London Gateway sunrise

Four photos. Couldn’t decide, so …:


Hard to tell from those photos how many cranes there are yet at London Gateway. But in this photo I believe I see twelve. That being a photo of what they say is “the world’s biggest container ship” delivering its cargo of containers. It doesn’t look that big. I mean, not “world biggest” big. The fact it’s so wide is, I think, what is deceiving.

I’ll never know how these things don’t capsize when fully loaded. Presumably there is many tons of weight at the bottom of them, doing nothing but keeping them upright.

Signs in Seattle


I agree with what Matthew Continetti says in this piece, which the above photo adorns, that this is froth. History as farce, Tom Wolf style. This “Seattle Soviet” is going nowhere. It’s “signs and notices”, to quote one of my more frequent categories here, rather than revolutionary architecture of any substance. That being why the above photo is the most informative one I have seen concerning these dramas.

As Kurt Schlichter (who his now being seriously noticed by his enemies) says, the important thing about this Seattle drama is the impact it has on the forthcoming Presidential election in November. Will Trump get the blame for it? Or will the local Democrat politicians? And by extension, the Democrats nationally? Schlichter says the Democrats will get the blame for this Seattle farce, this being why Trump is leaving the local Democrats to not deal with it, until America landslides in his favour. “Silent majority” and all that.

Schlichter combines partisan rhetoric way beyond the point of self-parody with very shrewd observations and analysis. I read him regularly. He is like one of those crazy American lawyers, who seems insane, yet who is taken very seriously, and for good reasons, by his enemies. And as I understand him, which is only a bit, this is because Schlichter is one of those crazy American lawyers, who seems insane, yet who is taken very seriously, and for good reasons, by his enemies.

Steven Pinker: “Don’t confuse pessimism with profundity …”

See the world through Pinker-tinted spectacles than you may be inclined to:

Keep some perspective. Not every problem is a Crisis, Plague, Epidemic, or Existential Threat, and not every change is the End of This, the Death of That, or the Dawn of a Post-Something Era. Don’t confuse pessimism with profundity: problems are inevitable, but problems are solvable, and diagnosing every setback as a symptom of a sick society is a cheap grab for gravitas.

My sentiments exactly.

That’s to be read on page 452 of my paperback edition of Enlightenment Now, Pinker’s most recent book.


Those were a couple of the day before yesterday’s headlines. Let’s hope it soon becomes yesterday’s news. Problems are, as Pinker says, solvable, and let’s hope this one too is soon sorted.

Pinker is particularly aware of the way that the news is in the habit of putting a pessimistic spin on everything. If it bleeds it leads, and so on. Good news, meanwhile, creeps up on the world more gradually.

6 for 7

I love it when this kind of thing happens:

Except of course when it happens to one of the teams I support. Which it didn’t because this was earlier this morning in Australia’s Big Bash League, and who cares who wins that? Well, a few Australians I suppose.

I thought of calling this posting 647, but I reckon that would be one puzzle too many for non-cricket-obsessives.

In proper cricket, South Africa have followed on against England, but it’s now raining. Tune into that here. Although, if you care you’ll already know that, and if you don’t care you won’t care.

In earlier versions of this posting I counted the numbers and wickets wrongly. Sorry. But then again, not that sorry.

A sixteenth century map of the world

Via Twitter, and something called Map Porn, I found my way to this world map drawn by Ahmed Muhiddin Piri in the 16th century:

Yet I can only find one other reference to it on the www, in the form of a print of the above which is for sale, here, where it’s described as a “Fine Archival Reproduction”. So far as I can work it out, this is a bodged together guess about a map that “Ahmed Muhiddin Piri” (aka “Piri Reis”) did create, but which only survives in the form of a small fragment. We know he knew enough to have created such a map. So, hey, we did create it. But I could be completely wrong about this, because I’m still trying to get my head around it all. Perhaps this is a copy of a real map. Maybe the internet is full of descriptions of it, which I merely failed to find.

The reason I’m interested in this map, or the maps that enabled this map to be made, is that it illustrates how much more they knew about the geography of the world in other parts of the world than Europe. When Europe “discovered” the rest of the world, this wasn’t Europeans discovering a primitive and poverty-stricken place, which only started getting rich after they’d discovered it. What the Europeans discovered was lots of places far richer than Europe, like India and China. And that’s just what the Europeans were trying to do. Just because they also “discovered” such places as Australia and North America, which were poorer, doesn’t mean that their basic motive was to conquer the world. No, what the Europeans were trying to do was get connected with an already thriving world, with which they could import mystical luxuries like spice, and from which they could learn, but which they stopped from doing, by the conquest of the Middle East by Islam. So, the Europeans decided to go round. Round Africa. Round the world, by going west. (That being why the West “Indies” got called “Indies”. And why the people we now call Native Americans were know for many decades as “Red Indians”. Still were, when I was a kid. And still are, by some.)

The European economic breakthrough that made its presence felt in the late 18th century was, globally speaking, something of an end run, as Americans would say. As I learned from that book I’ve been enthusing about by Steve Davies, Europe remained disunited, developed modern guns and never stopped developing them, starting winning wars against the likes of Indians (real ones, in India), then went from inventing and improving guns to inventing and improving everything else and thus unleashed the Industrial Revolution. Europe only got out in front rather late in the story. Oh, it was special. But so were lots of other places.

As the above map illustrates. Or, I think it does.

And maybe it also illustrates something else. Interestingly, the one big thing it gets wrong, the thing only people nearby then knew about properly, was Australasia. Rumours about northern Australia made people think that Australia was part of what we call Antarctica. New Zealand? Again, locals on boats in islands to the north presumably knew about it. But people like Ahmed Muhiddin/Piri Reis, and his various informants? They had no idea.

Bryan Caplan – Hayek Memorial Lecture – photos and an instant summary

Earlier this evening, I (and a great many other people) attended the 19th Hayek Memorial Lecture:

Photo 1: I got there very early, hence all the empty seats.

The Official Photographer was Jean-Luc Picard. Not really, but photo 3 makes him look a bit like the noted space voyager.

Photo 4: The (large) room fills up.

Photo 5: Celeb sighting. Dominic Frisby. And is that his dad Terence he’s talking with? I think it just might be.

Photo 6: Syed Kamall, a recent IEA appointment. He gave someone a prize.

Photo 7: IEA boss Mark Littlewood does the intro.

Photos 8 and 9: Professor Bryan Caplan gives the lecture.

Photo 10: The first questioner was Vera Kichanova, one of the very few people in the audience whom I recognised.

Photo 11: Someone else photoing from the audience.

So, what did Caplan say? Briefly: poor country governments are often to blame for their bad economic policies, rich countries are often to blame for their bad immigration policies, and poor people, especially poor people in rich countries, are often to blame because they make bad decisions, especially bad decisions which hurt their children. That last one is the one you aren’t allowed to say, but most people still think this. When questioned about this, Caplan pointed out that refusing ever to blame poor people for their poverty is often a cause of bad policies. Instead of doing nothing (because it should be up to many poor people to help themselves), governments often do bad things. To “help”.

Another interesting thing about this lecture was that big multi-national enterprises came out of the story very well, basically for doing very well in poor countries, thereby proving that lots of people in poor and otherwise badly governed and badly managed countries could be doing far better, if they got the chance. That being why restrictive immigration policies do so much harm. They are keeping people who could do far better out of well governed countries.

There was also a guy videoing everything, so you won’t have to rely for ever on me to learn what Caplan said.

Because-Now-We-Can! architecture

You can seldom tell where an item of modern architecture is in the world just by looking at a photo or fake-photo of it. But, if you know your modern architecture, you can usually date it. This is because what look-at-me architecture looks like depends on what can, at any particular moment in architectural history, be done. When a new technique is devised, this new technique is used to make a kind of architecture that has not been seen before, and which hence attracts maximum attention.

Zaha Hadid is the firm that most perfectly exemplifies this latest phase of architectural modernity, because they are the people who have taken the latest new-thing-we-can-now-do to its most extreme limits:

Picture (hard to tell if it’s fake or real – guess: bit of both) found in this dezeen report on a new mega-airport in China.

What-we-can-now-do is keep track of lots of different bits and bobs in a building, so different that almost all these bits and bobs are unique in shape, with … computers. Time was when, if the Big Boss said: I want it to look like … this (draws weird shape on back of restaurant menu) there then followed a long to-and-fro argument between Big Boss and the Underlings (speaking on behalf of what is doable as opposed to merely dreamable), until the slightly weird but usually deeply disappointing and mis-shapen object finally appeared. Occasionally, something truly weird, like the Sydney Opera House, did emerge, looking remarkably like the back-of-the-restaurant-menu original. But, mostly the fantasy-versus-actually-doable back-and-forth took all the juice out of the original. It would have been simpler to scrap it and do something a bit more creative than usual with easily drawable and trackable rectangles.

Now? Big Boss can draw the weird shape, and then the massed slaves can duly construct the Big Thing, so that it really does look like the cover of a science fiction story.

Computers can now draw, and – crucially – redraw, anything. When a curve needs to change a bit, to fit in – I don’t know – some more luggage handlers or passport inspectors or a bigger private lair for airport surveillance creeps – the computer can redraw the new design, as re-ordained by the Big Boss on the back of another restaurant menu, in seconds. That kind of rejigging used to take months and frankly, couldn’t be done without costs crashing through the weirdly but in the end rather disappointingly shaped roof.

Give it a few years, and this Because-Now-We-Can! style will look horribly passé. For many, I’m guessing it already does. But for now, we now build buildings like this … because now we can!

I love London

Another shop window photo, photoed by me on the same day as I photoed, this, this, and this:

Click on that to get it quite a bit bigger than usual. It deserves the detail.

I have long considered the stuff in tourist stuff shops to be an underrated object of photo-devotion.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

The Hundred is silly

Now that the proper cricket is over for the summer, the cricket fan’s mind turns towards silliness like The Hundred. This is the idea of having a new slam bang format, in addition to Twenty20. E(nglish) C(ricket) B(oard) Chairman Graves is now pushing this, and there is push back.

This cricket fan has two things to say about why The Hundred is so very, very silly.

Thing one. On what planet does a cricket administrator look at cricket on earth, and say: The Trouble With Cricket On Earth Is That It Doesn’t Have Enough Different Formats. There Should Be Another. ????

Thing two. The Hundred reminds me of the days when they mucked about with the limited overs format, with the result that for quite a while, or so I remember it, the English counties were playing 40/40 overs, while internationals were 50/50 overs. The heart of the problem was that the English administrators thought they ruled cricket, or behaved as if they thought this, and consequently imagined that they, on their own, could impose a new Format. But, there was a world out there.

And there is a world out there now, an even bigger one than then. Unless The World agrees that The Hundred is a good format, it will be a flop. Cricket is governed by The World (sometimes known as: India), not by England. Do the people pushing The Hundred have the Indians on board with it? I thought not.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Bill Bryson on the miracle of crop rotation

I’ve been reading Bryson’s At Home: A Short History of Private Life, and very entertaining and informative it is too. Strangely, one of the best things about it for me was that he explained, briefly and persuasively, both the rise to global stardom and the fall from global stardom of British agriculture. The rise was a lot to do with the idea of crop rotation. I remember vaguely being told about this in a prep school history class, but although I did remember the phrase “crop rotation”, I didn’t care about it or about what it made possible.

Here is Bryson’s description of this key discovery:

The discovery was merely this: land didn’t have to be rested regularly to retain its fertility. It was not the most scinitillatingof insights, but it changed the world.

Traditionally, most English farmland was divided into long strips called furlongs and each furlong was left fallow for one season in every three – sometimes one season in two – to recover its ability to produce healthy crops. This meant that in any year at least one-third of farmland stood idle. In consequence, there wasn’t sufficient feed to keep large numbers of animals alive through the winter, so landowners had no choice but to slaughter most of their stock each autumn and face a long, lean period till spring.

Then English farmers discovered something that Dutch farmers had known for a long time: if turnips, clover or one or two other suitable crops were sown on the idle fields, they miraculously refreshed the soil and produced a bounty of winter fodder into the bargain. It was the infusion of nitrogen that did it, though no one would understand that for nearly two hundred years. What was understood, and very much appreciated, was that it transformed agricultural fortunes dramatically. Moreover, because more animals lived through the winter, they produced heaps of additional manure, and these glorious, gratis ploppings enriched the soil even further.

It is hard to exaggerate what a miracle all this seemed. Before the eighteenth century, agriculture in Britain lurched from crisis to crisis. An academic named W. G. Hoskins calculated (in 1964) that between 1480 and 1700, one harvest in four was bad, and almost one in five was catastrophically bad. Now, thanks to the simple expedient of crop rotation, agriculture was able to settle into a continuous, more or less reliable prosperity. It was this long golden age that gave so much of the countryside the air of prosperous comeliness it enjoys still today, …

The fall of British agriculture was all mixed up with refrigeration, which enabled the wide open spaces of the late nineteenth century world to make masses of food and to transport it to hungry urban mouths everywhere before it went bad. Prices fell below what the farmers of Britain (where there were no wide open spaces by global standards) could match.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog