On reading about it without having to experience the bloody thing

All of us who know anything of the broader picture of art and its history have what we know to be blind spots, in the form of things we know to have merit, to be significant, to have an intelligent audience, but which we personally can’t stand. Great, great, glad you love it, just don’t make me look at it, listen to it, etc.

My big artistic blind spot is jazz. Especially recent jazz, jazz perpetrated in my own life time, by drugged up artists more concerned with hiding from the shambles of their ruined and soon-to-end lives than with making proper tunes for a potentially wider audience. There you go. I can’t even write about jazz – can’t even think about it – without hurling abuse at it. (Early and badly recorded jazz with proper tunes, that I quite like. But, like many who hate a lot of classical music but might also strongly like some of it, I know too little about it all and don’t know where to start.)

Today, however, it occurred to me that there are plenty of things which I can’t stand actually experiencing, but which I love to read about. Most of history is ghastly, but I like reading history. And consider, in particular: war. I’d hate to actually be in a war, but I love to read about war, all the more so because war is so bloody horrible and I can congratulate myself on having throughout my life totally avoided all direct involvement in it.

Prompted by an amazon.co.uk email (amazon already knowing of my interest in a particular musical author (see below later in this sentence)), I have just ordered a couple of books by Ted Gioia, about jazz. (I quoted Gioia on the subject of JS Bach in this earlier posting here.) That way, I can learn lots about jazz, without having to listen to the bloody stuff.

The wrong kind of sand

Following an earlier posting here, which linked to a cement enthusiast, here’s something which I did not know about the sort of sand that is used to make concrete:

The problem lies in the type of sand we are using. Desert sand is largely useless to us. The overwhelming bulk of the sand we harvest goes to make concrete, and for that purpose, desert sand grains are the wrong shape. Eroded by wind rather than water, they are too smooth and rounded to lock together to form stable concrete.

The sand we need is the more angular stuff found in the beds, banks, and floodplains of rivers, as well as in lakes and on the seashore. The demand for that material is so intense that around the world, riverbeds and beaches are being stripped bare, and farmlands and forests torn up to get at the precious grains. And in a growing number of countries, criminal gangs have moved in to the trade, spawning an often lethal black market in sand.

What is needed is to pour desert sand into a Gizmo, and for the Gizmo then to grind up the desert sand into even smaller particles, and then to reassemble them, with 3D-printing, into the better sort of sand. Easy.

The paragraphs quoted above were encountered by me in an Instapundit posting. They got them from a BBC piece entitled Why the world is running out of sand.

Until now, for me, sand shortages were the stuff of jokes about what would happen if communism came to the Sahara Desert. (For fifty years, nothing.
Then …) Blog and learn. As I often like to say when I blog.

If this right-sort-of-sand shortage gets worse, it will presumably have architectural consequences.

Is Communist China now losing its future?

If even slightly true, this, by David Archibald, is remarkable:

Lawyer Dan Harris writes that Chinese companies are now acting very short-term in their dealings with foreign companies. The situation reminds him of Russia in the 1990s. The Russians then, straight out of communism, would sign a deal but then immediately renege and run off with the cash, foregoing a large future benefit for a much smaller immediate gain. They did so because they did not expect there to be a future.

Harris’s words: “I am writing about this now because China today is feeling a lot like Russia in the 1990s. I am getting the sense that many Chinese companies are pessimistic about their futures and they are acting accordingly.”

And: “On top of the economic issues, many Chinese companies have become both wary of and angry at the West, particularly the United States. This too makes things riskier for foreign companies. We are seeing the results of all this in many ways.

Practically every week, one of our China lawyers will get an email or a phone call from someone who bought product from China and received nothing in return or nothing even approaching what they actually ordered. This sending of ‘junk’ instead of real product has spread to pretty much every industry in China.”

Further from Harris: “Sinosure is China’s state-owned export insurance company that pays Chinese manufacturers that were stiffed by their foreign buyers and then seeks to collect from the foreign buyers that allegedly failed to pay. … We are now seeing Sinosure cases where the Chinese manufacturer has made what we think are fraudulent policy claims to Sinosure because they are desperate for cash and they don’t care about maintaining their relationship with their foreign buyer.”

Yet more: “Lastly, our China lawyers are dealing with an increasing number of situations where the Chinese side of a China joint venture has essentially taken over the joint venture and stops communicating with its foreign joint venture partner.”

So Chinese companies are burning their bridges and attempting to monetize the last scraps of goodwill left in the system. They are effectively eating their seed corn. …

In the 1980s I and some mates based around the then Alternative Bookshop – in Covent Garden, a short walk from the Opera House – ran a little thing called the Anti-Soviet Society. We said that Russia should stop being communist and should become a liberal democracy. One-and-a-bit out of two (Russia is now a democracy of sorts but hardly a liberal democracy) ain’t bad. You can never know about such things, but this little enterprise may have shortened the Cold War by as much as a few fractions of a second. I think I still have some pamphlets that it dished out around then.

Time for something similar to be done to the Chinese Communists, who look like they may now be losing the mandate of heaven. Or to put it another way, time for me to find out about such enterprises that already exist, if they do.

To those who say that the Chinese economy now is far more impressive than the Soviet economy ever was, I say: True, but what matters is the direction in which things are heading, or feel like they’re heading, rather than the absolute level of affluence (or lack of it). These Chinese Communists feel to me like they’re losing the future, just as the old USSR did.

A tyranny collapsing always seems impossible. Until it collapses.

LATER: On the other hand … How China Sees the Hong Kong Crisis. He reckons they’re pretty relaxed about it.

Arthur Colley’s diary goes missing

Photoed by me this afternoon in Warwick Way:

November 4th was quite a while back, so maybe it’s all been sorted by now. Hope so. But if not, sounds like he needs the help of somebody younger, with social media expertise. I googled “Arthur Colley lost diary” and got lots about another Arthur who lost a diary, but nothing involving any Arthur Colley.

John Evelyn on how the Thames froze in January 1684

You think the London weather’s cold now? (I do.) Then try reading this (as I just did), from The Mammoth Book of House If Happened (my version looks to be this one), in which John Evelyn describes “The Great Frost of London”, of January 1684 (pp. 164-5):

[Sunday] Jan.1st, 1684. The weather continuing intolerably severe, streetes of booths were set upon the Thames; the air was so very cold and thick, as of many years there had not ben the like. The small pox was very mortal …

9th. I went crosse the Thames on the ice, now become so thick as to beare not onely streetes of boothes, in which they roasted me ate, and had divers shops of wares, quite across as in a towne, but coaches, carts and horses, passed over. So I went from Westminster Stayres to Lambeth, and din’d with the Archbishop …

16th. The Thames was fill’d with people and tents, selling all sorts of wares as in the Citty.

24th. The frost continuing more and more severe, the Thames before London was still planted with boothes in formal streetes, all sortes of trades and shops furnish’d and full of commodities, even to a printing presse, where the people and ladyes tooke a fancy to have their names printed, and the day and yeare set down when printed on the Thames: this humour tooke so universally, that ’twas estimated the printer gain’d £5 a day, for printing a line onely, at sixpence a name, besides what he got by ballads, &c. Coaches plied from Westminster to the Temple, and from several other staires to and fro, as in the streetes, sleds, sliding with skeetes, a bull-baiting, horse and coach races, puppet plays and interludes, cookes, tipling, and other lewd places, so that it seem’d to be a bacchanalian triumph or carnival on the water, whilst it was a severe judgement on the land, the trees not onely splitting as if lightning-struck, but men and cattle perishing in divers places, and the very seas so lock’d up with ice, that no vessels could stir out or come in. The fowles, fish, and birds, and all our exotiq plants and greenes universally perishing. Many parkes of deer were destroied, and all sorts of fuell so deare that there were great contributions to preserve the poore alive. Nor was this severe weather much less intense in most parts of Europe, even as far as Spaine and the most southern tracts. London, by reason of the excessive coldnesse of the aire hindering the ascent of the smoke, was so filled with the fuliginous steame of the sea-coale, that hardly could one see crosse the streets, and this filling the lungs with its grosse particles, exceedingly obstructed the breast, so as one could hardly breath. Here was no water to be had from the pipes and engines, nor could the brewers and divers other tradesmen worke, and every moment was full of disastrous accidents.

Feb. 4th. I went to Says Court to see how the frost had dealt with my garden, where I found many of the greenes and rare plantes utterly destroied. The oranges and mirtalls very sick, the rosemary and laurells dead to all appearance, but ye cypress likely to indure it.

5th. It began to thaw, but froze againe. My coach crossed from Lambeth to the Horseferry at Millbank, Westminster. The booths were almost all taken downe, but there was first a map or landskip cut in copper representing all the manner of the camp, and the several actions, sports, and pastimes thereon, in memory of so signal a frost . . .

8th. The weather was set in to an absolute thaw and raine, but
ye Thames still frozen.

But before you jump to too many conclusions, based only on this, about how the temperature was lower at that time, note that Evelyn makes it clear how very unusual this weather was. That’s the problem with the average temperature. Few people notice it and write about it. It’s the unaverage stuff that gets most of the attention.