The trees of Vincent Square

Yesterday, I did some shopping, and on my way back turned into Vincent Square, basically just to get away from the din of Vauxhall Bridge Road.

And I saw trees, resplendent in the evening sunshine, and in their total lack of leaves to spoil the splendour:

Photo 1 shows the bigger picture, and also what my Samsung Galaxy mobile phone does to vertical lines if you let it. Basically it can’t handle wide open spaces very well. Photo 2 and I’m looking at the branches of the trees rather more closely.

Photo 3 has me flying off at a tangent and bringing back memories of the time when I used to photo all manner of things reflected in car windows.

But then, in Photo 4, we see me noticing the, to me, really strange thing about these trees, which is the way they look the way they do entirely because men with saws decided that this was how they were going to look. Once you see these weirdly shaped branches, ziggy-zagging this way and that, for no apparent reason, yet surely for good reasons, you never look at a tree the same way again. I mean, look at that branch, in the middle there. Whose idea was that? And why?

Sometimes pollarding is rather obvious, once you’ve got your head around the fact of it. But what we are seeing here is so weird, I don’t know if the word pollarding still applies.

What we are not looking at is Nature Untramelled.

Paul poster with shadow selfie

One from the I Just Like It directory:

I photoed this photo, somewhere out east (a photo photoed at the same time was of the Thames Barrier) ten years and seventeen days ago.

I like the movie. I like this advert for the movie. And I like how I inserted a shadow selfie into my photo, of the advert for the movie.

Engine issue

Via Instapundit, this:

Police in Broomfield stated on Twitter that they received reports of dropped debris in several neighborhoods …

One of the engines on a passing United Airlines plane exploded. The plane flew back to Denver and landed safely. Nobody was hurt either by falling debris or in the plane.

CNN reported that there was an engine issue. I’ll say. A Boeing 777 apparently.

Lots more social media photos, including passenger videos of what remained of the engine, at the other end of the “this” link above. No way anyone could pretend this didn’t happen.

Quite a story. The Guardian agrees.

A couple more quota crowd scenes

I plan on spending my afternoon and evening today concentrating entirely on … something else, so here, it’s quota photo time, just to get it out of the way and out of my head.

Which happens to mean a couple more crowd scenes. To add to the collection.

First up, on the South Bank, and in particular on top of the Queen Elizabeth Hall:

Photoed, I’m pretty sure, from a balcony near the top of the Royal Festival Hall. A bit wonky, but I like it as it is. Wouldn’t want to be cropping those cranes in the distance. Which are gone now, I assume. The only crane cluster left in London that I can think of off hand is the one in Battersea.

And here is another crowd scene, this time from way back in 2004:

Which, I think, makes it somewhat more interesting. (Photoed down from the Westminster Bridge approach, south end. I was near to the Lion statue.)

Following on from Alastair’s comments on this posting, about the stabilisation of casual fashion during the last two decades or so, I think we see in that photo the last casual fashion switch, which concerns the tucking-in of shirts. I still do this, under my always worn (because it’s full of vital stuff like wallet, handkerchiefs, purse, etc.) jacket. I still, always, tuck my shirt in, no matter how casual I’m being. But very few others were still doing this, even back in 2004. I’m looking in particular at the three guys in blue shirts, bottom left, one of whom is holding hands with the orange hair lady. One shirt tucked in, two not. Behind them, a guy in a white shirt, and a jacket, the way I still do, but that’s already rare. Note how two of the blue shirt guys at the front have small man bags instead of jackets.

I could go on, but like I say, I have other matters to attend to now.

Chairs for sale in Thuir

I don’t know why I like this photo, which I photoed a year and two days ago, in Thuir in the south of France. But here it is anyway:

Is it simply that the chairs are so nice? Is it the confident way they present themselves, confident that they are nice chairs, and confident that no vehicle will attack them?

I seem to recall being on the lookout for chairs at that time. Chairs rather like those. But of course buying some of these chairs and then trying to ship them back to England was out of the question. Any chairs I buy have to be on sale in London. Did all that have something to do with liking this photo?

Don’t know.

It occurs to me that I am fond of arguing that modernism has totally triumphed indoors. And it mostly has.

But these chairs didn’t get the memo. Maybe that’s why I haven’t been able to get these chairs out of my mind since photoing them. They contradicted, by their very existence, one of my pet theories.

Steven Johnson’s history of what we do for fun

Tell ’em what you’re going to say, tell ’em, tell ’em what you said. I believe that’s the formula that many preachers follow when they give their sermons. The bit from a book below is from the “tell ’em what you’re going to say” bit, in other words the Introduction (pp. 8-11), of Steven Johnson’s Wonderland, which I ordered from Amazon back in October, and am now starting to dip into:

Delight is a word that is rarely invoked as a driver of historical change. History is usually imagined as a battle for survival, for power, for freedom, for wealth. At best, the world of play and amusement belongs to the side bars of the main narrative: the spoils of progress, the surplus that civilizations enjoy once the campaigns for freedom and affluence have been won. But imagine you are an observer of social and technological trends in the second half of the eighteenth century, and you are trying to predict the truly seismic developments that would define the next three centuries. The programmable pen of Jaquet-Droz’s Writer – or Merlin’s dancer and her “irresistible eyes” – would be as telling a clue about that future as anything happening in Parliament or on the battlefield, foreshadowing the rise of mechanized labor, the digital revolution, robotics, and artificial intelligence.

This book is an extended argument for that kind of clue: a folly, dismissed by many as a mindless amusement, that turns out to be a kind of artifact from the future. This is a history of play, a history of the pastimes that human beings have concocted to amuse themselves as an escape from the daily grind of subsistence. This is a history of what we do for fun. One measure of human progress is how much recreational time many of us now have, and the immensely varied ways we have of enjoying it. A time-traveler from five centuries ago would be staggered to see just how much real estate in the modern world is devoted to the wonderlands of parks, coffee shops, sports arenas, shopping malls, IMAX theaters: environments specifically designed to entertain and delight us. Experiences that were once almost exclusively relegated to society’s elites have become commonplace to all but the very poorest members of society. An average middle-class family in Brazil or Indonesia takes it for granted that their free time can be spent listening to music, marveling at elaborate special effects in Hollywood movies, shopping for new fashions in vast palaces of consumption, and savoring the flavors of cuisines from all over the world. Yet we rarely pause to consider how these many luxuries came to be a feature of everyday life.

History is mostly told as a long fight for the necessities, not the luxuries: the fight for freedom, equality, safety, self-governance. Yet the history of delight matters, too, because so many of these seemingly trivial discoveries ended up triggering changes in the realm of Serious History. I have called this phenomenon “the hummingbird effect”: the process by which an innovation in one field sets in motion transformations in seemingly unrelated fields. The taste for coffee helped create the modern institutions of journalism; a handful of elegantly decorated fabric shops helped trigger the industrial revolution. When human beings create and share experiences designed to delight or amaze, they often end up transforming society in more dramatic ways than people focused on more utilitarian concerns. We owe a great deal of the modern world to people doggedly trying to solve a high-minded problem: how to construct an internal combustion engine or manufacture vaccines in large quantities. But a surprising amount of modernity has its roots in another kind of activity: people mucking around with magic, toys, games, and other seemingly idle pastimes. Everyone knows the old saying “Necessity is the mother of invention,” but if you do a paternity test on many of the modern world’s most important ideas or institutions, you will find, invariably, that leisure and play were involved in the conception as well.

Although this account contains its fair share of figures like Charles Babbage – well-to-do Europeans tinkering with new ideas in their parlors – it is not just a story about the affluent West. One of the most intriguing plot twists in the story of leisure and delight is how many of the devices or materials originated outside of Europe: those mesmerizing automata from the House of Wisdom, the intriguing fashions of calico and chintz imported from India, the gravity-defying rubber balls invented by Mesoamericans, the clove and nutmeg first tasted by remote Indonesian islanders. In many ways, the story of play is the story of the emergence of a truly cosmopolitan worldview, a world bound together by the shared experiences of kicking a ball around on a field or sipping a cup of coffee. The pursuit of pleasure turns out to be one of the very first experiences to stitch together a global fabric of shared culture, with many of the most prominent threads originating outside Western Europe.

I should say at the outset that this history deliberately excludes some of life’s most intense pleasures-including sex and romantic love. Sex has been a central force in human history; without sex, there is no human history. But the pleasure of sex is bound up in deep-seated biological drives. The desire for emotional and physical connections with other humans is written into our DNA, however complex and variable our expression of that drive may be. For the human species, sex is a staple, not a luxury. This history is an account of less utilitarian pleasures; habits and customs and environments that came into being for no apparent reason other than the fact that they seemed amusing or surprising. (In a sense, it is a history that follows Brian Eno’s definition of culture as “all the things we don’t have to do.”) Looking at history through this lens demands a different emphasis on the past: exploring the history of shopping as a recreational pursuit instead of the history of commerce writ large; following the global path of the spice trade instead of the broader history of agriculture and food production. There are a thousand books written about the history of innovations that came out of our survival instincts. This is a book about a different kind of innovation: the new ideas and technologies and social spaces that emerged once some of us escaped from the compulsory labor of subsistence.

The centrality of play and delight does not mean that these stories are free of tragedy and human suffering. Some of the most appalling epochs of slavery and colonization began with a new taste or fabric developing a market, and unleashed a chain of brutal exploitation to satisfy that market’s demands. The quest for delight transformed the world, but it did not always transform it for the better.

Happy not brand New Year but Happy New Year anyway

On Jan 1st 2021, I was obsessing about routers, and not giving any thought to whether any of you readers were having a Happy New Year. Yesterday, there was the same preoccupation with my own concerns and indifference to yours. So, it now being the evening of Jan 3rd 2021, is it too late for me now to say …:

… Happy New Year?

I don’t think so. The year 2021 is not brand spanking new, this very day. But it is still pretty new. You are still only getting stuck into it in a very preliminary sort of way. There’s a basic way in which you may even still be stuck waiting for the thing to even get started, what with You Know What.

So, there you go, see the above photo, which I photoed on Jan 1st 2018, through the window of a local charity shop.

Guido before Guido

In among other more tedious tasks like fixing Power-of-Attorney for my Senior Coordinating Friend, for if I stop functioning properly before all the other tedious tasks are done, I am trying to get my writings in something more like order. To that end I have been trawling through old “Libertarian Alliance” (Tame, Micklethwait, Gabb tendency) pamphlets that I published in the 80s and 90s. Picking out mine, of course, but also making sure to grab the sadly few by Chris Tame, to whom I am now determined to pay further posthumous tribute even if it’s one of the very last things I do.

And, I came across a pamphlet with this at the top:

It’s Guido before Guido, first published in 1991.

Read any or all of it here.

My experience of Guido divides neatly into two chunks of time. There was the Why Don’t You phase, when he would beg us to do clever and more eye-catching things than we could be bothered with or had the propaganda talents to be doing. (He later has a spell doing a few Blog Posts for Samizdata, where he bent Perry de Havilland’s ear out of shape in the same way, this time about how blogging could and should be done. Alas the only mention of Guido now at the Samizdata sidebar is the link to Guido Fawkes.)

And then came the glorious and still continuing Screw-You-Idiots-I’ll-Do-It-Myself phase, that I for one have loved and grovellingly admired from the moment it kicked off. No way did I or Tame or Gabb, or even de Havilland, teach Paul Staines everything he knew. But we did help to create an environment in which Guido could watch, learn, listen, and then do his own wonderful thing.

Such recollections are not going to make me die happy. Like Tame, I would have preferred literal physical immortality. But such memories do soften the blow a little, if blow it is about to be.

The old black router and the new white router – from normal style back to nerd style

No time for much here today, although I have today done more than I usually do in the way of commenting. Much of the day was spent snoozing in bed while The Guru sorted out the outage, and then with me catching up on all the emails I had failed to respond to sooner.

But, I am at least able to record for posterity the evil behaviour of the black and black-hearted router, the one looking like the one in the picture on the left of these two, which waited until it learned I had lung cancer and then decided that then was the perfect time for it to conk out. Just after Christmas. During Lockdown:

On the right, the new white knight in shining white plastic armour, which, today, in the hands of The Guru, rescued me. Actual photo by me of the actual thing.

On a slightly more serious note, I am interested by the aesthetic direction of the move from the old router to the new one.

I usually expect the aesthetics of electronic gadgetry to go from, in the early days of a gadget, nerd-style looking-like-something-curvey-out-of-a-Star-Wars-battle-fleet, to normal rectangular black box, once the normals get involved in buying it directly, as a commodity that they actually sort of understand. I recall CD players in cheap arrays of not-very-hi-fi treading this path, from freakish to straight black boxes you could pile up easily with all the other related devices. Yet in this case, the direction went from normal to nerd. I wonder why.

And that thought is all I can manage to do here today.

Happy New Year to all my readers and to any others passing by, what with things here having become that little bit more interesting over the last few days.

Merry Christmas – no sarcasm intended

On Christmas Day and the days surrounding it, my trickle of readers becomes even less of a trickle than usual, so the chances are that you are reading this posting, if at all, not on Christmas day itself, but rather some time in early January, doing a catch-up of what I have babbled and blogged about over Christmas, just as it is your occasional habit to do a catch-up of recent stuff here at other times of the year.

Nevertheless, if you are one of the self-selected few reading this today, only minutes or hours after I posted it, I wish you in particular a very …:

As I reported yesterday, I did a little walkabout yesterday morning, and I walked past many shops. But I didn’t see any signs saying things like that. How could you say that, in the window of your shop, totally closed for the duration, without sounding sarcastic and getting just broken glass or graffiti for saying such a thing? Or worse, of appearing to accuse passers-by of being the kind of heartless bastards who intend to have a merry Christmas and screw the rest of humanity? You couldn’t. Maybe its different in the less affluent parts of London, but in my vicinity, “Merry Christmas” is surely being spoken quietly but it is not being publicly proclaimed, in lights or in any other way.

Which means that above photo is from my photo-archive, having been photoed (in or next to (guess) the then still rather new Victoria Station shopping appendage) in the run-up to Christmas 2010.

I have other Christmassy things that I may or may not get around to reporting from my walkabout yesterday morning, but I just wanted to get that basic message up and posted, especially, as I say, if you are reading this on the actual day itself. Merry Christmas. You won’t want to go around shouting this in the streets to strangers, as I have myself sometimes done in the small hours of Christmas morning when returning home on foot from a Christmas Eve feast with friends. But, I hope you are having one nevertheless.