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Category archive: Politics

Wednesday September 20 2017

This is how Chapter One, “Chez Meissonier”, of Ross King’s book The Judgement of Paris begins:

One gloomy January day in 1863, Jean-Louis-Emest Meissonier, the world’s wealthiest and most celebrated painter, dressed himself in the costume of Napoleon Bonaparte and, despite the snowfall, climbed onto the roof top balcony of his mansion in Poissy.

A town with a population of a little more than 3,000, Poissy lay eleven miles north-west of Paris, on the south bank of an oxbow in the River Seine and on the railway line running from the Gare Saint-Lazare to the Normandy coast. It boasted a twelfth-century church, an equally ancient bridge, and a weekly cattle market that supplied the butcher shops of Paris and, every Tuesday, left the medieval streets steaming with manure. There was little else in Poissy except for the ancient priory of Saint-Louis, a walled convent that had once been home to an order of Dominican nuns. The nuns had been evicted during the French Revolution and the convent’s buildings either demolished or sold to private buyers. But inside the enclosure remained an enormous, spired church almost a hundred yards in length and, close by, a grandiose house with clusters of balconies, dormer windows and pink-bricked chimneys: a building sometimes known as the Grande Maison.

imageErnest Meissonier had occupied the Grande Maison for most of the previous two decades. In his forty-eighth year he was short, arrogant and densely bearded: “ugly, little and mean,” one observer put it, “rather a scrap of a man.” A friend described him as looking like a professor of gymnastics, and indeed the burly Meissonier was an eager and accomplished athlete, often rising before dawn to rampage through the countryside on horseback, swim in the Seine, or launch himself at an opponent, fencing sword in hand. Only after an hour or two of these exertions would he retire, sometimes still shod in his riding boots, to a studio in the Grande Maison where he spent ten or twelve hours each day crafting on his easel the wonders of precision and meticulousness that had made both his reputation and his fortune.

To overstate either Meissonier’s reputation or his fortune would have been difficult in the year 1863. “At no period,” a contemporary claimed, “can we point to a French painter to whom such high distinctions were awarded, whose works were so eagerly sought after, whose material interests were so guaranteed by the high prices offered for every production of his brush. No artist in France could command Meissonier’s extravagant prices or excite so much public attention. Each year at the Paris Salon - the annual art exhibition in the Palais des Champs-Élysées - the space before Meissonier’s paintings grew so thick with spectators that a special policeman was needed to regulate the masses as they pressed forward to inspect his latest success. Collected by wealthy connoisseurs such as James de Rothschild and the Duc d’ Aumale. these paintings proved such lucrative investments that Meissonier’s signature was said to be worth that of the Bank of France. “The prices of his works,” noted one awestruck art critic, “have attained formidable proportions, never before known.”

Meissonier’s success in the auction rooms was accompanied by a chorus of critical praise and-even more unusual for an art world riven by savage rivalries and piffling jealousies - the respect and admiration of his peers. “He is the incontestable master of our epoch,” declared Eugène Delacroix, who predicted to the poet Charles Baudelaire that “amongst all of us, surely it is he who is most certain to survive!” Another of Meissonier’s friends, the writer Alexandre Dumas fils, called him ”the painter of France.” He was simply, as a newspaper breathlessly reported, “the most renowned artist of our time.”

From his vantage point at the top of his mansion this most renowned artist could have seen all that his tremendous success had bought him. A stable housed his eight horses and a coach house his fleet of carriages, which included expensive landaus, berlines, and victorias. He even owned the fastest vehicle on the road, a mail coach. All were decorated, in one of his typically lordly gestures, with a crest that bore his most fitting motto: Omnia labor, or “Everything by work.” A greenhouse, a saddlery, an English garden, a photographic workshop, a duck pond, lodgings for his coachman and groom, and a meadow planted with cherry trees - all were ranged across a patch of land sloping down to the embankments of the Seine, where his two yachts were moored. A dozen miles upstream, in the Rue des Pyramides, a fashionable street within steps of both the Jardin des Tuileries and the Louvre, he maintained his Paris apartment.

The Grande Maison itself stood between the convent’s Gothic church and the remains of its ancient cloister. Meissonier had purchased the pink-bricked eighteenth-century orangery, which was sometimes known as Le Pavilion Rose, in 1846. In the ensuing years he had spent hundreds of thousands of francs on its expansion and refurbishment in order to create a splendid palace for himself and his family. A turret had been built above an adjoining cottage to house an enormous cistern that provided the Grande Maison with running water, which was pumped through the house and garden by means of a steam engine. The house also boasted a luxurious water closet and, to warm it in winter, a central heating system. A billiard room was available for Meissonier’s rare moments away from his easel.

Yet despite these modern conveniences, the Grande Maison was really intended to be an exquisite antiquarian daydream. “My house and my temperament belong to another age,” Meissonier once said. He did not feel at home or at ease in the nineteenth century. He spoke unashamedly of the “good old days,” by which he meant the eighteenth century and even earlier. He detested the sight of railway stations, cast-iron bridges, modern architecture and recent fashions such as frock coats and top hats. He did not like how people sat cross-legged and read newspapers and cheap pamphlets instead of leather-bound books. And so from the outside his house - all gables, pitched roofs and leaded windows - was a vision of eighteenth-century elegance and tranquillity, while on the inside the rooms were decorated in the style of Louis XV, with expensive tapestries, armoires, embroidered fauteuils, and carved wooden balustrades.

The Grande Maison included not one but, most unusually, two large studios in which Meissonier could paint his masterpieces. The atelier d’hiver, or “winter workshop,” featuring bay windows and a large fireplace, was on the top floor of the house, while at ground level, overlooking the garden, he had built a glass-roofed annexe known as the atelier d’été, or “summer workshop.” Both abounded with the tools of his trade: canvases, brushes and easels, but also musical instruments, suits of armour, bridles and harnesses, plumed helmets, and an assortment of halberds, rapiers and muskets - enough weaponry, it was said, to equip a company of mercenaries. For Meissonier’s paintings were, like his house, recherché figments of an antiquarian imagination. He specialised in scenes from seventeenth- and eighteenth-century life, portraying an ever-growing cast of silk-coated and lace-ruffed gentlemen - what he called his bonshommes, or “goodfellows” - playing chess, smoking pipes, reading books, sitting before easels or double basses, or posing in the uniforms of musketeers or halberdiers. These musicians and bookworms striking their quiet and reflective poses in serene, softly lit interiors, all executed in microscopic detail, bore uncanny similarities to the work of Jan Vermeer, an artist whose rediscovery in the 1860s owed much to the ravenous taste for Meissonier - and one whose tremendous current popularity approaches the enthusiastic esteem in which Meissonier himself was held in mid-nineteenth-century France.

Typical of Meissonier’s work was one of his most recent creations, Halt at an Inn, owned by the Due de Morny, a wealthy art collector and the illegitimate half- brother of the French Emperor, Napoleon Ill. Completed in 1862, it featured three eighteenth-century cavaliers in tricorn hats being served drinks on horseback outside a half-timbered rural tavern: a charming vignette of the days of old, without a railway train or top hat in sight. Meissonier’s most famous painting, though, was The Brawl, a somewhat less decorous scene depicting a fight in a tavern between two men dressed - as usual - in opulent eighteenth-century attire. Awarded the Grand Medal of Honour at the Salon of 1855, it was owned by Queen Victoria, whose husband and consort, Prince Albert, had prized Meissonier above all other artists. At the height of the Crimean War, Napoleon III had purchased the work from Meissonier for 25,000 francs - eight times the annual salary of an average factory worker - and presented it as a gift to his ally across the Channel.

“If I had not been a painter,” Meissonier once declared, “I should have liked to be a historian. I don’t think any other subject could be so interesting as history.” He was not alone in his veneration of the past. The mid-nineteenth century was an age of rapid technological development that had witnessed the invention of photography, the electric motor and the steam-powered locomotive. Yet it was also an age fascinated by, and obsessed with, the past. The novelist Gustave Flaubert regarded this keen sense of history as a completely new phenomenon - as yet another of the century’s many bold inventions. “The historical sense dates from only yesterday,” he wrote to a friend in 1860, “and it is perhaps one of the nineteenth century’s finest achievements.” Visions of the past were everywhere in France. Fashions at the court of Napoleon III aped those of previous centuries, with men wearing bicorn hats, knee breeches and silk stockings. The country’s best-known architect, Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, had spent his career busily returning old churches and cathedrals to their medieval splendour. By 1863 he was creating a fairy-tale castle for the emperor at Pierrefonds, a knights-in-armour reverie of portcullises, round towers and cobbled courtyards.

This sense of nostalgia predisposed the French public towards Meissonier’s paintings, which were celebrated by the country’s greatest art critic, Théophile Gautier, as “a complete resurrection of the life of bygone days.” Meissonier’s wistful visions appealed to exactly the same population that had made The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas père, first published in 1844, the most commercially successful book in nineteenth-century France. Indeed, with their cavaliers decked out in ostrich plumes, doublets and wide-topped boots, many of Meissonier’s paintings could easily have served as illustrations from the works of Dumas, a friend of the painter who, before his bankruptcy, had lived in equally splendid style in his “Château de Monte Cristo,” a domed and turreted folly at Marly-le-Roi, a few miles upstream from Meissonier. Both men excelled at depicting scenes of chivalry and masculine adventure against a backdrop of pre-Revolutionary and pre-industrial France - the period before King Louis XVI was marched to the steps of the guillotine and the old social relations were destroyed, in the decades that followed, by new economic forces of finance and industry. “The age of chivalry is gone,” wrote Edmund Burke, a fierce critic of the French Revolution who lamented the loss, after 1789, of “manly sentiment and heroic enterprise.” But the age of chivalry had not entirely vanished in France: by the middle of the nineteenth century it lingered eloquently in Dumas’s novels, in Viollet-le-Duc’s spires and towers, and in Meissonier’s jewel-like “musketeer” paintings.

Still, the subject matter of Meissonier’s works accounted only partly for their extraordinary success. What astounded the critics and the public alike was his mastery of fine detail and almost inconceivably punctilious craftsmanship. “It is impossible to comprehend that our clumsy hands could achieve such a degree of delicacy,” enthused Gautier. Meissonier’s paintings, most of which were small in size, rewarded the closest and most prolonged observation. After purchasing one of his works, the English art critic John Ruskin would examine it at length under a magnifying glass, marvelling at Meissonier’s manual dexterity and eye for fascinating minutiae. A critic once joked that Meissonier was capable of putting the Prophets of the Sistine Chapel on the setting of a ring. No one in the history of art, it was said, ever possessed such a superlative and unerring touch with his brush. “The finest Flemish painters, the most meticulous Dutch,” claimed Gautier, “are slovenly and heavy next to Meissonier.” ...

Monday September 04 2017

A few weeks ago, Patrick Crozier and I recorded a conversation about the First World War.  Patrick’s short intro, and the recording, are here.  (It would appear that Croziervision is now back in business.)

The “If only” of my title is because we talk about the question of “what if” WW1 had never started.  What might have happened instead?  The unspoken assumption that has saturated our culture ever since is that it would surely have been far, far better.  But what if something else just as bad had happened instead?  Or even: something worse?

We discuss the reasons for such pessimism.  There was the sense of economic unease that had prevailed since the dawn of the century, resulting in a time not unlike our own.  And, there was the fact that Germany, Austria, Russia and Turkey were all embarked upon their various journeys from monarchy to democracy, and such journeys are always likely to be, says Patrick, bloodbaths.  Whatever happened in twentieth century Europe, it surely would not have been good.

Wednesday August 30 2017

I love the trappings of London’s tourist industry, and I love that I can enjoy these trappings by photoing them rather than by spending any of my own money on them.  This applies to small stuff in shops, and to bigger stuff out in the streets.  There are exceptions, but they are very few.

I don’t, for instance, buy even miniature vehicles, let alone drive around in my own life-sized vehicle.  But I love to photo idiosyncratic life-sized vehicles owned and maintained by others.  Vehicles like this one:

image

This is the Ghostbustours bus, the “London Necrobus”, as it says on the side.

Below left we see punning respellings of London sights and streets and squares:

imageimage

Rather disappointingly, on the right there is a sign, towards the back of the Ghostbustours bus, featuring no such respellings, so that people know where they can get on and off the Ghostbus.  I understand that this is necessary, but it rather spoils the fun.

It greatly helps that the bus in question is a classic Routemaster, still the favourite of many, including me, of all the different versions that there have been of the London double decker.  When tourists buy miniature London buses, this is the one they mostly buy.,

By blogging “Routemaster”, I just learned (a) that the word Routemaster also, supposedly (i.e., in reality: not), applies to Boris buses.  (The actual name for the Boris bus is: “Boris bus”.) And I learned (b) that, for quite a while now, there has been no more buying of Boris buses.  Blog and learn.

Monday August 28 2017

I like to photo buses with adverts all over them.  I consider the elaborate graphics involved to be of aesthetic interest.

Buses like this one, photoed in Tottenham Court Road on the same afternoon, just over a year ago, that I photoed the dfs Union Jack door that I just added to the posting below:

image

Okay very pretty, but do what I did.  Take a closer look:

image

What intrigues me about that is how it points up the contrasting reputations of the Gherkin and the Walkie Talkie.  The Gherkin is clearly visible there.  But the Walkie Talkie is deranged by that clutch of ventilation holes, or whatever they are.  The advertising classes don’t do things like this by accident.  They like Lord Foster of Gherkin, but they do not like Rafael Vinoly of Walkie Talkie, and the same probably applies to most other people who know both of these Starchitects.  (I like both of them.) My sense is that Vinoly is reckoned to be too much the entrepreneur, too much the profit maximising businessman, too bothered with making buildings that make money, the way (so I hear it) the Walkie Talkie does and the Gherkin does not.  Vinoly, I surmise, is the Richart Seifert of our time, but on a global scale.

This is not the kind of thing you can prove very easily, and maybe I’m reading too much into a meaningless piece of graphics.

Well, I’m tired, I’ve had a complicated day attempting other things, unsuccessfully, and this is what you are getting.  Also, there’s a really good test match going on.

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

The titles of these things were getting to be too long-winded.

So yes, the Camden Highline.

Bid to turn disused railway between Camden Town and King’s Cross into elevated ‘Highline’ park

Sadiq Khan throws weight behind Camden highline project

The official website.

Where they hope it will be, just north of the Regent’s Canal:

image

Click on that to get it twice as big, and consequently (if your eyesight is anything like mine) legible.

Those little green circles are cameras.  Presumably this means good places for photography.  If and when they contrive this, I will definitely be checking it out.

Long moderately high platforms, even ones that are not very high, often supply great views, because you can walk along them until the great views appear.

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.

Friday July 21 2017

Here.

LATER: And here.

Tuesday July 04 2017

Yesterday I attended a Royal Opera House Covent Garden dress rehearsal, of Puccini’s Turandot.  Never having seen Turandot on stage before, I learned a lot.  The singing was pretty good, especially the choral singing, but maybe I say “especially” about that because I generally prefer choral singing to “operatic” solo singing.  The staging looked appropriately splendid and exotic.

But the best fun of all was, afterwards, finding this bizarre piece of writing by Michael Tanner, for the Spectator.  What is bizarre is that Tanner disapproves of the characters and he disapproves of the “happy ending” at the end of Turandot, like some myopic Victorian moralist objecting to King Lear because of what sort of people they are and because of what happens at the end of that.

Turandot is obviously a very wicked and tyrannical ice-queen type of a woman.  But Calaf earns Tanner’s special condemnation.  This is because Calaf, being from Asia in olden times rather than the Home Counties of England now, prefers conquest, sexual and political, to the love of a good woman.  He is going to subjugate Turandot, sexually and politically, or die trying, and damn the consequences.  But in Michael Tanner’s world tenors are not supposed to think and behave like that.  Their job is to embody virtue, not watch while the slave girl who has been in love with Calaf throughout the opera is tortured and then commits suicide to spare herself more torture. After which Calaf carries right on with subjugating Turandot.  But the fact that Calaf is not the sort of person whom Tanner would want marrying his sister is rather beside the point.  Or to put the same point a quite other way, it is exactly the point.  It isn’t just the setting of Turandot that is exotic.  These are profoundly different sorts of people to those that Michael Tanner, or for that matter I, approve of.

This is like denouncing the Ring Cycle because Wotan is a god rather than a geography teacher, or because the dragons in the Ring Cycle do not behave like hedgehogs.

Calaf was also criticised by Tanner for standing still and just singing, instead of doing lots of “acting” in the modern style.  But Calaf’s whole character is that of a would-be ultra-masculine tyrant.  And tyrants instinctively exude power and strength, for instance by standing still in a very masculine chest-out pose, and singing very sonorously, rather than by doing lots of fidgety acting.  It is their underlings and victims who do all the acting, by re-acting to people like Calaf.

However, it often happens that critics who denounce works of art in rather ridiculous ways nevertheless understand them very well, and often a lot better than the people who say that they like them.  They absolutely get what the artist was doing.  It’s just that they don’t happen to like it.  I recommend Tanner’s piece as a way of understand how very different Calaf and Turandot are from their equivalents in, say, La Boheme.

Thursday June 29 2017

June 30th (i.e. tomorrow): Barry Macleod-Cullinane is a Conservative local councillor, and as a libertarian of long standing he is perfectly qualified to speak about “Townhall Libertarianism”. 

July 28th: Leandro d’Vintmus is a Brazilian, and a musician.  And also interested in how political and psychological libertarianism interact and reinforce each other.  Very different from the usual sort of Brian’s Last Friday, and all the better for it.

Aug 25th: Nico Metten will speak about “Libertarian Foreign Policy”.  Nico is your classic unswerving libertarian, except that he talks rather quietly.  Insofar as, in this complex matter, there are distinctions to be made, subtleties to be teased out, hairs to be split, we can depend upon him to make them, tease them out, split them.

Sept 29th: Financial journalist Tom Burroughes (aka Samizdata’s Johnathan Pearce), financial journalist, will speak about the (in his (and in my) opinion) very bad idea of a “universal basic income”.

Oct 27th: Rob Fisher, who is a parent, will offer some reflections about that.

Also fixed: January 26th 2018: Tim Evans, Professor in Business and Political Economy at Middlesex University Business School, will speak about the business of higher education, which is one of Britain’s most significant export industries.  We libertarians are used to complaining about higher education for the bad ideas that if all too often spreads.  But what about the economics of the higher education business?

Plenty of food for thought, I think you will agree.

Wednesday June 21 2017

One of the many aspects of the horrible Grenfell Tower fire that makes it such a compelling news story is that the scene of the crime (which is what most now assume it to be) is so very, very visible.  This is not the kind of horror that can be sealed off by the police and hidden from view.  There it is, in all its photogenic horror, and there it will remain for quite some while yet.

Yesterday I lunched with GodDaughter 2.  She has been allowed no time to recover from her recital (the pizza in yesterday’s posting was consumed just after that happened), but instead has been plunged into rehearsals for this showVery hot, apparently.  Lots of stage lighting, and lots of standing around, as is the way with complicated rehearsals.  I, meanwhile, was also nearly immobilised by the heat, and just wanted to get home again and be truly immobile.  So, we spent less time together than we would have had the heat been less hot.

imageBut she did show me this photo, on the right there, which was taken by a friend of hers and along with a million other such photos, has been circulating on social media.  This particular photo was taken (I think I have this right) after the fire had erupted, and then been turned entirely black and dormant by the firemen.  But then, the fire got back into business, nearly a day later.  And I bet the heat made a difference to that too.

As for the politics of this, I don’t think Mrs May will recover from the bad press she has had as a result of this disaster.  (GD2 was very eloquent about that.) But my hope is that the Corbynistas are overplaying their hand.  People, says John McDonnell, have a right to be angry.  Of course they do.  But if too many of the people being angry are thought to be politicos who are merely pretending to be angry but who are really having the time of their lives, the Corbyn project might suffer.  I’m sure the Corvbyn high-ups are aware of this danger, but knowing what is happening with something is not the same as necessarily being able to stop it.  (Ask any fireman.)

In general I hope that what I heard Matthew Parris saying on the television on the night of the election is right, to the effect that the Corbyn phenomenon will now be subjected to the sort of serious critical scrutiny by the voters which last time around they bestowed only upon Mrs May.

Friday June 16 2017

It feels hard to write about anything else in London, other than that towering inferno.  This story will run and run, because it partakes of both genuine emotions of the strongest sort, and politicians and media people eager to fan the flames.  What happened?  Who exactly has died?  Whose fault was it?  You can’t blame the media.  Their job is to tell true stories, and this is one hell of a true story.

image

Daily Mirror story about a barking dog.

Politically, if you had tried to hand-craft a disaster calculated to do the most possible damage to the Conservative government, and to most encourage what now seems to be a rising tide of Corbynism, you could hardly have done it more perfectly.  Those political people who are now fanning the flames are filled with passionate moral self-confidence.  How on earth the long-term politics of all this will pan out, I have no idea.

Would a Corbynite government really turn Britain into Venezuela?  Probably not, but why take the chance?  That’s what I say.  But will enough of my fellow Brits agree with me, when the time to say comes round again?  As of now, it feels like: no.

Oh well:

Spero infestis metuo secundis.

6k liked that too.

Friday June 09 2017

Photoed by me in Leake Street, a week ago:

image

I have no idea what most of the stuff in this photo is about, but the Theresa Who? bit certainly looks like happening pretty soon.

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.

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.)