Brian Micklethwait's Blog

In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Category archive: Society

Monday April 06 2015

Last night, I ventured out to dinner at Chateau Samizdata, hoping that my seeming recovery from flu would not be thrown into reverse.  I felt okay all last night, and I still do.  Not fully recovered, but okay.  But, my sense of taste was and is a mess, in fact now I think about it, it has been for several days.  I have always thought that I have good taste.  Don’t we all?  But just now, I don’t.  Things taste somewhat nasty and metallic.

A little sickness-googling got me to this website, which tells me what would seem to have been happening.  This is quite common, it would seem.

Dinner was great, really superb.  Thank you Adriana.  Even with my taste-buds misfiring, I could still tell that this was fabulously tasty food.  But I couldn’t really appreciate it properly.  It was rather like listening to great orchestral music, but in the Royal Festival Hall.

At least I was able to photo the food being photoed:

image

Nowadays, this being the twenty first century and all, I think this is the test of whether your cooking at least looks like it will be good.  Do your guests get out their smartphones and take snaps?  If so, success.  If no, fail.

Monday March 23 2015

First, an outstanding White Van photo snapped from what looks like the inside of a cafe, by Simon Gibbs, to whom profuse thanks:

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I’ve been photoing White Vans for a month and more, but have never got three of them in one go like that.  That arrived chez moi first thing this morning.

And then, to my amazement, this was this at Guido, also today:

image

That’s right.  Labour have launched there very own White Van!  You wouldn’t dare make that up.  I knew I was onto something with all this White Vannery.

The problem for the Labour Party here is that Essex White Van Man, the original beast, doesn’t work as an employee driver for Wellocks, or for Office Revival or for Yate Supplies (these being the enterprises who own and whose glory is proclaimed by Simon’s three White Vans above), and certainly not for the Labour Party.  He has his own White Van, which is entirely white, as you can see when you peruse that original tweet that got all this fuss started:

image

That snap being a recent one of mine.  And, as Guido points out, a proper Essex White Van is not a Merc, as the Labour White Van is.  He doesn’t go on to say that it should be a Ford Transit, as above, but it should.  The White Van in the original tweet is a Transit.

This new Labour White Van is supposed to separate Labour from the la-di-da world of London and to assert its connection to the common (i.e. non-rich-London) man.  But it fails to do this, because, as these recent White Van postings of mine have been explaining, White Vans covered in poncey graphics are now quintessentially London.  I assume that they have also become quintessentially Wigan and quintessentially Rotherham and for that matter quintessential Dagenham.  But I further assume that when true-blue Wiganians and Rotherhamians and Dagenhamians look at them, they see, not their local culture, but cultural imperialism by bloody London.

(Damn.  I did everything to this posting put actually post it “today”, so I’m leaving the date I originally attached to it.  Cheating I know but it talks about Monday as today, so Monday it is.)

Wednesday March 18 2015

Ever since that ruckus when a Labour Shadow Cabinet Ministress got into hot water with a tweet which involved a White Van, I’ve been photoing White Vans.  And, in fact, I think I have been doing this since before that little drama.  This White Van, photoed by me today in the Covent Garden area, is one of my favourites so far:

image

The point is, White Vans have rather gone up in the world.  Lots of them now come with much carefully designed décor and info.  London now abounds with fleets of White Vans thus decorated, white being the preferred colour by far.  It’s like an automotive uniform.

It’s as if White Vans have a sort of macho-stroke-ironic appeal to those who drive them, and to the rest of us.  The drivers, when asked what they do for a living, can say: I drive a White Van.  Oh, ha ha ha!  But no, not one of those White Vans, the sort they have in Essex.  Oh no.

Or alternatively, if the driver is a genuine White Van Man, with no irony involved, of the sort that lady politician was having a go at, he’s happy too, even if he would probably prefer plain white, rather than all that poncey verbiage.  And he’d rather have sacks of cement or tubs of plaster in the back there, rather than nerdy SF stuff.

Well, not sure about that.  But White Vans are definitely, as they say nowadays, a thing.

Saturday March 07 2015

I am probably going to start doing Twitter, quite soon, years after everyone else.  Does anyone have any advice about that?  About whether, and if so about how?

Frank J has advice to offer about why you should do it:

What is the purpose of writing? Did you say to share your thoughts? To influence? To educate? To entertain? To conjure made-up worlds and share them with others?

Well, that’s all nonsense. The purpose of writing is to demonstrate to everyone how clever you are.

Here is a frightful warning about how a tweet can ruin your life.  I now think I probably don’t have that much of a life to ruin, but perhaps Twitter will make me soon look back on my life now with desperate longing for a lost golden age.

My regular readers probably have a pretty good idea of what I might or might not use Twitter to do.  Any thoughts?  Or warnings?  Dos?  Don’ts?  What I did rights?  What I did wrongs?  Etc.

Tuesday February 24 2015

This blog is where, among other worthier things, I boast about what a clever fellow I am, given that not many other people are in the habit of saying this.  A recent incoming email from Michael Jennings, entitled “You told me about this 12 years before the New York Times did”, gives me another opportunity thus to indulge.

The New York Times piece is this, which is a about how rich people have less stuff than poor people, because stuff is now so cheap.

And I said this in this, just over twelve years ago, as Michael says.

I’m guessing it’s the BJT Bosanquet reference that he particularly remembered.

Friday December 05 2014

When I got to that ASI Christmas Party the other night, I was already in a grumpy mood, on account of not being allowed to bring three Opera Babes to the party.  That’s right.  The Adam Smith Institute didn’t have room for three glamorous young women, two of them at the Royal College of Music (Goddaughter 2 and her friend) and one of them (another friend of Goddaughter 2) who was auditioning for the Royal College of Music (having already been accepted last year by the Guildhall).  I had already arranged to bring Goddaughter 2, but the ASI having spurned her two glamorous Opera Babe friends, GD2 not unreasonably preferred to be with them.  I don’t mean that the ASI said: Opera Babes? - No thanks.  I mean that they didn’t even allow me to say that they were Opera Babes, so oversubscribed were they.  Or so she said.  The ASI lady put their names on the subs bench list in case of cancellations, but your guests only get on the pitch if the ASI tells you so beforehand, and I heard nothing.

So instead I went to the ASI Christmas Party with Goddaughter 2’s glamorous elder sister.  When I got there, it was clear that although there were many persons present, there was most definitely room for three more Opera Babes.  But, too many mostly very non-operatic males of the species had already signed up to be there, and they needed room to stand around in all-male groups and shout their opinions at each other.

So there I was at the ASI Christmas Party feeling grumpy, looking around the room and recognising hardly anyone, and feeling bad about having dragged GD2’s sister to this ghastly do and being so grumpy about it, and for about the first half hour of being there, I continued to be grumpy.  Three things, however, cheered me up.

First, I bumped into someone I did know, Anton Howes.  And it turns out that he has a new blog.  How very last decade, I said, but really, I was truly delighted to hear this, and started to feel that the evening was not going to be a total write-off after all.  I had actually learned something of genuine use and interest to me.  Cheer-me-up Thing Number One.

Cheer-me-up Thing Number Two, I got my camera out.  I think I saw some other person taking photos and I thought: time for me to do some soul stealing.  Was this uncouth?  Probably.  Would I look like an old prick?  Presumably.  But I was feeling like an uncouth old prick anyway, so out came the camera anyway.  And immediately I cheered up.  Suddenly, people cheered up when I approached them, and ceased from only talking about what they were talking about and instead started presenting themselves to my camera in a way that would make them look approximately as good as they were capable of looking.  And, if they ignored me, well, that’s fine, because when people ignore you and just carry on enjoying themselves, that, if you are a photographer rather than a human being, is good.

Cheer-me-up Thing Number Three: Eamonn Butler saw me taking photos, and approached.  Oh dear.  “Brian, could you please stop being such an uncouth old prick?  And if you do insist on photoing, could you please make a point of not photoing him, or him, or her.” Paranoid rubbish like that flashed up in my brain in between Eamonn being clearly about to say something and Eamonn actually starting to say it.  And what did he say?  He said: “Could you please send us a few of your best photos?” or words to that effect.  Hah!  I was now an officially designated photographer.  I was someone.  Instead of me fretting about not knowing anyone (and about not being allowed to be The Bloke Who Brought The Opera Babes), everyone else had to feel bad that they didn’t know me.  Hurrah!

And actually, when I bustled my way through the throng some more, snap snap snapping, it turned out that actually I did know quite a few of those present.

Here we have, I think, another impact of digital photography.  Digital photography cheers up people like me when we go to parties.  But, shame I couldn’t photo the Opera Babes.

All of which began life as a mere intro to me showing you lots of the photos I actually took at this do.  But, people who might google their way to - or maybe even be steered with a link towards - such photos won’t be wanting a long ramble attached to them about how I felt before and during the taking of them.  So, I’ll stick them up in a separate posting.  This I promise.

Friday November 14 2014

Every so often I toy with the idea of dumping my Feline Friday habit.  But what am I supposed to do with a headline that reads FBI’s most wanted cybercriminal used his cat’s name as a password?  Just ignore it?  Hardly.

And now that I am already doing a cat posting with a hi-tech vibe about it, how about What robots can learn from cats.  One of the things robots can learn from cats, it would seem, is how to land on their feet without doing themselves damage.  My favourite bit of this report is where some computer genius says:

“It’s not the fall that kills you. It’s the sudden stop at the end.”

How very true.

More hi-tech plus cats news: Buy your cat a robot: Mousr acts like real prey.

But as the tsunami of cattery on the www roars out across the planet threatening to drown everyone in feline freak facts, the backlash is getting underway.  Can a wave cause a backlash?  It can now.  What research says about cats: they’re selfish, unfeeling, environmentally harmful creatures.  They don’t love you, they slaughter endangered bird species, and they spread parasites that do your head in.

Finally, here are a couple of pictures I took last Sunday, in a Portobello Road coffee cafe:

image image

On the left there, Perry de Havilland (Samizdata supremo) shows me a cat picture on his mobile, and on the right, on Michael J’s mobile, no cat connection, but far too good a headline to ignore.

People drone on about how our new toys have replaced real socialising.  But here we observe them spicing up real socialising, by giving us something to chuckle about, while sitting right next to each other.

Also mentioned during our little bit of face-to-face socialising was this epoch-nailing scene.

Wednesday November 12 2014

One of the problems of big arrays of Poppies is that, like at funerals, you feel a certain pressure to adopt the proper tone of solemnity, like you being solemn is going to stop the First World War having happened, or something.  No, really, I do get it.  It’s very sad, what with all those soldiers having died, and what with lots of the people present perhaps remembering particular departed loved ones.  You probably shouldn’t be enjoying yourself too obviously.

And in particular, you probably shouldn’t be doing this.  But, you do it anyway:

image image
image image

But maybe that is just me, being a bit grumpy, and using my grumpiness as an excuse to violate the privacy of strangers who really weren’t doing anything very wrong.  Nobody else seemed to have any problem with these selfie takers.  The feeling seemed to be: This Thing means, to you, whatever you decide it means to you.  If what it means to you is a chance for you to take a smiling selfie with lots of bright red in the background, well, okay.  And I think I agree.

I certainly had fun photoing these people.

Tuesday September 16 2014

We have most of us seen these tiny little cars they make nowadays, which are about half the length of regular cars.  A seemingly obvious usefulness of such vehicles, aside from them using half the metal and less money and power to make them and move them, is that they can be parked at ninety degrees to regular parking, which does away with the need for all that “parking” and doubles (and more) the amount of space available for everyone to park in.

But you seldom see such cars actually parked liked that, and when you do …:

image

… (as I did about a week ago near to where I live) you realise that this is actually a much more complicated arrangement than it might at first appear to be.

Suppose you see a half-parking-space, between two other cars, and you park your half-car in that space, at ninety degrees to those two cars.

You just might be making it impossible for one or even both of those cars to get out, unless you do first.  I mean, maybe the car beyond the half-car above can get out.  Maybe those two cars are cooperatively parked, so to speak, with both vehicles arriving and leaving at the same time.  But maybe the bigger car arrived first and will want to leave first, and was relying on being able to move backwards to get out, in which case …

Which actually makes me think this was cooperative parking, by the two vehicles in concert.  Otherwise there would be just too much potential grief involved.

I can’t think, off hand, of an easy way to sort all this out.  So, just as well it’s not my job to worry about such things.

There is also the fact that the half-car in my picture, isn’t actually quite a half-car, more like a two-fifths- three-fifths- or three-quarters-car, and it sticks out annoyingly.  This doesn’t matter much in a big wide road like the one shown, but in other roads it might matter a lot.

While browsing the archives looking for a photo to have on the front of my computer, combining niceness with not making my stuff invisible, I came across a rather good photo.

The horizontalisation opportunity was too good to miss:

image

Click to get it all.

Not good for the front of my computer.  Too much going on.  No big clear slabs of nothing for computer ikons to be seen against.  But I like it.

It was taken in 2012, from the top of a car park in Peckham.

More shots of and from the same spot, here.

Tuesday July 22 2014

I haven’t yet finished showing you photos from that Adam Smith Institute Boat Trip, that I got in on and took lots of photos of, at the beginning of this month, and which I have been showing here, now and again, ever since then.  I’m hardly even close.

For instance, it’s taken me three quarters of a month to get around to it, but, of course, there were other photographers present besides me:

image image imageimage image imageimage image imageimage image imageimage image image

I chose these pictures simply because they fitted the bill subject matter wise, and because they look nice.  I did not choose them to illustrate any particular point about digital photography.

The result being that they do illustrate a particular point about digital photography.  Consider the stats.

There are two regular old school digital cameras to be seen snapping (1.1 and 1.3), three if you count mine.  There is also just the one big tablet being used (3.3). 

All the other photographers are using mobile phones.

Usually, when I photograph photographers, there are more regular old school dedicated digital cameras to be seen.  But this is because I am photographing lots of “photographers”, i.e. people like me, who see themselves as more photography-minded than regular people.

What this boat trip illustrates is how much regular people now use their mobiles to take photos, in among all that networking and connecting and chatting and socialising.  It isn’t so much that mobiles have replaced those tiny, cheap digital cameras, although yes it is that, a bit.  But it is more that mobiles can now take photos, so now they do.  A lot of photos are now being taken that would not have been taken at all, before mobile phones learned how to take photos, by people for whom mobile phones are essential, and photography with mobile phones began only as an extra.

And you can bet that many of the photos that the above people were taking were already flying off into the big www beyond, to work their propaganda magic, promoting the ASI, its Boat Trip, and the people who went on it, before the trip was even over.

Young people these days are quicker off the mark than I am.  That’s their job.  And being slower off the mark is mine.

Thursday July 17 2014

The are two photos which I took last Monday.  The one with the bright blue sky, me looking up, was taken in Wigmore Street.  The one looking down, was taken from the ME Hotel Radio Rooftop Bar.

They are photos not so much of roof clutter, as of roofs, roof in all their elaborately designed glory.  But, you can spot the late twentieth century incursions:

image image

The aesthetic impact of radio and television aerials does not seem to be much discussed in the architectural world.  It could be that it has, and I merely haven’t noticed, but I don’t think that’s it.

Here is what I think is going on inside the heads of architectural aestheticians, on this subject.  The deal we will make with you mindless philistines is: you can have your damn aerials, because we know that if you are not allowed, by us, to have your damn aerials, you will hunt us down and burn us at the stake.  But, we refuse to talk about them.  We will not incorporate them into our aesthetic theories of how things look, and should look.  We will not see them.

Which is how we got from the above scenario, where everything on the roof is elaborately designed, but the first few aerials have crept into the pictures, but have not been seen by the architects and their aesethetic guides, to this:

image

Yet still, they don’t see it and they don’t talk about it.

Really, really weird.

I’ve been pondering roof clutter for a while now, but the more I ponder it, the more weird the phenomenon is.

What this reminds me of is a distinction that my sociology teachers at Essex University all those years ago made much of, that between the sacred and the profane.  The sacred stuff here is the regular “architecture”, the walls, the windows, the roofs, the interiors, and so on.  All of that is sacred, and is accordingly obsessed over, every tiny square inch of it, every subtle colour change, just as priests obsess about every word in a prayer.

But those aerials are profane.  They don’t register.  They aren’t architecture, any more than a tracksuit worn by a impoverished member of the congregation in a church is a sacred vestment, the details of which must be argued about by bishops and theologians, or the sales pitch being done over the phone on Monday morning (by someone who had been devoutly praying on Sunday) is itself a prayer.  That sales pitch is profane.  Forget about it.  Don’t even think about it.

Those aerials, in among the sacredness of all those designed chimneys and roofs and little towers, are profane.  And hence invisible.  Aerials are designed, by aerial designers, to make sense of radio waves.  But they are not designed to be looked at.  They are a pure case of form following function.  Architects ought to love them, if they believed their prayers.  But they don’t because what is there for architects to add?  Nothing.  The job has all been done, by profane aerial designers.

Well, I don’t know.  I’m thinking as I go along here, but writing it anyway.  Which is all part of why I have this blog.  At this blog, I am allowed to be wrong.  This is a thinking allowed zone, you might say, a place where the thinking does not have to be done before the blogging begins.  This is, you might say, a profane blog.

Wednesday May 07 2014

For quite a while now, I’ve had a window open (which I would like now to shut and now I can) on these STUNNING PHOTOS OF WHAT THE WORLD LOOKS LIKE FROM THE COCKPIT, and in particular on this photo, which is number 4 of the set, of some houses outside Las Vegas:

image

Visuals can be misleading.  It looks like a prison, or perhaps a military encampment.  People are either being kept in, or it must be possible, as and when, to keep people out.  America, land of the free?  Certainly not.  But neither is the actual story, is it?

Here is another picture from the same set (number 7), of another scene out in the desert near Las Vegas:

image

Put that picture next to the first one, and perhaps you get a true handle on what is going on, in both pictures.  What is being controlled here is not people.  It’s water.  Those golf greens are there because water keeps them green.  There are even a couple of big old artificial lakes.  No water, and everything turns light brown again, and the desert takes back everything.

And the reason the houses are all in a clump like that, rather than scattered around the landscape, is surely also, at least partly, again: water.  All those houses depend on the same centralised water supply.

Two of the other pictures in this set also involve organised water.  Number 1 is an artificial wave pool, in Florida.  And the final picture involves a swimming pool, in Boston.

So, despite the appearance of the first picture, America is a free country.  But it is also a very organised country.

I particularly smile at how that golf course is in a giant ocean of sand, and in it they contrive these elongated artificial islands of green, and then within these green islands, they put smaller bits of artificial desert.  Where else would you see bits of fake desert, in a real desert?

Sunday January 19 2014

As my talk deadline (tomorrow evening) approaches, further insights keep rearranging themselves in my brain.

Not long ago, I read Alex Singleton’s new book (he will be speaking at my home on Friday 31st of this month) about how to do P(ublic) R(elations).  (Not so long before reading that book, I read another book in which PR meant, throughout, P(hoto) R(econnaissance).  How the world keeps changing (see below).)

I don’t recall any of the facts in this book of Alex’s about how to do PR being any sort of shattering revelation.  Rather was the book a relentless drip-drip-drip of what is called “commonsense”, that is, of facts which might well be true, which would make sense if true, and which are, in the opinion of one who knows, actually true, as opposed to some other equally commonsensical notions about these or those circumstances, which, in the opinion of the same expert, are not true.  Yet Alex telling me all the things he knows about how to do PR hardly begins to turn me into a PR expert, even though I am now at least passingly acquainted with every important principle, or even fact, that he has gathered up during his PR-ing over the last few years, and furthermore now know (or think I know) where to look to reacquaint myself with all these facts.

What distinguishes Alex from me as a PR-er is that he not only has his facts right, but that he also has them, as the saying goes, “at his fingertips”.  That is, he knows how to deploy the pertinent fact at the pertinent time, again and again.  He makes connections between his facts, and knows, from experience, which fact matters at which particular moment.  He has his facts properly arranged and cross-referenced, inside his head.  He knows his way around his facts.  All I have is an ill-remembered list of facts.

Trying to “make sense” (as I now am) of digital photography is like that.  I already know everything about digital photography that I need to know, pretty much, as (I’m guessing) do you.  The problem is making sense of what I know, of putting it all together and relating this fact to that fact, in a way that is slightly interesting and surprising, yet also true.

I now find myself thinking about digital photography as part of that wider historical change known by labels like: the Information Revolution.  The Information Revolution kicked off, I would say, on May 11th 1844, when the first message between two different cities (Washington and Baltimore) was sent by electric telegraph.  It is intrinsic to digital photography that it is photography that can be communicated.

The effect of the Information Revolution has been to unleash a succession of changes in the texture of everyday life, with each successive decade being defined by whatever stage the Information Revolution happened to have arrived at at that particular passing moment.  Photography is both an example of such a change, and the means of recording and remembering and celebrating such changes.  Photography remembers things like tablets and iPhones, just as in earlier times it remembered and still remembers big mobile phones, antique microphones, dance crazes, the social structure of successive pop combos, fashions in costume and make-up, and so forth and so on.  (Photography also remembers successive iterations of the Industrial Revolution, like trains, cars, airplanes and wars.)

Photography remembers, among many other things, itself.  Digital photography remembers, among even more other things, itself.

Tuesday December 24 2013

I like this, from David Byrne:

I’m not saying that the artist doesn’t put their feelings into it, or any part of their biography, but that there’s a lot of constraints and considerations and templates that they work with – unconscious decisions or constraints put upon them that guide what they’re going to do.

Otherwise, why didn’t people in the 14th century start writing full-blown operas with giant orchestras and whatever?  These things just weren’t available to them. Our imaginations are constrained by all these other things — which is a good thing. There’s kind of a process of evolution that goes on where the creative part of you adapts to whatever circumstances are available to you. And if you decide you want to make pop songs, or whatever, there’s a format. You can push the boundaries pretty far, but it’s still a recognized thing. And if you’re going to do something at Lincoln Center, there’s a pretty prescribed set of things you are going to do. You can push that form, but kind of from inside the genre. So I guess I’m saying that a lot of creative decisions are kind of made for us, and the trick is then working creatively within those constraints.

Happy is the artist whose inner inclinations happen to fit perfectly with the artistic forms he is offered, with audiences as they are - or as he can easily make them.

And, happy is the artist whose artistic wishes are in alignment with his artistic talents.

It is constantly said that “if Mozart had been alive today” he would have done this or that, and in all cases: a lot.  But maybe he would have done nothing.  Maybe he would have turned away from music-making nowadays in disgust and contempt, or maybe just frustration that it could not be what he wanted it to be.  We can never know.