Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
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- The outdoor map next to the Twelvetrees Crescent Bridge over the River Lea
- Marc Sidwell on experts
- Guess what this is
- Robots build a bridge
- The Robert Stephenson statue at Euston
- Cruelty to a fake animal – kindness to a fake animal
- Shopping Trolley Spiral beside the River Lea
- An Underground sermon
- Rubbish blogging
- Tim Marshall on the illiberal and undemocratic Middle East
- Opera North’s Ring
- An important game and only a game
- Making blue by copying tarantulas
- An old person television set
- Battersea from Clapham Junction
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This and that
I am starting to have a real problem with remembering the names of people. (And yes, this is another posting about the process of getting old, of the sort predicted in this earlier posting.) I see him. I know him. Or rather, I know that I should know him, and I do know him. But, I do not know him, as in: I do not know his name, despite have been told that name half a dozen times and more. Nothing is more disrespectful than forgetting someone’s name, yet I keep doing it, to people whom I really want to treat with respect.
The worst recent example of this syndrome concerns a guy who has attended several of my Last Friday meetings. He attended again last night, and once again I got his name wrong. My only defence is that I ask attenders to email me if they are coming. But this is not a condition of attendance, and he never does. So whenever he does show up, as he did last night, it’s a bit of a surprise. But that is a pretty feeble excuse. He’s on the email list.
He is a Spaniard, which I think makes it worse. I ought to be especially pleased when non-Brits show up to my evenings, and I am. So, why can I not do this man the elementary courtesy of remembering who he is?
So anyway, his name is: Victor. Victor, Victor, Victor.
It is my hope that the two pictures below (reproduced here with Victor’s permission) will finally nail Victor’s name (Victor) into my head:
On the left Victor, photoed last night in my kitchen. On the right: Victor.
What’s the betting that next time I meet Victor, I call him Vulcan?
This posting is a test, which will involve great confusion to anyone trying to read this blog now, as I do this. And actually, quite a lot of confusion in perpetuity.
I am trying to work out whether these four squares will fit in the allotted sideways space (500 pixels). Once I’ve got them fitting properly, I’ll tell you what they are, and what that picture at the bottom is.
And right away, we have a problem. The square on the right has shoved itself under the first one, rather than where I was hoping it would be. This requires all the squares to stop being 123x123 (pixels), and must instead be resized to become 122x122. This could take a while.
Okay, all done now. And it didn’t take long at all:
Let me explain. I am planning one of my big photo collections with lots of squares, and before doing that I needed to know how big the little squares needed to be, to fit properly into 500 pixels. Just as well I did this test.
As to what the four squares above are, well, there’s a clue below. They were taken on December 16th 2006, the same day as I took all these photos.
The one on the left, as it turns out, is also in the original mega collection linked to above. I guess there’s just something about a canoe man falling over forewards.
The second … well, how could I have missed this first time around? Two geese eating what is clearly a whole pizza!
Number three is a particularly vivid example of the Things Reflected genre, and I like it a lot.
And I picked out the one on the right, because it is the exact same bridge, and the exact same view of it, as is featured in this posting, except that in 2006 there was no graffiti. So right there, the decline of Western Civilisation, happening in front of our eyes.
And this final picture is what happened on my screen when I was processing that last picture.
Moiré patterns. Because these patterns were the result of the photo and my screen colliding, I don’t know what you will see on all your screens. Maybe nothing, and you don’t have the faintest idea what I am talking about.
Anyway, job done. 122x122 it is.
In that 2006 postings, as with many of my large photo-collections here, there is a horizontal gap between horizontal lines of photos, but no vertical gaps between each photo. I prefer the latter arrangement. If there are gaps, they should be everywhere. Hence this test, beause I have never done a collection which is four little photos wide. Three wide, yes, but not four.
I knew you’d be excited.
This week, I have been in a particularly egotistical and silly mood here. (Which is allowed, because I say what is allowed.) This is because I worked extremely hard (by my pathetic standards of what hard work is) on this posting at Samizdata, and am now relaxing.
Is this book … :
… the same book as this book?:
It turns out that they are the same book. Hannan:
But, are they precisely the same? I mean: same intro? Same preface? Any other small tinkerings? If the Yanks (maybe the Brits?) changed the damn title, what the hell else did they change?
I find this kind of thing intensely annoying. The whole point of reading something like a book, or watching something like a movie, is that you read (or watch) precisely the same object as everybody else. (This being one reason why I so particularly resent censorship. It prevents me, again and again, from seeing what others elsewhere are seeing.)
The best you can say about this muddle is that at least this/these book/books seem to be coming out at approximately the same time.
How we invented Freedom is nevertheless in the post.
Anyone interested in new public sculpture should try googling for news about: Falkirk, Kelpies, sculpture, and such things. And be sure to include images in your searchings.
My favourite photos of these newly completed Kelpies are, I think, these ones, which were taken while they were still being constructed, and in particular, I like this one:
Horses heads, and also cranes.
I also like the one with the road sign in the foreground.
STV (Scottish TV presumably) news report today:
The Kelpies, by sculptor Andy Scott, are a monument to Central Scotland’s horse-powered heritage.
Each stands at a towering 30m and weighs over 300 tonnes. At a cost of £5m, the project is intended to be a symbol of regeneration in the Forth Valley.
They are part of the £43m Helix redevelopment of around 350 hectares of land between Falkirk and Grangemouth, including new parkland and pathways. It is hoped the site will attract thousands more tourists to the region and boost the local economy.
The statues were inspired by the supernatural water horses of Celtic mythology as well as the powerful heavy horses that were used in the early days of the industrial revolution.
Mr Scott, who also created the Heavy Horse sculpture on the M8 near Glasgow, said: “During the conceptual stages, I visualised the Kelpies as monuments to the horse and a paean to the lost industries of the Falkirk area and of Scotland.
I just caught the fag end of a TV news report on this, and google did the rest.
This evening I hope to be attending an Event. And now, having performed all my obligatory duties for the day, I am turning my attention to this blog. I am very pleased that for the last however many days it is, I have managed at least one blog posting here every day, and I want today to be no different.
It is now, as I write this, just after 1pm, and the Event is not until the evening. Yet, I find blogging even under such relaxed circumstances as these extraordinarily difficult. I do not mean truly difficult. I merely mean extraordinarily more difficult than it surely ought to be. Even a window of several hours, yet a window which has a definite end when I have to stop the blogging and start to do whatever it is, seems, maybe, too small. What if my writing catches fire? What if what began merely as a small quota thought ignites into a long essay? What if I suddenly decide that I want to add photographs, know the photographs I want to add, but do not know where they are on my hard disc?
Luckily for me, nothing clever is now occurring to me of the sort that will make ending this blog posting difficult. No added photo seems needed. So, I will just end it.
There. Easy. I reckon that took about ten minutes.
I will even have time to take some shirts to the laundrette, and have a clean one ready to wear, at the Event.
My attention has been drawn to some excellent photos by Michal Nuniewicz.
I, of course, particularly like this one:
A classic, in the genre recently referred to here.
Sub-genre: group selfie. An important sub-classification, I think.
Referred to by a Radio 3 announcer, this afternoon:
If Music is a Place - then Jazz is the City, Folk is the Wilderness, Rock is the Road, Classical is a Temple.
I heard it, googled it, and was able to copy-and-paste it from here.
Yes. I spent my blogging time today fretting about the finishing of this. So, no time to do much here.
But there’s an internet out there.
Here’s a very quick vid, of Kenneth Williams opining (which would be a good word for him to say) about specialisation.
It is interesting how the prices of basic supermarket products now seems to fluctuate rather more than they used to. My last stash of Gold Blend also cost £3 a go, for two. Today, I bought three of these packets. For the last few weeks it went up to £4.50, and I held off, waiting in hope of a price drop again. Today, I was nearly out and would have to buy some, no matter what the price. But, glory be, it was down to £3 again.
Could these fluctuations be a consequence of containers? Is it that containers have made supplies of things like branded coffee less continuous, more prone to famine or feast? And are we now enjoying a capitalist version of what happened under communism, in which suddenly a rumour would fly around Moscow saying that a consignment of meat had arrived, and immediately the queues would form. With us, the news that Gold Blend is on offer at Sainsburys flies around on our mobile phones, or in this case is featured on my blog, at which point it’s first come first served.
Or is it merely that logistics geniuses, armed with super-computer-networks, are now able to do sums about the precise prices they need to charge at any particular moment for any particular thing, in order to make maximum use of scarce warehouse and store space? If you get my meaning.
Or maybe it’s a bit of both?
Michael Jennings presumably knows the answer to these questions, because Michael Jennings (see the first two of these comments) knows everything .
Like the space in an Elizabethan court masque that the performers left for the courtiers themselves to step forward and take part, today everyone needs to work out how to create a stage on which the constellation of divas formerly known as the audience will strike their own pose.
That’s to be found under this headline:
The Long View: Bob Dylan and the selfie: The world’s now a stage and we’re all performing
And under this photo:
Are yes, selfies. Says Sidwell, re this new word:
Even as I cling to my old-fashioned desire to take photographs of the things that I see, “selfie” – the new nickname for a photographic self-portrait – has been declared Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year, following a 17,000 per cent increase in usage year-on-year.
I have been long been studying this phenomenon. We may not have had the word “selfie” in 2007, but there were already many, many people doing selfies:
That being one of my all time favourites from my selfies archive.
LATER: Incoming from Michael Jennings:
Taken, says Michael, on a ferry between Greece and Albania in July.
Mark Steyn may be a grump about such things as the future of Western Civilisation, but he sure can write:
For much of last year, a standard trope of President Obama’s speechwriters was that there were certain things only government could do. “That’s how we built this country - together,” he declared. “We constructed railroads and highways, the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge. We did those things together.” As some of us pointed out, for the cost of Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill alone, you could have built 1,567 Golden Gate Bridges - or one mega-Golden Gate Bridge stretching from Boston to just off the coast of Ireland. Yet there isn’t a single bridge, or a single dam (“You will never see another federal dam,” his assistant secretary of the interior assured an audience of environmentalists). Across the land, there was not a thing for doting network correspondents in hard hats to stand in front of and say, “Obama built this.”
Until now, that is. Obamacare is as close to a Hoover Dam as latter-day Big Government gets. Which is why its catastrophic launch is sobering even for those of us who’ve been saying for five years it would be a disaster. It’s as if at the ribbon-cutting the Hoover Dam cracked open and washed away the dignitaries; as if the Golden Gate Bridge was opened to traffic with its central span missing; as if Apollo 11 had taken off for the moon but landed on Newfoundland. Obama didn’t have to build a dam or a bridge or a spaceship, just a database and a website. This is his world, the guys he hangs with, the zeitgeist he surfs so dazzlingly, Apple and Google, apps and downloads. But his website’s a sclerotic dump, and the database is a hacker’s heaven, and all that’s left is the remorseless snail mail of millions and millions of cancellation letters.
And then it disappears behind a paywall. Which is to say a place where links probably don’t work for you. Which is why I never pay to get beyond paywalls. I pay for things I want. But paywalls, walls I cannot direct every single one of my readers through (in the event that they wish to be directed so), I do not want.
But, I’ll bet you anything, at least this paywall works properly.
Here is one of those memo-to-self but also memo-to-anyone-else-interested postings, about the next few speakers who have been fixed for the next few Brian’s Last Fridays. The last posting I did along these lines was useful, to me and to people I was emailing about these events, and so will this one be.
So, here are the next five speakers, who have been inked in:
Nov 29 - Marc Sidwell on The School of Freedom: Why Libertarians Should Care About Liberal Education.
Dec 27 – Antoine Clarke on Immigration and the Bad Arguments Against It.
Jan 31 – Alex Singleton on How Individual Individualists can influence the Media.
Feb 28 – Dominique Lazanski on Digital Freedom in the UK and Europe.
March 28 – Christian Michel on A Subject Yet To Be Determined.
Note the change of speaker next Friday. Dominique Lazanski can’t do Nov 29 so will be doing Feb 28 instead.
Also, I am doing a talk for Christian Michel on Jan 20. In this Samizdata posting about the talk, I previously had the date as February 20, but have now corrected this date, because February 20 is wrong. It’s January 20.
I took this photo on Wednesday evening, on the way back home from one of Christian Michel’s 6/20 talks:
Do you think it is gloomy and grim? Maybe so. But Earl’s Court is London’s Australian quarter, or it was in the days of Barry McKenzie. And today I am Loving the Aussies slightly less, although my reasons for this are this, rather than that.
Time for an I-told-you-so moment.
I told the Australians not to rouse the kitten:
Darren Lehman may have made a bit of a mistake, when he called Broad a cheat for not walking when Broad was clearly out and should have been given out, and said that Australian crowds should have a go at Broad in the Ashes series this winter in Australia. Lehman was only joking, but it was a joke he may regret.
But they went ahead and roused the kitten anyway. Here is George Dobell reporting on Day One of the Ashes:
Rubbished, ridiculed and reduced - the front page of one Australian tabloid dubbed Broad a “smug pommy cheat” on the morning of the game - England, and Broad in particular, arrived with abuse ringing in their ears.
Broad, it was claimed by an Australian media stoked by their national coach, was little more than a medium-pacer whose disregard for the rules shamed him, while England’s batsmen were running scared of Australia’s pace attack.
But instead of wilting in the cauldron of the “Gabbatoir”, Broad appeared to revel in the occasion. Indeed, he even admitted he found himself whistling along as a large section of the crowd chanted “Broad is a w*****.”
This may be no surprise to the England camp. As part of their exhaustive preparation process - a process that was ridiculed at the start of the tour when sections of the Australian media were leaked details of England’s nutrition plans - England’s players were analysed by a psychologist and Broad was one of three who, in his words, “thrive properly on getting abuse”.
“It’s me, KP and Matt Prior,” Broad said. “So they picked good men to go at.
“It was good fun out there. I think I coped with it okay. It’s all good banter. Fans like to come, have a beer with their mates and sing along. I’m pleased my mum wasn’t here, but to be honest I was singing along at one stage. It gets in your head and you find yourself whistling it at the end of your mark. I’d braced myself to expect it and actually it was good fun. I enjoyed it.”
Australia 273-8. Broad, so far: 20 overs 3 maidens 65 runs 5 wickets, including the first four, and including the one truly class act in the Oz top six, Clarke.
I just left a comment at Samizdata, on this posting by Natalie Solent (who has been very productive there of late) about the lack of security of the ObamaCare website, and this Guardian story on the subject:
The insecurity of the site, probably incurable in less than several months (from what I’m reading), has always struck me (ever since I first read about it a week or two back) as the absolute worst thing about ObamaCare, though I admit it’s a crowded field. The Bad News letters from insurance companies at least put a number to how much money is now going to be screwed out of you, that Obama said (about forty times) you would not be screwed out of. But all that data lying around for any tech-savvy passer-by to grab means there’s no upper limit to what you just might lose, if you have anything whatsoever to do with this horrible horrible thing.
It took me years to trust Amazon with my bank details. Only when about half the world seemed to be signing up for that deal did I take the plunge, and I still fear that in some mysterious way I might one day regret this. I mean, what if Amazon gets taken over by greedy incompetents, skilled only at crookedness, of the sort now already running ObamaCare (and also “advising” people about it)? I know, there are safeguards in place, but my fear is, although small, real. My fear with Obamacare would now be big, and real. My attitude to ObamaCare would be (a) I want nothing – absolutely nothing – to do with it, and (b) If the President and his gang say I have to have something to do with it, then I hope the President and his gang rot in hell.
Obama, it seems to me, has been treated like a great many other bad black Americans. He has been cut a million miles of slack, never criticised, never taught any morals, and now suddenly, patience has run out and he faces a lynch mob of enraged citizens. He is going to get the political version of a life-time prison sentence, namely a place in the Presidential Hall of Infamy. (I know what you’re thinking: wishful thinking on my part. Maybe. But his friends are all abandoning him now. He surely now realises that he has screwed up big, and that there is no way back.)
Heinlein had things to say about this. If you are going to punish big later, then it is kinder to give your punishee some warning, with small punishments earlier, when he does small things wrong when younger. I’m not talking physical abuse here, just the odd harsh word when the kid does a bad thing. That way he learns, instead of being hit with the kitchen sink, out of the blue, when he turns 18 or 50 or whatever.
A few days ago I did a posting, featuring one of those faked up photos, about how they are talking of moving a bridge in Porto from down by the river to uptown. Unfortunately, I muddled up two different bridges. Michael Jennings informed me by phone of this muddle and then he added to the posting this further clarificatory comment:
The Dom Luis Bridge is in the centre of town, and is the principal pedestrian route from one side of the river the the other, the vehicle route for local traffic from close to the river one one side to close to the river on the other, and also (on the top deck) carries Porto’s light metro. The Maria Pia Bridge is the rail bridge a kilometre upstream that is no longer in use.
The Maria Pia Bridge was designed by Gustave Eiffel, although his employee Téophile Seyrig did much of the work. At the time it was the longest arch bridge in the world. Seyrig then (no longer working for Eiffel) built the Dom Luis Bridge, which then broke the record that had been held by the Maria Pia bridge. The two structures are similar, although the Maria Pia bridge lacks the bottom deck that the Dom Lewis bridge has. The two bridges are often confused. Also, perhaps rather sweetly, Dom Luis and Maria Pia were married to one other.
The plan to move the bridge away from the river seems a flight of fancy to me, although the basic problem that the bridge is very beautiful, very historically significant, and not presently used for anything does remain.
Michael spelt it Dom Lewis, but I’ve changed it to Dom Luis, because that does seem to be the proper spelling. Or maybe it is Don. Maybe it’s either Don Luis or Dom Lewis, and you can’t mix them. Whatever.
Michael, who happened to be just about to visit Porto when I said all this, was urged to send back photos of these two bridges. He did, for which much thanks.
Here is the bridge that is still very much in use, the Dom Luis Bridge, with a railway at the top and a road for cars and pedestrians at the bottom:
Taken with his iPad camera. Michael apologised for that, but I think it’s rather dramatic.
Later Michael sent two more pictures, presumably taken with a rather fancier camera.
First we have, again, the Dom Luis Bridge:
And here is the one they are talking about moving, the Maria Pia Bridge:
You can see why Portoans like their bridges, and why it seems like a nice idea to turn the disused one into a big piece of public sculpture.
Meanwhile, I repeat my earlier questions. Will people be allowed on top of the bridge to take photos from it? And: If Porto doesn’t want this bridge any more, can London please have it?
This is remarkable:
This is what it is:
The crows that live in Tokyo use clothes hangers to make nests. In such a large city, there are few trees, so the natural materials that crows need to make their nests are scarce. As a result, the crows occasionally take hangers from the people who live in apartments nearby, and carefully assemble them into nests. The completed nests almost look like works of art based on the theme of recycling.
Or, alternatively, like a Thing made with coat hangers.
But what I particularly like about the Crows Nest of Coat Hangers (I prefer “coat hangers” to “coathangers” because that could be read as “coa thangers") is that I have never before seen anything made like that by a bird. Made like that yes, by a human. By a bird, no. All the other photos are very nice, but I have already seen similar things, stunningly photographed. Technically, the crows nest photo is not actually that great. It’s the Thing itself that is great.
Last night, at Chateau Samizdata, I and all others present drank this:
Until last night I did not know that there was any such thing. Well, I knew there was Sauvignon Blanc, but not called that.
Sadly, I failed to properly include the hippo at the top of the label on the left, but you can see plenty of the hippos here, because of course there is a website and you can read all about it.
Clever marketing, I think. The real wine buffs will like it, if they like it, regardless of the name. “Oh yes, it’s actually rather good, you know” blah blah. And the wine unbuffs like me will like it too, because it’s a laugh, and a bit of a tease of wine buffs of the sort who expect wine not to be called such a thing. So, win win.
It was Hemingway, I think, who said that thing about how your writing is only as good as the stuff you remove from it, or words to that effect. (Exact quote anyone?)
And I think one of the reasons why some writers especially like blogging is that a personal, I-write-what-I-please blog like this one (but done by a Real Writer who also does Real Writing) is where such offcuts can go, and still have a half life. The offcuts are no longer completely wasted. But neither do they get in the way.
And here’s a really good photograph, to make up for the really bad photograph in the previous posting. I say really good photograph. What I mean is a photo taken by me that is okay, of a really good photograph, taken by a seriously Real Photographer. Limited edition, perfect paper, perfectly printed, framed, the works, worth hundreds of pounds:
Yes, it’s Dumbledore, making himself smile for the camera.
At the Do I attended last weekend, just after taking the photo in the previous posting, this photograph was one of the items being charitably auctioned.
This is the first charity auction I can remember attending. But, despite my ignorance of how to do such a Do, let me offer you a tip, for if you ever organise a charitable auction. Be sure to hand round a cash bucket immediately after the auction bit of the evening finishes, to enable all those who feel ridiculously guilty about not having bought any of the things being auctioned to part with a manageable amount of cash, without being encumbered with a unnecessary Thing, or worse, a Complicated Experience. If they had done that at this Do, I reckon they might have increased their money by twenty percent or more. They’d certainly have got twenty quid out of me.
It’s a technically terrible photo, back lit, in a way that focusses attention on the dirtiness of the shop window. Reflections everywhere. But, I still like it. It’s a board game:
Photoed by me last weekend, in Tooting, on my way to a Do.
Blog and learn.
Just got hold of the latest Radio Times, and so far as I can discern, there will be no Ashes cricket highlights on regular TV. Google google. Indeed. It was true last month, and it seems that it still is.
I seem to recall earlier cricket TV brinkmanship, with regard to the IPL. The Radio Times, some years ago, had no mention of the IPL being about to start and to be live on ITV4, but it was, and it was.
Let us hope that, for the sake of Western Civilisation, sanity will prevail.
… in among all the stuff that does not.
Foster’s flaccid Gherkin used to advertise erectile dysfunction treatment. Personally, I don’t think the Gherkin looks like a penis, more like a vibrator. Certainly not a gherkin.
And: Synthetic creature could “save nature” says Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg. Has this woman never seen any horror movies?
Related: Will Jellyfish Take Over the World?
After a century of mechanised, industrialised warfare, if the troops really died for our freedom, we should be more free than people were in 1913 in Britain. We are not.
Well, it doesn’t follow. That might have been the aim, just not the outcome. And had they not fought, we might (would?) have been even less free.
But, interesting. Similar doubts. Similar concern not to be misunderstood to be dissing the dead.
I agree with Michael J that WW2 in particular was very unusual.
This is a posting of a type that is likely to become more common here, as the years roll by, because it is about bodily discomfort.
The discomfort today, which lasted all day, came whenever I tried to walk, and was all around my midriff. This was either caused by eating too much junk food, or by the manner in which I slept last night. Perhaps both. Maybe it was not junk food, but rather: too much cheese. The pain is in what I think is called the lumbar region, lumbar being a word I googled with the spelling wrong, making it sound like wood, which tells you that this kind of thing is rather new to me. Google corrected me, like a rude doctor. I hope that tomorrow morning all will be well, but just now that does not feel likely.
The blogging advantage of this particular discomfort is that it is not too undignified or disgusting. I am also beginning to experience discomforts that are very undignified and very disgusting, but these I prefer not to tell you about.
This latter reluctance explains, I think, why the discomforts of old age come as such a surprise to many people. The previous lot of old people only supplied to me a very censored version of what was happening to them, so I now have to find most of this out for myself.
Although, it could be that the previous lot of old people did tell me these things, but I wasn’t paying attention.
The worst thing about it is that you just know it’s going to keep on getting worse, and worse, and worse.
I have always liked that big bridge in Porto. Indeed, I blogged about it, in 2004.
Well, now there is a plan to move the bridge, which is no longer in use, to a higher spot in the town:
I think this is a fine plan. It would presumably make the bridge far more visible from afar. It’s amazing what a difference a distinctive Big Thing like this can make to a city. Ask Paris.
Will people be allowed to climb to the top of the newly located Porto Bridge? It would be a fantastic place to take photos from, except that I rather fear that the most visually interesting thing in Porto is the bridge itself. Views of the bridge, from various parts of Porto: great. Views from the bridge: rather ordinary? Don’t know. Hope that’s wrong. Actually, it looks pretty good.
Maybe if Porto doesn’t do this, London should put in a bid. Photoing London from that Thing would be stupendous.
LATER: Just had a call from Michael J saying I’m muddling up two different bridges. The one in the fake photo above is not the same one as the one in the photo in the earlier blog posting I linked back to. That bridge is still very much in use. The one that is no longer being used, which they are thinking of moving, is some way downstream. Michael is about to visit Porto, and has told me that he will try to take some photos of both. If he manages this, it would be most welcome.
Today being Remembrance Sunday, but not having got out and about during it, I instead looked for Remembrance photos past, and came across the archive containing these.
I was struck by one in particular, in which we see the phrase “To All Our Heroes” inscribed on a cross with a poppy on it. That word “heroes” makes me slightly uneasy, especially in the plural. Were they all heroes? Similarly, the way all these dead are so often described as having “given” their lives for freedom, or for their country, or whatever. It must surely be more accurate to say that many of these men were victims, and that their lives were taken from them. It might be rather insulting to describe them thus in public displays honouring their memory, but maybe more accurate.
The cross on which the word “heroes” is inscribed is surely rather more accurate, as a description of what really happened, to most of these dead. I do not deny that there were indeed many heroes, in all these wars. But surely, for most, war, and death in war, were things they endured. That is a kind of heroism, of course, but is not quite what is usually meant by the word.
I lost an uncle in World War 2, although it happened before I was born. He was the victim of a training accident. I respectfully mourned him from time to time throughout my childhood and have gone on doing so ever since. But there was nothing especially heroic about his death, and that has just seemed to me to be yet further cause for sadness. Many times I wished that Uncle John had died heroically, if he had to die at all. But, he did not die heroically. War is like that.
The cross seems to me to be a somewhat more accurate representation of what happened to these countless men than does the word “hero”. This was surely more like a catastrophe which swallowed people up, in the manner of a natural disaster such as an earthquake or a flood or a fire. Some who suffer or die in the course of events like that are very properly called heroes, because they did indeed behave, and perhaps die, heroically. Most, however, are merely described as victims. No disrespect is intended with that label, and I intend no disrespect in suggesting that many of these war heroes were really just war victims. Their deaths are no less worthy of being remembered and reflected upon, merely because we describe their deaths that bit more accurately.
A lot hinges on whether you consider the fights and wars that all these dead people died in were worth it. There is something inherently somewhat unheroic about dying in a fight that could not accomplish anything good. Part of being a true hero is that you choose the fight in which you will risk and perhaps lose your life, and that you choose it well.
If anything in the above angers you in any way, the chances are that this is because I didn’t say it right. I’m trying to say something that is somewhat hard to pin down, and maybe said it wrongly. I am not trying to say anything demeaning or disrespectful, either towards the dead themselves, or towards the feelings of those who still, like me, mourn them.
December 6th 2006 was a good photographic day for me. I took these photos, from the top of Tower Bridge. And, as I approached Tower Bridge, along the south bank of the river, I took many other photos, of which one of my favourites was this:
I think this looks a bit like an owl. I’ve always liked this picture, but for some reason, for years, I thought I “couldn’t show it here”, perhaps because it is a bit blurry. But of course I can show it here. I can show whatever I like here.
One of the great technological success stories of our time is the development of glass, a development which has had a profound effect upon architecture. One of many improvements made to glass has been that it has got a lot stronger. One of the ways it has got stronger is that it has got less brittle, and more bendy. And bendy glass results in unpredictable and strange reflections, like the one above.
Do you want to know what that weird shape is? Almost certainly not, but I’ll tell you anyway. First up, it is not an owl. What it is is the NatWest Tower, with the sun shining on it so it lights up like a bar of gold. And it’s the NatWest Tower lit up like a bar of gold, reflected in the new London Parliament building.
On the left here, the same thing again, but with context, in the form of other towers reflected, such as the Gherkin. In the middle, the same thing differently reflected, making it clearer that it is indeed the NatWest Tower. On the right, the NatWest Tower, not lit up like a bar of gold, but so you can see what it looks like.
Are you wondering what the new London Parliament Building is? Again, probably not, but here it is anyway, viewed from the other side, from the approach road to Tower Bridge. Here in London this is known as: The Testicle.
That last photo was taken on that same day, December 6th 2006, so again, no Shard.
Last night I attended the Simon Gibbs talk about how to herd cats. For me the problem was right there in the title. It was like he knew he was attempting something impossible.
My immediate reaction is that what I do to cats is stroke them, if they will let me. If I “owned” a cat, that would mean that it would also be my duty to feed it. But herding cats? There’s a reason this phrase is used to describe social schemes that can’t work.
Simon’s scheme seems to depend on some kind of website. Websites are not my strong point, even understanding the point of them let alone actually making them work. The less new software I have in my life, the happier I am. So maybe I am missing not something here, but everything. Simon made several mentions of a “button”. When I find out where this is (somewhere at Libertarian Home?), I’ll give it a go. If others do and do whatever Simon wants them to do, then I guess the cats will start being herded and my present scepticism will be proved wrong. I hope that happens. (As I said to Simon after his talk, see this.)
Slightly more seriously, Simon’s talk made me think of a distinction that I associate with the great American theorist of management, Peter Drucker. As I recall it, Drucker describes various different ways to do organisation.
One is to imagine the perfect organisation. You ask: Suppose we had no organisation already, with all its obligations and habits and rituals, what would the ideal organisation for what we are trying to accomplish look like? And then let’s turn what we have into that. An example Drucker was fond of was Sloane’s General Motors, probably because Drucker worked for Sloane, although exactly when he did that work, I’m not sure.
Another is not to dream dreams of future perfection. It is to ask: What little steps can we take, now, immediately, in the right general direction, given the strengths and resources that we already now possess?
In my opinion the second attitude is better suited to the life of a London libertarian with a bit of influence but not much (i.e. libertarians like me and like Simon Gibbs), than is the first.
The late Chris Tame, whose Number Two I was for about a decade, was one hell of a libertarian organiser. Over the years he organised some superb and superbly ambitious events, because he asked what the perfect event would look like (as I did not) and then went ahead and organised it. But my ongoing disagreement (it never boiled over but it was always there) with Chris was that too many of his ideal schemes did not achieve anything other than some rather demoralising costs.
My own approach was to concentrate on much smaller completions – a small meeting, a pamphlet, a radio performance – and just try to get each potential completion completed as quickly and satisfactorily as possible, at which point it was on to the next one, and so on until victory is achieved. (You can see why I like blogging so much. And perhaps also why Chris never liked it, although he had other reasons besides the mere smallness of individual blog postings.)
The reason I mention Chris Tame, apart from the fact that I think it may illuminate, is that what I may very well be doing here is being reminded by Simon’s current scheme, as expounded last night, of a past argument in my life, and then slotting him into that argument on the other side from me. I may, that is to say, be completely misunderstanding what he is now proposing. I might, as the saying goes, be fighting the last war rather than this one. Since I do not now really get what he is proposing, this is not, to put it mildly, unlikely. Happily, Simon’s talk was being videoed, so you’ll soon be able to watch it for yourself and decide for yourself what you think about it.
I may very well, at some future date (maybe after watching the talk again), be explaining why this posting is completely wrong.
Yes, incoming from Rob Fisher:
I am fascinated about why old things look old. Certainly print quality is part of it. Change, too: the Heinz beans logo (which has never changed as far as I can tell) does not look old in the way that some of these logos do.
I’m guessing this is follow-up to what I said here about how photography used to make people from the past look overly solemn, and what Rob said there, in jest, about the past being all in black and white.
Mark Twain must surely have been a bit more merry, in general, than he looks in the photo of him there, now colorised but still very grim looking.
What a lot of the colorised photos look like is stills from “historical” Hollywood movies. You expect Brad Pitt, dressed in olden times clothes, to step forward at any moment.
As for the logos, it is noticeable (although this doesn’t apply to all of them) that in quite a few of them, there was a flurry of (often quite radical) changes in and/or up until the 1950s and 1960s, but somewhat less in the way of change since. Often the later changes (see for instance: VW) are mere polishing. It’s like they were trying to get it right, and then they do get it right and stuck with it. At first they didn’t know quite what a logo was for and what logos are. They they did know. That is reinforced by the Firefox logo, which started in 2002 and then did the one early change in 2003, and that’s it.
How has the internet affected logo design?
More old photos, this time from the time when the Eurostar trains used to depart from Waterloo:
Taken with my old Canon A70, on June 21 2003. So, over a decade ago. I think the sign on the right of these three snaps is something of an exaggeration. That’s about how long it takes now, isn’t it? Not sure about that.
The pictures are all pleasingly worse than the ones I take now, with my Panasonic Lumix FZ150. It would be terrible to think that neither I nor my cameras had got any better between then and now.
Eurostar came and went from Waterloo from November 1994 until November 2007. Since then, not a lot.
In 2012 a new proposal for the future use of the station was made, namely that it becomes the London destination of all the UK’s sleeper trains. This may become necessary as the phasing out of Mk2 vehicles and their replacement with Mk3 will make the trains too long for the platforms at Euston, and construction of HS2 will make the long sleeper dwell times at Euston untenable. If the Paddington sleepers were also diverted this would concentrate all sleeper services at Waterloo International, thus making use of the former Eurostar lounge facilities for sleeper passengers.
I can’t say I quite follow the logic of all that, but at least Waterloo Eurostar-that-was has not been completely forgotten about.
London already has many interesting bridges, but might be about to get another:
Changsha on the other hand, a place I had never heard of until today, and going only by the picture below, has rather little by way of visual excitement, or will have until they build this bridge, as it appears they definitely intend to:
Architect John van de Water says the form is also intended to reference traditional Chinese crafts. “It refers to a Chinese knot that comes from an ancient decorative Chinese folk art,” he explained.
Ingratiating bullshit being a core architectural skill.
Not that this makes it a bad bridge. On the contrary, it looks like a lot of fun, that will cheer the place up no end.
And I agree with Heatherwick, and with his celebrity booster Joanna Lumley, that the exact part of the Thames (the north end would be at Temple tube station) where they have put their proposed bridge could indeed do with some further livening up.
As I keep saying, photos often age well, like wine.
This, of the City of London, was taken with my previous camera but one, from the inside of the top of Tower Bridge, in December of 2006. How time flies when I’m taking photos.
Memo to self. Must go back there, and take the same picture. Things will have changed quite a lot.
LATER: After further rootling, I think I prefer this version:
You get more of a feeling of where you are, as in where I was, when there’s something in the foreground.
And while I’m adding stuff to this posting, here is another view that will look very different, when I photo that one again: