Brian Micklethwait's Blog
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Category archive: How the mind works
On Sunday morning, just before attempting to visit a friend, I discovered that I did not have my wallet in its usual pocket. Frantic search around my home, nothing. Must have left it somewhere on Saturday. But where? Frantic expedition to the supermarket in Lower Marsh, which I visited on Saturday evening. No. Nothing. Start walking back home. Then remember, was in Marie’s Cafe, Lower Marsh, after being in supermarket. It has to be there. But, it’s Sunday. Will Marie’s Cafe in Lower Marsh be open? Go back past supermarket to Marie’s Cafe. Shut. Only when I go back to Marie’s Cafe yesterday do I discover that they have it. All is present and correct. Debit card, money, other crap.
Thank you Marie’s Cafe:
So, basically, I am back to where I was on Saturday night. But, feel ludicrously happy for all the rest of Monday. And am happy still.
To quote myself, after an earlier episode of a similar sort:
The ridiculousness of the pleasure I now feel is that all I did was correct a stupid mistake, with much fuss and bother and dust up my nose.
This time around, the dust up the nose was only metaphorical. That time it was literal, because that previous piece of error correction was error correction that involved a vacuum cleaner.
But pleasure is what I feel, and I am going now to continue to enjoy it.
Marie’s Cafe has for some time now been my favourite eating out place in London. Used to be the West End Kitchen in Panton Street. Mainly it’s the food, and what it costs. But there is also the fact that all the classical CD places in the West End have vanished and only Gramex, also in Lower Marsh, remains.
I see that the latest review at the other end of that link say that Marie’s Cafe is “overrated and overcrowded”. Which is hardly her fault. Personally, what I especially like is that there is a table for one right near the front door that is almost never in use, and I have started sitting there whatever the scrimmage state elsewhere.
The English language is strange.
Consider this. We’re talking football, not something we often do here, but we are.
Suppose one of us says: “Liverpool are back.” This means that Liverpool, as in the single club Liverpool, is now doing very well, and much better than they have been doing for the last couple of decades or so. Which it is. Top of the Premier League as of now.
But suppose someone says: “Liverpool is back.” It would be clear from that remark that what is meant is that the entire city of Liverpool is on the up-and-up, footballwise. And it is. Both Liverpool (the club) and Everton, the other big club in Liverpool, are doing well just now. And Everton … are.
So, “are” is singular, and “is” is plural.
In other soccer news, check out the new Spurs stadium that they are going to build, which is to be called the Naming Rights Stadium.
Prediction: Spurs will do surprisingly badly (i.e. they’ll be eleventh rather than seventh, their current default position) for the next few years. Why? Because of this syndrome.
A commenter on one of the climate skeptic blogs, I think at Bishop Hill, provided a link to this fascinating posting, at Coyote Blog.
The Coyote man combines three tendencies that he sees in global temperatures. First, there is a warming process that has been going on since the Little Ice Age. Second, there is a slight kink upwards in this graph, very slight, associated with recent CO2 increase. Third, there is an oscillating wave, for some reason involving a couple of acronyms. And the result is a graph that seems to fit the recent facts better than any other graph I’ve seen. Certainly better than that idiot hockey stick.
If Coyote is right about all this, and he is in fact only semi-serious about it, then the global temperature will soon be seen to be inching downwards, until about 2030, at which point it will then turn back towards relatively rapid heating, again, along the lines of what happened from circa 1970 to circa 2000. So, a few We Will Freeze years, followed by some more We Will Fry decades.
However, we’re talking tiny numbers here. None of this is remotely describable as a catastrophe, even in the long run.
Coyote says he developed this stuff six years ago. But I could find no link back to him actually saying this six years ago. Pity.
Not for the first time, I find myself wishing that I could live another two hundred years rather than for about another twenty or probably less. What will happen to global temperatures for the next century or so? How will the politics of it all play out? I’d love to live long enough to find out. But, I won’t.
This started out as a jokey posting about climate science. It ended up as yet another rumination on the process of getting old. When you are young you are going to live indefinitely. You will die, eventually. But too long into the future for this event to be distinguishable for practical purposes from never. Then, rather suddenly, that all changes.
I recently did another climate science posting at Samizdata.
I often cheat about timings of late night postings, by doing them in the very early morning and then subtracting enough time to time them at just before midnight. Perhaps you’ve noticed. You may even have got very slightly angry. This began when I was writing, just after midnight, about something had just been to, and wanted to put “earlier this evening” rather than “last night”. Last night is until you have gone to bed, no matter when. Today starts when you wake up, not at midnight last night. By this somewhat foul but on-the-whole fair reckoning, I have managed to post something-every-day-however-crap for the last several months.
But last-night-stroke-this-morning I was unable even to do this, because from 0:24am exactly until around 4am-ish (guess), earlier “today”, i.e. last night, brianmicklethwait.com was out of action, which meant that not only couldn’t anyone read it, but that I couldn’t post to it.
It being so late, I couldn’t politely ring The Guru, but I did email him, and he emailed me back at once. It turned out that he was even then Working On It. (Something to do with changing IP addresses, for some reason or other.) He was even able to tell me, with a second email, exactly when the problem had begun, which I hadn’t known.
Anyway, my basic point is: sorry.
“Sorry” is one of the most complicated words in the English language, especially here in England. Sorry is by no means the hardest word to say, in England. We say it constantly, to mean any number of apologetic and non-apologetic things. So make of this sorry whatever you will.
I will, I am now sure (although I actually promise nothing), be writing more in connection with the talk that Christian Michel has just given at my home, but as of right now, I am too tired to do it anything like justice. All I will say about it now is that it was superb. (Read his sales pitch for the talk in this earlier posting here.)
But two bits of trivia about the evening occur to me to mention, both so trivial that I don’t have to have all my wits about me to mention them.
First, I made a particular resolution not just to provide satisfactory snacks to my guests but to actually open the packets of the snacks and putting the snacks in plates. In the past, I have found myself burdened, once my guests have departed, with unopened packets of party food. My surmise is that this is not because nobody wanted to eat any of these snacks. No, the problem is that people don’t like to open food packets, because that feels, and worse, may appear greedy. It’s like they want to eat all of them. Or maybe, that they are reluctant to open a new packet when they only want one of them. But, faced with a plate of biscuits or a big bowl of crisps, they will not hesitate to partake, if so inclined. It’s a little thing, but this worked well, I think.
And second, as usual, the exactly right number of people showed up. How do they know to do this? Last time around I was afraid that there would be too many. This time, for various reasons involving several semi-regulars happening to have other things on such as wedding anniversaries, I feared there might be too few. In the event, the number of attenders, both last time and this time was pretty much identical and just right. It always is. A Samizdata commenter, commenting on something I wrote there about this odd phenomenon, said that there is an explanation of it in this book, which I’m pretty sure I already possess. I must track it down. With luck, this posting will remind me to do this instead of forgetting about it.
Only this here today, but that is mostly because I have finally ended my dry spell at Samizdata, with a posting that I started writing only with this little place in mind.
The thing that most pleases me about this latest effort is that I finally managed to pin down exactly what it was that I so liked about those Gormley Men, whom I photographed in 2007 and finally got around to blogging about here in 2011.
Here is part of what I just put at Samizdata:
I still remember fondly the time in London, in the summer of 2007, when the dreary concrete of London’s South Bank Arts district and nearby parts was invaded by a small army of naked metallic Gormleys. The many identical Gormleys were not, in themselves, especially inspiring. But look on the bright side. Nor were these Gormleys bent-out-of-shape semi-abstract grotesques, mid-twentieth-century style.
Bingo. Not heroic, but at least not villainously anti-human.
And although in themselves ordinary, the Gormleys were often standing in very interesting and inspirational places, high above the streets, up on the roofs of tall buildings:
A photo there, of a Gormley on the top of the Hayward Gallery.
Stick anyone on a pedestal – in general, look up at them – and they look more impressive. They look like they deserve to be looked up to. This positioning of all those South Bank Gormleys suggested (yes yes, to me – I admit that all this is very personal) ordinary men at least looking, very admirably, towards less ordinary and more inspiring far horizons. Some of the Gormleys were looking downwards, but most were looking out ahead. What all these Gormleys were not doing was just standing in Art galleries, staring miserably at their own feet, with signs next to them full of demoralising Art-Speak drivel. They raised the spirits of of almost all of those who gazed up at them.
I included in the above paragraph a link to this earlier Samizdata posting, about the difference between how the same sculpture looks, depending on the angle you look at it from.
A great deal of creative thinking consists of putting two things that you have already thought about next to each other, which previously you had only been thinking about in different parts of your brain.
The Gormley Men were ordinary, neither heroic nor villainous. But when looked at from below they looked more heroic than they really are. So to speak.
On Monday last I attended a BBC Radio 4 event, at which Evan Davis interviewed Deirdre McCloskey:
Yes that is the same screen, and it remained the same colour throughout. In “reality” I mean. If you were there, which I was.
But digital cameras, when set on “automatic” as mine always is, have minds of their own when it comes to colour. One picture happens to have a lot of a certain colour in it, and it changes the overall colour of everything to compensate. For instance, when you take indoor pictures but there is outdoor sky to be seen, then even if in reality the sky is deepest grey, the camera turns the sky deepest blue, and the indoor bits orange. Likewise, when the sky is blue, but if you are outdoors, the camera, for no reason, is liable to fill a clear blue sky with pollution and turn it a sort of slate colour. What was happening here is that these two pictures are both cropped. But the left one was only cropped a bit, while the left one was cropped a lot. And the stuff that got cropped out of the left one meant that the screen was no longer green. It was blue.
As to what Deidre McCloskey actually said, well the thing I was most intrigued by was that she was entirely cool about being asked about how she used to be Donald McCloskey. In which connection, don’t you just love how that circumstance is alluded to in this:
That’s an article reproduced at her website. So, is that her handwriting? Could well be.
I doubt the medical side of the switch was as easy to do as that.
The libertarian propaganda side of this is that McCloskey is a character, rather than just a boring bod in a suit. The usual evasive sneers against pro-capitalists just won’t work on her. And I even think it helps that (maybe because of those medical dramas - don’t know) her voice is a strange hybrid of male and female, often sounding a bit like electrical feedback. She also has a slight but definite stutter.
The reason I feel entitled to mention all this is that it clearly does not bother her, or if it does she has learned very well to stop it bothering her, and indeed to make a communicational virtue of it all. I guess she figures if you are saying interesting stuff, it really doesn’t matter if your voice sounds a bit funny and if people sometimes have to wait a second or two before hearing the next bit of it. In fact it probably even helps, because it gets everyone listening, proactively as it were, guessing what is coming instead of just hearing it.
See also: Hawking.
The skeletons of six cats, including four kittens, found in an Egyptian cemetery may push back the date of cat domestication in Egypt by nearly 2,000 years.
The bones come from a cemetery for the wealthy in Hierakonpolis, which served as the capital of Upper Egypt in the era before the pharaohs. The cemetery was the resting place not just for human bones, but also for animals, which perhaps were buried as part of religious rituals or sacrifices. Archaeologists searching the burial grounds have found everything from baboons to leopards to hippopotamuses.
Three policemen in Pakistan guarding the prime minister’s home have been suspended for negligence after a cat devoured one of the premier’s peacocks, it seems.
It seems? Well, did it or did it not?
This Japanese gum commercial makes me wish I had a super fluffy gigantic cat to help navigate the horrors of public transportation and carry me around, avoiding traffic and other pedestrian suckers who don’t have adorable cat chauffeurs. Then I remember that if a cat that big existed, it would probably just maul me to death, ...
Why are there so many cats on the internet?
The problem is that they are asking the wrong question, which should not be “Why cats?” so much as “Why not dogs?” And the answer is that dogs are trying too hard. When a dog gets in a box or hides under the duvet or wears a funny hat, it is because he is desperately trying to impress you – longing for your validation and approval. When a cat does one of those things, it is because it felt like the right thing to do at the time. And it usually was. It is cool, and effortless, and devoid of any concern about what you might think about it. It is art for art’s sake.
This, at any rate, is one of the theories (of which there are an awful lot) about why content related to cats seems to gain so much traction online.
Maybe. I guess that’s part of it.
The original reason for my Feline Friday cat chat is that cat chat on the internet, at first only at inconsequential blogs such as this one but now everywhere, illustrates that the number one impact of the internet is that there is now a new way to be amused, and cats are amusing. The serious political impact of this is that with the internet it is easier to concentrate on what you consider amusing, and to ignore what people who consider themselves to be more important than you consider to be more important. This really ticks them off. Which is nice. The internet puts politicians, for instance, in their proper place, on the sidelines. Cats may or may not be important, depending on how mad you are, but they are amusing.
The willingness of the big old Mainstream Media to tell frequent cat stories, as they now show and do, illustrates that these organs have now accepted that they no longer control the news agenda. If the people of the world decide that it is news that an angry 22-pound cat that trapped a family of three and prompted a frantic 911 call has been sent to an animal shelter, then news it is, and the big old media now accept this.
Yes, here is another strange science-fictional artificial landscape, photographed by me a few days ago, to set beside this strange artificial landscape, photoed by me last August:
Both these images were contrived in the same way with the same raw material. But what is the raw material and what did I do with it?
I am watching the England Italy Six Nations rugby game. Already England have, rather to my surprise, already scored two tries. 6-17 England.
Throughout the week there has been a whole lot too much talk, for my liking, of how England were going to beat Italy by fifty points, so that Ireland would then face points pressure in Paris in the day’s final game, rather than the mere pressure of having to win. That’s the sort of talk that can have you neglecting the small matter of simply winning the game. And indeed, England did begin rather scrappily. Mike Brown even made a mistake. But England are now playing like they assume they will win, and the only question is by how much. I sit corrected.
It’s hot out there in Rome, by the look of it. Both sides are making mistakes. But England are looking really dangerous when the backs have it, and are scoring tries. Brown is looking good, as he has all tournament. Burrell looks very strong, ditto.
The thing is, games which end as try fests often begin as hard slogs, and the idea that the winners might rack up fifty seems ridiculous. And then, bang bang bang, they do. The commentators are now pointing out that the Ireland Italy game was very even, until suddenly, at the end, it wasn’t. England will know all about that, and by that reckoning they are ahead of schedule.
Even if England don’t run away with this, France can still win the Championship for England by beating Ireland.
And hey! Another England try! Two for Mike Brown, of the three England tries so far. 6-22 England. Farrell needs to kick everything, and in particular this one, from far out. No worries. 6-24. Farrell four out of four. Half time approaches.
Well, England can’t lose this now.
Probably just as significant as the England tries is that Italy nearly scored an early try themselves, like they did against Ireland. But England stopped it.
Half time. The commentators are saying the Italians are already knackered.
Thank goodness Burrell and Farrell are both spelt the same way. Burell and Farrel (for instance) would have been hard to live with. Although, while Farrell is pronounced Farrell, Burrell is pronounced Burelle. Reminds me of Hyacinth Bucket. I wonder if they ever call Farrell Farelle.
Second half begins.
LATER (there was always going to be a LATER with this one, and probably more than one): 6-31 England. Burrell off for Tuilagi! Bad luck Burrell. 6-38 England, Tuilagi try (pronounced Tooey Langy - don’t ask me why). Tooey Langy another try. 6-43. But oh dear. Interception and try by Italy. 11-43. Again, every point matters and someone with an English sounding name (Alan? Allen?) misses it. 11-43.
It’s not going to happen. From the tournament point of view, England might as well have won 17-19 or some such semi-fiasco. England pressing but time is running out.
At 6-43, England were playing catch-up rugby, and it cost them. When Italy scored that was it. No more England tries since then, and the whistle is about to go. But, Robshaw scores! Too little, says the commentator, too late. Indeed. 11-52 England, unless Farrell misses the penalty from nearly in front of the posts. “Immaculate from him once again.”
And it ends. Now Clive Woodward is saying that all the substitutions made at the end might have cost them. In particular, substitutions affect defence, you suspect.
So, an Ireland win by anything in Paris wins it for them, and a loss by Ireland wins it for England. Allez France!!!
LATER: Not quite.
This time it’s another person whose name I am determined to stop getting wrong, who is called Christiana Hambro. For no intelligent reason that I can think of, I have been getting the Christiana bit of her name wrong. The good news is that I can’t now even remember what I used to say instead, because I have known for several hours, ever since I thought about doing it, what the rest of this posting is going to consist of, and because this posting is already doing the job of fixing Christiana’s correct Christian name, Christiana, in my head, even before I write the posting, never mind before I stick it up for others to read.
Christiana is the one on the left, of these two pictures:
And the one of the right is Christian. Christian Michel. I have never got Christian’s Christian name wrong. Putting these two people next to one another in my head has solved my Christiana Hambro problem.
Christian Michel will be speaking at my next Last Friday meeting, on March 28th. This is what he just emailed me about what he will be saying:
In August 1938, a rich and talented American journalist gathered 36 economists and philosophers in Paris, in what has become known after his name: the Lippmann Colloquium. The objective was nothing less than a refoundation of liberalism, under attack by Marxists and Fascists. Participants only agreed in their opposition to command economies. Mises remained attached to unfettered free markets. Röpke and Rüstow developed what became Ordoliberalism, still the official ideology in today’s Germany. Einaudi, future president of Italy, remained faithful to the social teachings of the Church. Hayek tried to federate all these currents in the Mont Pélerin Society, to the point of dilution. In America, neo-liberals merged into the neo-conservative movement, whilst in France, Michel Foucault, in his insightful Birth of Biopolitics, reclaimed it for libertarianism (which he espoused in his last works, to the horror of the Leftist establishment). Today, for the likes of Naomi Klein and George Monbiot, the term ‘neoliberalism’ is a word of abuse, whilst it was meant to characterize the very ‘third way’ they so eagerly embrace. In the talk, I will go over the debates within the liberal movement of the last 80 years, which all revolve around the definition of this neologism: neo-liberalism.
In my thankyou email back to him, I told Christian that this piece alone makes an illuminating read.
Which is a lot of the point of talks these days, now that we can all know about everything that is happening that we even might be attending. Yes, the small number of people who choose to squeeze themselves into my living room on the 28th will hear Christian’s talk, and very good and very detailed it will be, I am sure. They will learn lots that will not be learned by others. But meanwhile, many more will read the above spiel by Christian about his talk, and the ripples will spread out way beyond my living room. If just half the people on the Brian’s Fridays email list read the above piece, when I send it out in about a week’s time, many of them will learn quite a lot. I had no idea Michel Foucault ended up as a libertarian, until Christian started telling me about this.
I found the above picture of Christian Michel here. I probably could have dug up a picture of him taken by me, but image googling was easier, given the state of my photo-archives.
Christiana’s relevance to all this is that she is one of a number of free-market-stroke-libertarian activists who have been putting some organisational juice behind spreading these ideas to British students. She is based at the I(nstitute of) E(conomic) A(ffairs). I took that photo of Christiana at the Liberty League Freedom Forum 2013, which she helped to organise, and “helped” may well be a serious understatement.
I hope to organise a Brian’s Friday at which Christiana and/or one of her colleagues describe the outreach work they are doing at the IEA. In my opinion it is the biggest single piece of news about the spread of libertarian thinking in Britain. The British public continue to be indifferent to libertarian ideas, as is their habit with so many ideas. But the British student libertarian movement is now growing from insignificant to … significant, and it is to a great degree thanks to the work of people like Christiana.
They were both as pristine and polished as life-size dolls recently removed from their cellophane boxes; rich-girl thin, almost hipless in their tight jeans, with tanned faces that had a waxy sheen especially noticeable on their foreheads, their long, gleaming dark manes with centre partings, the ends trimmed with spirit level exactitude.
I claim no expertise in the matter of the differences between male and female writers, but might not paragraphs like that have caused suspicions that “Robert Galbraith” was really a woman, even if the information had not been revealed on the front cover? It’s the detail. The waxy foreheads, the centre partings, trimmed like that. I don’t think a man would have gone into quite such detail, nor - in this age of male timidity about being anti-female – been as wonderfully rude about it.
I could be imagining all that. I don’t read much fiction by men either, and maybe the best men writers are just as exact about the women they describe and can be just as rude when doing it. And maybe most women writers would not refer to a spirit level in such a context. Really, I just liked it.
Christopher Seaman, in his book Inside Conducting (pp. 89-90):
If you truly love a work, you’re bound to feel emotionally involved while you’re conducting it, and if this doesn’t get across to the musicians you’ll get a cold performance. Some conductors need to use bigger gestures than others to communicate with an orchestra. It takes great aptitude and long experience to pour your heart out yet still maintain the necessary composure. Professional musicians don’t need a good conductor to be over-demonstrative in order to pick up his musical ideas and feelings. I sometimes tell students who thrash around ineffectively with paroxysms of emotion that they’re meant to be cooking the music, not eating it. (The French term for conductor is chef d’orchestre, but that’s a coincidence.) James Levine is reputed to have said, “My tears only hurt my ability to make the audience cry.” And Richard Strauss said to Rudolf Schwarz, “Don’t sweat – let the orchestra sweat. Don’t weep – let the public weep!”
I came across an approving reference to the bit about “cooking the music, not eating it” in a review of this book in the BBC Music Magazine, November 2013 issue.
I do like how you can chase these things up properly nowadays.
Taken by me, Thursday evening:
This was definitely the best picture I took during that little session, between leaving the meeting at the Rose and Crown and arriving at Blackfriars Tube on the other side of the river, but it always takes me a while to be able to see which are the best. I think it is because I need to forget entirely about which ones I had highest hopes for at the time.
Yesterday I did something that is often rather hard. I photographed some wind. Any idiot who can video (a category of idiot that does not really include me – although I hope to be changing that Real Soon Now) can video wind. You video trees swaying. Roof clutter swaying. Things being blown around. Whatever. But how do you photo the wind? Answer you photo its static dislocative (my word processor says that isn’t a word – it is now) effects. But these effects are rather rare. What you need is something like sails on boats, or some kind of urban substitute for sails on boats. Yesterday, when on my way to Victoria Station, I encountered just such a substitute.
Did you detect a whiff of verbosity in the first paragraph above? If so you would, I think, be right. This is because I was writing verbiage to go next to a big vertical picture, verbiage that needs to be enough to prevent the picture impinging upon the previous posting.
The first two paragraphs of the above verbiage did not suffice to accomplish this task. Hence these final five paragraphs.
And hence the fact that they are five paragraphs rather than one.
I was just making sure.
I can’t tell until I post it, whether this problem has been sorted, so I am now over-reacting.