Thoughts on the British Library

Recently a friend fixed for us to visit the British Library. Inside the British Library there is a big architectural model, of the British Library. Which looks like this:

I have never really given much attention to this building, which I now regret. Because, what a very interesting building it is.

In contrast to most of the modern architecture being done in London at the time when the British Library was built (it was opened in 1973), the British Library looks more like an assemblage of buildings than a building built all at once. Most of London’s big new architect-designed buildings from that time look geometrically pulled together, so to speak. It’s as if the architect was looking for the one big simple shape that would accommodate all the bits of the building, like someone designing the packaging for a complicated bit of equipment that consists of a number of different bits.

But with the British Library, the only unifying principle at work is that all the buildings are made with the same red bricks. That’s how you know it’s all the same building. Otherwise, the way it looks is that way because that was the way the particular bit of the building in that part of the building needed to look. It’s not so much a design as an agglomeration. A brand new exercise in the picturesque. Lots of buildings, all different from each other, all jumbled together, and all built in a similar style.

Tom Holland on the state of democracy in Britain now

This from Tom Holland:

Those who speak of the death of British democracy seem to me to have it exactly wrong. Everything that is happening is happening because we, as a country, are testing existential issues that many other countries have opted to suppress in a way so democratic as to be titanic.

I reckon he needs a comma after “suppress”, and maybe another after “issues”. The point being that it is the testing which is titanic, rather than the suppressing.

I remember, or think I remember, saying something along these lines in this. If not that one, then in one of those conversations with Patrick. Which, in my mind, are, I now realise, merging into one great big conversation, lasting about twenty five solid hours and counting.

Meanwhile this bird has just realised golf balls bounce on concrete …

… and is now having the time of its life, or so the tweet from #DanClarkSport says.

No, say commenters. The bird thinks the golf ball is an egg and is trying to break it and get a meal. The bouncing of the ball is a bug, and a rather alarming bug, not a feature.

Links to a Rothbard piece on libertarian tactics that Antoine Clarke will be referencing in his talk tomorrow about Saudi Arabia

Tomorrow evening, as mentioned at the top of the previous posting, there’ll be a talk at my home given by Antoine Clarke. The subject will be the efforts of the new Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia to liberalise (libertarianise?) his country.

During this talk, Antoine will be referring back to an old Libertarian Alliance pamphlet I remember publishing, way back before The Internet, by Murray Rothbard, entitled Four Strategies For Libertarian Change.

I have already supplied a link to my email list of potential attenders to the pdf version of this piece.

I simultaneously apologised that there was no html version to be accessed. But now there is. One of the intending-to-attend attenders tomorrow (thanks Andrew) has converted the pdf file of Rothbard’s piece into this html file.

This was either easy, in which case I congratulate Andrew for being clever. Or, it was hard, in which case I think Andrew for being industrious. I’m guessing, a bit of both. There are a few punctuational oddities that the software I used to read this got a bit confused by, but if that happens to you, there’s nothing that can’t be read past pretty easily.

LATER: The above niggle about punctuation seems now to have been entirely corrected by Andrew, with a revised version of the file. Andrew, thanks again.

Michael Jennings on China – as seen from Nepal and from Australia

I have one of my Last Friday of the Month talks at my home tomorrow evening. See the next posting for news about that. Meanwhile, here are some thoughts that Michael Jennings jotted down, concerning the talk he’ll be giving in the same series on October 25th. While writing this, he didn’t know he was writing a blog posting. That only happened when I asked him if I could stick it up here, and he said … okay, yes:

In April and May this year, I spent a month in Nepal. I spent a fair portion of this in very remote areas – places (such as the region of Upper Mustang) that were almost literally medieval kingdoms only 30 years ago. These places are no longer medieval and no longer kingdoms, but they are still very poor, agricultural communities. At least, the ones without roads connecting them to the outside world are very poor, agricultural communities. Communities with roads connecting them to the outside world are different. Still poor by international standards, but much richer. The roads are being built with Chinese money and expertise.

These places are also very close to the border with Tibet. These places have always been close to the border with Tibet, but of course, these days this means the border with China. As China has become economically more powerful in recent years, the Chinese influence on these places has become stronger. The locals have mixed feelings about that. The Chinese have resources and get things done, whereas governments of Nepal – and governments of their nearer and friendlier neighbour India – are not known for this. On the other hand, if you cross the border you had better not be carrying a picture of the Dalai Lama, and if a Chinese policeman tells you to do something, you had better do it. (Nepali policemen are fairly amiable, mildly corrupt, and not people to worry about that much). The Chinese are building roads and power stations, which is making people richer. This is generally considered to be good. The Chinese bring money and wealth, but they also bring an extremely authoritarian political model with it, and you can see this in one small, poor country of a very different culture to theirs

This is one relatively small, poor country case of the interactions that a rising China is having with much of Asia and much of the world. At the other end of this are things like the interactions of my native Australia with China. Australia was always rich, but is now very rich due principally to selling iron ore and coal to China for the last 20 years. Australia has a large Chinese community, that has arrived in the country mostly in the last 50 years. 30 years ago, Australia would have been unequivocal in its support for the present demonstrators in Hong Kong, if events such as that had been happening then. These days, the Australian government says nothing. Meanwhile, Chinese students in Australia are spied on by Chinese secret police, Chinese language newspapers in Australia – there are many – are intimidated into taking a pro-Beijing line, and other similar things. Do Australians like this – not much, although Australians do generally like Chinese people and Chinese immigrants individually. Australia is now in an uncomfortable position of gaining much of its prosperity from people with an extremely authoritarian political model that we don’t particularly like.

Two extreme examples, but a great many countries in Asia and Africa (and elsewhere) face the same questions, to varying degrees. I will be giving a talk in which I discuss what this means for the world and where this may all lead.

There’ll be another talk about China on the last Friday of November, which is November 28th, by Hong-Konger-now-based-in-London Katy Lau. No apologies whatever for the “duplication”. First, it won’t be. These will be two completely different takes on China. And second, could any subject in the world be more important just now, or more vast in its scope and significance?

Tattoos should actually make your more employable …

Like:

Tattoos should actually make you more employable because it shows you can sit in place for hours while tiny needles are jammed into your skin and that’s what every corporate meeting I’ve ever been in has felt like.

I’ve long believed that the horrors of capitalism of our time are not physical – long hours, dirty and dangerous work places, etc. Rather are these horrors now mostly mental tortures – in the form of corporate team-building, training courses, the grating euphemisms and the preposterously grandiose language used to describe doing the job, and the like. And … meetings.

Bike with no chain

This bit of video, courtesy The Independent, impresses me greatly. It’s a new design for a bike, but a bike which doesn’t use a chain:

The bike instead uses a shaft-drive system to transmit power from the pedals to the wheel. … Manufacturers claim it makes power transfer more efficient.

I’m guessing that, if that’s true, this is made possible by new materials, and in particular by plastic that is both very light and very strong.

I particularly like how they include a multi-speed gear, just by having a cog-wheel that shifts along the shaft.

It will be interesting to see if this really is an improvement which catches on, or is merely an internet-friendly idea that turns out, for various simple or complicated reasons, not to be any use.

Says the first (cynical) commenter: it’s not new, and …:

Everything works in a lab.

We’ll see.

Peckham Rye view

Indeed:

Was stuck for a posting. Even, for about an hour, was stuck for a quota posting.

In the end, just looked in the I Just Like It directory, and picked that one.

I live the contrast between the highly visible normality in the foreground, and the indistinct uniqueness of the Big Things of Central London.

Date: July 1st, 2012. The Big Things have been added to, since then.

Palfinger Epsilon

Indeed:

That’s a detail in the middle of a device I spotted on a lorry in Victoria Street this afternoon. It’s a grab crane.

Here’s the lorry:

As you can perhaps see, the job of Palfinger Epsilon is to grab bags of bagged aggregate.

I have taken to always having a fictional book on the go, and currently that book is Vernor Vinge’s A Deepness in the Sky. Palfinger Epsilon sounds like one of the characters in this story.

Strange combination of products

New shop opening up in Strutton Ground:

One of the constant problems of managing shops is working out what combinations of goods to sell in the same shop. Does it make sense to sell mobile phones and vaping in the same shop? Not to me.

I tried to discover if this is a chain of stores, or just a one off. If it’s the former, that would suggest that the combination has been proved to work. My googling told me of no such chain of shops. But me not finding an answer from googling proves very little.

It will be interesting to see how long the place lasts.