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: How the mind works

Saturday January 19 2019

I wonder what this extraordinary place …:

image

… will turn into.

Approximately halfway between Turkey’s largest city Istanbul and its capital Ankara, the Burj Al Babas development will contain 732 identical mini chateaux when, or if, it completes.

Begun in 2014, the hundreds of houses have been left in various states of completion since the dramatic collapse of the Turkish economy led to developer Sarot Group to file for bankruptcy in November.

Too bad people can’t buy them one by one, and put them in lots of other places around the world.  Sadly, houses don’t work like that.

Having them all next to each other surely defeats one of the major purposes of a new house like this, which is to outdo your neighbours.

It looks miniature, doesn’t it?  The houses look like things you have to careful not to tread on.

Wednesday January 16 2019

With thanks to Patrick Crozier‘s Twitter feed, this, posted by Steve Stewart-Williams.

He got it from Denny Borsboom, who says (at his Facebook page), this:

Different scientific models can have equivalent observational consequences. In statistics, this is known as statistical equivalence; in the philosophy of science, underdetermination of theory by data. This is often hard to explain and I know few good illustrations that go beyond Wittgenstein’s duckrabbit. This GIF is a really nice illustration - and beautiful too.

If I knew how to post a GIF here, I would.  But I couldn’t make that work.

For me, the the star with seven points is the most remarkable aspect of this.

Wittgenstein’s duckrabbit is presumably that creature that looks like both a duck and a rabbit, depending.

Monday January 14 2019

Last night, Spurs lost 0-1, at “home” (i.e. Wembley), to Man U.  I had been half hoping that Spurs might lose, because this would make it less likely that Man U would want to replace their current manager, Solskjaer, with the man whom he outmanaged last night, Spurs manager Pochettino.  Spurs really need Pochettino to stay, and they want Man U to back off trying to lure him away with their infinite money.  It is all explained in this piece.  I said that!  But alas, I didn’t say it soon enough.

This being why the Spurs strikers were so careful to aim all their shots at goal straight at the Man U goalie, David de Gea.  They want The Poch to stay with them too.

Just kidding.  de Gea did really well.  And concerning that, I liked this tweet at the end of the game last night from Watford goalie Ben Foster:

I see a lot of people saying all De Gea saves were straight at him, please factor in that the guy has some mad sense to know where to be at just the right time, you can’t teach that. Proper goally

But not very proper punctuation.  What has Ben Foster got against full stops?  Maybe he used up all his stops, performing a similar miracle to de Gea, for Watford against Crystal Palace.

I recall hoping on a previous occasion that my football team would lose.  England were playing Germany at home.  It was again a management issue.  It was worth England losing to Germany if that resulted in Kevin Keegan ceasing to be England manager.  Keegan is a great guy, but was wrong to manage England.  England did lose.  Keegan did step down.  Soon after this, England beat Germany in Germany, 1-5.  But sadly not in the World Cup or the Euros or whatever it was, which England and Germany both qualified for.  Germany presumably won that.

My thanks to Patrick Crozier, with whom I dined earlier this evening, for lots of details about the above, which I had either forgotten or never knew in the first place, like Foster being the Watford goalie and England playing Germany in the last game at old Wembley and then winning 1-5 in Germany.

Monday January 07 2019

I basically picked last night’s quota photo for alliterative reasons.  QUota.  QUantum.  As we bloggers say: heh.  No long essay was required to present that little joke, if joke it even was.

In the course of my search late last night for a suitable QP, I came across other photos which seemed suitable for showing here, but which demanded little essays to explain what it was that made them suitable.  And I was too knackered for that, having spent yesterday working on this talk for Christian Michel’s 5/20 soiree, and then in the evening giving the talk.

In particular, late last night, I encountered in my photo-archives this remarkable (I think) photo, which I took in Regent’s Park in March of 2012, as it was getting dark, when on my way back from taking photos on and from Primrose Hill:

image

What I find remarkable about that photo is the contrast between how very red the reflection in the water of the lights on the BT Tower is, compared with how very un-red the actual lights themselves are, as photoed through the mere air.

You often get this with reflections.  In photos, I mean.  Your actual eyes make adjustments as they scan the scene.  What I would have seen, with my eyes, when photoing the above photo, is quite bright red lights on the tower, and a similarly bright reflection.

But my camera, on automatic, doesn’t think like this.  All my camera is concerned about is the overall balance.  It has to pick just one balance and apply it to everything.  And because a reflection is involved, it often ends up picking a balance where the actual view is very light and bright, but the reflection contains all the action.  I often do this-and-this-same-thing-relected photos with a glass window doing the reflecting.  And often what you get with that is a completely blank white sky, but then in the reflection you get all the distinctions between quite light and not so light, quite blue and not so blue, that you don’t get in the bit of the photo that is directly of the sky.

And that’s what surely happened with the above photo.  The redness got lost when we were just looking at the lights themselves.  But the water darkened and strengthened that same redness, and made it really red.

On the day, I was more interested in the birds swimming around on the water.  The next eight photos in that directory are of ducks and geese, and the final three are of a swan.  After that I called it a day, what daylight having ended.  I only really noticed this reflected redness thing last night.

Most Real Photographers have to have the skill of knowing at once when they’ve photoed a good photo, and why.  We unreal photoers can take our time.

Friday January 04 2019

Or maybe that should be: How Twitter rots the brain.

Instapundit is a daily destination for me, and yesterday, there’s a posting about a piece at Quillette by Cathy Young about Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

So I read that, and am impressed.  Solzhenitsyn was a hero of mine when I was at school and university, and like Young, I was puzzled by his subsequent opposition to Western liberalism and fondness for Russian nationalism, along with all the nasty baggage that is liable to bring with it, like anti-Semitism.

At the bottom of the Cathy Young article is the suggestion that I should consider following Cathy Young at Twitter.  I do so.  I scroll down, and soon find myself smiling at otter jokes, all the otter jokes being based on the fact that “otter” is only one letter away from “other”.  Significant otters.  In otter news.  (Yes, Happy New Year again.)

And: Why did the otters cross the road?  To get to the otter side.

This didn’t take long at all.

Friday December 21 2018

The book.  The movie.

And the label:

image

Another Facebook “friend” (also an actual friend) found this, in another part of Facebook.

I don’t know the answer.  Let’s ask this guy.

Sunday December 16 2018

As I said earlier, a nasty old sofa is due to depart from Chateau BMdotcom, and nice new sofa is due to arrive.  And as I also said, I hoped it would be in that order.  Well, now it looks like the new sofa will be here tomorrow, while the old one is still here.  This threatened chaos.  In a place already suffering from severe infrastructural overload (aka IO, aka too much crap everywhere and nowhere to put new incoming crap), it’s all I can do to find space for a new copy of the BBC Music Magazine without it getting submerged.  Yet today I managed to liberate enough space for another sofa and still have a large chunk of change, volumetrically speaking.

The secret was getting rid of a whole clutch of things like this:

image

The main things that such devices store are empty air, and dust.  Lots and lots of dust.

I also found a pile of home-made versions of the same kind of thing, in which I had been storing more air and more dust, and (this time) nothing else:

image

That being about a decade’s worth of dust, going by all the bits of paper in the pile that I will soon be culling and compressing.

As one of my heroes, Quentin Crisp, once said, the secret with dust is not to stir it up.  Do that, and you find yourself living in a dusty home.  Just let it be and it behaves itself very politely.

I now learn (such is the internet) that what Crisp actually said was more like this:

There was no need to do any housework at all. After four years the dirt doesn’t get any worse.

I actually do do some housework, mainly in my living room, so this doesn’t really apply to me and my home.  But I like his attitude.  That gag about being a “stately homo of England” is also a Crispism.  The link above is to a large stack of verbal Crispnesses.

Back to my dust.  To get rid of that dust, which did have to be got rid of because the receptacles containing it had to go, I had to carry them out of my bedroom very carefully, into the living room, and part of this involved stepping down from my bed to the floor.  Imagine doing that with a tray full of drinks.  But, all went well, and I have now liberated a hug gob of space which I had previously thought permanently clogged:

image

That will accommodate a lot of IO, in the days and weeks to come.  Those two boxes on the right can go too, come to think of it.  All they contain is big envelopes that I will never use and whose glue long ago stopped working.

Each time I have a campaign against IO, I think that I really have, this time around, completely run out of space.  But, each time, it turns out that there’s more, lurking in plain sight.

A good day.

Saturday December 15 2018

Well, it’s official.  I care more about cricket, as played by anyone, than I care about football, as played by Spurs, the football team that I tell myself I support.

If I truly support Spurs, how come I only bothered to wonder the next day.how badly they had lost to Barcelona recently, in their clearly doomed attempt to qualify for the last sixteen of the European Champions League, or whatever they call it?  Answer me that.  On the night, I was so concerned about when the next test match between Australia and India would start, and whether I could hear any commentary on it, that I completely ignored Spurs.  When you consider that this Barca/Spurs game was on Tuesday night, and that the Australia/India game didn’t start until the small hours of Friday morning, you can see what a crap Spurs fan I am.

It was only some time on Wednesday that I internetted the news that Spurs had got a draw against Barca (thanks to a late equaliser), and that because Inter Milan had also only got a draw in their game, Spurs had squeaked through, but only after an agonising wait for the Inter result caused by that game going on for a couple of minutes longer.

While all this drama was going on, I was oblivious to it, and was instead scratching about on the internet chasing that cricket game.

Which is still going on.  Day 3 will be getting underway in a few hours, on Radio 5 live sports extra.  My sleep is already deranged, in a way that usually only happens when England are playing in Australia.

Today, I did keep track of the Spurs Burnley game, which Spurs won (thanks to a very late winner).  So: more drama.  But although I was aware of this while it was happening, I was again scandalously relaxed about it all, despite this game being billed as a Spurs Must Win If They Are To Stay In With A Chance To Win The League sort of a game.  Oh well, I was thinking, as it remained 0-0 right up until extra time.  Oh well, that’s how it goes.  Maybe next year, when they have their own stadium to play in.

Maybe the reason I am not shouting at Spurs in my kitchen, urging them on to glory, is that they are indeed engaged in building themselves a brand new custom built headquarters, in the form of that new White Hart Lane stadium.  So according to my way of thinking, they shouldn’t now be doing this well.

However, it would seem that all the money that the new stadium will bring into the club has caused Spurs to do something now that they haven’t been doing for several decades, which is keep their best players.  I’m talking about the likes of Kane, Deli Alli, Moura (who scored the late equaliser against Barca) and Eriksen (who got today’s very late winner).  Such stars might still make more money if they went to Real Madrid or some such even richer club.  But, at Real, they might not do as well on the pitch as they are now doing for Spurs.  They might then fall off the football pyramid of greatness, never to climb back on it again.  Footballers are interested in money and glory, not just in money, not least because glory turns into more money later, when they later try to get football jobs without being players any more.  Spurs look like they could be about to do both money and glory rather well.

The same goes for the current rather-hard-to-spell Spurs manager who is masterminding all this.  Many now assume that he will shortly move to Madrid.  I’m not so sure.

I mean, if this is how well these Spurs guys can do while the new Spurs HQ is still being finished, think how well they might do when they get really settled in in the new place and are able to concentrate entirely on football.

Or maybe it’s that a new stadium is not really a new headquarters building, more like a huge new factory, for something like a brand new airplane.  Boeing bets the company every time they launch a totally new aircraft.  A football club bets itself whenever it moves into a new stadium. But this stadium is actually for doing football, rather than just a place to do lots of headquartering.

Monday December 10 2018

A slow motion catastrophe, all the more inevitable because this is, after all the internet.  But, it doesn’t happen.

This popped up on my computer screen, courtesy of Facebook.  What happened was was that I activated a video a Friend had stuck up, and this was what Facebook wanted me to see next.  It looked like a nice little catastrophe to pass the time with, so I activated that as well.  And although that catastrophe didn’t happen, what did happen was even better.

Do the people who arrange things like this play with toys beforehand?  That would make sense.

Apparently Transport Blog may be coming back to life, any month now.  But, it promises nothing.

Tuesday December 04 2018

Indeed:

image

Photoed last March, which I suppose is not yet Spring.  If that’s right, then that makes WInter the longest season.

Wouldn’t it be great, for me I mean, if leaves happened in Winter, but if all the other seasons were too hot for them?

Thursday November 22 2018

Following yesterday’s very generic, touristy photos of the Albert Memorial (although some of them did involve a breast implant), here is a much more temporary photo, of the sort most tourists wouldn’t bother with:

image

You obviously see what I did there, lining up what looks like a big, all-seeing eye with a clutch of security cameras, cameras made all the scarier by having anti-pigeon spikes on them.

And what, I wondered when I encountered this in my archive, and you are wondering now, is the provenance of that big eye?

Turns out, it was this:

image

So, not actually a photo about and advert for the Total Surveillance Society.  It merely looked like that.

However, just two minutes later, from the same spot of the same electronic billboard, I took this photo:

image

So as you can see, the Total Surveillance Society was definitely on my mind.  Terrorism, the blanket excuse for everyone to be spying on everyone else.  The two minute gap tells me that I saw this message, realised it was relevant, but it then vanished and I had to wait for it to come around again.  Well done me.

According to the title of the directory, and some of the other photos, I was with a very close friend.  A very close and very patient friend, it would seem.  Hanging about waiting for a photo to recur is the sort of reason I usually photo-walk alone.

I took these photos in Charing Cross railway station on April Fool’s Day 2009.  I would have posted them at the time, but in their original full-sized form, they unleashed a hurricane of messy interference patterns.  But just now, when I reduced one of them to the sort of sizes I use for here, those interference patterns went away.  I thought that these patterns had been on the screen I was photoing.  But they were merely on my screen, when I looked at my photos.  And then, when I resized all the photos, it all, like I said, went away.  Better late than never.

Sunday November 18 2018

Yesterday, my friend Nico invited me to an orchestral concert that he was playing in.  He was playing the drums.  But this was not some ghastly rock and roll ordeal, it was an orchestral concert, in Blackheath. 

Blackheath has a place called Blackheath Halls, and last night, the Blackheath Halls Orchestra performed, in the particular Blackheath Hall called the Great Hall, works by Debussy (the Nocturnes) and Sibelius (the 7th Symphony).  I’d offer a link to the announcement of this eventy, but now that it’s happened, the announcement of it has disappeared, like it never happened.

This Great Hall actually is pretty great.  Just recently, it has had its seating redone, with a flat floor being replaced by a slab of raked seating.  I photoed these after the concert had finished, and they looked like this:

image

What that meant was that we in the audience had a great view of the everything.

Here is a photo I took of how things looked as the orchestral players were making their way onto the stage at the beginning:

image

Here is a photo I took of conductor Christopher Stark, just before he embarked on the Sibelius symphony.

image

And here is a photo taken at the end, when the applause was loud and long, which includes my friend Nico and his drums.  Was Nico the best?  Maybe.  I really couldn’t say.  But he was, at any rate in the Sibelius, the highest up.

image

So, what to say about the music, and the performances?  Well, the Blackheath Halls orchestra is an amateur orchestra, and if the sounds they made are anything to go by, the hardest task facing an amateur orchestra is when its violin section must play very high notes, very quietly.  That is when ensemble is tested to destruction.  I blame nobody for this.  On the contrary, this was exactly the sort of thing I was eager to learn about, not having witnessed an amateur orchestra in action for about half a century. 

Today, I played a CD I possess of these Debussy Nocturnes, with Pierre Boulez conducting the Cleveland Orchestra, on Deutsche Grammophon.  And guess what: it is a more polished performance than the Blackheath Halls Orchestra managed last night.  But having heard, and watched, amateurs play these piece, I now know them a lot better.

In the second Nocturne, there is a big march, and Nico was in his element.  He did an excellent job, then and throughout, with his usual dignity and exactitude and his usual total absence of fuss.  I never caught the conductor looking at him, which, I believe, was because the conductor wasn’t worried about Nico.  He had other worries to attend to.

That these Blackheath violinists had nothing to reproach themselves for became clear during part two of the concert.  There was a particularly striking passage in the Sibelius, when, instead of having to play high and soft, they played very low and very loud.  They sounded terrific.

So did the rest of the Sibelius, to me, but only after I did something rather surprising.

Christopher Stark, as conductors tend to do nowadays on occasions like this one, said a few words about each piece of music before he conducted it.  And what he had to say about the Sibelius included how this symphony, instead of being chopped up into separate movements, quick and slow, with silent gaps in between, is instead all in one movement, but that during this one movement, the music “morphs” (his word) from one rhythm to another, fast to slower, slow to faster.  At certain points of the piece there are both a fast little rhythm and a bigger and slower rhythm, both happening at the same time, in time with each other.

Stark’s conducting was as good as his words.  However, when I watched him conduct, I was only able to hear the fast little rhythm.  I missed those longer and slower rhythms.  This was probably because not only Stark’s arms and fingers but his entire body were all concentrated on communicating exactly how that fast little rhythm should be played.

So, I closed my eyes.

And, immediately, I heard both rhythms, just as he had described them.  There was absolutely nothing wrong with the musical results he was getting.  It was just that the visual methods he was using were preventing me from hearing those results properly.

I kept my eyes closed for the rest of the performance, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  As did the rest of the audience, judging by the enthusiastic applause at the end.

What the hell, you may be asking, was the point of going to a concert, at which I could see, very well, all the musicians in action, if I then shut my eyes?  The point is: I was able to experience the extremity of this contrast.  Had I only been listening, as with a CD or a radio performance, that contrast would not have registered.  As it was, the moment when I shut my eyes was, for me, extraordinary.

Usually, I experience this effect at chamber music concerts, where the “body language” of the musicians constantly illuminates the nature of the music, and causes me, literally, to hear it better.

But, because (I surmise) the conductor last night was more bothered about getting his musicians to play the music as well as he could make them, than he was about explaining the music to us, the audience, with his visual gestures, I actually heard the music differently, and less well, when I watched him conducting.  Again, I am blaming nobody.  On the contrary, it was a most interesting thing to see and hear.

It helped a lot that Stark was able to explain something of the music, and in particularly this rhythmic aspect of it, with … words.  Things conductors don’t usually bother with, on the night, for the benefit of the audience.

Another aspect of the evening that was fun was how the audience and the musicians mingled.  I mean, how often, at an orchestral concert, does the man on the drums come and talk with you during the interval, and thank you for coming?  That would never happen with the London Symphony Orchestra.  During our conversation, I thanked Nico for telling me about this event and telling me also, beforehand, that the hall was architecturally interesting, in itself and because it had recently been remodelled.  That helped to persuade me to come, and I am very glad that I did.

Friday November 16 2018

Time for some more horizontality:

image

Click on that to get the 1000x750 original bigger picture, which I found here.

Notice the title of the posting.  Hartley really is fascinated by colour, whether present, as here (in the sky), or absent, as is the case for the black and white birds here.

Interesting that stripping out the context, which makes it that bit clearer that these are birds, makes these birds that little bit harder to see clearly, as birds.

Sunday November 11 2018

Yesterday, I went on a shopping expedition which involved boarding a train at Charing Cross, which I planned to reach by going first to St James’s Park tube.

The first of the photos below (1.1) is of a taxi, parked close to where I live, with some sort of poppy related advert on it.  I like to photo taxis covered in adverts.  Temporariness, the passing London scene, will get more interesting as the years pass, blah blah.

Then, in Strutton Ground, just this side of Victoria Street, I encountered two besuited gentlemen wearing military berets and medals.  I photoed them both, with their permission, and I post one of these photos here (1.2), also with their permission.  Sadly, the other photo didn’t come out properly.

It was only at this point that I realised that, the following day (i.e. today) being Remembrance Sunday and what’s more the exact one hundredth anniversary of the Armistice of November 1918, London in the Westminster Abbey area would already be awash with Remembrance Sunday photo-ops.  My shopping could wait a while, and I turned right down Victoria Street.

The seven other photos below mostly involve small wooden crosses and dead autumn leaves - autumn 2018 arrived at Peak Dead Leaf yesterday - but they also include another poppy related advert, this time on a the side of a bus (3.3), which I photoed in Parliament Square:

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Sadly, the plasticated documents referring to “British Nuclear Test Veterans” (2.1) were insufficiently plasticated to resist the effects of the rain.  It began to rain some more when I was arriving at Charing Cross station and it did not stop for several hours, so I’m guessing these lists suffered further rain damage.  It’s odd how little sadnesses like this stick in your mind, in amongst the bigger sadnesses being remembered.

The autumn-leaves-among-crosses photos, all taken outside Westminster Abbey, are but a few of a million such that must have been taken over this weekend, in London and in many other places.  Is it proper to include two mere advert photos, even if they are poppy related adverts, in such poetically symbolic and dignified company?  I chose to do this because one of the things I find most interesting about these Remembrance remembrances is that, as each year of them passes, they don’t seem to be getting any smaller.  People still want remember all this stuff, even though all the veterans of World War 1 are now gone.  Hence the adverts.  If the adverts didn’t get results, they’d not be worth their cost.

As to why these remembrances continue to be remembered, and by such huge numbers of people, year after year, I think one reason is that each political tribe and faction can each put their own spin on the sad events being remembered, but in the privacy of their own minds.  For some political partisans, these ceremonies and symbols are a chance to wallow in the pageantry of patriotism.  For others, they are an opportunity to rebuke such nationalists, for stirring up the kinds of hostility that might provoke a repeat of the sad events being remembered.  “Patriotism” and “nationalism” being the words used to salute, or to denounce, the exact same sentiments.  But declaring red poppies to be a warning that the defence budget should be increased, or that they are anti-Trump and anti-Brexit symbols that Trump supporters and Brexiteers have no right to wear, would be too vulgar and partisan, so on the whole this kind of vulgarity and partisanship is not indulged in, not out loud.

The phenomenon of the political meeting where all present hear the same words but where each understands them to mean different things – I’m thinking of such words as “Britain”, “freedom”, “democracy” and “common sense” – has long fascinated me.  Remembrance ceremonies remind me, on a larger scale, of such meetings.  I attended many such little political meetings myself before I decided that mainstream politics was not for me, and switched to libertarianism, where meanings are spelt out and arguments are had rather than avoided.

For less obsessively political people, Remembrance ceremonies and symbols are simply an opportunity to reflect on the sadness of history in general, and in particular the sadness of the premature deaths of beloved ancestors – or, perhaps worse – hardly known-about ancestors.  We can at least all agree that premature death, in whatever circumstances, is a sad thing to contemplate.  And until young men entirely cease from dying in wars, Remembrance Sunday will continue to be, among other things, a meaningfully up-to-date event.

And so, year after year, these ceremonies continue.  Will this year’s anniversary come to be regarded as Peak Remembrance?  We shall see.

Friday November 09 2018

Friday used to be my day here for “Cats” and then I expanded it also to “Other creatures”.  I hadn’t thought of anything creaturely to blog about, and hoped that when I went out walking today, I might encounter something appropriate.  I didn’t have to wait long.  Within yards of my home, I encountered these creatures:

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Police horses and their riders are often to be seen in the SW1 part of London, presumably just getting exercise in between riot situations.

Coincidentally, I recently had a discussion with someone on the subject of what work horses still do, following their replacement as transport by trains and cars and the like, and as warriors by such things as tanks.  Well, they still entertain us, by racing against one another, and by acting the parts of real transport horses or real war horses in historical dramas, mostly on the screen, but occasionally live.

But apart from that?  The only thing we could think of was assisting the police by participating in riot control.  I surmise that horses are called upon to do this because they combine being very scary to humans on foot, with their scary hooves with metal shoes on, with also being so very cute.  That way, rioters are dissuaded from trying to hurt such horses.  If rioters do actually hurt any horses, they incur the wrath of the general public in a way that rioters do not when they merely attack human riot police.  Horses combine being very formidable riot opponents with the fact that their presence at riots is very clearly not being their fault.  In a way, they are merely victims of such riots, victimised by the demands placed upon them.  We sympathise with them already, just because they have to attend riots.  If the rioters attack them, we sympathise even more.  Our sympathy may be excessive, but we feel it.  This places rioters in an impossible bind.  They like to think of themselves as heroes.  But heroes don’t torment horses.  Only villains do that.

Are there any other ways that horses make themselves useful to humans?  Perhaps my problem is that I am urban.  Out there in the country, in spots where vehicles still have problems, there must be such uses.  Transport in hilly or mountainous country?  Oh yes, cowboy horses, herding cows!  Silly me.  I can’t think of any more just now, but I bet if I continue to imagine the non-city parts of the world, more horse jobs will pop into my head, the way that cow-herding just did.

Fox hunting doesn’t count.  That used to be a real thing, when there were no other ways to combat foxes.  But now, fox hunting is just country folk having historical-re-enactment fun.