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Category archive: History

Tuesday June 20 2017

Why do people get so angry about other people who photo their food before eating it?

Here is a pizza that I photoed, before eating it, when we all went out to dinner following GD2’s end of third year singing recital:

image

And very tasty it was too.  Thank you Da Mario‘s, if that’s how you say it.

Does the very thought of me taking the above photo, in a restaurant, annoy you?  Why?  Seriously, why?  By this I don’t mean: stop feeling annoyed you fool.  By why I mean why.  What is this feeling?

I’m not sure I can prove it, but I am rather sure that a similarly small but definite spasm of annoyance is felt when the same people who disapprove of food photoing observe other photoers using selfie sticks.

Yes, I think I have it.  What food photoing and selfie sticks have in common, beyond the obvious fact that both involve photoing, is that both practices are very visible.  If they bother you, they are hard to ignore, like a slight but irregular noise when you are trying to get to sleep, or people shouting near you in an already noisy (but predictably so and thus ignorably so) tube train.

The fact of these practices being so visible is what amplifies the annoyance.

Getting back to that food photoing thing in particular, why be annoyed?

Could it be that photography has now become something very different in recent years, but that some people need to do some catching up?  The marginal cost of the next photo you take is now: zero.  The marginal cost of the next phone communication you send: also zero.  So, taking and sending a photo of what you are about to eat is of no more consequence than just telling someone you are about to consume a rather good pizza, over the phone, with mere words.  A pizza photo says, quickly, what is in it, what sort of pizza it is, how big, and so forth, just as you might if you were talking about it.  A photo thrown into the conversation is just illustrated chit-chat.

But photography, traditionally, has tended to be a much more slow, solemn and artistic and expensive thing.  And the more artistic and cultured you are, or think that you are, the more you will know this.  Do these damn people think that every damn food photo they commit and emit is some sort of eighteenth century Dutch still life painting?

Well, it kind of is, or kind of can be.  But basically, no.  If you think they think this, you’ll think them very silly.  But, they don’t think this.  What they are doing is not Big Art, even if at its best casual photoing can resemble Big Art.  What they are doing with their food photos is small talk.

Could that be something to do with it?

Also in play are the more ignoble feelings aroused by others (a) enjoying themselves (b) not caring who knows it, and (c) not caring, in particular, about you and any moans you might have about what they are doing and how they are drawing attention to themselves.  You just know that if you said to them: Excuse me, would you mind not doing that? - they’d say something along the lines of: yes we would mind not doing that, get stuffed.  Eat you own damn food and stop complaining about us photoing ours, you idiot.  And they’d be right.  And you’d know it.

Thursday June 15 2017

I have posted here recently about the design of tube maps.

And I have posted here about how the Roman Empire surrounded the Mediterranean Sea.

But I didn’t expect ever to be posting about both, in the form of the same piece of graphics.  But now, Colossal has a posting entitled The Roman Empire’s 250,000 Miles of Roadways imagined as a Subway Transit Map:

image

If you click on that, you’ll get it big enough to clock all the station names.  (If your eyesight is in the same zone of dodgyness as mine.)

I actually think that this drives home the point, about Rome surrounding the Mediterranean, very well.  Just giving all the various tribes and countries and kingdoms involved a spanking on the battlefield is one thing.  Roman roads are something else again.  A Roman road says: We’re here to say, and we can do it again whenever we want.

Monday June 12 2017

Today I was part of a impressively numerous gang of friends and family who attended GodDaughter 2’s end of third year recital, at the Royal College of Music.

The RCM, seen from outside the Royal Albert Hall, looks like this:

image

This photo was taken from just beyond the statue of Prince Albert outside the Royal Albert Hall, to the south of it.  By most standards, this statue is pretty imposing, but it is a miniature compared to the vastly bigger Royal Albert Memorial, which is to the north, the other side of Kensington Road, in Hyde Park.

After GD2’s recital, we went out and celebrated.  We ate.  We drank.  We photoed each other.  I photoed us photoing each other.  And I also took a few dozen photos in and around the RCM and its various Albert memorials, both before and after the recital.  More of that may follow (although I promise nothing).

For now, I’ll just say that although it is very hard to be objective about a person whom I have known since she was about four or some such tiny age, GD2, who is a mezzo-soprano, really seems like she is going to be the real deal.  Her voice gets stronger and more expressive, and her command of it more impressive, every time I hear her.

GD2 herself is not in the slightest bit strange, but when singing, she does strange, wonderfully.  Her performances of two of the songs from Day Turned Into Night by Iain Bell were particularly fine.  These songs feature Queen Victoria describing the life and death of – you’ve guessed it – Prince Albert.  The two that GD2 sang are very strange indeed.

Friday June 09 2017

I don’t go to Quotulatiousness every day, but I went there yesterday, and what did I find?  I found that this Samizdata piece of mine from 2015, was quotulated again.  The piece was about war and sport.  The earlier quotulation was from the sport bit.  Now he quotulates the war bit, which is how the piece begins.

I also told you here about the earlier quotulation.  Grander people than me have others to bang their drum for them, but if I don’t bang my own drum, nobody will.

Monday June 05 2017

A few hours after I took this photo (and not before all the latest terrorist dramas that were happening on the other side of the river (which I later crossed)), I took this photo, outside the Bank of England:

image

This combines four things that interest me.

First, most obviously, it is a photo of an unusual means of transport.  Rather confusingly, this contraption had “PedalBus.com” written on it.  But when you type that into the www, you get redirected to pedibus.co.uk.  Where you also discover photos of contraptions with “PedalBus.com” on them.  Very confusing.

Second, the persons on the pedibus/PedalBus are making a spectacle of themselves.  People who make a spectacle of themselves are not entitled to anonymity, or not at this blog.  Photoers going about their photoing business do, mostly, get anonymity here.  But people yelling drunkenly, albeit goodnaturedly, and striking dramatic attitudes when I photo them, not.

Third, I like these downward counting numbers on the pedestrian light bits of traffic lights, which London apparently got from New Zealand.  (Blog and learn.) Very useful.  I like to photo them, preferably in combination with other interesting things.  Score.  Score again, because there is not just one 7 in this photo, there are two 7s.  This particular time of the day, just when it is starting to become dark, is the best time to photo these numbers.

And fourth, I am becoming increasingly interested by London’s many statues, as often as not commemorating the heroes of earlier conflicts.  I think one of the things I like about them is the sense of a very particular place that they radiate, just as the more showoffy Big Things do, but even more precisely.  They thus facilitate meeting up with people.  “In front of the Bank of England” might prove too vague.  “Next to Wellington” pins it down far more exactly.

The Wellington statue makes a splendid contrast with the pedi/PedalBussers.  Wellington is Wellington, seated on his horse (Copenhagen presumably), very dignified and patrician.  And the peddlers are the kind of people he commanded in his battles.

I don’t get why this statue is in front of the Bank of England.  Why isn’t there a Wellington statue at Waterloo?

Sunday June 04 2017

This morning I went looking for any copies of the Koran that I might have downloaded, to do some more reading of it, in order to confirm that it is indeed as disgusting a piece of writing as I recall it being last time I tried to read all through it.  I did not find any Koran, but I did find the piece of writing below.

I started writing what follows in November 2006, but then stopped writing it, for some reason.  It still reads quite well, but I probably stopped because I found myself trying to say too many things, most of them somewhat more complicated than how I described them.  But I think this piece, which I reproduce here with no alterations from what I wrote over a decade ago, is a lot more right than wrong.  For all its first-draft-itis, it serves today as my response to yesterday’s terrorism in London, which I wasn’t far away from as I wandered about in London, as recounted in the previous post.  Only a bit more transport confusion and I might have got more directly involved in that.

The thing starts with seven subheadings, but as you will discover, I only got as far as elaborating on the first four.  But the others, still pack quite a punch, as single words.

Anyway, here it is:

Engage – notice – think – define – isolate - surround – destroy

What I mean by the West

I do not have in mind a mere geographical area, even though what I do have in mind definitely has its origins in a geographical area.  What I mean is a style of government, a style of political culture, composed of constitutionally divided political power, rather than despotism, and all the habits of political debate and political turbulence that go with that.  And, divided economic power, and all the habits of competitive trade and inventiveness that go with that.  And, the way that these two things feed off each other.

1. Engage

The West engages its enemies without even trying to.  This is because it is supremely powerful and supremely productive.  Without even knowing it, it outrages ancient pieties, entices primitive youths into involvement with it, starting with jeans etc., but only starting with that.  It smashes temples and turns them into supermarkets and car parks.  It commits sacrileges of every sort.  It paves paradise.  It turns objects of religious worship into priceless (i.e. very pricey indeed) antiques for the antiques market.  It will be many decades yet before it has no external enemies, probably centuries, and it will always have internal enemies, disgusted by its failures and successes.

That last point is particularly important.  The West doesn’t just make enemies in the regular sense, it helps to make them in the literal sense.  Communism, Fascism, and now Islamo-fascism all had tremendous input from the West itself.  In a way, you could say, the world is already entirely Westernised, but is, Western style, quarrelling.  One team wants the West to stop being the West, in the sense I have defined it, to stop quarrelling and to take its orders from some particular permanent despot or permanent elite.  The rest of the West wants the West to remain the West, and to continue quarrelling for ever.

2. Notice

So, contentedly, selfishly, complacently, the West is beset with enemies, and every few years or decades, one of these enemies persuades the West that it might be a serious threat, or at the very least a serious nuisance.  The recent enemies of the West have been Despotic Germany, in due course Hitler’s Germany.  Then the USSR.  Now there is Islam, Islamism, or whatever we call it.  (See below.  The confusion is a lot of what this posting is all about.) And maybe, also China.  Or maybe neither of the above, and we ought still to be at peace, contentedly, selfishly, complacently, and Clintonian contentment should still reign.  We are now quarrelling about that.

9/11 may or may not have been the latest moment when the West became aware of its next great enemy, but it certainly feels like one of those moments to me.

3. Think

9/11 certainly got a lot of people in the West thinking, and this, I suggest, is the stage we are now at when it comes to confronting Islam, Islamism, etc..  But, there is fierce disagreement about what, if anything much at all, should be done about this apparent new enemy.

The reason I didn’t put “disagree” in that list above is because the West always disagrees with itself, at all times.  It always argues.  None of the processes described here are unanimous, and wanting them to be is an un-Western way of thinking, I suggest.  I repeat, at no point in the process I describe is the West ever united.  Even the victory stage is hotly contested, with victory often being achieved by a minority which merely worked out how to do it.

President Bush, the by-default (and much contested and resented) leader of the West just now, has made a brave (or stupid according to taste) stab at defining, isolating, surrounding and destroying the Islam(ist) enemy, and although it is hard to see this now, I believe that his effort might yet prove sufficiently successful to sort that problem.  I can easily imagine a world, in about ten or twenty years time, say, in which we occasionally say, in among fussing about the Chinese or the South American Union of Bastards or whoever is next on the eternal list of enemies: Remember that 9/11 thing?  Yeah, whatever happened to those guys?  Well, well, history eh?  Talk about a dog that stopped barking.  I know, that doesn’t now seem likely, but

Many of the enemies of the West never get past the being noticed stage.  Think of rock and roll.  Some said that was an enemy of the West.  Now, it is the West, along with everything else we like, such as Hellman’s Mayonnaise, cricket on Sky TV, motorised Zimmer frames, the internet, etc. etc.  Rock and roll got noticed as a potential enemy, and then . . . well, that was pretty much it.  By and by, the people who had become agitated about it just relaxed and went on to fussing about something else.  Or just died.

Back to that thinking stage.  In a way, this is rather like “disagree” in that of course we think.  We in the West think, all the time.  It’s what we do.  So, why do I still award it a separate category of its own in this progression.  Well, because I think it is important to understand the bull session, thinking outside the box, anything-is-allowed nature of the process.

Take the Islam(ist) confrontation we are now thinking about so furiously.  Is there a problem?  Many say no.  Others say yes, there’s a huge problem, and we’re getting stuck into it, and why the hell don’t you stop bitching?  (I haven’t heard anyone say that yes there is a huge problem but it is now being taken care of and soon it will all be over, but, what the hell, you just heard me say that things could be like that, in this, only a few paragraphs ago.) If there is a problem, what kind of problem is it?  Is it religious of secular?  Ancient or modern?  Religious, political, economic or social?  Is the USA the real problem here?  Is the only problem that the damn USA is built for launching itself at problems, and if it doesn’t face a real problem it will launch itself at a fantasy problem, just for the fun and the profit of it?  Is the answer for all the religions to get along, by forming a kind of anti-modern religious cartel, and then for the relatively modern bits of the cartel to civilise the more primitive bits?  Is it All About Oil?  (And is the answer therefore to invent an oil substitute?)

Define

Define the enemy.  This is the argument which, historians may well decide, is the one the West is now having.  This is the particular object of the thinking.

For whatever it may be worth, and just to give you an example of the kind of argument this process involves, there is now a huge argument going on in the West right now about the nature of the Islamist threat.  Is it a threat from “extreme Islamists”, terrorists, people who are betraying Islam?  And is the answer to isolate these extreme Islamists terrorist, etc., from the rest of the Muslim world, by persuading “moderate” Muslims to suppress the extremity in their midst?  Or is Islam as a whole the problem?

My answer is a hybrid.  I think it highly unlikely that Islam as such will be totally defeated in the nearish future.  But I do think that it makes more sense to say that Islam is the problem, rather than mere Islamic extremism.  My understanding of the contents of the Koran, based on some reading of English translations and on a lot of hearsay and opinion from those (of all state of pro- to anti-Islamic opinion) who have read it a lot more than me, is that the Koran is a manual for conquest of the world by Islam.  Violence and savagery are definitely recommended, but so is making nice, when that will work better.  But, conquest – submission – is the objective.  The idea, to put it in terms of the West as I am defining the West, is for the West to be shut down.  Stop quarrelling.  Submit.  So, Islam itself is a mortal enemy of the West.  They can’t both win.  Either the West is shut down, or Islam is castrated into a bizarre group of people who believe their bizarre things but never actually do any of it, and spend their time unanimously explaining that it is all only metaphorical, and that Holy War really only means studying harder for your exams and doing your work better, and generally being nice and civilised.  Islam is absolutely not like this now, and is accordingly the West’s enemy.  The West faces the task, I would say, of destroying Islam.

In practice, what this means for the time being is for Islam to be sufficiently subjugated by the West for it not to be any kind of immediate problem.  Western victory would mean not Islam ceasing to exist, but Islam ceasing to exist as even a minor nuisance to the West.  Any excitable adolescent who read the Koran and wanted to act as if it means what it says would be suppressed at once, by other Muslims.  The rest of us wouldn’t need to be much involved.

So, how to do this?  Well, I am doing what I now recommend, which is to think about the problem, and to define the enemy.  And I now define the enemy as Islam.  Not Islamic extremism, or people betraying Islam, but: Islam.  What it is.  What is says.  Islam must now either be either destroyed, or, and in practice this amounts to something very similar, transformed into something completely different.

To the so-called Muslim majority moderates, I have this to say.  Get real.  You insist on your right to your religious beliefs.  Fine.  And we Westerners are going to insist on acquainting ourselves with your beliefs, now that you have our attention, and we are now doing this.  And the conclusion we are reaching is that your beliefs are a huge problem for us.  Even if you do not take them seriously, what if your crazy children do?  Ideas have consequences.  So if you repeat ad nauseam that the Koran is the unchallengeable word of God and must be followed, even if you do not follow it yourself, then in our eyes you, and not just the crazy kid suicide bombers etc., are doing something wicked.  You are spreading ideas that are hostile to the West, and we now blame you for this process.  Not just the crazy kids who take the ideas that you are spreading seriously.  We blame you for spreading these ideas.  You, as you now behave and now think, are the problem.

I often hear “moderate Muslims” say that “we are being blamed for things we didn’t do”.  But I am blaming you for things that you are doing.  You are spreading beliefs that you say under cross-examination that you do not really believe.  Then stop spreading them.  Stop worshipping the Koran.  Stop declaring it to be the word of God.  You say “we are under attack”.  So far as I am concerned, you are under attack.  You say that you are frightened.  You should be.

We Westerners are now quarrelling about whether we should allow ourselves the right to say that we hate Islam.  Well, while it remains legal to say it, I say it now: I hate Islam.  It is a vile and disgusting religion.  Its purpose is to ruin my life and to terrorise me into believing things that are the opposite of what I now believe, into living in an opposite way to how I now live.  Of course I hate it.

How, to digress a little, does this square with me being, as I am, a libertarian?  Well, I do not think that Islam should be illegal.  But nor do I think that me saying I hate Islam should be illegal.  And since this is an argument about ideas and the spread of ideas, the way that my side will win this argument is by arguing, not by passing laws which will suppress the public expression of ideas, but which will not argue them into no longer being believed in.

My team won a crushing ideological victory in the West over Soviet Communism.  We did this without, on the whole, ever making it illegal for Westerners to be Communists.  We just denounced all Communists for the idiot, evil freaks that they were, until eventually they were so demoralised by our contempt for them that they just shut up, and switched to things like Greenism.  They continue to spread many of their separate little Communist ideas, but they have mostly now stopped spreading the idea of Communism itself, and in fact this defeat predated the collapse of the USSR.  It left my team free to proceed with the destruction of Soviet Communism itself, pretty much ideologically unimpeded by Western Communists.

As I say, no laws against believing evil nonsense were necessary to win this ideological victory, and in fact such laws would have got in the way.  Illegal ideas are much harder to engage with and destroy, if only because they are so much harder to find, and because the temptation is to declare them already defeated when in fact they have only been forbidden and are still in rude health.

Wednesday May 31 2017

Lincoln Paine, The Sea and Civilization (p. 130):

Octavian’s victory in Egypt brought the entire Mediterranean basin under the command of a single imperial rule. To guarantee the safety of the empire and its sea trade, Augustus (as Octavian styled himself) established Rome’s first standing navy, with bases at Misenum just south of Portus ]ulius, and at Ravenna in the northern Adriatic. These fleets comprised a variety of ships from liburnians to triremes, “fours,” and “fives.” As the empire expanded, provincial fleets were established in Egypt, Syria, and North Africa; on the Black Sea; on the Danube and Rhine Rivers, which more or less defined the northern border of the empire; and on the English Channel. Over the next two centuries there was nearly constant fighting on the empire’s northern and eastern borders, but the Mediterranean experienced a period of unprecedented peace and prosperity during which Greco-Roman culture circulated easily around what everyone was entitled to call Mare Nostrum - Our Sea. It was the only time that the Mediterranean has ever been under the aegis of a single power, with profound results for all the cultures that subsequently emerged on its shores.

There follows (p. 132) a description of the sort of commercial culture that resulted.  Here is some of what Paine says about Ostia:

The remains of the city, which rival those of Pompeii, reveal a town of ordinary citizens rather than wealthy estate owners and their retinues. The essentially rectilinear streets were lined with three- and four-story apartment houses, many with street-level stores and offices. ...

But then, concerning religion in Ostia, Paine addes this:

… In addition to houses, offices, workshops, and laundries, the city boasted an astonishing array of religious buildings that reflect the inhabitants’ strong ties to the Roman east. Side-by-side with temples to the gods of the Greco-Roman pantheon and the imperial cults stand Christian baptisteries, a Jewish synagogue, and a host of temples to Near Eastern deities, including a dozen dedicated to the Zoroastrian divinity Mithras, the god of contracts and thus revered by merchants. ...

Mithras was the god of contracts?  Revered by merchants?  I knew about how the Roman Empire took off economically (and degenerated politically) by surrounding the Mediterranean, but I did not know that Mithras was the god of contracts and was revered by merchants.  So, it would appear that proto-libertarianism in the ancient world missed a big chance when Christianity conquered the Roman Empire and prevailed over Zoroastrianism.  Although, a little preliminary googling tells me that some reckon Christianity to have been “borrowed” from Zoroastrianism.  Whatever.  I like the sound of it, and will investigate it more.  By which I mean I will do some investigating of it, instead of the zero investigating of it that I have done so far in my life.

Saturday May 27 2017

I’m guessing I resemble many other bloggers in hoping that my best bits will somehow linger on, for years and perhaps even for decades, not just in the sense of still being available to be read, but in actually being read.  Not expecting, you understand.  Just hoping.

So, you can imagine how happy this piece of Quolulatiousness made me, after a gap of nearly two years.  How did he encounter it, after all this time?

The posting that the Quotulator quotulated is about two subjects which, regulars here will know, fascinate me, war and sport, and about how the modern version of sport and the modern absence of big wars of the WW1 and WW2 sort are rather closely connected.

If the particular sport of cricket does not interest you, then if you are inclined to follow either of the above links, I recommend the first rather than the second, i.e. to the quotulated excerpt rather than to the whole thing.

Thursday May 25 2017

I don’t remember how I recently found my way back this piece in the Telegraph, but I do remember noticing it when it was first published in 2014, because I remember the graphic in it about preserving various public views of St Paul’s.

However, I don’t think I actually read it right through in 2014.  In particular, I don’t remember reading this:

It’s no secret why developers want to build towers as tall as possible. The higher an apartment block is, the more money it makes. A rule of thumb is that each floor adds at least 1.5 per cent onto the value of an apartment.

“The fact is someone will pay more to be on the 29th floor than they will to be on the 27th floor,” says Mark Dorman, head of London residential development at Strutt and Parker. They are marketing the two new towers at Nine Elms (56-storey City Tower and 45-storey River Tower, ready in 2017).

“Surprisingly, too, as has been discovered in New York, you will get as much money for a high-rise apartment facing another high-rise block as you will for an apartment facing the river.

“The same rule applies in London; you’ll get more for an apartment with a view of The Shard or the Gherkin than you will for one with a view of the Thames. People in high-rises like to look at other high-rises.”

The piece then goes on to note that others, notably the Price of Wales, don’t like high rise buildings.

So, the people who like living in high-rise apartments are willing to pay for them.  Some of those not willing to pay for them don’t like them.  Guess who wins.

Plus, there are lots of people, like me, who are not willing to pay for high rise apartments, but who do like them, because they (we) like how London is and how London looks because of all these other people living in London, making all manner of interesting business and pleasure ventures viable, and making the entire place more interesting to live in and look at, and in my case a lot more interesting to take photos of.

Here is how the Telegraph piece ends:

As for those people who worry that it’s all foreigners who are coming over here and taking our high-rises, they shouldn’t get upset, says Challis. …

Challis being “head of residential research at Jones Lang Lasalle”.

… That battle is already lost.

“The fact is, one-third of the population of London was not born here,” he says.

“Take me – I’m Canadian. When it comes to internationalisation, I have to say that this is not a new phenomenon. This city is founded on its contribution to the globe.

“It’s time everyone woke up and realised what has happened. There’s no doubt in my mind that London is now the de facto capital of the world.”

All of which was written before Brexit happened.

And I’m guessing that Brexit won’t make much of a dent in any of this.  Some voted Brexit, I am sure, to put a stop to all this, or at least to slow it down.  I voted Brexit for other reasons, and also because I didn’t think Brexit would make much of a difference to the cosmopolitan nature of London.

In the longer run, I think and hope, Brexit will make London even more the “de facto” capital of the world.  In other words (see also “fundamentally”, “essentially") not really the capital of the world at all, but you know what he’s (and I’m) getting at.

Long before London became the “de facto capital of the world”, it was also the “de facto”, as well as actual, capital of England, in the sense that it has always been a Mecca for non-Londoners.  William Shakespeare for example.  He too was, by the standards of his time, an immigrant into London.  (Who went back home to die, as most immigrants don’t, but that’s a different story.)

Wednesday May 24 2017

I have already done two postings of bits from Lincoln Paine’s The Sea and Civilization, here and here.  I have now reached the point at which the Romans are making their considerable presence felt, at sea as well as on land (pp. 119-122 – the quote within this quote is from Appian’s Roman History):

Within a decade of Pyrrhus’s withdrawal from Italy, Rome and Carthage were at war. The casus belli was a dispute between the people of Carthage and Messina, Sicily, but it quickly became a struggle for control of Sicily and the western Mediterranean, and it launched Rome on a path to mastery over all of the Mediterranean and Black Seas. The first of the three Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage took place chiefly in Sicily, where the land war simmered for twenty-three years. But it was the naval war that proved decisive in ending Carthage’s centuries-long primacy in the western Mediterranean and catapulted Rome into the front rank of military, and naval, powers. As Polybius notes, “those who are impressed by the great sea-battles of an Antigonus, a Ptolemy or a Demetrius would doubtless be amazed ... at the vast scale of the [naval] operations” in the First Punic War.

By the mid-third century BCE, Carthage ruled the most extensive empire west of Asia Minor or Egypt, including vast tracts of North Africa, southern Spain, the Balearics, Sardinia, Corsica, and western Sicily. The city itself was on a peninsula about five kilometers wide in the Gulf of Tunis. On the seaward side, it was protected by a single wall, while from the land it was protected by three fifteen-meter-high walls with towers every sixty meters. The walls had two levels of stables - the lower could house three hundred elephants, the upper four thousand horses - and the barracks could accommodate twenty-four thousand soldiers. By the second century BCE, at least, the double harbor complex was probably the most sophisticated in the world:

The harbours had communication with each other, and a common entrance from the sea seventy feet wide, which could be closed with iron chains. The first port was for merchant vessels .... Within the second port was an island, and great quays were set at intervals round both the harbour and the island. These embankments were full of shipyards which had capacity for 220 vessels. ... Two Ionic columns stood in front of each dock, giving the appearance of a continuous portico to both the harbour and the island ... from which ... the admiral could observe what was going on at sea, while those who were approaching by water could not get any clear view of what took place within. Not even incoming merchants could see the docks at once, for a double wall enclosed them, and there were gates by which merchant ships could pass from the first port to the city without traversing the dockyards.

The Carthaginians posed a constant threat to the Romans, who according to Polybius “were handling the operations in Sicily capably enough. But so long as the Carthaginians held unchallenged control of the sea, the issue of the war still hung in the balance.” After a three-year stalemate, during which they depended on their allies’ ships to reach Sicily, the Romans decided to build” 100 quinqueremes and twenty triremes. They faced great difficulties because their shipwrights were completely inexperienced in the building of a quinquereme, since these vessels had never before been employed in Italy.” The initial difficulty was overcome when they seized a Carthaginian patrol vessel that had run aground: “It was this ship which they proceeded to use as a model, and they built their whole fleet according to its specifications.”

Reverse engineering is notoriously difficult under the best of circumstances, but according to Pliny the Elder, from a standing start with virtually no shipbuilding industry of their own, the Roman fleet “was on the water within 60 days after the timber left the tree.” This is all the more astonishing when compared with the three years that experienced Athenian shipwrights had taken to build two hundred ships under Themistocles. Archaeological finds suggest that the Romans may have benefited from Carthaginian construction techniques. Examination of the so-called Punic Ship, a third-century BCE liburnian found off Marsala, Sicily, showed that the Carthaginian shipbuilders had written on the various hull pieces to mark their placement in relation to one another, not unlike the system employed in the Khufu ship twenty-two hundred years before. (A liburnian was an oared vessel-this one had seventeen sweeps on either side-with two men per oar and employed for carrying dispatches and for scouting.) If the ship the Romans used as their template included such builders’ marks, it would have made the job of creating a fleet of ships from scratch far easier than it might otherwise have been.

Because the Carthaginian ships were better built and more capably manned, consul Gaius Duilius determined to offset the Carthaginians’ superior seamanship by replicating the conditions in which the Romans were unrivaled in battle, and to beat the Carthaginians in boarding actions. Central to the Romans’ tactics was the corvus (literally, raven), a boarding ramp 11 meters long by 1.5 meters wide with rails along the sides. One end of the corvus was hinged at the base of an eight-meter-high mast mounted forward in the ship. When dropped on the deck of an enemy ship, an iron spike at the outer end held the corvus fast and the Roman soldiers swept aboard the enemy ship. When Duilius caught a Carthaginian fleet off the northeastern coast of Sicily near Mylae in 260 BCE, the effectiveness of the corvi told early. As the Roman marines swarmed the enemy ships, “the fighting seemed to have been transformed into a battle on dry land.” Carthaginian attempts to round on the Roman ships from astern were ineffective because the corvus could be dropped across a broad arc from port to starboard, thus ensuring that the Romans never lost their advantage. By the battle’s end, the Carthaginians had lost 50 of their 130 ships.

Dissatisfied with the lack of progress in Sicily, four years later the Romans took the war to North Africa and came close to forcing an onerous peace on the Carthaginians before their army was soundly defeated. A relief expedition captured more than 100 Carthaginian ships, but en route home the Romans lost more than 280 ships and thirty-five thousand soldiers and crew to storms. Polybius blames the disaster on the commanders’ utter disregard for their pilots’ advice about the weather and their destination, “the southern coast of Sicily ... a rocky shore which possesses few safe anchorages.” He goes on to draw some general observations about Roman character, their reliance on brute strength, and their stubbornness, and why these are incompatible with success at sea. On land, the Romans frequently prevailed against other men and their machines because they could apply “one kind of force against another which is essentially similar .... But when they are contending with the sea and the atmosphere and try to overcome these by force, they meet with crushing defeats. So it turned out on this occasion, and the process will no doubt continue until they correct these preconceptions about daring and force.” One theory attributes the heavy losses to the corvus, which in an elevated position would have made the ships top-heavy and prone to capsize. If the Romans realized this, they may have decided that the corvus was more dangerous than it was worth, which would explain why it is not mentioned after the start of the North African campaign.

The war dragged on another fourteen years punctuated by triumphant successes and epic failures, none of them conclusive. The keystone of Carthaginian strategy was the security of Lilybaeum (Marsala, Sicily), which the Romans blockaded off and on for nearly a decade, though they lost more than a thousand ships in storms. The Carthaginians were able to slip the blockade at crucial junctures until 241 BCE when a fleet laden with grain and manned by relatively unseasoned seamen and marines was intercepted in the battle of the Aegates Islands north of the port. The Carthaginians lost 120 ships and the Romans took ten thousand prisoners. With no possibility of support from home, Lilybaeum’s position was untenable and the Carthaginians surrendered.

Despite their longer tradition of seafaring, the Carthaginians never came close to victory in the First Punic War. In some respects this is understandable. Carthaginian sea power depended on its people’s role as merchant-sailors. They had never fought a major naval war, and while they were not ignorant of warfare - they frequently fought their Numidian neighbors, even during the war with Rome - it was not a hallmark of their civic life. The Romans’ martial spirit and relentless military ambition enabled them to adapt readily to ships and naval warfare, and once they learned to respect the sea, they mastered it.

More about the corvus here.

Saturday May 20 2017

Around five years ago, the dominant architectural story of London was all the Big Things that had recently been erected, starting with ther Gherkin, continuing with the Shard and the Walkie Talkie.  There are few more Big Things about to arrive in The City, but the bigger story now is the much more numerous, rather less big things.  less big things like these: 

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As you can see from the cranes, lit up by early evening sun against that cloudy sky (an effect of which I have always been fond), some of these particular Less Big Things are still being completed.  They are on the far (i.e. south) side of the River from me.  Behind them are the railway approaches into and out of Waterloo.

Call it the Benidorming of London.  By this I do not mean that London will become entirely Benidorm, merely that this is the way the architectural wind happens to be blowing just now.  Soon, another wind will blow, and people will be grumbling about that, and maybe even lamenting the end of the Benidorm phase.

Photo taken from the roof of my home, earlier this month.

LATER: To provide some context, here is another photo, photoed moments later, from the same spot, which tells you both more about where these Less Big Things are, and where I was doing the photoing from:

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On the left, the Millbank Tower (with its glorious roof clutter cluster).  The Millbank Tower is a truly Big Thing.  As you can tell, from the fact that it has a name, and that, if you are yourself a Londoner, you have almost certainly heard of it.

Friday May 19 2017

Recently, inspired by those Barcelona Graphics, I had another trawl through all the photos I took in 2005 when I visited Barcelona.

And guess what, here are a few of the photos I took, of photoers:

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Part of why I did this posting is that I just like how a square of squares looks, and I wanted to do another such posting, regardless of what the photos were of.

But now that I’ve done this particular square of squares, I am struck by how interested I was, even then, in taking photos of photoers that hid their faces.  I think this preoccupation was sharpened by me being on the Continent, and fearing that photoing people’s actual faces and putting them on my blog might break some kind of Euro-law.  They make more of a fuss about privacy over there, don’t they?  Such was then, and still is, my impression.  And now, of course, I apply the same attitude over here, because: face recognition software.

Also, note in particular photo 2.3, where you can see further evidence of Barcelona’s eagerness to advertise itself with its Big Things.

The light in Barcelona was great, and lots of my photos there came out really well.  Which is why I had so many photos of photoers, and of everything else I photoed with any enthusiasm.

Most of the cameras to be seen here are now historical relics, replaced by mobile phones.  Phones with cameras arrived (and oh look another square of squares (this time 5x5)) in 2006.  This was 2005.

Thursday May 18 2017

Funny how you learn things.  I get an email from the Adam Smith Institute, and in it (I don’t quite know why but there it was) was a link to this Guardian piece about Britain’s canal network.

This piece contains many interesting nuggets.  This, for instance:

One of the peculiar and completely unforeseeable benefits of a national canal network is that it means the Canal & River Trust owns a national towpath network, creating an uninterrupted channel of land between the major cities of London, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds – the perfect place to bury a network of electric and fibre-optic cables, and to install mobile phone masts. Much of the cable could even be delivered by barge. In total, there are 400 miles (650km) of fibre-optic cable buried under the towpaths that the Canal & River Trust looks after – and the money earned from this helps pay for the upkeep of the waterways.

Well, I don’t know about that “totally unforeseeable”.  But nevertheless: nice.

There are more boats on Britain’s canals, apparently, than at the height of the industrial revolution.  Which doesn’t surprise me because I knew about the huge upsurge in the leisure use of British canals, having myself become a tiny part of this upsurge myself, on foot, with my camera.  And this has often caused me to wonder, have any new canals been recently dug, to facilitate the to-ing and fro-ing of us new canalians?

Yes.  This one:

… in 2002, the Millennium Ribble link in Preston became the first new canal to be opened in Britain in more than 100 years. It joins the once-isolated Lancaster canal to the national network, as had been planned 200 years before.

I could have found this out, presumably, if I had just googled “new canal” or some such thing, at any time during the last decade and a half.

I tried googling for a “new canal”, in the “UK” of course, but couldn’t find my way to this or any other new canal in the UK, which surprised me.  And which means that if I had simply asked my question of google, I might not have been able to answer it.  So, thank you Adam Smith Institute for the link.

Better fifteen years late with this story than never. The Millennium Ribble link itself was first planned two centuries ago.  So that was also a case of better late than never.

Saturday May 13 2017

I can’t remember how I came across the blog Sleepless in Barcelona.  But I did, and was intrigued that, like London, it seems that Barcelona likes to advertise itself with an assemblage of its most recognisable buildings:

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I visited Barcelona in 2005 (I got the date from this posting), and I remember thinking then that, like London, Barcelona was an obvious candidate for this sort of graphic promotion.  Like London, it used to have an upper limit to the height of its buildings - caused by religiously motivated legal restrictions, perhaps?  But now, whatever those height limitations were, they had been overcome or set aside, and the occasional bigger building was sprouting up, in the new “recognisable”, “iconic” style.  Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia used to dominate the city in splendid isolation, the way St Paul’s Cathedral used to dominate the City of London, but for a while now, other, secular Big Things have being permitted.

More Barcelona graphic assemblages here, and in lots of other www spots too, if google images ("Barcelona skyline") is anything to go by.

Here is another such piece of graphic promotion, this time more colourful:

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Just as with London, and with quite a lot of other cities, two of the key breakthrough modern Big Things were telecoms towers.  Montjuïc Communications Tower and the Torre de Collserola.  Both are to be seen on the left side of the above graphic.  I remember noticing both of those very dramatic buildings when I was there, but I also vaguely remember failing to photo them at all successfully.  My camera didn’t have anything like the zoom that my current one does.

Maybe I should pay Barcelona another visit.

Telecoms towers have a typically rather unacknowledged place in the history of modern architecture.  Dating as many of them do from the concrete monstrosity era, they proved, with their popularity and their popularity in particular with picture postcard sellers, that the public vastly preferred amusingly shaped buildings to the usual concrete monstrosities of the boringly rectangular sort.  This caused the Big Thing style to erupt quite a bit earlier than it might otherwise have done.

Tuesday May 09 2017

Remember all those anti-Brexit signs that I photoed, at that demo?  My original official objective that day was not signs or demos.  It was statues.

In particular, I wanted to photo the statue of Frederick, Duke of York, the man whose army reforms contributed greatly to Britain’s victory in the Napoleonic Wars.  Wellington rated him very highly, which is not surprising.  No Frederick, Duke of York, and there would probably have been no Waterloo.  Or not the kind of Waterloo that we Brits would have been able to celebrate.

This FDoY statue is on the other side of St James’s Park from me.  This was the best photo I managed of it, that day:

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I agree.  Nice sky and pretty trees, but not so good of the Duke himself.  He is at the top of a very tall column and the light was mostly behind him.

I had better luck with the far more down-to-earth statues of three World War 2 military supremos, outside the War Office:

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Left to right: Monty, Slim, Brooke.  My photos look good that way.  The real order is Slim, Brooke, Monty.

More about these statues (together with twenty two other “powerful” London statues) here.  Scroll down to get full length photos of these particular three.

I really like the Slim and Monty statues.  Brooke, not so much.