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Category archive: Politics

Tuesday January 27 2015

Lexington Green, here:

What if … ?

What would a history of the British Empire look like if it did not use the “rise and fall” metaphor?

What would that history look like if it examined not just the political framework or just the superficial gilt and glitter, or just the cruelty and crimes, but the deeper and more enduring substance?

What if someone wrote a history of the impact of the English speaking people and their institutions (political, financial, professional, commercial, military, technical, scientific, cultural), and the infinitely complex web of interconnections between them, as a continuous and unbroken story, with a past a present … and a future?

In other words, what if we were to read a history that did not see a rising British Empire followed by a falling Empire, then a rising American Empire which displaced it, but an organism which has taken on many forms over many centuries, and on many continents, but is nonetheless a single life?

What if we assume that the British Empire was not something that ended, but that the Anglosphere, of which the Empire was one expression, is something that has never stopped growing and evolving, and taking on new institutional forms?

What if it looked at the unremitting advance, the pitiless onslaught, universal insinuation, of the English speakers on the rest of the world, seizing big chunks of it (North America, Australia), sloshing up into many parts of it and receding again (India, Nigeria, Malaya), carving permanent marks in the cultural landscape they left behind, all the while getting wealthier and more powerful and pushing the frontiers of science and technology and all the other forms of material progress?

What if jet travel and the Internet have at last conquered the tyranny of distance which the Empire Federationists of a century ago dreamed that steam and telegraph cables would conquer? What if they were just a century too early?

What if linguistic and cultural commonalities are more important than mere geographical location in creating political unity in this newly shrunken world?

I recall musing along the same kind of lines myself, a while back.

The important thing is, this mustn’t be advertised first as a plan.  If that happens, then all the people who are against the Anglosphere, and who prefer places like Spain and Venezuela and Cuba and Hell, will use their ownership of the Mainstream Media to Put A Stop to the plan.  What needs to happen is for us to just do it, and then after about two decades of us having just done it, they’ll realise that it is a fate (as the Hellists will describe it) accompli.

Because, guess what, we probably are already doing it.

Saturday January 24 2015

Today, a fine looking day, a day in which many were to be seen wearing both gloves and sunglasses, I went awandering, down Victoria Street to Parliament Square, and then on across the River.

And in Parliament Square, I chanced upon a demo.  I hope to do a longer bit at Samizdata, hopefully tomorrow, about this demo.  In the meantime, here is a little horizontality, helpfully laid on by the demonstrators:

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Click to get the original bigger picture.

If you want further thoughts from me about “that fatuous construct of political malcontents” called real democracy, follow that link.

And see also what I put in this piece about the Charlie Hebdo demo in Trafalgar Square:

… this was not your usual demo, the sort of demo perpetrated by the demonstrating classes ...

Today’s demo was exactly your usual demo.  Here is a report of what they were trying to do, that being something to do with “Occupy”.  From where I was standing, they failed.

I couldn’t find mainstream media coverage about this demo between this afternoon and now, which could just mean that there was lots and I didn’t find it.  Comments on that very welcome.

LATER: Here is an Evening Standard report.  It seems that what I saw was a failed Occupy demo, bolted onto the end of a somewhat more successful CND demo against Trident.

ALSO: Daily Mail.

Sunday January 18 2015

At that demo a week ago today, there were, of course, and abundance of smartphones being used to soak up snaps:

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And there were tablets being used as well:

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But more intriguingly, and this was a first for me, I saw smartphones …:

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… and tablets …:

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… being used actually to demonstrate.  And as you can see, I wasn’t the only one who was interested.

I’m not sure what this means.  I simply note that it was happening.

Friday January 16 2015

Here:

Sadly Jacob Rees-Mogg is not taking part, his cat wasn’t feline up to it. The big pussy. ...

Etcatera, etcatera.

Guido keeps going on about the Guidoisation of politics.  But he, it would appear, is on the receiving end of the ever rising tide of internet cat references.

imageMeanwhile, another outing here for the only cat reference I saw at the Charlie Hebdo demo in Trafalgar Square last Sunday.

Guido has of course been all over that story.

I’ve just been listening to Christopher Hitchens reading out what is apparently one of the chapters of his book God Is Not Great, and there is a cat reference in that also. Although down on dogs, it seems that the Muslims have tended, historically, to be nicer to cats than the Christians, because Christians have been in the habit of associating cats with the Devil.

Good grief!  More Guido moggy-blogging.

Sunday January 11 2015

Spent the middle of the day at the demo, taking my usual excessive number of pictures, and then the evening trying to divide them up into clumps to show here, or somewhere.

My main impression was that this was a real demo, rather than some faked up exercise in pretending to be angry about some bit of bad economic or political news that some bunch of people have just been hit by, but not very hard, with lots of identical signs all printed out by the same dubious Marxist agitprop organisation, and then afterwards lots of moaning about how the evil Mass Media paid no attention.  There were a lot of people there:

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Not surprisingly, there were a lot of French people present, what with London now containing so many French people.  Also not surprisingly, the average age of those present was young, what with there being so many young French people in London.

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My thanks to Goddaughter 2, now back in London, who told me that she and a friend were going to attend.  Had she not done this, I would only have twigged that it was happening when it started happening and I saw it on the telly.

I have in mind, Real Soon Now, to be posting a clump of pictures of the signs and pictures that people were holding up, along the lines of these photos, that I took of a much smaller demo in London a while back, including the one above, and also including this one, which I especially like:

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My immediate reaction to the Paris brouhaha was not: “I am Charlie Hebdo!” It was to take another crack at reading the Quran, to check if it really is as obnoxious as I remember it being the first time around.  So far, it is, even more than I remember.

Sunday January 04 2015

After an interminable day in trains, disconnected from the www, I finally got home, plugged myself back in again, with my British keyboard, and came across this (a comment on this), from Michael Jennings:

On dynasties, if the 2016 presidential election is Bush v Clinton, America will have definitively jumped the shark.

True.

Tuesday December 02 2014

Defence Minister Michael Fallon addresses the throng at the Adam Smith Institute Christmas Party, earlier this evening:

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More to follow.

Monday November 17 2014

This morning I did a rather negative would-be posting about some Art, Art which had at first rather appealed to me but which, upon further consideration, I decided I did not much like or admire.

But then I realised that my rule for stuff that other people are doing with their own time and money and others are buying and enjoying with their own money and time is for me just to walk away.  Why moan?  The world is full of stuff I don’t much care for.  So long as I don’t get taxed to pay for it, or made to pay attention to it against my will, what on earth is the point of me seeking it out and bitching about it?

For me, this is one of the great benefits that has been brought about by the internet.  In the age of the mass media, you had this whole tribe of professional hacks who, day after day, week after week, were made to pay attention to things which quite often they would rather not have been paying attention to.  Inevitably, an air of irritation, even hatred, entered the souls and writings of these people.  The subtext, and often the text, was: I wouldn’t have picked this in the first place.  Only the Culture vultures who really were allowed to pick whatever cultural prey they were inclined to descend upon were able to communicate genuine pleasure, because they were the only Culture vultures who truly felt pleasure.  The rest of Culture writing was a mixture of grudging reportage and grumbling, with the occasional cheer when some hack found himself not clock watching, not trying to think of what the hell nice things he could say about something he considered nasty, or worse, just … shrug.

But now a tidal wave of amateurs has crashed into the culture-writing game and it has become, well, a game.  It has become fun. We bloggers and twitterers pick on stuff we like, and say: hey, this is cool, this is fun, this is good, this is something I really enjoyed immersing myself in.  Maybe you’ll like it too.  Commenters and other twitterers then say things like: well, I prefer this, or this, or that or that.  If, on the other hand, you said you didn’t like something or other, the response from other www-chatterers is, not unnaturally, just to say: well then why the rude word do you waste your time moaning about it?  Walk away.  If what you are moaning about is some Big Thing, heavily promoted, made much of, that everyone else seems to be paying attention to, fair enough, you are warning the rest of us off it.  But if it is just some little thing you found on the internet and you don’t like it, so rude-word-ing what?

For as long as there was just the one big Culture, that the media people agreed or had to agree was It, then all who wanted to be Cultural had to pay attention to that Culture, whether they liked It or not.  It was their duty, just as it was the duty of professional Culture-writers to write about It, to pay attention to It.  There was an air of joylessness and obligation about It all, like a queue in a passport office.

Favourite-blogger-of-mine Mick Hartley has written from time to time about the way that Art is now turning into fairground entertainment, often implying that this is a bad thing.  I also notice this when I visit London’s South Bank Arts enclave, which now has a much more “visitor attraction” feel to it than it used to have.  Hartley does do quite a lot of moaning, but mostly the Cultural stuff he does now is drawing attention to something he likes, thinks deserves to be more noticed, more enjoyed, more celebrated.  His posting today is a perfect example of this.  It’s not Art, it’s street art.  Street art is fun, it appeals to people, and it is also where a lot of the official Art action is now, because the Artists know that these street people are upstaging them.

Political money is now tighter than it was a decade and more ago, and if the Arts fraternity want yet more money, they must try appealing to their audiences rather than baffling them or insulting them.  They must now try to give pleasure, the way they tended not to in the twentieth century.

But there is more than economics going on here.  After all, there is still a hell of a lot of Official Money being competed for.  There is still a great big Culture out there, still being paid for, if not enjoyed.  No, the other difference is that there is also that damned internet out there, where regular punters get to say what they really think about it all.  If they are being got at by Culture, they can now get back at it, by saying: bollocks, and: I prefer this, or this, or that or that.  It’s a different world.

And you’ll never know what it was I just moaning about.  I will instead look for other things, that I actually like.

The sort of place I will be looking will be at places like Colossal, which, by the way, is where I found the thing that I liked at first but then didn’t like, that got me started on all this.  I don’t like everything at Colossal by any means.  But I like a lot of it.

Or, maybe this is really a posting that is not really about Art as such, more about getting old, as so many postings here are.  As you get old, you stop worrying about what Art is, if you are one of those people who ever did worry.  You just stop paying attention to Art, as in: Where Art Is Going.  It will go where it goes, and you go where you want to go.  It’s not the world getting happier.  It’s not Art getting more fun.  It’s just you.  It’s just me.

Ah blogging.  You can change your mind in mid posting, or even right at the end if you feel inclined.  What’s that you say?  You disapprove.  I must make up my mind.  Must I?  I tell you what, you go away and read something else, something you’d prefer.  This was just a bit of fun, and for you it wasn’t.  Forget about it.

Saturday November 01 2014

Last Wednesday and Thursday, I attended two talks, both at lunchtime, at and arranged by the Adam Smith Institute.  No event links because information about the first talk has already vanished from the ASI website, and information about the second hasn’t yet but presumably soon will.

On Wednesday, Russ Roberts talked about how to do libertarianism.  I agreed with pretty much everything he said, having long ago written very similar things, in particular in this.  Guy Herbert talked, on Thursday, about the Human Rights Act 1998.  He is, with qualifications and hesitations, for it.  He told me afterwards that the text of his talk will be available on line very soon, so I’ll try to add a link later to this posting, at the bottom.  If I fail, perhaps a commenter could remind me.  (LATER: Actually, I’ll add the link to the text (as Samizdata) here.)

At the talk given by Russ Roberts I forgot to take any pictures.  But at the talk given by Guy Herbert yesterday, I remembered.  This was the right way round to remember and forget.  There are many fine pictures of Russ Roberts on line, far fewer of Guy Herbert.

Here is one of the better ones I took of Guy:

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And here, on the left, is another one that I liked:

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On the right there is the explanation of the picture on the left.  I took it through the gap at the top of the empty chair in front of me.  No, I do not know who David Penfold is.  I’m guessing he is the David Penfold mentioned as something to do with this.

The audience for the Russ Roberts talk was packed into the small room it was given in.  The Guy Herbert talk, in the same room, was less well attended, hence that empty chair in front of me.  But that’s because its subject matter was less of an ASI core concern.  It was about things outside the free market comfort zone.  Which is good.  That sends out a signal.  We don’t only operate inside our comfort zone.  There is a bigger, wider world out there.  We think about that also.

Monday October 27 2014

Next Friday, October 31st, Christian Michel is giving a talk at my home entitled, somewhat provocatively: “Soviet and Nazi Art as Illustrations of Ayn Rand’s Aesthetics”.  He is certainly not the first to have pointed out the overlap, so to speak.

Here’s what Christian says about his talk (which I “LATER” (Tuesday) realised I need to insert into this posting, near the beginning):

Art does not feature high on the libertarian agenda. One exception is Ayn Rand, who declared that of all human products art is perhaps the most important. She went on to develop her own theory of aesthetics, and even attempted (as did Jean-Paul Sartre at the same time) to deliver her entire philosophy through the sole medium of literature (both failed).

In my talk this Friday I will sum up Rand’s aesthetics, her contribution to the field, and will show that it was nowhere better illustrated in the twentieth century than in the arts of National-Socialist Germany and Soviet Russia. The point is not to denigrate Rand’s philosophy by that association, but to say that genuine artists find a way to convey their deepest values and sense of life, to express the highest human aspirations and struggles, whatever their circumstances, and that’s exactly what Rand celebrated.

And here is something of what I think about these kinds of things.

Just after World War 2, many an artist said things along the lines of: after Auschwitz, we cannot any longer do purely representational art.  (Similar things were said by classical composers: after Auschwitz, we can’t any longer do pretty tunes.) But the artists had been abandoning pictorial representation (and tunefulness) long before Auschwitz happened, so “Auschwitz” has the air of being a rationalisation rather than the real reason for these artistic trends.

The crimes of Soviet Communism never had quite the same effect on most of the artists, even as an excuse for abstraction, although there were honourable exceptions (Mondrian for instance).  Too many artists admired the Soviet Union, especially during and just after World War 2, during its struggle and after victory over Nazi Germany.

Realistic art had also been seriously deranged by photography.  Photography destroyed the economic foundations of your average painter of realistic portraits and realistic paintings of such things as landscapes, and turned art painting into a sort of cultural bombsite, in which (to quote the words of an early twentieth century popular song) “anything goes”, anything, that is, except realistic pictures of people and of things.  Realism, for the average artist, just made him look like a bad photographer.  Even the claim that “art” now had to be an attack on the delusional bourgeois habit of trying to make visual and conceptual sense of the world has the feel, for me, of a rationalisation.

But there is much more to “realism” than mere realism.  What looks at first glance merely realistic is often aspirational, and to abandon the field of representational art to the mid twentieth century totalitarians was surely a propaganda error, to put it no more strongly.  For the likes of Ayn Rand, this was a surrender by the civilised world that should never have happened.

To point out that Rand favoured images that resembled Nazi and Soviet art is not to accuse her of being a Nazi or a Communist.  It is to realise that she did not want the still immensely potent artistic weapon that is representational painting and sculpture to be monopolised by the totalitarians.

All of which is something of how I see (and hear) the kinds of things that Christian Michel will be talking about on Friday.  As to what Christian himself will say, well, we shall see, and hear.

Meanwhile, here is an abundance of visual clues as to the sort of aesthetic territory that Christian will be traversing in his talk.  It will be an illustrated talk.  Here, without identification or further comment, from me or from him, are the illustrations he has sent me, in the order (I assume) in which he will be referring to them.

A few of these images are small enough to fit within the 500 pixel horizontal limit that prevails at this blog, a couple being very small indeed.  But most can be enlarged (a little or quite a lot) with a click:

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Thursday October 23 2014

Earlier this evening, I attended this gathering.  I took a ton of photos, of which I choose this one to show you:

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I choose that photo not because it is any great shakes as a photo, but because it focuses (insofar as it does focus) on what was in many ways the most impressive thing about this event, namely the number and quality of those who attended.  In this respect, the evening reminded me of those big Liberty League gatherings that happen earlier in the year. Simon Gibbs and his helpers put in a huge effort to make this occasion work well, and to get a decent turnout of intelligent, paying customers.

Don’t get me wrong, the speakers were numerous and articulate, and all admirably concise, which was necessary given how many of them there were.  A lot of ground was covered.  A lot of food for thought was served up.  If there was a big winner issue, so to speak, that best explains how much harder it has recently got to make ends meet, it was probably the cost of housing.  There was general agreement that planning regulations need to be relaxed, although also general pessimism about the politics of accomplishing that.  Also making a strong showing were energy costs, and the heavy and rising taxes on petrol and drink and tobacco.

But you can have all the speakers up front that you like.  If enough aren’t there to listen, then your event falls very flat.  This one was the opposite of that.

Saturday October 11 2014

Indeed.  You don’t see this kind of thing every day:

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But I did.  Today.

As a general rule, I don’t advise combining ice cream with photography.  Do one or the other.  That is the rule I recommend.  But these guys were doing an excellent job of merging these two things, and they weren’t just eating their ice creams and doing photography.  They were photoing their ice creams.

I congratulated them for the excellence of their photographic imagination, and they were really pleased to hear this.  I asked if I could photo them.  Yes, they replied.  And when I said “photo”, I meant, as they surely understood, photo them and put pictures of them up at my blog:

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I also took lots photos of a demo outside Parliament by Kurds, demanding help from Britain in their battles against ISIS.  Maybe (I promise nothing) I’ll put some of those snaps either here or on Samizdata, perhaps tomorrow.

Thursday October 02 2014

Earlier this evening I attended a talk given by Michael Jennings at the Rose and Crown in Southwark.  Read Michael’s background briefing about the things he talked about further this evening, either here, or here.

I have friends who seem to revel in having their photos taken, but Michael is not one of them.  He entirely lacks vanity, and tends, when being photoed, to have the look of a man worrying about how bad he fears he will look in the photo.  So it was that, having earlier been asked for a photo of Michael by Simon Gibbs, the organiser of the meeting, I was only able quickly to find one that was remotely good enough.  (You can see it at the other end of the second of the above links.) This evening I made a particular effort to correct this, and here is one of the better shots that I took of Michael this evening:

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The most dramatic moment in the evening came when the Putin-echoing stooge Russian lady in the audience (there always seem to be one such stooge at any public event mentioning Russia and its current policies) tangled with Michael on the subject of Poland.  Why were the Poles so paranoid about Russia and so keen to join NATO?

Michael replied with a short history lesson that was brief, and crushing.  Nazi-Soviet Pact.  (The stooge later denied that this had even happened, so Michael later told me.) Katyn Massacre.  Warsaw Uprising.  (Stalin parked the Red Army outside Warsaw and let the Nazis crush it.) An imposed Communist government, that the Poles would never have chosen for themselves, for the next half century.  Final sentence, something like: “If fearing Russia after all that means you are paranoid, then yes, I guess the Poles are paranoid.” Applause.  With any luck, this little interchange will be viewable on video, along with the talk itself of course.

Earlier, the lady stooge had waxed eloquent to me, in the socialising period before the talk, about the superiority of Russian education over English education.  She had a point.  Russian children are indeed made to work far harder at their lessons than English children are these days.  But what if the lessons they learn are a pack of lies?

See also this, recently at Samizdata.

On a happier note, I harvested several names and emails of various young, clever libertarians to add to my Brian’s Last Fridays list.  A couple of them being, so it seemed to me, of exceptional promise.  (I hope that doesn’t sound patronising.) I was particularly impressed by this guy.

Tuesday September 30 2014

Indeed.  Photoed by me this afternoon:

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I don’t know what went wrong with this one.

Googling reminds me that there were a lot of complaints, the summer before last, about Boris buses getting too hot.  Has that been sorted?

In general, I am suspicious of these new buses, on two grounds.  First, as its nickname makes clear, this is a very political sort of bus, being the Boris Johnson answer to Ken Livingstone’s Bendy Bus.  When politicians push technology, expect trouble.  I’m not saying they always get things wrong, because they don’t want to look like prunes, and when they push things that go wrong, they do.  But, they are still tempted to push, because, in defiance of what you often hear, politicians are typically very short-termist, being unable to look beyond their next election.  Businessmen, at any rate businessmen of the sort who preside over the design of buses, tend to look further ahead, and not unleash their buses until their are truly ready.

Second, it was designed by a “designer”.  By Thomas Heatherwick, who designed that cute roly-poly bridge in Paddington and also the bridge Joanna Lumley wants to have built across the Thames.  If you want a bus not to malfunction too much, the kind of designer you want designing it is a bus designer, who is thoroughly familiar with the particular problems that buses can get engulfed by and knows all the tried-and-tested recipes for avoiding such problems.  This Heatherwick bus smells to me of change for the sake of it.  This is okay if you are designing something small enough to fail without too much expense, like a chair or a spoon or an iPhone case, or a rather pointless roly-poly bridge.  But buses are serious.  When they go wrong it can cost millions.

And when a “designer” is involved, mistakes do tend to happen, because designers are brought in precisely to design everything.  And when you try to do everything anew, you make mistakes.

And if that happens to a politicised design, such as this bus, other political things cut in.  Politicians and their supporters don’t suffer financially when their pet projects go wrong.  They can start fighting the wrongness by just chucking money at it, and just pass the bill on to the rest of us.  If unlimited money doesn’t sort out the mess and instead becomes part of the mess, then their next impulse is to try to cover things up.  If that fails, Plan C (we’ve reached about C, I’m guessing) is to find someone or something else to blame.  Does that also fail?  Plan D: just walk away from the mess, refuse to talk about it, and insist on talking about something else, anything else, everything else.  Change the subject.  In politics, in the end, all there is is “the subject”.  If politicians keep winning, then they “succeed”, no matter how much havoc in the form of things like crappy buses they leave in their wake.

I’m not saying that these Boris Buses are guaranteed to fail.  New designs, of the sort driven by politicians, can be a triumph.  Sometimes, they even triumph economically.  Look at the Volkswagen Beetle.  And nor am I saying that one bus attached to a tow-truck is evidence of complete failure.  I’m just saying that this particular bus has a lot of bear traps to get past.

LATER: By pure coincidence, favorite blogger of mine 6k right now also has things to say about Boris.

Quote:

He’s a law unto himself, but if you believe that there’s nothing behind the apparent buffoonery of his outward image, I think you’re mistaken. You don’t get where Boris is by being a buffoon. Acting one, perhaps – being one, no.

Spot on.  The British toff classes are full of people like this.  I had an uncle who behaved exactly this way.

Sunday September 28 2014

My interest in what will be happening next in London, architecturally, is intense, but erratic.  It switches on and off.  Occasionally I go looking to see, but neglect to do this for weeks at a time.  Google sends me emails about “new architecture london”, but the results are seldom as dramatic as they ought to be.  Also, I have been in the rather bad habit of filing these emails in a special email file, and then neglecting to return to them, which is a habit I need to change.

So today, I went into that email file and cranked up the latest “new architecture london” email, and found my way to this place, where I learned something I did not know until now.  Apparently the Helter Skelter Tower, the one that looked like (as in: the tallest pointy thing in the very middle of) this, …:

image

... having been stalled for ages when the money ran out, has finally been scrapped.  It will be replaced with an entirely new design.

Interestingly, if you click on the first of the above links, you will, if you persevere within the somewhat unwieldy virtual place that it is (in this case by scrolling sideways), you may manage to find your way to this, concerning “The Pinnacle”:

Designed as the centrepiece of the City cluster

Plans for a tower on-site have been active since 2002

Initial planning application was submitted in June 2005.

Revised application with 19m height reduction approved April 2006.

Current status: Undergoing a redesign, with possible height increase.

Possible height increase. Something quite bland looking (compared to the Helter Skelter I mean) but still very high (like the new World Trade Centre for instance) might work rather well, aesthetically, because it would put the present muddle of the City in its place, if you get my meaning.  Anyway, we shall see.