Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
Esteban on David Pierce on what it's like using an electric scooter
Brian Micklethwait on Zooming in on the workers
Rob Fisher on Zooming in on the workers
Brian Micklethwait on David Pierce on what it's like using an electric scooter
Rob Fisher on Zooming in on the workers
Rob Fisher on Big Things on Boris Bikes
Rob Fisher on David Pierce on what it's like using an electric scooter
Prudy on Skyscraper covered in Gothic sculpture proposed for Manhattan
Brian Micklethwait on Big Things on Boris Bikes
Javier on Big Things on Boris Bikes
Most recent entries
- Footbridges in the sky
- White vans in Kentish Town
- A busy day and a collection of Big Things
- A still life and a cat cushion in Kentish Town
- A Japanese torpedo bomber that could use some zoom
- A good time of the year
- 148 to Burgess Park
- A Big Thing and a Much Bigger Thing – on a not-black cab
- Another way to photo my meetings
- Quota Pavlova
- The first Brian’s Friday of the year tomorrow evening
- Walkie Talkie looking not that huge
- David Pierce on what it’s like using an electric scooter
- Shard behind the Tower of London (reprise)
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6000 Miles from Civilisation
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Adventures in Capitalism
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Category archive: Africa
Today I have been what passes with me for busy. By this I do not mean that I have been doing anything along the lines of work, of benefit to others. Oh no. But I have been paying attention to a succession of things, all of which involved me not being in much of a state to do anything else.
There was a game of cricket, there was a game of rugger, and a game of football. England defeated South Africa. England defeated Scotland. And Spurs defeated Watford. So, three for three. And then I went to hear a talk at Christian Michel’s, about The Unconscious, Freudian and post-Freudian. Freud, it turns out, was right that there is an Unconscious, but wrong about a lot of the details.
On my way home from that talk, I took a photo. Technically it was very bad photo, because it was taken through the window of a moving tube train. It is of an advert at a tube station. But my photo did the job, which was to immortalise here yet another assemblage of London’s Big Things, in an advert:
That’s only a bit of the picture, rotated a bit, lightened and contrasted a bit and sharpened a bit.
The advert was for these visitor centres, which sound suspiciously like what used to be called “information desks”.
I see: the Cheesegrater, the Wheel, the BT Tower, Big Ben, the cable car river crossing, the Gherkin, Tower Bridge, the Shard, St Paul’s, and the pointy-topped Canary Wharf tower. I forgive TfL for plugging the embarrassing Emirates Dangleway. If they didn’t recommend it, who would?
Because of all that busy-ness, I have no time to put anything else here today.
Tomorrow: Super Bowl!
LATER: AB de Villiers, talking about South Africa now being two down with three to play:
“I can’t help but think, shit we have got to win three games in a row to win this series. Shucks, I mean. But that’s the fact of the matter. In situations like this, whether you are 2-nil up or 2-nil down, you have to take a small step. The next game is important for us. Shucks.”
We all know what shit is, but now learn what a shuck is.
Given that I am not actually seeing any visuals on a screen, sleeping through the decisive passage of play of the latest test match in South Africa only made it more dramatic.
There I was, making sure I was awake and able to start the recording of Record (as they have now gone back to calling it (it had been CD)) Review, and then getting up for a piss and a cool down before getting back to bed again for a bit of a lie in, by which time England were all out 323, with a first innings lead of 10. Before dozing off, I learned that Sinopoli’s Cavalleria Rusticana was the winning Cavalleria Rusticana in a strong field, and then I surfaced again and was informed by my other bedside radio that South Africa had lost no wickets in reply and were ahead at lunch, and then I dozed off again, and then got up properly ... to learn from my computer that South Africa were 44-5, oh no make that 45-6, correction 46-7. Game over.
That pic is the last one of these.
A lot of cricket photos these days, including most of this lot, seem to be, not of cricketers doing great things, but of cricketers celebrating having just done them. The pictures of Moeen Ali’s broken bat are also fun, but again, what you really want to see is the moment when it broke. The above photo is a refreshing exception. It shows Broad actually taking the final wicket of the South African innings, with a diving caught and bowled.
One of the pictures in this.
Today I was in Borough High Street, doing some things with some people, and after that ended I was able, finally, to enjoy some proper winter weather. Instead of warm and grey, it was cold and blue. Bright blue:
That’s the Slug and Lettuce in Borough High Street, which I assume to be but one link in a franchised chain of some sort, which is very ordinary. But behind this slug and this lettuce is: the sky, which is not ordinary, given the very ordinary indeed weather we’ve been having lately.
This posting is my attempt to emulate the great Mick Hartley. I know that won’t work, but as soon as I got home after my wanderings and saw his blue sky posting, done this morning, I knew that I had to find the snap with the bluest sky in it that I had taken. The secret is to light the building very strongly, by firing the the sun straight at it. This turns the sky dark blue. There were not that many dark sky pictures like this one to choose between. A lot of my snaps today were taken down in those shadows that you see down at the bottom of that picture. So the above snap was my clear winner. Very clear. Hartley probably had dozens of dark blue sky snaps to choose between. Either that, or he’s a Real Photographer and he took only the pictures he blogged, and gets every shot right first time.
More blue sky, from another of my blog-favourites. “Zuma”. That’s a dance/exercise craze, right?
Indeed. 6000 miles away, in Cape Town, England have been making hay in the sunshine:
Sunshine? Well, I heard a commentator say at the start of the game that it was 43C out in the middle.
I do love the screen capture function. I can’t think of any better way to frieze an otherwise doomed-to-oblivion sporting moment. Now, it makes little difference. But when, as death approaches, I entertain myself by scrolling back through this blog, postings like this one will be very sweet to remember.
England reached 629-6 after being 223-5. And now, South Africa are 7-1 in reply:
Anderson to van Zyl, OUT, oh no! It goes from bad to worse for South Africa! A shambolic piece of running. Van Zyl pushed the ball into the off side and set off for the run, but Elgar wasn’t interested at all. Van Zyl was halfway down the pitch and had no chance to get back as the throw came in from Compton to Bairstow at the stumps.
Hashim Amla now in. Out of-form-batsman, and out-of-depth captain of a team already one-down in the series, and he knows at least one of these things and probably both. So if he also got a double century now, that would cheer me up too, because look what the human species - the species that both I and Hashim Amla are members of - is capable of when under extreme pressure.
Amla doing well now would also be good for cricket. You know your team is doing well, when you start thinking that if the other guys were to start doing a bit better, that would be good for cricket. Although, were Amla to get out soon, I could just about stand the disappointment.
I’ve been reading more of Matt Ridley’s The Evolution of Everything, from which a previous excerpt can be found here, here. It continues to be very good. In this bit, Ridley discusses the relationship between genetic and cultural evolution:
What sparked the human revolution in Africa? It is an almost impossibly difficult question to answer, because of the very gradual beginning of the process: the initial trigger may have been very small. The first stirrings of different tools in parts of east Africa seem to be up to 300,000 years old, so by modern standards the change was happening with glacial slowness. And that’s a clue. The defining feature is not culture, for plenty of animals have culture, in the sense of traditions that are passed on by learning. The defining feature is cumulative culture - the capacity to add innovations without losing old habits. In this sense, the human revolution was not a revolution at all, but a very, very slow cumulative change, which steadily gathered pace, accelerating towards today’s near-singularity of incessant and multifarious innovation.
It was cultural evolution. I think the change was kicked off by the habit of exchange and specialisation, which feeds upon itself - the more you exchange, the more value there is in specialisation, and vice versa - and tends to breed innovation. Most people prefer to think it was language that was the cause of the change. Again, language would build upon itself: the more you can speak the more there is to say. The problem with this theory, however, is that genetics suggests Neanderthals had already undergone the linguistic revolution hundreds of thousands of years earlier - with certain versions of genes related to languages sweeping through the species. So if language was the trigger, why did the revolution not happen earlier, and to Neanderthals too? Others think that some aspect of human cognition must have been different in these first ‘behaviourally modern humans’: forward planning, or conscious imitation, say. But what caused language, or exchange, or forethought, to start when and where it did?
Almost everybody answers this question in biological terms: a mutation in some gene, altering some aspect of brain structure, gave our ancestors a new skill, which enabled them to build a culture that became cumulative. Richard Klein, for instance, talks of a single genetic change that ‘fostered the uniquely modern ability to adapt to a remarkable range of natural and social circumstance’. Others have spoken of alterations in the size, wiring and physiology of the human brain to make possible everything from language and tool use to science and art. Others suggest that a small number of mutations, altering the structure or expression of developmental regulatory genes, were what triggered a cultural explosion. The evolutionary geneticist Svante Pääbo says: ‘If there is a genetic underpinning to this cultural and technological explosion, as I’m sure there is .. .’
I am not sure there is a genetic underpinning. Or rather, I think they all have it backwards, and are putting the cart before the horse. I think it is wrong to assume that complex cognition is what makes human beings uniquely capable of cumulative cultural evolution. Rather, it is the other way around. Cultural evolution drove the changes in cognition that are embedded in our genes. The changes in genes are the consequences of cultural changes. Remember the example of the ability to digest milk in adults, which is unknown in other mammals, but common among people of European and east African origin. The genetic change was a response to the cultural change. This happened about 5,000-8,000 years ago. The geneticist Simon Fisher and I argued that the same must have been true for other features of human culture that appeared long before that. The genetic mutations associated with facilitating our skill with language - which show evidence of ‘selective sweeps’ in the past few hundred thousand years, implying that they spread rapidly through the species - were unlikely to be the triggers that caused us to speak; but were more likely the genetic responses to the fact that we were speaking. Only in a language-using animal would the ability to use language more fluently be an advantage. So we will search in vain for the biological trigger of the human revolution in Africa 200,000 years ago, for all we will find is biological responses to culture. The fortuitous adopting of a habit, through force of circumstance, by a certain tribe might have been enough to select for genes that made the members of that tribe better at speaking, exchanging, planning or innovating. In people, genes are probably the slaves, not the masters, of culture.
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.
The platinum blonde woman who sings the introductory song sounds very unmusical and strangulated to me. When she sings “A new age has begun”, it sounds like “Anewwayjazzbeegun”, with no breaks between words at all. Very peculiar. I now learn that I am not the only one to be unhappy about this singing.
My first observation of the actual rugby: lots of handling errors. My impression is that the balls are bigger, fatter, lighter, bouncier, a bit like balloons. So, when they hit your chest they don’t just stick there, they bounce off your chest and you’ve dropped it.
How good were Japan? Yes, very good. But. But. How bad were South Africa? Very, very bad. There is a back story there, which the television commentators I am hearing seem extremely anxious not to discuss. It’s all: the mighty Boks. Apparently, they haven’t persuaded enough black men to play rugby, and racial quotas are deranging and demoralising them. “Political football” etc. Lawrence Dallaglio mentioned this stuff once, in passing, speaking of them “falling off tackles” (I think that was the phrase). Of not really trying, in other words. Other than that, nothing. Japan got totally stuffed by Scotland yesterday, 45-10. Okay, the Japanese hadn’t had much of a rest. But even so, a bizarre result, unless Japan beating South Africa was at least as much because South Africa were bad as because Japan were good. Scotland v South Africa might be … very interesting.
I really like London’s new Olympic Stadium. Whenever I saw it before, it contained the 2012 Olympics, and I hate the Olympics so much that I couldn’t see how very nice the stadium is. Now I can see this. I think I now prefer the inside of the Olympic Stadium to the inside of New Wembley. The only interesting thing about New Wemley is the big arch, seen from the outside. That’s terrific. One of London’s great new landmarks. But the inside of New Wembley, which I have actually visited in person, is very dreary. But maybe I was just in a bad mood, on account of it being football, and on account of this idiot jumping about in front of me whenever anything faintly interesting happened, so I had to either get up off my seat to see anything, or remain seated and in ignorance.
England look okay to me, but okay presumably won’t be enough to win. But then again, most other teams seem only okay also. Except the All Blacks of course. How will they contrive to lose this tournament, I wonder? They usually seem to find a way. Last time around, they did win, but only by one point.
Towards the end of last year, Vodacom upgraded the internet service in Suiderstrand from EDGE to HSDPA. That was great, although quite why they didn’t go all the way and make put an LTE connection in, I don’t know.
Me neither. Can’t help you there mate. If you think you know the answer put it there please, rather than here.
As for 6k’s Ships on a Roof picture, I bet he saw my horizontalisation of it coming, even as he was taking the shot.
Sign with sarcastic sneer quotes
Well that’s a relief
Amusing cats versus important people
Ashes Lag recovery continues
Games lovely games
6k quota photo of sea
Michael Jennings photoes Cape Bojador
Corrie Chipps pictures the Zimbabwe inflation
I love it that the parents are called Susan and Freddie
Lion steals camera
Signs from the Frenchosphere
Quota photo by someone else
“There is electricity and water, but there’s no phone line …”
Defeating Islam (2): Conversion to Christianity will trump higher birth rates in Islamic countries
Another world cup photo of photographers
Photoing the World Cup
Samizdata and Zimbabwe both on the up and up?
Was it Sweeney? And what else were they trying to suppress?
Death to all who try to tiptoe past our guards while wearing giant baby costumes!
Another Samizdata piece
Africa is big
What a lot of circles
Bowled Harmison bowled Harmison
Kings Cross gasometer sunset travels 6000 miles
Billion Monkeys on Table Mountain!
Adriana and Ivan in Addis
Lots of links
An improbable England win in the Six Nations
Leon Louw talks about the habits of highly effective countries
Sssssssss!!!! White man! Take my photo!!
Other Billion Monkeys at the Globalisation Institute party!
The latest Brian and Antoine elections around the world mp3