Usually when you see a blog posting by me with the time 11.59 pm attached to it, that means I did it around 12.30 am and back-timed it. But last night’s posting genuinely did get posted at 11.59 pm. This, on the other hand, is being done a little later than stated. But only a little.

Sometimes quota posting is stupid. But the rule here is: something, however ridiculous, every day. And I believe in rules.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Katrina as art – and Katrina as proof of What I’ve Always Said

Today I went looking for Katrina coverage, and found this weirdly beautiful photo. What do you reckon it is?


A row of school buses sits in floodwaters from Hurricane Katrina Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2005 east of New Orleans.

I found it at this New Orleans website. (In a few days that link will probably make no sense, but as I write this now there is a great list of Katrina photos you can rootle through.)

There sure are going to be some fine coffee table books when everything has been cleared up.

And here, I found this quote:

WDSU Channel 6, an NBC affiliate, moved its operations to two sister stations, one in Jackson, Miss., and another in Orlando, Fla. With some interruptions, it got back on the air and presented news and weather programming on its Web site as well. “The Web played a big role in all of this,” said Tom Campo, a spokesman for Hearst-Argyle, the station’s owner.

The Internet, as a decentralized communications network, can be more resilient than traditional media when natural disasters occur. “Owning broadcast towers and printing presses were useless,” said Jeff Jarvis, a consultant to online media companies. “The Web proved to be a better media in a case like this.”

Which surprises me. I would have thought that internet communication, being so heavily dependent in most instances on publicly supplied electricity, with no emergency back-up supplies, would collapse in an emergency, leaving the Big Old Media still functioning and feeling ever so slightly smug about it. Apparently with Katrina it was rather the opposite. Mind you, I only know this because I read it at the New York Times website.

Main lessons: if you are planning to be hit by a hurricane: be rich, and live in a rich country, with emergency services about which it makes sense to be optimistic. Own a car, don’t keep all your wealth in your house, pile what you can of it that is in your house into your car and get out of there.

Note that me quoting that bit about the media, and saying Be Rich, is a particular example of a general law, which is that when unexpected things happen, people will wallow, as quickly as they can, in what they already believe or want to believe. Some have said that Katrina proves that Global Warming is bad, and that the USA deserves a soaking for having caused Global Warming. Others have denounced those who said that as evil opportunists. Both of which opinions are what they both already thought anyway. I’m no different.

Writing about catastrophes for big readership places like Samizdata is very hard. What if you say something tasteless or stupid? Here, if I am tasteless or stupid, who cares? I mean, what are you going to do? Cancel your subscription? What I think I’ll do is copy and paste a particularly eloquent comment that someone left on an earlier Samizdata post, and make that into a posting in its own right. (Update: done.)

To anyone who chances upon this who is in any way badly affected by this catastrophe: bad luck mate. I hope things improve for you quickly. If what you have suffered in uncorrectable, like your granny drowning or something terrible like that, well, just bad luck, I guess.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Sunset in Hampstead

A week ago I was in Hampstead for a supper date with Jackie D and Antoine, and was somewhat delayed in my journey, by a sunset. All had seemed normal and grey and dreary when I set out on my journey from the heart of civilisation to the outer edge of 0207 land. But when I emerged from West Hampstead tube station, I encountered some extraordinary sunlight crashing in across the railway bridge. There was a break in the clouds right where the evening sun was. Out came the Canon S1 IS!

Trouble is, cheap digital cameras, at any rate in my hands, are not necessarily at their peak of performance in conditions like these. The drama in what you see is in the spectacular contrasts between the bright bits and the dark bits, between where the sun is and where the clouds are, or between the bright orange buildings lit up by the sun, and the dark clouds behind them. I’m sure there are ways of dealing with all that, knobs I could twiddle, but I don’t know about them properly.

Here is a photo which illustrates the problem.

Basically I just stuck my camera over the parapet and hoped for the best, and because of all the rails, regularly polished by trains, I got some nice effects. But look at that sunset! Just a blaze of pure white. It was more interesting than that, believe me.

The purple splodge is some kind of camera thingy effect, or so Bruce the Real Photographer told me when he dropped by. A more devoted Photoshopper than I, such as Bruce the Real Photographer, could remove it, but I am a puritan about Photoshop. I think Photoshop is for sizing, cropping, brightness, contrast, and nothing else. Cutting things out is Stalinism. It is also too much like hard work.

However, there were some photographable sunset effects to be observed, which I snapped away at more in hope than expecation, but which did come out quite well.

Click to get any of those bigger.

The light here is coming in under the high clouds and lighting up the interesting low clouds. I know, I know, you’ve already seen pretty sunsets. But for me, this was a little victory, and this blog is all about me and my needs.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Isolating those epitaxially deposited transistors

I mentioned here the other day about the extreme difference in interestingness, to me, of the Samizdata technological comments and the political ones.

Even – and maybe that’s especially – when I don’t understand the techno-comments, I often still love them:

Julian Taylor refers to silicon-on-insulator technologies. These have been a holy grail for years in semconductors. It’s not that crystals can be grown in any shape which is the potential advantage (every SOI wafer I have seen is a conventional round flat shape), it’s that the transistors deposited epitaxially on top can be electrically isolated, thus avoiding the parasitic capacitances and other parasitic structures inherent in bulk silicon substrates. However, this is easier said than done . . .

And not that easy to say, I would say.

That was here.

Maybe someone will elucidate, here or there.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog


I’m watching a TV show about movie editing. And the editors are saying that they totally control the performances of actors. I wholly agree.

I have seen a lot of movies where the actors got completely trashed by the critics, but where the critics should have trashed the editing. It’s not the actor’s fault if he is “slow” putting his lines next to the other guy’s, or if he indulges in meaningless looks. That’s the editing. Likewise, if the actors look at each other with intense meaning, in a way you can’t forget, in a way that carries so much emotion you want to weep, that’s editing again.

Now Spielberg is saying that the editor is so important, because he wasn’t wrapped up in making the film, casting it, setting it up, directing it. The editor sees the result of the director’s work with an objectivity that the director cannot achieve.

Okay now let me watch the rest of this. It’s good.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog


I am listening to a Radio 3 show about Pierre Boulez, in case anything is said by him or about him which will make me despise this man somewhat less than I do. So far, nothing.

Boulez was not really a composer at all, more one of those many French wordspinner charlatans who have flourished mostly in academia. The only difference is that Boulez illustrates his wordspinnings with noises, rather than by just letting the words confuse for themselves.

I admire Daniel Barenboim greatly, and he greatly admires Boulez. But there my admiration for Barenboim stops. Barenboim does not admire Shostakovich. Ditto. The trouble, for Barenboim, is that Shostakovich scores are not complicated. Exactly! Shostakovich manages to say a great deal with very little. Boulez does the opposite, saying very little with great municipal rubbish heaps of noises and printed squiggles to go with them. Barenboim loves all that complication. Sadly, there is very little music there.

What music there is there is a kind of post-Debussian, post-Ravelian waterfall – flutes, bells, glissandi, washes of string sound. Very French. Boulez’s musical impulses, such as they were, seem to have had little connection with his musical theories, which might explain why the music dried up.

He has been a pretty good conductor, especially, I find, of Wagner. Boulez was “clear, cool, dispassionate” (the words of an American musician) as a conductor. Since Wagner provided all the heat and passion you could possibly want, this made his Wagner rather good, to my ear. Sometimes his Mahler is good too, for the same reason. But sometimes, he drains the life entirely out of Mahler, and turns conducting into mere arm-flapping and time-beating..

What is coming across very strongly is that Boulez does have presence, force of personality, a steely look in his eye – as well as great charm, which he can switch on like the house lights in a theatre. You do not forget him. He is like a great general or a great politician. Sadly, he uses this genuine talent mostly in the service of foolishness, and to get lots of other people’s money to pay for these foolishnesses. He has presided over the creation of many publicly funded buildings. These are (says the presenter) a tribute to his “winning combination of ruthlessness and charm”.

Roger Scruton is involved in this programme, and he is the one who is talking the most sense. “My feeling is that the place of Boulez in the history of music is a very marginal one.” “A brilliant dead end.”

“Mocking Boulez is so very easy to do”, says the presenter. How true. He is no harder to laugh at that any other unconscious, non-intentional clown. If he is a great general, he is one of those great generals who was great, until it came to fighting his most important battle. Which he lost.

The musicians like Boulez and admire Boulez. That’s now being explained. Maybe the truth is simpler, that Boulez is just another of those failed-composers successful-conductors who dominated the classical music scene throughout the last century. Every one of those big names – Klemperer, Walter, Kubelik, and the rest of them – turn out to have had absurd and pointless symphonies and piano sonatas in their bottom drawers, before they gave in to the inevitable, and conducted great music instead of composing ungreat stuff. And the failed effort to compose more musical greatness did seem to make them all much better conductors. They recognised greatness when they heard it, and were able to put it across. Some of these great conductors did make it as composers. Mahler, Richard Strauss, Benjamin Britten spring to mind. Some did not bother to master conducting, because the composing went so well. Shostakovich. But Boulez’s composing was a mess, and he too switched to performing stuff by others. He just made a bit more of a fuss of his music than did Klemperer, Walter, etc. He was that most tragic of figures, an incompetent maker of things, but a brilliant seller of them, thereby publicising his failure far more cruelly. (Karl Marx springs to mind. He marketed Capital brilliantly, before he had written it, and after he had written it and knew it to be tosh. But it is still tosh. Marx’s failure has been hideously public.)

But, don’t let me stop you enjoying Boulez’s creations, if you do enjoy them. He isn’t nearly as bad as Karl Marx. He never did that much harm. And whereas with Karl Marx, the way it sounded only served to publicise evil nonsense and make it stick all over the twentieth century, Boulez was merely … Boulez.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

On free trade and on being persuasive (and unpersuasive)

Madsen Pirie at the Adam Smith Institute blog, also quoted at greater length by Alex at the Globalisation Institute blog:

The reason for optimism is this. One senses the end of an era, as protectionism collapses into a mass of contradictions and absurdities. From the current shambles people are learning that free trade tends to get the goods produced by those who do it best, and we all become richer as a result. It is also easier than trying to micro-manage. Perhaps those who learn will include Mr Mandelson, who is also a very good learner.

Let’s hope so.

I get the feeling here that Madsen Pirie actually knows Peter Mandelson, that Peter Mandelson actually knows Madsen Pirie, that Peter Mandelson might actually read that, and that it might actually help to change his mind.

Far too much “propaganda” is just bombastic name-calling of the sort that hasn’t a prayer of changing the mind of the man being criticised. The text is: You fool! But the sub-text is: He’ll never actually listen to me, (a) because no one important listens to me, and/because (b) I am too much of a fool. For a thousand examples you need look no further than the political, “Bliar” (how I despise that word) type comments on Samizdata.

The Madsen Pirie quote above is the opposite of all that drivel.

(By the way I am not trying to persuade such commenters to mend their ways with what I am saying here. I am trying to persuade you not to imitate them. You are persuadable and worth persuading. They are not and not. Although, come to think of it, if you denounce a class of people as idiots, rather than picking on one of them by name, maybe you will persuade some of the idiots to leave the herd and mend their ways and become ex-idiots. So maybe I am trying to persuade these idiots to mend their ways. Yes.)

The technological comments on Samizdata are quite different and frequently superb. See, e.g., some of the comments attached to this posting about nanotechnology that I did there last week.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Douglas Jardine and Spike Milligan

I see that BBC4 TV is showing a programme about the late Spike Milligan tonight. In fact I have just started watching it. So far it has been a parade of dreary Milligan relatives who I do not want to know about.

It so happens that I was having Spike Milligan thoughts myself today, without any such TV provocation.

My Milliganic thoughts were prompted by a little piece they did during the lunch interval of the C4 TV coverage of the Ashes Test Match (England 229-4 after a rain interrupted first day) about the notorious Bodyline Tour of 1932, the one where England bowled short and nasty balls at Don Bradman.

In particular, they showed some clips of the notorious England captain on that tour, Douglas Jardine, pictured on the right. Jardine had a long, thin face, and a mouth which, like Milligan’s, did not go all that far sideways. Jardine also had a way of talking that combined pomposity, slowness (as if talking to a foreigner), and fear of the camera, which you could see in his darting and nervous eyes. I swear Milligan must have watched this, because many of his upper class twit routines were just like this. Voice, manner, nuances, everything. Maybe all posh people talked like that on camera in those days, but it wouldn’t surprise me a bit to learn that Mlligan paid particular attention to Jardine.

See also the two further – extremely Milliganic – pictures of Jardine at the other end the above link.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog