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

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Category archive: How the mind works

Thursday January 12 2017

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.

Sunday January 08 2017

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.

Thursday January 05 2017

Nothing here today, but something there.  Another case of starting something for here, but putting it there, as was this.

Spent my evening getting my colour printer back in business.  Took me five minutes to find the on/off switch.

Tuesday January 03 2017

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.

Monday January 02 2017

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.

Thursday December 29 2016

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.

Wednesday December 28 2016

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.

Monday December 26 2016

It’s not that I am a hair fetishist.  It’s more that I dislike faces, as in: I dislike photoing the faces of my fellow photoers, by which I mean photoing the faces of strangers.  And then sticking their faces on the www.  Or merely looking as if I might be doing that.  Bad form.  Not done.  Especially with face recognition just getting bigger and bigger as a thing people worry about.

One way to not do this is to wait until they hold their cameras in front of their faces.  Another is to simply photo them from behind.  I do that a lot.

Which means that I find myself photoing a lot of hair, and a lot of hair styles.

And that is how I found myself noticing the deliberately bald look, so often sported by gentlemen these days.

And that is why I photoed this advert, which I chanced upon recently in a tube train:

image

I was standing up at the time.  Which was lucky, because I was consequently able to take this photo without even the appearance that I might instead have been photoing the face of the man sitting underneath the advert.  Many is the amusing tube advert I have refrained from photoing, in order not to arouse such fears, and maybe then cause A Scene.

More information about this impressive looking product here.

Sunday December 25 2016

The idea was that, all alone in my snuggery, I would do lots of tidying up.  I have done some, but mostly I have been reading Anthony Beevor’s book, misleadingly entitled ”D-Day”, and unmisleadingly subtitled “The Battle for Normandy”.  For Beevor’s story goes from the early agonising about whether (because of the weather), and if so exactly when, the landings would be launched, right up until the German catastrophe that was the Falaise Pocket.  Then as now, despite much behind the scenes agonising, the short-term weather forecaster got it spot on, despite having far less to go on than his equivalents have now.

There’s nothing like the misfortunes of others to cheer you up.  Which is a terrible thing to say and I wouldn’t say it if there was any chance that my bad attitude was able to reach back into the past and make the sufferings of those soldiers, and all those French people caught up in the fighting, even worse.  But it won’t do that.  And anyway, what I mean is, I am really just acknowledging how much worse things were for that generation than they have been for mine.

And then, come Christmas time, there was the Battle of the Bulge for all the participants in this book to put up with, if they’d not already been killed, or injured and stretchered off.

I haven’t been reading this book solidly, in its correct order.  I have been dipping into it, reading about this or that episode, pretty much at random.  Today I was reading about how Brittany was liberated, which until now I knew very little about.  It helps a lot having been to all the towns and cities that get a mention.

Earlier, I read about what those Hawker Typhoons did, known to me until now only as an oil painting.  What the Typhoons did was destroy a hell of a lot fewer counter-attacking German tanks than they claimed at the time and ever since, but they scared the hell out of the German tank guys, which was almost as effective.  The counter-attack was duly snuffed out.

And when that book has finished entertaining me, I have another book, full of more evidence concerning how nice my life has been, this time about something that happened a year earlier.  Kursk.

Saturday December 24 2016

How to say that I am at home alone over Christmas without you feeling sorry for me?  I can’t do it, but please: don’t.  In exchange, I won’t feel sorry for you that you are reading this instead of having “fun”.

Each to his or her own, but I love it that holidays, for me, really are holidays, rather than just burdens of a different sort to the more usual ones.  Don’t get me wrong, burdens are often well worth bearing, as when I visit GodDaughter 2’s family in Brittany, and must bear the burdens of living in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar facilities and unfamiliar routines and with the fear of inflicting various sorts of offence and inconvenience upon everyone, with them being too polite to say.  But, these are still burdens.  This Christmas, as is my usual habit, I have been ensconced in my little snuggery, with no burdens at all.

I haven’t been fobbing you people off with nothing but silly old photos because I’ve been gadding about around town, catching up with friends and family and attending swanky functions.  No gadding about.  I’ve been fobbing you off with photos because I have been relaxing, even more than usual.

Here’s another silly photo, to wish you all a Merry Christmas.  I haven’t found any Merry Christmas messages out in the streets lately, so here is a Christmassy photo that I think I took in Oxford Street, definitely in December 2008:

image

Which tells me that I was fascinated by Bald Blokes Taking Photos for quite a while before I had worked this out in the fully conscious part of my head.  I love how green he is.

On Christmas Day itself I will not be alone, for I am to have a Christmas lunch with friends.  This will bring with it the burden of having to travel across London on Christmas Day, which basically means two very long walks.  (I don’t know how to Uber, since you ask.  I’d rather walk.) If I come across any Merry Christmas messages while walking, and manage to photo them, I’ll pass them on.

Wednesday December 21 2016

My official purpose in visiting Tottenham, way back when I did, was to take a look at whatever I could see of the rebuilding of the Tottenham Hotspur football ground, so I didn’t pause to work out what was happening with this:

image

Which I now regret.  I didn’t even give those buses, stopped at traffic lights if I remember it correctly, a chance to get out of the way.

Interesting shadows.  Interesting reflections bounced off windows.  But, the two on top of each other?  How come?  Think about it.  These two things have no business being right on top of each other.  Do they?

I was able to work out what was happening with these photos, taken moments earlier.  But the exact explanation of the above photo will presumably remain a mystery.

Friday December 09 2016

Alice Robb writes about the strange relationship between humans and cats:

When a stray cat wandered onto the tracks of a midtown 7 train last month, the MTA halted the entire subway line until the animal was out of harm’s way. At the same time, the U.S. government euthanizes millions of stray cats each year. They’re a disaster for the environment: One conservancy organization has called cats the “ecological axis of evil.” ...

There was no single, obvious reason for cats to have been domesticated, says Robb, like meat, or milk, or fur.  They are famously unbiddable.  And they can be very nasty to us.  So, how did it happen?

As I talked to scientists, it dawned on me that we weren’t necessarily the ones who were driving this relationship. House cats sidled up to our first settlements 10,000 years ago, because of big changes we started making to the environment. All of these animals crept into our settlement and were eating our trash - animals like badgers and foxes, in addition to small wildcats. They got into this new niche and exploited it.

So how did they trick us into feeding them and taking care of them?
For a long time, it was probably just an accident. But there are reasons that cats made the transition, but we don’t have badgers or foxes as pets today. One reason is that cats have a set of physical features that, for completely accidental reasons, remind us of human babies. Cats have big round eyes located right in the middle of their faces, because they’re ambush predators and need good binocular vision. They have little noses, because they don’t hunt by smell. They have round faces because they have short, powerful jaws. This set of features, which is actually just an expression of the way the cat hunts, looks to us like our infants. That gave them a leg up on the competition, and made them an intriguing and charming presence, rather than a straight-up nuisance, like a raccoon.

I always assumed that cats were made welcome by our ancestors because they killed rats and mice, which gobbled up our crops.  But, says Robb, cats often can’t be bothered to kill rats, because of all the garbage humans emit.

There’s plenty of garbage for everybody. Cats and rats have been photographed sharing piles of trash. Why would these animals fight and risk their lives, when they could just comfortably graze together?

As for the suppose health benefits of keeping a cat, these, says Robb, are highly dubious.

It all adds up to a pretty good summary of the cat/person relationship.

Friday December 02 2016

Friday is the day here for cats and other creatures, so here, among other things, is a panda:

image

What this photo illustrates is the perennial problem of trying to chuck stuff out, which is that all too often, stuff is just too nice to chuck out.

I recall, a year or two after the Berlin Wall was dismantled, meeting an Eastern European lady, who complained about how the packages and pots and bottles in which produce was suddenly now sold was too good to chuck out.  Bloody capitalism.  Capitalist rubbish was better than what they had previously had as actual stuff.

In a modified form, I now suffer from this syndrome.  It has crept up on me more gradually, but throughout my lifetime, packaging has been getting ever better, probably because it is the sort of industry that politicians disapprove of, and have hence left to its own devices, an industry’s own devices invariably being better than any device devised by politicians.  The packaging industry, not having been “helped”, has thrived.

Beer bottles (the one in the picture still has beer in it so that will be consumed first), I have learned not to miss.  But even they are sometimes so artfully designed that it seems wrong to throw them away.

The coffee jar I will keep, because coffee jars are so structurally impressive.

But that panda has got to go.

Thursday December 01 2016

I have spent yesterday and today indoors, tidying up, or at least trying to.  Infrastructural Overload is a terrible thing.  This posting is about this tidying.  You have been warned.  Spoiler alert.  You risk being seriously bored – angered even - by the triviality of it all.

The turning point was setting a date by which a serious amount of tidying needs to be done.  The date in question is December 30th, when there will be a post-Christmas party and a talk in the evening, in the place now being tidied.  December is a long month, in the sense that the last Friday of November was on the 25th, which was when I last entertained here in a space-hungry way.  So the last Friday of December is five weeks later, rather than your more typical four.  The key decision was not to attempt any entertaining before Christmas, which gives me a nice long time, and in particular that precious blank (for me) time around Christmas, to get stuck into all the shite that needs de-shiting.

The basic problem is a lot of piles of unprocessed paper.  We are talking about an enormous in-tray in a small dwelling, which is not a good combination.  Today, the piles of paper are now mostly in the living room, on top of big planks on top of sofas, and the processing has begun.

I already have a small chair-load of superfluous paper, destined for the bins, and have made several discoveries.

I have discovered two vital books of instructions that I had thought gone for ever, one for my washing machine and the other for a recording device.  Very gratifying.

And, I have discovered that some magazines wrap themselves in biodegradable plastic.  I found several such unopened magazines from several years back, and the wrapping has biodegraded.  I had to vacuum bits of it off my hands.  I’ve often wondered what biodegradation looks like.  Now I know, a bit more than I did.

I anticipate a sense of liberation, of spiritual renewal, once a serious amount of tidying has been done.  This may be a delusion, but if so it is a delusion that is already having consequences, in the form of me doing tidying up.

Monday November 28 2016

Today I visited Tottenham, and I intend to return tomorrow, both expeditions having been prompted by these two weather forecasts:

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That I have already decided this evening where I will be going tomorrow, and that I already knew last night what I was going to do today, is typical of how I now do these expeditions.  Trying to work out, in the morning, where I’ll go that day, given that the day is turning out nice, tends not to work so well.  Being old and tired and physically lazy, I have to have an interesting and attractive destination in mind as soon as the day starts, in order to force me out the front door soon enough for the expedition to amount to something.

In this respect, I am turning into my Dad.  When I was a kid I used to tease my Dad about all the planning that would go into family expeditions, and he used to justify this with questions starting with the words “What if?” What if, we get into an accident?  What if, one of us gets sick?  What if, the trains are disrupted?  We need a plan capable of taking care of everything.  I used to think he was being over-cautious, and that we ought to just get started and deal with problems as and when they happened, which they mostly wouldn’t.

Well, as I get older, I become less good at adapting, by which I mean that I can change a plan in mid plan, but that it takes longer and is more stressful.

But more fundamentally, I now suspect that my Dad may have needed his plan just to get him going at all.  Without a plan to drive the expedition forward, with artificially created deadlines and reasonably enticing objectives, maybe he just wouldn’t have been able to muster the energy he needed to lead us forth into the world at all.  Like me, he knew that he would be happier if he did get stuck into an expedition, and would be depressed if all he did was sit at home doing this or that amusing but trivial thing.  So, he would devise plans to make himself do what he wanted to do.  My Dad’s plans were not as he sold them to me, mere precautions.  His plans were energisers.

But maybe that’s just me.