Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
Valent Lau on Bond car
Alan Little on ASI Boat Trip 9: The man driving the boat
Alan Little on PID at the Times
Wedding Cufflinks on God was overheating and now needs radical transplant surgery (and Dawkins now has to do my email)
Michael jennings on ASI Boat Trip 9: The man driving the boat
Brian Micklethwait on ASI Boat Trip 9: The man driving the boat
Brian Micklethwait on ASI Boat Trip 9: The man driving the boat
Michael Jennings on ASI Boat Trip 9: The man driving the boat
6000 on God was overheating and now needs radical transplant surgery (and Dawkins now has to do my email)
Michael Jennings on My week in Brittany 2: A crane holding a bridge at Canning Town!
Most recent entries
- Postrel goes for Gray
- Xxxx-ie outside Xxxx-ridges
- Bond car
- BrianMicklethwaitDotCom musical quote of the day
- Parisian roof clutter gets the Real Photographer treatment
- God was overheating and now needs radical transplant surgery (and Dawkins now has to do my email)
- A swimming pool in a skyscraper
- God is dead
- PID at the Times
- My week in Brittany 2: A crane holding a bridge at Canning Town!
- ASI Boat Trip 9: The man driving the boat
- Back from France (plus cat photos)
- Big Things through a gasometer
- The view from Stave Hill
- Confirming my String prejudices
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Category archive: History
I’ve started reading Virginis Postrel’s The Future and Its Enemies, years after everyone else who has read it. I haven’t got very far yet, but I am delighted to discover that one of the Enemies that Postrel takes several cracks at is John Gray, that being a link to a crack that I took at Gray at Samizdata a while back.
And I see that Postrel, like me, does not confine herself to analysing and criticising Gray’s arguments, but notes also the cheapness of the tricks that Gray often uses to present his arguments.
What disguises the trickery, at least in the eyes of Gray and his followers, is the air of profundity that is regarded as being attached to the process of foreseeing doom and disaster. In truth, incoherent pessimism is no more profound than incoherent optimism, which is to say, not profound at all.
Says Postrel (p. 9):
Although they represent a minority position, reactionary ideas have tremendous cultural vitality. Reactionaries speak directly to the most salient aspects of contemporary life: technological change, commercial fluidity, biological transformation, changing social roles, cultural mixing, international trade, and instant communication. They see these changes as critically important, and, as the old Natinoal Review motto had it, they are determined to “stand athwart history, yelling, ‘Stop!’” Merely by acknowledging the dynamism of contemporary life, reactionaries win points for insight. And in the eyes of more conventional thinkers, denouncing change makes them seem wise.
Seem. Amen. I’m still proud of this in my piece about Gray, which makes that same point about the seeming wisdom of being a grump rather than a booster:
He trades relentlessly on that shallowest of aesthetic clichés, that misery is more artistic than happiness, that any old rubbish with a sad ending is artistically superior to anything with a happy ending no matter how brilliantly done, that music in a minor key is automatically more significant than anything in C major.
There are plenty more Gray references in Postrel’s book, if the Index is anything to go by and it surely is. My immediate future is bright.
The economics of car ownership is interesting. On the face of it, I might be the sort of person who would get a really small car (even if not this exact one). But the way I (and many others?) see it is: If I go to the bother of getting a car, and finding somewhere to park it, and a way of insuring it, and of protecting it from burglars and vandals, I might as well spend a bit more and get a proper car. You either buy a car, of the sort that can do all the things proper cars do, like transport another four people, transport bits of furniture, drive to Scotland or Paris or some such place, impress rather than amuse friends and enemies, and so forth. Or, you don’t.
You don’t buy a bit of car.
The only exception is if your entire country has only just started buying cars, in which case even a bit of car is worth having. Especially if, for the time being, that’s all you can get
Richard Morrison’s article about the impact of WW1 on music, for the Times, is very interesting, but it suffers from an outbreak of PID (Permanent Italics Disease). This is when you switch on the italics, but then forget or fail to switch them off again. Here is a screen capture of the offending moment and its surroundings:
This was posted on August 16th, in connection with a Prom that happened last night, but it has yet to be corrected, as I write this.
PID is particularly pernicious when it afflicts not only the rest of the text of the piece itself, but then continues throughout the entire page as you see it, as it does here. That is a site software blunder, as well as a posting blunder.
I got to this piece via Arts and Letters Daily, which perhaps explains how I got to it at all, what with the Times paywall and all. Does anyone know how that system is working out for the Times?
It seems a bit shoddy that you have to pay for such typographical ineptitude. It’s not so much the original error that I am unimpressed by. It’s the fact that nobody quickly corrected it. And the fact that the site software doesn’t confine the problem to the one posting.
To be a bit more serious, about the content of the article, I have long regretted Schoenberg’s depressing impact upon music, but I had no idea that the man himself was such a German chauvinist. “Now we will throw these mediocre kitschmongers into slavery, and teach them to venerate the German spirit and to worship the German God …” Good grief.
Nothing from me here today, but something at Samizdata (which makes a change), in the form of a remarkable song lyric from the 1920s by Cole Porter. Pure libertarianism. They maybe did not have the word back then (I don’t know), but they certainly had the thing itself:
Live and let live, and remember this line:
Your business is your business,
And my business is mine.
Here is a picture, taken from Lambeth Bridge in March of this year:
This is basically one of those “I just like it” pictures, that I came upon last night when trawling through the archives, although I liked it a lot more after a touch of rotation had been applied. I particularly like the contribution of those leafless trees.
The red brick tower that dominates this scene is something to do with St Thomas’ Hospital, but further googling made me none the wiser about its exact purpose or provenance. It was, it seems built in 1865. Other than that, I could learn little.
But googling did cause me to learn about this other tower, which used to be a hospital water tower and has now been converted into a home.
This sort of modernistic box-mongering can be very dull, when that’s all there is. But put it next to some more ornate Victoriana, and both styles often look the better for it.
That is also part of the pleasure I get from the above photo. Even if ancient and modern buildings are not next to each other for real, they can put them next to each other, with a camera.
You don’t see many of these these days:
I’m talking about round headlights on cars. About ten years ago, and I have photos that notice the moment, car headlights, having been round for about three quarters of a century, went absolutely mental, with silver moldings and weird shapes of all kinds. It’s been like that ever since. Now, a car with round headlights is an old car.
Like this one, the car with the above headlight:
It appears to be one of these, or if not then something very like it. I photoed this car this afternoon.
A while ago, I started photo-collecting round headlights, and the cars that sport them. There may accordingly, although I promise nothing, be a huge spread of them here, any month, or year, or decade, now.
Some new cars these days have pretend round headlights, such as the new German Mini. But they are only pretend round. Look carefully, and they are not properly round, like the one above.
I have just done a comment at Samizdata, on this (about the recently concluded football World Cup in which England did its usual rather badly (although it did at least get there)), saying this:
I agree with the first comment, about how, if individualism explains this, England (England perhaps more than Britain) ought to be winning tennis, golf, swimming etc., routinely.
I think much depends on what a country (to use collective shorthand) just considers important, for several years rather than just for a few weeks. Like it or hate it (personally I hate it) Britain, definitely including England, put in a mighty effort (both individual and collective) to make a success (but damn the cost) of the 2012 Olympics, both as an event and by winning a ton of medals.
But from what I hear from football fans, English football takes winning the Premier League, and then doing well in European club competition, more seriously than doing well in the World Cup. The feeling I get is that the winning England footballer is the one who makes the most money throughout his career. A former Spurs manager recently talked about how some of his players would fake injury, and wanted his help to do this, to avoid being picked for England. That would knacker them to no personal career purpose.
Plus, there is this huge split between regular English fans who support their clubs week in week out, and people like me who watch the World Cup but not a lot else. That Germany Brazil game was the most memorable football game in years, for me. For a proper fan, it would be some obscure promotion battle or an amazing away draw against a European club that got their team to the last sixteen of the Champions League, or whatever. For a Man U supporter it would be that remarkable last ditch win against Bayern in the Champions League final.
Sadly, I think politicians have a big influence on this. The kind of power and money they command doesn’t make successful countries out here in the real world (Brazil, Argentina, etc.), quite the reverse. But it can make national sporting effort more successful, if by that you mean more medals and trophies. Angela Merkel is a big fan of her now triumphant football team. I wonder what else she and Germany’s other politicians did to support them, other than her showing up for lots more of their games than she had to.
Sport. War by other means. Discuss.
That last point is one I definitely want to write about more in the nearish future. How A-bombs and H-bombs have made all out war between Great Powers impossible, and caused an unprecedented outbreak of peace between Great Powers, and thus caused national rivalry to express itself in sport rather than war. That kind of thing.
Michael J, frequent contributor to this blog (he contributed yesterday’s photo, for instance), has a piece up today at Samzidata concerning a mysterious tank that he photoed in Southwark. It’s an old T-34 apparently. Michael calls it “a Soviet tank”, but it might make more sense to call it “the Soviet tank”, for this was one of the decisive weapons of World War 2.
Here is another tank:
This is to be seen outside the “Firepower Museum”, which is next to the Woolwich Arsenal. According to one of the contributors here, this is “an Iraqi 2SC Akatsiya”, but another commenter says its a “2S3 152mm spg”, spg meaning self-propelled gun, aka tank. Sounds like a type of computer file. Or then again it could be the Special Patrol Group.
Here is something else you can see across the road from the tank, in the form of some armour plating that has been rather severely tested:
But best of all, I think, is the nearby clutch of Metal Men.
I go to Lower Marsh because second hand CD shop Gramex is there. (Gramex now has a new website.) But Lower Marsh also seems to be a place where I regularly espy interesting vehicles.
And then, the day before yesterday, there was this “Vespa GS” (I have another less nice photo which shows that clearly written on the front):
Even I could tell it was some kind of classic, and so it proved.
It’s the white bits on the tires that really makes my nostalgia kick in. All the coolest cars and bikes had white walled tires when I was a kid.
I went on a photo-expedition to Erith, last Tuesday. Well, strictly speaking, from Erith. What I did was go to Erith by train, and then walk back along the south side of the river, to Woolwich.
I took about a thousand photos, truly about a thousand, of which the one below was one of the first. My journey to Erith by train started at London Bridge Station, and this photo was taken at that station, while I awaited my train to Erith.
This guy has the full story of this strange circumstance.
First off, he notes, it’s not a V2. It’s a sixties vintage Atlas booster. So, what gives? Someone, he pointed out, is looking after this object, so it must be there for a reason. But, what reason?
A commenter explains:
It’s advertising the Britain at War experience below London Bridge Station.
And all is explained. That link no longer works, on account of the Britain at War Experience having now been closed down, on account of the redevelopment around London Bridge Station. But advertising the Britain at War Experience is how it got to be there.
Maybe the Not-V2 will soon start to look at bit tatty. It may even vanish altogether. All the more reason to photo it now.
About every other day Google sends me news of Emmanuel Todd, news in French. Sometimes it is news of him talking on video, in French. I can just about order a croissant in a French shop, but that’s as far as my French goes.
So, imagine my delight on learning about this video, of Emmanuel Todd talking … in English!
What he is saying is that the different family systems of Europe mean that the different nations of Europe are politically incompatible, and accordingly that the Euro is doomed. Worth a watch, if that kind of thing interests you. In particular, the way that the Euro is putting Germany in charge of France is not at all what the French elite had in mind, and this means that sooner or later the French will have to dump the Euro. But first, their elite has to explain why it made this hideous blunder in the first place. Because dumping the Euro would mean admitting they should never have done it in the first place.
Tim Evans recently gave a talk to the End of the World Club (silly name, great talks) about politics, David Cameron’s politics in particular. He said that Cameron has no problem with Britain leaving the EU, while he remains Prime Minister. Sure enough, about two days later, an email from Tim arrives, complete with the link, saying: And so it starts ...
I know what you’re thinking. This is a tricycle:
That’s not a tricycle.
This is a tricycle:
Photoed by me in an alleyway off Lower Marsh, this afternoon.
These are also tricycles
Blog and learn.
It’s over for the Liberal Democrats. They may not realise it, but it is. Before the 2010 general election, the party was pursuing two contradictory strategies at the same time. On the one hand, it presented itself as a moderate, centrist party, liberal on both social and economic issues, broadly pro-business if occasionally interventionist. On the other, it was a radical, anti-war alternative to Labour.
As long as the party was in opposition, these two stories could be maintained simultaneously. As with Schrödinger’s cat, both states were, so to speak, co-existential. But, when the Lib Dems entered government, the box was opened. Only one version of events could now be true. And it was clear which version that had to be.
Nick Clegg could no longer lead a protest party of the Left: half his voters had walked away in disgust at his deal with The Evil Heartless Tories. The Lib Dems’ sole remaining option was to make the Coalition work, to show themselves to be competent and responsible, to make a virtue out of having put the national interest first. To behave, in short, like an adult party of government.
Oh, dear. For once, the string of mixed metaphors that the Daily Mail often makes its house style is apt: “The poison at the heart of the Liberal Democrat party burst into the open last night after an explosive resignation statement which rocked the political establishment…” The impression of haplessness and hopelessness, to say nothing of nastiness, is overwhelming.
The Lib Dems have, in short, managed to make a mess of both strategies, showing all the inept crankery of a party of permanent opposition, but without any commensurate principles. Schrödinger’s cat lies cold and stiff.
What a miserable, tawdry end for a party with such noble antecedents. ...
Actually, this Schrödinger’s cat metaphor is itself pretty chaotic, because the question originally posed by Schrödinger was not: What kind of cat is Schrödinger’s cat? It was: Is Schrödinger’s cat alive or already dead in the box? Hannan’s own piece is about both what sort of Lib Dems the Lib Dems are, and about whether the Lib Dems are themselves, now, alive or dead, on account of them previously having been contradictory things. What the Lib Dems were concealing was the contradiction between two different versions of the Lib Dems, not the possibility that the Lib Dems might already be dead. So, as so often in human affairs, Hannan accuses the Daily Mail of just the sort of metaphorical muddlem that he is guilty of. It’s like that rule about how, if you ever accuse someone of spelling something wrong, you spell something else wrong yourself. No doubt there are other mixed metaphors in this.
But the box bit of the metaphor works okay. The box is now open, and we are seeing the Lib Dems for what they are.
However, I think that saying the Lib Dems are merely two-faced is an absurd understatement, as Hannan himself goes on to say, later in this same piece:
The rest of the party became what it is today: a tricksy, self-righteous alliance of convenience, prepared to say whatever local people want to hear.
In other words, they present not a merely two faces, but as many faces as there are people to be talked to. They tell you what you want to hear, no matter what that is. Almost every former Lib Dem voter will thus have been swindled by the Lib Dem bit of the Coalition. All have been promised things that the Lib Dems subsequently didn’t even argue for, let alone make the Cameron government do. Even people like the Greens were promised far more and far Greener stuff than the Lib Dems have come near to delivering on that front.
If the Lib Dems now start fighting like cats in a sack, good, because that will also destroy another carefully cultivate Lib Dem myth, which is that they are nice people, unlike all the other nasty politicos. Ask any nasty Labourites or nasty Tories with any campaigning experience, and they will all agree on this one thing, that the Lib Dems are utterly unprincipled shits (this being the private between-ourselves version of Hannan’s “tricksy” above). The ones who are not unprincipled shits are deluded idiots, their big delusion (usually one among many) is that their particular version of LibDemery is getting somewhere, by being a part – big, small, tiny, one solitary member - of the Lib Dems as a whole. No, as current events are now proving. A vote for the Lib Dems really is a wasted vote, because it’s anybody’s guess what voting Lib Dem means. Mostly what it means is that if you voted Lib Dem, you were lied to, successfully.
What the Lib Dems are now actually finished remains to be seen. Hannan clearly hopes so. So do I.
Perhaps the Lib Dems are dead, but there will be a dead cat bounce.
If I have a particular hatred of the Lib Dems, it is because the old Liberal Party as was – pretty much all of it - used to stand for something very like my particular opinions, which of course they went on telling me were really what they all wanted, long after that had stopped being even remotely true. Hannan feels the same.
If you’ve not been there before, I recommend visiting Handpicked London. I’ve just been browsing through it, and found my way from it to Photographs of Tower Bridge being constructed are found in a skip, from December 2011, which I do not remember noticing at the time. (The first two of those are Facebook links, and maybe they don’t last. You have to register, is what the second one just said.)
These photographs of Tower Bridge being constructed have been unveiled after a stash of hundred-year-old photos were found in a skip. The 50 sepia pictures, the most recent of which date back to 1892, reveal in incredible detail the ingenuity behind one of the capital’s most popular tourist destinations.
Hybrid modernism. Modern in its manner of creation. Ancient in appearance. An architectural style with a lot of mileage in it.
LATER: More stuff from me about towers here.
The majority of postings at Dezeen are of very little interest to me, but occasionally something of extreme interest to me appears there.
My guess is that what the book is describing is a part of the story of how architects have for some time now been making more of an effort to please the wider public with their big set-piece buildings then was the case with the first full-scale assault upon the world by the Modern Movement in Architecture, following the evolution of the architectural modernity in America around 1900, and following all the earlier skirmishes there had been before WW2. (The Modern Movement, you might say, was evolved architectural modernity, but militarised and uglified.) Well, the conquered population fought back, and now architects are far more ready to make buildings that look cool and even beautiful, to mere punters, as opposed merely to making buildings that seem “important” to other architects. Big new Things have to look distinctive rather than anonymous, different rather than the same old same old, if people are to become fond of them. (London’s Gherkin would not have been nearly so well liked if there had already been another identical shaped building elsewhere.) Having a Big Thing shaped like a big capital letter is one way to accomplish such distinctiveness.
On the other hand, you probably wouldn’t want your own little suburban house to be shaped like a letter of the alphabet, instead of like all the other houses in the road. But that’s because houses are for living in, not to be “iconic”.
The disdain with which old school modernist architecture critics feel towards the the new Wow! style of architecture is well captured in this quote, from Charles Jencks:
“Ninety-five percent of iconic buildings are failures, because we lack an iconography and an iconology, and the artistic conviction to carry metaphors through,” says architectural theorist Charles Jencks in another of the interviews.
When Jencks says “failures”, you just know that what he means is that he doesn’t like them. I don’t think he is talking box office success here, the sort based on people generally liking whatever it is. Or, the horror the horror ... the mere clients actually getting something that they like! But, I haven’t read this book yet, and what “you just know” could be wrong.
Another point worth making is that any big building that actually gets built is a very big success right there. “Iconography” is as much about getting the Big Thing built, as it is about it looking good when it is built. Discuss.