Steven Pinker: “Don’t confuse pessimism with profundity …”

See the world through Pinker-tinted spectacles than you may be inclined to:

Keep some perspective. Not every problem is a Crisis, Plague, Epidemic, or Existential Threat, and not every change is the End of This, the Death of That, or the Dawn of a Post-Something Era. Don’t confuse pessimism with profundity: problems are inevitable, but problems are solvable, and diagnosing every setback as a symptom of a sick society is a cheap grab for gravitas.

My sentiments exactly.

That’s to be read on page 452 of my paperback edition of Enlightenment Now, Pinker’s most recent book.

Meanwhile:

Those were a couple of the day before yesterday’s headlines. Let’s hope it soon becomes yesterday’s news. Problems are, as Pinker says, solvable, and let’s hope this one too is soon sorted.

Pinker is particularly aware of the way that the news is in the habit of putting a pessimistic spin on everything. If it bleeds it leads, and so on. Good news, meanwhile, creeps up on the world more gradually.

Bollocks can also be spelt Bollox

I note with pleasure and gratitude that BMNBdotcom has made it into David Thompson’s latest list of ephemera, because of an earlier little posting here concerning bollocks.

Some while after doing that posting I came across this Sun front page photo, taken the day after the last General Election:

I would have included that in the earlier posting if I’d remembered having photoed it. But today’s also a good day for it, because Friday is my day for animal kingdom related postings. Woof.

Another creature related ephemeron (?) in DT’s list concerns the eagles at the top of the Chrysler Building.

Patrick Crozier and I talk about the Falklands War

As earlier noted, Patrick Crozier and I recently recorded a conversation about the Falklands War, involving both what we each remembered about it from when we lived through it (early in 1982), and what we have learned about it since, which was not a lot in my case but a bit.

It was a strange conversation, because we basically talked only about what happened and what we remembered, and almost nothing about what the war “proved” or “demonstrated”, about life generally or about the libertarianism that we are both supporters of in other contexts. The questions we began with were: What was it? What happened? How did events unfold? And that’s what we talked about. There were a few ruminations about the difference between a country which had fought several recent wars and another country which had not, and what that meant in terms of the differences between the people fighting each other. That difference being a major reason why Britain won. But even that was strictly to try to explain events, rather than to get all grand and philosophical and what it all meant.

What Patrick felt and what I felt at the time, about the rights and wrongs of it, were rather different. He was gung-ho and very clear. The Argies stole the islands and we should get them back, and do whatever that took. I was rather baffled and wanted Britain to win more because losing would be so terrible. Not least politically. Because, as we speculated, it would have been hard for Thatcher to have survived as PM if there had been a British military and naval catastrophe down there in the South Atlantic. (The South Atlantic being where, as so many Brits of my sort were rather unsure about at the time, the Falkland Islands are to be found.) There nearly was a catastrophe. Luck played a scarily big part, far bigger than we were told at the time.

Well, if you want to hear what we said about this strange war, and are not expecting any bigger lessons beyond a small and rather meandering history lesson, here is where to go.

They’re about to dig up the road

Another quota photo, because: another busy day. I may have time later to do something for here, but don’t want to have to be bothering about this.

So:

Again, photoed quite recently. Well, this year. And very near to where I live. I recall having to put down two big bags of shopping, and to dig out my camera from underneath shopped items, to immortalise this scene. When you see the photo, photo it, now. Leave it until later and, first, you won’t come back later, and second, it you do, it will probably be gone. In this case, dug up. That’s the photo-rule to have been following here.

The other relevant photo-rule is: If someone sees you doing this and thinks you’re a weirdo, this does not matter. You either care about your photos looking good, or about yourself looking good at all times. Pick one.

What it is is marks on a road, prior to some digging, digging which was still not, when last I looked, completed. My guess is that the symbols refer to pipes, but what do I know?

In its small way, this photo reminds me of something a war correspondent once said about D-Day, which he was at and was reporting on. He said something like: “I didn’t know what the plan was, but I had the strong sense that events were unfolding in accordance with that plan.” I don’t know what the plan was for all the digging that subsequently happened, but there clearly was a plan, and the digging was surely done in accordance with it.

Also (ISIBAISIA), I like photoing things that look like Modern Art but which are not Modern Art. I think this is partly because if reality itself mimics Modern Art on a regular basis, that means that deliberately creating Modern Art is unnecessary, and Modern Artists are not nearly as important contributors to the ongoing march of civilisation as they like to think that they are. Without them, there would still be plenty of Modern-Art-like stuff around for people who like that sort of thing to be looking at.

There you go. Not bad for a mere quota post. And it only took about ten minutes.

The voice of the Falklands War

This afternoon, Patrick Crozier and I recorded another of our podcasts. In due course, assuming the machine recording us didn’t misbehave, it should be showing up here.

Towards the end, during the “anything else we want to say” bit, we reminded ourselves of this amazing character:

For many Brits, Ian McDonald is the sight and the sound which will most vividly take us back to that bizarre time. Would the internet have anything to say about this unique bit-part player in recent British military history? Somewhat sadly, yes it did, in the form of obituaries. Ian McDonald died, in March 2019, one day before what would have been his 83rd birthday.

In the above video, which I found here, the news of the sinking of HMS Sheffield was imparted to Britain’s television viewers in the ponderous and funereal style that McDonald adopted no matter what news he was conveying.

As McDonald said later, this eccentric manner of speaking was deliberate:

“I knew right from the start there would be bad news as well as good news, which is why the delivery I chose was drained of all emotion with no adjectives, short and truthful. …”

Maybe short on paper, but it took an age for him to read it out. Nevertheless, it made a refreshing change from the bombastic and excitable style often adopted by other official spokesmen doing this sort of job, eager to talk up triumphs, but either saying nothing or telling lies about the inevitable setbacks. At the time, most of us trusted that McDonald was, as he said, telling the truth, even if not the whole truth.

Soleimani etc.

In connection with the death of Qasem Soleimani, Mick Hartley posts this picture [photo credit: AFP]:

Plenty of Middle Easterners are now, it seems, rejoicing.

In another posting, Hartley quotes Gerard Baker of The Times saying:

… But this wasn’t simply a case of retributive justice. This was no Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden or Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who were all essentially busted flushes when they met justice. Soleimani was the mastermind of a vast programme of slaughter, enslavement and repression that was continuing across the Middle East until the day he died. …

Meanwhile the Daily Mail offers this characteristically terse headline:

‘Death to liars!’ Iranian protesters in Tehran turn against regime and demand the Ayatollah RESIGN after country’s military admits it shot down passenger plane full of its own citizens

But no, I too had never heard of Soleimani until Trump had him killed.

I have been named in the New Year Honours list 2020

Or so it says in this headline:

Every Londoner named in the New Year Honours list 2020

Let me spell it out for you. This means that every single Londoner has been named on the New Year Honours list. All ten million of us, or however many it is these days. I’m a Londoner, so …

What services are they honouring me for? Services to blogging, presumably.

A selection of 2019 newspaper headlines

I find that newspaper headlines, photoed in such places as shops from which I purchase other goods but not newspapers, can make pleasingly evocative souvenirs, as time goes by. Things that loomed large once upon a time, but which are now forgotten, can instead be remembered. Ah yes, that! Whatever happened to that ruckus? Good lord, him. Good grief, her.

So, here is a gallery of such photos, celebrating the amazing diversity of dramas that London’s various newspapers splashed all over themselves during 2019:

January 17, February 14, March 14, March 29, April 21;
May 28, June 28, July 29, August 9, August 21;
August 21, August 27, August 27, September 13, October 2;
October 2, October 2, November 12, December 6, December 13.

Just kidding. Variety, not.

Most pundits seem to agree that this argument has now been won and lost, following the recent General Election result (also noted in the final photo above). I’ll believe that when I see it. I now expect that there will be plenty of Leaving still to be done, after January the whenever it now is. Much depends, I think, on whether any substantial number of Remainers decide to become Rejoiners; or whether, to use a favourite phrase of such persons when they were winning this argument, the Remainers, aside from an insignificant rump, will now “move on”.

Cummings wins it – Parris misses it

When Boris Johnson appointed Dominic Cummings as his behind the scenes shouter-in-chief, I started to hope that things had taken a turn for the better. I continued to fear the worst, but stopped assuming it. After the Cummings appointment, the air was thick with claims that he was a Satanist, but then it all went quiet. Presumably after Cummings had shouted at everyone then mentioning him to stop mentioning him, if they didn’t want to be set upon by Satan. But I didn’t forget. I knew that Cummings was Satanising away, behind the scenes.

So, when a link to this story at the Telegraph showed up on my Twitter feed, I clicked, hoping against hope to be able to read the whole thing. As it turned out, I was only able to read the top few paragraphs, but I got the bit that mattered to me, which was the Dominic Cummings angle:

They were the lifelong Labour voters on whom Jeremy Corbyn was supposed to be able to rely – even if he failed to sell his vision to a new market.

But to Dominic Cummings and Isaac Levido, the masterminds of Boris Johnson’s landslide victory, they became known as “persuasion ones”: a category of voter whose allegiance to Labour had been profoundly shaken by Mr Corbyn’s leadership and his party’s involvement in blocking Brexit.

Ultimately, the identification and targeting of those voters helped cause an electoral upset that shocked even some of the Conservatives’ most senior figures.

The phrase emerged from some of the most intensive use of focus groups and polling ever seen in a UK election …

I’m sure there will soon be much more to read along these lines.

From Matthew Parris (The Tories will win – but with no thanks to the North), on the other hand, there may be a rather thoughtful silence for a while.

How London is moving downstream

What do you suppose this is?:

Okay, no silly games, this is Disneyland London. They have in mind to construct this during the next few years, out east, on the south bank, on that bit of land that sticks upwards into the beginnings of the Estuary (“Swanscombe Peninsula”), just this side of Tilbury.

The details don’t interest me. I’m pretty sure I’ll never go, not to the finished object. I don’t know when or even if they’ll build this.

What does interest me is that this huge project, even if it never gets beyond being thought about and puffed in the media, illustrates how the centre of gravity of London is moving inexorably downstream. The other Thing as big as this in that part of London is London Gateway, the big container port now being built on the north side of the Estuary, a long walk beyond Tilbury.