On how we love animals (except when we love how they taste)

While in France, I read the whole of The Square and the Tower, and then embarked upon The Ape that Understood the Universe.

In the latter book, the matter of how humans get all sentimental about animals is mentioned (pp. 59-60):

… Why do so many people take such delight in string at infant members of other species? It’s not as if, say, porcupines enjoy staring at baby chickens. As with porn, our love of these nonhuman animals is probably not an adaptation. More than likely, it’s spillover from psychological mechanisms designed for more human-centered purposes. There’s a certain cluster of traits that people everywhere find irresistibly cute. This includes big round eyes in the center of the face, a small nose, and plump, stubby limbs. Our affection for creatures with these features presumably evolved to motivate us to care for our own infants and toddlers. But the same features are found in many other infant mammals, and even in the adult members of some nonhuman species. As a result, we often feel affectionate and protective toward these individuals as well – not because it’s adaptive, but just because adaptations aren’t perfect. By the way, as you might already have
noticed, the spill over hypothesis doesn’t just explain our fondness for cute animal videos. It also hints at an explanation for a much older and more pervasive phenomenon: our habit of keeping pets.

Motivated I am sure by exactly this sort of fondness for animals myself, I have become more and more intrigued by this general human propensity. Which is why so many of my photos involve non-human creatures of one sort or another.

Here are some of the non-human creatures photos I photoed while in France recently:

Even the photos involving signs urging dog owners to clear up canine crap (photos 12, 14 and 17) are about our positive feelings towards animals, because the offending dogs are pets. And even the two plastic barrier things (photo 16) are “other creatures”, in the sense that we insist on seeing the faces of creatures where there are none, even though these particular non-creatures each have only one eye. Yes, we do love these creatures.

And yet, by way of a corrective, we also do these kinds of things to particularly tasty creatures, in this case to various mammals and to fishes:


I have been in France

I have indeed. Been in France. I didn’t tell you, my readers, because I did not wish London’s criminal community to be aware that, if they wished to plunder my home, the last week would have been the week to have been doing it. Silly I know, but I actually have been robbed, or at any rate attempted robbed. He climbed the stairs, knocked on the door, but I was slow to answer and he broke the door down. When I finally gave the guy my attention he fled, but I don’t want anything like that happening again, I can tell you. That is, I can tell you now.

So yes, I have been in France. I took many photos, as you would expect, but here’s a France related photo I took just now, in my very own kitchen, here in my very own London:

I bought this bottle of grapefruit Volvic at Carcassonne Airport this afternoon. I sipped it during the flight home, and finished it here. Delicious. Yet, I have never come across grapefruit Volvic in London. In London, Volvic is mostly a particularly disgusting and pointless sort of fruit flavoured sugar water, but made with fake sugar, which tastes like something concocted in a laboratory by mad scientists hellbent on killing every human now alive with extreme obesity. British Volvic used to do orange, and I still encounter that from time to time. Also delicious. But, grapefruit Volvic, in London, does not happen. I googled “volvic grapefruit”, and Google, which knows I am a English, spontaneously changed the subject entirely to foreign parts. It had nothing English to tell me about this subject.

This is terrible. I hereby protest. (See this posting for why I like to complain about capitalism from time to time, even though capitalism is obviously superior to all known alternatives.)

Different animals getting along with each other

My computer is misbehaving, added to which I have been busy doing other things. So just a couple of tweets for today, both concerning one of the things the internet really likes, namely: different brands of animals being nice to each other.

A monkey caresses some puppies. Although, a cynical commenter thinks maybe he’s just checking out how much meat they have on them. Fair to say, though, that the monkey looks like he’s doing just what humans, who mostly don’t have in mind to eat puppies, do with puppies.

A human and a dog play a game. The one where you have to remove a wooden piece from a tower, without knocking over the tower. The dog is very good at it. There seems no limit to what dogs will do to keep our attention and gain our approval.

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.

A sixteenth century map of the world

Via Twitter, and something called Map Porn, I found my way to this world map drawn by Ahmed Muhiddin Piri in the 16th century:

Yet I can only find one other reference to it on the www, in the form of a print of the above which is for sale, here, where it’s described as a “Fine Archival Reproduction”. So far as I can work it out, this is a bodged together guess about a map that “Ahmed Muhiddin Piri” (aka “Piri Reis”) did create, but which only survives in the form of a small fragment. We know he knew enough to have created such a map. So, hey, we did create it. But I could be completely wrong about this, because I’m still trying to get my head around it all. Perhaps this is a copy of a real map. Maybe the internet is full of descriptions of it, which I merely failed to find.

The reason I’m interested in this map, or the maps that enabled this map to be made, is that it illustrates how much more they knew about the geography of the world in other parts of the world than Europe. When Europe “discovered” the rest of the world, this wasn’t Europeans discovering a primitive and poverty-stricken place, which only started getting rich after they’d discovered it. What the Europeans discovered was lots of places far richer than Europe, like India and China. And that’s just what the Europeans were trying to do. Just because they also “discovered” such places as Australia and North America, which were poorer, doesn’t mean that their basic motive was to conquer the world. No, what the Europeans were trying to do was get connected with an already thriving world, with which they could import mystical luxuries like spice, and from which they could learn, but which they stopped from doing, by the conquest of the Middle East by Islam. So, the Europeans decided to go round. Round Africa. Round the world, by going west. (That being why the West “Indies” got called “Indies”. And why the people we now call Native Americans were know for many decades as “Red Indians”. Still were, when I was a kid. And still are, by some.)

The European economic breakthrough that made its presence felt in the late 18th century was, globally speaking, something of an end run, as Americans would say. As I learned from that book I’ve been enthusing about by Steve Davies, Europe remained disunited, developed modern guns and never stopped developing them, starting winning wars against the likes of Indians (real ones, in India), then went from inventing and improving guns to inventing and improving everything else and thus unleashed the Industrial Revolution. Europe only got out in front rather late in the story. Oh, it was special. But so were lots of other places.

As the above map illustrates. Or, I think it does.

And maybe it also illustrates something else. Interestingly, the one big thing it gets wrong, the thing only people nearby then knew about properly, was Australasia. Rumours about northern Australia made people think that Australia was part of what we call Antarctica. New Zealand? Again, locals on boats in islands to the north presumably knew about it. But people like Ahmed Muhiddin/Piri Reis, and his various informants? They had no idea.

Arthur Colley’s diary goes missing

Photoed by me this afternoon in Warwick Way:

November 4th was quite a while back, so maybe it’s all been sorted by now. Hope so. But if not, sounds like he needs the help of somebody younger, with social media expertise. I googled “Arthur Colley lost diary” and got lots about another Arthur who lost a diary, but nothing involving any Arthur Colley.

Bad Bach

Here are two enticing paragraphs from a book which is coming out next month, entitled Music: A Subversive History by Ted Gioia:

I’ve talked to people who feel they know Bach very well, but they aren’t aware of the time he was imprisoned for a month. They never learned about Bach pulling a knife on a fellow musician during a street fight. They never heard about his drinking exploits — on one two-week trip he billed the church eighteen groschen for beer, enough to purchase eight gallons of it at retail prices — or that his contract with the Duke of Saxony included a provision for tax-free beer from the castle brewery; or that he was accused of consorting with an unknown, unmarried woman in the organ loft; or had a reputation for ignoring assigned duties without explanation or apology. They don’t know about Bach’s sex life: at best a matter of speculation, but what should we conclude from his twenty known children, more than any significant composer in history (a procreative career that has led some to joke with a knowing wink that “Bach’s organ had no stops”), or his second marriage to twenty-year-old singer Anna Magdalena Wilcke, when he was in his late thirties? They don’t know about the constant disciplinary problems Bach caused, or his insolence to students, or the many other ways he found to flout authority. This is the Bach branded as “incorrigible” by the councilors in Leipzig, who grimly documented offense after offense committed by their stubborn and irascible employee.

I sort of knew a lot of this, but didn’t quite put the slant on it that Gioia does. I had Bach as a Great Composer being tormented by dreary apparatchiks who didn’t get what a Great Composer he was. But Gioia has Bach as the kind of Great Composer who would have driven anybody crazy, and only people who did semi-grasp what an actual great composer he was would have put up with it for as long as those Leipzigers did.

Gioia continues:

But you hardly need to study these incidents in Bach’s life to gauge his subversive tendencies. Just listen to his music, which in its ostentatious display of technique and inventiveness must have disturbed many in the austere Lutheran community, and even fellow musicians. Not much music criticism of his performances has survived, but the few surviving reactions of his contemporaries leave no doubt about Bach’s disdain for the rules others played by. We hear a complaint about him improvising for too long during church services. We read an angry denunciation from fellow composer Johann Adolphe Scheibe about Bach’s “bombastic” and “confused” music-making. Bach even was forced to provide a memorandum to the city council in 1730 explaining why it was necessary to embrace “the present musical taste, master the new kinds of music.” Here he insists that “the former style of music no longer seems to please our ears,” and demands the freedom to follow the most progressive trends of his day. But perhaps the most revealing commentary comes from Scheibe’s diatribe, where he complains that Bach’s music was “darkened by an excess of art” and marred by an “unending mass of metaphors and figures.” In other words, the very signs of Bach’s greatness for later generations were the same elements that made him suspect during his own times.

This makes a lot of sense to me. There has always seemed to me something of the Gothic about Bach, a distinct whiff of Count Dracula, especially when he sits down at the organ. But I don’t now listen to much Bach organ music because the usual way it’s now played always sounds so bloody prim and proper.

The best way to tune into this side of Bach is to listen to him “arranged” for piano, by some self-important nineteenth century piano virtuoso, and played by a similarly egotistical and ostentatious (to use the word Gioia applies to Bach) pianist now, preferably a Russian, of the sort who comes third in piano competitions rather than first because, although he can clearly play the socks off everyone else, he makes the jury too uncomfortable with his crazy histrionics and his indifference to the usual way that classical piano pieces are supposed to be played. That sort of grandiose and attention-grabbing playing, it seems to me, often captures Bach in a way that better mannered performances miss. To put it another way, I have long suspected that “authentic” Bach is often the very opposite of what Bach was really like, and what Bach would have really liked.

Read more at where I copied-and-pasted the above two paragraphs from, here.

See also this Guardian piece, reporting Bach research by John Eliot Gardiner, that Gioia draws upon.

Short quote:

Archival sources, including school inspector reports, reveal that Bach’s education was troubled by gang warfare and bullying, sadism and sodomy – as well as his own extensive truancy.

This was published six years ago. Again, I sort of remember this, but I didn’t really take it in.

I love the internet.

Continuous Particulate Monitor

I love the internet.

I was in Oxford Street the other day, and photoed this gizmo, once the whole thing, and then a photo of the letters and numbers on the gizmo:

I love the internet because I could type those letters and numbers into it, and immediately learn that this is a pollution measuring device. To be more exact, this is a (see above) Continuous Particulate Monitor.

I tried reading this, but was unable to discern from it whether this process is applied to the emissions of a particular vehicle, or just to the air generally, in the general vicinity of the Continuous Particulate Monitor.

But the funny thing is, when I googled “bx 802”, I didn’t get any mention of any BX-802s, but lots of mentions of the BX-1020. Which I assume must be the more recent version of the BX-802.

Mind you, the internet did also suggest that BX 802 could be a chair.

A beaver shadow in Oxford Street

August 18th 2017 was one of those bright-light-on-light-coloured-buildings-turning-the-sky-darkest-blue sort of a day:

But when I photoed that particular photo, in Oxford Street, the mere bright-lightedness of the buildings or the darkness of the dark blue sky were not what I was focussing on, or at any rate trying to focus on. I know this, because the very next photo I photoed was this:

What I was interested in was that shadow. And it just has to be a beaver, doesn’t it? No other creature has quite that granny-bod shape. (The shadow is clearly not of that bobble on the right, as, with my terrible eyesight, I may have been guessing at the time.)

Sadly, however, I didn’t manage to get a look at or a photo a photo of the original beaver statue that was the cause of this shadow. I think I must have been too close to the building. Or, I tried to but not hard enough, and then forgot the beaver and looked at all the other things to be seen from Oxford Street that this same light was lighting up. Yes, probably that.

But then, earlier this week, while wandering through the archives, and spotting this beaver shadow as an obvious solution to the what-to-blog-on-Friday question which I face every Friday, it occurred to my slowing old brain that I didn’t just have a mysterious photo of a beaver shadow to ponder about and never explain. I also had a word – “beaver” – and that once you have a word, the internet becomes searchable, even if all you really have is an image and a guess about a word. So, “beaver oxford street”, and bingo, all was explained, instantly.

Why Are There Statues of Beavers On Top Of This Oxford Street Shop? asked Londonist, 32 months ago. Question asked, question answered:

If you glance up at the top of 105 to 109 Oxford Street (the building currently home to Tiger and Footlocker), you’ll see a strange quartet of creatures decorating the roof.

Four beavers, the top one holding a scroll(!), have been peering down on Oxford Street shoppers for 130 years.

Ah, I should have glanced. Then, I’d have seen them, or at least one of them. All I did was look, and then give up.

This is because 105 to 109 Oxford Street used to be Henry Heath’s Hat Factory and for many years, the hats made here were felted with beaver fur.

Londonist goes on to note that there is a big sign round the back of this building saying “HAT FACTORY” “HENRY HEATH Oxford Street”, and proves this with a photo. I recall taking a photo of this signage, several times. But where, in my ever more voluminous photo-archives, are such photos to be found? Search me. And I could search my V P-As, but it would take far too long.

One of the rules of blogging that I have had to learn is that if I have something to say, and want to say more but can’t, I should just say what I have to say, and leave the rest for later or never. So, the beaver shadow photos go up here, today, and any photos I have photoed of signs saying HENRY HEATH HAT FACTORY will just have to wait for another day or decade, in the event that one fine day or dark night I stumble upon them while looking for something else.

However, I do have just one more beaver photo to show you.

I occasionally visit John Lewis in Oxford Street, because it sells fine produce. Whenever I do this, I also, unless the weather is particularly bad, visit the very fine John Lewis Roof Garden, and take photos from it of the rest of London. So, I wondered if I had any photos taken from that spot, of any beavers, photoed in the direction of Centre Point, which is the big tower at the eastern end of Oxford Street, after which Oxford Street turns into New Oxford Street. Since I knew which directories to be looking in, this was a photo-archival search that made sense.

And, long story a bit less long, I came upon this photo (which I photoed in 2015):

And I took a closer-up look at this photo, in the spot where a beaver might be seen. And here, in the middle of the above photo, is that beaver, looking like a granny supporting herself with her umbrella (although this is really a “scroll(!)”):

Now clearly, even more than is the case with all the other photos of mine that I show here, this photo is no work of art. Canaletto can rest easy in his grave. But, as with so many of my photos, it’s the principle of the thing. This photo is photoable, well, because look, I actually did photo it, badly.

I could even go back to this same spot and trying to photo the same photo, better.

Memo to self: do that, some time soon.

Ashes to Ashes

In the Old Trafford Test, now nearing its end, which is a must-not-lose game for England, England have to bat tonight and all day tomorrow for a draw. They’ll need a lot of skill, and a lot of luck. And, they needed a good start.

In their first innings, England’s top scorers were Burns and Root. So, this was not what England wanted from the third and fourth balls of their innings:

At the crease now, Joe Denly and Jason Roy, who do not inspire confidence, despite having swapped positions, Denly now being 2 and Roy 4. A cricinfo commenter observed:

Roy faced his first ball of the innings before Denly. Poetic justice for Denly?

I thought that Jason Roy, what with him being class, would turn himself into a test match batsman. The Jos Buttler theory, you might say. I think Roy would do well, against lesser sides. But he has not done well against these Australian bowlers.