Brian Micklethwait's Blog
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Most recent entries
- Confirmation that map use has seriously declined
- Comrade Blimp
- Ashes to ashes
- La Porte des Indes
- Friend on telly
- Sculpture at St James’s Tube
- Digital photographers holding maps
- More photos of things past
- Father Christmas Aerodrome
- How big should these squares be?
- Daniel Hannan’s latest book(s?)
- The Kelpies of Falkirk
- A quota thought that (luckily for me) went nowhere
- Polish girls in Moscow doing a selfie
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Category archive: Society
Like the space in an Elizabethan court masque that the performers left for the courtiers themselves to step forward and take part, today everyone needs to work out how to create a stage on which the constellation of divas formerly known as the audience will strike their own pose.
That’s to be found under this headline:
The Long View: Bob Dylan and the selfie: The world’s now a stage and we’re all performing
And under this photo:
Are yes, selfies. Says Sidwell, re this new word:
Even as I cling to my old-fashioned desire to take photographs of the things that I see, “selfie” – the new nickname for a photographic self-portrait – has been declared Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year, following a 17,000 per cent increase in usage year-on-year.
I have been long been studying this phenomenon. We may not have had the word “selfie” in 2007, but there were already many, many people doing selfies:
That being one of my all time favourites from my selfies archive.
LATER: Incoming from Michael Jennings:
Taken, says Michael, on a ferry between Greece and Albania in July.
Anton Howes spoke earlier this evening to Libertarian Home, about what made the Industrial Revolution get started. I took this photo of Howes, as he relaxed afterwards:
Howes really is a class act, as I already knew from when he addressed my Brian’s Last Friday, in July. What he has to say about the Industrial Revolution is already fascinating, and full of fascinating detail. When he has done all his research, then this talk will turn into something very formidable.
Meanwhile, a way to understand where Howes is coming from, and what kind of thesis he is exploring the further biographical and other detail of, is to read a book called Bourgeois Dignity, by Deirdre McCloskey. Howes recommended this book at the talk he gave in July. I bought a copy and am reading it now.
McCloskey’s basic thesis is that the thing that made the difference was ideas. The Industrial Revolution was not merely a bunch of people responding to economic incentives. It was people doing something they had come to believe in, surrounded by other people who also got the point, enough to let them get on with it. The Industrial Revolution was an ideology, brought to life by a core community of industrial inventors and creators, and sufficiently bought into by the wider society for those creators not to be suppressed.
The Industrial Revolution had plenty of chances to happen far earlier, in such places as China and Imperial Rome. That it did not happen earlier in such places is because, although the material conditions seemed to be all present and correct, they just weren’t thinking the right way to make the breakthrough. So McCloskey says, anyway.
As to what Howes said, well, the good news is that, unlike the talk he gave at my place, tonight’s talk was recorded on video by Simon Gibbs, and will accordingly materialise at Libertarian Home, by and by.
So, could this also work for cats?
And for all the cat lovers out there, don’t accuse Polimeno of being biased toward pooches. Finding Kitty is in the works.
A lot of the cat stuff I stick up here on Fridays is things I find by googling for “cat” news. But this I learned about by getting regular google emails that come to me about face recognition.
Face recognition software is, I predict (as do many others I’m sure), going to have all kinds of weird unintended consequences. This is only the start of it.
For instance, scientists: Which animals have faces that face recognition software can distinguish between, and which not? What does those answers mean?
What about face recognition errors, joining you up with relatives or long lost twins you never knew you had?
What will face recognition do to the lookalike trade? “How much like Brad Pitt do I look? Face recognition couldn’t tell the difference, that’s how much!”
Will face recognition answer the question: Which celebrity do I most look like?
Any more stuff like that that anyone can think of?
Yesterday was a grey and drizzly day, as was today come to that.
This didn’t look as good as it would have on a sunny day.:
That’s Barclays Bank, Kings Cross. I can’t help thinking that all that razzamatazz reflects rather badly on Barclays Bank, Kings Cross, even though Barclays Bank, Kings Cross, is not itself razzamatazzed.
This, on the other hand, is just what you want on a grey and drizzly day:
However, although you may want it, so (I fear) will tramps, and tramps always win such contests, don’t they? Whoever smells worse and looks scarier wins. So, unless you are yourself a tramp, this will be a no go area for you, as for me.
Just for now, however, no tramps, and here is how it looks when I point my camera upwards:
Very seventies. Very trashy. But, it keeps the drizzle off. I guess what’s happening here is that middle-aged architects, who were tiny tots in super-trendy seventies households with all the trappings of the time, are now powerful enough to be doing it again, in a vain attempt to recapture their lost youths.
This roof is between Westminster City Hall and that new office block with the crazy angled walls, in Victoria Street.
Prominent opinionators don’t need to alert the world to the fact that some opinion they said or wrote is being attended to, a bit more than the world might otherwise have assumed. It’s rather like how heads of state don’t have to dress up in fancy uniforms with lots of medals attached to prove how important they are. Everyone already knows. Lesser persons, whose upward social motions either happen through their own continuing social climbing efforts or do not happen at all, cannot afford to be so tasteful and fastidious.
The Samizdata posting that the Quotulator quotulates from, which says that, in the Quotulator’s words, Obama is doing quite well at the things he cares about, was partly the result of something that my friend Alastair James said to me recently, to the effect that rather too many recent Samizdata postings consisted of someone saying something that everyone who reads and writes for or comments at Samizdata agrees with, and then lots of commenters saying: I agree. I agree.
England are now facing the distinct possibility of having to follow on in the third test, having won the first two. Because there was a pause after the second, which England won by a huge margin of 347 runs, there was a small torrent of commentary to the effect that Australian cricket is doomed, doomed, and will take years to recover, if it indeed ever recovers. Titles to savour include: A tale of two depths - While England plan, Australia dream - Australia: hubris, despair, panic - What can Australia learn from English cricket? - Ashes 2013: Sheffield Shield decline lies behind Australia’s demise - There is no easy way back for these Aussies - Australia’s darkest hour shows no sign of dawn.
My favourite Australian Cricket is Doomed piece has been, I think, A schoolboy curse, which is about why posh Australian schools don’t produce top cricketers, apart from Warne. The problem is that promising posh boys don’t play against men, only against other less good posh boys. Boys from scuzzy government schools, on the other hand, play for local clubs on Saturdays, against tough bastard older blokes, and thereby get better and better.
Yes, I know. Warne is posh?
In England the problem is that only posh boys ever seem to get good at cricket. You’d think this would make England worse.
Incoming from Craig Willy, of whom I did not know until now:
I see you’ve written a great deal on Emmanuel Todd. I have just written a summary of his big history book, L’invention de l’Europe. I thought you might find it interesting.
I also see you have the impression he mainly criticizes the U.S. for being a “hollowed out,” financialized “fake” economy. In fact he is incredibly critical of the eurozone, for that very reason, which he argues is responsible for the hollowing out, dysfunction and financialism of the French and peripheral European economies.
All the best, and feel free to share if you write anything new on Todd. My Twitter.
In response to my email thanking him for the above email, and asking if he has written anything else about Todd, Willy writes:
I discuss him a fair bit on my Twitter feed as he offends many with his criticism of Germany and euroskepticism. Otherwise I just wrote this short piece on Todd and the euro from a while back.
This I have now read. Very interesting, and I think very right. Interesting parallel between the Euro and the Algerian War.
Things appear to be really motoring on the Todd-stuff-in-English front. At last.
Yesterday I was out and about, in the Kings Road. But I forgot my proper camera and Sod’s Law went swinging into action and put a great big old Wedding Celebration under my nose just after I got off of the bus, right outside Chelsea Town Hall, with guests clogging the pavement and everything, getting in the way of people trying to just go along the pavement. They were dressed to show off. They were showing off. On the pavement. Fair photographic game, I decided. If you shove your wedding under the noses of the world, on one of the world’s pavements, the world is allowed to take photos. But then I discovered the ghastly truth: no proper camera.
But, I had my Google Nexus 4. And it was a sunny day and it did okay:
I noticed a couple of really old cameras in the throng, but none of my pictures featured any of those, or not close up so you could see the oldness. Shame.
Weddings, it occurs to me, are where old cameras are likely to appear, in the hands of people who have such cameras, but seldom use them (maybe because they used to use them a lot but then stopped) and hence felt no need to replace them. But then, when there’s a wedding, they dig them out and hope for the best.
This is a short posting, just to make a note of some links that I have acquired, to things about Emmanuel Todd. Microsoft is in the habit of shutting down my computer without warning, and I don’t want to have to go hunting for them again.
Here is a review of a new book about America called America 3.0 (which I already have on order from Amazon), by James Bennet and Michael Lotus. This book includes some of Todd’s ideas about family structure by way of explaining why the America of the near future will be particularly well suited to the free-wheeling individualism of the next few years of economic history.
In this review, T Greer says:
I was delighted to find that much of this analysis rests of the work of the French anthropologist Emmanuel Todd. I came across Mr. Todd’s work a few months ago, and concluded immediately that he is the most under-rated “big idea” thinker in the field of world history.
Greer also makes use of this map, which first appeared in this New York Times article:
Slowly, very slowly, Emmanuel Todd is starting to be noticed in the English speaking world.
Finally. Well, yes, fair comment, but I had and I have my reasons.
One of the reasons there have been so many inanimate objects in these wedding photos so far is that I got there so very, very early. And it was such a lovely day, and such a lovely place. What was I supposed to do? Not take photos of stuff?
But another reason for the relative absence of people in these photos is that just shoving random wedding photos of people at a wedding and its immediate aftermath onto the internet raises the question of just how public a wedding is. Is it the business of the entire world? Not really. Not necessarily. (Think of the arguments that rage about who may and may not photograph celebrity weddings. These arguments are not only about money.)
So, are weddings entirely private? Again, not really.
A wedding is certainly not just about the Bride and the Groom. They are of course central to everything, and in modern, self-scripted weddings, we guests are often included in the proceedings by being told that we are “sharing” this “special day”. But I think more is involved than us merely sharing a basically personal ceremony. What these two people, and typically also their two families, are doing is proclaiming to one and to all that, as of now, things are different. The Bride and the Groom are no longer separate individuals in quite the way they were before this day. They are now, in whatever way they want to do this, a couple. Still two individuals of course, but also in it together. And they are not just saying this to each other. They are saying it to … everyone. We are now living a different life. Back us up, people. Don’t hit on either of us during marital rough patches. Help us to live this new life we are embarking on, rather than expecting us to behave like the singles we used to be. If you are a long time friend of hers, but don’t much care for him, make the effort to change that, and meanwhile, keep your grumbles about him to yourself.
In the past, holding weddings in public was even more important, because only if you had lots of witnesses could most of those directly concerned be entirely sure that the wedding had even happened. Public ceremonies, a marriage ceremony being only one such, were public ceremonies in order that everyone could then agree that they had happened, on that day, in that place, and that this or that, these or those promises had indeed been exchanged. In pre-literate times, public ceremonies were the nearest thing most people had to a collective record of events. They weren’t merely the principal form of public propaganda (although there definitely were that too); they were the public record.
As the old Church of England marriage ceremony puts it, right at the very start of the event:
Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; …
God, this congregation, this Man, this Woman. The congregation is no afterthought.
But exactly who, at a wedding these days, are the members of this congregation? In the internet age, is the congregation the entire world? Hardly. Yes, families and friends gather together to tell each other, and then to pass the word on to all their families and friends, that, as of now, they’re a couple and we will all help them to be a couple and to stay a couple. But what of total strangers on the other side of the world? Do you want random bods in faraway places to be told all about this event, and all about who was present at it, what they were wearing, and about how drunk they all got? Maybe you will be delighted to be telling absolutely anyone who cares all about it. But, maybe you will not.
So, in this next clutch of photos I have once again downplayed the individual portrait aspect of things, and concentrated on the kind of generic wedding-ness of the event. Ceremonial niceties, beautiful or quirky fashion statements, food, sunshine, music making, distant shots of brideness and groomness. But individual, recognisable faces? Once again, hardly any.
For me, the fact that, in my pictures of my fellow amateur wedding photographers, faces are so often hidden behind cameras is a feature rather than a bug, when it comes to showing my snaps, at least in theory, potentially, to total strangers. That’s basically why there are more photos in that collection than there are in this one.
Let me add another point on the anonymity front, relating to the sticking up of photos of people on a blog. Let me put it thus: I have quite a few subjects which I instruct Google to email me about whenever anyone mentions them on the big old www. One of these subjects is “face recognition”. I get a lot of emails from Google about that, often involving Google itself.
By now, the name and face of the Groom is not much of a secret to any friends of mine or of his or of both who care, what with him explicitly name-checking a couple of us guests for a couple of our photos (in this piece), my one being one of the sign photos I took beforehand. I did take quite a lot of portraits of people at the event itself, of course I did. But they will be thrown into the photographic bran tub that the Bride and Groom will presumably trawl through about once every decade, without casual internet passers-by seeing them. I may even have the odd trawl through them myself in the years to come. But as for the rest of you, you will have to make do with snaps like this:
As you can see, this is not just the ceremony itself. It is also the reception.
In 2.1 we see the Bride putting a ring on the Groom. And in 1.2 we see us guests passing … something along between us, but I already forget what it was. This was in accordance with some kind of Hindu ceremony that the Groom had read about on the internet and, if I recall what the Bride’s Mum said, we (i.e. regular Hindus) never do. So the Groom, no sort of Hindu himself, had invented an entire Hindu wedding tradition. Outstanding.
I particularly enjoyed the bit later on in the day (see 3.2) where the Bride and Groom, surrounded by musicians, were photoed together, at the far end of the lawn from the rest of us. I got no really good photos of this, but what I saw reminded me somewhat of this famous Jack Vettriano painting, of people dancing on the beach, attended not by musicians but by umbrella holders. I thought there were musicians involved in that picture, but I now reckon I was combining in my mind that painting with this one. Ah, it seems that the man with the umbrella was singing. So music was involved.
Setting Vettriano aside, one of the musicians told me that although they had performed at many weddings, they had never, ever been asked to do anything like that before. So it was a slightly special day for them also. Excellent.
No I haven’t forgotten about that wedding. There are quite a few more photos to show to the massed ranks of BrianMicklethwaitDotCom readers, this time of photographers:
Amateur and ubiquitous digital photography has transformed wedding photography utterly, but I don’t think it has yet seen off the professionals, provided they learn to keep up.
The fundamental difference between the amateurs and the pros, and I’m guessing this applies to many other things besides photography that I already know about in other parts of my brain, is that whereas amateurs hope they will get lucky with some of their efforts, but can’t guarantee it (especially, with photography, if the weather turns hostile), the pros know how to get good results every time, no matter what.
And even on a perfect day such as this one was, the pros still have an edge, because they are better at handling really bright light, just as they are better at making the best of insufficient light.
With wedding photography, the pros can also spend the time getting to know their customers, getting a feel for what kind of people they are, and in particular finding out which photos are going to be in the must-get-right category. What you pay for is the certainty (as near as is humanly possible) that a decent number of your wedding snaps will be really good.
And then the rest of us pile in with our amateur efforts, and maybe manage to add a few more snaps to the Greatest Snaps collection, even as that list will still be dominated by the pros. (I suppose one should add that amateurs are an invaluable back-up in the event that you get seriously unlucky with your pros, even if it’s only because the pros are good pros, but they got seriously unlucky for some appalling freak reason.)
All of which is a preamble to flagging up Mike & Heather, who were the pros on this particular occasion. You can surely tell from my snaps who Mike and Heather are. If you are in any doubt, they’re the two in, to name but one, the bottomest, rightest picture above.
As to the quality of the work Mike and Heather did, I can only guess and hope. Well, more like assume. But something else that I can be entirely sure that these two very nice people did definitely bring to this party was that they are very nice people, who fitted in well with the rest of us, and in my case, even gave me a few nice little tips. I recall a wedding where this did not happen. The pro photographer (there was only one) seemed to regard all of us amateurs as the enemy, and even the guests generally as hardly more than a necessary evil to be either ignored or else shooed out of the way at important photographic moments. You can see how a pro wedding photographer might come to feel this way, but even so, that’s not what you want, is it?
Last night I attended a dinner at Chateau Samizdata.
Lots of photos were taken, and not just by me. The basic reason for all the photography was that the food was the sort of food that deserved to be memorialised in pixels:
And once one camera is out, I get out mine to photo the photoing, and from then on it escalates. As well as three old school cameras like mine, there were also several tablets and smart phones in action. In fact, there were probably more cameras present last night than there were people (which I reckon to be an interesting moment in social history) especially if you include cameras like the camera in my mobile phone. This stayed in my jacket pocket all night, but it was there.
Here is Michael J photoing two of our fellow guests:
And finally, here are a couple of snaps of our host and hostess, being photoed ...:
... and then looking at the result a few seconds later:
As I keep on saying, the history of photography just now is not that this or that famous photographer has just taken a bunch more famous photos. It is that we all now have these things.
This Samizdata posting, for instance, is about a guy using a great big iPad to photo Westminster Abbey. Scorn was expressed by some commenters at how stupid this man was making himself look. I disagree strongly, as did Michael Jennings.
Michael’s comment about this deserves further attention and here it is in full:
It is believed that the reason that the first generation iPad did not have cameras was because Steve Jobs believed that people using it to take photographs would look ridiculous. This received complaints, not so much for people who wanted to use it to take photographs, but for parents of small children. Point the iPad at the baby, start up a video conference with the grandparents, allow the grandparents to watch the baby, and the grandparents will be happily occupied for hours.
However, people then started using the iPad for taking photographs anyway. So, Apple gave it a decent camera. I have one myself, and I prefer taking photographs with it to taking photographs with a cellphone camera. Whether that is the quality of the camera, I am not sure. (By standards of cellphone cameras, the one in the iPad is of high quality, but most high end phones have cameras of similar quality). I think it may be the screen. Everybody who takes digital photographs knows the experience of taking what you think is a good photograph, but discovering later that it is blurry, but being unable to tell that at the time on the tiny screen on the camera. The iPad has a large, very high resolution screen, so you have a much better ability to tell at once if you have taken a good picture or not. If you haven’t, there may even be a chance to take it again.
A final good thing about the iPad is its fantastic battery life. (This isn’t hard to explain - if you look at pictures of the innards of an iPad it is almost entirely battery). At the end of a busy day, its not uncommon to find that your batteries are low or completely depleted on all your devices except the iPad. You see something that needs photographing, so you use the iPad simply because it is still going.
As for looking ridiculous, that is all about what is normal and expected. If everyone does it, it no longer looks ridiculous.
To me what is truly ridiculous is refraining from doing what works best, because you think that looks ridiculous. It’s like that thing about being cool. If you are trying to be cool, you are by definition failing. If your over-riding concern is not to look ridiculous, then you are being ridiculous.
To illustrate the matter further, Michael immediately added another comment, which included this photo, also deserving of a wider audience than it may get while buried in a comment thread:
Underneath which Michael added:
For instance, if on a slow afternoon you unexpectedly find your self at the tomb in Jerusalem where protestants believe that Christ rose from the dead, it can be really helpful to have your iPad with you.
Last night, Michael and I both attended the Adam Smith Institute Christmas Party. Here is my photo of Michael, taking a picture of me with his iPad:
And here is my photo of Michael’s photo of me, as instantly displayed on his iPad:
Michael could be sure that his photo was in focus even as he was taking it, and certainly immediately afterwards. I could only be sure that my photo of his photo was also in focus when I got home, and actually, a great many of the other photos that I took at this shindig were not properly in focus, there being somewhat insufficient light (with what there was of it typically being ill-directed for my purposes), and people being prone to move about when they converse with one another. Which makes Michael’s point yet again.
Last Wednesday, for reasons that had nothing to do with any attempt to take the photos that follow, I found myself at Piccadilly Circus. This is always a fun spot to photo photographers, but on this particular night they were out in force, because also present were Halloween revellers, typically themselves armed with cameras. Here are some of the better snaps I snapped, of all the Halloween fun and games:
I hope (although I promise nothing) to be doing a Samizdata posting, Real Soon Now, along the lines of: Is Halloween Replacing Bonfire Night in Britain? I shall be keeping an ear open next Monday (November 5th) to hear if there is any abatement on the explosion front.
Nice for me that one of them was a cat, what with it now being Friday and all.
This blogging stuff really works. I blog here about Emmanuel Todd, and a blink of an eye (i.e. about a couple of years or more) later, these two American guys are writing a book about America, concerning which they say things like this:
America 3.0 gives readers the real historical foundations of our liberty, free enterprise, and family life. Based on a new understanding our of our past, and on little known modern scholarship, America 3.0 offers long-term strategies to restore and strengthen American liberty, prosperity and security in the years ahead.
America 3.0 shows that our country was founded as a decentralized federation of communities, dominated by landowner-farmers, and based on a unique type of Anglo-American nuclear family. . . .
And that “little known modern scholarship” is, among other things, the work of Emmanuel Todd. If you look at the (quite short) “Essential Readings” list to the right at America 3.0 you will see, among other links, these:
America 3.0 will be on my Essential Reading list just as soon as I can get my hands on a copy.