Brian Micklethwait's Blog
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Brian Micklethwait on "Real Democracy Now" in Parliament Square this afternoon
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This and that
So I was chuntering through my stuff of a Sunday, when I thought, okay, the World Cup is over, but there’s still cricket, isn’t there? I wonder what Surrey are doing today. When I started to find out, I got the camera out:
Eat your heart out, Gilchrist. Benning is an attacking batsman being talked of as an England prospect by others besides me, and he can really go, but when Ally Brown gets into his stride he is something else again.
Ah. Shame. Oh well, I guess it’ll calm down now, and Surrey will eventually make somewhat less than four hundred and lose seven wickets. That’s what usually happens after big opening stands.
Back again a while later, and yes, Benning is out too, but they are past 400 already and there are still five overs to go. They’ve sent in the ferocious Mahmood to keep it going, and he’s keeping it going, but Rikki Clarke, it turns out, is really going.
Three and a half overs later:
So, to sum it up: Surrey scored 300 in the first 35 overs, with both the openers getting big hundreds. Then, they turned on the gas.
If you investigate here, you find that Clarke made 82 off 28 balls. Equally amazing is that the relative plodder, wicketkeeper-batter Jon Batty, got 29 in 10 balls.
The previous record for the biggest team score in a one day game was 443, scored by Sri Lanka against Holland in some ghastly World Cup mismatch. So Surrey have bumped that up by more than fifty.
My immediate reaction to this mayhem was to think: Benning, Brown and Clarke are all English. They would sure have made a difference in the West Indies if they’d been there, instead of the Dead Men Walking that England were picking their top three from over there: Vaughan, Strauss, Joyce and Bell.
But then, I thought about something I’d seen on Friday, when I took a trip to the Oval myself. Take a look at this, which I snapped during the tea interval:
Yeah, nice stand isn’t it? Shame about the people not in it. But, observe that yellow “wicket”, as we cricket people call the strip of heavily manicured grass where the serious business of cricket is acted out, over to the right, far nearer to the boundary than the two wickets in the middle. Were they perchance using that one today? This suggests that they were:
Yet even with Brown back in the pavilion, Gloucestershire’s bowlers were still at the mercy of The Oval’s short boundaries, and Surrey’s all-out aggression, ...
Equally suggestive is that in among the demoralised wreckage of the Gloucester reply, there was a century stand between a couple of the Gloucester guys that was almost as ferocious as what Surrey were doing throughout. Surrey’s second string bowlers bowlers were not that far from getting a similar caning themselves.
So, yes, I reckon it was “The Oval’s short boundaries” - as well as Brown, Benning, Clarke - what did it. To make room for that stand, the Oval’s boundaries are indeed less long than they used to be, but they’re not normally what you’d call short. They certainly weren’t on Friday. But, today, they were. Presumably they had a rope for the boundary on the other side, not that far from the middle of the real pitch.
Which rather takes the juice out of that record, I think.
My fondest memories of the recently deceased Mstislav Rostropovich are of listening to LPs and CDs of him. First there was that fantastic CBS recording of the first cello concerto of Shostakovich, when I was an otherwise (i.e. when not listening to classical LPs (or watching cricket matches)) rather unhappy teenager at Marlborough. Then, there was that equally fantastic Dvorak concerto with Karajan. I’m also looking forward very much to hearing this BBC Legends performance of the Elgar concerto, as soon as I can get hold of that cheaply, which he never recorded commercially, but which he did occasionally play. (Come to think of it, maybe I already have this, on on old Revelation CD, which was apparently released without Rostropovich’s permission. I must try and dig that out.)
I never heard Rostropovich live, or met him. But, if you like that kind of reminiscence, Stephen Pollard did see and hear him live, a lot, and did meet him, very memorably.
I also remember hearing that other live BBC performance that Pollard mentions, of the Dvorak, at the Proms, on the night that the BBC first broadcast it, which was just when the USSR had barged into Czechoslovakia. He reminds us that this too is now available on CD.
Well, my weirdly timed spasm of rage about Murali’s action (see the immediately previous posting) has passed, and now, like everybody, I just want a proper game. Thank goodness for Gilchrist, because his innings at least means that a truly classy piece of cricket is going to decide this contest. We are at the stage where the rain, and the bad light - which was entirely predictable, they’re now telling us - is making this match end with a whimper rather than much in the way of a bang. Sri Lanka are 149-3, and the World Cup Final looks like it’s going to be as big an embarrassment as all the other embarrassments in the rest of this shambolic and sad tournament.
What I want to know is: Why the F***K aren’t they using FLOODLIGHTS? They’re faffing around, not doing anything. It’s getting darker and darker, and this is becoming a global advert for the patheticness of cricket. The commentators are trying to conceal their rage, and not doing it at all well. “A fitting end to a very badly organised tournament.” I’ll say.
I had to take some videos back to Blockbuster, and after doing that I found a pub where they were showing this. I stayed long enough to witness the turning point of the Sri Lanka innings, which was when the century stand between Jayasuriya and Sangakkara ended, with the latter being out caught Ponting bowled Hogg for fifty something. With the ending of the first “power play”, i.e. period of compulsory close fielding, the boundaries dried up, and by the time I had got home again the weather had started doing the opposite. They’re now saying that there will only be 36 overs allowed, to chase down the same total. Was Duckworth the twat who decided that? Or Lewis? Or was it a joint decision? Whatever, it’s insane. They should have used floodlights. Sri Lanka now have to score at about 13 an over, and, well, forget it.
“What’s going on? Tell us?” The commentators are getting nearer and nearer ballistic. Bucknor stopped play, for no reason. Now they’re going to carry on. Perhaps Bucknor was receiving some kind of message in his ears, from the off-pitch umpire. “Shilpa has some information.” What a farce. 154-3. “They want the Duckworth Lewis on the scoreboard.” “That can’t be the reason, it’s always been there.” Commentator Agnew’s contempt is palpable. “I think the Duckworth Lewis rate was wrong.” “It’s now showing 0.” 155-3. “It’s all going pear shaped.” “Totally pear shaped.” “Oh dear.”
“Appeal for LBW. It’s been given out.” Jayawardene. Another huge nail in what for the last half hour at least has been the Sri Lankan coffin. “It’s fizzling out.” “269 is the revised target.” “It’s fizzling out. Horribly. Embarrassingly.” “It’s all a bit hollow.” “Rain and cricket have never sat well together.” 10 overs to score 112. “It will be very dark when they finish.”
Didn’t the cretins in charge of this farce realise that it would get dark, at that particular time in the evening when darkness happens in this part of the world? (This part of the world being Barbados, by the way.)
Silva has just hit a six., but it’s too little too late too dark.
“They’re playing a floodlit match without floodlights.” That from Martin-Jenkins. 192-6. They now need 14.9 runs per over. “It would be kinder to call it off.”
Apparently the World Cup of 2007 is ending in a lightning storm of extremely visible flashes from hundreds of Billion Monkey cameras. So I guess the light is still good, but uneven. They’re photo-ing McGrath, whose last few moments of international cricket these are.
It’s all over. “The umpires have said: it’s too dark. It’s over.” “It’s a sorry end. To have to abandon a match because it gets too dark. A shabby end to what should be a showpiece of international cricket.” Australia “to all intents and purposes” have won. Indeed.
First, I thought Surrey had no chance at all (see the immediately previous posting here) of getting anywhere near that fourth innings target of 500, that Hampshire set them yesterday afternoon. At 283-7 it was done and dusted, as they say nowadays, but at that point two bowlers who can bat a bit, Salisbury and Azhar Mahmood, added what must have been an exceedingly rapid 177, and Surrey got to 460 before losing their last three wickets in a heep. It often happens this way. While it is all a futile gesture, the batsmen relax and slog away. But once it gets serious, and it becomes seriously possible that they might win, it all goes wrong. Still, losing by only 35 is a pretty good result for Surrey. Too bad they only get four points for their efforts, with no points at all to show for how much of a fright they must have given Hampshire.
Second, I journeyed out to Shepherds Bush to meet up with Michael to watch the World Cup Final. The weather delayed everything, so I gave up and went home again, not least because I am suffering from a rather nasty ache in my shoulder and neck. But while with Michael, I did watch a bit of the Sri Lanka New Zealand semi-final, which Sri Lanka won, and saw Murali bowling. (He took 4 wickets for a mere 31.) I remarked to Michael that I don’t like Murali’s action. It just looks too much like chucking to me. This is an opinion I have resisted, because of reverse racism. I have told myself that Murali’s action is legal, for fear of being called a racist by Asian cricket fans. And indeed, I suppose if you go with what the legal theorists call, I believe, “legal positivism”, then if they say Murali’s action is legal, then, well, it is. Okay. So be it.
But then later, Michael rang me at home to tell me which pub he has ended up in to watch this thing, and I discussed with him the fact that Gilchrist was making a whole lot better start with the bat in this game than he did in the two previous games Australia played, in both of which he rather conspicuously failed.
It was then that it hit me. I want Australia to win this thing. More precisely, I want Sri Lanka to be thrashed. If we all have to accept that Murali’s action is legal, then like I say, so be it. But they can’t make us like it, and I don’t. Murali is the big Sri Lankan weapon, and I don’t like that weapon. I want it swatted aside. I want Murali to have grotesque figures in this match, something like 7 overs for 70 and no wickets. Gilchrist is now going like a tank, and has just hit Murali for six. Good. Australia 137-0 after 20 overs, in a 38 over game, which Australia, as of now, look like winning by a big margin. Now Hayden has joined in and has just hit another six. Now Gilchrist has got to his hundred. 162-0 after 22 overs. I’m not writing slowly. They’re scoring fast. Carnage. Good. “Bad for cricket”, you say? All this Australian dominance? I say that Murali’s action is even worse for cricket.
I don’t have any personal beef against Murali, I really don’t. With his action, his talents, his desire to play this wonderful game, I’d be doing just what he is doing. And yes I have heard the arguments, about how his arm is indeed as straight as he is able to make it, and that other actions, when scrutinised with slowed down film, turn out to be rather dodgier than previously thought. Murali looks like a wonderful guy. A fascinating individual, of just the sort you’d want to know. But like I say, I don’t like it, the way he bowls. Like I say, it just looks, to me, like chucking. And a major fact about cricket is that chucking is not allowed.
Please do not misunderstand me. This is not an argument. This is not the claim that, if you are a cricket lover, you should think as I do about this. It is simply a description of how - I have only today discovered – I feel. And it came as quite a surprise to me, when I realised what was happening inside my head, I can tell you.
172-0 in the 23rd over. Viv Richards is saying that they could get three hundred, and indeed they could, and several more. But: Hayden caught Jayawardene bowled Malinga for 38. Out of 172. Gilchrist 119 not out. Hayden, they are saying, was “off form today”. Jesus.
Okay, so I just sorted out the links in the above, and now it’s 201-1 after 27 overs. 11 more overs. Wickets in hand. Guess: 330-5. “Not happening for Murali today”, says commentator Maxwell.
It occurs to me that Gilchrist, who is riding his luck but has now got to 146 not out, is well on course to make an international ODI double century. And that would be a first, would it not? Yes it would. But: Gilchrist out, for 149. 104 balls. “If that isn’t a match winning innings then I don’t know what is.” Me neither. Symonds is now in. A hitter.
But now, the commentators are explaining what Jayasuriya and co are capable of, and talking about what they did to England last year. But that was England. This is Australia.
UPDATE: Michael’s just piped me a picture from his pub:
This afternoon I took a short bus ride to the Oval, to see Surrey versus Hampshire, but basically to see Shane Warne bowling. In the morning he was brilliant, apparently. I wasn’t there. He took 5-45 and Surrey were completely out of their depth, apart from Ramprakash who hit a not out century. By the time I got there, Hampshire had made over a hundred for one on top of a huge first innings lead, and at tea they declared, setting Surrey 500 to win in four sessions. Fat chance. But there was a good chance that I would get to see Warne bowl and sure enough, at the end the day there were about fifteen overs of spin, bowled by Warne, and then also Udall. Warne didn’t get a wicket, but Udall did, when Ramprakash, who had been batting wonderfully, got himself stumped in the second last over.
I took lots of photos of Warne bowling, but Warne’s bowling is an athletic thing. He’s quite quick, and there’s a lot of movement involved. So, me not being any sort of sports photographer, the best snaps I could do of Warne tended all to look like this:
In other words, okay as a general impression, but no clicking to get it bigger because this time, bigger would only be worse. I got plenty of other good photos, but not any truly good photos of the one thing above all else I was there to see.
The other main memory of the day, aside from Warne, was the number of empty seats. The Oval is a huge place which stages test matches every year. But a county cricket crowd, if you can call it a crowd, and even if it is boosted by one-off Warne-watchers like me, gets totally lost there. Rough guess: 500 people. What a weird way to make a living, playing a weird game in front of tiny sprinklings of people, paid out of the TV revenue of test matches that most county cricketers only very occasionally play in, if at all. It would be all right if round the edge of the pitch it was just trees, grass and as many folding chairs as the spectators cared to bring with them. But a four-fifths empty stadium is a bleak and dispiriting place. Ask the people who’ve actually been showing up in person to the Cricket World Cup.
Half the ground was shut, and there was absolutely nobody at all in any of the green seats in the big new curved stand. Building work, apparently.
If you click on that, you will get it bigger. If you need that.
Shane Warne is one of the world’s greatest cricketers, not just now but ever. London has however many millions of people in it that it has. Warne very seldom plays in London and pretty soon won’t be playing at all, but while he does he will finally be giving his all to county cricket and holding nothing back for test matches. Ramprakash is a terrific batsman. (He hit two sixes, one sumptuous straight drive off one of the fast bowlers, the other off ... Warne, just before he got out.) Yet county cricket, even as good as this, just doesn’t attract that many people these days, and most of those whom it does attract are weird men of a certain age, like me. Which is presumably a bit of a vicious circle, because the thought of all those empty seats and weird old gits means that this old git won’t be going back any time soon. Limited overs games, with a decent throng of spectators and a bit of atmosphere, maybe. Four day games like this one? Watched by, basically, nobody? No thank you.
Certainly not tomorrow, because tomorrow means finding a TV set to watch the World Cup Final, and what is more actually getting to see properly what is going on. With TV you get expert close-ups of everything, and you are in line with the wickets and can see what the ball is doing. Plus you get replays of everything interesting. Today, whenever anything interesting happened I kept expecting to see it again, but for this game there were no giant TV screens to do that, and if you missed something important when it happened, you missed it period. Plus, my eyesight is terrible, and I basically can’t make things out or tell who anyone is from the edge of a big field like the Oval. I can now see far more in my photos than I could see when I took them.
As it happened, the first Surrey wicket, Newman getting caught by Adams (I learn now from Cricinfo) I missed, because I was faffing about with my cheap binoculars at the time. At least I saw the second one, the Ramprakash stumping, brilliantly executed by Hampshire’s Nick Pothas. A fellow old git I got chatting with told me that Pothas will very soon be qualified to play for England. Since he can bat, and since England have no problem with South Africans, he’s quite a good bet for the England spot, I’d say, any month or year now.
Finally, a couple of snaps I took after play had finished and right before leaving. The first I show you because it is artistic and thought-provoking and all that kind of thing, and the second because that guy was the nearest thing to a Billion Monkey I saw all afternoon.
Those you can also click on to get bigger.
It took me a while to work this out, but in this, “cat protection” means protection against catastrophe, right?
Last night on 18DSTV, Iain Dale was kind enough to mention my pictures of London buildings. Maybe he was just bored with all my Billion Monkey pictures, or regards them as intrusive and wrong and wanted to steer me in other directions, but whatever, it was very gratifying and I told him I’d stick up a photo of a building on my blog today. So, here are eight such photos. Why hold back?
They are all examples of what I am coming to see as a characteristic London snap, namely the distant sighting of a familiar big London building, already photoed a zillion times by a zillion tourists, and which most local Billion Monkeys have long tired of snapping, but with unfamiliar and very local stuff in the foreground. As you can see, all but the first of these snaps are of the Towers of Docklands, the first one being of the Gherkin. All were taken on a walk I took last week from Limehouse to Shoreditch, along the Regents Canal. Click on them to get the real pictures.
For once, I think I may, in some of these snaps, have made rather excessive use of the zoom feature on my very zoomy little camera. Whenever I found that I had a choice, I tended to choose the one with less zoom, a smaller set of towers and more foreground local strangeness. That last one, for instance, could do with much more foreground. It is the last because it was taken from by far the furthest away, but you wouldn’t know it from the photo.
The secret of internet photo display, I am coming to believe, is collecting them into themed sets. This is how I am now arranging all my Billion Monkey snaps. Chimping and self-photo-ing I’ve already done. In the future there may be (but: I promise nothing!): bag ladies, interesting men, Billion Monkeys wearing gloves, and various other collections linked by theme rather than just by all having been taken on the same excursion or just that I happen to like them.
So it should be with buildings. The Gherkin, seen from lots of different and peculiar places. These Docklands Towers, ditto. (I seem to recall showing a photo here some time or another of the Docklands Towers viewed from faraway Clapham Junction.) The New Wembley Arch. St Pauls. The Wheel. Big Ben. The BT Tower. Soon there will be Renzo Piano’s Shard of Glass, or so I devoutly hope. More towers are also planned for around Victoria Station, which is right near me.
The thing is, London is obviously not like New York, where all the big sticking-up buildings are in a huge solid clump, or for that matter like most US cities with skyscraper clusters in the middle. But nor is London like other cities that don’t have many proper skyscrapers at all. It is a hybrid. (A highbrid. Hah!) Basically a cabbage patch of six, eight, ten story lumps all jammed together next to each other, but with occasional spikes or towers or, you know, just things zapping their way upwards, for no very obvious reason, but doing it anyway. And because these things are relatively rare and scattered, and rather individual in shape, they can often be clearly and identifiably seen from many miles away.
Even the Docklands Towers, which in a way are just a banal clutch of lumpish and only moderately big skyscrapers, together form a characteristic London Big Thing, quite unlike any of the other Big Things of London, which in their turn are all quite unlike each other.
Quote from this:
From the left marched battalions of self-styled mental health “liberation activists” steeped in the writings of Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing. Though he denied being opposed to his own profession, Laing’s notion that madness could be a reasonable reaction to an unjust society, or even a vehicle for spiritual transformation, helped fuel the anti-psychiatry movement of the post Love-In era. The most radical of Laingians carried revisionism one step further: Not only wasn’t psychosis a bad thing, it was evidence of a superior level of consciousness.
The libertarians were fueled by Thomas Szasz, an iconoclastic psychiatrist who was, and remains, an outspoken foe of virtually every aspect of his chosen specialty. Hungarian-born in 1920, and witness to vicious state exploitation of medical practice by the Nazis and the communists, Dr. Szasz pushed an absolutist dogma of individual choice, finding ready converts among members of the Do-Your-Own-Thing generation. Though his early essays offered much-needed critiques of the Orwellian nightmares that can result when autocracy corrupts health care, Dr. Szasz devolved into something of a psychiatric Flat-Earther, insisting in the face of mounting contrary evidence that mental illness simply does not exist. Currently, he serves on a commission, cofounded with the Church of Scientology, that purports to investigate human rights violations perpetrated by mental health professionals.
This is one of the aspects of libertarianism - perhaps “offshoots of libertarianism” would be a better way of putting it - that I have always had a problem with. My prejudice about Thomas Szasz is (a) that he thinks that mental illness does not exist, and I further believe (b) that this is an absurd opinion for anyone to hold. But (a) has only been a prejudice, which I acted upon by not reading much of Szasz’s actual writing. (I have never made any fuss about Szasz being on the Advisory Council of the Libertarian Alliance, as I suppose I might have done.) So I am kind-of relieved that someone who has obviously studied Szasz and his opinions with somewhat greater care than I has arrived at the same conclusion, i.e. (a) above. He clearly also agrees about (b) as does anyone with any sense.
Whether or not Szasz himself really does hold it, the opinion that mental illness does not exist seems to me, as I say, absurd. Every other part of our bodies is capable of malfunctioning, so why not our brains? What conceivable reason can there possibly be to suppose that our brains are incapable of getting damaged, by all the kinds of things that damage our livers, hearts, muscles, bones, skin, blood, breathing, and so on, until every bodily organ or function has been listed? The idea is ridiculous.
Which is not to say that all behaviour diagnosed as brain damage through injury or illness is necessarily that. “Laing’s notion that madness could be a reasonable reaction to an unjust society” is surely reasonable, provided you are careful to include that “could”, and don’t say that all behaviour diagnosed as mad is actually sane, no matter how self-evidently mad.
Meanwhile Laingism/Szaszism (by which I mean the habit of not making the above distinction nearly carefully enough) has done terrible damage and caused terrible unhappiness, not only by closing the asylums and turning mad people loose on the world, to cause misery for themselves and for others, but also by blaming the families of mad people – the parents especially - for having caused the madness, on top of all the other miseries they had to contend with.
I suspect that this cruel folly is an example of one those great Bad Ideas that I like to spot - the truth is obvious and the fixed quantity of wealth fallacy being two of my other favourites. This Bad Idea states that, if something is extremely hard to measure, to understand, to find the right words for, to distinguish between some thing or person being or having that something, and not being or having that something, it therefore follows that the something in question doesn’t exist. I am sure that all that has been said before and said far better, but by whom, and more to the point: how? I wonder if it is to be found in this list.
Because of the runoff structure, an electorate which would, in aggregate, prefer to see Bayrou rather than Sarkozy as president, will instead get Sarkozy, because in the first round, many of those who preferred Bayrou to Sarkozy also preferred Royal to Bayrou.
Somebody called Economist.com, of New York, says this.
I say: silly them. If they really hated Sarkozy that much, they should have voted for Bayrou first time around. That they didn’t suggests they don’t really hate the guy that much.
My absolute least favourite thing about “Free exchange” is that we are not told who writes it. “Economist.com” is not a mind I wish to spend any time getting acquainted with, thank you.
Talking of which, does anybody know of a place in London where I will definitely be able to watch the Cricket World Cup Final (Australia/Sri Lanka) on TV? This coming Saturday afternoon and evening. Michael J? Anybody?
I like being on Doughty Street TV because it gets me out of the house, and because I am in favour of biased TV whatever the bias. And although politically I am deep into a quietist phase just now (i.e. not managing to write anything at all for Samizdata), occasionally politics gets interesting to me, and on DSTV I sometimes hear about these moments.
Last time I was on, for instance, Iain Dale showed two party political broadcasts, by Labour and by the Conservatives, and that was quite interesting. The Labour one was the embodiment of the claim that despite having been the Government for a decade, the Labour Government now has nothing to boast about. It contained no boasting! All it said was: what do you think we should do? Ridiculous. They ought to be saying: remember this, we’ve now fixed it! Remember that? Terrible wasn’t it? Fixed also! Now look at this, we’ll fix this too! Hurrah for us! Don’t vote for those other pillocks they won’t fix anything! But our present Government can’t say any of that because they haven’t fixed anything. They’re the pillocks now. The Conservative advert was diabolically clever and slick and vapid, which is all you can ask for from an opposition. The pitch: we know how to make clever and slick and vapid PPBs, maybe we’d be good at being the Government too. Worth a try, don’t you reckon? Better than those other pillocks!
And now there’s this French presidential election happening, which everyone says Sarkozy will win. A few weeks ago on DSTV, Segolene Royal was mentioned. What a waste of space. She had done one of these consultation exercises where she asked a huge bunch of mediocrities what they all wanted, and then, in the form of a Big Speech to the Nation, she read out what everyone had said.
I occasionally visit France, and the thing that has astounded me most was the discussions they have on the radio, at breakfast time. Lots of words ending in “-isation”. (French pronunciation: “ease ass eon”.) What we need, say a succession of parasite windbags, is this-isation and that-isation, blah blah, shrug shrug. I can’t follow all the words but I get the picture. We need an ongoing process of ongoing-process-isation. What should we do about Youth Unemployment? We need more bollocks-isation. This is what Segolene Royal stands for. More Segolene-Royal-isation, i.e. continuing incomes for parasites (especially parasite windbags) and no chances at all for anyone who really wants to work unless they bugger off to England, God help them. Royal wants France to be even more -isation-ised than it is already. She wants, you might say if you can manage to, an ongoing process of -isation-isation.
Which is why, of all the pro-Sarko bits of internet-accessible writing I have just looked at, this is the one I like the best:
France’s citizens appear to be displaying recognition of and trust in a leader whose words do not sound wooden or hollow, a potential president who does not talk in vague approximations and abstractions as if he were some sort of spirit from the beyond.
No -isationisation from Sarko! Finally, a President of France who is prepared to tell it like it is in clear, plain English.
The same guy continues:
One of the good things about Sarkozy is that he is not only indifferent to whether certain people will object to his ideas and actions, he actually prefers to alienate some individuals, chiefly those who are likely to lose the privileges they have become accustomed to. Sarkozy appears to be a politician who is not afraid of a potential clash, verbal or literal, someone who says and does what he believes, someone who seeks to extricate politics from the sterilized, aristocratic style of management that dominates it and return it to its proper role.
Talking of alienating certain people, France’s ethnic minorities who new stew and rage in the “banlieus”, whatever they may be, all now hate Sarko and are threatening to riot if he wins, which I think is another good reason to vote Sarko. A better reason is that if Sarko wins, he just might make France into the kind of place where ethnics can go into business and make some serious but legal money, even if everyone hates them. More like England in other words. England hates ethnics just as much as France does. But, ethnics in England can keep shops open until midnight and suchlike and become respectable and have their children go to university and work for Channel 4 etc., and finally get more posh and less hated, or at least hated for different reasons. That ladder doesn’t exist in France. So, if you want French ethnics to do better, vote Sarko, even if the ethnics themselves are mostly going to be voting for the various -isation candidates. (I’ll bet you anything you like that there are some French ethnics who secretly agree with the hated Sarko. They look around, and say: he’s right, we are scum. I want to do better than this shit.)
So, to my massed ranks of French readers, and especially to all my massed ranks of French ethnic readers (i.e. all the ones whose religion I hate) I say: vote Sarko!
I’m on Doughty Street TV again tomorrow night, presumably in my usual slot of 10 to midnight. Maybe I’ll get to talk about some of this.
Sell them. Michael Jennings’s best email with just a link yet. The email was entitled “20% off, too”.
This, on the other hand, is how not to handle yourself during such spats.
From last week’s Radio Times, referring to a show on Channel Five at 7.15pm, on Tuesday April 17th.
Big Ideas That Changed The World
3/5 Islam. Former prime minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto traces the history of Islam. At its inception, the religion favoured peace and tolerance. But when the Crusaders began the first of many attacks on the Holy Land in 1095, a religious sub-group formed, intent on justifying murder and martyrdom in the name of Allah.
So, that would mean that this is all made-up Catholic propaganda:
Abd-ur-Rahman crossed the Pyrenees at the head of an immense army and advanced as far as the Loire River, pillaging and burning as he went. David W. Koeller in his article The Battle of Tours, says, “ (The) Moslem army, in a wild search for land and the end of Christianity, after the conquest of Syria, Egypt, and North Africa, began to invade Western Europe under the leadership of Abd-ur-Rahman.” The Muslim army had between 600,000 to 400,000 soldiers, and “an over whelming number of horsemen.”
(Encyclopedia.com, Battle of Tours). In October 732 AD, exactly one hundred years after Muhammad’s death, in 622 an army led by Abd-ur-Rahman … made contact with the Frankish army … along the road between Poitiers and Tours, [a city which was reputed to contain vast riches.] (Discovering World History Essay).
Abd-ur Rahman led his infantry across the Western Pyrenees and toward the Loire River. A Muslim commander named Al-Semak led the first invasion across the Pyrenees in 721, establishing a base at Norbonne. He was followed by Abd-ur Rahman with fresh contingents, who moved up the Rhône as far as Lyons and Dijon destroying churches and monasteries, following Muhammad’s creed of especially targeting non-Muslim places of worship, before moving on to Bordeaux.
Whoever did this website doesn’t seem to grasp the notion of links. And 732 AD was indeed exactly one hundred years after Muhammed’s death, which was in 632 AD rather than 622. So there may well be lots of other mistakes. (Shouldn’t “Norbonne” be “Narbonne”? Don’t know.) Nevertheless, this is not a totally invented description of what happened in France in the early eight century. Is it?
Last night I was invited to a string quartet concert at Conway Hall. It was the Emperor String Quartet, whom I had just about heard of. Just about heard of, in the fiercely competitive world of contemporary string quarteting – an art at its peak right now, in my opinion - almost certainly meant pretty damn good, and so it proved.
They played a Haydn quartet, op 77 no 2, which was highly competent to my ear but no more. Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for civilised urbanity. Then they played Martinu quartet number 3. In the second half it was Beethoven op. 131.
The Beethoven is an amazing piece and they made it sound more amazing than it can. Sometimes it can be perfected down, so to speak. Nevertheless, while listening to this performance, I kept thinking of even better performances I have also heard, where this or that phrase was played even more winningly, this or that chord even more perfectly in time and in tune, without any of that amazingness being lost. Often it is said of recorded performances that “if you heard this in a concert hall you would not complain, but . . .”. Well, I did hear just such a performance, a very good one, in a concert hall, yet here I am complaining. Oh well.
For me the highlight was the Martinu. After hearing it, I bought a couple of Emperor Quartet CDs that they were selling in the foyer for a tenner each, one of Martinu quartets, including 3, the one they played last night, and another CD of Walton quartets. I have just played the Martinu, and it is amazing how different the recording sounds to the performance last night. The opening on the CD sounds like insects. The same opening last night sounded like your local serial killer rapping menacingly on your attic door. Of the CD, Julian Haylock says here:
The cool objectivism of the Third Quartet is something of a creative one-off for Martinu, yet the Emperor players succeed in fully bringing the inscrutable score to life, mining its Ravelian expressive world to captivating effect.
Cool objectivism? Last night it sounded, in the words of the friend who had organised this for me and who was also very impressed, “psychotic”. Ravel? Last night it sounded more like Bartok at his most drunken and orgiastic.
One more thing. It shouldn’t matter, but it did. The first violin. He had a permanent half smile on his face that was distracting because rather sinister, like a movie villain. I kept wondering who he reminded me of, and I still haven’t pinned it down. My friend said that violinists all go mad (unlike cellists who all remain sane). Something to do with the vibrations right next to their ears, she said. Got it. He looks like an actor, a particular actor I mean. But, although I can picture this actor, I can’t recall his name. More distraction. Any century now, the all conquering Google or whoever will just be able to put a gizmo right next to your head and extract the picture you have inside it, and tell you the name. Tip of my tongue dot com.
Tonight and tomorrow, on the radio, the Emerson Quartet are playing late Beethoven, including the op 131 quartet that the Emperor played. Recent Wigmore Hall recitals, the second of which is reviewed here. Notice how this critic also has his very exact opinions about exactly how this music should be done, having heard it even more times than I have. I think I will like these Emerson performances a lot, and now that I have it organised to record from the radio, I will.
The internet works in funny ways. The excellent Idiot Toys now has a posting which includes this:
A fitting tribute to the complex finger-hold’s inventor Sonja Ledovskaja, who died at her home in the Ukraine last week, aged 41, of a heart attack. It’s thought the heart attack was caused by her years as a thing holder, with ruthless coaches forcing young women to eat nothing but milk and cheese to keep their fingernails and hair shiny and strong.
That’s under a picture of an Asian babe holding things, which often happens at Idiot Toys. That’s all part of why we love it so, those of us who love it. But this story is not real. It’s a joke. Sonja Ledovskaja is a made-up person. There was no heart attack.
Nevertheless, as a result of this one posting, at a blog where heart attacks are rarely mentioned, adverts have erupted, for this, this, this, and this, in other words for heart attack information, heart attack treatments, heart defence, and other heart related goods and services. “Ads”, it says above these ads, “by Google”. From this I deduce that Google can sometimes be over-literal.
Or maybe not. Maybe people type “heart attack” into Google, in who knows what frightful circumstances, and get sent to Idiot Toys, whereupon they encounter heart attack adverts that they might otherwise have missed.
Many big cats living in the UK are thought to have been released into the wild after the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 made it illegal to keep them and other exotic, non-indigenous animals without a licence.
I always said that the Wild Animals Act of 1976 was Dangerous.
Tomorrow Alex Singleton and I will be recording a conversation about J. S. Bach. This has been much delayed, so I’ve been doing Bach homework on and off for many weeks. See, for instance, this posting.
Anyway, I’ve recently been reading this book. And I found the most arresting bit in it so far to be on page 54, about Bach’s time in Cöthen:
Amidst such gifted performers, and stimulated by a cultivated patron, Sebastian began to produce an amazing abundance of works. Compared with the quantity of original compositions, the amount of other composers’ music performed at court seems to have been minimal. Unfortunately, the great majority of his Cöthen compositions have been lost; but something of the vitality of this period is reflected in the Brandenburg Concertos, a product of these years.
I did not know that. About the lost works, that is. Ouch. Lots of music like the Brandenburgs, gone. Ouch.
This is especially frightful for Bach fans like me who particularly love the instrumental pieces. I personally do not like the way that classical music is often sung, with those heavy, wobbly, hit-the-back-row-of-the-opera-house voices of theirs. Bach often escapes this treatment nowadays, but there is still a barrier for me, a milder version of the barrier that many find between themselves and classical music as a whole. But with Bach’s instrumental music, I face no barrier at all. Unless it gets lost, and I never get to hear it in the first place.
What this illustrates is that Bach was not a great composer quite like the ones we are used to, that is to say like the big names that followed – Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and the rest of them. He wasn’t really composing for posterity, and those of his scores that did survive did so as much because others made this happen, as that he made this happen himself. (It was like this with Shakespeare, too. His plays anyway.) Rather, Bach was making his music for God, who hears everything and remembers everything and who has no need of his own personal score. And, Bach was composing to bring his contemporaries closer to God. He pretty much assumed that future musicians attempting the same would do it with music that they had themselves composed, rather than with music composed by a dead person.
Yes. So once again with the local internet cafe, although this time with a slightly more private cubicle, which makes me less shy.
My internet connections are mysterious, so mysterious that Computer Guru couldn’t, after a long phone session of me typing “ping” and lots of Sanscrit at the Command Prompt (remember the Command Prompt), and getting all the answers that he associates with an internet connection that is working, work out what wasn’t working. Has anyone else been suffering from any similar malady? Except that asking that is like a teacher saying: all those not present raise their hands. All those thus afflicted are unaware of who else might also have caught it, whatever the mysterious It may be, because they are unable to receive any news of the outbreak, if outbreak it be.
My good news is that today I received a cheque from the BBC for being on the BBC World Service, whenever that was. The cheque is not for all that much, but if I did this, say, once a month, then it would start to add up. So, good.
And that’s your lot. On days like this, I remind my readers of the rule here. Something once a day, but not necessarily something worth anyone’s while to read. Just: something. And that was something. Good night.
Alex Singleton, boss of this, and occasional personal blogger, dropped by yesterday, and whistled up on my computer a link to info about a movie about a typeface, Helvetica. It was still on my computer today. I agree: interesting.
This posting is one of the lowest and most insubstantial forms of blogging. But none the worse for that, I believe.
Like Jackie D says, re this, whether a multiple wife marriage is good or bad depends on whether all concerned understood what they were agreeing to. A bigamist who dupes a succession of women into thinking that each of them has a regular one-man-one-woman marriage with the man is committing a succession of frauds. A man who marries a wife on the clear understanding that, if and when he can afford it and feels inclined, he may add another wife to his set, and another, and another, all of which wives are similarly aware of the deal that each is making, is not a swindler, just a guy who is into an alternative lifestyle to the one we here in Britain are mostly used to. Ditto polyandry.
Dishing out welfare payments to husbands with multiple wives is wrong and stupid, because dishing out welfare payments is wrong and stupid.
This lady, on the other hand, muddles all these arguments together, I think.
The interestingness to tedium ratio on the gadget blogs can get dispiriting, but I like the notion of very small TVs with very high resolution screens. Big screens can be quite blurry when viewed very close-to. But not ultra-little ones, where close-to is all there is. Obvious when you think about it:
As our mobile devices skew from email, voice, and web surfin’ to include more multimedia - think live television and video on demand - nobody (big emphasis on “nobody") is going to get into live TV on fuzzy, blurry, low res screens.
A small but Sharp screen, on the other hand, could be just the thing.
Londonist reports on further sand sculpting activity by Magic Andy, as photoed by buckaroo kid. I don’t get the Dirty Beach thing. What is that? Some kind of clean-up-the-river campaign? That would be suggested by the following Magic Andy comment:
The important thing to remember when making sandcastles on the river bank in London is..."NEVER LICK YOUR FINGERS!!!”
I also found my way to this . . .
. . . which I think Magic Andy took himself, with a mobile phone it looks like. Helpfully rotated by me through ninety degrees.
Again, I didn’t get to this via the gadget blogs:
Japanese electronics giant NEC said last week it plans to mass produce, as early as next April, a new type of bioplastic made from corn that will replace petroleum-based plastics currently used to make casings for cellphones, laptops and other portable devices.
“The composite is extremely environmentally friendly,” said NEC.
Yawn. But mercifully - and you wouldn’t be reading this here if it were not so, would you? - there is more involved than the damn environment.
But the plant-based bioplastic, which contains a small percentage of carbon fibre, wasn’t developed simply because it’s greener than other plastics. The new plastic has been designed to conduct heat more efficiently - in other words, it does a better job of carrying away the heat that’s generated from the tightly packed electronic components within gadgets. Expose the components to too much heat and they’re likely to get damaged and fail.
In computers, this job of heat diffusion is largely achieved through fans, which can’t be equipped in portable devices that continue to shrink. For this reason, NEC estimates that by 2010 it will use bioplastic to replace 10 per cent of plastic currently used in its line of products.
Yes, this is the serious side of the Billion Monkeys phenomenon. Now, when you have a demo, your side gets to photo it too, and post its own photos on the internet!
No prizes for knowing why I picked that one! Thanks to Perry de Havilland for the link.
Now a limited study at Landau University has found that bees refuse to return to their hives when mobile phones are placed nearby. Dr Jochen Kuhn, who carried it out, said this could provide a “hint” to a possible cause.
Dr George Carlo, who headed a massive study by the US government and mobile phone industry of hazards from mobiles in the Nineties, said: “I am convinced the possibility is real.”
But mobiles have been around for quite a while, haven’t they? Why now, suddenly, are they killing bees? (Could this be some kind of anti-mobile-phone sting operation? Sorry. SORRY.)
If this effect is real, it would appear that the problem is caused not by mobile phones generally, but by mobile phones near beehives. Maybe beekeepers have only just got around to using mobiles, and will have to stop. As for keeping regular people away from beehives, well, has that ever been a problem?
The consensus among the engadget commenters is: no, it doesn’t make much sense. Why would this be spreading from the USA to Europe? Come to that why would it be “spreading” from anywhere? It seems biological (i.e. from one spreading source), not technological.
Yesterday I found myself by the river, wearing no socks! Just sandals! Summer has arrived!
I had a couple of hours to kill between one commitment south of the river and another back home in Millbank, so I mingled among my fellow Billion Monkeys, who were out in strength, snapping away in the sunshine in one of their favourite habitats. This goes from the Hungerford Bridge footbridges (from which we like to snap winter sunsets with Parliament in front of them), past all the painted, static failed actors, past the Wheel, up onto Westminster Bridge to Parliament Square, and then on to Westminster Cathedral.
Beyond Hungerford Bridge, the Billion Monkeys thin out, being replaced by their great enemies, the People Who Live Here and who therefore Don’t Take Photographs. How plebby and foreign would that be?
Here are some Billion Monkey snaps that I took. They are not of a particular Billion Monkey sub-category, such as Interesting Men, Bag Ladies, Crouching Billion Monkeys, Billion Monkeys also holding guide books with London (in their own languages) on the covers, Billion Monkeys looking at their pictures on their Billion Monkey cameras, Billion Monkeys with maps in front of their faces, Billion Monkeys taking their own photos, even Billion Monkeys on the tops of open top buses, although all these categories are represented. All that these Billion Monkey snaps have in common apart from their Billion Monkeytude is that they were all taken yesterday:
And here is another snap I took which I like, involving no Billion Monkeys whatsoever:
The containers for builders (hence the windows in them) are there because the area near the Wheel is finally getting sorted out, after half a century of confusion and carparkdom. The accoustics of the Royal Festival Hall, built half a century ago when the confusion began, are being improved, hopefully with enough effect to entice world class orchestras to it, as has rarely happened hitherto, and the exterior has also been remodelled. Efforts are also being made to improve matters, as much as is possible, around the other pre-Calatravan concrete lumps further down the river, such as the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Hayward Gallery and the National Theatre.
My thanks to Jackie D for her suggestion, in a comment here, about The Happiness Project, which is now added to my blogroll. From there I found my way to a piece about the above mentioned Csikszentmihalyi, an academic who studies happiness, whom I had already heard of but have yet to learn how to say. So this paragraph started very helpfully:
Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced Chick-Sent-Me-High-ee) isn’t the only social scientist working on this subject. Positive psychology has been exploding in popularity. Systematic measurement of well-being is challenging because its definition is elusive. But researchers at Princeton University have been developing a new technique for collecting data about what activities make people feel good - and what they find bothersome. Many academics employ an older system that Csikszentmihalyi helped develop called the Experience Sampling Method (ESM). Subjects are beeped (via a pager or hand-held device) at random intervals during the day, usually every few hours, at which point they jot down what they’re doing, who they’re with and how they feel: bored or very much enjoying themselves.
I think I’d get bored and bothered, and unhappy (and all the more so because thinking about what I lacked all day long), if I studied happiness all day long.
Being on the BBC World Service earlier in the week made me happy, especially the bit where they asked me for my address so that they could send me money. Afterwards the producer and I chatted, in a manner which suggested that she might ask ne back. Further happiness.
The more serious point here is that Csikszentmihalyi (thank goodness for cut and paste) believes that happiness can be pursued with all the deliberation that businesses apply to the pursuit of profit. You just have to be intelligent and determined about what actually does make you happy.
I’m watching one of those glorious mean machine TV shows, this time about bombers, the all time hit parade. Number 5 was The Bear, the Tu-95.
The notably odd thing about this beast was that, because of its unusual propeller arrangement, one set in front of the other, going in opposite directions, times four (i.e. eight sets of propellers in all), it was extremely noisy. So noisy, in fact, and such an unusual noise, that the Americans could track it with their anti-submarine sonar network. The din of the thing in the sky blasted right into the ocean.
Now they’re at number two, and it’s the B-17, the Flying Fortress, edging out the Lancaster because the Lancaster didn’t have a gun turret underneath. But, even the Flying Fortress wasn’t that, quite, really, because it really needed the Mustang to protect it.
Number one. Here it comes. Presumably the B-52, star of Dr Strangelove. Yes:
Again with the four sets of two engines, but this time jets, side by side. First flew 1952, still very active (although not all of them (scroll down a bit)), now twice as old as the people who fly it.
An engineering study in the year 2001 predicted that the B-52 would be flying for the air force into the year 2045, almost a century after its development began. It has outlived not only its predecessors but also many of its successors such as the Convair B-58, Rockwell B-70 and B-1A, and perhaps even the B-1B. A USAF general called it a plane that is “not getting older, just getting better.”
The B-1B came fourth, I think. If that’s the spooky stealth one, which has no tail to keep it on an even keel, just a computer. Only twenty one have ever been built, or so they said. But I think they made hundreds. It’s just that nobody can see them.
It’s lovely when something you say that is truly smart turns out to have stuck around for a little while.
On the strength of one little joke, here at this blog, I will today be participating in a BBC World Service discussion of Conservatism, Conservatives etc., and by way of homework for this, I have actually been reading the pamphlet I earlier merely alluded to.
I share Sean Gabb‘s irritation about aufhebung-ing, but there is rather more to Kruger’s pamphlet than Sean implies. It certainly has its moments. For instance, I liked this bit (pp. 35-6):
But we see now that there can also be a less fruitful alliance between the individual and the state. When the state steps out of its proper bounds, and attempts to deliver not only objective individual justice, but subjective, social justice too, the change brings the individual out of his life of law-regulated rectitude and spurs him to embark on a quite different career. He becomes the object not of protection, but of solicitation by the state; he is encouraged to believe – is even legally required to act on the belief - that he has certain ‘rights’ vis-a-vis his fellows which it is his duty (his only one) to exact the performance of. He is encouraged to look to the state not purely for the guarantee of his basic rights but for the satisfaction of all his wants. Of course, this necessitates the sacrifice of much liberty. But the liberty is in areas (education, healthcare, income) where the accompanying responsibility weighs heavily, and the reward of the sacrifice is an immediate ‘entitlement’ to those things formerly only gained by the sweat of his brow; it is an easy sacrifice, and one justified, moreover, under the pious heading of ‘equality’. Finally, the deal is concluded with an extension of liberty into areas which, under the old dispensation of self-responsibility, suffered the strictest curtailment by law and public opinion: the boundless areas of ‘self-expression’.
Of course, belief in self-determination and personal autonomy - in ‘being your own person’, ‘taking orders from no-one’, ‘not caring what people think’ - is a particularly English characteristic, remarked on by foreigners throughout our modern history as the glory of a country which had freedom under the law. But it was, until recently, a characteristic with a corollary. The staples of the national caricature, the rumbustious English sailor, the eccentric English gentlemen, the iconoclastic English aesthete, all understood what they were rebelling against. Self-determination was qualified by self-restraint; the autonomy exercised in the name of private liberty deferred to the prevailing culture. No longer. Self-expression has become something much nastier and more assertive. Many consider liberty to be in implacable enmity with the very notion of a prevailing culture; to defer to anything is entirely out of the question. Contempt for bourgeois morality is becoming the prevailing atmosphere of bourgeois society.
I think that summarises rather well the potentially malign influence on a statist society of libertarian rhetoric, unaccompanied by any actual libertarianising.
Which is why many Conservatives, who misunderstand libertarianism as the claim that you have to choose between liberty and bourgeois morality and that you should choose liberty, choose to abandon “liberty”. They say things like “with liberty comes responsibility”, and you don’t know what they mean. Often they don’t know themselves. Phrases like that paper over the cracks between Conservatives like Danny Kruger who would like the state to retreat, and those who want it to advance. In practice, what gets done is whatever the Leader decides.
In general, there is an air of piety and vagueness about this pamphlet that I find grating. A lot of it is an exercise in mood music, in preparing for power while leaving all options open. Many of its sentences cause me to see rooms of Conservatives nodding their bourgeoisly moral heads, in agreement not with each other but with each of their wildly different interpretations of the piety in question. But politics was ever thus. As political tracts go, this one is says a lot, that is to say: a few actual things.
The central claim is that British politics is not so much a dialogue between the two parties in contention with each other, as the two parties taking it in turns to contend with British society. (This Prospect piece sums the argument up quite well.) That makes sense to me. And one of the characteristic ways in which governments run out of puff is that they become ever more exasperated with British society, and more and more rude about it, which British society notes and dislikes, registering its dislike in by-elections and opinion polls. This depresses the government, and eventually they just say to hell with it, you other bastards have a go. We’re fed up with this.
Kruger describes very well the still deeply statist reflexes of our current batch of rulers. They have stopped saying Clause Four but have absolutely not stopped nationalising things. He is far less convincing when he claims that the Conservatives have ever been or ever will be so very different. Conservatives do not even start as doctrinaire classical liberals. They are undoctrinaire getters of and hangers-on to power. To these ends they’ll do whatever it takes. They don’t start with the axiom of liberty, as Kruger claims. They start with the axiom of wanting to become and to remain the government.
As to what Kruger’s now boss, David Cameron, is doing to get power, well, the main thing he is doing is to present himself as nicer than the other lot. “Tone of voice” is just as important to Cameron as the mere matter of what is being said. The present government is now fixed in the public mind as a Scottish sociopath bellowing obscenities down a telephone, as portrayed in the TV show The Thick of It. Cameron’s most insistent demand of his followers now is to convince us that his government will be different. (Which means that my little joke about Kruger inviting Sean Gabb out to lunch rather than arranging for a sociopath to scream at him down a telephone is no mere side-issue in all this. Imagine the Gabb-Kruger one-two, reproduced a thousand times, between, say, a hundred moaning journos and the charming Cameroonies, chuckling back charmingly by email, taking it all on the chin, and offering to try to explain it some more, over a nice lunch.)
But, it won’t be that different. For a while the Conservatives will put the knife into each other and into their enemies with the cryptic charm of senior surgeons inserting their scalpels rather than in the manner of medieval axe warriors, but the effect will be the same. Politics is a nasty business, a negative sum game, and David Cameron knows this. Ask any senior Conservative who has recently been caught using the wrong tone of voice.
I have been digging, as you do, into two things, which it now occurs to me may have something to do with each other.
First I have been following the argument re-(this one never really goes away these days)ignited about the alleged death of the classical music industyr by Norman Lebrecht and his latest book, Maestros, Masterpieces and Madness: the Secret Life and Shameful Death of the Classical Record Industry.
Second, I have been noting with ever increasing amazement the career and creations of the architect Santiago Calatrava, my latest wave of interest in this man being provoked by coming across this snap, of a big culture-palace in Calatrava’s birthplace, Valencia:
This detail of the same place is also very pretty:
Stepping back and flying up, what you see is this:
Two other Calatrava creations I have only just clocked are these two towers. The one on the left in Sweden is already built. The one on the right is to be in Chicago, fingers crossed. (That picture is an earlier version of this edifice. The latest version looks rather more ungainly, to my eye.)
Now, here’s the beginnings of my point, blogged rather than written about properly.
Architecture is a public art, and it had its crisis of modernity in the sixties and seventies. Regular people did not just ignore what then passed for Modern Architecture. They spat at it. And the architects noticed. The spit was on their shirtfronts, and they did not like it one bit. The current generation of super-architects (a) exists, and (b) exists by having rejigged architectural modernism to make it look good. Modern Architecture is now in rude health, whereas thirty or forty years ago it was merely rude. (Other big current names: Frank Gehry, Richard Rogers, Norman Foster, Renzo Piano.)
The architects, you might say, have created new repertoire.
Meanwhile the “classical musicians” have just been jogging along, re-recording their back catalogue for CDs and now for internet distribution. They also had rude and ugly modernism, but regular people could ignore it, and did. They didn’t have to live in this stuff. Very little spitting, and mostly by the orchestral musicians forced to play it. Whereas the architects and their city-builder clients knew they had a crisis on their hands and settled down to sorting it to great effect, the classical musicians postponed their crisis. They didn’t search out new composers, with a new way of doing things which combined modernity with popularity in the Calatrava manner. Only now are they facing this crisis, in the form of cancelled recording contracts, subsidies that just have to remain but actually may soon be cancelled, and commercial sponsors who themselves grew up with the Beatles and who are understandably losing interest in the classical museum.
“Crossover” was an attempt to solve this problem, but it remains despised by the proper classical people. The nearest thing to a musical parallel to Calatrava etc. are the Americans: Philip Glass and John Adams. Nice. But not that much in the way of popular impact, and not nearly enough to alter the sums for the classical music fraternity.
Meanwhile, throughout the twentieth century, pop music has exploded, in a way that has very little parallel in architecture. If architecture was like pop music, it would be as if every suburban house in the world was a an artistic statement and a potential artistic masterpiece, with the people just loving it, and with this month’s most favourite off-the-peg house design being a popular obsession and a major news item. (I’m told that Soweto is, or used to be, rather like this, but I really have no idea.) Imagine what the “classical architects” would make of that sort of world, and you have what much of the classical music fraternity does make of pop music now. Lofty contempt. Rage. Envy. Grudging and now growing respect. Obsessive brooding on the single-figure-and-falling percentage scored by “proper architecture” in the bigger picture of architecture as a whole.
Well, it’s a thought. Or rather, those are thoughts.
I am enjoying this essay, by Darrin M. McMahon. Quote:
Thus, one of the most striking developments in Western societies over the last several hundred years is the steady expansion of the hope and expectation of happiness in this life. Concomitant with this expansion has been the steady erosion of other ways of conceiving of life’s purpose and end. If other ways of doing so have not been entirely abandoned - there are those who still live for virtue, honor, one’s homeland, or family name - in a world that places a premium on good feeling and positive emotion, these other ends have nowhere near the power to channel and constrain our choices that they once did. The same may be said of religion - long considered the ultimate end - but which today, even in places like the United States, where religious observance remains strong, is more often than not treated as a means to a better and happier life. The American author of the 1767 True Pleasure, Cheerfulness, and Happiness, The Immediate Consequence of Religion was undoubtedly ahead of his time. And yet only decades later, that famous observer of the young republic, Alexis de Tocqueville, found it difficult to be sure when listening to American preachers “whether the main object of religion is to procure eternal felicity in the next world or prosperity in this.” Today, when not only Protestants, but Catholics, Jews, Buddhists, and Muslims regularly offer their faiths in America as effective means to earthly happiness, it is more difficult still to discern religion’s main object. In a sense, they too serve the greatest of the modern gods, the most ultimate of ultimate ends: the god of good feeling, who now reigns here below.
My first answer to Norman Geras about my blogging was: “Because I can.” (Why do I blog?) Okay, a good little joke, but a widely applicable answer to all manner of questions. Why do so many people now pursue happiness, when in earlier centuries all they thought about was getting through the day without too much misery? Because we can.
However, I don’t like the idea of politicians bothering themselves about my happiness. This is a recipe for them interfering in everything I do and say and even think, because everything I do and say and think affects my happiness, and potentially everyone else’s. (McMahon mentions Professor Layard, and the general view among politicians that they should now concern themselves more with happiness, and less about mere money or mere misery.) But the circumstances that now enable us all to pursue earthly happiness came about because politicians learned to confine themselves to restricting definite evils, most notably the worst sorts of crime, leaving us to decide about virtue for ourselves. I seem to recall Karl Popper having written rather intelligently about this, although it’s a long time since I’ve read him.
My own experience of happiness is the widespread one that happiness is achieved best by being pursued indirectly. It always seems to require investment, rather than mere purchasing, with even the purchasing of happiness being a skill that must be cultivated. (Happiness tip: Learn how to shop, by reflecting on which purchases make you truly happy, how, for how long, and why.) But just as all businesses (I owe this insight to elder brother Toby who is an accountant) must have “non-financial” objectives if they are to be financially effective, so too all human purposes need a non-happiness dimension if happiness is to be attained. This does not have to involve God, especially if like me you do not believe in such a thing. But it does need to include something beyond your mere self and your mere creature comforts.
Leon Louw (whom I podcasted with some while ago) was adamant that whereas mere economic wealth does not crank out happiness, economic growth does. This makes sense to me, if what makes us happy is movement towards beyond-happiness type goals and purposes. Economic stagnation frustrates us in our chosen goals, even if we are quite wealthy. Mere abundance on its own may even, if we define our goals stupidly, deprive us of worthwhile goals, luring us with mere comfort away from even choosing them wisely, let alone pursuing them vigorously or intelligently.
Or as McMahon puts it, quoting George Orwell:
“Men can only be happy when they do not assume that the object of life is happiness.”
Amen. Sorry. All rather obvious.
Watched the new James Bond last night. It’s okay, and I’m glad to have found out what it consists of, but I didn’t really like it. I prefer my James Bonds to start with something like a ship with sailors in uniform, or a Space Shuttle, being swallowed by a big metal dragon. They then continue with Bond returning to London for a briefing session at home base. The supervillain is identified good and early and he lives in a huge techno-castle which suffers a huge holocaust at the end.
The villain in this one was just an annoying man with a slightly bad eye (as opposed to a seriously bad eye like a proper Bond villain) who lived, well, nowhere in particular. No Moneypenny. No Q. No Home Secretaries or Admirals or First Sea Lords, for Bond to be slightly rude to, played by the usual stage army of Quite Well Known British Actors of the sort who always play the same type of person.
Only the Bond Girls were as per usual:
Presumably a bit of product placement there, but without HDTV I can’t tell you what of. The most interesting characters in the movie are the various mobile phones. Everything important seems to involve them, not that I could keep up.
James Bond himself now has sticking out ears and looks like a monkey. Also, he has been taking lots of illegal body-building drugs. But I’m not complaining. These people know their business, and their business is definitely not any longer appealing to people like me.
There was one interesting actor in it, playing a junior goodie, who was also in one of those recent ITV Jane Austens. I have a nose for actors with a future. So, I’ll tell you about him, some time quite soon.
By way of celebration of the fact that West Ham won today, away, against Arsenal, here’s a quota photo taken two days ago of a man who blows bubbles for a living, outside the National Theatre:
I didn’t know how to crop that, so I just left it as it emerged from the camera.
He‘s happy. So am I. I support all the London Premiership Clubs, with Spurs only as the first among equals. Arsenal are safe enough in third place to be in Europe next season. West Ham are battling relegation, and I hope they win that battle. Ditto Charlton. I want Sheffield U and Wigan to go down (I think it’s those two), together with Watford who are a lost cause, and who in any case live outside the M25. Don’t they?
That Chelsea beat Spurs is bad because Spurs lost, but good because it keeps Chelsea in with a chance of winning the Premiership for London.
Showbiz cat news from Los Angeles:
The world’s only Moscow Cats Theatre returns to Los Angeles for eight performances, April 14-15 and May 5-6, at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre, 4401 W. 8th St., Los Angeles.
This family hit from Russia, the only entertainment of its kind in the world, features non-stop action by a group of 30 talented felines performing original and astounding acrobatic feats in a wordless, colorful and fun-filled family show.
Cats, performing, time after time, in accordance with a theatrical schedule? Surely not.
Moscow Cats Supremo Yuri Kuklachev is the man behind all this feline amazingness:
Once Kuklachev picked up cats in the streets, but now he breeds them. He agrees, however, that one cannot train cats, but says it’s possible to find common language with them and then teach them something.
That’s a picture I dug up, but is there video of stuff like this? Yes there is! Which would seem to disprove a mountain of catology to the effect that this kind of thing simply can’t be done.
From India, news that cricket has been banned in some Indian villages:
“This game is making the young boys go astray. They are into betting and gambling. This also leads to fights. Its better that the youngsters stay away from this game and don’t even watch it,” said panchayat head Tewa Singh.
Other village elders like Ram Singh agree that the sport was ruining the youth. “They should be playing football, kabaddi, volleyball and other traditional games instead,” he added.
Pictures of players like Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Dhoni have also disappeared from walls of homes in these 28 villages.
But, would this have happened if Tendulkar, Sehwag, Dhoni and the rest of them had done better in the World Cup?
Thank you Amit Varma.
I agree with Ham of London Daily Photo about the Thames Path, north of the river, this side of the Tower and Tower Bridge. It’s one of my favourite London places too. THe tourists haven’t yet been told to go here, and when wandering along this winding and ever changing path as the sun sets I feel a kinship with the few people I meet, similar to when someone blogs about one of my favourite movies or pieces of music. You like this too! It is nice, isn’t it?
What I like about this is how Ham has made one of the bugs of digital photography into a feature. The human eye, presented with something in shadow with light behind it, sees everything, making adjustments as it scans the whole scene. It sees the detail of the dark thing, and the detail in the background, although never the two at the same exact moment. Like I say, the eye scans and adjusts. But the camera either turns shadow into pitch darkness or the lighter background into bright white, like they say you see when you are about to die. You have to choose which you will show, and to forget about the other. Ham goes as dark as he can with the foreground, but still gets you’re-dying light in the background. But because Tower Bridge is so distinctive, you still get its vague but utterly recognisable outline, the way you would never really see it, in among the brightness. A really clever use of a tourist cliché, I think.
I’ve already shown pictures here that I took when I recently went to this part of London, of the Zong replica. Here are a few more that I took just after that. The first two feature the fish. Later we see the Millenium Bridge, the famous new footbridge which connects Tate Modern to St Pauls Cathedral. At one point you have to take a detour inland, around a building which doesn’t have a footpath between it and the river. Perhaps I should know shat that Church is, but I don’t.
Even those ugly brute buildings the other side of the river look nice, which may be because in this kind of evening light digital pictures can often be far prettier than reality. The automatic setting introduces all kinds of pinks and blues that you never see at the time you are snapping. This can make some snaps look too picture-postcardish, but concrete lumps can be much improved.
And speaking of Todd (see below), I really was speaking of Todd last Monday night, into Patrick Crozier‘s portable computer. Our conversation (click here to hear it) lasted just under half an hour. Like Patrick I felt, immediately after our conversation had ended, that it bordered on the shambolic, but it was his thing, so I said, if you think it’s okay, okay. Listening to it today, I find that I agree with Patrick. It is okay. Yes, I faff and fluff and fudge, but as I explain, what attracts me to Todd’s grand theorising is precisely its simplicity. In essence the story he tells is very straightforward. Anthropology is ideological destiny. Literacy sparks the ideological explosion and then, when the rubble has settled and the blood has dried, it is economic development. (Also fertility control.) However, the ramifications of this story are almost unimaginably complex. As, presumably, if I can find such, is any academic debate about the story’s truth or falsehood (of combination of the two). So, don’t blame me for not talking very fluently about the fine detail. If I could link to some exhaustive scholarly reaction to Todd, I would be mightily relieved. But, on the internet, I have found only tantalising rumours, and cold trails.
This is, as stated above, my fourth Emmanuel Todd blog posting here, the previous three being here, here and here, or get all my Emmanuel Todd postings by choosing the Emmanuel Todd category here, bottom left.
L’Enfance du Monde: Structure Familiale et Développement by Emmanuel Todd was first published in 1984, and first published in English in 1987, as The Causes of Progress: Culture, Authority and Change. Here is the Foreword (pp. xiii-xiv of my hardback edition of the English translation by Richard Boulind):
The present book is one step on the way towards a new interpretation of historical change. It emphasizes the influence of stable anthropological factors within the modernization process itself. Although self-contained, it is none the less the logical sequel to The Explanation of Ideology: Family Structures and Social Systems (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1985).
The anthropological analysis of social systems singles out family structure as the decisive explanatory variable - that is to say, the elementary relationships of parents with children, brothers with sisters, husbands with wives. But anthropology is here no more than a tool. It makes it possible to settle some basic problems, for which the social sciences of the present day are finding it hard to offer any solutions at all. The question posed in The Explanation of Ideology concerned the spread of modern ideologies across the globe. I set out to explain why communism has come to dominate certain regions, liberalism others, and social democracy yet others; likewise to explain the predominance, elsewhere, of the Catholic Right, or of ideologies that from the European point of view are unclassifiable, such as Muslim fundamentalism, Buddhist socialism or the Indian caste system. In The Explanation of Ideology the analysis of relationships between parents and their children - authoritarian or liberal - and of relationships between brothers - egalitarian or inegalitarian - led to a typology of family types which geographically coincided fairly closely with the mapped distribution of adherence to the great ideologies. The purpose of this second book is to analyse development, here not considered as a purely economic, short-term phenomenon, but as a very long-term cultural and anthropological movement stretching over centuries rather than decades. Its most important aspect is not so much industrial growth as the rise in literacy, the increase in the proportion of people able to read and write from 0 to 99 per cent.
Here, as in the realm of political science, no explanation has so far proved acceptable. One can readily describe - with a wealth of statistical detail - the development of certain countries, first cultural then economic: endogenous development so far as north-western Europe is concerned, exogenous development first in the case of southern Europe, then in part of the Third World. But no reasonable hypothesis has been proposed and tested that can explain such differences - apart from those magnificent tautologies that pronounce that growth results from rates of investment having risen above a certain percentage of the gross national product. Of course that is true. But why have they done so there and not somewhere else? Or at that particular date, rather than at some other?
The method adopted here is simple; as in any scientific undertaking, the objective is to explain the maximum number of facts by the minimum number of hypotheses. The complexity of observed phenomena should be reduced to the simplicity of a few underlying laws. In the case of relations between family structures and ideologies, an extreme degree of simplification proved to be attainable, since the political typology fitted strictly within an anthropological one, each existing ideology being produced by a different family type. In the case of development, each family system may be considered as having a specific potential - cultural rather than political, this time – ranking either as ‘very high’, ‘high’, ‘medium’ or ‘low’. But the geographical diffusion of culture puts shading into the model, and sets up areas of development that extend beyond the limits of certain anthropological areas dominated by specific family types.
Though complementary with one another, the typologies put forward in The Causes of Progress and in The Explanation of Ideology are none the less distinct: within the family system the elements responsible for ideological alignment, on the one hand, and cultural development, on the other, differ somewhat. One element the two typologies do have in common is the style of authority typical of the parent-child relationship, which simultaneously affects both realms: ideology and culture. Other elements are different, though linked by structural relationships. The concept of the equality or inequality of brothers is fundamental to the analysis of ideologies. But the husband-wife relationship, exhibiting as it does a greater or a lesser degree of feminism, is essential to the analysis of development. A synoptic table given in the conclusion (p. 180) indicates the exact matching of the categories employed in the two books.
I hear that Danny Kruger has responded to this ferocious review, which I noted and quoted here, by telling Sean Gabb how much he enjoyed The Column of Phocas, and by inviting Sean out for lunch. This is known as feeding the hand that bites you.
Yes. So this will probably be it for today, and it won’t be much. £1 for 35 minutes at a local internet cafe. But it’s no fun blogging as if in a public toilet, wondering if the guy next to you is surrepticiously looking at your posting to convince himself that his is bigger. So, hello, and goodbye until I’m back connected.
Last Saturday afternoon I went out snapping, first around Parliament, and then off to the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, etc., both very popular Billion Monkey habitats. At the latter place I spied an unfamiliar vessel anchored a little bit up river from the Tower. With its intricate masts and ropes and whatnots and the excellent setting sun, to say nothing of its prime albeit temporary location and spectacular nearby views of London landmarks, it featured in a number of my shots:
But what was it? Oh well, just one of those London mysteries. You can’t expect to understand everything that happens in a great city. A village, yes. A great city, forget it. So, I was all set to forget it.
But now, look at today’s London Daily Photo. Mystery solved. It’s the Zong, that is to say it’s a full-scale model of the Zong, or of something a lot like it. It’s a slave ship replica, the original being the one they threw the slaves off and then claimed for on their insurance.
Concerning which case the Solicitor General, John Lee apparently said:
What is this claim that human people have been thrown overboard? This is a case of chattels or goods. Blacks are goods and property; it is madness to accuse these well-serving honourable men of murder. They acted out of necessity and in the most appropriate manner for the cause. The late Captain Collingwood acted in the interest of his ship to protect the safety of his crew. To question the judgement of an experienced well-travelled captain held in the highest regard is one of folly, especially when talking of slaves. The case is the same as if horses had been thrown overboard.
Sometimes public officials say things like this not because they believe them, but because they wish to draw attention to the current state of the law with maximum provocativeness. But one can’t give Lee the benefit of any such doubts, because he didn’t just assert the lawfulness of Collingwood’s actions, but the appropriateness of them, the morality of them.
But whatever the intention behind this and other similar pronouncements, these certainly had the effect of publicising the evil of the current law:
Granville Sharp, the intrepid Abolitionist, took up the case and used it in his campaign. He visited every bishop in the country most of whom joined the abolition cause as a result of this case and he spoke at public meetings throughout the land. The story of The Zong became a national talking point. The fact that throwing 133 Africans overboard was not regarded as murder but simply as the lawful disposal of ‘merchandise’ at last stirred the national conscience. Although it took another 24 years to persuade Parliament to ban the slave trade, The Zong was the first significant turning point in the abolitionist campaign.
I don’t know how exact a replica this ship is of the original Zong itself. It says here that it is “a replica 18th century wooden square rigger”. Nor do I know where it usually lives. The stories I have googled my way to understandably concentrate on the historical events being remembered and reflected upon rather than on the mere replica itself.
More pictures of this version of the Zong here.
Sean Gabb takes the hatchet to Danny Kruger:
There are many subjects, I grant, discussion of which requires a specialised language. There is music. There is the law. There are the natural sciences. But this is so only for the most elaborate discussions. For basic presentations, plain English has always been found sufficient. And it is not so for discussing political philosophy. For this, plain English is ideally suited. I do know languages - Slovak, for example - where foreign or unfamiliar words are needed for meaningful discussion of political philosophy. Even here, though, I deny the utility of asking thinkers like Hegel or Kant for guidance. German philosophy is notoriously a learned gibberish. For nearly two centuries, it has been used to justify every imaginable lapse from humanity and common sense. Dr Kruger is supposed to be an expert on Edmund Burke. It is worth asking why he has, on this occasion, avoided all attempt at imitating the clear English of the Enlightenment.
The likeliest answer is that enlightenment is not among his intentions. As said, that must be to express himself in a manner that almost none of his readers will understand. This book has been sent out for review to hundreds of journalists and general formers of opinion. It is hoped that these will all skim though it and scratch their heads. “What a bright young man this is” we are all to say. “What he says is all above my head, but I do not wish to look stupid, so will join in the applause at his erudition and profundity.”
It is all like the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes. Newspaper articles will be written about the “intellectual revival” in the Conservative Party. Gossip columns will be filled with references to the gigantic intellect of Dr Kruger. Even hostile articles about Mr Cameron will contain some flattering mention of the philosophical depths with which he has been put in touch.
If this were all one could say about his book, there would be much reason to condemn Dr Kruger. But there is more. His book is not only pretentious and obscure. It is also incompetent. If he were one of my students, and he were to offer this to me as a long undergraduate essay, he would have it thrown straight back in his face.
No danger of that being misunderstood. To put it another way, and using one of the links supplied by Sean to explain to Kruger what slavery means (Kruger doesn’t quite seem to get that), he throws Kruger to the fishes.
Sean’s attack certainly makes me curious to see what got him so angry. But I suspect that if and when I do read this book, I might find some things I agree with, judging by this Civitas press release.
From what the press release says, there’s maybe an interesting argument to be had in among all this about how libertarian rhetoric has a malign effect on the welfare state (assuming it has no effect on its existence or even scale I mean), by reinforcing the tendency of welfare claimants to demand their freedom and their rights, as in: we can do what we like and other people must go on paying. Not exactly libertarianism, and I don’t think it has anything to do with libertarianism, but like I say: a debate.
But I certainly agree with Sean that any debate is better conducted in English.
I like to cross-examine visitors to London, because they see changes that I don’t see. Let’s be honest, a lot of them see more than I see, simply because they go to more places than I do and know more stuff to begin with. A foreign lady friend is visiting London just now and she dropped by and I asked her the usual questions. How’s London looking, compared to when you were last here?
What I got was interesting not so much for the detail as for the manner. It was like listening to a potted novel, something like The Bonfire of the Vanities. She talked about how she felt that London had done a downturn compared to a couple of years ago. The poor were poorer. The desperately indebted were more desperate and deeper in debt. Houses for rich people were more expensive and even further out of reach of normal locals. She described all of London in a few sentence, as if flying over it in a helicopter. But she is not ignorant of detail. She earns her living doing translating for the Police, to and from her native lingo.
She reports that Eastern European immigrants are finding it a lot tougher than they used to only a couple of years ago. Wages are going down for them as well as for what’s left of the London working class. Translating jobs that used to yield three hundred quid a day a decade ago, now get you slightly less, even ignoring inflation. Eager and energetic Polish would-be builders are going back to Poland, disappointed.
Plus, she told me other much more secret and less obvious things, gossip from indiscreet translator friends in other countries. I had to rewrite the first paragraph of this, where I originally said, pretty much, who she is.
Now I realise that a lot of this is very stale news to most Londoners (apart from those juicey secrets from abroad – they wouldn’t be stale news to anyone), but as I say, it was the manner of it as much as the mere facts. It was the way that she had been composing it all, so to speak, in her head. One of the reasons she so likes translating for the Police is that this work cranks out so many great stories. Maybe one day she’ll actually write some of her stories down.
Sometimes “funny” means funny peculiar, because not funny. For instance, last night, on the Jonathan Ross show, Ricky Gervais and Woss between them arrived at a new word, for a drama-comedy: “dramedy”. But, just think how much more entertaining this snatch of dialog could have been, had they only reversed the order of the two starting words. Instead of drama-comedy, they should have been talking about comedy-drama. Had they done that, they might have noticed that those two words combine to form the combination word “coma”. Which is quite funny, as in ha ha.
Apart from that there was, on Woss I mean, John Travolta, who owns (and is fully qualified to pilot) two private jets, one of which is a regular private jet, but the other of which is a 707. He parks them outside his house, the way you and I park our cars outside our houses, except that I live in a flat and don’t own a car. No mention whatever of carbon footprints.
Talking of which I met up with my eldest brother, UKIP Toby, when I visited my mum last week, and he told me he met an environmental type academic who he asked about global warming. Is it real? Is it our fault? The answer he got was that although carbon dioxide is a problem, a much bigger problem is methane, and a huge methane emitter is the north sea gas extraction process. It could be burned off, or some such something-or-other process, in a way less liable to fry the earth, but that would put up the price of domestic heating and make inflation go up, which the Government is determined to avoid at all costs, including global warming getting warmer than otherwise. So, basically, Toby said: what a load of bollocks that is. And that’s your lot for today.