Fency

Incoming from BMNB’s Blogmaster Michael Jennings, a while back now, from Foreign Parts:

Like I say, it’s a while since this got here, but it deserves the immortality that is conferred upon photos when they are exhibited here at BMNB.

“Fency” is either a very posh way of saying “fancy”, or it is an indication that a lot of the goods in the store were stolen. Which means they’ll be cheap, which means that you can shop at this store with absolute frugality.

I cannot recall if the accompanying email said where this is. Michael?

Excellent wires!

LATER: Ah, it wasn’t “incoming from Michael”. It was at his Facebook page. Kathmandu, Nepal. I just nicked it. Hope Michael doesn’t mind.

Other creature news

In among all the vile bile, Twitter continues to serve up good Other Creatures news, especially in video form.

Here, for instance, is evidence that when it comes to shifting stuff around, while simultaneously showing a bit of common sense, robots would appear to have some way to go before they will be entirely replacing the working class.

Here is a delightful photo of two pigeons, who are checking out a photographer who is trying to photo a ceiling.

And, in otter news, here are otters doing something very strange, under a tree, in what turns out to be Singapore.

Meanwhile, via (the rest of) the blogosphere (David Thompson to be exact), an amplified cat and dogs who ate bees. The dogs look so happy, especially given how very unhappy they must feel.

On a more melancholy note, Mick Hartley tells of the Soviet whale “decimation” of the middle of the twentieth century. Decimation however, is surely the wrong word. It was far worse than that. The writer whom Hartley quotes seems to think that decimation means killing nine out of ten, because he talks of whale species being “driven to the edge of extintion”. But decimation wasn’t killing nine out of ten members of a Roman legion. It was killing one in every ten. It was to punish, not to extinguish, a legion. That verbal quibble aside, there can’t be too many reports of what an insanely destructive economic system the USSR imposed upon all its victims. And its victims were not only human.

Nullius in Verba on the impact of automation – obvious and not so obvious

Since I resumed paying attention to Samizdata, some of my favourite comments there have been from someone calling him/her self “Nullius in Verba”. The only drawback being the pseudonym, which I think always unpacks some of the punch in what gets said.

Here’s what Nullius in Verba, commenting on this posting today by Johnathan Pearce, says about the claim that automation will cause unemployment:

Automation generally results in unskilled jobs being automated and disappearing, skilled jobs being automated and becoming unskilled, and impossible jobs being made possible to the skilled with the aid of automation.

But people only look at what’s going to happen to the job they’ve got now, not what new job they could have in the future. So they’re always going to see automation as a problem in need of a political solution.

Most of the confusion about economics is caused by seeing only the obvious damage that something will do, while neglecting the more unpredictable – but just as real and in the long run more significant – good stuff that will also happen. Or, seeing only the obvious good of a certain measure, and neglecting the longer term harm.

Shame that NiV feels the need to use a pseudonym.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

On supporting Spurs – but not properly

Well, it’s official. I care more about cricket, as played by anyone, than I care about football, as played by Spurs, the football team that I tell myself I support.

If I truly support Spurs, how come I only bothered to wonder the next day how badly they had lost to Barcelona recently, in their clearly doomed attempt to qualify for the last sixteen of the European Champions League, or whatever they call it? Answer me that. On the night, I was so concerned about when the next test match between Australia and India would start, and whether I could hear any commentary on it, that I completely ignored Spurs. When you consider that this Barca/Spurs game was on Tuesday night, and that the Australia/India game didn’t start until the small hours of Friday morning, you can see what a crap Spurs fan I am.

It was only some time on Wednesday that I internetted the news that Spurs had got a draw against Barca (thanks to a late equaliser), and that because Inter Milan had also only got a draw in their game, Spurs had squeaked through, but only after an agonising wait for the Inter result caused by that game going on for a couple of minutes longer.

While all this drama was going on, I was oblivious to it, and was instead scratching about on the internet chasing that cricket game.

Which is still going on. Day 3 will be getting underway in a few hours, on Radio 5 live sports extra. My sleep is already deranged, in a way that usually only happens when England are playing in Australia.

Today, I did keep track of the Spurs Burnley game, which Spurs won (thanks to a very late winner). So: more drama. But although I was aware of this while it was happening, I was again scandalously relaxed about it all, despite this game being billed as a Spurs Must Win If They Are To Stay In With A Chance To Win The League sort of a game. Oh well, I was thinking, as it remained 0-0 right up until extra time. Oh well, that’s how it goes. Maybe next year, when they have their own stadium to play in.

Maybe the reason I am not shouting at Spurs in my kitchen, urging them on to glory, is that they are indeed engaged in building themselves a brand new custom built headquarters, in the form of that new White Hart Lane stadium. So according to my way of thinking, they shouldn’t now be doing this well.

However, it would seem that all the money that the new stadium will bring into the club has caused Spurs to do something now that they haven’t been doing for several decades, which is keep their best players. I’m talking about the likes of Kane, Deli Alli, Moura (who scored the late equaliser against Barca) and Eriksen (who got today’s very late winner). Such stars might still make more money if they went to Real Madrid or some such even richer club. But, at Real, they might not do as well on the pitch as they are now doing for Spurs. They might then fall off the football pyramid of greatness, never to climb back on it again. Footballers are interested in money and glory, not just in money, not least because glory turns into more money later, when they later try to get football jobs without being players any more. Spurs look like they could be about to do both money and glory rather well.

The same goes for the current rather-hard-to-spell Spurs manager who is masterminding all this. Many now assume that he will shortly move to Madrid. I’m not so sure.

I mean, if this is how well these Spurs guys can do while the new Spurs HQ is still being finished, think how well they might do when they get really settled in in the new place and are able to concentrate entirely on football.

Or maybe it’s that a new stadium is not really a new headquarters building, more like a huge new factory, for something like a brand new airplane. Boeing bets the company every time they launch a totally new aircraft. A football club bets itself whenever it moves into a new stadium. But this stadium is actually for doing football, rather than just a place to do lots of headquartering.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

The view across The Broadway

One from the I Just Like It directory:

That’s the view you get of Central Hall Westminster, that you now get looking over where New Scotland Yard used to be. I walk past this view whenever I go to St James’s Park tube. Well, that’s the view you get if you go to as much trouble as I did to frame Central Hall Westminster with a concrete pump.

There is now a glut of new luxury apartments in London, so I suppose it’s possible that this view may become a bit less temporary than it would have been two or three years ago. But my guess is that The Broadway, which (from a helicopter) will look very approximately like this…:

…, is now too far advanced for it to make sense for them not to finish it. Although maybe not as ostentatiously as that picture suggests.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

“That wealth can be created and not just rearranged or come at someone’s expense …”

Russell Roberts, Tweeting in response to a Tweet that has vanished, but it’s still worth quoting:

If you think the economy is a zero-sum game and getting rich makes people poor, you have trouble explaining the last 250 years. That wealth can be created and not just rearranged or come at someone’s expense is so basic but may be the single most important insight of economics.

I prefer “fixed-sum” to “zero-sum”, but otherwise, my sentiments exactly.

I am not now Tweeting, merely perusing the Tweets of others. If I were Tweeting, this would be a Tweet.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Michael Jennings explores Tehran

At my home on the last Friday of this month (Friday September 28th – which is in six days time), Michael Jennings will be speaking about Iran, and in particular about how he recently spent some time exploring its capital city, Tehran. The easiest link to learn more about Michael’s amazing globetrottings is to this list of his Samizdata contributions.

Each month, I solicit a few words from the speaker, to email to my list of potential attenders. A few days ago, Michael sent me rather more than a few words about what he’ll be speaking about, more words than I need for that email. But I don’t want all these words going to waste, so, with Michael’s kind permission, here they all are. In the email I send out tomorrow evening, I will be quoting from this, but will include the link to this posting, so that all who want to can, as they say, read the whole thing.

So, Michael Jennings on “Exploring Tehran”:

In recent years, I have done quite a lot of travelling in the Middle East.

From the western perspective – and particularly from the perspective of the western media – it is very easy to look at the Muslim Middle East and see something homogeneous. If you are inclined to see militant Islam and related terrorism as a threat, it is easy to see it as a single threat. However, there are two main strains of Islam, Shia and Sunni, and these are centred in two quite different cultures and civilisations: the first in Iran and the second in the Arab world.

These are two of the three largest cultures in the Muslim Middle East – the third being Turkey. These three cultures speak three unrelated languages – Farsi, Arabic, and Turkish – and the history and differences between these three cultures go back thousands of years – long before the time of Mohammed. These cultures are tremendously divided today. Iran fought a truly ferocious war with Arab Iraq between 1980 and 1988, the memory of which hangs over the country the way World War 1 probably hung over Europe in 1935. Much of the wars of the past 15 years in Iraq and Syria have been about Shia Iran (Persia) and Sunni Arab Saudi Arabia jostling for position in the Middle East. As to where Turkey stands in all this – I think Turkey is trying to figure this out.

I am not remotely an expert in any of this stuff. I have, however, spent a considerable amount of time travelling around the Middle East and North Africa in recent years. I love to explore cities on foot. I have done this, or attempted to do this in many places. Slightly less than two years ago I spent 10 days exploring Tehran on foot. Despite the fearsome (justified) reputation of the regime that rules Iran, I found – from my perspective as a Christian westerner – the most culturally familiar and welcoming culture that I had found travelling in the Middle East. Despite the fact that Iran is the only country in the entire world where all women are required to wear a headscarf at all times, I was struck by the fact that the role of women in public life was clearly much higher and that women are clearly much better educated and have a far more prominent role in the economy than in any Arab country I have been to. The Iranian middle class is substantial, and it is a very westernised middle class. At times in North Tehran I found myself in cafes and restaurants that easily could have been in hipster areas of Los Angeles, apart from the lack of alcohol.

I also found something that I should have known already – Iran is a trading, commercial nation. In South Tehran I found myself in shopping streets and bazaars that resembled East Asia – possibly commercial districts of Bangkok or Hanoi – more than anything elsewhere in the Middle East. I found myself sitting in stores being made tea (and being offered illicit alcohol) by merchants who wanted to tell me all about their trading trips to Shenzhen. It was fascinating.

And yet, this is a country that faces sanctions, and is cut off from the official system of international trade. What happens when you cut such a country off from the official system of international trade, and international academia, and international everything and so impoverishing the country, even though this is a culture that wants to participate? Come along to my talk, and I will speculate. Or possibly just show you my holiday pictures.

The basic point of my meetings is for people to attend them, but another point of them is for me to spread a gentle wave of information about people who have worthwhile things to say and interesting stories to tell, even if you do not actually attend. This posting now means that, this month, that second mission is already somewhat accomplished.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Robert R. Reilly on the nature of Saudi power

I am currently reading The Closing of the Muslim Mind, by Robert R. Reilly, with a view to reviewing it for Samizdata. Brilliant. For as long as I’ve been reading this book, finishing reading it has been my number one concern. Shoving up brilliant stuff here has … not. Some Facebook friends of mine have been choosing the books that have most influenced their thinking, and this book looks like it will be added to my list.

Here is a typically illuminating paragraph from this book (on page 144 of my paperback edition – which I am happy to note is towards the end of it):

The enormous influence of Saudi Arabia today in the Muslim world is often thought by Westerners to be almost completely due to its oil wealth – petro-Islam. However, this discounts the fact that many Muslims, including in countries like Egypt, which are traditionally opposed to Saudi Arabia, see this wealth as a direct gift from Allah. Can it be only an accident that these treasures are under the sands of this particular country? No, they must be there as a reward to the Saudis for following the true path. Why else would the oil be there? – a question that has to be answered not by geologists, but within the understanding that God has directly placed the oil there as He directly does all things. The presence of petroleum gives credence to the Saudi claim that its Wahhabi form of Islam is the legitimate one. It is because of the oil that other Muslims are willing to give this claim consideration. This is why Wahhabism has spread so significantly, even in parts of the world like Indonesia that would seem, from their cultural backgrounds, to have little sympathy with its radical literalism. Therefore, it is not only through Saudi oil largess but also because of where the oil is that Wahhabism enjoys such prominence.

For the sort of Muslim Reilly is writing about (and that’s a hell of a lot of them), what we in the West refer to as “reality” is continuously created by Allah, in a succession of miraculous whims. Even to study the laws of nature is to presume to place limits on what Allah might choose to do, and is accordingly a blasphemy. Whatever happens was done by Allah, and is accordingly right. Might is right.

And if the Saudis have most of the financial clout in the Muslim world, that means Allah must be on their side.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

The man from Glint

Earlier this evening, I attended a fascinating Libertarian Home talk given by Jason Cozens, one of the founders and bosses of Glint. (Scroll down there a bit, and I think you will see why I think I smell yet another two-man team.) Glint enables those who think that currency ought to be gold-backed to get there hands on just such a currency, thereby personally reversing, as it were, the decision by President Nixon, in 1971, to take the US dollar off the gold standard.

This talk was excellent, and was clearly saturated in Austrianism. In the highly unlikely event that Jason Cozens has not met up with a conversed with Detlev Schlichter, he should.

Here is a photo I took of Mr Cozens waving an ancient gold coin from Roman era Britain, which he had come by in some way that he did describe but which I immediately forgot:

And here is that coin, and him holding it, somewhat closer up:

Glint, however, does not deploy actual gold coins. Any gold it arranges for you to own stays in a vault in Switzerland. You get yourself a Glint account, with whatever combination of gold or other popular currencies in it that you want, and you can buy stuff with your card, which looks and works like any other credit/debit card.

Glint would appear to be well worth investigating.

I also found the evening very advantageous on a more personal level. I was able to solidify no less than two future Brian’s Last Fridays talks, and was able to woo two other potential future speakers of great interestingness. Others present seemed equally busy making connections of their own. Which is a lot of the point of such meetings, and which is all part of why I believe in organising a steady stream of them.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

McDonald’s in the sky

Nice Twitter exchange about how Ryanair provides a leg-up for young airline pilots.

Tom Chivers:

Saw the pilot of the Ryanair flight I’m on and honestly if I worked in a bar I would have IDed him

My friend and followee Michael Jennings replies:

Ryanair is a good place for a young pilot. They fly lots of hours and get promoted to captain fast. Then, with this on their CV, they go somewhere else where the working conditions are nicer.

Tom Chivers:

I remember reading that other airlines love Ryanair for exactly that reason. Steady supply of good trained pilots who are grateful not to work for Ryanair any more.

So, Ryanair is, from the employment, first-rung-on-the-ladder point of view, … well, see above.

I still miss Transport Blog.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog