Immobile but mobile – straight but crooked

BMdotcom doesn’t do video very often, but this actually immobile piece of graphics does a fair amount of apparent moving around, especially if you do any scrolling up and down:

Says Akiyoshi Kitaoki:

Each row appears to move. Each row is horizontally aligned but appears to tilt.

I made it slightly smaller than it was, but that hasn’t changed anything.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

No daisy eating

The other day, I photoed the Battle of Britain Monument. This is across the road from the Victoria Embankment Gardens, which I also explored, to begin with just to find out if I could. I could. This contains various war memorials and statues, but also many things that you are either urged to do or urged not do:

That is a horizontal slice of a sign next to one of the entrances. Click to get the whole thing.

It reminds me of an American book I read long ago entitled Please Don’t Eat The Daisies. The point of that title being that every time the American parents described in the book left their American children to their own devices, they had to ask them to please refrain from an ever longer list of things that they had previously done which were bad. One time, they ate the daisies. So, that had to be added to the list of things they were begged not to do.

Each of the do-this don’t-do-this red circles above feels to me like a moment in the past when people started doing or to fail to do whatever it was in noticeable numbers, having previously not thus misbehaved.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

The perfect time to enjoy a bit of pollarding

Pollarding is what you do to trees, if you want to make them look like this, as lots of people seem to:

It’s not that warm now. But nor is it that cold now. It now feels warm because of it being less cold than it recently was. Simply weather-wise, I probably prefer June. But in June, the trees are all smothered in leaves. Pollarding effects would be hidden.

I like the bobble on top of the building, far right. Fits in well, I think.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Weird Queen Elizabeth IIs and weird Sherlock Holmeses

I don’t quite know why I am so very fond of tourist crap shops. I think it’s basically because of how very weird they are. Also, perhaps, the notion that no-one else in my circle of friends and acquaintances gives them a second look, so I do, just to be different. My friends and acquaintances certainly certainly wouldn’t consider the crap in tourist shops to be worthy of photo-immortality, and those are just the things that I think often make the best photos.

Consider this photo, taken recently in Piccadilly:

What is particularly weird about that is how very unlike the actual Queen Elizabeth II those Queen Elizabeth IIs contrive to look.

And those Sherlock Holmeses are hardly any better. In fact, they are probably worse. Sherlock Holmes didn’t look like anything at all, because he was made up, by a writer of fiction. But he surely doesn’t, in anyone’s mind, look like those Sherlock Holmeses. They look like Sherlock Holmes as re-enacted in a school play, by a rather bad boy actor who couldn’t do make-up properly, and who therefore sought assistance from someone else who couldn’t do make-up properly.

It’s as if the people selling these things, and the people buying them, are all people to whom us white people all look alike.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Faces on a Monument

Today I was out and about, enjoying one of those First Day of Spring days, of which we get quite a few, and I always try to get out and photo-celebrate them.

This time I walked along the river on the north side, from Westminster to the Embankment. Which took me past the Battle of Britain Monument, of which this is a detail:

That was the only photo I took of this Monument. Such is my eyesight that I had no idea how intense those faces were and are, until I saw them on my screen. It’s their eyes.

If your eyes don’t work properly and you go on a sightseeing walk, the only way you will actually get to see what you saw properly is to photo it.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Weird Piccadilly photos today

Fortnum & Mason are promoting their tea with their window displays just now, with giant teapots.

Here is a giant teapot made of bits of broken mirror, promoting Royal Blend:

And behind the teapot is me, and Piccadilly, and a woman walking along Piccadilly, into a giant pile of liquid-but-solid tea. Reflections can be very strange.

And then, when I reached Green Park tube, I saw this, in the distance, maximum zoom:

It’s Nova, complete with its crane for cleaning its windows. Weird because the light is so weird. Cloudy, just getting dark, but not dark yet.

I love these window cleaner cranes. Roof clutter above and beyond the call of duty. Best of all are ones like these, which sometimes you see and sometimes not.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

The biggest exercise in keeping up appearances that I have so far heard about

I have something I need to stick up here and then forget about. There’s an architectural thing that I write about here, which I refer to as “keeping up appearances”. The best photo I have ever taken of this kind of thing is this one, which is of a quite tall but not at all wide sliver of facade, that presumably still stands in Oxford Street, but now with an entirely new building erected behind that facade.

But that wasn’t keeping up appearances. this is keeping up appearances:

It used to be a psychiatric hospital, and what it will be is the new headquarters of the USA’s Department of Homeland Security.

This newly designed building will preserve the appearance of the old, but hollow it out completely. Behind its old facade, it will be something new. Something else entirely. Which is very appropriate, I think you will agree.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Leo McKinstry on British resistance to the German Sealion

Yes, today’s “other creature” is a sealion, Operation Sealion, Hitler’s plan to invade Britain in 1940. And this posting is another bit from a book. Which book? Well, I greatly admire the books of Leo McKinstry, and have done ever since I read his wonderful biography of Geoffrey Boycott. So, as soon as I discovered that McKinstry had written a book about Operation Sealion, I bought it. I now possess it, and as soon as I have read the other seven or eight books above it in my TO READ list, I will start reading it. I may even start reading it sooner than that.

This early bit (pp. 4-6), from the Introduction, has already confirmed the wisom of the purchase:

Wartime legend has presented the heroics of the RAF as an exception to an otherwise desperate military performance by Britain in I940. In this narrative, there is a chasm between the daring and efficiency of Fighter Command and the woeful inadequacy of most other parts of the British war effort. Defeat was inevitable if the RAF was overwhelmed, according to the traditional account, which portrays Britain as hopelessly ill equipped in the face of the Nazi war machine. It was a supposed weakness highlighted by the paralysis in the civil service, the chronic shortages of men and weaponry in the regular army, the lack of modern vessels in the navy and the country’s feeble home defences. The might of Hitler’s Reich, which had blitzed its way through Poland, Scandinavia and Western Europe, would hardly have been deterred by some hastily erected pillboxes, rolls of barbed wire and lightweight guns. The ultimate symbol of Britain’s alleged vulnerability in I940 was the Home Guard, that makeshift force of volunteers whose very nickname, ‘Dad’s Army’, was so redolent of its antiquated nature in the savage new age of total war. Made famous for future generations by the television comedy series of the I970s, the Home Guard appeared more likely to provoke laughter than fear in the invader. The image of Home Guardsmen, devoid of rifles or uniforms, performing their pointless drill routines with broomsticks and pitchforks, has long been held to characterise how badly prepared Britain was. This outlook is encapsulated in a remark made by a volunteer from Great Yarmouth when his unit was inspected in the summer of 1940 by a senior army officer, who asked: ‘What steps would you take if you saw the Hun come down in parachutes?’

‘Bloody long ones: came the reply.

But the commonly held belief in Britain’s defencelessness in 1940 is hardly matched by the historical facts. The Few of Fighter Command were not an exception but part of a national pattern of resolute determination and thoroughness. In almost every aspect of the war effort in 1940, Britain was far better organised than the mythology suggests. The Royal Navy’s Home Fleet, guarding every part of the southern and eastern coastlines, represented a formidable obstacle to German ambitions. Between Sheerness and Harwich alone, the navy had thirty destroyers. RAF Bomber Command relentlessly pounded the invasion fleet, weakening the morale of the German forces. Similarly, the British army had gained enormously in strength and equipment since the fall of France. In September 1940, when the invasion threat was at its height, there were no fewer than 1,760,000 regular troops in service, many of them led by tough- minded figures like Alan Brooke, Claude Auchinleck and Bernard Montgomery. The same is true of the Home Guard, whose broomsticks had by then largely vanished. Most of the volunteers were armed with highly effective American rifles, which were superior, in some respects, to those used by the regular soldiers. Outside the military sphere, the British home front was just as impressive. Aircraft production was much higher than that in Germany, factory hours longer. Major operations, like the evacuation of children from areas at risk of attack, the removal of gold from the Bank of England vaults, or the transfer of national art treasures to remote shelters in Wales, were carried out with superb efficiency.

What is so striking about the British authorities at this time is pressure for survival. During his leadership of V Corps, in the front line of the army’s southern command, Montgomery set out his creed to his officers. ‘We had got to the stage where we must do as we like as regards upsetting private property. If a house was required as an HQ it must be taken. Any material required to improve the defences must be taken.’

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Deidre McCloskey on how genetic diversity in a rich Africa will yield a crop of geniuses

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.”

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog