Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
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Simon Gibbs on The River Thames carpet
Brian Micklethwait on The River Thames carpet
Simon Gibbs on The River Thames carpet
Alan Little on The localness of London's weather
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- 5G Boris
- Out from under the weather
- Smaller Old Thing in front of Big New Things
- A Sunday ramble
- ASI Boat Trip 8: Bridges
- Cat news
- Quota selfie from 2006
- ASI Boat Trip 7: Other photographers
- Nine reflections
- The localness of London’s weather
- Round headlights equals an old car
- The River Thames carpet
- Cats … on scaffolding … with shadows …
- Sacred architecture and profane roof clutter - a speculation
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Category archive: Society
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:
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.
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:
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 hut 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:
Yet still, they don’t see it and they don’t talk about.
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.
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:
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:
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?
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.
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.
I am, as noted in the previous posting, reading Deidre McCloskey’s Bourgeois Dignity. At the join between page 350 and page 351, I learn this:
The second sons of British aristocrats, such as Richard Howe, had long joined even the technically demanding and bourgeois navy. They stood on the quarterdecks facing enemy fire, as aristocrats should, but their fellow offers were the sons of lawyers or of clergymen (such as Sir Frances William Austen, Admiral of the Fleet in 1863 and Jane Austen’s brother; and Sir Charles Austen, another brother and another admiral).
I did not know this, that is to say, I did not know (in particular) the bit in the brackets. That explains a great deal about the novel Persuasion, in which the best men are navy men, and the biggest arse is an aristocrat.
Jane Austen’s books are popular because, despite the way they look on television, they are precisely not unthinking celebrations of aristocratic privilege and excellence. Upwardly mobile traders are accorded dignity, and aristocrats who despise tradesmen for trading are in their turn despised by Jane Austen. Yes, Mr Darcy owns half a county, and Elizabeth Bennet falls for him when she first sets eyes on his gigantic stately home. But his aunt, Lady Catherine de Burgh, who despises Elizabeth for being related to tradespeople, is another pompous aristocratic arse (of the female sort), bested at the end by bourgeois Elizabeth Bennet.
By the way, McCloskey is a cricket fan.
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.