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

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Monday January 31 2011

I am continuing to read Leo McKinstry’s book about the mighty Avro Lancaster, and of course I continue to track the cricket in Australia, where England have been suffering a characteristic one-day anticlimax following Ashes success.

So I was rather charmed to encounter, in the Lancaster book, this quote (p. 263) from an interview with one Norman Boorer, a draughtsman who worked with Barnes Wallis, the inventor of the famous bouncing bomb, which was used to destroy two big dams in Germany in May 1943:

Wallis had studied old naval cannonball techniques, where the bomb was fired on a low trajectory and bounced, giving it more range.  In his experimental work, he also found that backspin would allow it to bounce two or three more times.  George Edwards, who was working closely with Wallis, was a very good cricketer - he could probably have been a county cricketer if he had not been a designer.  He was a fine spin bowler and he explained that if you spin it backwards it will shoot and if you spin it forwards it will dig in.  There was the other point that when the bomb hit the dam, if it were spinning backwards, it would hug the face and roll down, whereas if it were spinning forwards there was a chance it would climb up over the top of the dam.

So there we are.  Cricket won the war.

Bomber Harris was a virulent opponent of the dams raid, as he was of anyone or anything which, in his eyes, diverted anyone or anything from the job of flattening German cities and slaughtering German civilians.  Even after it had succeeded, he remained a sceptic.  Too bad he wasn’t similarly sceptical about his own obsession with winning the entire war only with his own preferred sort of bombing raids.

I am delighted that McKinstry’s Lancaster has a chapter about the dams raid, having long wanted to learn whatever might have been patriotically wrong about the famous film they made about it, which I first saw when I was a mere boy, and which was based on this book by Paul Brickhill, which I first read when I was a mere boy.  It would seem that Brickhill’s telling of the story is pretty much right.

Sunday January 30 2011

For some time now I have had a couple of nice bridge pictures clogging up my desktop, and I want to dump them here, note them, say how nice they are, and then forget about them.

First there is this very recent bridge, for a high speed railway:

image

And this one:

image

...which is an aqueduct.

I like a lot of things about both these bridges.

I like how plain concrete works in sun drenched places, the way it doesn’t in merely drenched places like the one I live in.  I went to the south of France a few years back, and suddenly, concrete modernism was an evolved tradition rather than a totalitarian horror show imposed by people getting even with the human race for having been bullied by it at school, or whatever it was.

I like how both bridges are gun barrel straight, one because the trains are travelling as fast as airplanes and would crash if the bridge was not gun barrel straight, and the other because it is for transporting water, and that can’t work if the bridge goes up and down even a bit.

I like how they could build the train bridge during the dry season.  How convenient.  Just the one dry season, I trust.

And I especially like the aqueduct, which was built in 1939, for its unselfconscious functionality.  If only all modernism worked so well.

The train bridge is “all rights reserved”, so if there’s a complaint it may have to disappear from here.

Friday January 28 2011

imagePlus, it seems that I am not the only one who spices things up with only very marginally relevant cats.

Here is a cat that displays no curiosity about anything outside of its tree.  It’s one of David T’s ephemera today.  Someone feeds it every day and it doesn’t need to be curious.

Thursday January 27 2011

Meanwhile (i.e. carrying on from the previous posting about Patrick-Crozier-Brian-Micklethwait techno-collaboration), Patrick Crozier has been investigating doing Skype interviews.  He did one with me not long ago, about Austrian economics, the recent financial turmoil and its possible ideological consequences, with me, as usual, trying to be optimistic about what might happen.  I did it pretty much off the top of my head, when he told me that he was recording our conversation, which when it began I didn’t realise.  He reckons what we then said was worth listening to.  I hope that if you listen, you agree.  It lasts just over half an hour.  When it starts I was talking about another talk I was thinking about giving a couple of days later.

This is it.  Patrick’s blog posting about it is here.  I’m listening to it again, and technically, it is imperfect.  I am louder than I should be compared to Patrick, which means that my interruptive umms and mmms and ers, a problem under any circumstances (although when doing Cobden Centre interviews I have learned not to do this), keep trumping Patrick when he talks.  Sorry about that.

I promise nothing, but yesterday I mentioned to Patrick Crozier an idea I’ve been having of doing short (i.e. five minutes max) talk-and-look video performances, probably with stills added, about London and its architecture and about architecture generally, with me doing most of the talking and someone else holding the camera, tightly focussing on one topic at a time, You-tube friendly.  Because I was talking to Patrick Crozier about this, I asked (long shot) if he’d be willing to be the one holding the camera.  To my surprise, he replied: yes.  So, something like that might happen.

But, what camera should we be using?  I have ignored making videos, until now.  Basically, what’s the cheapest camera that would do the job, bearing in mind that the visuals of the architecture will matter, more than my mere talking head.  What’s the minimum cost we should be looking at?  Is “high definition” necessary.  Any thoughts, anybody?

Wednesday January 26 2011

Quota photo time:

image

That’s one of the first snaps I took with my last camera but two, nearly six years ago.  It brings back the time when the slightest little commonplace wonder was a thing of true wonder, because now it could be photographed.  When you get a camera, you see the world differently.  And better, I would say.  The trees reflected in the car are in Vincent Square, a short walk from where I live.

Monday January 24 2011

The laugh out loud test is a good one.  It flags up something that really should be passed on to anyone who has not heard it.  And I just laughed out loud, at this:

Every organisation behaves as if it is run by secret agents of its opponents.

It’s from this profile of Robert Conquest, which I got to via this posting.  It was one of his laws, apparently.

Actually, it makes perfect sense, not in the sense that every organisation is run badly, but in the sense that everyone tries to run their organisation in such a way as to strengthen their own position, including secret agents of its opponents if that’s what they also are.  This is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to spot real infiltration, and so easy to imagine it when it is not happening.  It looks so like business as usual.

I must have read this piece about Conquest when it first came out.  But one of the small joys of memory loss (along with the bigger miseries) is that you get to laugh at old jokes as if for the first time.

LATER: Another LOL here.

Sunday January 23 2011

I’ve started reading Lancaster by Leo McKinstry.  The introduction contains this:

Rarely in history has a weapon of mass destruction been so cherished.

I’m looking forward to reading this book a lot.  Unlike the Spitfire, the Lancaster had no film dedicated to the story of its construction, although of course it starred in The Dam Busters.  But who designed it?  Someone called Chadwick, apparently.  Unlike with the Spitfire, the Lancaster was pushed through into production and general acceptance in the teeth of official preference for other, far inferior, bombers, like the Halifax and the Stirling.  It was the nearest thing to private enterprise you can have in a world where the government is your only ultimate customer.  The Americans, who laughed at the Spitfire for its puny thirst for petrol and consequent puny range, were apparently mightily impressed by the Lancaster.  McKinstry is likewise impressed, as he makes clear in the subtitle of the book ("the Second World War’s greatest bomber").  The Lancaster was highly maneuverable, and amazingly rugged when damaged.  It looks as if Chadwick and his sidekick, a man called Dobson, were yet another of those two man teams that I like to spot.

McKinstry seems to have fairly orthodox views about the limitations of Bomber Harris’s attempt to win the war entirely with Bomber Command.  We Brits are now prouder of how we kept ourselves in the contest in 1940 than we are of how we fought our way to the bronze in 1945, so the Lancaster now lacks the aura of universal superstardom that still surrounds the Spitfire.  But, perhaps because it is the physical embodiment of Britain’s last days as a true superpower, it is still much loved, by the sort of people who love airplanes.

image

There’s a Lancaster showing itself off at last year’s Farnborough Air Show.

Friday January 21 2011

It’s is at English Russia, so I looked at it ...

image

… and assumed that it is just a rectangle of blocks put there for some idiot reason, which has gone a bit wrong, USSR style.  Some of the blocks have sunk a bit.  A few have been stolen.  But there it still sits, because nobody can be bothered either to fix it or to remove it.  Then, I got it.

I still prefer my Mac one, but that might not make such a cool sculpture.

Wednesday January 19 2011

From the blonde older daughter in 8 Simple Rules earlier this evening:

“I’ve made my bed and now I have to let sleeping dogs lie in it.”

She’s now the blonde in Big Bang Theory.

What will she be the blonde in next?

Tuesday January 18 2011

Indeed.

Early last year, in connection with my (still totally excellent) Apple keyboard, I wrote this:

My utterly casual and probably quite worthless opinion of Apple is that as soon Steve Jobs stops being their boss, they’re doomed.  While Jobs sticks around, everything they make will look and feel great, because this is what Jobs does insist on and can insist on.  He has total power and impeccable taste, which is, if you think about it, an extraordinarily rare combination of circumstances.  He knows exactly what we all want, years before we do, and he screams like a horrifically spoilt child until he gets it.  A few years back, Jobs did abandon Apple, or maybe it was vice versa (what with all the horrific spoilt child screaming), and Apple did then nosedive towards inevitable doom.  Only when Jobs returned did the Apple glory days resume.  Without Jobs, Apple will become just another clunky computer company with a glorious past and a ton of money to waste that they made in the glory days.  Which they will waste and that will be that.  Apple keyboards will duly degenerate into being no better than any other kind of keyboard.

Which in my opinion is the single big reason not to buy, which means to commit to, Macs.

Later, Michael Jennings wrote more optimistically (in a comment on this) about what a Jobsless Apple might be like:

Steve Jobs was not in charge of Apple in the 1970s and 1980s. He was the co-founder, but outside management was brought in to actually run the company. ("Adult supervision”, as it is often called in Silicon Valley). He did have a big hand in product development, but he fell out with management and was fired in 1985. However, a lot of the technical and product development people he had worked with stayed for a time and kept the company culture for a time, and Apple were still producing good products for quite some time after that. (System 7 of the Mac operating system was probably the last really good version before Jobs came back and Apple produced OS-X, and Apple more or less invented the laptop in its present form with the first Powerbooks. Both these things happened in 1991). After that, management completely lost the plot and most of the good people left, but with Jobs not there and people who had been opposed to Jobs in charge, it took five or six years for things to go wrong completely.

These days, Jobs is CEO and the management team consists completely of people he has put there. If he died, my hunch is the company would keep its culture longer this time. It would probably produce fewer innovative new products, but existing products would be improved and refined well for quite a long time. In short, I think the company would continue to be run at least as well as most other companies are run, even if it did lose some of the things that make it unique.

Jobs had not died yet, and here’s hoping he doesn’t any time soon.  But he has stepped down, for medical reasons.  So now, we may see.

Funny:

Andrew Strauss has been explaining why Paul Collingwood is only a little bit dropped. He needs to “clear his mind” apparently. In fact, Strauss repeated this phrase no less than four times, until it became a little unnerving. It makes you wonder what exactly is on Collingwood’s mind. Has he dared to voice dissent about the regime? Has he not been taking his Team England medication? Does he need re-education?

This England team puts me in mind of a self-help group that has been together just a bit too long, or possibly even the early stages of a cult. There are the vulnerable misfits (one-time failures, young fast bowlers with anger-management issues, immigrants confused about their identity). There is the sinister figurehead, with the misleadingly pleasant surname and the grating accent. And there is the scary right-hand man with the terrifying smile and the menacing platitudes.

The smug videos, the funny little ritual dances, the unnaturally cheerful demeanour, the converging hairstyles; these are the tell-tale signs of group mind-control and a dysfunctional family dynamic. We all know where this is going. One minute they’re an impressively well-drilled and close-knit unit of personable sportsmen, the next they’re barricading themselves into the Lord’s Long Room as police marksmen take up position and Henry Blofeld tries to talk them out via a loud hailer. Take your chance, Paul, get out now while you still can!

England have now lost their last two games, the second of the two Twenty20s and the first ODI.  If they keep on losing, all this stuff will be complained about for real.  Especially the smug videos.

Came across this photo, here, having been sent there to read something else that I’ve forgotten about.  Let’s backtrack and see.  Yes, apparently I was reading this, for some bizarre reason or other.  Plus, rootling through these photos also got me paying some attention to aqueducts.  So anyway, the photo (slightly flattened):

image

A chance for the New York Post to get in a dig at the Israelis for being horrid to the Palestinians:

The fishermen go out every morning hoping that they will be allowed to go out to sea, but Israeli navy forces rarely allow them to leave the shallow waters.

Because after all, under no circumstances whatsoever could “fishermen” possibly be doubling up as anything else.

So, also a chance for me to link back to a posting here about how my attitude to Israel is one of unconditional positive regard.

But putting all that to one side, nice photo.

Sunday January 16 2011

I have been reading amazon.com reviews of The Rest is Noise (already mentioned here (here and here)), to see if any significant number of people doubt the accuracy of any of its facts.  Almost none, it would seem, although quite a few reviewers denounce the book for not including their particular musical enthusiasms, and for including too much about their particular musical unenthusiasms.

Most of the reviews are very positive.  Most reviews on amazon.com are positive.  Why waste time denouncing things you don’t like, unless you are being paid to do this?

One of my favourites of these enthusiastic reviews is this one, by Frederick Hecht, here, in which he rebukes the minority of carpers, who between them managed to yank the average rating down from five stars to four:

As a veteran reviewer in another arena (medicine), I can attest to the fact that is far easier to point out what has been left out of a book than to focus upon what has been selected for inclusion in it.

Yes, Alex Ross has short-changed some composers and some types of music in the 20th century. Unfortunately, some who have reviewed this book here have preferred to dwell upon Alex Ross’s slighting of this or that composer or of a sort of electro-something music they favor and have given the book one, two or three stars out of pique.

“The Rest is Noise” is an extraordinary work. It is clearly the most engrossing and insightful account to appear of classical music in the 20th century. It merits five stars.

Agreed.  And it makes me want to read Hecht’s other reviews.

I too think that Ross omits many good and interesting things, but since his subject is twentieth century classical music and the people who created it and the often hideously dramatic circumstances in which they did this, how could he not omit things?

Thursday January 13 2011

As I have already said here, just over four years ago, Male cows do not have udders, a fact trampled upon in various Dairylea adverts at that time, some of them involving Stephen Fry who should for ever be ashamed of himself.

My faith in the viability of Western Civilisation is now restored.

I am not as hate-filled as she is, ...

(By the way, I really hate when I click on a picture to make it bigger and the “bigger” version isn’t any bigger.)

… but I share the sentiment, at a lower strength.  Pictures, when clicked, should indeed get bigger.  When they don’t, I am disappointed.

One’s parenthetical ideas, off to the side of the point one is really trying to make, are often the very ones that get noticed by other bloggers.  I think it’s something to do with the official point on offer often being, if not dull, then at least somewhat unsurprising (in this case that rich people often have remarkable libraries), while the little offshoot thought is both less often mentioned and more deeply felt.  But when you happen to remind yourself of this notion while writing about something else, out it jumps, in words which you include in your piece, even if only within brackets.  Others then see it, out of its usual context, written in words rather than merely experienced, and realise that yes, I also feel that whenever that happens.  It helps that others have something to copy and paste, and someone to point at.  I think this, and so does she.

Tuesday January 11 2011

Last night, doing some homework for that architecture talk which I am doing next month, I googled “spontaneous architectural order”, with the inverted commas.  I found that I seem to be the only person who has ever used this phrase during the last decade, if the internet is anything to go by.  Which saddens me.

But I did find my way to this posting, and to this conversation about modern architecture with Patrick Crozier (useful (mostly) London pictures there, if you are a non-Londoner), which I listened to again.  I was actually quite pleased with it.  It covers a lot of the ground, more than I expected, and most of the judgements I then made struck me last night as between about right and very right. I hope I do as well (or better) on Feb 14.

Sunday January 09 2011

Indeed:

image

Rotated a bit (hence no gap above the crane at the top).  Photoed earlier this afternoon, just as the sun was setting.  An earlier Shard shot, from the same spot, was posted here last May.

Friday January 07 2011

I’m now watching the TV highlights of the final day at Sydney, and now I’m celebrating.  Like the England team itself, I am now happily counting the chickens of this series, because they have now all hatched.  Three innings victories, to set against the one weirdly big defeat inflicted by the otherwise ineffective Mitchell Johnson at Perth.  Wow.  Was there ever such a tonking in a series the win-lose-draw result of which was still in doubt as the last game began?  The Guardian reports, in this, that a Sydney Daily Telegraph blogger has opined thus:

A 3-1 result flatters Australia.

Ouch.

The series win count for the last four Ashes series now stands at England 3 Australia 1.  But because of that 2006 Australia 5 England 0 bollocking, and because an outclassed Australia did still sneak one win this time around, the test match win count for the last four series is: Australia 8 England 7.  How about that?

Anyway, a few more random thoughts and a little more linkage.  I don’t normally have asterisk type gaps between this bit of a blog posting and the next one, but this time, I think it may help.  If you get bored, don’t give up on on the whole thing.  Just skip down to the next asterisk.

*

A reason that so many of us find it hard to think of Jimmy Anderson as the great bowler he surely is may be that, when he takes a big top order wicket that really matters, he celebrates by running about and skipping and high-fiving with both hands, and jumping up and down like an excited girl on her birthday.  Yes, he’s doing it again, on the telly, as he takes the ninth Aussie wicket.

While doing his regular bowling, and when reacting to bowling disappointment, Anderson has learned to get his “body language” right, i.e. suitably statuesque and impervious and manly and undefeated:

“Body language is a huge thing,” he is reported as saying. “I try to keep my shoulders back now and to be positive. In the past I’ve been pretty average at that.”

The point being that he has had to make himself do this.  It does not come naturally to him.  And as I say, when he takes an important wicket his default body language (happy version) still asserts itself.  When he gets a big success, there is no still, calm posing, like Flintoff did, and none at all of the even better unposed pose, so to speak, where the triumphant bowler is an expressionless tower of calm in a crazy sea of team-mate congratulation.  Anderson is the opposite of that.  Most of the stills of him celebrating don’t show this, because they usually freeze him into a pose of some sort.  You have to watch him on the telly to see what a girlie man he still is, when very happy.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  If he carries on bowling for England like he has in this series, he can do it in a bikini for all I care.  There was a great self-send-up by Anderson in one of the Swann videos, where he celebrated his feminine side by appearing with his hair wrapped in a towel, girlie style.  Yet “Anderson” is now going to be on lists also containing words like “Larwood”, “Tyson”, “Snow” and “Botham”?

Anderson took twenty four wickets in the series, without once taking five in one innings.  Has that ever happened before?  Those numbers speak both to Anderson’s relentless leadership of the England bowlers, and the fact that he was always followed by the other bowlers also taking wickets, every time.  In a team with less good other bowlers, Anderson might have taken even more wickets.  But, England would not have won the series.

*

As for the other dominant England player in this series, did you know that although Alastair Cook may look like a movie star, he talks like Noel Fielding?  Do people realise how hilarious this will be when Cook is the captain?  Plus: is that an original observation?  You can’t google to see if anyone else has said this because it’s Noel Fielding.  There’s a lot of fielding in cricket reports so you get a million irrelevant hits.

Cook quote (from an admiring piece about England coach Andy Flower):

We’ve had an amazing two months since we got here but we’ve already said we want to improve, that’s one of our team ethoses,” said Alastair Cook, whose own partnership with Flower grew in stature during his spell as captain in Bangladesh, and whose tally of 766 runs was the outstanding performance of the Ashes.

Shouldn’t that be “ethoi”?

*

In other England batting news, Ian Bell has finally learned how to be a tough bastard by doing cage fighting.

*

Good teams – in fact good enterprises, groups, firms, outfits, operations of any kind – get lots of luck, or they seem to.  This is because when they get a bit of luck, they make maximum use of it.

Trott, supposedly a clogger in the field, runs out Katich for a duck in the first over at Melbourne Adelaide, and soon after that Australia are three down for two wickets.  The Perth blip is immediately reduced to a blip. England are on their way to their first win.

At Sydney, Cook gets caught off a no ball when in the forties, and goes on to make 189.  Bell challenges a caught behind, gets away with it, and goes on to make another hundred.  Prior, who also made a hundred in that last huge Sydney innings, when asked what had changed for him as a batsmen as the series went on, said that he just got luckier.  If an Aussie had been caught off of a no ball in this series when in the forties, he would soon have got out for about fifty, and we would all have forgotten.  In fact, the Aussies did have lots of luck, as all sides do in cricket games, in the form of close play-and-misses, nearly catches, balls shading the stumps, nearly run-outs, nearly lbws, etc., but because they did not exploit these bits of luck, we don’t now remember them.  There was general commentator agreement that, on the first morning at Sydney when England got just the one wicket off the final ball of the session, England could in another version of the same morning have got nearer to five wickets, so well did they bowl but so lucky were the Australian batters.  But that is now quickly being forgotten, because soon after that Australia were their usual 140 for 5 or whatever.

*

The English celebrations immediately following the Sydney win, consisting of journos and commentators talking to England players, featured a perfect storm of sporting cliches, “perfect storm” being one of the cliches, or so I seem to recall.  Strauss in particular spoke almost entirely in verbal plasticene, and the others mostly copied him.  “The guys deserve all the credit in the world, and not just the players but also the backroom staff”.  “Pressure”.  “Bowled in the right areas.” “We stuck to our plans.” Thank God for Swann.  “So, Swann, what did Strauss bring to this team?” Swann: “Nothing.  Nothing at all.” Looks at other England player standing next to Swann, who goes along with this joke: “No, nothing whatsoever.” Both together: “Nothing.” Strauss joins in: “Well I was going to congratulate the other players, but I don’t think I will now.” Ho, ho.  Under Swann’s influence, even Strauss was saying unprepared, vaguely funny things.  But it couldn’t last.  “But seriously, the guys deserve all the credit in the world and not just the players but also the backroom staff, the bowlers bowled in the right areas, we stuck to our plans, pressure pressure pressure, blah blah blah, cliché cliché cliché.” All true of course.

Wonderful.

*

Provided you weren’t trying to listen to it on Radio 4:

It was unfortunate – some might say extraordinary – coincidence that it was the third time in the series that Radio 4 had cut to the shipping forecast at the moment of an England victory, missing the climax to all three of the team’s Test wins.

*

But what if you’re an Australian?  Not fun.  Favourite incoming email to Cricinfo during the Sydney game:

Sam Warburton, thanks for the best feedback of the day so far: “I reckon my phone must be Australian. When I try to text ‘Ashes’, predictive text suggests ‘cries’.”

Indeed.

*

To get a bit more serious about the Australian cricketing pickle, I earlier said that Michael Clarke had a chance in this final game to strengthen his claim to be the next Australian captain for real, rather than just as a stand-in for Ponting.  Strangely, I rather think he has done that, despite the immensity of the defeat his team suffered.  His second innings 41 may not seem like much, but until Smith went into futile gesture mode right at the end of the game, it was the top Australian second innings score, and was made under immense England pressure.  More to the point, Clarke looked the part when talking to the journos, or he did to me.  At least, with his talk about learning from England, he seemed to communicate an understanding of the scale of the defeat, while nevertheless managing not to subject Australia to a public psychological disintegration of the Kim Hughes 1981 variety.  I now rate Clarke as a possible regular captain more highly than I did before this final match, although that isn’t saying much.

I see that another Guardian guy, Kevin Mitchell, agrees:

Clarke has impressed immensely in his brief tenure. He has been derided in the media, booed in the stands and utterly destroyed in the scorebook. Yet he has kept his explanations short and considered, neither railing at provocative questions nor dodging the really tough ones.

As for all the rumours flying around that some of the Australian players don’t rate Clarke very highly, well, they are in no position to expect their opinions about how well or badly they either have been lead (by Ponting) or will be lead (by Clarke) to have any great influence on anyone, given how they performed in this series, and given that about a third to a half of them may well be out of test cricket in a couple of years.

*

But here is some serious consolation for Aussies.  I met up with Tom Burroughes last night, and he told me that somebody or other has now proved that countries doing better economically always do worse at sport.  Not enough desperation to do well because if you don’t do well you rot in the slums, presumably.  Too much else to do that is profitable and/or fun.  The Aussie economy is motoring just now, compared to most other places.  England’s, on the other hand, …

*

Since it’s Friday, here is this, which is a reminder of better Aussie times.  (Warning: best to keep the sound down.  The woman making the video occasionally shouts.) It’s Boxing Day at the Melbourne test in 2006.  So very different from the 2010 Melbourne Boxing Day nightmare, which was the defining day of this latest series.  At the time I speculated that while England were then very much on top, Australia might yet get up off the floor and land a few more big punches of their own.  Because, you know, cricket is a Funny Old Game blah blah, and they just might.  They never did.

Wednesday January 05 2011

On February 14th, I will be giving a talk about architecture, modern and “modernist”, to the LSE branch (so to speak) of the Libertarian Alliance.  Details of the event will presumably be appearing here in due course, and presumably also a video of the talk once it’s done, if previous events in this series are anything to go by.

Incoming from David McDonagh:

We meet on the second Monday of the month at 7pm at The Institute of Education, just off Russell Square - student bar, Room S16, Thornhaugh Street, London, WC1B 5EA.

As to the content of my talk, I intend to bite off far more than I can hope to chew thoroughly on the night.  Many of the points I have in mind to make will end up being alluded to only in the form of cryptic summaries, embedded in blog postings like this one.  No way will I have time to talk at any length about my entire agenda.

But thanks to the magic of the Internet, I don’t have to.  I can publish the agenda here and circulate the link to this beforehand, to all those whom LA-LSE chairman David McDonagh will be inviting to attend.  As I say, I’m guessing that the talk will be video-ed and internetted, so it will also be reactable to afterwards.  Perhaps I will also hand out print-outs on the night, along the lines of what follows.

So anyway, here is what I now have in mind to be talking about:

Theses, antitheses and syntheses in architectural modernism: A gallop over the last century and a half of architectural practice (much great – much terrible – much okay) and architectural theorising (mostly pretty terrible), from the industrial revolution until now and beyond.

Theses:

Traditional architectures rooted in shared, educated understandings of the past and its architectural gestures and meanings, in the context of quite slowly evolving architectural technology.

Antitheses:

Machine art and the crisis of decorative virtuosity in an age of exploding technology.  The puritanical revulsion against architectural “beauty”.  Ornament equals crime.  New engineering achievements, particularly bridges and ships.  Structure the only acceptable appearance.

Architectural modernism as in: the Modern Movement in Architecture, as a theory rather than just as a subsequent practice.  Twentieth century totalitarianism and its evil follies made concrete (enough for a dozen talks on that alone).  Why Modern Movement architects made machines for living in that didn’t work and that looked horrible.

The rejection of conventional architectural solutions that solve problems without necessarily knowing why or how.  The roofs that flew off the houses.  How and how not to innovate.  The ironies of mass production, or why modern movement architects often did better designing chairs than they did designing buildings.  The success and failure of the Bauhaus.

The menace of fake trad architecture, i.e. buildings that only look traditional, but don’t work either and soon look horrible also.

Syntheses:

Modern electronic culture, the demise of past-centred culture (see Theses above) and the mass popularity of cool modernism.  (In London, the Gherkin, the Wheel, etc.) Beauty rediscovered (renegotiated?) by the modernists.  Separating structure from appearance.  Structure as (expensive) decoration.  Architectural traditions, as in practices that make buildings work properly, painfully rediscovered, or newly established and bedded down.  The indoors triumph of modernism (see Bauhaus above).

Through it all: The never destroyed, continuously evolving tradition of modernism, as successful practice rather than just wrong-headed theory.

Comments on all of the above topics will be especially welcome, whether before the talk or after it.

Monday January 03 2011

A few months back I discovered that there were other Emmanuel Todd fans out there besides me, notably Lexington Green of Chicago Boyz, and James C. Bennett.  Emails were exchanged, and I met up with Bennett in London.  Very helpful.

Here is a big moment in what I hope may prove to be the long overdue rise and rise of Emmanuel Todd in the English speaking world.  Todd is quoted here by Lexington Green, and then linked to from here. Yes indeed, Instapundit.  Okay, this is because what Todd is quoted saying happens to chime in with what Instapundit wants to be saying, but … whatever.  That’s how Instalaunches work.

The Todd quote:

A double movement will assure the advancement of human history. The developing world is heading toward democracy — pushed by the movement toward full literacy that tends to create culturally more homogeneous societies. As for the industrialized world, it is being encroached on to varying degrees by a tendency toward oligarchy — a phenomenon that has emerged with the development of educational stratification that has divided societies into layers of “higher,” “lower,” and various kinds of “middle” classes.

However, we must not exaggerate the antidemocratic effects of this unegalitarian educational stratification. Developed countries, even if they become more oligarchical, remain literate countries and will have to deal with the contradictions and conflicts that could arise between a democratically leaning literate mass and university-driven stratification that favors oligarchical elites.

Says LG:

Todd’s book, despite its flaws, is full of good insights. This passage was prescient. The Tea Party (“a democratically leaning literate mass”) and it’s opponents, the “Ruling Class” described by Angelo Codevilla, ("oligarchical elites") are well-delineated by Todd, several years before other people were focused on this phenomenon.

This may cause a little flurry of Toddery in my part of the www.  Not all of it will be favourable, to put it mildly, because the book quoted is fiercely anti-American, and totally wrong-headed about economics.  Todd is one of those people who insists on dividing economic activity into “real” and “unreal” categories, solid and speculative, honest and delusional.  Todd’s problem is that he imagines that the making of things that hurt your foot when you drop them is inherently less risky than, say, operating as a financial advisor or a hedge fund manager.  But both are risky.  It is possible to make too many things.  Similar illusions were entertained in the past about how agriculture was real, while mere thing-making was unreal.

Todd believes that the US economy is being “hollowed out”, with delusional activity crowding out “real” activity.

The problem is that Todd is not completely wrong.  Economic dodginess was indeed stalking the USA in 2002.  But the explanation for the processes that actually did occur and are occurring, which are easily confused with what Todd said back in 2002 was happening, and which will hence make him all the more certain that his wrongness is right, is not that manufacturing is real and financial services unreal, but that for Austrian economics reasons (Todd appears to have no idea whatever about Austrian economics), all dodgy and speculative activities, most emphatically including dodgy manufacturing ventures, have been encouraged by bad financial policies.  Todd also seems to imagine that only the USA has been guilty of such follies.  If only.

Such are some of the flaws in this book that LG refers to.

But none of that impinges on Todd’s fundamental achievements as a social scientist, which I have long thought ought to resonate in my part of the www.  This should help.

At the moment the default setting font when I crack open OpenOffice.org 3.2.1 Writer and start writing deathless prose is Times New Roman, 12pts.  I want the default setting font when I crack open OpenOffice.org 3.2.1 Writer and start writing deathless prose to be Verdana, 12pts.

Anyone know how to make that happen?  I tried googling for the answer, but couldn’t make that work either.

31-0 after the first hour of the first day of the final game of this Ashes series, at Sydney.

This match is a big chance for Michael Clarke to grab the captaincy.  Had Ponting not broken his finger, Ponting would surely have been captain until the end of this series.  Making Clarke captain for this one game, after the Melbourne debacle, would have then been a Big Decision because it would have suggested they were committed to Clarke in the longer run, and the Big Decisions are surely all being postponed by Australia just now.  Get the Ashes out of the way, for better or for worse, then have a big sit-down and decide about everything.  That must surely be their plan.  For a start they probably need a new bunch of selectors, or so everyone seems to be saying.  Clarke’s problem is that he hasn’t really looked the part.  He reminds me of Kim Hughes, who cried when Australia lost in 1981, and I bet lots of Australians think something like that too.  But now that he is the captain, even if only as a stopgap, he has a chance to look the part in a way that he hasn’t looked it until now.  Ponting’s finger could be the difference between Clarke being the next Australian captain for real, and them picking someone else, like Haddin.  Of course, if England win again, and Clarke cries about it ...

The first rule of captaincy is: have good players.  The second is: be lucky.  So far Clarke is being lucky.  Australia now 45-0.  That’s way better than the average Australian first innings, first day start in this series.  Swann is just coming on.

Without success.  But Tremlett has looked good throughout, and has now got a wicket, just before lunch.  Hughes, surprise surprise.  Australia 55-1.  After lunch, new guy Khawaja starts.  I fancy Tremlett to get more.  I said Tremlett might do well.  That wicket changes things.  England are on their way.

Meanwhile, if post mortems do turn out to be in order for Australia, one of the more persuasive ones I’ve read lately has been by Scyld Berry, which puts the blame on Twenty20 cricket.  Too many Aussie batters able to smash it about for an hour.  Not enough able to bat for a day or more.  England, as Berry points out, have three top order men, all of whom have got hundreds in this series, who are not now in the England T20 side: Strauss, Cook and Trott.  Their one batting failure, Collingwood, is the captain of England at T20, and the other big England T20 man, Pietersen, has had his batting problems recently.

Is cricket slowly dividing into two entirely separate games?

Khawaja two and four off his first two balls.  The radio commentators very impressed.  They even mentioned Gower’s first ball as a test batsman, which also went for four.  61-1.

Sunday January 02 2011

Radio 3 is overdosing on Mozart just now.  Every note he ever wrote is being broadcast this week, apparently.

imageI’ve just been listening to Donald MacLeod playing recordings of some of Mozart’s very earliest pieces, all very diverting and entertaining.  Right at the end of the show MacLeod reminded us that Mozart was, although MacLeod did not use this phrase, entirely home schooled, as supervised by his famous dad, Leopold.  Mozart never went to school at all.  Too busy working, as a composer and performer.

One of Mozart’s childhood companions (and yes, home schooled children do tend to have companions) said that Mozart might, had he not been so closely watched and taught by adults in his early years, especially Leopold of course, and steered towards honest employment so early, have become … a criminal.  Mozart was essentially amoral, the friend said, and constantly tempted by every passing novelty.  (It was indeed like that all his life, which was one of extravagance and debt, as well as musical genius of course.)

Had Mozart not been taught, very early on, how to make money as a musician, said the childhood friend, he might simply have grabbed it wherever he could.

Saturday January 01 2011

From the Preface of The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins:

A lawyer or a politician is paid to exercise his passion and his persuasion on behalf of a client or a cause in which he may not privately believe. I have never done this and I never shall. I may not always be right, but I care passionately about what is true and I never say anything that I do not believe to be right. I remember being shocked when visiting a university debating society to debate with creationists. At dinner after the debate, I was placed next to a young woman who had made a relatively powerful speech in favour of creationism. She clearly couldn’t be a creationist, so I asked her to tell me honestly why she had done it. She freely admitted that she was simply practising her debating skills, and found it more challenging to advocate a position in which she did not believe.  Apparently it is common practice in university debating societies for speakers simply to be told on which side they are to speak. Their own beliefs don’t come into it. I had come a long way to perform the disagreeable task of public speaking, because I believed in the truth of the motion that I had been asked to propose. When I discovered that members of the society were using the motion as a vehicle for playing arguing games, I resolved to decline future invitations from debating societies that encourage insincere advocacy on issues where scientific truth is at stake.

I uphold the right of people to indulge in such debating games, but share Dawkins’s extreme distaste for having any part in them myself.  I also think that Dawkins makes his point very well, as is usual with him.

The thing that pissed me off about university debating societies like this one was not so much the insincerity, as the fact that they seemed to use the argument as a mere excuse to do bad stand-up comedy.  They weren’t seriously pretending to take the other side.  They frivolously refused to take any side at all, and didn’t give a damn that they made this entirely obvious.  Poor, pathetic you for taking the subject so absurdly seriously, for caring about it all, for getting so involved.

The thing some people don’t seem to get about Dawkins is how much emotion is involved in his fiercely logical harangues.  They assume that because he is trying so hard to be logical, which he is, that therefore no deep feeling can be involved.  But there is no necessary conflict between logic and depth of feeling, any more than there is a necessary conflict between a car engine and petrol.

Just now I am on the look out for little (or big) things from books, so that I can practice scanning stuff in, to my new computer, with my new scanner.  Right now it is still a bit of a struggle, so expect more bits from more books.