Ashes Lag strikes

I was surprised and distressed at how quickly and completely England lost the Ashes. They lost the first three tests and that was it. From then on, the important thing was for them to stop 3-0 turning into 5-0.

Why is that when we beat Australia, it ends something like 2-1 or 3-1 or 3-2, but never 5-0? But when Australia beats us, as often as not it is 5-0. So, good that this has not happened this time around. Dead rubber? Bollocks. 5-0 is a hell of a lot worse than 3-0 or (I can hope) 3-1.

Judging by previous 5-0s down under, England might still have lost game four, after Cook had scored his double hundred and given England a first innings lead of 160 odd. Australia have a very good spinner, and England do not.

Warne of Australia. Swann of England. Now: Lyon of Australia. A good spinner sustains pressure all the way through to the next new ball, and can win the match on the final day. Without a good spinner, you get those easy overs, when a bit of slogging can swing the match decisively in favour of the batting side, and you don’t get to win on the last day nearly so much.

In this latest Melbourne game, what if Australia had got themselves a lead of 150 and then bowled England out on the last afternoon? It could have happened. But luckily for England, it rained on day four, and England were able to save the game. All the commentators said that the rain spoiled England’s chance of a win, but what do they know? They were there, and were obviously getting caught up in it all, failing to see the wood for the trees. Trees: England might have won. Wood: England did not lose! Hurrah!

But from where I lie, in my bed but not sleeping because there were England doing so well on the radio, not losing, the important issue was: I wasn’t sleeping. And I am now suffering from serious Ashes Lag.

This afternoon, Chelsea thrashed Stoke at football, and according to the BBC Premier League update feed (which I had been keeping half an eye on), Stoke supporters, despite having journeyed to Chelsea all the way from darkest Stoke, were leaving after twenty minutes, because their team were such rubbish. I’m like that. If my team is getting hammered, I don’t want to be obsessing about that. I have a life, and I welcome the chance to ignore sport and get on with it. But if my team are doing okay, I’m all over it. So Ashes Lag has only now struck.

I mentioned yesterday that I was knackered, but too knackered to explain why I was knackered, and that I might (or might not) explain why I was knackered, later. The above was why I was knackered.

BMdotcom. The blog that promises nothing, but sometimes delivers!

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Southwark Cathedral from the train

This evening I had a party at my home. All the people I invite to my Last Friday of the Month meetings were invited, and almost exactly the same number of people showed up as tend to show up for the meetings. How do they do this?

I am now completely knackered, but it wasn’t the party alone that knackered me; it was … alas, I find that I am too knackered to explain. Maybe, although I promise nothing, later.

So instead, a quota photo, of Southwark Cathedral not being dwarfed by modernity:

Taken out of the train window, on my way to Hither Green.

Spot the Gherkin.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Granny Weatherwax does not allow inequality

For years now, I’ve wanted to nail down a particularly choice Terry Pratchett quote, concerning the limits of the idea of equality, which is that for there to be equality, someone has or some people have to insist upon it, and if that insistence is to count for anything, then there goes your equality. My problem was that I didn’t have the name of the character that the quote was about.

But today, I described the quote as best I could to my friend Adriana, and she told me at once that the name of the lady in question was Granny Weatherwax. And once I had the name, the rest was easy.

The quote I was looking for is the second from the bottom of these Quotes About Granny Weatherwax:

“Mistress Weatherwax is the head witch, then, is she?’

‘Oh no!’ said Miss Level, looking shocked. ‘Witches are all equal. We don’t have things like head witches. That’s quite against the spirit of witchcraft.’

‘Oh, I see,’ said Tiffany.

‘Besides,’ Miss Level added, ‘Mistress Weatherwax would never allow that sort of thing.”

That is to be found in A Hat Full of Sky.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Another quote and two more photos

Last night, egged on by some Southern Comfort and Coke, I sneaked a posting onto Samizdata, at a very quiet time of the year, and after a long break from doing anything there. I wonder how often, in human history, far more portentous events than that have been set in motion by the power of alcohol to turn “maybe later” into “what the hell I’ll do it now”.

The posting started with a photo of five hands holding five plastic glasses of something alcoholic. Here is another photo of the same scene, at the top of Primrose Hill, this time with one of the participants also doing a photo:

And then I showed a photo of Perry de Havilland, taken on Christmas Eve at his home. Here is another such photo, rather less exuberant:

And I ended with a quote garnered from Deidre McCloskey’s The Bourgeois Virtues. Page 61 of my paperback edition features five such quotes. I put one of these, from Benjamin Constant (and added that link to that piece about him) in the Samizdata posting. Here is another, from Voltaire, dated 1733:

I don’t know which is the more useful to the state, a well-powdered lord who knows precisely when the king gets up in the morning … or a great merchant who enriches his country, sends orders from his office to Surat or to Cairo, and contributes to the well-being of the world.

Neither do I know “which is more useful to the state”. But I know which one isn’t contributing to the well-being of the world and which one is. I think Voltaire rather gives his game away there.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Photoers on Primrose Hill and how my camera turns everything yellow

After that trip to Primrose Hill with GodDaughter2, when my camera stopped cooperating, and I later got it working again, I went back there, on my own. I couldn’t be content until I had taken as many photos there as I would like to have taken on the previous visit.

One of the better photos I took on that second trip, of photoers photoing, was this:

Is that guy photoing his photoer lady-friend, as she photos the view? Judging by the red blob on his screen, which has got to be her bright red rucksack, I would say: yes he is. What a peculiar man, wanting to take a photo like that.

Joking aside, there is something else about my camera that troubles me, besides having spent a day thinking it was completely bust. Do you remember that day earlier this year when the sky turned yellow, because of some North African dust storm, or some such thing. Well, when my camera is set on automatic – and when I use it it is always set on automatic – it does this all the time. Everything comes out yellower than it should. Blues are diminished into white. The merest suggesting of actual yellow is intensified. Not good.

The above photo, effective though I think it is, illustrates this only too clearly. Notice how even my photo of the guy’s screen has his sky bluer than my version of the sky. Which means that his screen must have been very blue.

I tried reading the camera manual, but unfortunately this is written in a Serbo-Croation dialect of Sanskrit. Not one word of it makes any sense to me at all. And I tried fiddling around with the camera itself, without any success. I couldn’t even find anywhere on the www where I might be able to ask my question, and more to the point, maybe get some worthwhile answers. Help. I realise that Boxing day is not a good day to be saying such a thing, but I say it anyway. By the time anyone gets around to reading this, the problem is unlikely to have gone away.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Merry Christmas … and …?

Photoed by me earlier this evening on my way to a superb evening at Chateau Perry and Adriana, at the 55 Broadway Shopping Mall, aka St James’s Park tube station:

And from BMdot com.

I failed to photo the last thing they wished us, so I say: choose whatever else you would most like.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Deidre McCloskey praises the Bourgeois Deal

Some time at or around 1780, the world’s economy went from being Malthusian to being Modern. Modern as in literally billions of us getting to lead increasingly comfortable lives. The graph of human creature comforts goes from horizontal to something very close to vertical.

Deidre N. McCloskey has written a succession of books about this wondrous transformation. I started reading Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain The Modern World, but was disappointed by the lack of original source evidence she presented to justify her opinion that the transformation was, at heart, an ideological one. I agree with this opinion, and hoped she would back it up. Instead she went through all the rival explanations, explaining at exhaustive length why they were wrong, but didn’t seem to say nearly as much as I had hoped about her and my preferred winner. I put the book aside.

Prodded by my friend Alastair James, I have now started reading the first book, The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce. This is the first one, the one that explains what the transformation was, and in particular its strongly ethical content, and it thus explains more than you usually get told these days about why this transformation was such a very, very good thing. Instead of reading this book searching for what it doesn’t say, I am now reading it for what it does say, and am enjoying it a lot.

Here is how McCloskey concludes her opening summary, her “Apology” (pp. 50-53):

“It is vital,” Ridley declares, “that we reduce the power and scope of the state.” Yes. The freedom half of the Enlightenment Project can support in practical terms the reason half. “It is not to happiness alone,” wrote Constant in 1819, “it is to self-development that our destiny calls us; and political liberty is the most powerful, the most effective means of self-development that heaven has given US.” Secret police and fixed elections and patriarchal oppression of women and unwise attempts to fulfill the two-centuries-old project of reason by regulation and state planning rather than by Adam Smith’s “simple and obvious system of natural liberty” – to name some of the more important assaults on bourgeois human capital – do more damage to our goods and to our goodness than do conventional economic failings.

But is that true? How do I know? The experiments of the twentieth century told me so. It would have been hard to know the wisdom of Milton Friedman or Matt Ridley or Deirdre McCloskey in August 1914, before the experiments were well begun. But anyone who after the twentieth century still thinks that thoroughgoing socialism, nationalism, imperialism, mobilization, central planning, regulation, zoning, price controls, tax policy, labor unions, business cartels, government spending, intrusive policing, adventurism in foreign policy, faith in entangling religion and politics, or most of the other thoroughgoing nineteenth-century proposals for governmental action are still neat, harmless ideas for improving our lives is not paying attention.

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries ordinary Europeans were hurt, not helped, by their colonial empires. Economic growth in Russia was slowed, not accelerated, by Soviet central planning. American Progressive regulation and its European anticipations protected monopolies of transportation like railways and protected monopolies of retailing like High Street shops and protected monopolies of professional services like medicine, not the consumers. “Protective” legislation in the United States and “family-wage” legislation in Europe subordinated women. State-armed psychiatrists in America jailed homosexuals, and in Russia jailed democrats. Some of the New Deal prevented rather than aided America’s recovery from the Great Depression.

Unions raised wages for plumbers and autoworkers but reduced wages for the nonunionized. Minimum wages protected union jobs but made the poor unemployable. Building codes sometimes kept buildings from falling or burning down but always gave steady work to well-connected carpenters and electricians. Zoning and planning permission has protected rich landlords rather than helping the poor. Rent control makes the poor and the mentally ill unhousable, because no one will build inexpensive housing when it is forced by law to be expensive. The sane and the already-rich get the rent-controlled apartments and the fancy townhouses in once-poor neighborhoods.

Regulation of electricity hurt householders by raising electricity costs, as did the ban on nuclear power. The Securities Exchange Commission did not help small investors. Federal deposit insurance made banks careless with depositors’ money. The conservation movement in the Western United States enriched ranchers who used federal lands for grazing and enriched lumber companies who used federal lands for clear-cutting. American and other attempts at prohibiting trade in recreational drugs resulted in higher drug consumption and the destruction of inner cities. Governments have outlawed needle exchanges and condom advertising, and denied the existence of AIDS.

Germany’s economic Lebensraum was obtained in the end by the private arts of peace, not by the public arts of war. The lasting East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere was built by Japanese men in business suits, not in dive bombers. Europe recovered after its two twentieth-century hot wars mainly through its own efforts of labor and investment, not mainly through government-to-government charity such as Herbert Hoover’s Commission or George Marshall’s Plan. Government-to-government foreign aid to the third world has enriched tyrants, not helped the poor.

The importation of socialism into the third world, even in the relatively nonviolent form of Congress Party Fabian-Gandhism, unintentionally stifled growth, enriched large industrialists, and kept the people poor. The capitalist-sponsored Green Revolution of dwarf hybrids was opposed by green politicians the world around, but has made places like India self-sufficient in grains. State power in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa has been used to tax the majority of farmers in aid of the president’s cousins and a minority of urban bureaucrats. State power in many parts of Latin America has prevented land reform and sponsored disappearances. State ownership of oil in Nigeria and Mexico and Iraq was used to support the party in power, benefiting the people not at all. Arab men have been kept poor, not bettered, by using state power to deny education and driver’s licenses to Arab women. The seizure of governments by the clergy has corrupted religions and ruined economies. The seizure of governments by the military has corrupted armies and ruined economies.

Industrial policy, from Japan to France, has propped up failing industries such as agriculture and small-scale retailing, instead of choosing winners. Regulation of dismissal has led to high unemployment in Germany and Denmark. In the 1960s, public-housing high-rises in the West inspired by Le Corbusier condemned the poor in Rome and Paris and Chicago to holding pens. In the 1970s, the full-scale socialism of the East ruined the environment. In the 2000s, the “millennial collectivists,” red, green, or communitarian, oppose a globalization that helps the poor but threatens trade union officials, crony capitalists, and the careers of people in Western nongovernmental organizations.

All these experiments of the twentieth century were arranged by governments against bourgeois markets. All of them were disasters. In short, the neoaristocratic, cryptopeasant, proclerisy, antibourgeois theories of the nineteenth century, applied during the twentieth century for taxing, fixing, resisting, modifying, prohibiting, collectivizing, regulating, unionizing, ameliorating, expropriating modern capitalism, failed of their purposes, killed many millions, and nearly killed us all.

By contrast: during the twenty-first century, if we can draw back from the unfreedom of anticapitalism and adopt instead the simple and obvious system of natural liberty, every person on the planet, in Vietnam and Colombia, India and Kenya, can come to have, complements of the bourgeois virtues, the scope of life afforded now to a suburban minority in the West. It’s the Bourgeois Deal: leave me alone to buy low and sell high, and in the long run I’ll make you rich.

If we will let people own things – their houses and businesses, for example; their labor power – and if we let them try to make profit out of the ownership, and if we keep out of people’s lives the tentacles of a government acting as an executive committee of the country club or worse, we will prosper materially and spiritually.

We can have Aristotles, Wang Weis, Newtons, Austens, and Tagores by the dozens. We can have world science and world music and world literature and even world cuisine in richness unparalleled, a spiritual life untrammeled by need, a clean planet, long and happy lives. By the standards typical since Adam’s curse we can have by the year 2100 another Eden. Well … all right: such utopian talk, I have said, has dangers. At least we can have material abundance, and the scope to flourish in higher things. And we can be virtuous about it.

Or we can try once again in our ethical confusion to kill it.

BMdotcom insult of the day from Bette Davis (or from Legend)

According to Legend, Bette Davis, on hearing that Joan Crawford had died, said this:

“You should never say bad things about the dead, you should only say good … Joan Crawford is dead. Good.”

Legend may have made this up. But if so, I say: Well done Legend. Terrific stuff. Keep it coming.

I learned of this while watching an episode of the TV series Talking Pictures, devoted to Davis and Crawford. Shown to coincide with the showing of Feud.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

The Gayer-Anderson Cat

Not long ago, Perry de Havilland told me what sounds like an old, old joke, about the difference between dogs and cats.

We feed and pamper and love and look after dogs, and from this, dogs conclude that we are gods. We feed and pamper and love and look after cats, and from this, cats conclude that they are gods.

As I say, it sounded old, but I liked it. And I remembered that joke when, this evening, searching for quota cats or quota other creatures, I encountered these photos, of books, in the British Museum. Including a book about a cat …:

… and of that same cat, celebrated on a clutch of mugs:

I took these Gayer-Anderson Cat photos in Feb 2010, but I doubt it’s moved since then.

Read about the Gayer-Anderson Cat, which actually was a god, here. Gayer-Anderson wasn’t two people. He was just the one, a certain Major Robert Grenville Gayer-Anderson.

Get your own Gayer-Anderson Cat, for £450. (£405 to members.) Or, you could 3D print your Gayer-Anderson Cat.

When I took these photos, I was in point-shoot-forget mode, and have given them no further thought until now.

I love the internet.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog