Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
6000 on UPS drones and drone vans
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Peter Chapman on Africa is (still) big
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Most recent entries
- UPS drones and drone vans
- Tim Marshall on the warming of the Arctic
- The outdoor map next to the Twelvetrees Crescent Bridge over the River Lea
- Marc Sidwell on experts
- Guess what this is
- Robots build a bridge
- The Robert Stephenson statue at Euston
- Cruelty to a fake animal – kindness to a fake animal
- Shopping Trolley Spiral beside the River Lea
- An Underground sermon
- Rubbish blogging
- Tim Marshall on the illiberal and undemocratic Middle East
- Opera North’s Ring
- An important game and only a game
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Category archive: How the mind works
You don’t have to believe that animals either have or should have rights to realise that people who are gratuitously cruel to animals are likely to be more cruel than usual to their fellow humans. But what of fake cruelty to fake animals leading to real cruelty to real creatures, animal or human? I imagine there is some kind of correlation there too, although my googling skills fell short of finding an appropriate link to piece demonstrating that.
Being cruel to a fake animal that another human loves is clearly very cruel, to the human.
As was, I think, this demonstration of fake cruelty that recently hit the internet. That link is not for those who are squeamish about beheaded teddy bears.
And what of people who are nice to fake animals?
Here is a picture I took in my favourite London shop, Gramex in Lower Marsh, in which there currently resides a teddy bear who was recently rescued from sleeping rough, by Gramex proprietor Roger Hewland:
If you consequently suspect that Roger Hewland is a kind man, your suspicion would be entirely correct. I agree with you that kindness to fake animals and kindness to real people are probably also correlated.
I sometimes drop into Gramex just to use the toilet. Never has the expression “spend a penny” been less appropriate.
On January 20th I attended one of Christian Michel’s 6/20 meetings. The subject was: The Meaning of Life. To be rather more exact, it was: What kind of question is the question “What is the meaning of life?”
So, when I was making my way home, via Earls Court Underground Station, I guess I was in a Meaning of Life kind of mood. Which might explain why I took this photo:
This particular message is a bit too sentimental for my liking. Those little hearts put me right off. But actually, I don’t really object to these little sermons that the Underground has taken to erecting at the entrance to its stations. This is because something that is merely written, no matter how big the lettering, is easily ignored. I think this is one of the things I like about signs and adverts and posters and notices. You can pay them all the attention you want to pay them, from a great deal, right the way down to absolutely nothing.
This is in sharp contrast to those appalling underground train guards who insist on preaching sermons over the intercom, instead of just telling you about how you have stopped in between stations because of a train still stuck at the next station. Those sermons are impossible to avoid.
See also those buskers who actually climb onto trains and play. Both these buskers and the tube train intercom sermonisers are on my personal Room 101 list.
The above also explains why Modern Art is so successful, but why, on the other hand, Modern Classical Music is so profoundly unsuccessful. It’s not that Modern Art is mostly good while Modern Classical Music is mostly crap. Modern Art is also mostly crap. But, crucially, when a piece of Modern Classical Music traps you (when played live, in between two bits of proper Classical Music), you are stuck with it until it finishes. Modern Art, in total contrast, is, when it’s crap, crap that is easily ignored. Even when it ambushes you in an Art gallery, you can still just walk right past it. Or, you can photo it, and then walk right past it.
What is it about taking out the rubbish that makes the task so very unwelcome? I live alone, so do not get nagged to do this, but reality itself nags me. Take the rubbish out. Why can’t I do this simple thing?
Partly, there is the procrastinator’s constant enemy, which is that fact that a little more time will make very little difference. Spill rubbish on the floor and it must be cleaned up at once, so cleaned up at once it is. But most rubbish has its own intermediate, organised, official place. Why bother with it tonight? Tomorrow morning will do. Tomorrow morning, tomorrow afternoon will do, and so it goes on.
The current rubbish crisis is different, because I have been doing some clearing out, and about four loads of rubbish have assembled themselves. So procrastination is not such a good option. Trouble is, each load of rubbish involves a trip down and then up the stairs again, and I have it in my head that it all has to be done at the same time, because if not this situation will drag on for ever, and that means going down and up the stairs four separate times. Things aren’t made any easier by having to check beforehand if there is still any room in the rubbish bins for the recycled rubbish. Am I supposed to do a separate trip just to find out? Often, yes. I meant to check earlier this afternoon, when I was out doing something real, but forgot.
The worst thing of all is that some of the rubbish isn’t really rubbish. It’s perfectly good stuff that I am just never going to use and which is taking up space, and which I don’t have the time or the social media savvy to find a home for. Ah, finding a home. For rubbish.
Perhaps blogging this through here will in some weird way change the way I’m thinking about this, and I’ll get it all done. Mostly what blogging about this rubbish make me think is: this is rubbish, get it done. There you go.
When there are great big thick elaborate sandwiches going for a quid each at the end of the day in Strutton Ground I am sometimes tempted to have one too many, i.e. two. I did that yesterday, and although I love these sandwiches, they hate me, and when there’s two of them, they can act on this hatred. Which meant that my internal organs were in no state to confront the ferocious rugger game between Wales and England this afternoon. England eventually won with a well taken but still somewhat lucky (for England to get the chance I mean) late try. But for most of the game Wales had looked better and England were consequently, for most of the game, behind. (The more usual procedure is for England to look better and for Wales then to win with a late try, Wales having been behind for most of the game.) I’ll take the win, but it would be nice if, one of these weekends, England could simply race away to a nice big win. As it was, when I fret about a game on the telly, I often console myself for probable disaster by deliberately doing something else, to put it in perspective, to distance myself, to consume irrelevant aroused energy, blah blah blah. Today I got several quite significant household tasks done.
The other Six Nations rugger game today had involved Italy. Let’s just say that the Georgian rugby team, if they were watching, must now be feeling even more pissed off. They would surely have done better against Ireland than Italy did.
Tomorrow, I expect France to slaughter Scotland. If they do, England will be top and the only unbeaten team. If Scotland win, well, jolly ho Scotland. Rugby remains a very important game.
Football, on the other hand, is only a game.
LATER: France didn’t slaughter Scotland but they did defeat them, and England are indeed now the only team with two wins from two. France and Scotland both looked good, and England beating France is looking better and better.
From about 6pm London time last night until some time very early this morning (guess: 3am), this blog was down, again. This has happened quite a few times lately, or so it seems. I’m starting to think that a major re-arrangement of some sort that is extremely unclear to me may have to be unleashed, although first I would have to work out what that ought to be.
Here I am back again, but I am starting to fret that were I to say that the problem has been solved, I might be exaggerating. When it comes to the management of this blog, I am now in that lowest-level-of-problem-perception state that I refer to as “SFGO”. This stands for S(omething) F(unny) G(oing) O(n).
This weekend, the first weekend of February, is one of my particular favourites. The Six Nations begins, and on Sunday night, there is the Super Bowl. Mind you, France nearly spoilt it by nearly beating England at Twickenham, but in the end, all was well. England pre-announced that they were going to play attractive rugby, blah blah, but in the end, they settled for playing unattractive rugby and winning. The commentators all said England played badly, but I reckon they were understandably wrong-footed by France being so very good compared to recent years. It’ll be interesting to see how well France do in the rest of the tournament. They had all kinds of huge runners, some of whom were about eight foot tall by the look of them, and also a certain Louis Picamoles, who was out of the Six Nations for the last two years, but who today was declared to be the Man of the Match. I reckon England won the game in the first half, by being even at half time instead of twenty points down, as they well could have been. Oh, and Farrell kicked all his conversions with the accuracy of a champion golfer. Daly is apparently a long range specialist, and he kicked a penalty too, from long range.
And hey, Spurs have just won ugly too.
Aside from the sport, the other great thing about this time of year is that the days are back getting longer. Even now, only a month into the new year, the days are already an hour longer than they were. And by the time the Six Nations finishes, they’ll be another hour and more longer than they are now, with more photography time in proper light. Lovely.
Recently, word reached me, via his daughter, that one of the regular readers of this blog (such people apparently exist) – I’ll call him “Tony” (on account of his name being Tony) – was greatly entertained when he followed one of the links on the left, in one of my interminable lists of mostly obsolete internet destinations to Chase me, ladies, I’m in the cavalry.
I say greatly entertained. The report was that Tony’s head exploded with fluids and splutters of all sort. Basically, his face and mouth and throat all stopped functioning in their usual fashion and instead suffered a sort of biological combination of an earthquake and a meltdown and a volcanic eruption.
Following this report, I took another look at CMLIITC myself, and for a while, as I meandered through his archives, I was merely quite entertained. But then I read this posting ...:
VIBRATING AB BELT CHANGED MY LIFE
I recently bought an All-Star Deluxe Ab Belt. Three months ago I was a fat cunt. Now I’m a fat cunt with a vibrating belt.
… and the exact same thing started happening to me. Until that moment I had not realised that I wasn’t fully well, but I found myself trying to laugh and cough at the same time, and the same disgusting fluids and substances started bursting out of my face as had burst from Tony’s face.
I think that, aside from its wit, it was the brevity of the posting that wrongfooted this. Because of this brevity, the punch line sucker punched me in the face earlier than I had become used to and before I had in any way been able to surmise what it was going to be, as I surely would have been able to do if I had had longer to prepare my defence against it. This is a regular comedic method, I think.
What Harry Hutton looks like now makes very good sense.
I am reading Prisoners of Geography, by Tim Marshall, a new name to me. (He has also written what looks like a rather interesting book about flags.) Today I read this (pp. 116-117), about the size of Africa:
The world’s idea of African geography is flawed. Few people realise just how big it is. This is because most of us use the standard Mercator world map. This, as do other maps, depicts a sphere on a flat surface and thus distorts shapes. Africa is far, far longer than usually portrayed, which explains what an achievement it was to round the Cape of Good Hope, and is a reminder of the importance of the Suez Canal to world trade. Making it around the Cape was a momentous achievement, but once it became unnecessary to do so, the sea journey from Western Europe to India was reduced by 6,000 miles.
If you look at a world map and mentally glue Alaska onto California, then turn the USA on its head, it appears as if it would roughly fit into Africa with a few gaps here and there. In fact Africa is three times bigger than the USA. Look again at the standard Mercator map and you see that Greenland appears to be the same size as Africa, and yet Africa is actually fourteen times the size of Greenland! You could fit the USA, Greenland, India, China, Spain, France, Germany and the UK into Africa and still have room for most of Eastern Europe. We know Africa is a massive land mass, but the maps rarely tell us how massive.
I guess that part of the reason why Africa has tended to be regarded as smaller than it is, in recent decades, is that Africa has not counted for all that much, globally, in recent decades. We can expect to hear many repetitions of the above observation, as Africa develops economically, towards being the economic giant that it already is physically.
LATER: I see that I have written about this before, in a posting that proves what Marshall says about all the countries that will fit inside Africa.
Sticking with sport, this morning I followed, on Cricinfo, most of the run-chase in the Big Bash League game of the morning. It happens in the morning over here. Some of the games are even being shown here on free-to-view TV, on Channel 5, although C5 hasn’t been so lucky with the games it has so far shown, both having ended rather tamely.
But, the one this morning didn’t end tamely. Oh no. The Some-city-in-Australia Aggressively Rebellious Types (perhaps of the animal sort by perhaps human or naturally disastrous) scored 222-4, which is the biggest score for a team innings posted in the BBL, ever. And the Some-other-city-in-Australia ARTs chased it down! How amazing is that? Very amazing.
Whenever I tune in to the BBL, I have a look for what English players are playing, by which I mean merely: have played for England. I very much want my cricket-playing fellow countrymen to impress the cricket world,but as to which Australian city hosts the winning team, well, I really cannot make myself care, not matter how hard I try. The Australian team with the more Anglos in it is the one I support. This morning, only one Anglo was involved, Stuart Broad.
Broad’s side bowled first, and Broad took no wickets for 39, which under the circumstances was not that bad. Not good, but not that bad. In reply Broad’s team for quite a while looked like they might breeze it, without needing down-the-order Broad to be doing anything with the bat. For as a long as a bloke called McDermott was batting, all was looking good for the Broad team. But in the end, Broad, batting at number 10, had somehow to make nine runs off the last three balls. He hit two fours and a one, to win it.
After Broad hit the second of his two fours, I yelled my appreciation, the only time I said anything out loud. Then, Cricinfo told me that Broad had fluked this secomd four by snicking it, instead of connecting properly like he did with the first four. And the final and winning one turned out to be a dodgy shot too. But never mind. Broad had done it. Rule Britannia. Go Blighty. “Broad’s final flourish in record chase”, said the Cricinfo home page. To me. I assume that in Australia, Cricinfo was attracting clicks to that same report by mentioning McDermott, just like the actual report does, in its headline, thereby at least suggesting that the report was the same for everyone.
Someone needs to write a game-theory type paper about why multinational club teams eventually end up getting more, and more fervent, support than merely national teams, and I am sure that plenty of someones have, because of course this has been going on with the Premier League for quite a while.
All this happens not because partisan patriotism is abolished. Rather does partisan patriotism fuel the eventual multi-national outcome. Having a couple of your fellow countrymen on a team, if it keeps happening, may well turn you into a supporter of that team. And they can work the same trick with other nations too, thus multiplying their support, and ability to sell goods adorned with the club’s heraldry.
Also, the management of the club can be first world, by the simple mechanism of holding the entire tournament in a first world country. That means that each club is better than most nations. And it all feeds on itself in a virtuous circle of enthusiastic sporting insanity, which ends up with everyone becoming citizens of the world.
Part of learning things is stuffing information into your brain. But another equally important part is arranging and connecting and understanding all the information once it is inside your head. And also: trying to understand why you stuffed all this particular information into your head in the first place. What were you thinking? What were you feeling? Why the attraction to this particular information?
In those two latter respects, I found that the talk I gave last Friday at Christian Michel’s was particularly useful. See here for a pre-report in what I talked about. I didn’t read out everything in that posting last Friday, but I did read out all the questions in the email that I sent Christian before the meeting, in other words I read out the indented bit of that earlier posting.
As I went on to ramble about in that earlier posting, and as I also rambled about last Friday, I have been pondering the Modern Movement in Architecture ever since I was a teenager. But last Friday evening I made some big steps forward in rearranging and organising how I think about it – and just as important how I have felt about it, what the attraction is, why I love it and love observing it and love photographing it, as much as I do.
In the word-processed file where this posting began life, there already follows the beginnings of a stream-of consciousness piece itemising a few of these steps forward. But I don’t want to rush that out before it has been written properly. In the meantime, I just want to assert my simple pleasure at what happened for me last Friday evening, without going into any detail.
Of particular value to me last Friday were some of the remarks from the floor, one in particular. This told me nothing that I did not already know, by which I mean already agree with. But what it did was place this particular observation into a different context. Into a different part of my head, so to speak. I found that particular moment especially helpful.
One obvious implication of my experience that I am willing to write about here immediately is that my happy experience last Friday made me very glad and proud that I also organise meetings at which others speak. Like Christian Michel, I give my speakers a lot of latitude in what they will speak about, this being because I have long known that a major part of the point of getting people to speak about something is that it will cause them to make discoveries rather like the ones I made last Friday. I often invite my speakers to speak about subjects they feel only partly on top of, which they are still getting to grips with, getting their heads round, getting their thinking straight about and their feelings clearer about. I have long known that this is a valuable thing to do, for the speakers. If the audience is a bit confused, so be it.
Well, I say that I have long known it. Now, I really know it, with a great deal more certainty, derived from a great big gob of recent and enormously encouraging experience.
Spent my evening getting my colour printer back in business. Took me five minutes to find the on/off switch.
Christian Michel hosts talks he calls 6/20 talks, because they happen on the 6th and the 20th of the month. And this coming Friday, Jan 6th, I am giving a talk, about politics and aesthetics, and how they interact.
This is the email I sent to talk host Christian Michel, about what I will be saying, or more precisely, what I will be asking:
My talk will be about what we each think is the truth about politics, and about how that relates to what we each think is beautiful.
What are your political opinions? What are your ideas of beauty? How do these things relate to each other?
Are your political loyalties and beliefs the result of your already existing ideas about what is beautiful? Did you arrive at your political views because you think that the political world you desire would be beautiful, as you already understood that?
Or, is it more the other way around? Do your present ideas of what is beautiful result from what you have already decided is the political truth of things? Would your politics lead to a world that looks a particular way, and do you therefore consider that world to be beautiful?
Or, for you, do the causal links go in both directions? That certainly applies to me.
Or, do the above questions rather baffle you? Because for you, what is politically true and what is beautiful are two entirely separate issues? For many who, like me, call themselves libertarians, I should guess that this might be the answer, even though this is definitely not my answer.
I put my subject matter in the form of questions, because I hope that potential attenders will receive advance notice of these question, and that some attenders at least will arrive with their own answers.
I will supply introspected answers about my own political and aesthetic preferences and how they are related, a lot of them involving architecture. But I hope I will speak briefly enough to leave plenty of time for others to offer their answers to my questions. Or, of course, to say that the questions are silly, or whatever else they want to say about what I have said.
My current plan is to read out the above, and then illustrate it with some personal examples, and with some other examples that seem to be quite common, and commonly talked about.
My personal examples involve things like the extraordinary aesthetic appeal of American stuff, like their cars and their fighter jets, which got me thinking about why America actually worked better than the USSR, whose stuff seemed to be grey and dull and unglamorous by comparison. That got me started towards being a libertarian, I think, way back in the 1950s.
In a related way, I then began to observe that British public sector architecture, which set the tone of the entire architectural scene in the sixties and seventies, had that same Soviet style drabness about it. Modern architecture only became flash and glamorous, in the eighties.
All that, among other things, turned me into a libertarian. And since then, I have tended to like the look of physical assemblages of objects that strike me as embodying liberty. Skyscraper clusters and roof clutter being good examples. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be so fond of roof clutter in particular if I had more bossy tastes in politics, if you get my drift.
That’s a pretty simplified summary of some of my aesthetic-political thoughts-feelings. But it suffices to illustrate the kind of thing I’ll be talking about.
As for similar stories told by others, I am struck by how an architectural style is often regarded as ugly, while it is advancing and hence seen as threatening, but later regarded with affection, once it has been defeated and is in retreat. This happened with the New Brutalism, widely hated during its years of ascendancy, now only in the news because some now want its surviving edifices to be legally preserved.
On a huge, historic scale, this is what has happened with Norman castles. Feared and hated when built, and for centuries after. Now quaint and picturesque tourist traps. Same kind of thing with big steam locomotives, at first feared and hated, now worshipped.
Many feel threatened by the very contemporary architecture that I personally like, and that’s because they see it, as do I, as embodying the very free market (-ish) ideas that I like, and that they dislike. It’s more complicated than that. But again, you get the idea.
My intention is to rattle through what I have to say quickly, to leave plenty of time for attenders to offer similar aesthetic-political memoirs of their own.
I’m putting this here so I can link to it in emails to potential attenders. Emails work better when they are short, but when they can be lengthened, so to speak, by those reading.
If you want to know how to attend this talk, or other talks in the same series, email me (see here top left) or leave a comment and I’ll put you in touch with Christian Michel.
The party I hosted on New Year’s Eve was rather exclusive. Nobody was actually forbidden entry. But I was very late with the invites, and because I feared that so few would be attending, I actually told people that if they wanted a proper, noisy, standing room only do, rather than what actually happened, they ought to steer clear, and that meant that even fewer people came. But it also took the pressure right off me, because whoever did come had been duly warned. The fireworks that those still present at midnight looked at and photoed from my roof (see below) were a bit out of the ordinary, but I had not seen that coming and so did not make that a selling point. Next time round, if there is a next time round.
But, I did have some fun conversations. And in particular one that has just resulted in this posting at Samizdata, about Shipping Containers. And about other Things. Once again, I at first wrote all of this for here, but then transferred two thirds of it to there.
As I told myself I would, I spent the day tidying. But it ended up being tidying of a rather peculiar and imperfect sort, with which I suspect most of us are guiltily familiar. Basically what I did was take a festeringly huge pile of paper, and do two things to it. First, I threw out some of the more obviously expendable pieces of paper. And second, I divided the bits of paper into piles according to the size of the paper. Not by content, by size. Well, there was a bit of content sorting, but far less than there should have been. The result looks tidy, but is merely chaos of a more visually organised sort.
But the really good thing is that chucking out and arranging by size has caused the festering paper heap to shrink to about half its previous size, even though I didn’t chuck out anything like half of it.
All of which, although nothing like perfect, is still a definite achievement. Despite reducing the amount of temporary shelving that has been cluttering up my home, I have still managed to free up quite a bit of surface space, which will make any future attempts at tidying a lot easier.
But all of the above is to understate the happiness I now feel. Having gone through all the paper, even though I have not done much with most of it, it now no longer afflicts me with the power of the unknown. I now have its measure. Before, it loomed over me like an unexplored mountain range. Now it is more like a big garden. The plants are not where I want them, but the weeds have taken a severe beating, and I now know my way around. My subconscious will now throw up lots of new ideas about what the next act of ordering and/or eliminating might be.
Plus, while doing all of the above, I sort of became addicted to the process. I have some entertaining to do over the next couple of days, but when that is done, I need to get back to the tidying, before this addiction has gone.
None of which may be very exciting to you. But this is my blog, and I expect one day to be rereading this myself, very fondly. This posting is not so much me entertaining you. It is me rewarding me. Me, you might say, giving myself a pat on the back.
Quite often, I settle down to write something for here, and end up with something which would go equally well at Samizdata. Whenever I realise this, I tend to put whatever it is at Samizdata, and leave only the less political and more “trivial” (the “s because trivia is often not at all trivial) stuff for here. Often, these are pieces that I would never have written had I not started out writing them for here.
Today I just did this again, in a piece about people who are F4BF (famous for being famous), and about the contribution that such persons make to the world.
The rest of today is set aside for more tidying up, so that may well be it, for here, for today.