A viewing platform that now isn’t

Speaking as I was of tall columns with viewing platforms at the top of them (shame about the Tulip by the way (but I live in hope that this will be uncancelled (or that something similar will arise in that spot))), what about that big column just to the north of St James’s Park with the Duke of York on the top of it?

I recall greatly enjoying a photo-session I did in 2016 with this erection, lining it up with the BT Tower, through some splendidly leafless January trees:

All these photos were photoed from Horse Guards Road, which is at the eastern end of St James’s Park.

To get to the top of the BT Tower these days, you have to win a lottery. But what about getting close-up to the Duke of York? There seems to be a viewing gallery up there, so presumably there must be some way to reach it. Yet, I pass this Big Thing often, when walking through St James’s Park to the West End, and I never see a queue outside it. What’s the story?

This:

Inside the hollow column a spiral staircase of 168 steps, lit by narrow apertures in the wall, leads to the viewing platform around the base of the statue. Given the small, fragile platform and previous high demand for climbing, this staircase has been closed to the public for many decades.

Is there any way this platform could strengthened without it becoming a disruptively different shape? The problem is that, unlike with the Monument, the column above this viewing platform is the same width as below it, probably because it supports a big old Duke of York rather than just the little bobble that the Monument has at its summit. Almost any structural engineering can be done these days, but if the viewing platform remains as small as it is now, it presumably wouldn’t be worth doing.

I hope that Tulip makes a come-back.

The Duke of York is one of my favourite British military personalities, if only because most others only know him, if they know him, as an object of derision. The Grand Old Duke of York … etc. But the point is, after his failed career as a military commander, he had a much more impressive career as an military organiser back in London, improving the supply of, well, supplies, and also of officers who were better trained than hitherto. In other words, he arrived at his level of incompetence, and then demoted himself down to a position where he good really do some good, as the Duke of Wellington always acknowledged. Impressive, I think. Being the King’s brother, he could do this. But how many King’s brothers actually would do such a thing?

I know, I’m a libertarian and war is the health of the state, etc. But, the history of war is what it is, and this Duke deserves his monument. As is well explained in the very good chapter about him in this book.

Michael McIntyre speaks for me

And for many others, I’m very sure:

I found this here.

I am Old, but I have made enough friends among the Young for me to be able to twist Young arms and mostly get them to do all this for me. The other day a Young Person agreed to get a copy of this CD for me. (I only buy CD’s on line from Amazon, and this CD is not on Amazon.) If I had tried to buy this CD, I would probably have spent longer failing to accomplish this than I will take listening successfully to the CD.

One of the things I like about living in London is that if I want to buy tickets for something, I can go there beforehand, and buy them, the twentieth century way.

Increasingly, I find that trying to visit any “visitor attraction” is starting to resemble trying to get on an airplane. And as McIntyre explains, booking beforehand on your computer is just as bad.

A good bit, concerning those never-read “terms and conditions”:

I’m slightly worried that in five years time iTunes are going to show up at my door and say: “We own this house now.”

And don’t get me started on passwords. Just watch him speaking (for me) about passwords.

I don’t know why there are big black bits above and below Michael McIntyre. If anyone can suggest a way to get rid of these that I am capable of doing, I would be most grateful.

Stephen Davies on Ruling Classes and Industrious Classes

Stephen Davies is my sort of libertarian historian in many ways, and in particular in not denying the historic importance of the predator class in times gone by. It is one thing to regret the enormous power held by predators, and the comparative powerlessness of producers – the power of the taxers and the impotence of the taxed – but it is quite another to assert that the powerful predators were not in fact the people who made the historically significant decisions and that the impotent producers were actually very powerful. Libertarianism is the claim that the predators should lose their power, not that they have already lost it, or worse, never, historically, had it.

At the heart of Davies’s book The Wealth Explosion is the claim that the wealth explosion only happened because of a rather anomalous glitch in the typical behaviour of the predator class, which took the form of a non-united Europe. Normal predator behaviour throughout the rest of Eurasia meant that the wealth explosion was only able to happen in Europe.

Here (pp. 11-12) is some of what Davies says about this distinction:

There was a basic social division found in all societies after the advent of agriculture. This was between those who produced wealth by production or exchange on the one hand and those who acquired it through the use of force or fraud on the other. The first category included peasant farmers (the great majority) as well as artisans, merchants, and traders of all kinds. The second category were those who controlled not the means of production but what we may call the means of predation – organised force or systematic mystification in other words. These were the ruling classes of society such as aristocrats and clergy. The second group often did come to control and own great wealth and much productive resources, such as land for example, but this was a consequence of their privileged position rather than the cause of it. That position derived in the first instance from their greater access to the means of violence. They were not however simply parasitical because, partly for their own advantage, they came to provide what economists call ‘public goods’ such as defence against other human predators (bandits, criminals, or members of other tribes and political communities), or a means of settling disputes peacefully (so a legal system).

These ruling groups were the primary subjects of historical accounts until very recently. There is a good reason for this, quite apart from the practical point that most of the surviving sources are concerned with them, which is that they were the primary active force in human history. It was rulers and elites who had the power to actually make things happen. They were the ones with agency in other words. In addition, as Peter Laslett famously argued, they were the only social class in society with true class-consciousness, a self-conscious awareness of their own group interest. (Laslett, 2015) This and their nature meant that their relation to innovation and activities that actually changed the world in a positive way was ambivalent. On the one hand, to the extent that innovation led to actual growth in productivity, that meant more resources for them to extract from the productive part of society. On the other hand if it went on for a long enough time it would tend to weaken their position and increase the capacity of other social groups for effective action. Another aspect of the ruling classes historical role was the way that successful groups tended to expand the area of the planet that they controlled and so create an empire. Empires produced internal peace and so although they were created using (often) savage violence, once established they brought social peace to a large part of the planet’s surface. However this also meant an even stronger incentive for the successful group to keep things the same.

And mostly, except in Europe, this is what happened.

Find your way to more bits from this book by going here.

Getting serious about a gun control joke

Funny:

I considered selling my weapons “back” to the government, but after a background check and thorough investigation into the buyer, I determined the buyer has a history of violence and is mentally unstable. Big risk to everyone around it.

This sounds logical enough, but this “government” (the government of the USA) of which this tweeter tweets already possesses an abundance of weaponry. If the US government collected more guns, that would affect those disarmed, but not the US government. The US government would just become a tiny bit more armed.

Gun control laws would likewise make criminals only a bit less armed. But they would utterly disarm the law-abiding. Which would make the law-abiding far less able to defend themselves against crimes of all kinds. These are, and always have been, the real arguments against gun control.

When a joke is felt to be expressing a truth – and if the comments on this tweet that I have read are anything to go by, then this joke definitely is so felt by many – then it becomes important to get serious about the joke.

Links to a Rothbard piece on libertarian tactics that Antoine Clarke will be referencing in his talk tomorrow about Saudi Arabia

Tomorrow evening, as mentioned at the top of the previous posting, there’ll be a talk at my home given by Antoine Clarke. The subject will be the efforts of the new Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia to liberalise (libertarianise?) his country.

During this talk, Antoine will be referring back to an old Libertarian Alliance pamphlet I remember publishing, way back before The Internet, by Murray Rothbard, entitled Four Strategies For Libertarian Change.

I have already supplied a link to my email list of potential attenders to the pdf version of this piece.

I simultaneously apologised that there was no html version to be accessed. But now there is. One of the intending-to-attend attenders tomorrow (thanks Andrew) has converted the pdf file of Rothbard’s piece into this html file.

This was either easy, in which case I congratulate Andrew for being clever. Or, it was hard, in which case I think Andrew for being industrious. I’m guessing, a bit of both. There are a few punctuational oddities that the software I used to read this got a bit confused by, but if that happens to you, there’s nothing that can’t be read past pretty easily.

LATER: The above niggle about punctuation seems now to have been entirely corrected by Andrew, with a revised version of the file. Andrew, thanks again.

On how my meetings work

I photoed these photos of my front room last night and today. Last night on the left, during my latest Last Friday of the Month meeting (at which My Friend The Professor (Tim Evans) spoke about Russia), and today, on the right, after I had begun tidying up (but still had a way to go):

I have a theory about these meetings and how they work, which I would like to share with myself. If you want to read along with me, feel free.

A major reason I keep on with my meetings is that they strengthen, or so I believe, relationships between those who attend. They do this by being small. My front room is small, and only a small number of people can fit into it. This means that there is a lot less of that “wandering eye” temptation, as you talk with one person but simultaneously wonder if there are others present more worthy of your attention. In a small meeting, you are basically stuck with who you are with. So, you get stuck into a proper conversation. At a big meeting, a proper conversation with a randomly selected person present would be very good. But, instead, you tend to “circulate”. At my meetings, there is not a lot of circulating to be done.

When my meetings have a popular speaker who attracts a somewhat larger crowd than usual, as happened last night when around twenty people showed up, another influence cuts in, which is that it becomes very hard to move. You can’t circulate, because there is no spare room to do it in. So, it’s the same thing again. Your best bet is to have a serious conversation with whoever you are sat down next to.

It may be I have overstated the above effect somewhat. But I do think that something like this does happen.

All meetings have their own peculiar atmospheres and dynamics. No particular sort of meeting suits everyone. My meetings seem to attract two types of people. There are the regulars, who simply like them and keep on coming. And, there are those who are busy making connections in the London libertarian scene, having only recently joined it.

There is another influence at work which is also quite significant, which has the effect of stopping a certain sort of person attending very frequently, but I’ll get to that in another posting. Tomorrow maybe? Some time soon, I hope, before I forget.

Singapore architecture

Recently I have become included in the Libertarian Boys Curry Night gang. I know them all. I just hadn’t been having curries (or in my case biryanis) with them every now and again, until rather recently.

During the latest such Curry Night (at an Indian Diner near to me (which turned out to be a good choice (I had a biryani))), one of the Boys showed me some photos of Singapore he’d taken with his mobile, of that huge thing that looks like a set of cricket stumps, for a game of cricket played in hell and painted by Bruegel.

I said, send me one of those, and he did, twice:

I show these photos here, because whatever you think of this Thing, it is certainly of architectural interest, in a misshapen and off-putting sort of way (or so I think).

But more, I show these photos because they actually are rather informative, especially the one on the left. That one especially shows context, in the form of nearby places and other nearby buildings. In general, you get a feel for what sort of place Singapore is.

In Real Photographer photos, you get buildings like this looking super-cool and super-glamorous, in other words not how they actually look like when you get there.

I’ve said it before and will say it again now. Real Photographers photo photos that are super-nice. Amateur photoers often photo photos which tell you more about what a place is actually like. So it is, I think, with these photos that my mate Tom took.

My low opinion of this Cricket Stumps Thing is perhaps shared by whoever compiled this list of 10 Super Cool Buildings in Singapore You Might Not Have Noticed Before, because The Stumps are not included. That’s because you’ve probably already noticed them, rather than because it’s ugly. But the implied point of the list is: we have other and cooler buildings, besides and unlike The Stumps.

One of the Cool Buildings in this list is something called the “Interlace” Apartments, which is that pile of blocks of flats, all rectangular and each very boring, but piled up like a child’s set of big wooden bricks, all at angles to each other. There’s a photo of this Pile of Bricks in the list, of course. But I prefer this aerial photo of it, that I found elsewhere, and which I’d not seen before:

Once again, you get context. So I’m guessing: photoed from an airplane by an amateur photoer.

Tom’s photos of The Stumps were not photoed from an airplane, but rather from a nearby building. You can tell this because both were photoed from the exact same spot, but the clouds are different. Ergo, he was still when he photoed them.

Lethal White

I’ve just finished reading Lethal White, the latest Cormoran Strike book by J.K. Rowling, aka “Robert Galbraith”.

The book is very long, nearly eight hundred pages in the paperback version I read, and far longer than its three predecessors (all three of which I also possess and have read with enthusiasm). I’m guessing this was a trick that JKR discovered when writing her Harry Potter books., which I seem to recall got ever more huge both in their size and in their popularity as that series proceeded. If your readers love your stuff, they just cannot get enough of it. As I neared the end of Lethal White, the desire to find out what the hell explains everything vied with the desire to slow down because I didn’t want to be in a position where there was no more of the story to read.

I won’t tell you what I think of the plot, because that would involve revealing the plot, which is not done with detective fiction. Is the senior villain a satisfactory senior villain? Ditto. Why is the book called “Lethal White”? Not saying.

What I can tell you is that Lethal White, like all the Cormoran Strike books, is based in and around London, and the book features a number of locations with which I am well acquainted, including Denmark Street (with its musical instrument shops) where Strike lives and works. Strike and his side-kick Robin Ellacott have one of their close-of-play evening debriefing and note-comparing sessions in a pub near St James’s Park tube (also mentioned) called “The Two Chairmen” (that a “chairman” was a man who carried chairs for a living is explained), in one of the upstairs rooms of which Libertarian Home used to have their speaker events, which I often attended and where I did a few speeches myself. And one of the people whom Cormoran and Robin visit to question has a house in Upper Cheyne Row, the rather off-the-beaten-track street in Chelsea where Samizdata had its HQ until a short while back. There’s no doubt that knowing a lot of the places where this tale unfolds added greatly to the fun of reading it. (The Rebus books must surely sell particularly well in Edinburgh.)

Local appeal to Londoners like me aside, I think that maybe the key quality the Cormoran Strike books possess, and again maybe this one especially, is that the stories are not too carefully contrived. JKR’s imagination, you feel, really flew, when she was writing this one, especially the bits about Robin’s newly acquired husband, that being all part of why the book is so long. (The book opens with Robin’s wedding and its aftermath.) In Lethal White, things get said and things happen, which, you get the feeling, surprised its author, let alone the rest of us. (I was too old to become a Harry Potter devotee, but I suspect that something very similar can be said about those books.)

If a fictional work seems too contrived, too carefully constructed, too mechanically perfect, so to speak, then suddenly all you can see is the mechanism, the formula, the conscious calculation of the creator or creators about what the “secret” of the success of the franchise consists of. At which point this secret is no longer any sort of secret. Disbelief is suspended. The mere characters degenerate into robots. And we readers stop caring about what happens, because it becomes impossible for us to forget, while we attend to the story, that it is all just made up. It no longer even feels real.

I am well aware that Cormoran and Robin are made-up people, and that a lot of contrivance and construction went into the making of Lethal White. But while I was reading it, it didn’t, to me, feel that way.

I like what Jake Arnott of the Guardian says about Strike:

Strike is a wonderfully complex creature, with just the right balance of contradictions to guide us through this labyrinthine world. An overweight former boxer with one leg amputated below the knee, ex-military police – and you don’t get much more authoritarian than that – he grew up in the counterculture of squats and communes with a groupie mother who died of an overdose. He’s one of those lost souls who joined the army in search of family, an outsider who knows the belly of the beast. And the time taken in describing the day-to-day workings of his craft ensures that he’s plausible enough in his occupation. One element of realism is that Strike, having solved many high-profile murders (not something actual private investigators do much in real life), has now become famous and compromised in his operations. His cover is blown and this predicament seems heartfelt to the author. For we now know Robert Galbraith as the nom de plume of JK Rowling, who intended to write her crime novels incognito until someone blew the gaff. The opening line, after a long prologue, is the most quotable in the book: “Such is the universal desire for fame that those who achieve it accidentally or unwillingly will wait in vain for pity.”

Yes, I’d forgotten that first line. Now, I remember liking it a lot.

Ravenscourt Park photos

Yes, I was in Ravenscourt Park on Thursday evening, having a Libertarian Lads dinner in a restaurant there.

As I usually do when visiting spots that are unfamiliar, I was anxious not to be late and so got there very early. Which meant I had plenty of time to photo.

Here are the four:

The first was, obviously, taken at the tube station when I got there.

The second was also taken from the tube station, and makes the local Premier Inn and the building nearer look like all one, with the Premier Inn itself emerging out of the roof clutter which is actually across the road from it. (I do love aligning Things, don’t I?) Premier Inns: Machines For Staying In.

Photo three, taken of and through a bookshop window, is an illustration of the strong Polish presence in Ravenscourt Park. I assume that got started right after WW2, when exiled Poles decided they’d prefer to stay that way, what with the USSR having conquered their preferred country of choice.

Photo four is a motorbike. I love to photo motorbikes, especially in France, but also in Ravenscourt Park, if Ravenscourt Park is where I am and if Ravenscourt Park is where the motorbike is. This motorbike is trying to be an abstract sculpture, but it didn’t fool me. (It should have hidden its wheels better, for starters.) This is another in my ongoing series of photos that I like, that look like works of Art of the sort that I don’t much like. This fondness of mine, for photos that look like they’re Modern Art but which actually aren’t was something which I later persuaded some of my dining companions to discuss with me, and out of that I got one answer as to why I like such photos, which I may or may not (I promise nothing) tell you about, later, in a different posting.

Capitalism and socialism in tweets

I like both of these.

This:

Capitalism works better than it sounds. Socialism sounds better than it works.

And this:

Capitalism is the only reason socialism has any money to redistribute.

I like them, as in: I like them as pithily expressed things to think about. Not sure the first one in particular is actually true. Socialism, when you actually spell out what socialists want and what they think should be done to dissenters, turns out to be ghastly, long before it actually happens.

And if capitalism sounds worse than it is, maybe you aren’t saying it right.

Yesterday there were four postings here. Mostly small, but still, four. The above stuff is Twitter, but this blog is not Twitter. This blog leaves you time to have a little read and a life.

So, this is your lot for today.

On the other hand, if you have forty minutes to spare on subjects like the above, try listening to this. It’s the IEA’s Kristian Niemietz talking about socialism. He too thinks that capitalism is “counter-intuitive”. His manner is a lot more low-key and considered than you would expect it to be if you only followed him on Twitter.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog