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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

Saturday December 16 2017

My camera is pretty good, but it isn’t ideal for me.  I only use a bit of it at all regularly, the automatic bit.  So if, on a rainy day, I push, by mistake, some stupid knob on it that tells it to stop being automatic, it stops being automatic.  And, the automatic focussing refuses to work the way it should.  That’s what happened when I thought it had conked out.  It’s fine.  It was simply obeying orders.

I tried photoing the relevant knobs, first with mirrors and then with my mobile, but the results of all that were a blurry mess.  Have you ever tried getting a camera to photo its own arse?  And photoing with my mobile is something I need daylight to do half decently.

I got a much better picture of the back of my camera by going to this.

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In particular, I draw your attention to this bit:

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The knob with AF/AE LOCK on it needs to be pointing at AFS/AFF, and absolutely not at MF.  MF means, I presume, Manual Focus.  AF means automatic focus.  S and the other F mean whatever they mean.

The problem arose when, in the rain and needing to possess three hands, one to hold my bag and two to operate my camera properly, I try to look at the photo I just took.  That involves pressing the button with the green arrow on it.  To get back to photoing, press DISP.  But, what with all the rain and the confusion and only having one hand to both hold the camera and press the knobs on it, I accidentally pushed the AF/AE LOCK knob, and got it pointing at MF.  By mistake.  I’m guessing this would be why the AF/AE LOCK button includes the word “LOCK”.  And this works a treat.  I know this now.

Anyway, the upshot (metaphorically speaking) of all this is that my camera went from photos like this, just before I met up with GD2 the day before yesterday ...:

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… to this, not long after that, after the knob disaster had occurred …:

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… and then back to this:

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… when I met up with a friend yesterday, in: Hither Green.

So, panic over.

It’s an odd feeling, partially the feeling of massive relief that I won’t have to spend Christmas trying to turn whatever guarantee came with my camera into another camera, and partially the feeling that I am an idiot and that I should pay more attention to the knobs on my camera.  Delight and embarrassment all mixed up together.

This is what Americans would call a “learning experience”, and although often all that this means is “total cock-up”, in this particular case they would be right.

Friday December 15 2017

Incoming from Rob Fisher: link to a piece in the Independent, about machine learning applied to old telescope data is finding new planets.

Quote:

A computer was trained to look through the data from the Kepler space telescope, and look for signals that might belong to planets. And it found new planets within existing systems, by spotting signals that seemed to indicate something of interest but were too weak to have been spotted by humans.

That suggests that there might be whole worlds and solar systems hiding within the data we’ve already collected, but which we had not noticed because there are simply so many signals to pick through. Kepler has collected four-years of data from looking at the sky and 150,000 stars – far more than humans could ever look through.

So, exactly what were these weak signals?

The new planets – just like all of the thousands found by Kepler – were spotted by watching the sky for light coming from the stars. When planets pass in front of their stars, scientists can register the dimming as they go, and use the speed and characteristics of that dimming to work out what the solar system might actually look like.

Much of that work relies on pattern recognition, which until now has been done by scientists looking through the data. But the new findings are the result of work between Nasa and Google, which trained machine learning algorithms to learn to spot those patterns itself and so pick through the data much more quickly.

This is good.  Keep Skynet busy with harmless hobbies.

Maybe not.  Getting Skynet to compile a huge and exhaustive list of all the places in the universe where biology-based life might be, after biology-based life on this planet has been taken care of.

This is maybe how the robot holocaust will happen.  We will have been telling them to “take care of” us and our fellow creatures.  But they’ll have been watching too many gangster movies, and ...

Wednesday December 13 2017

Today I was in central London.  It wasn’t good photoing weather.  Grim and grey and wet.  But I did take this photo:

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At the time, I thought I was photoing an army of Santas.  For some reason I find the photoing of large numbers of similar or identical objects, in a big clump or clutch, to be rather satisfying.

But it turned out I was photoing two British Personal Brands With Huge Global Reach, namely The Queen, as performed by Elizabeth Windsor, and Mr Bean, as performed by Rowan Atkinson.

A lot of their appeal is that these are both characters who do a lot of physical stuff, rather than characters who talk a lot.  Neither Elizabeth Windsor nor Rowan Atkinson are stupid or inarticulate people.  On the contrary both are notable wordsmiths, blessed with famously subtle senses of humour.  Nevertheless, the Queen’s daily repertoire of stuff is adopting Royal poses and walking or being driven about Royally and making Royal gestures and doing Royal things like shaking hands with a line of lesser celebrities.  And Mr Bean mostly makes faces and does pratfalls.  These are things that anyone on earth can see – see - the point of with great ease.  You don’t have to know a word of English to get what The Queen or Mr Bean are all about.  And if only a tiny percentage of the world’s populace like what they see of these two characters, that is still a lot of people.

You see Queen and Bean together, in effigy, in tourist crap shops, a lot.  That I photoed the two of them accidentally is no, as it were, accident.

Despite googling it, I still don’t understand what this is about.

Tuesday December 12 2017

I have been receiving several of these calls recently, from faraway Indian-sounding guys who all, coincidentally, have English-sounding names.

Once again, I am reminded that the internet is the internet, and that if I type some words into my computer, along the lines of “I’m calling you from Windows …”, I should get the story.  And: I did.

That story was posted in 2012.  As it says, this rubbish obviously works.  Five years later, they’re still at it, with an identical script.

I’m somewhat ashamed to relate that it worked on me, the first time, a bit.  I seriously considered the possibility of the call being real, until I worked out that it obviously wasn’t.  Such shame spasms are important because they stop people talking about these scams and thereby reducing their chances of working.

In the early nineteenth century, sheep stealers were hanged, or so goes the legend.  Rip-off phone calls like the above make me understand why this happened, insofar as it actually did.  People talk, quite reasonably, about how people stole sheep because they were starving, but I’m guessing that having your sheep (singular or plural) stolen was a serious blow about which you (the victime) were ashamed, and that catching the bastards was very difficult even if you did tell other people.  So, when, by chance, sheep stealers were caught, they were often or at least sometimes killed.  I completely get it.

More often, however, they were (scroll down to the end) transported to Australia.

Once again, the internet tells the story.  This is yet another way in which the experience of getting old (the first posting you’ll get, as of now, if you follow that link, will be this one) has been transformed.  We oldies love to satisfy our curiosity about things that are none of our business and of no great interest to anyone, except us.  Time was when discussions about pointless trivia could go on for ever in a fact-free fashion.  Now, all you need is one small machine and the matter can be settled.  Does the internet kill conversation?  Discuss.  Or, you could type this question into the internet and get a definitive answer, yes it does or no it doesn’t.  End of conversation.  Or not.

Tuesday December 05 2017

Earlier this evening at the Two Chairmen, Westminsters, Adriana Lucas, who grew up in the old Czechoslovakia as was, gave a most eloquent talk about this experience.  She didn’t bang on at length about the usual horrors – prison camps, executions, purges, and so on – although of course these were mentioned.  Rather did she focus on the minutiae of life for the rather less unlucky victims of communism, the ones who got to stay alive.  People adjusted, basically.  Or if, like Adriana’s family, they were dissidents, they learned to be extremely distrustful of almost everyone but their closest and most trusted loved ones.  Being a dissident wasn’t about overthrowing the regime; it was merely about staying sane.

Here are four photos, that I picked out from the dozen or more that I took, and that I just sent to meetings organiser Simon Gibbs, who is to be seen in the first one, introducing Adriana.  The photos I sent to Simon were rectangles, but I actually prefer these square cropped versions.

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As you can see, this excellent talk was videoed.  Videos are far harder to edit than merely to … video.  So you may have to wait a bit before seeing this one.  But, for those who did not attend this talk and for many who did, it will be worth the wait.

Friday December 01 2017

Last Saturday, a friend invited me to share some gin at The Star.  We also each had a pie, with red wine in it.  Delicious.

The Star is quite near to the junction of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road, and has a great slab of Crossrail turmoil right slap against it, which has turned the formerly busy Great Chappell Street into a poky little footway, and has for a year or three now destroyed all possibility of passing trade to The Star.  So, The Star has switched to invites and events.  It hasn’t now even got a sign on over its front door.  Where there once was and still ought to be a sign, there is, for the time being anyway, only blank blackness:

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But inside, things liven up considerably, in particular with an enjoyably ironic display of antique signage:

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This next one, also visible above in the general display, being a particular collector’s item, which explains why I waited until today (Friday is Cats and Other Creatures Day here at BMdotcom) before displaying it here:

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That wouldn’t be allowed now, any more than all the tobacco adverts would be.

imageAnd since this is a Cats and Other Creatures Day, there on the right is an advert for another product from the same enterprise.  If the product had been made of budgies and canaries, I’m sure the pussies would have loved it.

We got there on the dot at 1pm, opening time, and were the first there, hence those empty tables to be seen above.  But the place was soon buzzing with happy gin drinkers.

An earlier posting, featuring a photo I took just before I got to The Star, was also naughty, in a different way.  It’s interesting what naughtiness is now and is not now allowed.

Wednesday November 29 2017

Yes, those horses brought it all back.  My journey out to exotic Tilbury, and its cranes, in the late September of 2013, and then walking along the north bank of the Thames Estuary towards the even mightier cranes of London Gateway.

As often happens on these expeditions, one of the most interesting things I encountered that day was right at the start of my wanderings, in little old Tilbury itself, on a footbridge, over the railway, before I had even got to the Estuary.

When I arrived at Tilbury, I could already see that there were cranes, and that there was a footbridge joining the platforms.  In order to photo the former, I ascended the latter, and got photos like this:

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Then I had a wander around Tilbury, and photoed weird stuff like this:

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That antenna looks like part of an insect, doesn’t it?  Well, I told you I occasionally like to attempt wildlife photography.

And then I decided that I needed to make use of another footbridge, a little further along the railway line, to get me onto the Estuary side of the line, so that I could get stuck into the real business of the day.

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It doesn’t look much, does it?  Just a footbridge.

But then, it started to look a bit interesting:  What are those faces, over on the other side there, not on the bridge itself, but on the approach to it, on the other side?  Graffiti, by the look of things.  But what sort of graffiti?

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I walked up the ramp onto the bridge, and on the actual bridge bit of the bridge, there was indeed graffiti.  Plenty of it.  But not graffiti that was in any way out of the ordinary.  It was the usual sort of graffiti, graffiti that says: We own this place, hee hee hee.  At night anway, when normal people are asleep and not looking.  Graffiti that says: You don’t know what this means, hee hee hee.  Graffiti that says, to me anyway: Yes, my life is going to be a pathetic failure, but it’s going to be the fault of the world and how horrible it’s been to me, rather than being in any way my pathetic fault, boo hoo hoo.  I grow increasingly irritated by this kind of stuff, which of course is one of its purposes, to irritate old geezers like me:

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Besides which, there are probably art galleries queueing up to get this guy to do his boring stuff indoors, to epater the bourgeousie in the approved art gallery manner and get a write-up in the Guardian.  So maybe this gink will make something of himself after all.  Maybe he already has.  Maybe his day job is doing the accounts for the Tilbury Town Council.

Whatever, so far so boring.

But then, something interesting started happening.  The Gink, or someone, had decided to insert a different psychological attitude into what was going on.  And the Gink, either because he personally wanted to or because someone else had taken him to one side and sat him down, and told him to change his tune, switched from the usual graffitied bafflingness to something clearer, and with a very different psychological vibe to it.  The Metacontext, as Samizdata’s Perry de Havilland would put it, suddenly changed.

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What is this?  Making things happen?  Hard work?  Persistence?  Success??? My God, someone has told the Gink that he is, just maybe, the boss of his own life, and that if he tries a bit harder, and takes responsibility for the outcomes of his own actions – in general, if he starts to think a bit differently - he just might truly amount to something.  It’s not definite.  That kind of thing never is, but if you give up and blame everyone else for your failures, failure is definite.

Was that the explanation for what happened next, or did what happen next actually get done first?  I don’t know.  But whatever the story, the story now changed.  On the approach ramp on the other side of the bridge, those faces.  Recognisable faces.  Next to readable messages.  In English.  There are details that tell not-an-art-expert me, so make of this what you will, that that this is the same guy, with the same paintbrushes and spray cans.  The medium is the same.  But the message has suddenly become something else entirely.  The grafitti suddenly becomes of something, in a way that even an old geezer like me can set about understanding.  My shoes are no longer being pissed on by a human animal, albeit one who is clever with a paint brush.  Instead, a truly human human being is communicating with me, in languages that are clearly intended for me to understand:

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The first face there, on the left, is Frank Sinatra.

Here are all the others:

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Names, with a link to the complete song lyric: Vera Lynn, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Aretha Franklin, Amy Winehouse, Tinchy Stryder, John Lennon, Adam Ant, Madonna, and Peter Kay.

It’s a quirky list, with strange inclusions and inevitable exclusions (Bowie? Stones? Jackson?).  Peter Kay, who merely mimed along to a song sung by someone else, is extremely lucky to make the cut.  But I reckon that’s all part of the fun.

Not all of the above photos are very good.  Some had to be rescued from the general scene and widened, and in one case (Amy Winehouse) made bigger.  Also, shame about the big W on Tinchy’s face.  But, you get the pictures.

If you google “tilbury grafitti” you discover quite a lot.  Apparently a bit upstream from where I went there is a big long slice of graffiti (scroll down until you get to “London’s mega-port” and “The Tilbury graffiti wall” - both well worth reading and following links from), crammed with popular art references, on the estuary wall.  It’s like: someone has a policy, or at the very least an attitude.  You can’t eliminate graffiti, but you can maybe get it to say something a bit less suicidal and doomed.

It isn’t clear yet what effect London Gateway and its nearly thirty massive cranes and its huge “logistics park” is going to have on other big English container ports, like Felixstowe and Southampton.  But one thing is clear.  Little old Tilbury dock, just upstream, may dribble on for a few years, but it is not going to get any bigger.  My guess is it will soon close.  Tilburians are going to have to find other things to do with their lives.  As Lord Tebbit once put it, they are going to have to get one their bikes.  Maybe not as far as to Amarillo, but at least mentally speaking.  What my visit to Tilbury and my subsequent and more recent Tilbury googlings tell me is that at least some people in Tilbury, including some people with enough clout to decide what gets painted on a footbridge, realise all this.

Yes I know, maybe I’m reading altogether too much into a few dawbs on a footbridge.  But, maybe: not.  I definitely intend returning to Tilbury.

Sunday November 26 2017

Earlier today I was at a party, and sitting in on the party was Alexa, the cylindrical robot from Amazon.  So, one of us asked Alexa to tell us a Dirty Joke.  Alexa replied: “Why do you call a chicken covered in dirt crossing the road?” Answer, although I didn’t hear if Alexa actually said this or merely assumed that we’d get it: a dirty joke.

Not bad.  And funny because, although a joke involving dirt, it is not a dirty joke in the sense of there being any sexual innuendo involved.

But, was Alexa trying to tell a joke?  Or merely trying to do as she was told, without in any way understanding what the thing she was being told to do actually meant?  I know, Alexa never “understands” anything.  She’s a machine, with no consciousness.  But, you surely know what I mean.

Another rather perfunctory posting.  But, I spent quite a lot of my day going to a party, partying, and getting back from the party.  I may, although I promise nothing, do better tomorrow.

Saturday November 25 2017

Indeed:

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Photoed by me in Oxford Street this afternoon,

Like I said: perfunctory.

Friday November 24 2017

Yes it’s a busy time here at Chateau BMdotcom.  I have a meeting here this evening, for which I must now prepare, but, preparations are not helped by the fact that the two biggest supermarkets in my vicinity, Tescos Warwick Way, and Sainsburys Wilton Road, are both now shut, so that they can rearrange themselves, refurbish themselves, in time for Christmas presumably.  (And in order to take our minds off the fact that the prices of everything are now shooting upwards.)

This is bizarre.  Couldn’t they collude to take it in turns to shut, rather than colluding (I assume) both to be shutting at the same time?  I am too busy, doing such things as trying to think where I will be going instead to buy food for this evening, to be able to expand here upon this peculiar matter.  Let’s just say it’s lucky for capitalism that I really like it.  If I didn’t, this might have tipped me over the edge into full-on Bolshevism, at which point I might have become the straw that broke the camel of capitalism’s back.

After tonight’s meeting, I then have a succession of pre-Christmas socialisings fixed, for over the coming weekend and into next week.  All very nice and everything, but a struggle to keep track of, and to fit other necessary things around.  Which is why postings here have been a bit perfunctory of late, and why that may continue for a few more days.

Or, it may not.  Because actually, the urge to blog is, for me, hard to estimate the strength of beforehand.  Often, I think, the feeling I feel when busy that there are Things I Must Do, causes me then to avoid doing these Things by instead … blogging.

Right now, for instance, I am supposed to be preparing for this evening.  But instead ...

Sunday November 19 2017

I once was once briefly acquainted with a quite close relative of Robert Mugabe, and that person was truly remarkable in being utterly incapable of understanding how anyone could possibly disagree with the truth that he saw so very clearly.  This person also looked exactly - spookily - like Robert Mugabe. (It was asking about this resemblance that got me the information that he was a close relative of Mugabe.) I have never known a more deeply stubborn person, ever.  But it was not a stubbornness made merely of the desire or the determination not to change his mind.  No.  He was simply unable to change his mind.  The idea of him every having been wrong, about anything, was simply impossible for him to grasp.

If Robert Mugabe is anything like this relative of his, and everything I know about Robert Mugabe tells me that Mugabe is, in this respect, exactly like him, Mugabe may find himself sacked, imprisoned, or even executed, but he will never resign, or ever change his mind about the wisdom of anything he ever said or did.  That he has not yet resigned has, according to the Guardian headline linked to there, has “stunned” Zimbabwe.  I was not stunned.

They’ll have to force him out, like King Richard II was forced out by King Henry IV.  But if Mugabe is forced out, there will be no scenes like the closing scenes of Shakespeare’s version of Richard II, where the deposed Richard comes to see the world and its ways differently, and to understand things more deeply.  Simply, Mugabe is right, has always been right and will always be right, and if everyone else disagrees with him, it can only be that everyone else is, was, and will be, hopelesslyl wrong.  Mugabe is literally incapable of understanding matters in any other way.

Mugabe is indeed now a rather confused old man.  But his confusion concerns only how it is possible for so many people to be so completely mistaken.

Sunday November 12 2017

A few weeks ago, I watched and recorded a Shakespeare documentary series, in one episode of which Jeremy Irons talked about, and talked with others about, the two Henry IV plays.  And that got me watching two recorded DVDs that I had already made of these plays, the BBC “Hollow Crown” versions, with Irons as King Henry and Tom Hiddleston as the King’s son, Prince Hal.  While watching these, I realised how little I really knew these wonderful plays, and how much I was enjoying correcting that a little.

More recently, partly spurred on by what Trevor Nunn in that same documentary series had to say about it, I have been doing the same with The Tempest, this time making use of a DVD that I long ago purchased for next to nothing in a charity shop but had failed ever to watch.

By accident, when this DVD of The Tempest began, there were subtitles to be seen, and I realised that these written lines, far from getting in the way, only added to my enjoyment, so I left them on.  And, if subtitles were helping, why not the entire text?  Maybe I possess a copy of The Tempest, but if so I could not find it, so instead, I tried the internet, which quickly obliged.  My eyesight not being the best, I beefed up the magnification of the text until it was nearly as big as those subtitles.  So, I watched, I read subtitles, and I was able to see who was saying what, and what they were about to say.  And very gratifying it all was:

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On the telly, on the left, David Dixon as Ariel and, on the right, Michael Hordern as Prospero, both very impressive.

And here, should you be curious, is the text they were enacting at that particular moment, as shown on the right of the above photo, but now blown up and photoshop-cloned into greater legibility:

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I think the reason I found this redundancy-packed way of watching The Tempest so very satisfying is that with Shakespeare, the mere matter of what is going on is secondary to the far more significant matter of exactly what is being said, this latter often consisting of phrases and sentences which have bounced about in our culture for several centuries.  As ever more people have felt the need to recycle these snatches or chunks of verbiage, for their own sake, and because they illuminate so much else that has happened and is happening in the world, so these words have gathered ever more force and charismatic power.  As the apocryphal old lady said when leaving a performance of Hamlet: “Lovely.  So full of quotations.”

The thing is, Shakespeare’s characters don’t just do the things that they do, and say only what needs to be said to keep the plot rolling along.  They seek to find the universal meaning of their experiences, and being theatrical characters, they are able, having found the right words to describe these experiences, to pass on this knowledge to their audiences.  This is especially true of Hamlet, because central to Hamlet’s character is that he is constantly trying to pin down the meaning of life, in a series of what we would now call tweets, and consequently to be remembered after his death.

Prospero in The Tempest is not quite so desperate to be remembered, any more, we are told, than Shakespeare himself was.  In Prospero, as Trevor Nunn explained in his documentary about The Tempest, many hear Shakespeare saying goodbye to his career as a theatrical magician and returning to his provincial life of Middle English normality. But Shakespeare was Shakespeare.  He couldn’t help creating these supremely eloquent central characters.  Even when all they are doing is ordering room service, or in the case of Prospero doing something like passing on his latest instructions to Ariel, they all end up speaking Shakespeare, with words and phrases that beg to be remembered for ever.  These famous Shakespeare bits are rather like those favourite bits that we classical music fans all hear in the great works of the Western musical cannon.

So, a way of watching these plays that enables these great word-clusters to hang around for a while is just what you want.  (Especially if, like Prospero, you are getting old, and your short-term memory is not what it was.) It also helps being able to press the pause button from time to time, to enable you to savour these moments, to absorb their context, better than you could if just watching the one unpausable performance in front of you.  Although I agree, having a pause symbol on the furrowed brow of Prospero, as in my telly-photo above, is not ideal.

I am now browsing through my Shakespeare DVD collection, wondering which one to wallow in next.

Saturday November 11 2017

I took this photo out in the Epping region, while walking about there with a friend, in the autumn of 2015.  And I believe that even when I took it, it seemed like a modern take on Remembrance Sunday and all that.  Death in a major war, although itself no doubt often a very solitary experience, is experienced by the rest of us, especially as events like World War One recede into history, as a vast collective, shared, catastrophe.  It’s the scale of the death, the sheer numbers, that hits home.  And much poppy imagery reflects this, for instance in the form of all those poppies that were recently planted around the Tower of London.

So this poppy photo perhaps suggests the individuality and isolation of military death, when fighting on behalf of a country like ours, now.  Your son dies.  But nobody else for miles around is suffering in the same way.  You’re on your own.

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The yellow of the surrounding flowers suggests cowardice, which I dare say is how some bereaved people feel about their loss: that everyone else is scared to get stuck in.  But there the metaphor probably breaks down.  I certainly think that the people of Britain would be more than ready in the future to fight another big war, if they thought it made sense.

But it was a striking sight, nevertheless.

Wednesday November 08 2017

Yes, as I often do, I am doing the first 6/20 talk of the year, in this case of the year 2018, for Christian Michel.  He calls them 6/20 because, with only rare deviations, they happen on the 6th and the 20th of each month.  My talk will be on the January 6th.

At the meeting on the 6th of this month, Christian asked me to send him something in writing about the talk I would be giving, and to finalise its title.  Here is what I just sent him:

“The causes we identify and the causes we identify with”

My background is not philosophy; it is political disputation.  My talk will not be an exhaustive philosophical explication of the nature of causes and of causation; rather will my talk be about how causal arguments are deployed by those arguing about politics, in particular by those of us with highly developed ideological prejudices.

It will be about how such persons often especially like a “root cause”, even though causes typically deploy themselves in teams rather than in isolation.

It will be about how the causes of events - of good events and of bad events – which we ideologues choose to pick out, from the hubbub of multiple causes, and celebrate or denounce are choices which are conditioned by our general ideological prejudices.

Among other things, I expect to be comparing ideological arguments with the arguments that happen within failing marriages.

This is more in the nature of a memo-to-self, to get me going on the necessary preparation, than it is an advert.  But if you want to attend this or any other of these meetings but don’t know how, get in touch.

Monday November 06 2017

This blog regularly suffers from this condition:

The maxim “Nothing avails but perfection” may be spelt shorter: “ Paralysis”.

Today, for instance, I journeyed forth, north, and got some great photos.  But I want to get my report of today’s photo-triumphs exactly right, which means that, quite possibly, I won’t ever report them at all.  How paralytic is that?  Very.

However, this evening, I met some people who every now and again take a look at this blog.  Not a read of it, you understand.  They look.  At the photos.  So here is a photo for such “readers”, taken just over a decade ago, of a lady with a nice headscarf taking a photo with her then state-of-the-art but now hopelessly out-of-date mobile phone:

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It was not long before then that I started seriously trying to take photos of photoers that excluded their faces.