start from one side of the canal, they print their own support structure, so essentially it prints its own bridge. It stands on the floor of the bridge, 3D prints out more and keeps moving,” ...

There are many more pictures, including, which is how I found this linkage, this:

image

That second photo being, I’m pretty sure, the original unphotoshopped version of the photo in the first photo, above.

Very pretty.  It would seem that the big difference between a regular structure and a 3D structure is that, with 3D printing, joining bits of metal to bits of metal is not a problem, because it’s all one bit, which means you can have as many joins as you like.  And the other thing is that you can make everything the exact size it needs to be, and make it like a sculpture, rather than what we are used to in a structure, where all the bits tend to have unvarying shapes in section, if you get my meaning.  Once they finally get their hands on this kit, the architects will go mad with it.

This story dates from a couple of years ago.  But never mind, these things always take a long time to go from something that is about to explode, to actually exploding.  And then when they do explode, it all happens in a completely different way to what had been envisaged.

Saturday February 18 2017

I often travel to Euston by tube, changing there from or to the Victoria Line to or from the Northern Line, but I very rarely emerge into the street at Euston.  But yesterday, I did this.  I arrived by tube and I exited via the main concourse of the main railway station, on account of these new concourses being, I think, interesting places.  And then when I exited from the main station, I noticed, for the first time, the rather handsome statue of Robert Stephenson that is to be seen out there, if you do that.

This statue is very fine, I think:

imageimageimage
imageimageimage

Perhaps because of its modern surroundings, I suspected this statue of being a recent piece of pseudo-antiquity, perhaps motivated by guilt for all the architectural antiquity at Euston that got demolished.  But no, the statue dates from a mere decade after Stephenson’s death, which was in 1859.

I only discovered just now that Robert Stephenson designed the Rocket, the first ever steam locomotive.  I thought his dad George did that, but George merely did the railway.  Blog and learn.

I also learn, here, that this Stephenson statue was the work of Carlo Marochetti.

Friday February 17 2017

You don’t have to believe that animals either have or should have rights to realise that people who are gratuitously cruel to animals are likely to be more cruel than usual to their fellow humans.  But what of fake cruelty to fake animals leading to real cruelty to real creatures, animal or human?  I imagine there is some kind of correlation there too, although my googling skills fell short of finding an appropriate link to piece demonstrating that.

Being cruel to a fake animal that another human loves is clearly very cruel, to the human.

As was, I think, this demonstration of fake cruelty that recently hit the internet.  That link is not for those who are squeamish about beheaded teddy bears.

And what of people who are nice to fake animals?

Here is a picture I took in my favourite London shop, Gramex in Lower Marsh, in which there currently resides a teddy bear who was recently rescued from sleeping rough, by Gramex proprietor Roger Hewland:

image

If you consequently suspect that Roger Hewland is a kind man, your suspicion would be entirely correct.  I agree with you that kindness to fake animals and kindness to real people are probably also correlated.

I sometimes drop into Gramex just to use the toilet.  Never has the expression “spend a penny” been less appropriate.

Thursday February 16 2017

Yesterday I told you about a photo I took on January 20th of this year.  Earlier that day I had journeyed to Bromley-By-Bow tube station, then walked south along the River Lea, and ended my wanderings at Star Lane Station.  It was a great day for photoing, and I especially enjoyed photoing this witty sculpture:

imageimageimage
imageimageimageimageimage
imageimageimage

But who did it?  This evening I realised that I seemed to recall Mick Hartley having something to say about this, and so it proved.

It’s by Abigail Fallis, and it is called DNA DL90.  Well, I say that’s what it’s called.  That’s what Abigail Fallis called it, but I bet nobody else calls it that.  I bet what most people call it is more like: Shopping Trolley Spiral.  I’m guessing further that Abigail Fallis regards her sculpture as some kind of critique of late capitalist consumerism.  But such ArtGrumbling need not stop the rest of it thoroughly enjoying the thing, and also continuing to relish our trips to the supermarket, there to sample the delights of early capitalism.  Because you see, Abigail, capitalism is just getting started.

Yes. I was right.  Says Hartley:

It is, says Fallis, a symbol of modern society’s consumer culture, which has now become entwined in our genetic make-up. They can’t help themselves, can they, these artists?

The usual bitch about Artsists is that they are predictable, and indeed they are.  But this was something else again.  I literally predicted this, before I read it.  How predictable is that?  Very, very.

Wednesday February 15 2017

On January 20th I attended one of Christian Michel’s 6/20 meetings.  The subject was: The Meaning of Life.  To be rather more exact, it was: What kind of question is the question “What is the meaning of life?”

So, when I was making my way home, via Earls Court Underground Station, I guess I was in a Meaning of Life kind of mood.  Which might explain why I took this photo:

image

This particular message is a bit too sentimental for my liking.  Those little hearts put me right off.  But actually, I don’t really object to these little sermons that the Underground has taken to erecting at the entrance to its stations.  This is because something that is merely written, no matter how big the lettering, is easily ignored.  I think this is one of the things I like about signs and adverts and posters and notices.  You can pay them all the attention you want to pay them, from a great deal, right the way down to absolutely nothing.

This is in sharp contrast to those appalling underground train guards who insist on preaching sermons over the intercom, instead of just telling you about how you have stopped in between stations because of a train still stuck at the next station.  Those sermons are impossible to avoid.

See also those buskers who actually climb onto trains and play.  Both these buskers and the tube train intercom sermonisers are on my personal Room 101 list.

The above also explains why Modern Art is so successful, but why, on the other hand, Modern Classical Music is so profoundly unsuccessful.  It’s not that Modern Art is mostly good while Modern Classical Music is mostly crap.  Modern Art is also mostly crap.  But, crucially, when a piece of Modern Classical Music traps you (when played live, in between two bits of proper Classical Music), you are stuck with it until it finishes.  Modern Art, in total contrast, is, when it’s crap, crap that is easily ignored.  Even when it ambushes you in an Art gallery, you can still just walk right past it.  Or, you can photo it, and then walk right past it.

Tuesday February 14 2017

What is it about taking out the rubbish that makes the task so very unwelcome?  I live alone, so do not get nagged to do this, but reality itself nags me.  Take the rubbish out.  Why can’t I do this simple thing?

Partly, there is the procrastinator’s constant enemy, which is that fact that a little more time will make very little difference.  Spill rubbish on the floor and it must be cleaned up at once, so cleaned up at once it is.  But most rubbish has its own intermediate, organised, official place.  Why bother with it tonight?  Tomorrow morning will do.  Tomorrow morning, tomorrow afternoon will do, and so it goes on.

The current rubbish crisis is different, because I have been doing some clearing out, and about four loads of rubbish have assembled themselves.  So procrastination is not such a good option.  Trouble is, each load of rubbish involves a trip down and then up the stairs again, and I have it in my head that it all has to be done at the same time, because if not this situation will drag on for ever, and that means going down and up the stairs four separate times.  Things aren’t made any easier by having to check beforehand if there is still any room in the rubbish bins for the recycled rubbish.  Am I supposed to do a separate trip just to find out?  Often, yes.  I meant to check earlier this afternoon, when I was out doing something real, but forgot.

The worst thing of all is that some of the rubbish isn’t really rubbish.  It’s perfectly good stuff that I am just never going to use and which is taking up space, and which I don’t have the time or the social media savvy to find a home for.  Ah, finding a home.  For rubbish.

Perhaps blogging this through here will in some weird way change the way I’m thinking about this, and I’ll get it all done.  Mostly what blogging about this rubbish make me think is: this is rubbish, get it done.  There you go.

Monday February 13 2017

I am nearing the end of Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography.  Apparently the paperback of this book is now on the paperback best-seller list.  This is good news, because it is very good, and quite lacking in any major traces of leftist delusion or silliness.

Here, for instance, is what Marshall says about the Middle East (pp. 176-180):

… Until a few years ago Turkey was held up as an example of how a Middle Eastern country, other than Israel, could embrace democracy. That example has taken a few knocks recently with the ongoing Kurdish problem, the difficulties facing some of the tiny Christian communities and the tacit support for Islamist groups in their fight against the Syrian government. President Erdogan’s remarks on Jews, race and gender equality, taken with the creeping Islamisation of Turkey, have set alarm bells ringing. However, compared with the majority of Arab states Turkey is far more developed and recognisable as a democracy. Erdogan may be undoing some of Ataturk’s work, but the grandchildren of the Father of the Turks live more freely than anyone in the Arab Middle East.

Because the Arab states have not experienced a similar opening-up and have suffered from colonialism, they were not ready to turn the Arab uprisings (the wave of protests that started in 2010) into a real Arab Spring. Instead they soured into perpetual rioting and civil war.

The Arab Spring is a misnomer, invented by the media; it clouds our understanding of what is happening. Too many reporters rushed to interview the young liberals who were standing in city squares with placards written in English, and mistook them for the voice of the people and the direction of history. Some journalists had done the same during the ‘Green Revolution’, describing the young students of north Tehran as the ‘Youth of Iran’, thus ignoring the other young Iranians who were joining the reactionary Basij militia and Revolutionary Guard.

In 1989 in Eastern Europe there was one form of totalitarianism: Communism. In the majority of people’s minds there was only one direction in which to go: towards democracy, which was thriving on the other side of the Iron Curtain. East and West shared a historical memory of periods of democracy and civil society. The Arab world of 2011 enjoyed none of those things and faced in many different directions. There were, and are, the directions of democracy, liberal democracy (which differs from the former), nationalism, the cult of the strong leader and the direction in which many people had been facing all along - Islam in its various guises, including Islamism.

In the Middle East power does indeed flow from the barrel of a gun. Some good citizens of Misrata in Libya may want to develop a liberal democratic party, some might even want to campaign for gay rights; but their choice will be limited if the local de facto power shoots liberal democrats and gays. Iraq is a case in point: a democracy in name only, far from liberal, and a place where people are routinely murdered for being homosexual.

The second phase of the Arab uprising is well into its stride. This is the complex internal struggle within societies where religious beliefs, social mores, tribal links and guns are currently far more powerful forces than ‘Western’ ideals of equality, freedom of expression and universal suffrage. The Arab countries are beset by prejudices, indeed hatreds of which the average Westerner knows so little that they tend not to believe them even if they are laid out in print before their eyes. We are aware of our own prejudices, which are legion, but often seem to turn a blind eye to those in the Middle East.

The routine expression of hatred for others is so common in the Arab world that it barely draws comment other than from the region’s often Western-educated liberal minority who have limited access to the platform of mass media. Anti-Semitic cartoons which echo the Nazi Der Sturmer propaganda newspaper are common. Week in, week out, shock-jock imams are given space on prime-time TV shows.

Western apologists for this sort of behaviour are sometimes hamstrung by a fear of being described as one of Edward Said’s ‘Orientalists’. They betray their own liberal values by denying their universality. Others, in their naivety, say that these incitements to murder are not widespread and must be seen in the context of the Arabic language, which can be given to flights of rhetoric. This signals their lack of understanding of the ‘Arab street’, the role of the mainstream Arab media and a refusal to understand that when people who are full of hatred say something, they mean it.

When Hosni Mubarak was ousted as President of Egypt it was indeed people power that toppled him, but what the outside world failed to see was that the military had been waiting for years for an opportunity to be rid of him and his son Gamal, and that the theatre of the street provided the cover they needed. It was only when the Muslim Brotherhood called its supporters out that there was enough cover. There were only three institutions in Egypt: Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, the military and the Brotherhood. The latter two destroyed the former, the Brotherhood then won an election, began turning Egypt into an Islamist state, and paid the price by itself being overthrown by the real power in the land - the military.

The Islamists remain the second power, albeit now underground. When the anti-Mubarak demonstrations were at their height the gatherings in Cairo attracted several hundred thousand people. After Mubarak’s fall, when the radical Muslim Brotherhood preacher Yusuf al-Qaradawi returned from exile in Qatar, at least a million people came out to greet him, but few in the Western media called this the ‘voice of the people’. The liberals never had a chance. Nor do they now. This is not because the people of the region are radical; it is because if you are hungry and frightened, and you are offered either bread and security or the concept of democracy, the choice is not difficult.

In impoverished societies with few accountable institutions, power rests with gangs disguised as ‘militia’ and ‘political parties’. While they fight for power, sometimes cheered on by naive Western sympathisers, many innocent people die. It looks as if it will be that way in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Iraq and possibly other countries for years to come.

Sunday February 12 2017

I just started watching the Opera North Ring Cycle on BBC4 TV.  Very good.

The basic problem with The Ring is how to stage it, and how to do the costumes.  Extreme Trad, where they all dress like nineteenth century fictional fantasy characters almost always looks ridiculous, like a bunch of opera singers clumping about in silly costumers on a daft stage, which is of course what they are.  (The only way to do that would be to do it as a fantasy cartoon movie.  Which I hope somebody will eventually get around to doing.) But modern costumes on a stage that looks like the inside of a nuclear power station is even sillier, because it plays havoc with Wagner’s very carefully scripted symbolism.  You end up with blokes who look like merchant bankers or geography teachers, holding spears and waving them at steam turbines, or some such ancient-modern mish-mash.  Either that or they go totally modern, and rewrite the opera.  Yes.  They literally do not perform Wagner.  If you change the Rhine and its maidens into a nightclub and some strippers, that’s something else, and something else pretty damn stupid.

What Opera North have done is film a stage performance.  The singers all wear suits and dresses, albeit suits and dresses that were very carefully chosen.  And then on top of that is photographically superimposed Wagner scenery, and, when it helps (it often does), simple words on the screen to tell you what is happening.  Plus, because it’s the telly, you get subtitles to tell you what they’re singing about.  (CDs have the best costumes, i.e. no damn costumes, but you do need to know what they’re singing, if you don’t do German.) It’s hard to describe, but I don’t need to, because you can sample it here, it you care to.

The Rhinemaidens are three opera singers in matching dresses on a stage, with wateriness added on top of them.  At no point are you asked to believe that they are actually swimming about, naked, under water for minutes on end, and singing.  I have never before not seen that scene look totally ridiculous, one way or another, and I bet it was totally ridiculous, one way or another, on the first night.  This time, it was not ridiculous.  That’s how very, very good this production was.

I particularly liked how, when Donner was summoning forth the right sort of weather for the Gods to enter Valhalla, at the end of Das Rhinegold, he was dressed like a conductor.  He was dressed that way throughout, but it worked especially well for that moment.

Loge was particularly good, both as an actor and as a singer.  His look and manner reminded me a bit of Stan Laurel.

Saturday February 11 2017

When there are great big thick elaborate sandwiches going for a quid each at the end of the day in Strutton Ground I am sometimes tempted to have one too many, i.e. two.  I did that yesterday, and although I love these sandwiches, they hate me, and when there’s two of them, they can act on this hatred.  Which meant that my internal organs were in no state to confront the ferocious rugger game between Wales and England this afternoon.  England eventually won with a well taken but still somewhat lucky (for England to get the chance I mean) late try.  But for most of the game Wales had looked better and England were consequently, for most of the game, behind.  (The more usual procedure is for England to look better and for Wales then to win with a late try, Wales having been behind for most of the game.) I’ll take the win, but it would be nice if, one of these weekends, England could simply race away to a nice big win.  As it was, when I fret about a game on the telly, I often console myself for probable disaster by deliberately doing something else, to put it in perspective, to distance myself, to consume irrelevant aroused energy, blah blah blah.  Today I got several quite significant household tasks done.

The other Six Nations rugger game today had involved Italy.  Let’s just say that the Georgian rugby team, if they were watching, must now be feeling even more pissed off.  They would surely have done better against Ireland than Italy did.

Tomorrow, I expect France to slaughter Scotland.  If they do, England will be top and the only unbeaten team.  If Scotland win, well, jolly ho Scotland.  Rugby remains a very important game. 

Football, on the other hand, is only a game.

LATER: France didn’t slaughter Scotland but they did defeat them, and England are indeed now the only team with two wins from two.  France and Scotland both looked good, and England beating France is looking better and better.