Brian Micklethwait's Blog

In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Category archive: USA

Wednesday September 19 2018

Yesterday I was in Victoria Station, and as I emerged from it into … that mess of activity outside the front entrance, I noticed that the light seemed particularly appealing.  At first what got my attention was the combined effect of the mess in the foreground, in the dark, and the assorted Medium Sized Things in the background, totally missmatched and just jambed down together in the London style, all illuminated.  (See photos 1.1 and 1.2 below.)

But then, I found myself zeroing in, yet again, on Pavlova.  What got me noticing her was that, finally, I seemed to have found the right moment to photo her with that big concrete lump that calls itself “Portland House” behind her.  I have done this a lot, but it has never worked until now.  This time, there was a shadow behind Pavlova, while Pavlova herself, and the dwarfed-by-modernity theatre on the top of which Pavlova dances, were both picked out by the light, a combination of circumstances I have never before encountered, or if I did I didn’t notice.

I took many photos of this effect.  Partly because I can’t decide which one I like best, and partly because I think these photos look good when small, here are 3x3=9 of them:

imageimageimageimageimage
imageimageimageimageimage
imageimageimageimageimage

Maybe the Wikipedia entry for Portland House does say who originally designed this unlovely edifice, but if it does, I couldn’t find that.  Wikipedia does note, however, that Portland House is a miniature rip-off of the Pan Am Building in New York, now called something else.

Further googling got me to a piece by Mike Higginbottom entitled Pan-Am’s London sibling.  He rather likes it.  Plus, he name checks the now pretty much forgotten architect of said sibling: Howard Fairbairn & Partners.  Modern Movement hulks by big name modernists sometimes have a certain in-your-face impact and memorability about them.  But this hulk has always seemed to me to epitomise Modern Movementism at its dreariest.  It’s not even “brutal”, just big, bland and boring.  I greatly prefer Nova, the red diagonalised Medium Sized Thing nearby, which is also to be seen in photos 1.1 and 1.2 above.

Monday September 17 2018

imageRecently I bought a CD set of Show Boat, and yesterday I listened to it.  Show Boat is not really my kind of thing.  When it comes to singing, I tend to prefer either Schubert or the Rolling Stones.  I bought this Show Boat to learn more about a lady called Janis Kelly.  As you can see to the right there, she is one of the star singers in this recording.

Janis Kelly is something of a legend in the classical singing world.  She is a fine singer in operas and music dramas of all kinds, and she sang the part of “Magnolia” in this performance of Show Boat.  She is also a much admired singing teacher, of the sort that singers she has taught spend the rest of their careers boasting that they were taught by, in their CVs and programme notes.  And, Janis Kelly just happens to be GodDaughter2’s singing teacher at the Royal College of Music.  (GD2’s graduation recital being further evidence, to my ears, and eyes, of Ms. Kelly’s teaching prowess.)

Janis Kelly sounded great on this recording, but what surprised me was how much I enjoyed the recording as a whole.  I am used to hearing shows like Show Boat performed in a style that is aimed at audiences who basically prefer pop music to classical or orchestral music, and which typically uses pop brashness and pop exuberance to cover for the small number of musicians being deployed.  This version of Show Boat, however, was “orchestrated”, by Robert Russell Bennett.  The sleeve notes claim that this orchestration is based on the “original 1946 score”, and (I’m guessing) might well be closer to what its composer, Jerome Kern, would have wanted than was any performance that Kern himself ever heard.  This is a performance which makes clear the direct line from opera to operetta, to the music of Kern.  Under the baton of John Owen Edwards, the orchestra makes a far lovelier sound than the din I was expecting.

Mercifully, what has not been opera-ed, so to speak, is the singing style.  Where an operatically-inclined manner is appropriate, that is what happens, as when Janis Kelly sings, for example.  But when it comes to a character like Ellie, sung by Caroline O’Connor, we get the full Broadway closely-microphoned belting style, a style that someone like Franz Lehar, or for that matter Franz Schubert, could never have imagined.

Further proof of the excellence of the singing in this performance is that, in the best Broadway style, and even when the singing is rather operatic, you can hear every word they sing.  Had this show been sung in the full-on operatic style throughout, to emphasise that this is directly descended from Verdi and Wagner and Puccini, that would never have happened.  (I’m still grumbling to myself about a performance of Madam Butterfly at the English National Opera (where everything is sung in English), where most of the solo singers might as well have been singing in Japanese for all the sense I could make of what they were singing.)

My feeling about opera is that I tend not to like how it is sung (too wobbly and verbally incomprehensible (see above)), but I love the sound that it makes, in between the singing.  When it comes to singing, I tend to prefer the Abba style to the noise made by the average opera singer.  (Above average opera singers are a different matter entirely.  (Today I listened to Act 1 of this, also on CD, and it sounded stupendous.)) But as for what accompanies that singing, give me the sound of an opera orchestra every time, over the brash, jazz-band-based instrumental belting, banging and twanging that you mostly get when listening to “music theatre”, provided only that the music is the kind that works orchestrally, which in Show Boat it is.

This Show Boat, then, is for me the ideal compromise, between Broadway and the opera house, being the best of both and the worst of neither.  Not bad for a fiver, which is all Amazon charged me for it.

Thursday September 06 2018

I enjoyed this Twitterxchange. here.

Colin Kaepernick:

Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.

Scott Adams:

I’m pro-Kaepernick (for his effective protest on a real issue) but this is the worst life advice you will ever see. Develop a talent stack instead.

One of the classic career counselling clashes, the one between meaning and process.  There is a distinct whiff of Jordan Peterson in what Kaepernick says, or is said by Nike to be saying.

I’m sort of in between on this one.  I’d say: believe in something and develop a talent stack that achieves it, or failing that, something else worth achieving.  And I’d add that we all end up sacrificing everything in the end, or at least losing it.  We all must die of something.  Let it be of something meaningful or at least having attempted something meaningful.

I’m now catching up with Scott Adams, and in particular, am viewing this.  I like how Adams’s videos to camera begin with a piece of “simultaneous sip” nonsense, because this means that you don’t have to go back to the beginning when you crank one of them up.

Wednesday September 05 2018

One of the more tiresome things about Twitter is the way that a photo goes viral, without the photoer who photoed the photo getting any credit for the photo.

So, I am happy to report that, when I learned, via Mike Fagan, whom I follow, that a tweeter by the name of Arturas Kerelis reported that “someone” took this photo …:

image

… in Chicago, on September 3rd, the photoer was eventually identified.  Commenter Chris Gallevo, to whom thanks and respect, steered any who cared, which included me, to the Instagram site of Kevin Banna, where the above photo is to be found.

I was not able to discover what Kevin Banna himself looks like.  That’s the trouble with image googling the name of a photoer.  Are the results photos of him, or merely photos by him?  It’s not easy to know, without more labour than I was prepared to give to the question.

In a backhanded compliment to Banna’s photo, and also to the extreme drama that the weather in Chicago is apparently capable of providing from time to time, some commenters accused “someone” of having Photoshopped this image.  Other commenters assured us that the weather in Chicago that day really was very dramatic, in just the way the above photo portrays, and that it general it regularly lays on such displays and dramas.

Tuesday September 04 2018

Every so often my friend Patrick Crozier and I get together to have a recorded conversation and we did one a while back on the subject of President Trump.  You can now listen to this, by going here.

Scroll down here, to get all our recent conversations.

For further thoughts from me about what a microphone can achieve and what it mostly does not achieve, try this posting here.

Saturday August 18 2018

Indeed:

image

Here.

She also wrote that NYT letter about white privilege, concerning which she Tweets:

Do not deny my lived experience.

Absolutely not.

Monday July 30 2018

imageOn osprey dives for a fish near Cocoa Beach, Florida.

Says Peter Schramm:

… hier hat es im richtigen Moment Klick gemacht ...

Which sounds about richtigen.

Thank you Mike Fagan.

In the Twittered version of this photo, the claws of the Osprey at the bottom of the photo are chopped off.  The result looks like some kind of medieval sculpted gargoyle with big ears and sunken eyes.

This is one of those postings where I need more blurb, to stop the photo bashing into the posting below.  This is that blurb.  I hope.

Well, it is now.  I needed a bit more, in case comments have to be got rid of.

Wednesday July 18 2018

Chris Martin, in this:

… I’m Christ Martin. ...

Just under the subheading “Transcript”.

But then again, why not?  In the Hispano- and Portugo-(?) spheres, they have lots of people called Jesus.

Here.  Video, lasting just over twenty minutes.  Just watched it.  Good.

Particularly interested by what he says about how, without cheap paper, the revolutionary changes ushered in by the printing press could not have happened.  Mass produced printed matarial printed on animal skins not economically doable.

Harford ends on what he thinks is a depressing note, about a woman who supplies the final bit of muscle to a huge warehouse system, by receiving verbal orders from an all-powerful robot, which she simply obeys, second by second.  Go here, get this, this number, take it here, ...

Well, it’s a job.

Personally, I think that having to think all the time about your work, when you are at work, is hugely overrated.  Whenever I have had a “job”, I liked it when my job was my job, but my thoughts were my own.  Best job?  Driving a van, delivering number plates.  Drove on autopilot most of the time.  Thought my own thoughts.  Didn’t “buy into the company vision”.  Not “committed”.  Wasn’t “invested” in the work.  Just did it, mostly without having to think about it.  Bliss.

Sunday July 15 2018

It continues to be hot, and so the quota photos continue.  At least this one is relatively recent.

I walked to Parliament Square last Friday morning, and caught the fag end of the anti-trump demo.  What the demo had consisted of at its height, I don’t know, so my impressions of what went on in Parliament Square, just after the Trump blimp had been brought down to earth, and just before it was deflated by its minders and put in a van and driven away, don’t necessarily mean much.  But for what it’s worth, it all seemed pretty feeble to me.  There were lots of placards saying how much the holders of the placards hated Trump and wanted him to go home, drop dead, fuck off, etc.  But they didn’t seem to want any particular policy to change.  They just hated Trump.  And his tweeting.

image

The whole atmosphere was strangely relaxed.  It made me think I wasn’t the only non-sympathiser present, attracted to the demo by the Trump blimp, and by the general desire to see what all the fuss consisted of.

When the weather cools down, I might manage some more thoughts about all this anti-Trumpery, for Samizdata, but I promise nothing.

In my photo, it looks to me like Trump owns them, rather than the demoers doing anything to him that he need worry about.  But then, I don’t sympathise.

Sunday July 01 2018

I remember when there was no way to learn about interesting and admirable conductors, other than just listen to their performances and gawp at their photos on record sleeves.  Now there is Twitter.

E-PS’s thoughts about leaving New York, as reported by the New York Times, can be read here.

And here is a photo taken by E-PS as (or perhaps just with which) he said Bye to New York, on June 15th.  From a ship?  An airport?  A motorway service station?  His Hew York home?  A friend’s home?  A friend’s boat?  Here’s a horizontal slice of that photo:

image

Click on Bye above, and get to the original photo, as tweeted.  It’s nothing special.  Not super-high-definition.  Not professional.  Taken with his smartphone would be my guess.  But so often, amateur photos like this can be amazingly evocative.  They give you a sense of what the place is really like, when what the pros show is is what they want it to have been like.

The tallest tower is presumably the replacement for the Twin Towers.  Which I miss, even though I’ve never been anywhere near them.  Only seen them in movies.

Thursday June 21 2018

Here is a recent Scott Adams Dilbert cartoon, although Dilbert himself is not involved in this particular one:

image

I’ve always thought that one of the many things that won the Cold War for Civilisation and doomed Bolshevik Barbarism to defeat was stealth stuff.  By its nature, stealth stuff is undetectable, and the better it is, the more impossibly undetectable it is.  So, if you cannot detect it at all, it could still be there, and really really good at being stealthy.  Hell, it could be anywhere.  It could be right outside the Politburo’s front window.

Of course, it probably isn’t this clever.  But, how would you be sure?

This was why, when the Americans had got these contraptions working reasonably well, they revealed their existence.  They took lots of spooky photos of these spooky things, and made sure the whole world could see them.  Where, at any particular moment, they were, for you to photo, they did not reveal.

How can you defeat an enemy like that?

Same with Star Wars.  Shooting down all incoming nuclear missiles with all-powerful death rays.  Bollocks, right?  But, again, how could you be sure.

Monday June 04 2018

imageI find signs to be an endless source of fun and revelation, and I frequently photo them.  So I was much entertained by this New York Times story, about a sign that went wandering.  Across the Atlantic Ocean.

Hurricane Sandy grabbed this sign from the town of Brielle, on the eastern coast of the USA, in October 2012.  But, on or around May 14th 2018:

A man walking along the Plage du Pin Sec, near Bordeaux, spotted it. The faded sign was missing a chunk, but he could still read the legend “Diane Turton Realtors 732-292-1400.”

“It was curious,” the man, Hannes Frank, 64, a semiretired software consultant who lives in Brussels, said by phone on Thursday. “I looked at it and found it quaint.”

And he got in touch with the enterprise advertised on the sign.  By their nature, signs can be very informative.

The NYT says that its preferred expert on flotsametrics reckons that, given how long this sign took to make its way to France, it may well have crossed the Atlantic not once, but three times.

Flotsametrics is the study of things that float.  Now that the Lefties – like the Lefties who own, run and write for the NYT - are giving up on the claim that capitalism is ruining the planet by ruining the weather, they are back to bitching about how capitalism squirts out lots of rubbish, and they have become particular obsessed with rubbish that hangs about in the sea, especially if it floats.  So this story is actually part of The Narrative, even though it is presumably also a genuine and a genuinely good story.

Once the capitalists work out how to transform all the world’s rubbish into – oh, I don’t know – something like gunk for 3D printers to turn into replacement body parts, the lefties will have to think of some other insult to throw at capitalism.  But for now, this rubbish thing is getting back to being their biggest complaint.  Again.

But just clearing the rubbish up is no good.  Oh no.  The rubbish must be stopped at source by stamping out capitalism, starting with plastic drinking straws.  The actual source of this oceanic rubbish is mostly rivers in poor countries.  But that’s a mere fact.  The Narrative is what matters.

This has been a spontaneous rant, which is why I am keeping it here, rather than switching it to there.

Sunday May 20 2018

Next Friday, my good friend Adriana Lukas will be giving a talk at my home entitled Personal Recollections of Life Under Communism.  While concocting some biographical information for my email list members, I took a closer look than I have before at her Twitter feed.

Way back in 2015, Adriana retweeted this remarkable image:

image

It looks like some ancient oil painting, rather than the latest-thing highest-of-high-tech imagery, which of course is what it is.

GE Healthcare’s 3D-printing software works seamlessly with GE Advantage Workstation systems already working inside hospitals around the world. After a scan, the anatomy is rendered as a 3D image using GE’s Volume Viewer software, a 3D-imaging platform that combines data from sources like CT but also MRI and X-ray. The software then converts the image file generated by the Volume Viewer and within seconds translates it into a file format that can be interpreted by a 3D printer.

“In the past, it would take several days to get the images back” from an outside 3D software processor, Cury says. “The advantage of the new software is it’s in the same workstation where the technologists already do work on 3D images. The steps are a lot quicker and easier.”

More than 100 hospitals around the world have already ordered GE’s 3D organ printing software, which can be used for any type of organ as well as models of bones and muscles. GE says that as more hospitals use the software, it will be easier and quicker for doctors like Cury to share files with each other and have 3D models to use for planning and education prior to procedures.

The most impressive 3D printing stories often feature hopelessly old-school businesses, like GE.  This is because 3D printing is the ultimate non-disruptive technology.  It attaches itself to existing businesses and makes them better.  If you know only about 3D printing, and are not willing to cooperate with a regular business, forget about it.

All those stupid 3D printers that they tried to sell in Currys PC World a few years back were just ridiculous junk for making further even more ridiculous junk.

Thursday May 17 2018

I have yet to break my Twitter silence.  I am just letting all the people I follow just Twitter away all over me, while I try to get a sense of who Twitters well, so that when I finally do, if I ever do, I too will Twitter well, or at least quite well.

imageOne such role model is Frank J. Fleming.

From whom, this is deservedly getting around:

I think you’re always going to have tension in the Middle East when there’s people who want to kill the Jews and Jews who don’t want to be killed and neither side is willing to compromise.

More recently, I also liked this, about an American psycho-gang that President Trump described as animals:

I assumed the threat of MS-13 was being overblown since I don’t trust Trump, but now other people I don’t trust are doing overtime belittling the problem of MS-13 and I don’t know who not to trust more.

When I was young, I wondered if I would be able to respect my youngers but betters.  How would that work?  It turns out it works fine.  That would make another nice Tweet.