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

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Category archive: USA

Thursday November 16 2017

Although “pipeline” is wrong, because these are solid-state batteries, to replace liquid batteries.

Instapundit says it’s “YUGE IF TRUE”, that Fisker has filed patents for solid-state batteries:

The reason all these companies are working on developing solid-state batteries is because they present a whole host of advantages over what you’ll find in today’s phones, computers and cars. The two big ones are greater energy density and rapid charging times. Fisker claims the batteries it’s developing have an energy density 2.5 times that of current batteries, and they should be capable of providing a 500-mile driving range. The company also says the batteries could be recharged in as little as a minute.

Companies don’t usually straight-out lie about things like this, but they do often get carried away.  In particular, they gloss over what may prove to be big obstacles.  But the obstacles get overcome, eventually.  They say they’re going to have this tech rolling in the early twenties.  Make that the thirties.  But, my guess: it will soon, historically speaking, happen.  They’re going to be very expensive, at first.  But that always happens.  Got to pay for all that inventing.

A key item of evidence for my optimism is that the report states that other companies are working on the same stuff, besides the one in the headline.  This suggests one of those inventions that is ready to be made, that Matt Ridley goes on about.  For decades this or that gizmo is promised, but: nothing.  Then suddenly: four companies all arrive at it, “independently”.  In other words, all the necessary inventions, that needed to be made before this one could be made, had finally been made.  At which point the gizmo goes from impossible, to inevitable.

Can these batteries be made really small, small enough for all those phones and computers?  If so, it really will be a new era.

As I keep saying, the one big aspect of our civilisation that is still working really well is … stuff like this.

Thursday October 26 2017

Will computer power displace humans, or empower them?  Will computers unleash mass-unemployment or create a world of new jobs for everyone?  Is humanity about to be divided into the indolent masses on the dole, and the lucky few who control the now human-workerless means of production?

Here‘s a guy who is quite optimistic. 

When most people think of robots, they picture an R2-D2-like droid, providing critical information to assist humans and courageously rescuing them from dangerous situations. While we are, in my view, decades away from having robots that can function like a “Star Wars” character due to the limitations of artificial intelligence, a new class of robots that are mobile, dexterous, and capable across multiple operational regimes will soon be available to augment human performance.

This will happen through a combination of human intelligence with machine strength and precision. In this symbiotic relationship, the multi-tasking robots rely on humans for direction while simultaneously safeguarding them from dangerous environments and tasks. These robotic “guardians” are the future of work on Earth and, yes, in space, too.

Peter Thiel also believes that computers and humans will complement one another.

Think power steering, but a hundred times more versatile:

We are at a point in history where decades of research and development coupled with ever-improving technological performance and lower component costs are combining to make yesterday’s science fiction a reality. Imagine a machine that is your personal proxy, controlled by you, leveraging your intelligence, knowledge, instincts, intuition, and judgment while able to physically perform in the same manner as your own body, but safely, and with super-human strength, endurance, and precision.

I’m optimistic about The Robots because every time they make a leap forward, they will do it by doing one particular thing a lot better.  That means that all sorts of new projects make sense that didn’t before, but each new project demands the services of a hoard of humans, to tidy up after, install, mend, and generally look after the robots, in their latest manifestation.

But, humans will have to be adaptable.  Abandon jobs that the robots have learned to do, and get new jobs doing things that the robots will need doing for them. Robots now make much of the world’s stuff, but there are still lots of shelves the stuff gets put on that it makes sense to have humans do, and because of the robots, there are more shelves with more stuff than there used to be.

I look at the world and I do see “technological unemployment”, but I also see people busily doing jobs that didn’t previously exist.

Rob Waller is doing a talk at my place, on the last Friday of November about the robots and all that.  He gave a talk about this earlier, which I was unable to attend.  But the title of that talk, together with the hints he’s already given me, all make me expect him to be optimistic also.

Tomorrow evening, which is the last Friday of this month, Rob Fisher will be speaking chez moi about Fatherhood.  I believe that Rob’s young son will have plenty of choices about how to make a living, especially if he is as smart as his Dad is, but even if he isn’t.

Wednesday October 25 2017

imageI am starting to suffer from New York envy.

I have already speculated that the photoability of views might be a part of the reason for New York’s spate of new supertall super-skinny edifices.  The designers of the latest such, 262 Fifth Avenue, are also speaking about views:

“We didn’t want it to be too high, but at the same time be visible and provide better views for the flats,” Meganom co-founder Yury Grigoryan told Dezeen in an exclusive interview. …”

But as I also speculated in that earlier posting, a big reason for these Big But Thin Things is that now build them because they can:

Grigoryan said that the building’s structure is unique. Its lift and mechanical systems will occupy a core volume on the western side, which a stack of column-free living spaces will be anchored to like shelves.

But then Grigorian goes back to talking about those views, which are presumably a big selling point:

“It is a completely flexible frame, like shelves in the air with good views,” the architect said. “We think that this structure can be the future.”

What I hope is that London will get a few of these sorts of super-skinny towers.

Remember Renzo Piano’s Paddington tower, that never happened.  Piano had to redesign it shorter and fatter.

The nearest things we have in London to these Big But Thin Things are the BT Tower and the Shard, which both seem to be pretty popular.  It’s the short fat stuff that gets on everyone’s nerves.

Friday October 20 2017

Today, I was thinking, what with it being Friday: What can I put here about cats or other creatures that would be of interest?  But instead of looking for something along those lines, I was listening to a video conversation between Jordan Peterson and Camille Paglia, about the sorry state of the humanities departments of American universities.  I can’t remember why or how, but I was.  And twenty four and a half minutes into this, I listened in astonishment as Peterson suddenly started talking, fascinatingly, about zebras.

Why do zebras look the way they do, so very black and and so very white, and so very stripey?

This has long puzzled me.  The arch enemy of the zebra is the lion, and the lions are impeccably camouflaged.  Their coats are the same colour as the veldt, or whatever it is that the zebras roam about on and that the lions hunt the zebras on, and so the zebras don’t see the lions coming.  But the zebras, with their garish black and white plumage, are nothing at all like the colour of the land they live on.  What gives?  Why the lurid and fantastically visible stripes?

Today I learned the answer to this question.

The answer is: When lions hunt zebras, they do this by deciding on just the one zebra that they are going to hunt, and they concentrate entirely on that one zebra.  Eventually, the chosen zebra is exhausted, and the lions catch it and kill it.

And how do zebras respond, evolutionarily speaking?  Answer: By becoming extremely hard to distinguish from each other.  Their very stripey stripes do exactly this.  The result of that is that although the lions try to hunt just the one zebra, thereby exhausting it and killing it, they instead keep getting confused about exactly which zebra is the one they are trying to hunt.  And the result of that is that instead of hunting one zebra to its death, they hunt half a dozen zebras, not to any of their deaths, and go home without their dinner.

Some scientists who were studying zebra plumage did what turned out to be a rather cruel experiment which proved this.  They squirted some colour onto one of the zebras in a zebra herd.  The lions, confident now that they would not be confused about which zebra they were hunting, proceeded to hunt that one marked zebra to its inevitable death.  Without such marking out, they couldn’t tell which zebra was which.  With such marking, hunting success followed, every time.  Every time, they chose the marked and hence easily distinguishable zebra.

I did not know this.

Peterson’s point was that American humanities professors are like this.  They all have totally crazy, yet totally similar, opinions.  That way, their enemies can’t fixate on one of them and destroy him.  Or something.  In this version of the zebra stripes story, Peterson is saying that people in general are like zebras.  But I really didn’t care about that.  It was the zebras and their stripes that interested me.

I love the internet.

Sunday October 15 2017

For me, it’s the most expensive penny I ever spend.  I’m referring to the toilet in Gramex, the services of which I often avail myself, in between hunting for keenly priced second-hand or ex-review-copy classical CDs.

This shop has kept moving over the years and is now seeking yet another new location, because its current location is about to be turned into a hotel.  But for now, until the 17th of this month, when you pee there, you beyold, in a very bedraggled state, a reproduction of a famous photograph, of New York’s Grand Central Terminal:

image

There seem to be several versions of this photo, because more than one photoer noticed this remarkable phenomenon.  The phenomenon being how the presence of smoke or steam in the atmosphere turns any light that journeys through the smoke or the steam into a solid block of light.

This being well known to showbiz of course.  Here is a recent 6k photo, of a pop combo in action, being lit with smoke and searchlights.

The nearest I have ever got to anything like this myself is a set of photos I took one rather misty day in September 2015, when I was officially checking out the first of London Gateway’s cranes.  I have already shown this photo here, but here it is again because I like it so much:

image

Here is another photo that I took moments earlier, which I have not shown here before:

image

What I especially like about that one is that is shows how solidified light of this sort blocks out what is behind it.  You can’t see past such light.  But when there is no light crashing through and lighting up the mist, you can see through the mist.  Look how, when there isn’t lit up mist, you can see, past all the closer-up drama, another world of clouds, in the darker distance.

The above photo reminds me of another favourite photo of mine, this time where my reflection in a shop window, dark because back lit, makes it possible to see through the shop window into the shop, which otherwise you can’t because of brightly lit reflections from behind me.  In this case it is those bright reflections that are the solid light:

image

That was photoed in the south of France, in Ceret, a town famous for its light and much loved by artists, in particular by Picasso.

I love that what we actually see through the shop window is someone else taking a photo.

Photography is light.

Wednesday September 13 2017

Yesterday was a complicated day for me, and when I went out to dinner it got more complicated, because I got swept up in this:

image

I was jammed in a no-standing-room-either tube carriage, on my way to dinner at my friends, and at West Brompton someone who’d been sitting got out and a seat became available.  Me being Old, I was invited to have it.  At first I was reluctant.  “I’m getting off at the next stop”, I explained.  I’d be stuck further inside the carriage with more shoving when I got out than if I stayed where I was.  “Oh that’s okay,” said the guy.  “Everyone’s getting off at the next stop.” Eh?  How did he know?  Was he psychic?

He was not psychic.  He was a Chelsea supporter.  And so, as he well knew, were most of the other people causing the train to be so strangely packed.  Above is my photo of us all waiting to get out from the rather unfortunately named Fulham Broadway tube station, which is right near the Chelsea ground, but not nearly so near to the Fulham ground.

And here is a photo I took of Chelsea stuff that was being offered to the throngs:

image

They had a special scarf to commemorate this one game, which I’m guessing they do for lots of games.  Good thinking.  The game was against something called Qarabag.  Chelsea won comfortably.

Earlier, sport also forced itself upon my attention, in the form of these flags in Regent Street:

image

The Americans are coming.

Wednesday September 06 2017

Professor Amy Wax, quoted in this:

Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.

These are the kind of virtues that, in Charles Murray’s words, the upper classes of the USA have been practising, but have been neglecting to preach to those below them in the social pecking order.  Result says Professor Wax: disaster.

That phrase about preaching what they practise is a good one and I am glad it is getting around.  (I mentioned it in this Samizdata piece.) I don’t always practise these virtues myself, particularly the ones concerning working hard and avoiding idleness.  (I would also want to distinguish between serving my country and serving its mere state apparatus.) But I preach these virtues nevertheless.  Do what she says, not what I do.

A little hypocrisy is far preferable to a lot of silence in these matters.

Tuesday September 05 2017

In January of 2016, a year and a half ago now, a friend and I checked out the top of the Walkie Talkie, and we liked it a lot.

I, of course, photoed photoers, of whom there were, equally of course, an abundance.  And although at the time I collected the best photoer photos together into their own little subdirectory, I never got around to putting the selected photos up here.  But I chanced upon them last night, and I think they deserve the oxygen of publicity.  So, here they are:

imageimageimageimageimage
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As the years have gone by, I have come to like photoing photoers as much for the places they photo in and the things they photo as for the photoers themselves.  From the above photos you get quite a good idea of what the top of the Walkie Talkie is like and what you can see from it.  The weather that day was rather dull, so the actual views I took were rather humdrum.  These photoer photos were better, I think.

The Walkie Talkie Sky Garden advertises itself as a sky garden, but it is more like an airport lounge with plants, that has itself taken to the air.  Getting access to it is like boarding an airplane, with luggage inspection and a magnetic doorway you have to walk through.  In this respect, as well as the splendour of the views, the Walkie Talkie resembles the Shard, which imposes very similar arrangements on all who wish to sample its views.  But sky garden or not, I liked it.

One of the many things I like about the Walkie Talkie is that its very shape reflects the importance attached by its designer(s?) to making a nice big space at the top for mere people to visit and gaze out of.  As well as, of course, creating lots of office space, just below the top but still way up in the sky, for office drones to enjoy the views from.  Their work may often be drudgery, but at least they get an abundance of visual diversion.

In its own way, the Walkie Talkie is as much an expression of the economic significance of views as those thin New York apartment skyscrapers are. The difference being that in a big office you don’t have to be based right next to a window to be able, from time to time, to stroll over to a window.  So, as the building gets taller and the views get more dramatic, it makes sense to fit more people in.  Hence the shape of the Walkie Talkie.

If one of the jobs of a Walkie Talkie drone happens to be to try to entice clients to come to the Walkie Talkie, to have stuff sold to them, well, those views might make all the difference.

Note that Rafael Vinoly designed the Walkie Talkie, and designed the first of those tall and thin New York apartments.  These two apparently very different buildings have in common that both of them look as they do partly because of the views they both offer.

I also like the Walkie Talkie because so many prim-and-proper architect type people dislike it.

Thursday August 17 2017

World’s first autonomous cargo ship to set sail in 2018

This kind of echoes my guess, several years ago now, that robot lorries are a better immediate bet than robot cars, because lorries do lots of quantifiable work to which only slight improvements will make a big difference, and because motorways are highly controlled places.  Ships do lots of quantifiable work, and the sea is also, nowadays (after centuries of it being the ultimate arena of anarchy), a highly controlled place.

And maybe they could make such a ship out of:

Unsinkable aluminum foam

Then there’s this:

NASA’s Next Great X-Plane Will Try to Revolutionize Electric Flight

Although you just know, from that “try to”, that (although you never know (and I actually don’t know at all)) they won’t.  But, they’ll learn lots of little stuff.  Most tech seems to be the gradual accumulation of relatively small improvements, which, when they add them up, as they do from time to time, over time, add up to one of those revolutions.

Such as all the revolutions which are now happening or which are about to happen because: 

Oil and Gas Innovation Goes Well Beyond Fracking

This is an article which quotes gobs from another article which is behind a paywall, which is helpful and frustrating at the same time.  I have no problem with people charging for internet stuff, but there is not a lot of point in linking to it from a blog.

But the basic message is that the plunge in the price of energy that the Americans have recently contrived didn’t just happen because of the Big Thing that is fracking.  It also consisted, and continues to consist, of lots of smaller innovations, of the sort that those electric airplane guys will be finding out while failing to revolutionise electric airplanes, and then passing on to their fellow techies.

Quote:

There are three trends driving the new energy revolution: smarter management of complex systems, more sophisticated data analytics, and automation. The first trend has allowed companies to become much more efficient while drilling for oil and gas in ever more complex geological environments … Simpler, standardized designs make drilling and production platforms easier to replicate, less expensive, and less likely to suffer costly delays and over-runs in construction. […]

Oil companies … have begun to use complex algorithms to analyze massive amounts of data, making it easier for them to find oil and gas and to manage production … The industry has also begun to use data analytics for “predictive maintenance,” reducing unplanned downtime by analyzing historical data to predict equipment failures before they happen. […]

Soon, intelligent automated systems will enable remote drilling, controlled almost entirely by a handful of high-tech workers in onshore data rooms hundreds of miles away … In the future, automation, along with better data analytics, will make it easier to manage the variation in supplies that comes from using renewable sources such as wind and solar energy and more complex, decentralized grids. It can also make the grid more reliable.

That being from the stuff behind the paywall, quoted at the other end of the above link.

Several years ago now, I had a Last Friday talk saying pretty much exactly this.  This talk happened just after the price of energy had halved, but before most of the rest of the world had realised.

There are, as always, a lot or things wrong with the world just now.  But stagnant technology is not one of these things.

Monday August 14 2017

I have not yet read and probably never will read James Damore’s internal memo that went external, about diversity policies within Google, the one that got him fired.  But just in case I do want to read it, here is the full text.

And here is a conversation between James Darmore and Jordan Peterson.  I haven’t watched all this either, but so far Peterson has been doing a lot of the talking.  But the fact that Damore doesn’t mouth off a lot actually reinforces the feeling that he’s a good guy, if somewhat naïve.

Samizdata has also had a lot of Google/Damore posts recently, here, here (lots of good stuff and links to good stuff in that one), here, here, and here.

Damore was naive, in particular, about what will get you fired.  Most people know that if you criticise your bosses and it gets out, they do not like it.  The better you do it and the more it gets out, the more they do not like it.  Damore did it pretty well and it got out a lot.

Normally, I’d say that Google wanting only employees with “googliness”, of whom Damore proved himself not to be one, would be reasonable.  But the trouble is, Google is in the business of making judgements about what opinions should and should not be allowed on the internet, encouraged, discouraged, and so on.  For that job, they need political diversity.  Unless, of course, they’ve decided to ignore the other half of America.

Which might make sense.  That other half of America is, in global terms, a rather unusual bunch of people.  As are the “other halfs” of all other countries.  The “cosmopolitans” of the world, insofar as they really are a single group, are the biggest and, crucially, the richest group of people in the world.  But what if actually, the two halves of America, and the two halves of everywhere else, each have more in common with one another than they do with all the other cosmopolitans?  Stay, as the saying goes, tuned.

My own hunch is that Google ignoring half of America will be bad for business.  I mean, even the cosmopolitan Americans will want, from time to time, to actually pay attention to the other half, to find out about how, for instance, the other half votes and might be persuaded to vote differently.  If Google’s googliness gradually stops helping them do that …?

DuckDuckGo.  I found that here, via here.

Sunday July 30 2017

I really like this description of where cool came from.  I don’t think I agree, but I like the way the guy puts it:

And what Frank Sinatra projected was: cool. And here is where the damage was done. Frank invented cool, and everyone followed Frank, and everything has been going to hell ever since.

In America, B.F., there was no cool. There was smart (as in the smart set), and urbane, and sophisticated, and fast and hip; but these things were not the same as cool. The pre-Frank hip guy, the model of aesthetic and moral superiority to which men aspired, is the American male of the 1930s and 1940s. He is Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep or Casablanca or Archie Goodwin in Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe novels. He possesses an outward cynicism, but this is understood to be merely clothing; at his core, he is a square. He fights a lot, generally on the side of the underdog. He is willing to die for his beliefs, and his beliefs are, although he takes pains to hide it, old-fashioned. He believes in truth, justice, the American way, and love. He is on the side of the law, except when the law is crooked. He is not taken in by jingoism but he is himself a patriot; when there is a war, he goes to it. He is, after his fashion, a gentleman and, in a quite modern manner, a sexual egalitarian. He is forthright, contemptuous of dishonesty in all its forms, from posing to lying. He confronts his enemies openly and fairly, even if he might lose. He is honorable and virtuous, although he is properly suspicious of men who talk about honor and virtue. He may be world-weary, but he is not ironic.

The new cool man that Sinatra defined was a very different creature. Cool said the old values were for suckers. Cool was looking out for number one always. Cool didn’t get mad; it got even. Cool didn’t go to war: Saps went to war, and anyway, cool had no beliefs it was willing to die for. Cool never, ever, got in a fight it might lose; cool had friends who could take care of that sort of thing. Cool was a cad and boastful about it; in cool’s philosophy, the lady was always a tramp, and to be treated accordingly. Cool was not on the side of the law; cool made its own laws. Cool was not knowing but still essentially idealistic; cool was nihilistic. Cool was not virtuous; it reveled in vice. Before cool, being good was still hip; after cool, only being bad was.

I found that at Instapundit.  It is from this.

I remember writing a pamphlet, way back when, entitled Why I Support The Contras, that included the observation that …:

… there seems to me to be something especially nasty about free, comfortable people choosing to decide questions of overwhelming historical and moral significance as if they were arguing about hemlines.

That’s in my penultimate paragraph, underneath my final subheading, “MORALITY AND STYLE”.  My point being that morality trumps style.

To put that in the language of cool and uncool, what I was getting at was that being an uncool anti-communist was good.  But being a cool pro-communist, or (almost as bad in my opinion) a cool anti-anti-communist, was evil.  And good and evil matter a hell of a lot more than cool and uncool.

I think that “cool” can be a virtue, related to the idea of “grace under fire”.  Cool, can, that is to say, overlap with virtue.  You can be cool while being – cool about being - good, or at least non-evil.

Cool and evil can go to hell, that being where it belongs.  But when Instapundit’s Ed Driscoll says, of that Michael Kelly quote, “spot on”, I disagree.  I don’t regard cool as being, in and of itself, evil.  It often is.  But it often isn’t.

But, what do I know?  The thing is, this is an argument about the meaning of a word, and the meaning of a word is often controversial.  To know what a word means, you have to know about how it is used.  Knowing how you think it should be used is not the same thing.  All I can say is that in my conversational circles, cool is not necessarily wicked.

I am quite prepared to believe that in Sinatra world, cool did indeed become very wicked indeed.

Saturday July 29 2017

Digital photography has completely transformed graffiti, by making each item of graffiti easily photoable, before the next one comes along and superimposes itself upon this one.  All “artistic” graffiti can survive, in digital form.  It thus makes more sense than it did (and it doesn’t matter how much sense that was, merely that it increases) to do arty graffiti.

So now here comes the hypothesis, along approximately similar lines: that digital photography is making New York skyscrapers taller and thinner, by making the views that you see from them more valuable, because digitally photoable.  Well, that isn’t a surprise, because having written that, I summarised it into the title of this posting.

imageI found myself thinking this when I went from a report about how a tall thin New York skyscraper project has stalled (allegedly because one of the parties failed to realise how expensive New York construction cranes are), to a not-so-recent article about tall thin New York skyscrapers in general.

Key quote, from “Skyscraper Museum creator and director” Carol Willis:

“The unprecedented per-square-foot sales price – from $4,000 to as much as $11,000 for these exclusive condos with their trophy views – makes them very profitable for developers, even though they are also enormously expensive to build.”

I am not saying that I know how valuable “trophy views” are or were, nor that I know how much the ease of photoing them has increased that value.  I simply assert that this value, in New York, has increased, because of digital photography.  Do you think it hasn’t?  Do you think that digital photography has decreased that value?  Perhaps the latter, for some.  But for most people, surely not.

That being so, you would expect skyscrapers to get taller and thinner, to provide more views and better views than previously.

It makes sense that the impact of digital photography in the form of taller and thinner skyscrapers would happen in a city that offers great views in all directions, and views (see the graffiti thoughts above) that are constantly changing, like New York.

Nor, by the way, am I saying that this is the only reason why New York skyscrapers are getting taller and thinner.  I am sure there are a lot of other reasons, like: only tiny sites being available these day, zoning laws changing to allow greater tallness and thinness, technology ditto, a general rise in demand caused by New York being a good place to live, billionaires getting richer, and many other such imaginable reasons.  I merely assert that digital photography is one of these reasons.

Photo of 432 Park Avenue (designed by the Walkie Talkie guy) when it was under construction, here.

Monday July 24 2017

I often take, and often then display here, photos whose only merit is that they hint at what the proper version of the same photo would look like.  I then allude to some fun facts that even the crappy photo on display does nevertheless manage to show.  So it is in today’s photo.

Yesterday I was making my way to Alton, in Hampshire, by train.  This caused me to stop at Clapham Junction.  So far so routine.  I often change trains at Clapham Junction.  But never before had I been awaiting a train for Alton, and that meant waiting at platform 11, which I don’t believe I have ever done before, because if I had, I would be familiar with this Big Thing alignment:

image

That’s right.  We see there the Spray Can and the Shard there, right next to each other.  Well, we see them if I tell you they’re there, and if you persevere a bit.  The light yesterday was very poor and blurry.

And while we are about it, the above two Big Things are also both aligned with the nearer and not so Big new US Embassy, whose distinctively patterned vertical surface you can also just about make out.

Memo to self: pick a nice day (i.e. a much better day than yesterday), and spend it at Clapham Junction, getting all the views that can be obtained from the London end of each of its many platforms.  Or maybe just a representative selection of them.  Until someone arrests me.

Sunday April 16 2017

Lincoln Paine is an admirably ambitious historian.  Here is the first sentence (to be found on page 3 of my paperback (but still very big) edition) of the introduction of Paine’s very big book, The Sea and Civilization, which is 744 pages long and which I have just started reading:

I want to change the way you see the world. ...

Good, because I bought this book in order to do exactly that, change the way I see the world.

In the following specific way:

… Specifically, I want to change the way you see the world map by focusing your attention on the blues that shade 70 percent of the image before you, and letting the earth tones fade. ...

Hurrah for the internet.  I went looking for a maritime history of the world and found this, which I might never have done if I had been relying on merely physical bookshops.

… This shift in emphasis from land to water makes many trends and patterns of world history stand out in ways they simply cannot otherwise. Before the development of the locomotive in the nineteenth century, culture, commerce, contagion, and conflict generally moved faster by sea than by land. The opening of sea routes sometimes resulted in immediate transformation, but more often it laid the groundwork for what was later mistaken for sudden change. ...

Here is an example of what you notice when you think like this.  On page 7, we read this, about the USA:

A maritime perspective complicates our understanding of the “westward” expansion of the United States. California achieved statehood in 1851, two years after the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill, when the territory was virtually unknown to Americans back east and the number of United States citizens on the Pacific coast numbered only a few thousand. Thanks to the extraordinary capacity of the American merchant marine of the day, tens of thousands of people reached San Francisco by ship, a mode of transportation that was faster, cheaper, and safer than the transcontinental journey, although the distance covered was more than four times longer. The United States conquered the interior of the continent - what are today known as the fly-over states, but at the time could aptly have been called the sail-around territories – in a pincer movement from both coasts, rather than by a one-way overland movement from the east.

On my TV I have just recently been watching Michael Portillo investigate that very “westward” expansion of the USA, with plenty of wagons and locomotives involved, but no mention at all of any ships.  So I know exactly what Paine means.

Paine goes on to assert (on page 9) that there have been …:

… changes in the public perception of the maritime world, for the merchant marine and naval services no longer hold the attraction for people that they once did, when ocean liners and freighters crowded the piers of Manhattan, Hamburg, Sydney, and Hong Kong. At the start of the twenty-first century, ships and shipping lines are the warp and woof of globalization. Ships carry about 90 percent of world trade and the number of oceangoing ships has grown threefold in the past half century. But the nature of shipping has led to the relocation of cargo-handling facilities to places remote from traditional port cities, ...

In other words: out of sight, out of mind.

About that, I am not so sure.  Maybe it’s more a matter of degree than he says.  I guess I’m a bit different, in that I have been particularly noticing both what is happening to London’s old docks and waterways (they’re being prettied up for tourists like me and for the new gentry (really, mostly, just indoor and better paid proletarians) who now live next to them) and where London’s new mega-dock is now nearing completion, downstream.  I am definitely not the only one who has noticed shipping containers.  As Paine himself says, in his final chapter, containers are driving globalisation, and much of the globe has surely noticed.  Indeed, this might be why Paine’s publishers judged the time to be right for the switch in focus that he argues for.  On the other hand, I did have to go looking for this book.  Nobody else brought it to my attention, spontaneously, as it were.

Talking of focus, my eyesight has now reached the stage of me only being able to read a book by holding it about two inches away from my face.  Spactacles don’t do it for me any more.  Usually this is fine.  But this is a very big book, and it is going to be a very big struggle for me to read it.  But I am determined to do all the struggling that I must.

Or, I might go to the internet again, and buy something like this contraption.  If I do purchase such a reading aid, it will presumably be as cheap as it is because it recently crossed the world in a shipping container.