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

Wednesday July 27 2016

Last weekend and all through this week, despite still not be totally well, I have been doing lots of socialising.  I now face more.  This Friday I have a meeting at my own home (Michael Jennings speaking about Australia).  Today, my cricket buddy Darren and I are going to see Surrey v Gloucs at the Oval.  Plus, The Guru and I are, in the midst of all this, trying to fix a visit by him to see to my big old home computer ("Dawkins" is the name I think I gave it), in time to beat the Windows 10 For Free deadline, which I think is on Friday also.  So, blogging here during the next few days may be more perfunctory than usual.  It may not, but it may.

On the other hand, blogging doesn’t need to take that long, and while doing this apology-for-not=blogging posting, I also concocted another blog posting.  See below.

This is why I make a point of promising nothing, so very frequently.  Once I have promised nothing, my immediate inclination is to break that promise.  Whereas, if I promise something, that is all too likely to be the promise that will get broken.

Tuesday July 26 2016

I love before and after pictures.  Here is another, showing how the world looked before Blackfriars Bridge Railway Station was built (photo taken in 2004), and after it was built (photo taken a few weeks ago).

imageimage

What the two pictures have in common in those ghostly red columns, left over from an earlier Blackfriars railway bridge.

I seem to recall once upon a time speculating that the ugly lump next to the Shard made the Shard possible.Yes:

The Ugly Lump with the gasometer in front of it, on the right, is Guy’s Hospital.  The other day I heard myself surmising that maybe if Guy’s Hospital had never been built, the Shard might not have been built either.  As it was, there was no nearby neighbourhood or particular bit of the London skyline to ruin, aesthetically speaking, because that job had already been done by Guy’s.  As it was, any aesthetical objection to the Shard was, as far as the immediate locals were concerned, a non-starter.

I still think that’s right.  And what I now wonder is: did something similar happen with the new Blackfriars Station, the one on the bridge, that you can see in the right hand picture above, but not in the left had one?  What I’m thinking is that the view that you see on the left, looking over Blackfriars railway bridge to the towers of the City is perhaps not a view that London’s rulers were especially proud of, what with those columns.  Personally, I love the columns.  For me, they are classic London at its weirdest and most eccentric.  But you can imagine Powerful People being a bit uneasy about this oddity, and about the fact that Something Should Have Been Done About Them, by, you know, them.  So, a railways station which spoilt this view, while not doing too much violence to views across the top of the bridge from further away, might not have been unwelcome.  Without the columns, however, there was a view that they might not have been so ready to see interrupted.

This is just a speculation, just a thought, just a suggestion.  I’m sure lots of other thinking besides that sort of thinking went into the building of this weird and eccentric railway station.  (I added the word “more” to my title after first posting this.) But, I think there might be something to this.

Perhaps those Powerful People also hoped that something new and more constructive might be done with the columns, what with the new railway station being built.  Maybe such a use was even promised, but later abandoned, for some reasons or other.

LATER: Actually, what I am now realising is that there used to be three disembodied rows of red columns, but that the right hand row as we look got swallowed up in a widened version of the original bridge.  My pictures show this rather well, which is why I finally noticed.

Monday July 25 2016

Have I ever shown you this photo?  I don’t believe I have.  If I have, well, I think it’s good, and here it is again, slightly rotated and cropped into a square:

image

That was taken from the top of Hotel ME, in January 2014.  On the left the Spraycan.  On the right, the Millbank Tower, with its glorious roof clutter crewcut.

I definitely showed a clutch of other photos I took on the same day (Jan 25), but no, not that one.

This is why I like to trawl back through the photo-archives.  I see things I didn’t see at the time.

Wednesday July 20 2016

My entire day today was bent out of shape by a cricket match, between Surrey and Hampshire.  Surrey were trying to bowl out Hants and win, but the pitch was a belter and a draw was the likely result all day long.  Nevertheless, every time the day looked like it had died, Surrey took more wickets.  It reached six down, and Surrey were in with a chance.  But then there was yet another long stand, by two Hampshire guys, in a match distinguished by long stands.  The game had begun with a stand of over two hundred by the Surrey openers, and the Surrey first innings ended with another two hundred stand, unbroken, between the Surrey wicketkeeper and the Surrey captain, Gareth Batty.  So today, Hampshire six down, with the game nearly over.

But then, Batty suddenly got a couple more wickets in the same over, bringing his total for the innings to six and his total for the match to eight, and then Stuart Meaker got another, and suddenly Hampshire were nine down.  Could Surrey finish it?  Earlier in the season, they got another side nine down but then got beaten by a big tenth wicket stand, so nothing was done and dusted until it was done and dusted.  But then Meaker got the final wicket, and it was done and dusted.

Just now I did manage a posting at Samizdata, based on some photos I took out in the blazing sunshine of yesterday afternoon.

The two photos I showed at Samizdata were chosen for their content, not their artistic expression.  Here is one of my favourite photos, from the artistic expression point of view, that I took yesterday:

image

Mmmmmm.  Cranes.  And roof clutter.  And The Wheel.

While out and about taking snaps like that, I was also following the Hampshire v Surrey game on my mobile.  When I left my home, Hampshire were nearly all out in their first innings, and Surrey were on course to get them in again and get stuck into their second innings.  But while I was drowning my sorrows in photography, Hampshire’s last wicket pair were frustrating Surrey for the last hour and a half of the day, and Hampshire still hadn’t lost their last wicket at close of play.  This morning, the stand went on, only ending with a run out.  Like I say, this was a match which Surrey always deserved to win, but you never thought they actually would.  And then: they did.

Yesterday, I was opining that you shouldn’t let yourself be at the mercy of popular culture, to the point where you start getting angry about sequels and remakes, in this case the remake of Ghostbusters.  But this is the fate of every true sports fan.  He is at the mercy of events entirely controlled by others, and is doomed to constant disappointment.  But, I suppose, there are enough good days, like today was for me, to make it a satisfactory bargain.

And I really am a true Surrey fan.  While Surrey were piling up the runs on the first day of this game, England were busy being bowled to defeat by Pakistan.  And while this was happening, I was wondering how many Surrey wickets I would surrender to cancel out England wickets.  It turned out: hardly any.

So here, to celebrate, is another photo I took, last year, when I actually went to watch Surrey play:

image

That being Gareth Batty.  Man of the Match, and Surrey’s Man of the Season so far.

LATER: Cricinfo agrees:

Batty was not so much leading from the front as picking up those around him, yapping under the helmet and then getting the job done himself. A century in the first innings began his work before two for 78 in the Hampshire reply was bested by a sensational six for 51 in the follow-on. Throw in Stuart Meaker’s reverse swing addled 18 overs of four for 40, and you wonder where the doubt in obtaining a result came from.

But with 10 overs left in the day, hope had all-but gone. At the end of Batty’s 24th over (56th of the match) he walked duck-footed to mid off, shoulders slunk, cap in hand, dreading what might be. Of all long-form cricket’s gut punches, the handshakes after a drawn fixture take the most out of a skipper who has spent the last few hours on top. And Batty’s side had been ahead for the last three days.

Summoning one last push, Batty returned to take two in his next over. Lewis McManus, having started the day with bat in hand, looked like he would finish it, too. But, after six hours and 21 minutes of crease time across both innings, he was finally dismissed to a fast arm ball. Three balls later, Andrew’s outside edge was found with a perfect off spinner. It was left to Meaker to finish things off. Late movement into the right hander did for Gareth Berg, before Mason Crane was the recipient of a bouncer that would haunt the most weathered opening batsmen, let alone a 19-year-old number 10.

Surrey currently sit outside the relegation zone, 10 points away from Nottinghamshire, who have replaced them in the bottom two. Even if Hampshire were to win their game in hand with full bonus points, they would only go one ahead of Surrey. It bears reiterating: rarely will you see a side work so hard to achieve a four day win of this magnitude.

Read the whole thing.

Monday July 18 2016

I have been slightly ill for quite a while now.  About three weeks.  Not properly ill, just slightly ill.

One of the symptoms of being ill is that I don’t like coffee.  Normally, I do like coffee.  But when ill, I don’t.  And for some reason the experience of being slightly ill has thrown this effect into sharp relief.  Every morning for the last few weeks, I have asked myself: do I want coffee?  Each morning, I have said to myself: yes, I do.  Not as much as I do when healthy, but I still want it, more than I don’t want it.

This is because I am mostly well, but a bit ill.  Mostly, I still want coffee, but I slightly don’t.  Because I am slightly ill.

Maybe it is the constant decision making which has made me so very aware of this equation, that being healthy means I can drink coffee, but that being ill means I don’t.

What this shows is that there is a definite connection between regular coffee drinking and a healthy lifestyle.  But, for me at least and probably for quite a few others, the causal arrow goes in the opposite direction to the one usually assumed.

Every so often, Instapundit does a posting about how coffee is good for your health.  Drink three cups of coffee every morning and live to be ninety five, that kind of thing.  The clear implication is that it is the coffee that is causing you to live so long.

My surmise is that this is wrong.  Your healthiness is what is causing you to be so healthy that you live to be ninety five, and your healthiness also causes you to drink lots of coffee.  You drink it because you can.  You are healthy!

Sickly people, the sort who die younger, cannot stomach coffee.  But it is their sickliness that kills them, not their failure to drink coffee.

I can’t be the first person to say all this.  I am slightly ill, and so can’t be bothered to search out all the other people who say such things.  But, I bet they are out there.

Thursday July 14 2016

Indeed:

image

The Park in question is Finsbury, the Park Theatre being near to Finsbury Park, and more to the point from my point of view, Finsbury Park tube station.  I was there last night to see a friend perform at the Park Theatre, which she did very well.

That LIFE sign thing is just outside the smaller theatre space, where my friend was performing, at the top of the rest of the theatre.  I do not know why it is there.  Could it be that they hope that people will photo it, and then mention the Park Theatre on the internet?

I suppose the creator of this sign could also have been thinking of that old Blur tune.  But that, I believe, concerns a different park.

Wednesday July 13 2016

I continue to photo London’s black cabs and their adverts, particularly when they are entirely not black, because of being covered in a big taxi-shaped advert.

Here, for instance, is an unblack cab that particularly caught my eye, in Oxford street around a week ago:

image

What strikes me about this image …:

image

… (and oh look, I managed to save the picture without all the website verbiage on top of it), is that London looks … well, see the title of this. 

The way the website puts a logo of Principal Tower in the middle of that picture makes it look like Principal Tower is right in the middle of all this foggy drama.  Actually it’s way off to the left, near Broadgate Tower, beyond Liverpool Street Station.

As for this looking like Dubai, I have in mind pictures of Dubai that look like this:

image

I guess there’s something rather appealing about the idea of living in a magic tower which just hovers in the sky, with all that mess below blotted out.  Unless you need to nip out to do some shopping.

Tuesday July 12 2016

I’ve been suffering from something a lot like hay fever.  Yesterday, the doctor gave me some anti-hay-fever spray to spray it with, up my nose, which I hate.  My symptoms are: aches and pains that wander around all over the left side of my head.  I knew you’d be excited.

But, from the same doctor who wants me to spray chemical effluent up my nose I learned that if you get something stuck in your throat, which is what set all this off, they recommend: coca cola.  I did not know that.  So last night, when I went out for drinks, someone offered me a drink, and I though, no I’ve had enough (what with the headaches and so forth), but then I thought: yes, get me a coca cola.  Apparently it clears out stuff in your throat by dissolving it.  How come it doesn’t dissolve your entire mouth?  (Maybe it does.) But whatever, it felt like it worked, and I’m drinking more coke now.

Last night, at that drinks gathering, I heard something else diverting.

We were having a coolness competition.  What’s the coolest thing you’ve done lately?  That kind of thing.  I contributed the fact that my niece is about to become the published author of a work of crime fiction, which is not bad, and which I will surely be saying more about when this book materialises.  It will be published by a real publisher, with an office in London and a name you’ve heard of, which intends to make money from the book and thinks it might.  More about that when I get to read it.  I usually promise nothing but I do promise that, here or somewhere I’ll link to from here.  It would be a lot cooler if it was me who had accomplished this myself, but it is pretty cool even from a moderately close relative.

But another friend from way back whom I hadn’t seen for years trumped this, with something which in my opinion made him the winner, not least because he did the thing in question himself.

Remember the Concorde crash in Paris, back whenever it was, just before 9/11.  And remember how the other Concordes all got grounded for ever after that crash.  What you may not recall quite so clearly is that the other Concordes were not grounded for ever immediately after the crash.  That only happened a few weeks later.  And my friend told us that he took a trip on Concorde, on the day after the Concorde crash.  How cool is that?  Very, I would say.  There were many cancellations, apparently, but he was made of sterner stuff, which is all part of what made it so cool.

I know, a bit of a ramble.  It comes of me being somewhat ill.  Illnesses can be cool, I suppose.  But this one, which is just uncomfortable enough to be uncomfortable, but which hasn’t actually stopped me from doing things, merely from doing them energetically and enthusiastically, definitely isn’t cool.

Sunday July 10 2016

I remember the time well.  It was when I first had a really nice camera, and I explored the banks of the River Thames, finding all manner of things that I never knew existed until I chanced upon them, camera in hand.  This statue of Lord Nelson, for example, which is outside a pub called the Trafalgar Tavern, in Greenwich, which I encountered in July 2007:

imageimage

The www offers two sorts of pictures of this statue.  There are the ones that show his face and medals, with the Trafalgar Tavern behind his Lordship, often with the word Trafalgar carefully included.  And there are the views from behind, like mine, which provide a modern background, in the form of the Docklands towers or the Dome.

I did take a front view of this statue, but it was totally ruined by my shadow blasting its way into the middle of the picture.  The fact that I didn’t bother to retake that shot tells you that I preferred the modern background shots.

Thursday June 30 2016

6k writes about the long journey from journeyman amateur snapper to Artist:

I don’t pretend to be a photo ninja. I can point, and I can shoot, and sometimes the results can be pretty good. Very occasionally, they can be startlingly good, but only very occasionally. I need to work more at not just pointing and shooting to increase the percentage of those startlingly good shots. We’ll get there.

There follows a picture of a bird spreading its wings.  In other words, the capture of a fleeting moment.

6k photos his family quite a bit, as they do things like explore the spectacularly beautiful coastline near where he lives, in South Africa.  Photoing your loved ones is also a matter of capturing the exact right moment.

With me, I think I get nearest to Art when I’m lining things up with each other.  I have a mental list of things I like, and a picture counts double in my head, if I can line a couple, or maybe even more, of these things.  The most characteristic of such alignments over the years have typically involved a digital photographer, with a London Big Thing in the background.

Here are a couple of efforts I might pick out to enter a competition, if someone told me I had to do that:

imageimageimage

In these two cases, there is also an element of me waiting for the right moment, or more accurately me snapping lots of promising looking moments and picking out the best one.

Those two are from this huge collection of unrecognisable photographers, which I doubt many of you scrutinised in its entirety.  So there are two of them again.  I particularly like the one with the blue balloon.

And here is another exercise in lining things up, captured just a few days ago.  This time, the object at the front is a plastic water bottle, resting on the anti-pigeon netting in the courtyard outside and above my kitchen window.  Behind the bottle is a thing that regulars here will know that I like a lot, namely: scaffolding!  This being the scaffolding at the top of the big conversion job that’s being done across the courtyard from me:

image

That picture involves something I don’t usually like to do, which is cropping.  The original snap was rather bigger.

I don’t know what exactly I’ve got against cropping, but it feels to me like only one or two notches up from cheating.  Maybe I take rather excessive pride in (the Art of) getting the snap I want to emerge straight from the camera, no muss, no fuss, no photoshop.  The truth, of course, is that cropping is itself very much an Art.  But because I don’t do cropping that much, I probably could have cropped this photo a whole lot better than I actually did.

Tuesday June 28 2016

I’m a big fan of the Samizdata Commentariat.  It’s one of the best things about Samizdata.  Part of the reason for its excellence is that when things get heated, a comment like this appears:

image

I’m not a huge fan, on the other hand, of the Guido Commentariat.  Too big, too abusive, too given to tangenting off on only very marginally relevant subjects, just like most other big Commentariats, in other words.  Still other Commentariats, like mine, are too small to be worth reading regularly.  My commenters are very good, but there just aren’t enough of them (it being absolutely not the fault of those who do comment here (it’s the fault of all those who might comment but don’t (and is it really even reasonable to call that a “fault”?))).  Samizdata manages to strike a happy balance.  At Samizdata, you don’t get Comments (0), posting after posting, like you (I) do here, but nor do you get Comments (1538), or some such ridiculous number of mostly unreadable twaddle-comments.  That, for me, is the Guido Commentariat.

But I keep going to the Guido commenters from time to time, because they do have their moments:

image

That was this morning.

I don’t know if I would call the immediate economic outlook for Britain “absolutely fine”, but compared to continental Europe, and especially continental EUrope, it remains quite good, both immediate outlooks having got rather worse because of Brexit.

The British policy for the last few years seems to have been: be the least worst governed country, but only by a bit.  That way, capital and people flow in but don’t absolutely torrent in, even though our bosses are making most of the same mistakes as are being made everywhere else.  Just not quite so much as rivals of comparable stature, like France.

If Brexit had only destabilised Britain, then British markets really would have crashed.  As it is, it’s a toss up whether Brexit has destabilised Britain more than it has destabilised EUrope.  (That guy means the EUrope won’t survive.  Europe obviously will.) My belief is that money is both running away from Britain, and coming into Britain.  (But what do I know?)

Thursday June 23 2016

First, this, which was the graphic on the front page of today’s pro-Remain Daily Mirror, and reproduced at Samizdata, which Natalie Solent reckons sends a somewhat ambiguous message.  I agree.  Because REMAIN is in the biggest letters, it looks like it could be saying that if you vote REMAIN, you’ll be sucked into a black hole.  As you will, by the way, if enough people do this. This is indeed the fate that awaits us all, in the event of a REMAIN victory.  One of the reasons why this graphic only works when misunderstood, is that when misunderstood, it becomes true!

image

The thing is, the EU is a lot nearer to being like a black hole than us leaving the EU is.  For that message, they needed something more like an endless desert, or a huge tundra, or maybe some grim maritime scene, doom-laden as far as they eye can see.

imageThe enormity of this decision is, I feel, appropriately reflected in the deranged graphics which occurred when this picture got loaded up.  Samizdata usually centres pictures automatically, and also makes them smaller automatically, if they need to be smaller.  That doesn’t seem to be happening at the moment.

In the comment thread on that posting, I mentioned that it was raining.  Which it was, torrentially.  But alas, it soon cleared up, thereby not dampening down the London (= Remain) vote as much it might have if it had rained with less violence but greater steadiness.  I mean, they even managed to have a shortened game of cricket at Lord’s, after the rain had stopped.

And on the right there, Elizabeth Hurley, who will have voted Leave by now, that being the picture she Twittered yesterday along with her support for Leave.  There she stands, wearing only high-healed sandals and a Union Jack cushion, or that’s how it looks.  Thankyou Guido.  She was probably right that this would get noticed, and would aid the cause she favours.  But I bet the Leavers have been circulating their own interpretations of this rather odd picture.  Is the picture recent, I wonder, or does it date from way back?

At least it is upbeat and optimistic in atmosphere, unlike that black hole.

Tuesday June 21 2016

As I write, this game is boiling up nicely, following an England collapse at the start of their run chase.  And then, in the midst of all the drama, there was this:

Ilanks: “Isn’t there a Ben Foakes being discussed as a potential keeper for England. If he’s selected, England could have Stokes, Woakes and Foakes in the line-up!” Yes indeed. And wouldn’t that be A Thing?

A Thing indeed.  And if Chris Woakes was instead Ben Woakes, it would be Ben Stokes, Ben Woakes and Ben Foakes.  An even thingier Thing.

Today Surrey had one of their best days of the season so far, given what a crappy season they’ve had so far.  At the start of today, in their game against Notts at the Oval, Notts were 82-2, in reply to Surrey’s 323, following a very rainy day two.  But this morning, Notts rolled over for only another hundred, and Surrey (who threw away a similar big first innings advantage in an earlier game) then built a big lead.  If Surrey can do tomorrow what they did this morning, they could get their first win of the season.

I am becoming more and more of a Real Cricket Supporter, in the following sense: that my county doing well matters more to me than my country doing well.  I would not have swapped Surrey’s strong position for a better England position earlier this evening, against Sri Lanka.  I would still prefer a Surrey win tomorrow to an England win this evening.  Although, now I think about it, an England loss would be easily corrected by a win next time, but a Surrey win would be far huger for Surrey.  It could, as they say, kick start their season.  So maybe I just prefer a huge win to a nice win.  That could be it.

Ben Foakes, by the way, is the Surrey wicketkeeper.  I knew you’d be excited.  Plus, I heard indefatigable Surrey radio commentator Mark Church say yesterday that the best spin bowler in England just now, if England want a good one for their forthcoming tour of India, is Surrey’s veteran captain Gareth Batty.  Batty’s bowling today: 11.4 overs, 3 maidens, 23 runs, 4 wickets.  I know, I know, it’s almost too much excitement to take, in just one paragraph of one blog posting.  You’d best have a little lie down.

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That guy was photoed last Sunday, watching day one of the Surrey Notts game.  I really should, every now and again, visit the Oval and support Surrey in person, having paid some money.  It looks like I should just about be able to squeeze in.

LATER: Well.  I just nipped out to Sainsburys for a loaf of my favourite sort of bread, and while there I consulted Cricinfo on my mobile, one of the few things that my mobile (as controlled by me) knows how to do non-contemptibly.  (Don’t get me started on phone calls.) It revealed that England needed seven runs to win with one ball to go.  So, that, I assumed, was that.  But when I got home, I learned that Plunkett had hit the last ball for six, and it was a tie!  As you will already know, if you followed the first of the above two Cricinfo links.  Fan electronic bleeping noise tastic.

A DAY LATER: Well, well.  Yesterday morning, Notts went from two down to all out, for a further hundred runs.  This afternoon they went from two down to all out, for less than fifty, and Surrey got their first Championship Division One win of the season.  (Follow the second link above for the details.) Finally.  This time, it was the Surrey spinner whom England are likely to take to India (because he has a big future (unlike Batty)), Zafar Ansari, who did the damage.  11.3 overs, 3 maidens, 36 runs, 6 wickets.  Notts lost their last eight wickets for thirty eight, and crucially, went from 119-2 to 124-6, courtesy entirely of Ansari.  Ansari can also bat.  Moeen Ali look out, he’s coming for you.  Ansari would already be an England player, had he not bust his finger thumb at the end of last season.

LATER: Cricinfo agrees.

Monday June 20 2016

I just heard someone, in a TV documentary I recorded, using the phrases “slow up” and “slow down”, in the same sentence.  He used these phrases to mean exactly the same thing, and in fact they do seem to mean pretty much the same thing.  Neither of these meanings have much to do with “up” or “down”.

It is fun, though, ruminating on when you’d use one and when the other, and why.  They aren’t exactly the same, or both would not persist.

Sunday June 19 2016

Here is a photo taken by a friend with her mobile, of a construction site in New York, complete with cranes:

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I love it when friends send me snaps of things they know I will like.

I am particularly glad to see New York construction cranes in action.  After doing that posting about how there has been no construction in the southern end of Manhattan, mentioning absence of cranes as evidence of no construction, I started to wonder if, in New York, they do things differently.  I wondered if they built skyscrapers without using cranes, but just lifting all the stuff up the building, as they built it.  Or something.  But of course they use cranes in New York, same as everywhere else.

Just to be quite sure about that, I googled “construction cranes new york”.  And I was greeted with scenes of crane carnage like you would not believe.

Apparently cranes in New York occasionally fall over, and this is the one time when the average person is interested in them.  As a result, the average person has a totally distorted idea of the positive contribution made by construction cranes to modern society.