Civilised disagreement works better face-to-face (therefore cities have a future)

The present dose of Plague History we’re having has caused much pessimism concerning the future of big, densely packed cities. Being an enthusiast for big city architecture, especially the seriously big and eye-catching sort, I am now more than ever on the lookout for people saying things about why cities confer, and will continue to confer, an advantage upon all those who live and work in them.

So, I particularly noticed this Bo Winegard tweet, when I encountered just now:

It depresses me how quickly a person on twitter can go from disagreeing with you to cursing and insulting you. Strikes me that there’s probably an evolutionary mismatch because almost all of our interactions were face-to-face. People are much nicer when they have to look at you.

I think that captures a key advantage of face-to-face communication, which is that it makes it more likely that those face-to-face communicating are that bit more likely to do it like ladies and gentlemen rather that like loutesses and louts.

I think people on twitter shout, so to speak, partly because they can. But also, maybe, because they feel they have to, to get their point across. If you do one of those oh-so-gently meaningful and very politely phrased criticisms, on Twitter, or for that matter during a conference-at-a-distance, you are liable to fear that your point will get lost. Your iron fist will be completely smothered by the velvet gloves you chose to wear. Face-to-face, you can literally see and hear and feel your point getting across. Or not, in which case you can politely rephrase it.

Being able to disagree in a civilised manner, in a way that doesn’t leave lasting scars or permanent feuds, is fundamental to the successful functioning of any organisation.

My dad was a barrister, in American: a trial lawyer. British barristers are always careful to call each other “my learned friend”, and the more fiercely they are quarrelling, the more they are careful to scatter these words upon all the insults they trade. That always used to amuse me, when my dad talked about it. But an important point was embodied in such drollery, not least because dad often spelled it out explicitly. When arguing, be polite. The more fiercely you argue, the more important politeness becomes. Twitter seems to make that harder. Face-to-face communication makes it easier.

So, cities will survive. Face-to-face communication is now one of their core purposes.

Shelby Steele talks to Peter Robinson

I just watched this video of Shelby Steele being interviewed by Peter Robinson of the Hoover Institute. If, like me, you’ve not been paying attention to this man, this interview would be a good way to correct that. If you have been paying attention, well, well done you. But for me, even seeing this man talk was a first. Better late than never.

The idea, which Steele talks about a lot, of freedom being a “shock” makes a lot of sense to me. I recall having this shock explained to me by an east European lady who had spent her adult life being unfree, under Soviet Communist domination. Suddenly she was in a Western style supermarket, facing choices she didn’t know how to make. And that was just the toothpaste.

Towards the end of the interview, Robinson asks if there are any more “Uncle Tom” Black people, now talking about Black Americans getting to grips with the freedom they now have rather than continuing to complain ever more implausibly about the lack of it, and Robinson mentions: Shelby Steele, Thomas Sowell, and, er, that’s it. Well, how about, and this is just for starters, Candace Owens?

E-scooters will be personally owned – not hired or shared

At present, The Plague and The Riots loom large. But when historians look back on 2020, will they instead talk about e-scooters? I am now betting so. E-scooters, historians will say, were a crucial step in the development of PowShoos. You know, Power Shoes, the ones you put on, which make you immediately able to (a) stand almost still, but yet (b) travel at a hundred miles an hour without hitting anyone.

Back in the time of now, living as we now do at this historic moment in transport history, we have to make do with our clunky old e-scooters, and here is another thought from me on e-scooters, along with all these thoughts.

Google is starting to send me emails with links to articles about e-scooter hiring and e-scooter sharing. But if you google these subjects, you also find pieces saying that these ideas are already failing, in places where this is being attempted. This makes perfect sense to me, because what I now say is that shared e-scooter services make little sense.

The only big reason for hiring or sharing an e-scooter now is to find out if you’d like to own one. As soon as e-scooters become at all widely owned, as they are about to in London, we’ll all have friends who can lend us theirs to have a go on, to see if we’d like to own one also. Actual e-scooter sharing will be huge, informally. But it won’t be an organised “service”, public or private, because it won’t need to be. And anyway, as soon as you even see an e-scooter in action, you can see if an e-scooter would suit you. It’s not complicated. What you see is what you’ll get.

Consider the current domination of laptop computers. That likewise spread owner-to-owner. There were never any big laptop sharing or hiring services. There didn’t need to be.

As I explained in my last e-scooter posting, a huge attraction of e-scooters is that you can cling onto them when travelling but not actually riding on them. You can carry them, and as the video adverts for e-scooters that Google is now attaching to my internet reading are explaining, you can put an e-scooter into the boot of a car, which you cannot do easily with a bike, unless you are something freakish like a member of a sports bike racing team. You can even put an e-scooter into the boot of a taxi. All of which makes e-scooters very appealing compared to their big competitors, biking or walking. Biking is too cumbersome. (What do you do with the damn bike when you aren’t biking?) Walking is too slow and can’t do longer distances.

Bike hiring is the answer to the problem of what you do with a bike once you get off it and need then to abandon it. E-scooter hiring, on the other hand, is the answer to a problem which does not exist. When you get off your e-scooter, you hang on to it. Until you get to work, where you store it, or until you get home, ditto. Otherwise, you keep it with you.

To put it another way, the e-scooter is, above all, personal. You will own your personal e-scooter. Or, like me, you won’t, but will note with interest that millions of others are doing this.

Bike sharing schemes required a massive amount of cumbersome politics to get established, which was endured because bike sharing schemes solve an actual problem. But all plans for e-scooter sharing schemes will be overwhelmed by the simple process of e-scooter people just buying their own e-scooters. All that is needed, politically, is for e-scooters to be allowed.

As of right now, e-scooters are very expensive. E-Scooter Man, whom I recently met and talked with, twice, paid the best part of a a thousand quid for his. Soon, e-scooters will plunge in price to nearer a hundred quid. They will also get a lot less heavy and less bulky, even than they are now, what with their portability being such a big deal.

Then, watch them fly off the shelves.

Candace Owens – alarm clock for black America

My thanks to Scott Adams for telling me about this video speech to camera by Candace Owens. (When I watched this video at the Scott Adams twitter feed, the top of her head was sliced off, sometimes even including her eyes. Not recommended.)

The heart of what Candace Owens says about the dramas now unfolding in America is that black Americans are the only ethnic group in American who make martyrs and heroes out of their worst people, i.e. petty and not-so-petty criminals who come to bad ends. George Floyd is now all over T-shirts, but he was actually, first, a petty criminal, and then a not-so-petty criminal, as Owens explains. By martyrising and glorifying wickedness and failure, you set yourself up for a life of wickedness and failure. And mostly: just failure.

What Candace Owens says seems to me, and to Scott Adams, very persuasive. I hope it will prove persuasive to those whom it is most particularly aimed at, which is black Americans. But what Owens says is partly aimed at old non-black guys like me and Scott Adams, because what she says is also universally appealing wisdom. Wise people don’t do this! Owens has certainly done nothing to stop me hearing this speech of hers.

A twitter commenter says that Owens will become America’s first female black President. But Owens is surely in the meantime attempting something smaller and more immediate than that, and in the longer run potentially bigger and better than that.

The “alarm clock” reference comes towards the end of the video.

Rioters and the ending of the Lockdown

Scott Adams:

Serious question: Did any Republican lose a business to rioters?

I began thinking of my answer, but the first tweet-in-response said it for me:

I bet some future Republicans did.

I’ve been suspecting for some time now that Antifa – or “Fa”, as I prefer to think of them – could be a project put together by Trumpsters to ensure his re-election. I mean, if they really were that, what would they be doing differently? (Take a gander at this bit of video, to see what I mean.)

On a more serious note, all these demos will speed up the process of discovering if ending Lockdown makes sense. I already think it does make sense. If, as I am now betting, no Coronoavirus spike now materialises among the demonstrating classes, others will likewise be convinced.

Meanwhile, a huge chunk of people are now behaving as if the only thing they’re scared of is dirty looks from other people. They aren’t scared of The Bug itself anymore. Lockdown is ending. You can feel it. You can see it, for real and on the news and social media. Two months ago, no matter who had done what, there’d have been no demos about it because almost everyone was truly scared of The Bug. Now, The Bug is right down there with car accidents and getting struck by lightning.

It’s almost as if no government action was required, either to make Lockdown start when that made sense, or now, to make it stop.

See also what Johnathan Pearce, has to say about these US rioters. JP links to all these videos, which I am now about to sample.

Another e-scooter sighting – and a couple of e-scooter quotes

This afternoon an electric scooter and its rider went past me and immediately turned a corner. I had no camera on me, but I scuttled after it anyway, to check that it really was electric. This is because electric scooters are so compact that the only way you can tell for sure that they’re electric is if they carry on for fifty yards without being pushed along by foot. Otherwise, you just can’t be sure.

These things may still be illegal, but they are already a fact of London life. I just nipped out for some milk, and there it was.

In this piece, a good point is made about how electric scooters are going to be much demanded in the aftermath of Lockdown, as a hygiene measure. Politically, this will be hard to resist:

Post-pandemic, will New Yorkers be willing to ride the subway, take a taxi or hire a private driver as they did before? Headlines here in New York already have mentioned a spike in bicycle sales. As New Yorkers re-think their transportation choices going forward in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the use of electric bicycles and electric scooters will undoubtedly become more common throughout the state.

That’s New York, but it could equally well be London. And the difference between an electric scooter and an electric bicycle is that an electric scooter is easy to carry and store while you work, while a bike could be a cumbersome nightmare by comparison.

Bikes are only built the complicated way that they are so you can peddle them. E-scooters just need charging up, and pushed by foot only in a power emergency. Or, you can just carry it, if necessary on a bus or train. (Will e-scooters be allowed on the Tube? They should be. Far bigger suitcases already are.)

Far later than I should have, I recently told Google to email me with e-scooter news, and here’s a bit from a press release I got a few days back, from Ollie Chadwick, Managing Director of this enterprise:

At the present time, eScooters are entirely legal in many countries and cities. In the UK they are permitted on private land and commercial sites. However, despite eBikes and foot-scooters being legal on the public road, eScooters are not – although they are in widespread use. It is this anomaly that requires clarification, together with a sensible ‘code of usage’.

Allowed, is what he is basically saying. I agree.

I can’t say about the rest of the world, because I seldom visit this place and have yet to do the relevant internet searching. But e-scooters are, I’m now betting, the next big thing in London transport.

Roz Watkins talks about her latest book – and about animals

Crime writer Tony Kent does a fifteen minute video-at-a-distance interview with fellow crime writer Roz Watkins. Roz is my niece, which is partly why I keep mentioning her here. But the bigger reason I keep on about her is that she is very good at what she does, which is not just writing the books she writes but also selling them. She’s an excellent public speaker, and a very personable interviewee. So, if you want to know more about what sort of person Roz is, and also about the idyllic yet sometimes spooky place she lives in (the Peak District), as well as about her books, tune in here.

Animals figure prominently in this interview. Starsky the dog makes an appearance near the beginning. They talk about killing animals in crime thrillers and about how that upsets people far more than killing mere people seems to. Also, animals are a big part of the background of Roz’s latest book, Cut To The Bone, number three in her DI Meg Dalton series. A missing girl has got on the wrong side of animal rights activists, and traces of her blood and hair are found in an abattoir. That kind of grizzly thing. It’s due out in hardback in a month’s time, and, unless I have misunderstood things badly, is already readable as a computer file.

My favourite quote from the interview is when, 4 minutes 20 seconds in, Roz says: “Everyone wants to kill all the lawyers.” Very dramatic.

Cycling out of Lockdown

Last Sunday, the gloriously sunny day when I photoed this reflection photo, I also photoed many other photos, as I walked to and around Parliament Square, and then along the River to Lambeth Bridge and across, and then to Vauxhall. My aim was to photo the statues in Parliament Square and the two pronged Vauxhall Bus Thing in friendlier light than I had so far managed.

But while engaged in this project, I couldn’t avoid noticing something else that was happening. See if you can spot what these twenty eight photos have in common:

Yes. Well spotted. Cyclists. Lots and lots of cyclists. Cyclists on their own. Cyclists in pairs. Families of cyclists. Great squadrons of cyclists. On otherwise almost entirely empty roads.

Quite what this “means”, I’m not entirely sure. But a major point of this blog is to feature things that seem interesting, without it being entirely clear to me why they are interesting. “Interesting” being the lowest form of interestingness that there is, because it’s the sort that you haven’t yet explained to yourself.

The only titbit of interpretation I can offer is that I caught a Daily Telegraph article about how the Lockdown was beginning to fray at the edges, and illustrated at the top with a photo like one of the ones above, featuring a great cluster of cyclists. I can’t now find this piece, but I swear I saw it. I didn’t read it, because the DT hides most of its stuff behind a paywall these days, and paying my way past paywalls is a habit I don’t want to start catching. But, I did see it. It was something along these lines, but with a cyclists photo at the top instead of a short video about people sunbathing en masses on the beach.

Also, there was me, creeping about photoing these cyclists. I too am fraying the Lockdown at its edges.

Because, another interesting thing about Lockdown London, at any rate the bit I live in, is that the Plod are almost nowhere to be seen. Parliament Square on Sunday contained many cyclists and creepers about like me, but no coppers whatsoever. You’d think Parliament Square would still be a worry to them, yet the only cops I saw that day were charging about in vans, attending to some other matter of far greater importance to them than me creeping about photoing, or than lots of cyclists. Who knows? Maybe they were actually having a go at some crimes.

Now, I know, had any policemen tried interrogating any of these cyclists, their answer would have been: “This is excercise, and exercise is allowed.” That would have been my answer also. But in practise, the rule that the police seem to have been applying during all this History has been more like: “You can go out, but you are not allowed to enjoy it.” It was the way these cyclists were so obviously having a good time taking their exercise that made it feel like defiance of the official line. And my worry was pleasure (because photoing) is what I would have been accused of also. So, I agree with the implication of that DT piece. It’s starting to crumble. If the government is wise, it will now relax things.

At the risk of boring you, another thought occurs to me about these cyclists, which is that slowly but surely the Lockdown is being politicised. Lefties don’t mind the economy tanking quite so much, because they have a government that they hate that they can then blame it all on. They have elections to win that they’ve lately been losing, rather badly. Righties, on the other hand, want the Lockdown to end, so that they can get back to being right about everything.

But cyclists of the sort I was photoing are a classic lefty demographic. If they are making a nonsense of the Lockdown, then the Lockdown is in trouble and needs to be wound down rather fast.

Also, the very fact that Lockdown is being politicised is further evidence that people are no longer taking it that seriously, the Righties in particular. When you start thinking how the crisis du jour will help or hinder your political tribe, then it’s no longer a proper crisis. It’s a mere circumstance.

Please don’t mistake the above for my considered opinions. This is me having made some observations, and then me thinking aloud about those observations.

Bloomingdales of Putney

More archival grubbing got me to this, which was photoed with my old Canon A70 in the summer of 2004, in Lower Richmond Road, Putney:

Here’s what Google was able to tell me a few moments ago about how the same spot is looking now:

I figured there’d be no “Bloomingdales” there now. Time was when such a place would attract strictly local attention, and would build its business from there. But now? Most “shops” are now at least half based on the Internet. And imagine trying to call yourself “Bloomingdales” on the internet, unless you’re the real Bloomingdales. First off, people wouldn’t be able to find you, because the real Bloomingdales would get totally in the way. And second up, if anyone could find you on the Internet, the real Bloomingdales would find you also and immediately be all over you with an army of savage USA type lawyers.

Battersea silhouettes

I’m still, as yet, going on quite long photo-walks. These are combined with shopping and a lot of exercise, the latter being even greater now what with public transport being off limits. There is plenty, since you ask, of social isolation, far more even than is usual. Nevertheless, I still fear that the photoing aspect may soon attract the disapproving attention of authorities, formal or informal. Too little shopping. Insufficiently strenuous exercise. Too much enjoyment. We shall see.

But in the meantime, yesterday afternoon, I checked out, again, the now stalled progress of the new apartment blocks that Frank Gehry has designed to go next to the Battersea Power Station. Last time I tried photoing these, the weather let me down. Not yesterday. Trouble was, the light was coming from behind the buildings I was most interested in photoing. But there was so much of it bouncing around that even though starting out from totally the wrong direction it was still a great improvement on the earlier trip, for photoing that Gehry-weirdness. Which I may or may not get to blogging about.

But as always, on a successful photo walk, the official destination was only part of the story. When I took another look this morning at what I had, I realised that, in among all the beautifully lit photos I photoed pointing one way, with most of the light coming from behind me, were photos like these, with me pointing the other way:

I’ve photoed that amazingly tasteless sculpture of the naked woman pointing herself forwards at the front of a boat, but this is by far the best photo of her I’ve ever photoed. The secret? Added cranes and roof clutter.

Also in the category list below is other creatures. Spot the other creature.