The League of Nations builds itself a custom-built headquarters in Geneva

I have been reading The Mighty Continent by John Terraine, which is a history of Europe from 1900 to the 1970s when it was published, being a spin-off book from a TV show.

On page 145 of my 1974 paperback edition, Terraine describes yet another example of the tendency of an organisation to lose its way at the very moment it constructs its custom-built headquarters. In this case, it’s the League of Nations, which collapsed into impotence when Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935 and the League did nothing about this:

The organisation lingered on and, with a final irony, it was now that it assumed the outward shape that is generally associated with it. The Palace of Nations, begun in 1929, was finished in 1936, just in time to become a mausoleum. Here at last were the necessary offices, 700 of them, and the fitting conference rooms for the words that no longer meant anything. There was a floor of Finnish granite, walls and pillars faced with Swedish marble, enigmatic and forbidding murals, depicting Technical Progress, Medical Progress, Social Progress, the Abolition of War, and so on, by the Catalan artist Jose Maria Sert. Under their sombre painted sermons, the Assemblies still met a passed their resolutions; everyone was still very busy. But underneath it all the mainspring was broken.

This building, the Palais des Nations in Geneva, is now occupied by the UN, which has its own custom-built headquarters building in New York. This is also a very busy place.

Brexit didn’t stop London’s cranes

While I’m on the subject of postings past, here is one from the old blog from exactly five years ago, featuring a crane cluster photo, which I have also just transferred to here. Brexit was then being hailed by its enemies as the latest bringer of economic doom. So, I asked, would Brexit mean the departure of all the cranes from the London skyline?

Hasn’t happened so far. I’m not getting out nearly as much these days as I’d like. But, here is a photo that a friend recently photoed in Stratford, with all its Olympic stuff, of the present state of the Olympic village:

It’s been a while since I’ve even set eyes on all the cranes in the Battersea/Vauxhall area, but they can’t all have disappeared by now, even if their number may now be starting to diminish.

And if the story I linked to recently about how there are 587 new towers in the pipeline is anything to go by, the cranes will be around for quite a while.

2008 and all that didn’t stop the march of the cranes, and Brexit hasn’t either. People all over my bit of the internet are celebrating that Brexit, economically, seems to be working out okay, five years after the vote. This has been my celebration.

Two photos of Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

Most internetted photos of Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum, designed by Frank Gehry, look like this:

Which I found here.

But the fact that almost all the internetted photos of this building look like that is misleading.

Here is a corrective, in the form of the exact sort of photo of this building that the pros earn their money by doing the exact opposite of:

Yet one more illustration of a belief I have long held about us amateur photoers, which is that we amateur photoers often tell you more about how a building actually looks, if you actually go there, than many of the photos carefully contrived by the professionals.

I hope that Michael Jennings does not object to being called an amateur photoer. By this I do not mean that he is a bad photoer. On the contrary

I also particularly liked this photo of Michael’s, of Bilbao’s big transporter bridge

Anton Howes on how printing got started

Anton Howes has been asking himself Why Didn’t the Ottomans Print More? In the course of sketching an answer, he says interesting things about how printing did get started in Europe:

When we think of the invention of the Gutenberg press, we often associate it with the spread of the Reformation a few decades later. We imagine presses hidden away in people’s basements, where ordinary citizens might churn out subversive tracts. The printing press, with the benefit of hindsight, seems inextricably linked with the spread of heresy, radicalism, and revolution. Yet in the late fifteenth century, before the Reformation, it was a technology that usually enjoyed, and perhaps even required, extraordinary encouragement from the authorities. Printing presses on their own are huge and heavy, even before accounting for the cases of type, the moulds or matrices required to cast new type when it began to wear out, and the punches used to make the moulds in the first place. It was a costly, capital-intensive business, requiring huge investment before you could print your very first page.

Many of the very first printers were either directly funded by rulers, or else obtained special privileges from them. The Gutenberg press didn’t immediately spread from Mainz to the major nearby cities of Stuttgart, Heidelberg, Würzburg, or Koblenz, as we might expect, but leapfrogged them all to Bamberg, where one was set up by the secretary to the city’s prince-bishop. Many of the much closer and larger cities don’t seem to have got their first presses until decades later. Even Venice gained printing earlier, in 1469, when its senate granted a five-year patent monopoly to a German to introduce the art. And when the printing market became over-crowded, Venice also granted temporary monopolies over the printing of particular texts — an extraordinary level of interference in an industry, which was only justifiable in light of the major up-front costs of deciding to print a book.

Such policies were soon replicated abroad. The first press in France was set up by the university of Paris, and the king granted citizenship to the foreign workmen who installed it. The first Italian press, too, was introduced with the support of a cardinal to the monastery of Subiaco, after which it moved to Rome. When it ran into financial difficulties after printing too much, it was bailed out by the Pope. And as the press spread even further afield, the greater the encouragement it required. Far-off Scotland in 1507 granted a monopoly to two printers not just over the use of a printing press, but over all imports of printed works too.

Are you thinking: internet. I am. That also kicked off as an official, government-sponsored project, did it not? Only later did it spread outwards, to mere people, to do more disruptive stuff, which now looks like it may include reversing many of the original nationalistic impacts of printing.

Governments start by seeing only the advantages to themselves of whatever it is, only later to discover that others become empowered also.

See also: drones.

The Howes thesis is that, at first, the Islamic world didn’t so much suppress printing as merely fail to encourage it, at the time when it needed encouraging. And I guess that once printing then got into its disruptive stride, then it became clear what a threat it might be to established beliefs and established government, and the Islamic discouragement, so to speak, kicked in.

I have just signed up to give Howes £100 a year. This may not got on for long, but it’s something. This item of person-to-person internet support is a first for me. I wonder how many such supporters he has?

Today Patrick and I had another conversation about World War One

We had already decided that our chat today would be about what kicked off World War One. However, as part of my homework for this, I listened again to this earlier conversation we recorded about World War One, way back in 2017, and I was reminded that we’d already had quite a lot to say about the causes of World War One. This was the very first of these conversations of the most recent clutch, and I was agreeably surprised by how much sense it made, and by how relatively little irrelevant tangenting and general repetition and waffling I inflicted upon Patrick.

All of which meant that we needed to steer the chat towards things we hadn’t said in that previous one. We went into a bit more of the detail this time, about how Russian military reaction to defeat in 1905 by Japan might have made Germany nervous. And we also talked more about how Britain was, in the years before World War One, threatening to tear itself apart over how to answer the Irish Question, which meant that in 1914 Britain consequently seemed very weak, compared to how strong it eventually turned out to be.

I also added some attempted generalisations, about how nothing on its own can cause anything else (I blamed and have long blamed Sherlock Holmes for immortalising the error that consists of contradicting this fact), and for how a multipolar world made that world vulnerable to a cascade of escalating declarations of war, all of them restrained, but not restrained enough, by the fact that this huge war was actually much feared, but not feared enough. Which is all quite orthodox, but I feel I understand all this stuff a bit better than before. However, I did digress rather wildly into giving this book about Brexit a plug, because it illustrates well how the cleverest people can react to events really quite intelligently, and still get, for them, a very bad result.

No apology for returning to this vexed subject. I mean, historically, could there be a more important question?

This latest effort will arrive at Croziervision, whenever it arrives, presumably accompanied by the very helpful notes that Patrick now likes to introduce these conversations with. Nothing we said can’t happily wait a couple of weeks, or whatever the wait turns out to be.

McCloskey summarised by Scheidel

I have recently been reading Escape From Rome: The Failure of Empire and the Road to Prosperity by Walter Scheidel. Scheidel himself summarises the arguments in this book in this piece.

Better yet, Scheidel also provides (pp.489-490) a very short summary of Deidre McCloskey’s very long trilogy about how the bourgeoisie ignited the Industrial Revolution:

Deirdre McCloskey has advanced a bold thesis that places values at the center of modernization and the Great Escape. In her telling, “liberal ideas caused the innovation” necessary to sustain this process. By 1700, talk and thought about the middle class began to change. As “general opinion shifted in favor of the bourgeoisie, and especially in favor of its marketing and innovating commerce and investment in human capital expanded as a consequence of this shift, rather than precipitating it. This led to a sweeping “Bourgeois Revaluation” embodied in a new rhetoric that protected the pursuit of business: whereas aristocratic-inflected discourse had previously stigmatized it as a vulgar pursuit, it now garnered acceptance and even admiration. This new mode of thinking permitted the bourgeoisie to join the ruling class and to infuse and enrich it with innovative and competitive traits. In the final analysis, the idea of liberty and dignity for ordinary people was the principal driving force behind this change.

According to McCloskey, this process unfolded in a series of steps. The Reformation together with the growth of commerce, the fragmentation of Europe, and the freedom of their cities enabled the Dutch bourgeoisie to enjoy freedom and dignity. Over time, Dutch influence that encouraged emulation of their practices regarding trading, banking, and public debt converged with the spread of printing and English liberties in similarly liberating and dignifying the British bourgeoisie, whose efforts subsequently unleashed modern economic growth.

Thus, “the Four Rs” – reading, reformation, revolt (in the Netherlands), and revolution (in England in 1688) culminated in late seventeenth-century England in the fifth and ultimately decisive “R,”the revaluation of the bourgeoisie, an “R-caused, egalitarian reappraisal of ordinary people.” Democratic church governance introduced by the Reformation emboldened the populace, and northern Protestantism encouraged literacy. McCloskey regards political fragmentation as vital to these processes: these forms of improvement worked better on a small scale. But political ideas, and ideas more generally, took the lead: “rhetorical change was necessary, and maybe sufficient.” She consequently documents at great length the emergence of a pro-bourgeois rhetoric in Britain during the eighteenth century.

As one who has struggled to plough through all of McCloskey’s three books, I am very grateful to Seidel.

I have dipped extensively into the McCloskey trilogy, and my guess is that if I joined up all my dippings, so to speak, I would conclude that these books are long on illustrated assertion but short on actual arguments to the effect that what is asserted is right rather than just asserted. As it happens, I share McCloskey’s admiration for the bourgeois virtues and I think she is right to believe in their transformative importance in British and global economic history. But if I didn’t already agree, I don’t believe that these books would do enough to convince me of much besides how strongly McCloskey believes what she believes. And what I actually believe also, but for other reasons.

Lots of people watch the FA Cup Final

Today I watched the FA Cup Final on television, in which Leicester City defeated Chelsea by the momentous margin of one-nil. The one was good, though.

But the reason I watched it was because it had a whiff of more than football about it, because there were, for the first time in ages at a football match, twenty thousand odd people actually in Wembley Stadium, watching it and of course shouting:

The victorious Leicester players there, in confusing brown, acknowledge the cheers of their fans, in confusing blue. Confusing, because the Chelsea players wore blue.

The commentators keep trying to persuade themselves that the FA Cup is what it was, when, for reasons to do with European qualification, it is not what it was. There used to be a European Cup Winners Cup, which you could only be in if you won your local Cup. Not any more. Now, you can be in the Consolation European League just by coming fifth or third or whatever in your local league. The FA Cup has accordingly lost its unique place in English life, and the commentators bang on more and more about its glorious past, which is a sure sign that its present is less glorious.

I seem to remember one year when Liverpool or Man U, or some such club ducked out of it, to play in some game in South America which they reckoned counted for more. “The Cup” was never the same after that.

Nevertheless, this one was a little bit special.

Parking baton

Here:

The Estonian National Opera greets people in a very unusual manner, at least those who have decided to drive to their chosen event. The parking lot barriers have been converted to resemble a conductor’s hand complete with a baton.

As modernistic and abstract severity becomes older and older hat, there’ll be much more of this joking around sort of sculpture.

Danish cows entertained by cellists

Further to this earlier posting about the musical tastes of cows, incoming from Cousin David, in the form of a photo of cows being entertained by cellists:

But where was this happening? Image googling soon answered that, which was also where I found this other photo, which I particularly like:

Denmark.

About once a week, students from the Scandinavian Cello School in the Stevns municipality in Denmark, come to Haugaard’s farm to play calming classical music for her livestock.

“The musicians say when they play something [the cows] like very much, they get close up to the musicians,” Haugaard told As It Happens host Carol Of.

“We think that it must [mean] they like the music especially. But we cannot know, because they cannot tell us.”

Yes, it could just mean that the cows like eating more than they dislike cello music. But the getting close thing at least suggests that they like the music as well as the food.

Dutch Quality Flowers lorry with antique locomotive

This afternoon, while I was on my way yet again to the Royal Marsden to score my next month’s supply of Osimertinib, a huge lorry drove past me along the Fulham Road, with a painting of a steam locomotive on the side of it:

I display all of these three hastily grabbed and decidedly mediocre photos simply to make it clear that this was indeed a lorry, as well as a picture of a locomotive.

Later, I found myself musing on how the ubiquity of digital photography and of the social media must have transformed advertising. Just as graffiti has become more individual and elaborate, in the age of digital photoing, so too has advertising.

Because, if you can persuade a decent proportion of the digital photoers you drive past to photo their photos, of your unique lorry with its unique and as likely as not hand-done painting on the side, and then get the photoers to stick their photos up on the www, there’s every chance you can save a ton of money on the distribution of your advertising message. Throw in that any word can be searched for on that same www, and you don’t need to bother with big lettering, the way you used to have to to get your message spread around, and you can concentrate on making the image look as great as you can contrive. Use little letters and let the photoers look it up and link to your website and generally spread your word for you. All you need is a sufficiently striking and appealing image, to grab all that attention.

So, by way of emphasising my point, here is the DQF Flower Shuttle website. Go there, and learn that there is a whole fleet of flower delivery lorries, each one flaunting this or that elaborately artistic type picture of an antique form of transport, most of them ships, but one being of another locomotive. I assume that all of these lorries are each of them adorned with unique images, and I further assume that photos of these images are all over the social media. Judging by what happens when you do this, my assumptions are right. Although, I can find no photos of the particular photo I photoed of a DQF lorry this afternoon. This must be a rather new image.