Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
neaceavorrund on The Poppies (3): People taking selfies
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Darren on How the internet is cheering up Art
Michael Jennings on Marginal Eurostar economics
Michael Jennings on Marginal Eurostar economics
Natalie Solent on Union Jacks with colours played around with
Natalie Solent on Union Jacks with colours played around with
Brian Micklethwait on Union Jacks with colours played around with
Most recent entries
- Erith to London: On the recognisability of London’s Big Things
- Russia unleashes tiger on China
- Tower Bridge glass shattered by beer bottle
- Database blues
- Dominic Frisby on the Hype Cycle
- Non-faceless architecture in Rome
- Scary bunny
- Phone (and cash) box
- The Magic Flute at the RCM
- The Poppies (4): Bald Blokes photoing them
- On the rights and wrongs of me posting bits from books (plus a bit about Rule Utilarianism)
- Quota photo from Paris (also a selfie)
- How the internet is cheering up Art
- Marginal Eurostar economics
- Looking down through the see-through Tower Bridge walkway – but what about looking up through it?
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6000 Miles from Civilisation
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we make money not art
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This and that
Last June I did a rather excellent walk from Erith back towards the middle of London, along the south bank of the Thames, at the part where it is working up its determination to change from a river into an estuary, but still can’t quite be bothered.
I was taking pictures like this one:
A long path, which I had either walked along already or was about to walk along. Sunlight on the river. Mysterious, crumbling industrial infrastructure sticking out into the river, mostly to do with the processing of sewage if the smell was anything to go by.
I pick the picture above to show you because, moments after taking it, I though I saw – way, way in the far distance - something straight ahead of me, underneath that distant bridgelike structure on its way out into the river.
I cranked up the zoom, and took this shot:
If you are on a long, long walk, from Erith to … London, then your first sight of London really raises your spirits.
But how can you tell that those vague shapes on the distant horizon really are London, rather than just some slightly smaller lumps, slightly nearer. Answer, the vague shapes have to be distinctive shapes, shapes unlike any other shapes in the vicinity.
This is one of the many reasons why I have become so very fond of London’s Big Things, especially the new ones, because they are both very big and very recognisable. In this case, of course, what we see is the Gherkin. Had the Gherkin instead been just another rectanguloid lump, I could not have been sure. As it is, after I had scrutinised my picture on my little camera screen, I was sure. That was London calling.
Yesterday, I cranked up Google Maps and worked out exactly where I had been when I took that shot and all the other shots I took at around the same time. I also worked out that I was about ten miles away from the Gherkin.
I only saw the Gherkin by chance, because at that particular spot, I just happened to have a clear view of it. Soon, I lost sight of it, and did not encounter it again until well over an hour later, when other distinctive Big Thing shapes also elbowed their way into the view.
I deliberately chose a shot with the foliage in the foreground in focus and the Big Things far away behind them blurry. Once again, the Big Things, despite being so blurry, are still instantly recognisable, this time the Walkie-Talkie and the Cheesegrater having joined in the fun. People moan about how ugly they reckon the Walkie-Talkie is, and maybe it is rather ugly. I certainly thought so when I saw the early computer graphics of it. But now I like it. It too is very distinctive, and big enough to see from a great distance.
Soon after taking that shot, I emerged from foliage, to be greeted by views like this one, which shows how far I still had to go before I was back in more familiar places:
This is now one of the best ways of looking at London from a distance. It reminds me of some pictures that I have seen of Miami. This next one, I think, is especially Miamic:
The big H-like thing on the right is the point where a huge gob of London’s processed sewage emerges into the river.
Click on that picture to get the same thing twice the size.
But perhaps more amusingly, click on this slightly closer-up and horizontalised version of the above scene …:
… to get a three times bigger version, and do some sideways scrolling. For me, the particularly fun thing there is that you can see the Spraycan, way out towards Battersea, on the left, next to a pylon. You can also see the Boris SkiLift thingy, the Dome, the Docklands Towers, the Shard, ...
Finally, more zoom:
That looks very like the earlier zoom snaps. But the difference is that if you are the sort that prefers older and somewhat smaller London Things, you can now see St Paul’s in among those bigger Things, in the exact middle there.
Because my camera has better eyesight than I do, a lot of the fun I get from these expeditions comes when I scrutinise the photos afterwards, in the comfort of my kitchen. When I took the last photo, for instance, I probably had no thought of St Paul’s. I was merely seeing that crane.
The biggest cat news right now is that a tiger is causing an international incident, between Russia and China:
Chinese media claims the feline in question is Ustin, one of five electronically-tagged Siberian tigers released by Russian authorities in May and June 2014.
The big cat has since wandered into northeastern China where, national news agency Xinhua reports, he entered a farm, killing fifteen goats over two nights and leaving another three missing.
Xinhua claims Ustin was among the first group of tigers released in May by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russia denies this claim, suggesting that he was released in June, by Russian conservationists.
Apart from that, the only decent cat story is about a place in America that smells of cat piss. They don’t yet know why. They may never know.
Do you remember The Navy Lark? Used to be on the radio. In it, I seem to recall Leslie Phillips, playing a young (that already dates it) sub-lieutenant, who used, from time to time, following a marine mishap, to say:
But, I can find no mention of this particular catchphrase in all the various Navy Lark sites, so maybe I invented it, and am remembering only how Leslie Phillips would have said this, had he ever done so.
Anway: Oh clang. Someone just dropped a bear bottle on that glass floor they installed only a fortnight ago at the top of Tower Bridge, and shattered the glass.
I did not see that coming. I thought glass for that type of thing was now strong enough to resist a falling small car totally unscathed, let alone a mere beer bottle. I thought that expensive glass like this only now shatters in movies. In real life, I reckoned until I read this, you now bounce off it, unless it is extremely ancient, as does a beer bottle. Apparently not. (Did the bottle break, I wonder?)
It appears that this breakage was, as it were, deliberate, in the sense that the beer bottle broke only the top ("sacrificial") layer of five different layers of glass:
The stunning attraction, which offers visitors a unique, if slightly terrifying view of the road-bridge and River Thames, 138 feet below, was shattered when a member of the catering staff working at the venue dropped an empty bottle while carrying a tray.
The glass floor, which was only unveiled on Nov 10, cracked and then shattered, leaving Tower Bridge bosses with no choice but to cover and close the section of the walkway affected.
Fortunately the design of the walkway, which is made up of five layers of glass in each pane, meant engineers could repair the glass by simply replacing the top layer, rather than the entire thing.
This news first broke, ho ho, on Twitter.
Reminder to self: Must visit this visitor attraction, just to find out what my very zoomy camera makes of it, from below.
For a few hours, from some time last night until around midday today, instead of getting BrianMicklethwaitDotCom, all you got, if your experience was the same as mine, was this:
Database Error: Unable to connect to your database. Your database appears to be turned off or the database connection settings in your config file are not correct. Please contact your hosting provider if the problem persists.
I couldn’t be telling you this if the above melancholy circumstance had not been corrected. Deepest thanks to The Guru, for his prompt attention to the matter.
Since I was attempting to post something last night, that means you got nothing yesterday. Trust me, your suffered far less than I did. I hope to be making it up today.
("Making it up”. What a strange expression. It means: doing a corrective favour. And it means: inventing it, even perhaps lying about it. And then there is also what women (and now some men) do to their faces, minus the “it”. Odd. Although I do see a connection between meaning two and meaning three, rude though it might be to point such a thing out. (And why make “up”? (See also “screw up” and “clean up”. (So this digressionary paragraph turned out relevant after all. (This is my record for the most consecutive close-bracket signs.)))))
As discussed in this earlier posting, here is a chunk of Frisby, from his book Bitcoin: The Future of Money? (pp. 197-201 – the chunk entitled “Beware the hype cycle"). And for the reasons stated in that earlier posting, this posting might rather suddenly disappear, so if you feel inclined to read it, do so now. And then when you have, buy the book and tell me that you have done this in the comments, because this might cheer up any passing authors or publishers:
There is a cycle that a new technology passes through as it goes from conception to widespread adoption. The research company Gartner has dubbed it the ‘hype cycle’. It has five phases: the technology trigger, the peak of inflated expectations, the trough of disappointment, the slope of enlightenment and the plateau of productivity.
In the first phase the new technology is invented. There is research and development and some early investment is found. The first products are brought to market. They are expensive and will need a lot of improvement, but they find some early users. The technology clearly has something special about it and people start getting excited. This is the ‘technology trigger’. The internet in the early 1990s is a good example.
As this excitement grows, we move into the second phase. The media start talking about this amazing new technology. Speculative money piles in. All sorts of new companies spring up to operate in this new sector. Many of them are just chasing hot money and have no real product to offer. They are sometimes fraudulent. This new technology is going to change the world. The possibilities are endless. We’re going to cure diseases. We’re going to solve energy problems. We’re going to build houses on the moon. This is the ‘peak of inflated expectations’. This was the internet in 2000.
But at some point, the needle of reality punctures the bubble of expectation, and we move into the third phase. Actually, this technology might not be quite as good as we thought it was; it’s going to take a lot of work to get it right and to make it succeed on a commercial scale. A great deal of not particularly rewarding hard work, time and investment lies ahead. Forget the ideas men – now we need the water-carriers. Suddenly, the excitement has gone.
Negative press starts to creep in. Now there are more sellers than buyers. Investment is harder to come by. Many companies start going bust. People are losing money. The hype cycle has reversed and we have descended into the ‘trough of disappointment.’ This was the internet between 2000 and 2003.
But now that the hot money has left, we can move into phase four. The incompetent or fraudulent companies have died. The sector has been purged. Most of those that remain are serious players. Investors now demand better practice and the survivors deliver it. They release the second and third generation products, and they work quite well. More and more people start to use the technology and it is finally finding mainstream adoption. This was the internet in 2004. It climbed the ‘Slope of Enlightenment’, the fourth phase of the hype cycle, and entered the ‘Plateau of Productivity’ - phase five - which is where the likes of Google, Amazon and eBay are today.
Of course, cycles like this are arbitrary. Reality is never quite so simple. But it’s easy to make the case that crypto-currencies in late 2013 reached a ‘peak of inflated expectations’.
Perhaps it was not the. It wasn’t Bitcoin’s dotcom 2000 moment – just a peak on a larger journey up. Many Bitcoin companies, for example, are not even listed on the stock market. Greater manias could lie ahead.
But it’s also easy to make the case that it ws the peak of inflated expectations. In the space of three or four years, Bitcoin went from an understated mention on an obscure mailing list to declarations that it was not only going to become the preferred money system of the world, but also the usurper of the existing world order. At $1,000 a coin, some early adopters had made a million times their original investment. Speculators marvelled at the colossal amount of money they were making. The media were crazy for it. Bitcoin was discussed all over television.
It caught the imagination of the left, the right and the in-between. Computer boffins marvelled at the impossibly resilient code. Economists and libertarians marvelled at the politics of a money without government or border. There were early adopters, from the tech savvy to the black markets (black markets are usually quick to embrace new technology - pornography was the first business sector to actually make money on the internet, for example).
Every Tom, Dick and Harry you met under the age of 30 with an interest in IT was involved in some Bircoin start-up or other. Either that or he was designing some new alt currency - some altcoins were rising at over a thousand per cent per day. ‘Banks, governments, they’re irrelevant now,’ these upstarts declared.
I suggest that in late 2013 we hit the peak of the hype cycle - the peak of inflated expectations. Now Bitcoin is somewhere in the ‘trough of disillusionment,’ just like the internet in 2001. The price has fallen. There have been thefts. Some of the companies involved have gone bankrupt.
The challenge now is for all those start-ups to make their product or service work. They have to take Bitcoin from a great idea and a technology that works to something with much wider ‘real world’ use. They have to find investment and get more and more people to start using the coins. This is a long process.
There are many who will disagree with this interpretation. And, with investment, it is dangerous to have rigid opinions – I reserve the right to change my mind as events unfold.
A common complaint about modern architecture is that it is “faceless”. Tending not to feature single separate windows, but rather showing a bland expanse of featureless outsideness to the world, modernistical buildings do not allow the viewing human to see what the viewing human always wants to see, faces, turning the windows into eyes, doors into mouths, and so forth.
But there is no problem with seeing faces in this building, in Rome, because someone has painted twenty seven faces on it, with the windows being – what else? - eyes:
The pieces utilizes nearly 50 windows to create the mouths and eyes of some 27 bizarre faces all vying for attention.
Although, I see that two of the windows there are mouths.
It all looks a bit graffitiish to me, although as this lady says, this is “artful, thoughtful graffiti”. (In other words the kind of thing that favourite-blogger-of-mine Mick Hartley likes to photo.) And I think it’s a bit of a shame to do this to an old building, rather than to a new one. But if the alternative is for this old building to just continue crumbling, then this is surely better. I’m sure it is already a tourist attraction. It would definitely attract me.
But, I look forward to the day when buildings like this one get decked out with lots of different colours (that being another Mick Hartley photo).
Yes, I think so. Shot by me last Easter time:
If Hitchcock had ever made a movie called “The Rabbits”, this is the kind of shot that would have been in it.
So, a while back, I copied that shot over into the I Just Like It directory, all the time lamenting that I had no idea what the rabbit was doing in that particular part of London. I still don’t really know, but today I found a picture that I had taken one minute earlier, from which the rectangle below was cropped, in a way that removed people, kept the rabbit, and also kept the writting underneath the rabbit:
“London Eye presents Bunnies on the Run” proved more than enough to get an answer from Google, but really, I am none the wiser. Were there other bunnies dotted around London that I could have photoed? Who knows?
But, I do like my bunny photo.
On the way back from the Royal College of Music to South Kensington tube after that magic Magic Flute, I encountered, for the first time, in Exhibition Road, the phone box that you see to the right.
It is a telephone box, but a telephone box with a difference. The windows have been replaced by sheets of reflective metal, and the telephone is now outside. Inside is whatever gubbins is needed to support a cash machine, which is also to be seen on the outside.
The reason I was only seeing this item for the first time is that I usually use the tunnel, but GD2 and her mum, with whom I was walking, prefer to stay above ground.
The classic London phone box, like the double decker bus, refuses to die. It helps that it can survive, in all its essentials, a sustained period of neglect and it is hard work actually to destroy. So, the period between the relevant bureaucrats deciding, for their own bureaucrat type reasons, to scrub these phone boxes from the face of the earth and the mere people deciding to revive them was a period that the phone box was able to survive, in numbers.
Next step, make replica phone boxes out of newer materials. Has that happened already, I wonder? Yes it has.
I further wonder: Is the the phone box in my photo one of these phoneys?
Being the Godfather of Goddaughter 2, who has just started out as a student at the Royal College of Music, is a bit costly, but it most definitely also has its privileges. Yesterday I was kindly allowed to sit in on one of GD2’s one-on-one lessons, and today I got to see (at no further cost) the first dress rehearsal for the College’s production of The Magic Flute. GD2 was not performing in The Magic Flute. She merely arranged for me and various others of her acquaintance to be there, and she watched it along with us. As did many other RCM students by the look and sound of things. GD2’s singing lesson was most encouraging, and the Magic Flute was terrific, truly terrific, reflecting huge credit on all the professionals named at the other end of the above link, who between them set the tone of it.
Michael Rosewell conducted stirringly, emphasising the menace as well as the grandeur and beauty of the music. Jean-Claude Auvray directed wonderfully, with lots of pertinent comic business. Ruari Murchison’s set was dominated by a big, black, modernistic wooden box, with big sliding hinged doors at the front, with little doors in them, and with more doors at the sides and the back. This moved the action along with minimal fuss. They could shut the big doors at the front and do a scene in front of them, while inside the closed box other cast members could then set up the next scene. Since so many of the scenes in this opera are contrivances by some of the characters within the drama, them opening the doors to reveal the next scene made perfect sense. The production reminded me, in its clarity and austerity, of the best sort of Shakespeare productions that I have seen.
The costumes were modern, in a way that illuminated the characters and the various stages their lives were going through, rather than in a way that stuffed Mozart’s story into a specifically different era and made an anachronistic nonsense of it. Mark Doubleday’s lighting emphasised the brightness and lightness of the final scenes, but in the meantime it emphasised what a dark and morally ambiguous story this is, ending up as it does with the hero and heroine joining a religious cult. Tamino and Pamina started out in jeans, then found themselves clad in pantomime hero and heroine costumes, and they ended up power-dressed, City-of-London Moonie/Mormon style, in matching grey suits with, in Pamina’s case, shoulder pads.
Mozart loved being a Freemason, but a modern audience can’t be so unreservedly happy about this particular happy ending. In many ways, this is a story about the triumph of religious fundamentalism over the forces of modernity and of female emancipation. There are numerous references to how women must subordinate themselves to men, with the only Queen involved being the Queen of the Night, the leader of the eventually defeated forces of modernity, individuality, and darkness. These anti-modern references became particularly chilling when spelt out in plain English, in the illuminated surtitles at the top of the stage.
The Three Ladies were dressed to kill at a Premier or a Charity Fundraiser, but not in uniforms, rather as three individuals. The Three Boys, on the opposite side of the conflict from the Three Ladies, were all dressed identically, like Mrs Krankie, being also ladies underneath their boy costumes. All six acted and sang splendidly, individually and as teams.
As for the singing generally, only Sarastro, the leader of the ultimately triumphant cult, needed to be granted a little slack. It was absolutely not his fault that although most of his singing was fine, his voice lacked that final ounce of basso profundity required for those fearsome low notes. This was the one time when you wanted to be hearing one of the half dozen, or however many it is, aging-giant Sarastro super-specialists who roam the earth, bestowing their show-stealing low notes upon rich opera audiences everywhere. But this Sarastro acted very convincingly, especially given that he had less help from his grey suit of a costume than I presume most other Sarastros tend to get, and not much help either from his relatively short stature. Being the one black man on view, on the other hand, meant that he was instantly recognisable. (I want to hear this guy singing other things.) As for everyone else, terrific. This was the first time I have actually seen The Magic Flute on a stage, and I can’t imagine a better introduction. GD2’s mother, who has seen other non-student productions, reckoned this one to be the best. Yes, really.
The biggest round of applause came at the end for the entire cast, and quite right too. But the Queen of the Night got the second biggest ovation for her famously spectacular and difficult aria, and thoroughly earned it. Sensational. Watch out for her. Papagena also stole every scene she was in, although I didn’t get her name. (Maybe I can later add a link for her too.) Papageno handled his various musical instruments with particular aplomb.
But better than any individual excellence on show was the general air of sincerity, enthusiasm and esprit de corps. As the lady teacher said at the end of GD2’s lesson yesterday, opera has changed from the days when all you had to do was stand there and sing. You have to be able to sing and act, and often to sing in very demanding circumstances. You may have to “sing with your legs in the air” was how GD2’s teacher put it yesterday. There was nothing like that on the stage today, but the director did demand lots of acting of a less undignified sort, and got it in abundance. The show came alive from the first minute, and stayed alive throughout. These young singers are being very well prepared for the sort of careers that most of them will surely have.
I’m looking forward to more RCM dress rehearsals, and hope one day soon to be seeing GD2 in one of them. I am reluctant to enthuse too much about her prospects. Just to say that her voice sounds like a pretty fine one to me, that her teachers and fellow students seem to agree about that, and that she seems to be working hard at learning how to make the best use of it. But, as yesterday’s teacher said, there are a lot of circumstances - some of which you can surely imagine and many of which you can hardly begin to imagine unless you also know one of these singers yourself - that can derail a classical singing career. So, fingers crossed.
By way of proof that these people were not the only ones perhaps failing to behave in a way that would be considered by some to be entirely appropriate for the solemnity of the place, here are some photos that I took of Bald Blokes Photoing The Poppies:
I too was being inappropriately frivolous.
Click to get the bigger pictures.
Those snaps are picked because the focus, such as it is, is on the bald heads, rather than on the cameras or what the cameras are pointed at. Bald heads are, I am learning (more than I ever did before), infinitely bizarre sites, like maps of strange deserts from the air, full of mysterious marks and indentations, with subtle changes in the vegetation.
But, inevitably, after picking out those snaps, I came upon other pictures of Bald Blokes Photoing The Poppies that I considered also to be deserving of notice.
This one, for instance, is one of the burst of about half a dozen that I took of Bald Bloke Number 3 above. This one focuses on the picture he is taking rather than on his baldness, and I particularly like how it came out:
Or how about this one, which is a first, in my quest for Bald Blokes Taking Photos. Two Bald Blokes taking photos!:
Does the Bald Bloke nearest to me also like to take photos of Bald Blokes Taking Photos?
Finally, a bloke photoing The Poppies who is only pretending to be bald:
Note that he hasn’t shaved his head for a few days, but a few days ago, he did, entirely.
This is the snap that proves, as all who care already know well, that this totally bald look is a fashion statement, rather than just bald blokes pretending to make a fashion statement, to disguise their partial baldness. Because here is a guy who is not bald at all doing it. He has nothing ignoble to disguise, yet he adopts this look anyway.
From time to time I like to stick bits from books up here, usually quite short, but sometimes quite long.
With the short bits, there is no legal or moral problem. Fair use, etc. But with the longer bits, there might be a problem. Here’s how I operate. I put up whatever bit it is that I think deserves to be made much of, on the clear understanding that it might disappear at any moment. Because, if anyone associated with the book I have got my chosen bit from complains and says please remove it, I will do so, immediately.
Many might think that such persons would be being rather silly. I mean, what better way could there be to reach potential readers of the entire book in question than for readers of a blog, and a blog written by someone who already likes the book, to get to read a relatively small chunk of it? Win-win, surely. Because of course, I only put up big chunks of writing if I approve of what the chunks say.
But what if a publisher is trying to insist on the principle, that copyright damn well means what it says? Such a publisher might want to proclaim, and to be seen to proclaim, a no-tolerance attitude to the copying of bigger than small bits of any its books. Even if that particular book might be assisted by this particular recycled chunk being here, the larger principle might feel far more significant to the publisher. That principle being: If we allow this, where will it then stop?
And I get that. As I say, if any publisher or author did complain, for these kinds of reasons or for any other, then I would get it, and the bit from the book in question would at once vanish from this blog. So far, I’ve had no such complaints. Which could just be because they reckon this blog to be too insignificant to be worth risking a fight with. They wouldn’t have a fight, but they might have a rule about letting sleeping puppies, like this one, lie.
Whatever. All I am saying here is that if I put up a big bit of a book, and anyone connected to that big bit cries foul, then the big bit will immediately vanish from here, with no grumbling, or worse, self-righteous campaigning, attempts to mobilise other bloggers, etc. etc.
Think of all this as an example of Rule Utilitarianism. And I am myself a Rule Utilitarian. My libertarian beliefs are not the absurd claim that libertarianism is inscribed into the very physical fabric of the universe, an inherent fact of life itself, which we humans either recognise or fail to recognise, but which are there anyway. Tell that to the spider I just squashed into the pavement on my way home to write this. No, I like libertarianism because it works. Libertarianism is a set of basically fairly simply rules which all we humans either choose to live by or choose not to live by. If we choose to live by these rules, life is good, happy, comfortable and it gets better and better. If we don’t live by such rules, life goes to shit and stays there.
And here comes the Rule Utilitarian bit. Even if this particular bit of thieving, by the government or just by some bod like you or me, is very insignificant, and even if what the government or the bod like you or me wants to spend its or his or her ill-gotten gains on is wonderful, absolutely wonderful, my rule says: No. Not allowed. Don’t get into complicated discussions about just how little thieving is too little to be bothering about, or just how noble a noble project has to be for it to be noble enough to be financed by a spot of thieving, because that way lies the slippery slope we are now on, where the government gobbles up at least half of everything, to very little benefit for anyone other than itself. Stick to the rule. No thieving, no matter how petty its scale or how noble its supposed object.
So, I get Rule Utilitarianism. And if any publisher decides to inflict his Rule Utilitarianism, in the manner described above, upon me, I would get that, and act accordingly.
What got me wanting to spell all this out is that I have recently been reading Dominic Frisby’s excellent Bitcoin book, and I find myself wanting to put bits of it up here, quite longish bits. And in general, having just followed the link at the top of this and read some of them, I feel that postings of this sort are among the better things that I do here, and I want to do more of them. But, to all of the bits from books that will follow, I want to attach the above mentioned caveat about how the verbiage that follows may vanish without warning, and a link to this posting is the way to summarise what is going on in my head without me banging on for however many paragraphs there are here.
I was in Paris in the freezing February of 2012, and while there, on the coldest day of the lot, I visited an amazing exhibition of Relief Maps. Thank googleness for the internet, because instead of having to explain this, I can just give you the link, and let you learn as much or as little about this event as you want to.
Here is the photo:
I can’t remember how exactly all the things that you see there came to look the way they do in that photo, but I’m pretty sure that a big mirror was involved, and also the glass of the big case that this map was in. I can say with absolute certainty that no Photoshop(clone)ing is involved.
The big near-white thing in the middle is a map, on the floor, of France.
Go to the very middle of the picture, and then across a bit to the left and then down a bit, and you will see: me. Wearing a scarf indoors, as was everyone else.
This morning I did a rather negative would-be posting about some Art, Art which had at first rather appealed to me but which, upon further consideration, I decided I did not much like or admire.
But then I realised that my rule for stuff that other people are doing with their own time and money and others are buying and enjoying with their own money and time is for me just to walk away. Why moan? The world is full of stuff I don’t much care for. So long as I don’t get taxed to pay for it, or made to pay attention to it against my will, what on earth is the point of me seeking it out and bitching about it?
For me, this is one of the great benefits that has been brought about by the internet. In the age of the mass media, you had this whole tribe of professional hacks who, day after day, week after week, were made to pay attention to things which quite often they would rather not have been paying attention to. Inevitably, an air of irritation, even hatred, entered the souls and writings of these people. The subtext, and often the text, was: I wouldn’t have picked this in the first place. Only the Culture vultures who really were allowed to pick whatever cultural prey they were inclined to descend upon were able to communicate genuine pleasure, because they were the only Culture vultures who truly felt pleasure. The rest of Culture writing was a mixture of grudging reportage and grumbling, with the occasional cheer when some hack found himself not clock watching, not trying to think of what the hell nice things he could say about something he considered nasty, or worse, just … shrug.
But now a tidal wave of amateurs has crashed into the culture-writing game and it has become, well, a game. It has become fun. We bloggers and twitterers pick on stuff we like, and say: hey, this is cool, this is fun, this is good, this is something I really enjoyed immersing myself in. Maybe you’ll like it too. Commenters and other twitterers then say things like: well, I prefer this, or this, or that or that. If, on the other hand, you said you didn’t like something or other, the response from other www-chatterers is, not unnaturally, just to say: well then why the rude word do you waste your time moaning about it? Walk away. If what you are moaning about is some Big Thing, heavily promoted, made much of, that everyone else seems to be paying attention to, fair enough, you are warning the rest of us off it. But if it is just some little thing you found on the internet and you don’t like it, so rude-word-ing what?
For as long as there was just the one big Culture, that the media people agreed or had to agree was It, then all who wanted to be Cultural had to pay attention to that Culture, whether they liked It or not. It was their duty, just as it was the duty of professional Culture-writers to write about It, to pay attention to It. There was an air of joylessness and obligation about It all, like a queue in a passport office.
Favourite-blogger-of-mine Mick Hartley has written from time to time about the way that Art is now turning into fairground entertainment, often implying that this is a bad thing. I also notice this when I visit London’s South Bank Arts enclave, which now has a much more “visitor attraction” feel to it than it used to have. Hartley does do quite a lot of moaning, but mostly the Cultural stuff he does now is drawing attention to something he likes, thinks deserves to be more noticed, more enjoyed, more celebrated. His posting today is a perfect example of this. It’s not Art, it’s street art. Street art is fun, it appeals to people, and it is also where a lot of the official Art action is now, because the Artists know that these street people are upstaging them.
Political money is now tighter than it was a decade and more ago, and if the Arts fraternity want yet more money, they must try appealing to their audiences rather than baffling them or insulting them. They must now try to give pleasure, the way they tended not to in the twentieth century.
But there is more than economics going on here. After all, there is still a hell of a lot of Official Money being competed for. There is still a great big Culture out there, still being paid for, if not enjoyed. No, the other difference is that there is also that damned internet out there, where regular punters get to say what they really think about it all. If they are being got at by Culture, they can now get back at it, by saying: bollocks, and: I prefer this, or this, or that or that. It’s a different world.
And you’ll never know what it was I just moaning about. I will instead look for other things, that I actually like.
The sort of place I will be looking will be at places like Colossal, which, by the way, is where I found the thing that I liked at first but then didn’t like, that got me started on all this. I don’t like everything at Colossal by any means. But I like a lot of it.
Or, maybe this is really a posting that is not really about Art as such, more about getting old, as so many postings here are. As you get old, you stop worrying about what Art is, if you are one of those people who ever did worry. You just stop paying attention to Art, as in: Where Art Is Going. It will go where it goes, and you go where you want to go. It’s not the world getting happier. It’s not Art getting more fun. It’s just you. It’s just me.
Ah blogging. You can change your mind in mid posting, or even right at the end if you feel inclined. What’s that you say? You disapprove. I must make up my mind. Must I? I tell you what, you go away and read something else, something you’d prefer. This was just a bit of fun, and for you it wasn’t. Forget about it.
Something a lot of people don’t get about rather small and incremental improvements is that even if they don’t mean anything to you (by which I mean to them) they can definitely mean something to someone, and potentially a great deal, and to quite a lot of someones. My understanding of economics is that this is one of the most basic ideas embodied in it. (The notion even has its own intellectual revolution: the Marginal Revolution.)
A price increase of around fifty pence for something costing, say, thirty quid may not seem much, and it may not change your behaviour. But for some people this will be the proverbial straw that changes a light bulb to parsnips, the difference that makes all the difference.
Consider these slightly new, slightly snazzier trains, that have been announced by Eurostar, to replace their existing trains, next year. Their front ends, so we are now being told, will look like this:
The Evening Standard (where I found all these pictures) tells us that these new trains will slash the journey time from London to Paris, but it neglects to reveal by how much. Google google. Here we go. The Daily Mail supplies the answer to this obvious question. It turns out that the journey time from London to Paris will be “slashed” (their word too) by … fifteen minutes.
But this posting is not (see above) a rant about how little difference this will make to most people. It is a rant about how much difference it will make to some people. For some people this fifteen minute reduction will make the difference between being able to go to Paris in the morning, get the job done, and then return to London that same day in time to read a story to a daughter. Or … not. Connections just missed will turn into connections just made, and fifteen minutes (doubled for the two journeys) will stretch out into something more like two hours.
Not for most people. Just for some people. And when you consider how many people might or might not choose to use Eurostar, depending on considerations like the above, that “some” people turns out to be really quite a lot of people.
In short, fifteen minutes does make a difference.
Or consider another small improvement that these new trains will involve, this time an improvement measured not in minutes but in inches.
Here is how the new trains will look on the inside:
Now that may not seem very interesting. But it interests me greatly. It’s been a while since I travelled on Eurostar, but my abiding memory is of how small and cramped and dreary the interior of the carriage was. For such a supposedly twenty first century experience, the whole thing had a very twentieth century feel to it, in a bad way. The above picture immediately makes me think that these new trains will be a significantly more spacious and less soul-destroying experience than the old ones, the old ones that I will still be partaking of when I journey to France and back, just after Christmas.
Judging by this photo ...:
… it would appear that they have done to the design of the Eurostar what they have also been doing to some of the trains in the London Underground. These new London tube trains now bulge outwards, over the platforms. Not by much, but by just a bit, just enough to make a real difference to the inside.
A few days ago, I overheard a conversation between some out-of-towners who were enthusing about the new and wider tube trains that were recently introduced on London’s Circle Line. They were rhapsodising. It was like listening to the scripted pseudo-public babbling away on a TV advert, so delighted were these truly regular members of the public about the new train that they and I were travelling on. And I agree with them. Whenever a train that I am awaiting emerges from its tunnel and reveals itself to be one of these new and slightly wider trains, my spirits are lifted.
And that was just inside a tube train. When it comes to Eurostar, we are talking about two hours. Two hours stuck in a dreary little tube, or in a rather less dreary, rather less constricted sort of tube. That is quite a difference. I can easily imagine, when some future decision about a cross-Channel journey presents itself to me, that these extra few inches ("cramped" is all about inches) could be the difference that will be all the difference, to me. At the very least, I will try to give the new carriages at least one try, when they do finally appear.
Classic photo of photoers (which I found here):
It’s the new see through walkway at the top of Tower Bridge. All the reportage concentrates on what you can see looking down through it. But when I visit, I am going to check out what you can see photoing through it from below. Which will have the added benefit of being far cheaper.
Zoom lenses are rather good these days.
And guess what, I actually want other people to have the same idea, so I can photo them photoing upwards also.