Man with food

The summer of February 2019 has now ended, but I still have some photo-memories of it to stick up here.

These photos, for instance, of a man whom GodDaughter2 and I encountered in Hyde Park, back on February 15th. As I have already related, there was a lot of feeding of birds going on that day, but before all that bird frenzy, we had already encountered a guy who had taken the feeding of birds (and squirrels) to a whole new level. He wasn’t so much feeding these creatures as laying on a free canteen for them. And they obviously knew this, and greeted him like a long lost friend.

I photoed him and his friends (who included two green parrots), a lot:

You can see evolution taking a distinct turn towards something different, can’t you? The most trusting and friendly and fearless creatures are the ones who get best fed.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Some geometrical video

With thanks to Patrick Crozier‘s Twitter feed, this, posted by Steve Stewart-Williams.

He got it from Denny Borsboom, who says (at his Facebook page), this:

Different scientific models can have equivalent observational consequences. In statistics, this is known as statistical equivalence; in the philosophy of science, underdetermination of theory by data. This is often hard to explain and I know few good illustrations that go beyond Wittgenstein’s duckrabbit. This GIF is a really nice illustration – and beautiful too.

If I knew how to post a GIF here, I would. But I couldn’t make that work.

For me, the the star with seven points is the most remarkable aspect of this.

Wittgenstein’s duckrabbit is presumably that creature that looks like both a duck and a rabbit, depending.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Dolphin on Jupiter

Indeed:

NASA took the photos, but it was Sean Doran and Brian Swift who spotted the dolphin and “visual artist and citizen scientist” Doran then Tweeted it.

I’m guessing that this dolphin is not a permanent fixture, but an accident of cloud formation. I’m guessing it will soon be gone. But what do I know? About dolphins. On Jupiter. Or anywhere.

See also, these two galaxies, which resemble a penguin looking after its egg.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

The original Sloane

Yesterday I found myself in Duke of York Square, which is just along the King’s Road from Sloane Square. So, what with the Duke of York being one of Britain’s most under-rated military leaders, at any rate according to this book, I thought that, this might be a statue of the Duke himself.

But a closer look at the plinth told me different:

Wikipedia tells us more about this, the original Sloane, from whom, of course, Sloane Square took its name, and because of whom Sloanes are called Sloanes. Sir Hans Sloane, it seems, was the collector of scientific specimens who first got the British Museum started. Plus, this:

He is credited with creating drinking chocolate.

Blog and learn. Here is a rather more artistic close-up of this same statue:

This statue is a recreation by Simon Smith of a statue carved in 1737 by John Rysbrack. Smith’s new statue was unveiled in 2007:

The original statue, now deteriorated, is housed in the British Museum, with a cast in the Chelsea Physic Garden. The sculptor, Simon Smith, said: “`I wanted the sculpture to show Sir Hans Sloane as a kind man with a sharp intellect and an enquiring mind. An approachable man of principle and logic, who’s morals and philanthropy are still of benefit to us today.”

The light yesterday was very dim, even early in the afternoon. But whereas buildings often respond well to bright sunlight, I find that statue photos are often deranged if sunlight is unimpeded, and better when the light is more spread around and is coming from lots of different directions, as happens under cloud. Less light, but of the right sort, does the job.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

The Great Pagoda of Kew Gardens – and its dragons

The high point, literally, of the expedition that GodDaughter2 and I made to Kew Gardens back in August was our exploration of the Great Pagoda.

From the top of the Great Pagoda, you can see the Big Things of Central London. But what the Great Pagoda itself looks like is also worth examining.

Here is an early view we had of it:

And here is how it looked when we got closer:

The Daily Mail describes the Great Pagoda as Britain’s First Skyscraper.

Now look how it looked when we got closer still:

So, what are those sticky-outy things on the corners of each sticky-outy roof?

That’s right, dragons. And we’re not talking merely inflated dragons. These are solid looking and scary. You couldn’t kill these dragons with a mere pin prick, and you wouldn’t dare to try.

Most of the Great Pagoda dragons look like this:

We discovered when we got there that the recent restoration of this Great Pagoda had, only a few weeks before our visit, been completed. We got very lucky with that.

Read more about these dragons, and about the Pagoda that they now guard, in this Guardian report.

This Great Pagoda, London’s very first Big Thing, was built by Sir William Chambers in 1762. The dragons were a feature of the original Pagoda, but in 1784 they were removed. Being made of wood, and following a burst of wet weather, they had started to rot.

Wikipedia says that Kew Gardens was adopted as a national botanical garden in 1840. Would that be when the Pagoda was opened to the general public? Whenever exactly that was, Kew Gardens and the Great Pagoda have been what we now call visitor attractions for quite a while now.

During World War 2, the Great Pagoda was used to test bombs. You can still see one of the holes they made in all the floors, to allow the bombs to fall. Keeping that for everyone to see now is a nice touch, I think.

Kew Gardens contains lots of greenery, and green stuff on sticks. What do they call those things? Trees. Kew Gardens has lots and lots of trees, of many different brands.

So, on the left here, the hole in the floor. On the right there, the seat made from many trees:

And in the middle, the seat, seen through the hole.

But back to those dragons. The old rotting dragons have now been almost entirely replaced by 3D printed dragons, which look solid but which are actually far lighter than the old-time originals.

On the lowest roof, right near the ground, there was a different sort of dragon, which looked like this:

I wonder what the story was of that one, for there did indeed seem to be only one such blue dragon. Had the original plan been to make all the dragons like that one? But did its structural weakness cause them to abandon that plan, and go with the other darker green dragon with its scary red tongue, and with its rather more solid wings? Don’t know, but whatever the story is, the winning dragon design is pretty good also.

Everything about how the Great Pagoda looks, inside as well as its exterior, says: class. This is a visitor attraction that I warmly recommend. There is no lift, not originally of course, and not now, but the steps, although quite numerous, are at a comfortably mild angle – rather than, say, like the ones in the Monument. Even better, each flight of steps you go up causes you to reach another actual floor, of the sort you can stand on, with windows looking outwards. So, oldies like me can go up two floors, say, and then have a comfortable breather, without blocking anyone else on the stairs. If we are on the right floor, we can even use that multi-treed seat (see above).

The weather on the day that GD2 and I visited Kew Gardens was not perfect. The dragons look rather dark and menacing in my photos. But that look works, I think. And as days out go, this day out was pretty much perfect.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Flotsametrics

I find signs to be an endless source of fun and revelation, and I frequently photo them. So I was much entertained by this New York Times story, about a sign that went wandering. Across the Atlantic Ocean.

Hurricane Sandy grabbed this sign from the town of Brielle, on the eastern coast of the USA, in October 2012. But, on or around May 14th 2018:

A man walking along the Plage du Pin Sec, near Bordeaux, spotted it. The faded sign was missing a chunk, but he could still read the legend “Diane Turton Realtors 732-292-1400.”

“It was curious,” the man, Hannes Frank, 64, a semiretired software consultant who lives in Brussels, said by phone on Thursday. “I looked at it and found it quaint.”

And he got in touch with the enterprise advertised on the sign. By their nature, signs can be very informative.

The NYT says that its preferred expert on flotsametrics reckons that, given how long this sign took to make its way to France, it may well have crossed the Atlantic not once, but three times.

Flotsametrics is the study of things that float. Now that the Lefties – like the Lefties who own, run and write for the NYT – are giving up on the claim that capitalism is ruining the planet by ruining the weather, they are back to bitching about how capitalism squirts out lots of rubbish, and they have become particular obsessed with rubbish that hangs about in the sea, especially if it floats. So this story is actually part of The Narrative, even though it is presumably also a genuine and a genuinely good story.

Once the capitalists work out how to transform all the world’s rubbish into – oh, I don’t know – something like gunk for 3D printers to turn into replacement body parts, the lefties will have to think of some other insult to throw at capitalism. But for now, this rubbish thing is getting back to being their biggest complaint. Again.

But just clearing the rubbish up is no good. Oh no. The rubbish must be stopped at source by stamping out capitalism, starting with plastic drinking straws. The actual source of this oceanic rubbish is mostly rivers in poor countries. But that’s a mere fact. The Narrative is what matters.

This has been a spontaneous rant, which is why I am keeping it here, rather than switching it to there.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Conjecture and refutation

One of my favourite public sculptures in London goes by the official name of Assembly. This, or perhaps it should be “these”, stand outside of the Woolwich Arsenal, on the south side of the river, downstream of the centre of London.

I photoed these militaristic characters a while back. Here is how they look, in their local context:

I did a posting (LINK TO THE OLD BLOG) here about them.

Here is one of the photos I showed in that posting:

That’s actually the inside of the head of one of these men, but your eye is telling you that this is a regular head, rather than any sort of concaveness. Yet concaveness is what it is. Your brain insists on telling you it’s a regular head, and you can’t successfully tell it any different.

Here’s another of these head-shaped holes, and this time it is a lot easier to see what is really going on, because there is a bit of context. Also present is a spider’s web, visibly flat, which couldn’t be if the head was sticking out like a regular head.

And now here is another photo which makes everything clear, by turning the head entirely black:

No chance, therefore, for the brain to misinterpret what’s going on.

The reason I was reminded of these sorts of optically illusional images is that I am currently reading this book, which is about how the brain in particular sees things, and in general makes sense of things. This was recommended by Alastair James, commenting on this earlier posting.

The point being that it isn’t just the brain that “makes” all this sense. The process of “making” sense takes place at all levels within the brain/nervous system. Your retina, for instance, is already prejudiced, so to speak, in how it looks at things.

Put it this way. The phrase that has kept on rattling around in my head while I’ve been reading this book is the title of another book, by Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations. We don’t just passively soak up information, and then only a bit later “make” sense of it. Our sense organs are all the time imposing intelligent guesses upon what we are experiencing.

That summary probably isn’t that good. But I’ve only on page 40 and I’ve been finding it pretty hard going.

The last photo above reminds me of the picture in this Samizdata posting that I did a year ago.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

I need a link dump

Twitter is causing ever more interesting things to pile up on my computer screen, and slow everything down. (I know, “bookmarks”. Hate them.) So, here is a blog posting consisting of such links. Which I can come back to and follow through on but probably never will, but possibly just might.

Eyebrows – we all have them, but what are they actually for?

The Kremlin has a Reckless Self-Image Problem.

Via 6k, how to take bizarre photos by stuffing wire wool into a egg whisk, setting the wire wool on fire, and swinging all that around on a rope. Do not try this at home, unless you want to burn down your home.

Next, a Twitter posting about cactus patterns:

So frustrating! My cactus patterns are going viral on FB, but the person who posted the photo of them a) didn’t credit me and b) deletes any comments I write responding to people asking for the patterns.

But what if she made that up? As a ruse to get the world to pay attention to her cactus patterns? Or, what if she hired, in good faith, some sleazy “internet marketer” who deliberately posted her photos on some faked-up Facebook site, minus any credit, told her about it, and then blocked her complaints? The sleazy internet marketer then advised her to complain about this to all and sundry, knowing that all and sundry would sympathise. She seems like an honest person, doing honest business, which is why I pass this on. But a decade of internetting has made me cynical.

Next, a Spectator piece about someone called Scaramucci, who is writing a book about Trump. The piece says more about Scaramucci than it does about Trump, but his book sounds like it will be quite good. Scaramucci sounds like he has his head screwed on right, unlike a lot of the people who write Trump books.

Also in the Spectator, Toby Young realises that his wife is smarter than he is. And she chose to stay at home and raise their kids because that’s what she wanted to do. You can feel the tectonic plates of Western Civilisation shifting back towards stay-at-home mumhood, even as mere policy continues to discourage it. Jordan Peterson, take a bow. That man is already raising the birth rate in rich countries, by encouraging both fatherhood and motherhood. The only question is: By how much? Trivially, or significantly? My bet, with the passing of a bit of time: significantly.

George Bernard Shaw tells it like it was and is about Islam. I lost track of how I chanced upon that, but there it is. These days, GBS would probably get a talking-to from the Thought Police, a talking-to which might well include the words: “We’re not the Thought Police”. If the Thought Police were to have a go at her, they just might get an earful themselves.

Mike Fagan liked this photo of Mont Saint Michel with sheep in the foreground. I can’t any longer find when he liked it, but he did. Reminds me of this Millau Viaduct photo, also with sheep in the foreground.

Boaty McBoatface got turned into David bloody Attenborough, but Trainy McTrainface proudly rides the railway lines of Sweden. As usual, You Had One Job supplied no link (so no link to them), but here’s the story.

Thank you Paul Marks for telling me about someone telling me about Napoleon’s greatest foe. His name? Smith.

The sun is now spotless, or it was on April 11th.

David Baddiel has doubts about the bloke who said “gas the Jews” rather a lot, to a dog. As do I. It should be legal, but don’t expect me to laugh.

Tim Worstall:

All of which leads to the correct Brexit stance to be taking. No deal. We’ll go to unilateral free trade and the rest of you can go boil your heads. We’ll give it a couple of decades and we’ll see who is richer, OK?

Quillette: The China Model Is Failing.

The three temporarily separate Elizabeth lines.

Wisdom.

Anton Howes on Sustained Economic Growth.

John Arnold made a fortune at Enron. He is now spending some of it on criticising bad science.

Human genes reveal history. This book is number (about) twenty on my to-read list.

Philip Vander Elst on How Communism Survived Thanks to Capitalist Technology.

And finally, Bryan Caplan still thinks this is pretty good.

I now feel much better. And more to the point, my computer seems a lot sprightlier than it was. This has been the computerised equivalent of cleaning my room. The job is not done, but I have taken a big bite out of it.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Deidre McCloskey on how genetic diversity in a rich Africa will yield a crop of geniuses

I’m reading Deidre McCloskey’s Bourgeois Equality, the final volume of her Bourgeois trilogy. I hope that in this volume, at last, I will read evidence concerning McCloskey’s thesis about how the Great Enrichment came about, which is that it was ideological. She keeps repeating this, but keeps flying off at other tangents. Wish me luck.

Interesting tangents, mind you. Like this one, which is a most interesting prediction, concerning the future of Sub-Saharan Africa (pp. 70-72):

Know also a remarkable likelihood in our future. Begin with the sober scientific fact that sub-Saharan Africa has great genetic diversity, at any rate by the standard of the narrow genetic endowment of the ancestors of the rest of us, the small part of the race of Homo sapiens that left Mother Africa in dribs and drabs after about 70,000 BCE. The lower diversity outside Africa comes from what geneticists call the founder effect, that is, the dying out of genetic lines in an isolated small group, such as those that ventured into west Asia and then beyond. The founder effect is merely a consequence, of the small samples dribbling out, as against the big sample of the Homo sapiens folk that stayed put in Africa. Any gene-influenced ability is therefore going to have more African extremes. The naturally tallest people and the naturally shortest people, for example, are in sub-Saharan Africa. The naturally quickest long-distance runners are in East Africa. The best basketball players descend from West Africans. In other words, below the Sahara the top end of the distribution of human abilities – physical and intellectual and artistic – is unusually thick. (Yet even in Africa the genetic variability in the Homo sapiens race appears to have been thinned repeatedly before the time of the modest emigrations, by population crashes, such as when the super volcano Toba in Sumatra went off, suggestively also around 70,000 BCE. It reduced our Homo sapiens ancestors to a few thousand-a close call.)

The thickness of sub-Saharan abilities at the high end of the distribution is a mere consequence of the mathematics. Greater diversity, which is to say in technical terms, higher variance, means that unusual abilities at both ends of the distribution, high and low, are more common. Exactly how much more depends on technical measures of genetic difference and their expression. The effect could be small or large depending on such measures and on the social relevance of the particular gene expression.

The high end is what matters for high culture. Sub-Saharan Africa, now at last leaning toward liberal democracy, has entered on the blade of the hockey stick, growing since 2001 in per-person real income by over 4 percent per year-doubling that is, every eighteen years. A prominent Nigerian investment manager working in London, Ayo Salami, expects an ideological shift among African leaders in favor of private trading as the generation, of the deeply socialist anticolonialists born in the 1940s dies out.” The 6- to 10-percent growth rate available to poor economies that wholeheartedly adopt liberalism will then do its work and yield educational opportunities for Africans now denied them.

The upshot? Genetic diversity in a rich Africa will yield a crop of geniuses unprecedented in world history. In a century or so the leading scientists and artists in the world will be black-at any rate if the diversity is as large in gene expression and social relevance as it is in, say, height or running ability. Today a Mozart in Nigeria follows the plow; a Basho in Mozambique was recruited as a boy soldier; a Tagore in East Africa tends his father’s cattle; a Jane Austen in Congo spends her illiterate days carrying water and washing clothes. “Full many a gem of purest ray serene / The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear.”

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog