On how we love animals (except when we love how they taste)

While in France, I read the whole of The Square and the Tower, and then embarked upon The Ape that Understood the Universe.

In the latter book, the matter of how humans get all sentimental about animals is mentioned (pp. 59-60):

… Why do so many people take such delight in string at infant members of other species? It’s not as if, say, porcupines enjoy staring at baby chickens. As with porn, our love of these nonhuman animals is probably not an adaptation. More than likely, it’s spillover from psychological mechanisms designed for more human-centered purposes. There’s a certain cluster of traits that people everywhere find irresistibly cute. This includes big round eyes in the center of the face, a small nose, and plump, stubby limbs. Our affection for creatures with these features presumably evolved to motivate us to care for our own infants and toddlers. But the same features are found in many other infant mammals, and even in the adult members of some nonhuman species. As a result, we often feel affectionate and protective toward these individuals as well – not because it’s adaptive, but just because adaptations aren’t perfect. By the way, as you might already have noticed, the spill over hypothesis doesn’t just explain our fondness for cute animal videos. It also hints at an explanation for a much older and more pervasive phenomenon: our habit of keeping pets.

Motivated I am sure by exactly this sort of fondness for animals myself, I have become more and more intrigued by this general human propensity. Which is why so many of my photos involve non-human creatures of one sort or another.

Here are some of the non-human creatures photos I photoed while in France recently:

Even the photos involving signs urging dog owners to clear up canine crap (photos 12, 14 and 17) are about our positive feelings towards animals, because the offending dogs are pets. And even the two plastic barrier things (photo 16) are “other creatures”, in the sense that we insist on seeing the faces of creatures where there are none, even though these particular non-creatures each have only one eye. Yes, we do love these creatures.

And yet, by way of a corrective, we also do these kinds of things to particularly tasty creatures, in this case to various mammals and to fishes:

Yum.

Niall Ferguson on networks versus hierarchies

I have been reading Niall Ferguson’s The Square and the Tower, and so far am enjoying it. It’s about how historians have tended to emphasise the impact of orderly hierarchies because these leave big paper trails, and to neglect less orderly networks, because these leave less of a paper trail. Yet, networks clearly matter a lot, even if, as Ferguson points out, networks are not necessarily benign in their impact.

The chapters are short, which I like because I am reading this book in short snatches, in among doing other things. Even a short burst of reading means me probably getting through an entire chapter and maybe even two or more chapters.

Right now, however, I am in the middle of a chapter, about how Guttenberg met Luther, and about how Guttenberg turned Luther’s merely written thoughts into best-selling printed volumes, thereby unleashing the Reformation and much else besides. (Like modern science. Printing enabled science to accumulate.) This is a process that has long fascinated me, and it happened because two people merely met, rather than because one person met another person and gave that other person an order. (Modern science is likewise a network rather than a hierarchy. When modern science becomes hierarchical, it tends to degenerate into propaganda for the hierarchy it is serving.)

Modern science has mostly been benign: But the only slightly delayed impact of the Reformation was, as Ferguson notes, that (p. 84):

Religious conflict continued to simmer and erupted again in the Thirty Years’ War, a conflict that turned Central Europe into a charnal house.

I will now finish reading this chapter.

Sir Keith Park closer up

In an earlier posting here, I mentioned and included a photo of the statue of Sir Keith Park outside the Athenaeum. I like this statue, and I admire its subject. Here is another photo of that same statue, from closer up, that I photoed last October:

I am busy getting ready to give a talk about Modern Architecture this evening, so that’s probably it for today. Ancient Architecture, like that behind the above statue, will also be getting a mention. I am taking a book about Quinlan Terry with me, to wave at the audience, although I may forget to do this.

Private Kissinger

Here is one of many fascinating little details from Snow & Steel by Peter Caddick-Adams (pp. 662-663), which is about the Battle of the Bulge:

[T]he town of Krefeld, a port lying on the west bank of the Rhine and north-west of Dusseldorf, had fallen to the US 84th (Railsplitters) Division, part of Simpson’s Ninth Army. Order needed to be restored to the town’s 200,000 inhabitants quickly, so the only GI in Divisional Intelligence who spoke German (the rest knew French) was promoted to become Administrator of Krefeld, in charge of everything from gas, water, power and transportation to garbage and hunting war criminals. The fact that he was a mere private mattered not; within eight days he had rebuilt Krefeld’s civilian government: the name of this multi-talented individual was Henry A. Kissinger.

That this book contains so many small pleasures like this one is all part of why it contains so many pages.

What I’ll be talking about on January 6th at Christian Michel’s

I just sent this blurb to Christian Michel, about the talk I’ll be giving at his place in the New Year:

The function of a bottle opener is relatively uncontroversial. It’s to open bottles! But nearer to the opposite end of the simplicity-to-complexity spectrum is architecture, and especially the sort of large and visible architecture that the most ambitious and showy architects yearn to design and build.

I don’t think that the modernist architect and polemicist Le Corbusier ever wrote about bottle openers, but he famously described the house as a “machine for living in”. But what does “living in” a house mean? A house can surely proclaim meanings, that being one of its functions. It can display a certain attitude to life, evoke an atmosphere and perhaps trigger happy memories of an earlier time. The ideal house communicates, both to those who live in it and to those who see it from outside. It says more things and different things to merely what it does and how its internal mechanisms function. It says what life is all about. A house is surely more than a mere dwelling, and something similar can be said about almost all buildings, certainly about the really good ones.

To the early modernists architectural ornament was a moral issue, a crime. They pointed to such things as grain silos, locomotives and early airplanes, and they said: architecture should be like that! It should be functional and it should look functional, rather than conceal its function behind a pompous public facade. Form should follow function, as a famous modernist slogan had it. (The truth is more that form follows fashion.)

To many Modernists, the whole idea of a functional “style” was a contradiction. It wasn’t a style; it was what happened when you turned your back on style and just let the building be what it is, with no artifice, with no “style”.

Yet now, the functional, er, way of doing architecture is often just as much of a facade for communicating meaning while concealing what goes on behind it as any traditionally ornamented architectural frontage.

There was also the fact that certain other modernist ideas, such as the idea of “going back to first principles” and of being “logical” about design rather than relying on outmoded tradition, lead, especially in the early years of modernism, to many modernist buildings not functioning very well. The “functional style” had a habit of not actually being very functional.

But, as modern architecture has become a tradition of its own, it has become more functional. And more stylish.

Saying all that may not take very long, but there’s plenty more I can say about this stuff, should I need more.

Churchill War Rooms gallery

One of the nice things about people coming to stay is that you often find yourself visiting touristy but interesting things that you’d never quite get around to seeing on your own. Later, maybe, but not today. It’ll always be there won’t it?

Touristy things like: the Churchill War Rooms. In February of last year, nearly two years ago now, GodDaughter2’s Dad was in town, and that’s one of the places we went.

And I took the odd photo or two. Well, more like 350, of which here are 84:

A big spread of photos like that would have been an impossibly tedious operation to stick up at Brian Micklethwait’s Previous Blog, and an equally tedious business for you to be scrutinising. But now, here they all are, and you can do the usual, clicking through as quickly or as slowly as you like. Enjoy. Especially if you rarely or never visit London, and have no plans to see this place for real.

There’s a million things I could say about it. One of the more striking of the photos above is photo 33, which shows how thick the concrete was protecting everything, from all but the most direct of direct hits, that passage that you see having been drilled through afterwards, when they were turning these working spaces into a place people could visit and circulate around.

Other talking points? Well, lots of signs and souvenirs, often signs made into souvenirs, for sale in the inevitable gift shop. And also: signs that are not Original but Modern. Signs with lots of words. Which is appropriate, given how important Churchill knew words (see photo 80) to be.

Most of the human figures that you see are not real; they’re sculpted. And “Other creatures” is in the category list because, inevitably, there are bulldogs.

I did all the bard work for this posting before I got ill, and I’m still not fully recovered. So, please continue to wish me well.

A sixteenth century map of the world

Via Twitter, and something called Map Porn, I found my way to this world map drawn by Ahmed Muhiddin Piri in the 16th century:

Yet I can only find one other reference to it on the www, in the form of a print of the above which is for sale, here, where it’s described as a “Fine Archival Reproduction”. So far as I can work it out, this is a bodged together guess about a map that “Ahmed Muhiddin Piri” (aka “Piri Reis”) did create, but which only survives in the form of a small fragment. We know he knew enough to have created such a map. So, hey, we did create it. But I could be completely wrong about this, because I’m still trying to get my head around it all. Perhaps this is a copy of a real map. Maybe the internet is full of descriptions of it, which I merely failed to find.

The reason I’m interested in this map, or the maps that enabled this map to be made, is that it illustrates how much more they knew about the geography of the world in other parts of the world than Europe. When Europe “discovered” the rest of the world, this wasn’t Europeans discovering a primitive and poverty-stricken place, which only started getting rich after they’d discovered it. What the Europeans discovered was lots of places far richer than Europe, like India and China. And that’s just what the Europeans were trying to do. Just because they also “discovered” such places as Australia and North America, which were poorer, doesn’t mean that their basic motive was to conquer the world. No, what the Europeans were trying to do was get connected with an already thriving world, with which they could import mystical luxuries like spice, and from which they could learn, but which they stopped from doing, by the conquest of the Middle East by Islam. So, the Europeans decided to go round. Round Africa. Round the world, by going west. (That being why the West “Indies” got called “Indies”. And why the people we now call Native Americans were know for many decades as “Red Indians”. Still were, when I was a kid. And still are, by some.)

The European economic breakthrough that made its presence felt in the late 18th century was, globally speaking, something of an end run, as Americans would say. As I learned from that book I’ve been enthusing about by Steve Davies, Europe remained disunited, developed modern guns and never stopped developing them, starting winning wars against the likes of Indians (real ones, in India), then went from inventing and improving guns to inventing and improving everything else and thus unleashed the Industrial Revolution. Europe only got out in front rather late in the story. Oh, it was special. But so were lots of other places.

As the above map illustrates. Or, I think it does.

And maybe it also illustrates something else. Interestingly, the one big thing it gets wrong, the thing only people nearby then knew about properly, was Australasia. Rumours about northern Australia made people think that Australia was part of what we call Antarctica. New Zealand? Again, locals on boats in islands to the north presumably knew about it. But people like Ahmed Muhiddin/Piri Reis, and his various informants? They had no idea.

Anton Howes interviewed about his research

I spent my blogging time today concocting a posting about the opinions and discoveries of Anton Howes, and in particular this piece. My posting will be ready and up at Samizdata Real Soon Now. In the course of doing this I encountered this podcast which an American guy did with Howes. I’m now half way through this. So far: recommended.

That’s it for today.

Bryan Caplan – Hayek Memorial Lecture – photos and an instant summary

Earlier this evening, I (and a great many other people) attended the 19th Hayek Memorial Lecture:

Photo 1: I got there very early, hence all the empty seats.

The Official Photographer was Jean-Luc Picard. Not really, but photo 3 makes him look a bit like the noted space voyager.

Photo 4: The (large) room fills up.

Photo 5: Celeb sighting. Dominic Frisby. And is that his dad Terence he’s talking with? I think it just might be.

Photo 6: Syed Kamall, a recent IEA appointment. He gave someone a prize.

Photo 7: IEA boss Mark Littlewood does the intro.

Photos 8 and 9: Professor Bryan Caplan gives the lecture.

Photo 10: The first questioner was Vera Kichanova, one of the very few people in the audience whom I recognised.

Photo 11: Someone else photoing from the audience.

So, what did Caplan say? Briefly: poor country governments are often to blame for their bad economic policies, rich countries are often to blame for their bad immigration policies, and poor people, especially poor people in rich countries, are often to blame because they make bad decisions, especially bad decisions which hurt their children. That last one is the one you aren’t allowed to say, but most people still think this. When questioned about this, Caplan pointed out that refusing ever to blame poor people for their poverty is often a cause of bad policies. Instead of doing nothing (because it should be up to many poor people to help themselves), governments often do bad things. To “help”.

Another interesting thing about this lecture was that big multi-national enterprises came out of the story very well, basically for doing very well in poor countries, thereby proving that lots of people in poor and otherwise badly governed and badly managed countries could be doing far better, if they got the chance. That being why restrictive immigration policies do so much harm. They are keeping people who could do far better out of well governed countries.

There was also a guy videoing everything, so you won’t have to rely for ever on me to learn what Caplan said.

There is always more space if you just keep looking

For quite a few months now I have been pacing about in my little flat in London SW1 (one of the many unfashionable bits of that postcode) looking for more space to put shelves for books and magazines and CDs. Will I have to move? The Horror. Will I have to chuck out some of my books and CDs? Double The Horror.

No. The great truth about shelving is that there is always, always room for more, if you just keep looking.

Example, look at this huge empty lump of absolutely nothing, in my bathroom, above the door-shaped gap that leads to the toilet, into which I now plan to put another shelf, upon which I will pile ancient copies of the BBC Music Magazine and Gramophone:

That giant gap of empty air with a wall behind it has been there for thirty years. I just never saw it for what it was, a big mouth shouting at me, saying: Give me a shelf! Give me a shelf! I can help! Just let me do it!

That will make a huge dent in the problem.

I put up these photos to basically get me to do this job. I have completed the design. I have the necessary brackets and screws, and one of the many planks I have collected over the years is the perfect size and ideal for the task. I just need to do it. So these photos are – indeed this entire blog posting is – a memo to self. Do this.

But before I do, I note that there is and has for several decades now been paint falling off the ceiling. So, before I embark on this construction project, I need to vacuum clean the ceiling, which I cannot do at night because it might disturb my neighbours, above and below. After that, it’s all go.

And no I don’t know what all those pipes are on the right, as we look. Strange, very strange.