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This and that
It seems that I am not the only one reminiscing about photos taken nearly a decade ago. The Atlantic is now doing this, with the help of NASA and its Cassini orbiter, and the Cassini orbiter’s oresumably now rather obsolete camera:
Saturn’s sixth-largest moon, Enceladus (504 kilometers or 313 miles across), is the subject of much scrutiny, in large part due to its spectacular active geysers and the likelihood of a subsurface ocean of liquid water. NASA’s Cassini orbiter has studied Enceladus, along with the rest of the Saturnian system, since entering orbit in 2004. Studying the composition of the ocean within is made easier by the constant eruptions of plumes from the surface, and on October 28, Cassini will be making its deepest-ever dive through the ocean spray from Enceladus - passing within a mere 30 miles of the icy surface. Collected here are some of the most powerful and revealing images of Enceladus made by Cassini over the past decade, with more to follow from this final close flyby as they arrive.
Here is a picture of Enceladus taken on June 10th 2006:
That is picture number 25, or rather, a horizontal slice of it.
Beyond Enceladus and Saturn’s rings, Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, is ringed by sunlight passing through its atmosphere. Enceladus passes between Titan and Cassini ...
That’s right. Those two horizontal, ever so slightly converging white lines and the edge of the Rings of Saturn.
Picture number 10 is even more horizontalisable:
A pair of Saturn’s moons appear insignificant compared to the immensity of the planet in this Cassini spacecraft view. Enceladus, the larger moon is visible as a small sphere, while tiny Epimetheus (70 miles, or 113 kilometers across) appears as a tiny black speck on the far left of the image, just below the thin line of the rings.
That one was taken on November 4th 2011.
Photo taken last night (much cropped) from the downstream Hungerford Footbridge, looking north towards Charing Cross.
Don’t know what building it is.
As I published this, I made another mental note to look up a bit of the history of this place on Cambridge Street. I also made a mental note that my mental notes seem not to be working at reminding me to do things.
This is a big part of what blogs, and now Twitter, Facebook, and all the rest of it, are for. Never mind all those damn other readers. What proportion of internet postings of various sorts are there not for anyone else, but for the poster himself to remember whatever it was? This of course requires you to trawl back through your own output from time to time, which I do do from time to time.
Here is another internet posting vaguely relevant to the above, about people who find it impossible not to remember things, the things in this case being faces. Most of us have heard of those unfortunates whose brains have been smacked and they can’t remember faces that ought to be familiar, like their children’s. This is about people who have received a different sort of smack, from their own DNA, which makes them super-good at remembering faces, even ones they don’t want to. When someone says to you “I never forget a face”, it just might be true.
The piece includes gratuitously irrelevant pictures of that actress who was in that favourite TV comedy series you know the one and of that other actor who was in that James Bond movie from way back, called whatever it was called I don’t remember. It’s on the tip of my … that thing inside my face … you know, that hole, under my eyes …
Going back to 6k’s bon mot above, this only got typed into the www on account of his rule, and mine, of trying to do something every day. You start doing a pure quota posting, and then you think of something truly entertaining to add to it, which you would never have put on the www had it not occurred to you at the exact moment you were in the middle of typing in a blog posting that was in need jazzing up a bit, e.g. with a bon mot.
From the Washington Post, yesterday:
The piece also asks if it is only a matter of time before regular driving is banned. I think this will happen in lots of places, and driving a car will become like riding a horse. It will be something you do only for fun. I probably won’t live to see this, but I probably will live to see it quite widely discussed.
So I had gathered together a little clutch of photos of photoers that I took in 2007, about a dozen of them, and I was going to shove them up here, and call them something like: Photos of photoers taken in 2007. But then I noticed that five of them - five - were all taken on 18/07/2007. In English: on July18th 2007. And apparently all within the space of a few dozen minutes.
So I dug up the original directory I’d got (quite a while back) those five pictures from, and here are (insert how many (it’ll be a lot (42))) of them, all taken between 6pm and 7.30pm, from outside Westminster Abbey to Westminster Bridge:
And note this. These were only those pictures which did not feature computer-identifiable faces. There were that many again that were just as nice, but with clearly recognisable faces. By that I mean both eyes and the nose and mouth all simultaneously visible.
And there you were thinking I had got bored with showing you photos of photoers. Well, I have got a bit bored with taking such pictures, and have been taking rather fewer of such snaps lately, although maybe my interest in snapping snappers may reignite. I don’t know. But I now have a huge archive of such photos, and as the cameras in them get more and more obsolete, and as fashions begin to change, these pictures become ever more enjoyable with the passing of time, like good wine or so everyone says.
Normally I don’t go on about what sort of camera I used for a picture or for a bunch of pictures, but I must say I am impressed with what my Canon PowerShot S5 IS was doing, with its x12 zoom, all those years ago. This camera has of course been discontinued, but as of today, you could get a “used - good” one, not boxed but in good condition, for fifty quid.
One of the key themes of Steven Pinker’s book The Better Angels of Our Nature is that moral advance has on the whole not been lead by religion. Religious people have often defended ancient moral positions, as when defending slavery, for instance. Only when persuaded by secular moralists of the wrongness of slavery did religious people then become fierce and very vigorous opponents of slavery. But the secularists lead the way when it came to winning the argument in the first place. All of which is unsurprising, if you look at what it says in the Bible about such things. Which Pinker does. One of the most remarkable passages in The Better Angels is Pinker’s description of what the Old Testament actually says (pp. 7-14). If you get tired of all the mayhem and slaughter, at least skip to the end and read Pinker’s final paragraph. As he says, he is not accusing Christians of believing this stuff. Christians pay the entire Bible “lip service as a symbol of morality”, but they no longer believe in the morality that is actually contained in the first half of it:
Like the works of Homer, the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) was set in the late 2nd millennium BCE but written more than five hundred years later. But unlike the works of Homer, the Bible is revered today by billions of people who call it the source of their moral values. The world’s bestselling publication, the Good Book has been translated into three thousand languages and has been placed in the nightstands of hotels all over the world. Orthodox Jews kiss it with their prayer shawls; witnesses in American courts bind their oaths by placing a hand on it. Even the president touches it when taking the oath of office. Yet for all this reverence, the Bible is one long celebration of violence.
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. And the Lord God took one of Adam’s ribs, and made he a woman. And Adam called his wife’s name Eve; because she was the mother of all living. And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain. And she again bare his brother Abel. And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him. With a world population of exactly four, that works out to a homicide rate of 25 percent, which is about a thousand times higher than the equivalent rates in Western countries today.
No sooner do men and women begin to multiply than God decides they are sinful and that the suitable punishment is genocide. (In Bill Cosby’s comedy sketch, a neighbor begs Noah for a hint as to why he is building an ark. Noah replies, ‘How long can you tread water?’) When the flood recedes, God instructs Noah in its moral lesson, namely the code of vendetta: ‘Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.’
The next major figure in the Bible is Abraham, the spiritual ancestor of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Abraham has a nephew, Lot, who settles in Sodom. Because the residents engage in anal sex and comparable sins, God immolates every man, woman, and child in a divine napalm attack. Lot’s wife, for the crime of turning around to look at the inferno is put to death as well.
Abraham undergoes a test of his moral values when God orders hm to take his son Isaac to a mountaintop, tie him up, cut his throat, and burn his body as a gift to the Lord. Isaac is spared only because at the last moment an angel stays his father’s hand. For millennia readers have puzzled over why God insisted on this horrifying trial. One interpretation is that God intervened not because Abraham had passed the test but because he had failed it, but that is anachronistic: obedience to divine authority, not reverence for human life, was the cardinal virtue.
Isaac’s son Jacob has a daughter, Dinah. Dinah is kidnapped and raped - apparently a customary form of courtship at the time, since the rapist’s family then offers to purchase her from her own family as a wfe for the rapist. Dinah’s brothers explain that an important moral principle stands in the way of this transaction: the rapist is uncircumcised. So they make a counteroffer: if all the men in the rapist’s hometown cut off their foreskins, Dinah will be theirs. While the men are incapacitated with bleeding penises, the brothers invade the city, plunder and destroy it, massacre the men, and carry off the women and children. When Jacob worries that neighboring tribes may attack them in revenge, his sons explain that it was worth the risk: ‘Should our sister be treated like a whore?’ Soon afterward they reiterate their commitment to family values by selling their brother Joseph into slavery.
Jacob’s descendants, the Israelites, find their way to Egypt and become too numerous for the Pharaoh’s liking, so he enslaves them and orders that all the boys be killed at birth. Moses escapes the mass infanticide and grows up to challenge the Pharaoh to let his people go. God, who is omnipotent, could have softened Pharaoh’s heart, but he hardens it instead, which gives him a reason to afflict every Egyptian with painful boils and other miseries before killing every one of their firstborn sons. (The word Passover alludes to the executioner angel’s passing over the households with Israelite firstborns.) God follows this massacre with another one when he drowns the Egyptian army as they pursue the Israelites across the Red Sea.
The Israelites assemble at Mount Sinai and hear the Ten Commandments, the great moral code that outlaws engraved images and the coveting of livestock but gives a pass to slavery, rape, torture, mutilation, and genocide of neighboring tribes. The Israelites become impatient while waiting for Moses to return with an expanded set of laws, which will prescribe the death penalty for blasphemy, homosexuality, adultery, talking back to parents, and working on the Sabbath. To pass the time, they worship a statue of a calf, for which the punishment turns out to be, you guessed it, death. Following orders from God, Moses and his brother Aaron kill three thousand of their companions.
God then spends seven chapters of Leviticus instructing the Israelites on how to slaughter the steady stream of animals he demands of them. Aaron and his two sons prepare the tabernacle for the first service, but the sons slip up and use the wrong incense. So God burns them to death. As the Israelites proceed toward the promised land, they meet up with the Midianites. Following orders from God, they slay the males, burn their city, plunder the livestock, and take the women and children captive. When they return to Moses, he is enraged because they spared the women, some of whom had led the Israelites to worship rival gods. So he tells his soldiers to complete the genocide and to reward themselves with nubile sex slaves they may rape at their pleasure: ‘Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for your-
In Deuteronomy 20 and 21, God gives the Israelites a blanket policy for dealing with cities that don’t accept them as overlords: smite the males with the edge of the sword and abduct the cattle, women, and children. Of course, a man with a beautiful new captive faces a problem: since he has just murdered her parents and brothers, she may not be in the mood for love. God anticipates this nuisance and offers the following solution: the captor should shave her head, pare her nails, and imprison her in his house for a month while she cries her eyes out. Then he may go in and rape her.
With a designated list of other enemies (Hittites,Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites), the genocide has to be total: ‘Thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth: But thou shalt utterly destroy them ... as the Lord thy God has commanded thee.’
Joshua puts this directive into practice when he invades Canaan and sacks the city of Jericho. After the walls came tumbling down, his soldiers ‘utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword.’ More earth is scorched as Joshua ‘smote all the country of the hills, and of the south, and of the vale, and of the springs, and all their kings: he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord God of Israel commanded.’
The next stage in Israelite history is the era of the judges, or tribal chiefs. The most famous of them, Samson, establishes his reputation by killing thirty men during his wedding feast because he needs their clothing to pay off a bet. Then, to avenge the killing of his wife and her father, he slaughters a thousand Philistines and sets fire to their crops after escaping capture, he kills another thousand with the jawbone of an ass. When he is finally captured and his eyes are burned out, God gives him the strength for a 9/11-like suicide attack in which he implodes a large building, crushing the three thousand men and women who are worshipping inside it.
Israel’s first king, Saul, establishes a small empire, which gives him the opportunity to settle an old score. Centuries earlier, during the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, the Amalekites had harassed them, and God commanded the Israelites to ‘wipe out the name of Amalek.’ So when the judge Samuel anoints Saul as king, he reminds Saul of the divine decree: ‘Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.’ Saul carries out the order, but Samuel is furious to learn that he has spared their king, Agag. So Samuel ‘hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord.’
Saul is eventually overthrown by his son-in-law David, who absorbs the southern tribes of Judah, conquers Jerusalem, and makes it the capital of a kingdom that will last four centuries. David would come to be celebrated in story, song, and sculpture, and his six-pointed star would symbolize his people for three thousand years. Christians too would revere him as the forerunner of Jesus.
But in Hebrew scripture David is not just the ‘sweet singer of Israel,’ the chiseled poet who plays a harp and composes the Psalms. After he makes his name by killing Goliath, David recruits a gang of guerrillas, extorts wealth from his fellow citizens at swordpoint, and fights as a mercenary for the Philistines. These achievements make Saul jealous: the women in his court are singing, ‘Saul has killed by the thousands, but David by the tens of thousands.’ So Saul plots to have him assassinated.” David narrowly escapes before staging a successful coup.
When David becomes king, he keeps up his hard-earned reputation for killing by the tens of thousands. After his general Joab ‘wasted the country of the children of Ammon,’ David ‘brought out the people that were in it, and cut them with saws, and with harrows of iron, and with axes.’ Finally he manages to do something that God considers immoral: he orders a census. To punish David for this lapse, God kills seventy thousand of his citizens.
Within the royal family, sex and violence go hand in hand. While taking a walk on the palace roof one day, David peeping-toms a naked woman, Bathsheba, and likes what he sees, so he sends her husband to be killed in battle and adds her to his seraglio. Later one of David’s children rapes another one and is killed in revenge by a third. The avenger, Absalom, rounds up an army and tries to usurp David’s throne by having sex with ten of his concubines. (As usual, we are not told how the concubines felt about all this.) While fleeing David’s army, Absalom’s hair gets caught in a tree, and David’s general thrusts three spears into his heart. This does not put the family squabbles to an end. Bathsheba tricks a senile David into anointing their son Solomon as his successor. When the legitimate heir, David’s older son Adonijah, protests, Solomon has him killed.
King Solomon is credited with fewer homicides than his predecessors and is remembered instead for building the Temple in Jerusalem and for writing the books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs (though with a harem of seven hundred princesses and three hundred concubines, he clearly didn’t spend all his time writing). Most of all he is remembered for his eponymous virtue, ‘the wisdom of Solomon.’ Two prostitutes sharing a room give birth a few days apart. One of the babies dies, and each woman claims that the surviving boy is hers. The wise king adjudicates the dispute by pulling out a sword and threatening to butcher the baby and hand each woman a piece of the bloody corpse. One woman withdraws her claim, and Solomon awards the baby to her. ‘When all Israel heard of the verdict that the king had rendered, they stood in awe of the king, because they saw that he had divine wisdom in carrying out justice.’ The distancing effect of a good story can make us forget the brutality of the world in which it was set. Just imagine a judge in family court today adjudicating a maternity dispute by pulling out a chain saw and threatening to butcher the baby before the disputants’ eyes. Solomon was confident that the more humane woman (we are never told that she was the mother) would reveal herself, and that the other woman was so spiteful that she would allow a baby to be slaughtered in front of her - and he was right! And he must have been prepared, in the event he was wrong, to carry out the butchery or else forfeit all credibility. The women, for their part, must have believed that their wise king was capable of carrying out this grisly murder.
The Bible depicts a world that, seen through modern eyes, is staggering in its savagery. People enslave, rape, and murder members of their immediate families. Warlords slaughter civilians indiscriminately, including the children. Women are bought, sold, and plundered like sex toys. And Yahweh tortures and massacres people by the hundreds of thousands for trivial disobedience or for no reason at all. These atrocities are neither isolated nor obscure. They implicate all the major characters of the Old Testament, the ones that Sunday-school children draw with crayons. And they fall into a continuous plotline that stretches for millennia, from Adam and Eve through Noah, the patriarchs, Moses, Joshua, the judges, Saul, David, Solomon, and beyond. According to the biblical scholar Raymund Schwager, the Hebrew Bible ‘contains over six hundred passages that explicitly talk about nations, kings, or individuals attacking, destroying, and killing others. ... Aside from the approximately one thousand verses in which Yahweh himself appears as the direct executioner of violent punishments, and the many texts in which the Lord delivers the criminal to the punisher’s sword, in over one hundred other passages Yahweh expressly gives the command to kill people.’ Matthew White, a self-described atrocitologist who keeps a database with the estimated death tolls of history’s major wars, massacres, and genocides, counts about 1.2 million deaths from mass killing that are specifically enumerated in the Bible. (He excludes the half million casualties in the war between Judah and Israel described in 2 Chronicles 13 because he considers the body count historically implausible.) The victims of the Noachian flood would add another 20 million or so to the total.
The good news, of course, is that most of it never happened. Not only is there no evidence that Yahweh inundated the planet and incinerated its cities, but the patriarchs, exodus, conquest, and Jewish empire are almost certainly fictions. Historians have found no mention in Egyptian writings of the departure of a million slaves (which could hardly have escaped the Egyptians’ notice); nor have archaeologists found evidence in the ruins of Jericho or neighboring cities of a sacking around 1200 BCE. And if there was a Davidic empire stretching from the Euphrates to the Red Sea around the turn of the 1st millennium BCE, no one else at the time seemed to have noticed it.
Modern biblical scholars have established that the Bible is a wiki. It was compiled over half a millennium from writers with different styles, dialects, character names, and conceptions of God, and it was subjected to haphazard editing that left it with many contradictions, duplications, and non sequiturs.
The oldest parts of the Hebrew Bible probably originated in the 10th century BCE. They included origin myths for the local tribes and ruins, and legal codes adapted from neigh boring civilizations in the Near East. The texts probably served as a code of frontier justice for the Iron Age tribes that herded livestock and farmed hillsides in the southeastern periphery of Canaan. The tribes began to encroach on the valleys and cities, engaged in some marauding every now and again, and may even have destroyed a city or two. Eventually their myths were adopted by the entire population of Canaan, unifying them with a shared genealogy, a glorious history, a set of taboos to keep them from defecting to foreigners, and an invisible enforcer to keep them from each other’s throats. A first draft was rounded out with a continuous historical narrative around the late 7th to mid-6th century BCE, when the Babylonians conquered the Kingdom of Judah and forced its inhabitants into exile. The final edit was completed after their return to Judah in the 5th century BCE.
Though the historical accounts in the Old Testament are fictitious (or at best artistic reconstructions, like Shakespeare’s historical dramas), they offer a window into the lives and values of Near Eastern civilizations in the mid-1st millennium BCE. Whether or not the Israelites actually engaged in genocide, they certainly thought it was a good idea.
The possibility that a woman had a legitimate interest in not being raped or acquired as sexual property did not seem to register in anyone’s mind. The writers of the Bible saw nothing wrong with slavery or with cruel punishments like blinding, stoning, and hacking someone to pieces. Human life held no value in comparison with unthinking obedience to custom and authority.
If you think that by reviewing the literal content of the Hebrew Bible I am trying to impugn the billions of people who revere it today, then you are missing the point. The overwhelming majority of observant Jews and Christians are, needless to say, thoroughly decent people who do not sanction genocide, rape, slavery, or stoning people for frivolous infractions. Their reverence for the Bible is purely talismanic. In recent millennia and centuries the Bible has been spin-doctored, allegorized, superseded by less violent texts (the Talmud among Jews and the New Testament among Christians), or discreetly ignored. And that is the point. Sensibilities toward violence have changed so much that religious people today compartmentalize their attitude to the Bible. They pay it lip service as a symbol of morality, while getting their actual morality from more modern principles.
I just sat down to do a BMdotcom posting, about some strange disruption inflicted earlier this evening upon the Royal College of Music by the London premiere of the new James Bond movie. While composing this posting, I realised that it would do nicely for Samizdata, so there it went. I don’t do nearly enough for Samizdata these days.
The posting was based on something that Goddaughter 2 (now a student at the RCM) told me. And she also told me something else, this time not disturbing or of any public significance, but merely rather entertaining.
GD2 now inhabits a big building, full of rooms occupied by her and her fellow students. Lots of rooms. Lots of doors. All the doors looking like each other.
So, one of the ladies in a nearby room to GD2 has a boyfriend staying the night. Boyfriend needs a piss. Being a relaxed sort of individual, he strolls to the toilet, naked. It is deep into the night, and he expects not to encounter anyone, and he does not, at first. But then, problem. Which door is the door to the room of his lady friend? He does not remember. About four different wrong doors are opened, complete with people behind them, most of whom were surprised but amused, before the correct door is found.
If this was a movie, that would only have been the beginning of the mayhem and the reactions to being woken up by a naked man at the door would have been far more extreme than they actually were. But for me, this was mayhem enough to be very entertaining. Boyfriend wasn’t bothered. Like I say, a relaxed sort of individual. And no harm at all came of this little nocturnal drama. Just a mildly entertaining blog posting, or so I hope.
Why (on earth, you might perhaps say) do I like this picture, which I took yesterday, through my own (very grubby) kitchen window?:
Partly, it’s the scaffolding. I love scaffolding.
But there is also that net, the purpose of which is to stop pigeons turning the courtyard under it into a huge toilet. I like how my camera’s autofocus function can still find its way through this net, to the scaffolding. And I like how the net is straight from side to side, but curvey from end to end, which we can see, foreshortened, very well
But, note also the three yellow tennis balls, which have been trapped in the sky by the net since the early summer, I think. How did they get there? How did three tennis balls get there? You’d think whoever did it would have learned, after the first one got stuck out there. Maybe they had three balls, and the game was too good to stop, until they had to stop because the balls ran out.
Best of all, though, is that this will only be the first of plenty of such pictures, as the purpose of the scaffolding gradually reveals itself.
The week’s latest manifestation of the Michael Portillo Train Journey Show took us to Austria, and featured a spectacular viaduct, which made it possible for trains to go from Vienna to Trieste, the one big seaport of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. This is the Kalte Rinne-Viadukt, which gets the trains through the Semmering Pass. I think I have that right.
Here is what it looks like, from above:
The man who designed and supervised the building of this railway would appear to be a very big cheese in that part of the world.
Now for another picture which tells you about something else that is going on in that part of the world, something Michael Portillo did not mention.
They’re building a tunnel:
As part of an on-going programme to improve national and international railway links for the year 2000 and beyond, Austria embarked on excavation of a 9.8km-long pilot tunnel ahead of full construction of the planned 22km-long Semmering base line tunnel through the Alps. The new tunnel is on the domestic route between Vienna and Villach, which is on the main Trans-European railway route between the states of middle and eastern Europe and the Mediterranean harbours in Italy. The new alignment will supplement the existing 41km-long route, which was built more than 100 years ago and winds slowly and steeply up and over the Semmering Pass. At the lower elevation the new tunnel will allow for higher train speeds, ensure continued services through severe weather conditions and reduce travel times substantially. When complete, the new ‘fast’ track will carry high-speed passenger services and heavy freight trains while the existing mountain pass railway will continue as a local community service and as a tourist attraction through the spectacular Alpine landscape.
Work began on the tunnel in 1994, checking out the route, preliminary drillings, that kind of thing. Amazingly, the tunnel only got the actual green light to be actually made, constructed, dug, drilled, built, tunnelled, in May of this year. The present schedule says that the thing will only be finished in 2024.
In other words, it’s going to take thirty years from first use of a digger in anger, so to speak, to the last. That sounds to me like a lot of years.
Earlier in the week, I journeyed under Trafalgar Square, in a pedestrian subway. The subway was adorned with history lessons, one of which was this one:
I did not know this, about what a Mews is. It’s not the kind of thing you ask. By which I mean: I never have. A Mews is a Mews. I have never questioned this. I accepted it. And then someone answers the question: Why is a Mews called that? Before I even realised I was ready to be told.
Click on the above picture, and get the darker and less artfully composed original.
Vanity Fair piece about Frank Gehry. Key paragraph:
Things progressed slowly from there, as the architect continued to work more audacious swooping and compound curves into his designs. Eventually he found himself hitting the outer limits of what was buildable. This frustration led Gehry on a search for a way to fulfill his most far-reaching creative desires. “I asked the guys in the office if there was any way they knew of to get where I wanted to go through computers, which I am still illiterate in the use of,” he explains. Gehry’s partner, Jim Glymph - “the office hippie,” in Gehry’s words - led the way, adapting for architecture a program used to design fighter planes. As Gehry began to harness technology, his work started to take on riotous, almost gravity-defying boldness. He dared to take the liberties with form he had always dreamed of, fashioning models out of sensuously pleated cardboard and crushed paper-towel tubes. He always works with models, using scraps of “whatever is lying around” - on one occasion a Perrier bottle. “I move a piece of paper and agonize over it for a week, but in the end it was a matter of getting the stuff built,” he tells me. “The computer is a tool that lets the architect parent the project to the end, because it allows you to make accurate, descriptive, and detailed drawings of complicated forms.”
“Frank still doesn’t know how to use a computer except to throw it at somebody,” ...
I smell a classic two-man team there. Gehry dreams it. And this guy called “Glymph” (ever heard of him? - me neither - I got very little about him by googling) works out how to actually get the damn thing built. To quote myself:
Even when a single creative genius seems to stand in isolated splendour, more often than not it turns out that there was or is a backroom toiler seeing to the money, minding the shop, cleaning up the mess, lining up the required resources, publishing and/or editing what the Great Man has merely written, quietly eliminating the blunders of, or, not infrequently, actually doing the work only fantasised and announced by, the Great Man.
Glymph now seems to be on his own, although you can’t tell from the merely institutional appearances.
In general, the role of the Other Sort of Architect, the one who turns whatever some Genius Gehry figure wants into something buildable, and which will not be a mechanical disaster, seems to be growing and growing.
I found that picture of Gehry’s epoch-making Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao here. The VF piece identifies this as the most “important” building of our time. Architects love it. The public does not hate it.
Indeed. It was front page news yesterday in the Evening Standard. I’m guessing that the way Renzo Piano and Shardeveloper Irving Sellar have been emitting verbiage about how Paddington is now “soulless and has no life” may be what got this story onto the front page:
Images of a 65-storey “skinny Shard” of apartments, offices, restaurants and a roof garden designed by Renzo Piano - the Italian “starchitect” behind western Europe’s tallest building - were unveiled today ahead of a public exhibition.
Irvine Sellar, chairman of Shard developers Sellar Property Group, said although Paddington was one of London’s most important gateways it had been overlooked for decades.
He said: “At the moment you only go to Paddington for two reasons - to catch a train or to see someone in hospital. It is soulless and has no life and yet it is only five minutes from Hyde Park and seven or eight minutes from Marble Arch.
“It is a fantastic location but it is stuck in a Fifties time-warp. We intend to create a place for people to go, where they will want to live, work, eat and shop.”
I imagine many current Paddingtonians actually quite like living in a “Fifties time-warp” that has been “overlooked” by the likes of Piano and Sellar “for decades”.
I of course love the idea of this new Big Thing. I hugely admire Renzo Piano. His new tower and its new surroundings, and in the meantime the process of building it all, will turn Paddington into the kind of place I will want to visit far more often than I do now. And by 2020 there’ll be another London Big Thing for me to observe and photo from afar. So I hope this goes ahead. (Part of the reason for this posting is to remind me to check out that public exhibition that they mention.)
But these guys sure know how to talk about locals in a way calculated to piss them off.
A house, said Modernist Architecture Le Corbusier famously, is a “machine for living in”. Something very similar can be said about all buildings. They are machines to do stuff in, and their number one requirement is that they should work properly. Do the job. Not break. Not leak. Not collapse. Not be a struggle to occupy, work in or live in. They should be nice for people to be in.
But merely working is not the only thing that this strange thing called “architecture” must do. It may also be required to decorate, excite attention, amaze, astonish. It may also be required to be, as they now say, an “icon”.
These two distinct sorts of working - working as a machine, working as a means of exciting admiration and awe - described in my two previous paragraphs, often conflict. If all that architecture had to do was tick over successfully, without problems, then building would evolve, cautiously. There would be no grand gestures, no new styles.
But new styles there are. And when they first get started, new styles often involve lots of dumb mechanical decisions. What can happen is that the architect is so concerned to make his icon look iconic that he forgets to, I don’t know, stop the windows leaking. New styles cause mundane stuff to go wrong.
Illustration, this piece of early post-modernism:
This iconic Thing is the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago. But, it now faces demolition. Reason? It doesn’t work, as a machine for working in:
“This building is ineffective,” claimed governor Bruce Rauner in a news conference. “For the people who work here, all of whom are eager to move somewhere else, it’s noisy. It’s hard to meet with your colleagues. It’s hard to move through the building, very ineffective, noise from downstairs, smells from the food court all get into the offices.”
The 17-storey, nearly one-million-square-foot (92,903 square meters) government centre opened in 1985, and is known for its canted and curved glass exterior and massive interior atrium containing a food court and transit entrance with offices arrayed above.
“Hearkening back to the grand domes of earlier government structures, such as the state capitol in Springfield, the southeast profile is a slice of a hollow sphere, clad in curved blue glass and salmon-coloured steel,” said the Chicago Architecture Foundation in its listing for the building. “The populist Postmodernism continues inside.”
The structure serves as the state government’s Chicago headquarters – the Illinois state capital is Springfield. But maintenance problems, high operational costs, and functional issues have plagued the building since it opened.
Rauner estimates the building needs $100 million (£64.7 million) worth of deferred repairs. In 2009, a large granite panel fell off one of the pedestrian arcades, prompting the removal the remaining slabs. The building has also been infested with pests.
Libertarians often claim that cock-ups like these are a classic public sector problem, and that observation has merit. The public sector is notorious for overspending on the buildings themselves, and then imposing foot-shootingly false economies on maintenance. Public buildings where the political will to maintain, so to speak, has wavered, can end up looking very run-down, as does much publicly owned space generally. This is because no one person or organisation owns the thing. No individual or small group of individuals makes clear gains if the building continues to look its part and do its job. No individual or small group of individuals makes clear losses if maintenance is skimped on. No one is accountable, to use a word constantly used by political people, because they so regularly feel the lack of it in the arrangements they nevertheless keep on recommending.
Further evidence comes from industrial innovation, largely now done by the private sector (albeit often heavily regulated), where innovation is done with a combination of determination and caution, with an awareness that innovation must happen, yet is hazardous. But even there, this trade-off is often mismanaged. The private sector doesn’t avoid error. It is merely better at liquidating it than the public sector is.
There may be sufficient political will to preserve this Chicago Government Center, more than there might have been if it was privately owned and hence costing an owner a not-small fortune. But it if is preserved, will the will to maintain continue to be inadequate? Very probably.
A key question to be asked about this building is: If it must be preserved, is the building worth anything at all? If it isn’t then there will be no buyer for it if it must be preserved, and the Chicago taxpayers will have to go on maintaining it. And Chicago’s taxpayers right now face other and bigger problems.
Busy day, by my unbusy standards. Inability to contrive clever words. Search through recent photos. One jumps out at me:
Begin to write something clever, but it doesn’t cohere. Give up. Good night.
I’m talking rugby, not life. If you came here because of the above headline but care only about life, relax, the Northern Hemisphere is safe. It isn’t being culled. It is merely that the Northern Hemisphere’s rugby teams haven’t been doing very well in the Rugby World Cup, which is now taking place in England.
Watching Ireland lose to Argentina had me conflicted, as they say. On the one hand, another Home Nation succumbs to a Southern Hemisphere monster. But on the other hand, England don’t now need to feel quite so bad. Wales knocked out England by a whisker, and that was disappointing. But England, Wales, and now Ireland, all got beaten by Southern Hemisphere sides.
And if Scotland do anything different against Australia in the last of the quarter-finals, about to be played, it will be a major upset.
England merely got the same bad news just the one game earlier.
Which means that, unless Scotland have entirely failed to read this script, the semis will be NZ v South Africa, Australia v Argentina. These four teams have their own tournament every year, in their own stadiums. Now, they are having another such tournament, in England.
As for France, well, they have done almost as badly as England, and perhaps worse. They beat their minnows, as England did. But, like England, they lost very upsettingly in the group stage to a home nation, Ireland in their case, and they were then completely shredded by the All Blacks. Many neutrals had hoped for a repeat of 1999 or 2007. By the end, even the humiliation of NZ only winning by one mere point in 2011 was expunged from the record. This time around, the margin was: 49.
John Inverdale told a good joke after England got beaten by Australia 13-33. He was in a taxi afterwards with a couple of England supporters, and one of them said: that was as bad as 1066. Not really, said the other. It was only 1333.
But 1362 (the year of the battles of Brignais and of Launac (blog and learn)) is quelque chose else again. And if an All Black hadn’t dropped the ball just as he was about to score yet another try right at the end, it would have been 1367 or 1369, years in which other things presumably also happened in France.
LATER: Scotland have NOT been reading the above script. They now lead Australia 34-32 with five minutes to go. In-obscene-present-participle-credible.
But, penalty to Australia. They lead 35-34 with a minute to go. End. “Southern Hemisphere clean sweep”, see above.
Every so often I check out Jonathan Gewirtz’s photos, often because I am reminded to do this when I read Chicago Boyz, for which Jonathan writes. Yesterday, I found my way to this wonderful photo of the cranes of Miami. Because that photo has “Copyright 2013 Johathan Gewirtz” written across the middle of it, I looked for other Miami crane photos, and found this ( by “ozanablue"):
Then, I think my finger slipped. Anyway, something happened, and I found myself looking at another terrific Gewirtz Miami crane snap, also adorned with a Copyright notice, but from which I have sliced out this:
That slice is much smaller as well as much (vertically) thinner than the meteorologically imposing original. But, as is the rule here with anything I “borrow”, if JG sees this and wants even this small slice of his picture removed from here, it will be done pronto.
Those container ship cranes will surely be looked back at by historians as one of the great visual symbols of our time, to sum up all the peaceful material and trading progress that we as a species have been making in recent decades.
Shame our cranes of this sort are too far away from the centre of London for a picture of them to be able to include our Big Things as well. Because our Big Thing’s are better than Miami’s.
Talking of cranes, another English one attracting admiring attention is this one, who bowls leg spin for Hampshire. (Another spinner nearly won it for England today, in Abu Dhabi (where they also have cranes (they now have them everywhere important that’s next to the sea)).)
“Modern buildings, exemplified by the Eiffel Tower or the Golden Gate Bridge, are incredibly light and weight-efficient by virtue of their architectures,” commented Bill Carter, manager of the Architected Materials Group at HRL.
“We are revolutionising lightweight materials by bringing this concept to the materials level and designing their architectures at the nano- and micro-scales,” he added.
In the new film released by Boeing earlier this month, HRL research scientist Sophia Yang describes the metal as “the world’s lightest material”, and compares its 99.9 per cent air structure to the composition of human bones – rigid on the outside, but with an open cellular composition inside that keeps them lightweight.
All of which has obvious applications to airplanes:
Although the aerospace company hasn’t announced definite plans to use the microlattice, the film suggests that Boeing has been investigating possible applications for the material in aeroplanes, where it could be used for wall or floor panels to save weight and make aircraft more fuel efficient.
And it surely won’t stop with wall and floor panels.
These are the days of miracle and wonder.
Maybe one day I will get tired of seeing The Wires! In photos of new Japanese buildings, at Dezeen. But I am not tired of it yet:
Other Dezeenery I have recently liked: colourful buildings for an ugly square in Eindhoven; a big sculpture that looks like a giant tooth, made (by a robot) entirely of pebbles and string (which means the pebbles can be used again and again); packing more people in an Airbus; scepticism about the creative class theory of urbanisation.
Also: a cardboard car. Lexus. Drivable. But not with a cardboard engine, surely. No, they cheated there. It has an electric motor, housed in an aluminium frame. This is not an exercise in engineering. It is advertising. Caused by the fact that in car adverts you are less and less allowed to say anything sensible, with mere words. Car adverts now remind me of cigarette adverts in my youth. They were like that for the same reason.
Today I did a Samizdata posting about Corbyn and his atrocious supporters, and I celebrate that fact with this photo, taken on the last day of last month, of Labour Leader Corbyn, made to look like he has reached his level of incompetence:
Moments later I took another photo, of a bus. I am now officially photoing any London double decker bus of the new Boris variety, provided that it is entirely covered with an advert:
The point being that just as Black Cabs are not by any means always black, so too, London’s famed double decker buses are by no means always red.
This particular advert certainly worked, because I am drinking cider right now. But, not of the variety advertised on this bus.
Here are the last pictures from my trip to Richmond last week that I’ll be showing you. They are both of a house.
No cranes. No roof clutter. No scaffolding. No white vans. No taxis. No Big Things in the background. No me, reflected in it. Nobody else photoing it, or even doing a painting of it.
Just a house, and some leaves:
But not any old house. It was once the home of Henrietta Howard, Mistress of His Maj King George 2. How do I know this? From this sign:
Click on that if you don’t believe me and the above picture is too small for you to read properly.
Tip for when you are out and about photoing. Take pictures of signs. That way you record not only what you saw, but what it was. Maybe you won’t care about that in five or ten or twenty years time, if and when you are looking back through your pictures. Maybe “P1250679.JPG” will be enough for you. But maybe it won’t.
I’ve been photoing a lot of taxis-covered-in-adverts lately, and this is one of my recent favorites, both because if came out so well in such discouraging light (my camera is not called “Lumix” for nothing) and because it is of that generic thing, an advert for adverts. You want to stick an advert on your taxi. This is who to contact:
I also like the big old advert behind.
As for the adverts on taxis, the thing I notice is that they are now often very temporary. You associate adverts on vehicles with permanence, or I do. On a taxi, you advertise a product which isn’t going to change for the next few years, like a drink or a holiday destination or an estate agency, right? Well, not so much now. Now, you often see adverts on taxis that are for events. Here, for instance, is one I have been noticing recently:
Now that I look at this carefully, I see that although a big fuss is being made of London Fashion Week, this is actually an advert for one of its sponsors, Sunglass Hut, which didn’t vanish on September 22nd, just because London Fashion Week folded its tents on that date. Nevertheless, if this London Fashion Week advert hangs around for a few months, it will look very out-od-date, and Sunglass Hut with it, which is surely not what they will want or will allow. It will be interesting to see if this advert is still to be seen, say, around Christmas or after. My guess would be not.
While doing this posting, I actually found out about Verifone Media for the first time. Blog and learn.
Man on horseback – and cranes
As quite often happens, some of the better pictures I took on my recent Richmond expedition were taken right at the beginning, near to where I live.
When I set out last Thursday, I found that a new bike lane is being constructed along my side of Vauxhall Bridge Road, which has caused my usual bus stop for making my way to Vauxhall Station to be abolished. On my way back, I discovered that this bus stop had simply been moved back up Vauxhall Bridge Road a bit. Had I turned right instead of left at Vauxhall Bridge Road that Thursday morning, I would quickly have found the relocated bus stop. Instead, I turned left, and walked across the river to the station.
With the result that I saw the strange sight of a man on horseback, beside the river (it was the final remaining one of these four). That having got me into the swing of photoing, I also, just before entering the station, photoed a rather fetching (because of the light lighting them and the sky behind them) crane cluster, craning away between Vauxhall and Waterloo.
The cranes, I decided, needed to have some buildings to their left cropped off of them, which turned the snap into a square. And the man on horseback also worked as a square. So, squares they are. Click on them, and you get bigger squares.
What I particularly like about the cranes is how vertical they mostly are.
I feel an orthodoxy developing. Former England rugby international Austin Healey:
For now, let’s postpone the period of introspection and focus on maintaining what has the potential to be the best World Cup ever. Even with the final few pool matches to be played, it has been the best tournament in terms of attendance and the overall quality.
There you go. We may be crap at playing these games, but we invented them all, and we have lots of great stadiums. We know how to organise a game, even if we can no longer play it.
Plus, we have lots of immigrants from everywhere on the planet to come and cheer for everyone taking part. We do tend to hate and fear foreigners quite a lot, especially in large clumps, but not as much as the damn foreigners do. Which is what passes for friendliness, in the world now. And these are not the kind of foreigners who want to live here in huge numbers of one nationality, and to corrupt our women and steal our jobs and defraud our welfare system. (None of that applies to England’s football fans, who seem to be about two percent scum of the earth, which can rather spoil things.)
As for me, I find that I really am enjoying this jamboree. I am enjoying all the pent-up anger of England’s anti-Lancaster tendency (I like to think of them “Yorkists"), who have been biting their tongues for the last few months, but who are now letting it all spill out. Their ire seems mostly concentrated on Lancaster’s dithering and bizarre selection decisions, which have indeed seemed peculiar even to an ignorant onlooker like me.
Also, freed from the torture of hope, I find I am settling down to enjoy the rugby. This afternoon’s game, for instance, is looking like an absolute belter. As of now, with the clock having just past 35 minutes of the first half, it stands at 23-23. Correction, make that 26-23, to Samoa, against Scotland. Next up, Wales v Oz, and then England v Uruguay.
In the latter game, if all goes well, England will capture that vital third place in the group spot, and thereby qualify for the next World Cup in Japan.
Later on, in Richmond, still beside the river, but upstream, practically in the country, I espied a cat. Here is the context, and the cat:
In other cat-related news, 6k did a cat-related posting for me to link to last Friday. He mentioned me in the first line, and then showed one of my photos, but I only realised that there was cattery later in the posting too late for last Friday so I had to wait a week. He went on to mention that video of that giant white fluffy Goodie stroke James Bond villain kitten attacking the BT Tower. Said 6k:
Yes. Kittens were huge (literally) in popular culture, even before the internet was around.
And if Brian reads this before the end of the day, he’s got a lovely Feline Friday tie-in opportunity with his post from yesterday.
Better a week late than never. (There is also a cat connection in this posting, which is about the head of another sort of big cat.)
6k is taking a bit of a break, or so he says. I’ll still keep checking in, just to see. “For personal reasons”. Ah yes, there are lot of those about, rampaging the earth, closing blogs and generally causing havoc. Me, I try to avoid having personal reasons.
Another favourite blogger of mine features more cattery here, in the form of East End high end graffiti.
When I photo a scene, I like to get other people’s screens into my pictures:
The weather was grim and grey today, when I took the above snaps, but the paintings were bright!
Painting. Before computers, this was how they did Photoshop.
This light, which is in my bedroom, …:
… is behaving strangely. Strangely in a way that quite a lot of lights behave, come to think of it. But it’s still strange.
I refer to the fact that when I switch it on, it never actually comes on. I have to manhandle it, by reaching up to it with my late uncle’s cricket bat. I push it around a bit, until it comes on. Then, it stays on, until I switch it off, with the switch. When I switch it on again, again with the switch, again, it again never works, and it’s cricket bat time, again. Every time.
Just now, I switched it on, jiggled it on with the cricket bat, and then switched it off, straight away. Then switched it on again, again straight away. Nothing. Only further jiggling made it work, again.
It would seem that the mere physical position of the bulb and the socket is not the point. The point is that once a connection is made, it stays made. But once the connection is broken, it remains broken. It’s like the electricity is a radio signal that has to be tuned into. Once tuned in, it stays tuned in. To tune it in, you have to “point” it in the right direction. Merely cranking up the electricity doesn’t do it.
And like I say, I think this happens quite a lot, with quite a lot of lights. What is this about? Does anyone else have experiences like this? And whether they do or not, what causes this? Anyone?
August 15th of this year was a good photography day for me. I did particularly well on the Blokes photoing front, although I’m not sure if all the male humans here pictured are actually Blokes. Bottom Middle and Bottom Right definitely. But Top Middle and Top Right are probably what you’d call Guys. Bottom Left might well be a Gent, if we looked at his face, and the face of his lady. And as for Top Left, well, you decide.
Once again, I have confined myself to subjects whose faces are not visible. Apart from the subject Top Left. That Top Left one was taken in one of my favourite Strange London Places, which is the little market space, off to the left of the trains (as you look towards the trains) in the concourse of Charing Cross Station. From it, you can then walk along the side of the street towards the river, but at about second floor level, looking down on the street, until you arrive at the down-stream half of the new Hungerford Footbridges, which are on both sides of the old Hungerford railway bridge. It’s one of my favourite little London walks.
The two definite Blokes are both photoing Big Ben, I think. The Bloke holding a “selfie stick” is, I believe, not actually using it as a selfie stick. I’m pretty sure he is photoing what’s in front of him rather than himself. Big Ben, in other words. Could he be far-sghted?
The fountain, being photoed by a Guy, is the one outside the Royal Festival Hall. The other Guy is photoing that Citroen DS23 that has already been shown here.
The bald Gent photo is not technically very good. But he too is photoing Big Ben, as you can see on his screen, which is what makes the photo non-banal.
Nobody ever comments on my photo-collections-of-photoers postings. Which makes me suspect that I am the only one here who really likes them. But, that’s all it takes for a posting here to be a posting.
Photoed by me last night, at Southwark tube station:
Next to the ticket barrier at Southwark tube there are a number of these little history lessons, of which this was my favourite. This is the kind of thing you can usually chase up quickly on the internet, and find a fuller account of. But, my googling abilities are such that I can find no reference to this fish-discouragement story. Anyone?
England got dumped out of their own Rugby World Cup last night. Not having had any great hopes for England this time around, I was not that distraught, but I do regret this. I have nothing original to add to what all the proper commentators are saying.
That’s a photo I took earlier this evening. I find newspaper front pages to be excellent souvenirs, when I look back at them, months or years later.
I do, however, have an observation to offer about London soccer. Here is a list of the London teams (all of which I support (but Spurs the most)) in the Premier League: Arsenal, Crystal Palace, West Ham United, Tottenham Hotspur, Watford (is Watford a London club? - don’t know), Chelsea. And at the moment, that is the order in which they stand in the Premier league. 2 Arsenal, 4 Palace, 6 West Ham, 8 Spurs, 12 Watford, 16 Chelsea. Chelsea now have 8 points from 8 games.
Is this just early randomness? In two months time will Chelsea be 4th, West Ham 13th and Crystal Palace 15th (with Arsenal 2nd and Spurs 8th, as now)? Or has something actually changed? Is it like this at the beginning of every season, and does it then right itself?
After writing the above, I put that question to Patrick Crozier, and he said that Chelsea are in real trouble, on account of their Manager, Jose Mourinho, having a go at Chelsea’s medical lady, when she was just doing her job. This upset the entire team, because you are apparently not supposed to criticize “members of the team” in public, and she is a member of the team. And the entire team is now playing badly.
There is also the fact that this medical lady is prettier than Mourinho, which I am guessing is a situation he is not used to having to deal with.
We shall see. Chelsea now have a mere 10 points fewer than leaders Man City. That’s surely not much of a gap, at this point in the season. A month of good results and this gap could quickly vanish.
Here being Epping Underground Station, which is not actually underground, but you know what I mean.
As already recounted here, I was recently in Epping. But I just looked again at the photos I took that day and realised that, fascinating though the M11 is, this sign is even more interesting:
This is not really a case of “blog and learn”, but blogging did help, because as so often I was looking for something interesting to pass on. Which meant I first had to learn something more about it besides its name on a sign.
I also like the photo. Without photography I would have completely forgotten about this.
When I was at Essex University, I used to go there from London by train, or by car, or by bus. Now I learn that I could have walked, by what would presumably have mostly been a rather scenic route.
This posting combines two of my interests, white vans, and the way that glass has made buildings so much more fun:
When I took this picture, I knew a white van was involved, because there it was. But I only guessed that the glass was being used architecturally. My guess was right.
White van photoed by me today, underneath the railway out of Waterloo.
I spent my blogging time today starting two different postings, both of which got longer and longer and are still not nearly finished.
Which only left me time for a quota photo, taken in April of this year.
LATER: 6k borrows the picture (which I am very happy about) and tells us more about the BT Tower.