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Thursday March 22 2018

I’m reading Deidre McCloskey’s Bourgeois Equality, the final volume of her Bourgeois trilogy.  I hope that in this volume, at last, I will read evidence concerning McCloskey’s thesis about how the Great Enrichment came about, which is that it was ideological.  She keeps repeating this, but keeps flying off at other tangents.  Wish me luck.

Interesting tangents, mind you.  Like this one, which is a most interesting prediction, concerning the future of Sub-Saharan Africa (pp. 70-72):

Know also a remarkable likelihood in our future. Begin with the sober scientific fact that sub-Saharan Africa has great genetic diversity, at any rate by the standard of the narrow genetic endowment of the ancestors of the rest of us, the small part of the race of Homo sapiens that left Mother Africa in dribs and drabs after about 70,000 BCE.  The lower diversity outside Africa comes from what geneticists call the founder effect, that is, the dying out of genetic lines in an isolated small group, such as those that ventured into west Asia and then beyond. The founder effect is merely a consequence, of the small samples dribbling out, as against the big sample of the Homo sapiens folk that stayed put in Africa. Any gene-influenced ability is therefore going to have more African extremes. The naturally tallest people and the naturally shortest people, for example, are in sub-Saharan Africa. The naturally quickest long-distance runners are in East Africa. The best basketball players descend from West Africans. In other words, below the Sahara the top end of the distribution of human abilities - physical and intellectual and artistic - is unusually thick. (Yet even in Africa the genetic variability in the Homo sapiens race appears to have been thinned repeatedly before the time of the modest emigrations, by population crashes, such as when the super volcano Toba in Sumatra went off, suggestively also around 70,000 BCE. It reduced our Homo sapiens ancestors to a few thousand-a close call.)

The thickness of sub-Saharan abilities at the high end of the distribution is a mere consequence of the mathematics. Greater diversity, which is to say in technical terms, higher variance, means that unusual abilities at both ends of the distribution, high and low, are more common. Exactly how much more depends on technical measures of genetic difference and their expression. The effect could be small or large depending on such measures and on the social relevance of the particular gene expression.

The high end is what matters for high culture. Sub-Saharan Africa, now at last leaning toward liberal democracy, has entered on the blade of the hockey stick, growing since 2001 in per-person real income by over 4 percent per year-doubling that is, every eighteen years. A prominent Nigerian investment manager working in London, Ayo Salami, expects an ideological shift among African leaders in favor of private trading as the generation, of the deeply socialist anticolonialists born in the 1940s dies out.” The 6- to 10-percent growth rate available to poor economies that wholeheartedly adopt liberalism will then do its work and yield educational opportunities for Africans now denied them.

The upshot? Genetic diversity in a rich Africa will yield a crop of geniuses unprecedented in world history. In a century or so the leading scientists and artists in the world will be black-at any rate if the diversity is as large in gene expression and social relevance as it is in, say, height or running ability. Today a Mozart in Nigeria follows the plow; a Basho in Mozambique was recruited as a boy soldier; a Tagore in East Africa tends his father’s cattle; a Jane Austen in Congo spends her illiterate days carrying water and washing clothes.  “Full many a gem of purest ray serene / The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear.”

Wednesday March 21 2018

Says Armin Navabi:

The only way to reform Islam is to get rid of Islam.

A short video, lasting just over two minutes.  Navabi is right, provided by “reform” we mean “make nice”.  That verbal quibble aside, agreed.

There are many nice people who want to remain nice but also to remain Muslim.  Can’t be done.  Islam demands nastiness from its followers, and there’s no way round that, only out of it.

The current Western governmental view of Islam is: resist the bad stuff, appease the good stuff.  But the only good stuff in Islam is good people trying to be good but being told not to be good by Islam.  Islam itself is the enemy.

The way to defeat Islam is to persuade a large number of its current adherents to stop being its adherents.  That will put Islam on the defensive, both ideologically and physically.  Muslims will be put in the position of trying to explain that Islam is nice.  They will fail, but will then look weak, because they will have abandoned their strongest weapon, which is the fact that Islam demands nastiness.  And the Muslims will thus lose.  There will still be many “Muslims”, so-called, in the world, but the ones who really believe in it will become a beleaguered minority, constantly betrayed to their enemies by other “Muslims” who are trying to prove, to the world and to other Muslims who are thinking of leaving Islam, how nice they are, despite going through all the motions of saying that they still believe nasty things.

In other anti-Islamic news, Dawkins notes a stirring of atheism in the Islamic world.  I hope, and more and more think, that this is right, and very good news.  The more I learn about this man, more I admire him, even though I mostly don’t agree with him on domestic political issues.

If you are now, still, a Muslim, stop it.

Tuesday March 20 2018

Today I got up at 7am, worked on and off on a big piece of writing, then dined at Chateau Samizdata, out west, and am now back here, as in home, having not done anything here, as in at this blog.

Here is a photo chosen from the archives, pretty much at random:


Taken in March 2012, i.e. six years ago, when the Shard was just being finished.  Taken from out east, beside the Victoria Docks.

And now I will go to bed, and get up just as early tomorrow morning as I was up today, and I will finish that big piece of writing.  I promise this.  That’s the plan, anyway.  One thing is for sure.  I am in no state to finish it now.

Goodnight and see you tomorrow.

Monday March 19 2018

For two reasons.  First, England came second to bottom, which is not the usual arrangement at all.  It is now being said that they were tired, from playing too much rugby for their clubs and before that for the British Lions.

But the other reason this was a strange end to the Six Nations was the weather.  The last weekend of the Six Nations is supposed to be a day where all we rugby couch potatoes celebrate that Winter is well and truly over, that Spring is here, and that we can finally rise up out of our couches and venture out properly into the first serious sunshine of the new year, for hours at a time.

Instead, along with England doing really badly in the rugby, it was like this:


Click on that to get the bigger picture.  That’s GodDaughter2 weekending out in the countryside, in Hampshire or some such county out there.  That photo was taken by her, on the same day that England got beaten by Ireland at Twickenham, where it also snowed.  Which was all part of why England did so badly, I think.  For Ireland, the worse the weather is the better they like it.

According to the short-term weather forecasters, who are the only weather forecasters I take seriously, this second cold snap will soon be done, and then Spring can finally get started.

Sunday March 18 2018

Ten years ago, plus another eleven days, there was a wedding photo session in Parliament Square, and I joined in, as I always do whenever I see this kind of thing happening:


I like how, top left and top right, they tied her train (?) to the railings, to get a better picture.  That gives you just a small hint of how much trouble all concerned go to, to get good photos.  Two Real Photographers, going at it for about half an hour.

And so totally absorbed in what they’re doing that they hardly notice me.  Or if they do, they don’t care.  Besides which, given what a spectacle, in a good way, they are making of themselves, they probably agreed with me that they were fair photographic game.

I wonder what sort of life they are living now.  A good life, I hope.

Saturday March 17 2018

GodDaughter2 having dragged me into London at the crack of 10.30am (which is when that Traviata dress rehearsal started), I of course got to Embankment Tube early, on account of being so scared of being late.  I had some time to kill.

So, instead of turning left at the Embankment Tube ticket machines and just trudging up Villiers Street to Trafalgar Square and on to the ENO’s Colosseum, I instead turned right, and went up onto the north London end of the downstream version of the Hungerford Footbridge(s).  It’s a favourite little spot of mine, concerning which, maybe, there will (although I promise nothing) be more here, soon or whenever.

For now, consider just this one photo, taken from that spot, at that time:


Because it is the morning, the light is not what I am used to.  The Big Things of the City of London are not well light, because back lit.

The big picture story here is that the Big Things of the City of London are, slowly but surely, metamorphosing into one Great Big City Thing.

But when I got home and had a closer look, I was intrigued to see two moderately Big Things already clearly to be seen.

You probably noticed this one already:


That’s the Scalpel.  That the Scalpel has been going up has been obvious for some time.

But this one came as rather more of a surprise.  This detail had to be enlarged, or you might miss it, as I did, until I got home and looked carefully:


That, ladies and gents, hiding in among all the bigger Things, is the much touted but seemingly never actually happening (but it actually is) Can of Ham:


The Can of Ham is called that because it will look like a can of ham:


Come to think of it, I have a vague recollection of visiting those Big City Things, about … a while back.  Bear with me while I rootle through the photo-archives.Yes, here we go.  I was there on June 3rd, last year.

The Scalpel was already well under way, thanks to some particularly entertaining cranage:


And it definitely was the Scalpel, because it said so at the bottom:


But the Can of Ham was also already starting to go up:


As you can clearly see if you take a closer look at what it says at the bottom there:


By trying to call this thing “Seventy St. Mary Axe”, but by making it look exactly like a can of ham, and quite a big and visible one, big enough and visible enough for it to need a particular and memorable name, they screwed up on the naming front.  It was only ever going to be called the “Can of Ham”.

Some bunch of idiots long ago tried to get the Gherkin called 30 St Mary Axe, and that never stuck either.

50 St Mary Axe is also a Thing, but such a small Thing that nobody cares what that’s called, so that actually is called 50 St Mary Axe.

Friday March 16 2018

I’m trying to wrench my sleep patterns back into something like sanity, and this now leaves me very tired.  Which is the plan working, but it makes blogging rather difficult.  So, today, one photo, and that’s your lot:


Plus, although I’m tired, here is a detail, that emphasises the flamingo aspect:


The relevant bit of the website.

Thursday March 15 2018

Yesterday GodDaughter2 arranged for me to accompany her and and a selection her singing student friends to a dress rehearsal of the ENO’s La Traviata.  Like every show at the E(nglish) NO, It was sung in English. It was also somewhat strangely directed, as operas tend to be nowadays.  So, the students were all grumbling afterwards.  What were those peculiar gestures the soprano kept on doing?  “Such torture” to have listen to it in English!

As for me, my problems were that we were the usual third of a mile up and away in the sky (but with no windows through which I might have taken photos of London’s Things), and I couldn’t properly see what was happening down there in the distance, beyond the woman in front of me’s head and those brass railings that she was able crouch down and look under.  I wasn’t bothered by all the strange “acting” that the singers were apparently doing, because I could hardly see it.  It was all I could do to decypher the English crib (and thank goodness for that) above the stage, of what they were singing (in English also (but as often as not you still can’t make out the damn words (because of how they sing them))).  But the music, by Giuseppe Verdi, which I knew only as a random bunch of tunes that I had just about quarter-heard before, is so good that I was kept constantly entertained.  Plus, I understood enough of what was going on to really enjoy it, and to really learn something.

It’s quite a story.  A young woman (the Traviata of the title) is trying to juggle short-term pleasure with and against long-term romantic fulfilment, is fretting about whether her true love can truly be depended upon, but also doesn’t want to get her true love into social trouble because of her lurid past causing everyone to think he could have done better, which will dishonour his entire family and make his younger sister much less marriageable.  Plus, she is not in the best of health and has to keep seeing a doctor.

I can remember, way back in the sixties, when it was believed that all that social pressure stuff was dead in the water.  Plus of course, in the sixties, everyone was far too young to be having any health problems.  Girls could shack up with guys and have consequence-free sex, and then live happily ever after with … whoever.  I think I remember thinking, even at the time: well, we’ll see.  And it turns out that young girls can now be “ruined” a lot like they were in olden times, that “society” has not gone away, that people still get ill, even sometimes ill because of sex, and that La Traviata is still bang up to date.

The Father of the Traviata’s True Love very much wants True Love to stop being Traviata’s True Love, and begs Traviata to give him up.  For the ENO, yesterday, this Father was sung by Alan Opie.  He was especially good.  A bloke had come on at the beginning and said that, what with this being only a dress rehearsal, some of the singers might be holding back a bit, saving it for the real show.  But you could definitely tell that Opie was the real deal.

Wednesday March 14 2018

I follow Tom Holland because I have liked several of his books (especially Persian Fire), and because I often agree with him, as when he says things like this:

The assumption in Europe that its brand of colonialism was uniquely awful is, in a perverse way, one of the last hold-outs of eurocentrism.

Very true.

Via Tom Holland, I came upon this, from Anthony McGowan:

I came across a place called Strood. I looked it up (having no idea where or what it was), I found this achingly poignant statement: “Strood was part of Frindsbury until 1193, but now Frindsbury is considered part of Strood.”

It’s the implication that “now”, in the Strood/Finsbury part of the world, began in 1193 that makes this so entertaining.  I guess they have long memories out there in the not-London part of Britain.

Anthony McGowan is someone I don’t agree with a lot of the time (here is what I think about that).  But, I also liked this:

An article about the history of the Chinese typewriter. One old machine had a strange pattern, as some characters had been polished by over-use. It belonged to a Chinese-American immigrant. “The keys that glitter with use are: emigrant, far away, urgent, longing, hardship, dream”.

McGowan doesn’t supply links to where he got these intriguing titbits, which I don’t like.  But despite that and other similarly nitpicky nitpicks on my part, Twitter is working, for me.  At present I have no plans to depend upon it to say things, although that may change, for I am too distrustful of its increasing political bias.  But it is supplying me with much more stuff to be thinking about and writing about.

Tuesday March 13 2018

Incoming email from Tony entitled “Couldn’t resist buying this”:


Here’s hoping he was/will be amused by its cheek.

Apparently the Arse is a river in southern France, beside which grapes are grown.

Up early tomorrow. So now, to bed.

Monday March 12 2018

On March 21st, Roz Watkins, author of The Devil’s Dice, will be signing copies of that book at Waterstone’s Piccadilly, an event which I will attend.  This afternoon, finding myself in that part of London on account of needing a new battery for my ancient Casio watch, I dropped in on Waterstones to see what, if anything, they were doing with the book.

They had just one copy on show, in a New Crime Hardbacks display:


Can you spot it?  Memo to self: If I ever design a book cover, make the title on the front either in dark lettering with a light background, or with light lettering on a dark background.  The Devil’s Dice, with its light orange title on a light coloured sky, is second from the right, bottom row (on account of Watkins beginning with W).  Another memo to self: When I become a published author, have a surname starting with a letter near the beginning of the alphabet, rather than almost at the end.

Anyway, here’s a close-up of it, just so you know it was really there:


I needed another copy of the book, because I gave the advance copy Roz sent me to someone else.  But I was reluctant to buy the only copy of The Devil’s Dice that they had on show, thus depriving Waterstonians of any further sight of it.  I asked at the desk if they had a paperback.  Oh no, they said, not for at least six months.  I asked if they had any more copies on order.  Yes, said the lady, sounding rather impressed when her computer told her, we have eighty copies coming, ordered this morning.

I have no idea what that means.  Maybe those copies are just for the book signing, and maybe many will be sent back after that.  But maybe this is good, and reflects how well the original launch in Derby went, assuming that this did go well.  Anyway, with eighty more copies on their way to Waterstones, I bought that one copy that they had today.

See also, The Devil’s Dice with dog, in Waterstones Brighton.  Again, right down by the floor with the other Ws.

Sunday March 11 2018

Yes. Here at BMdotcom we like bridges and we like reflections, so here is a bridge, reflected:


I encountered this photo here.

New bridges are a bit hard to come by these days, especially given the fact that so many places are called “Newbridge”, and so many bridges, are called The New Bridge no matter when built because once upon a time that was accurate.  All of which complicates all searches for new bridges.  And when you do find new bridges that really do claim to be new bridges, it turns out I’ve seen almost all of them, and all the interesting ons.

Saturday March 10 2018

I visit the Royal College of Music quite a lot these days, thanks to GodDaughter2 studying there.  There were those Bach Cantatas.  Last Thursday there was a recital of songs by Women Composers, in which GD2 performed.  And this evening, there was the RCMIOS (RCM International Opera School) production of Britten’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.  All excellent.

It doesn’t feel right taking lots of photos while in the place, but here was a snap that I both liked and didn’t feel bad about taking:


They’re hardly going to call that snooping, are they?

The RCM is a truly bizarre agglomeration of buildings.  The corridors joining this bit of it to that bit of it are labyrinthine.  I never know where I am, if only because I am usually following GD2 around the place, rather than finding my own way around.

Here is another snap I reckoned it okay to take, of some building work in progress:


The fact that both of these snaps feature things which are only temporary is what makes me think them not to be breaches of etiquette.  I don’t know if that’s truly right, but it feels right to me.

However, the point of these two photos is, as I later (like: one hour ago) realised, that they are both photos of the same things.  The first photo is the corridor from the inside, and the second photo, in addition to all that grubbing about in the earth at the bottom, also features the same corridor from the outside.  The outside of a corridor is not normally something you get to see, is it?

The reason I found myself inside that corridor is that it is the temporary way of getting from the main part of the Royal College to the college bar and canteen.  I took the above photo on my way from that bar and canteen to the main entrance of the College.  I was on my own at the time.

Friday March 09 2018

As a Blackadder fan, I have long known about the use of pigeons during World War 1, to send messages.  Pigeons like the one in this photo:


Twitter caption:

War Pigeons were very effectively deployed in the First World War. For instance, they carried messages, like the one being attached to a pigeon by Austro-Hungarian soldiers on the Isonzo Front, which can be seen in this picture.

Quite so.  But what made me decide to post the above photo here was this exchange, in the comments.


Were they normally encrypted?

Wayne Meyer:

They used WEP. Wartime Encryption for Pigeons. It was a very early wireless standard.

Blog and learn.  Not only did I just discover that pigeon messages were – of course, they’d have to have been – encrypted.  I also learned that you can link directly to individual Twitter comments.

And what better way could there to learn about the activities of birds than via Twitter?

Thursday March 08 2018

Earlier today, in the Derby branch of Waterstone’s:


Standing on the staircase, top left, in a black dress, is Roz Watkins, speaking at the launch of her crime thriller, published today, The Devil’s Dice.

I mention Roz and her book here because she is my niece.  Another sign of getting old, to add to the collection: instead of boasting about elderly relatives who did great things in the past, e.g. WW2, you instead find yourself boasting about younger relatives who are doing great things now and who will probably do more great things in the future.

Roz sent me an advance copy of The Devil’s Dice and I am happy to report that I agree with all those effusively admiring Amazon reviewers.  Very absorbing, very well written.  I am now working on a longer piece about this book for Samizdata, which I hope will go up there tomorrow.  If not then, then soon.