The first humans settled in Scotland around 14,000 years ago. They must have arrived in summer; nobody in their right mind would choose to live here during the winter. Even as far south as Edinburgh, the sun emerges late only to disappear before 4 p.m., the rain eats umbrellas for breakfast and the Arctic gale is as rough as sandpaper. We don’t have much of a Christmas celebration to distract us from the gloom: the Scottish Reformation stamped out idolatrous Yuletide celebrations and Christmas only became a public holiday in 1958. Instead, we have Hogmanay.
(London Review of Books)
I want to end by reading something Bertolt Brecht wrote that I stumbled across in my twenties:
Nowadays, anyone who wishes to combat lies and ignorance and to write the truth must overcome at least five difficulties. He must have the courage to write the truth when truth is everywhere opposed; the keenness to recognize it, although it is everywhere concealed; the skill to manipulate it as a weapon; the judgement to select in whose hands it will be effective, and the cunning to spread the truth among such persons.
Speaking as an old-fashioned scientist, I think the message is kind of a primitive and, again, old-fashioned message. This is a finite planet. There is a finite amount of energy. There is finite efficiency of converting it by animals and crops. And there are certain sensitivities in terms of biogeochemical cycles, which will tolerate only that much. I mean, that should be obvious to anybody who’s ever taken some kind of kindergarten biology.
Unfortunately, this is a society where nobody’s taking kindergarten biology because everybody’s studying what’s communications, writing in code, economics, business administration, liaising the state office, and things like that. This is a new civilization we have. People are totally detached from reality. If you are attached, at least a bit, to reality, all of this is common sense.
One way of explaining how Britain got to this place is to say that we waited all this time for the worst prime minister in history, and then four came along at once.
The education secretary, Gillian Keegan, seemed both surprised and peeved that the prospect of concrete falling on children’s heads would cause so much bother. She observed that ‘schools can collapse for many reasons,’ mithered that no one had told her ‘you’ve done a fucking good job,’ and breezily tweeted: ‘most schools unaffected’. (Keir Starmer’s press team live for this kind of low hanging fruit, and were quick with the obvious riposte: ‘most beachgoers not eaten by big shark’.)
While in Susa, de Morgan oversaw the excavation of a seven-foot basalt stele inscribed with the Code of Hammurabi, the best-preserved copy of one of the world’s oldest legal texts, drawn up by the sixth Amorite king of the Old Babylonian Empire. It is now on display in the Louvre, five thousand miles (and a great many political barriers) away from the sight of modern Iranians. The code, which lists 282 provisions and their punishments, is the first recorded example of the lex talionis principle, predating the Torah’s ‘eye for an eye’. It also lays out the earliest written building regulations:
From a book review in the FT The Perennials: The Megatrends Creating a Postgenerational Society’, by Mauro Guillén.
The loneliness and emptiness of retirement could be alleviated if classrooms and offices welcomed all comers, regardless of age. Big shifts in thinking will be needed to bring this about, not least inside educational institutions and executive suites. But it’s a change that is long overdue, says [ Mauro] Guillén, who pointed to words written about a century ago by anthropologist Margaret Mead:
It is utterly false and cruelly arbitrary to put all the play and learning into childhood, all the work into middle age, and all the regrets into old age.
And yes, I do think about these things more and more.
Or as Tory Deputy Chairman Lee Anderson put it: “If they don’t like barges then they should f*ck off back to France.”
Splendid. Which brings to mind Aneurin Bevan’s infamous description of the Tory party. My sympathy, as ever, is with the Welshman.
Nicholas Spice speaks of ‘the conductor demanding ever more rehearsal time, the players wanting to get home and have a life’ (LRB, 16 March). This put me in mind of Frank Zappa’s definition of conducting as ‘drawing designs in the nowhere which are interpreted as instructional messages by guys wearing bowties who wish they were fishing’.
The over-burdened welfare state is not quite coping with people suffering from what (I learned here) doctors describe as “Shit Life Syndrome” when they go to their GPs for help with depression or other mental ill-health conditions. And there will not be enough money to fix any of this unless growth picks up. But that would require a competent, effective government able to take clear decisions, build cross-party consensus, devolve money and powers, and stick with the plan without changing ministers and policies every 18 months.
As a med student I remember sitting in with an Irish senior registrar in psychiatry as he saw a young woman whose life seemed to consist of one random but state-induced tragedy after another. That she could still get out of bed and care for her numerous children seemed to me to attest both to her sanity and her moral character.
The psychiatrist’s assessment was blunt: the patient had no need of a physician, but needed to join the f***ing labour party and mobilise for office. Quite so.
In 1612 the founder of Oxford University’s Bodleian Library had even warned against collecting play-texts: worthless “baggage books”.
No freeman (or woman) is free if judged by their peers. [JLR]
Why do humans make sculpture? George Mallory is supposed to have said he wanted to climb Mount Everest simply because it was there. Sculpture’s special power, by contrast—the reason why Phyllida Barlow made sculpture at all—is that it isn’t there. That was where her adventure began.
Murals of cartoon characters including Mickey Mouse and Baloo from The Jungle Book painted on the walls of an asylum seeker reception centre to welcome children have been removed on the orders of the immigration minister, Robert Jenrick.
The murals were painted over because he thought they were too welcoming and sent the wrong message — to children…
Truly, nothing in his public life exposed him like the leaving of it.
As Sacha Baron Cohen said: “Democracy is dependent on shared truths, and autocracy on shared lies.”
Truly, nothing in his public life exposed him like the leaving of it.
These men dared to write vast superpower novels about the whole of society. His own smaller efforts were symptomatic of Britain’s decline: its aura of filthy pub carpets, its morbidly obese children, phone booths “slobberingly coated with thick red paint”, London “like the insides of an old plug”. Purpose had been lost along with the empire, and under Thatcher, that old witch, civility and civilisation had fallen apart. Nothing but weak left-liberalism remained to confront the ruins; that, and the scathing onslaught of his prose.
Getting rid of the fags helped the pub carpets. And Thatcher did Wales (see previous post).
Scott Galloway writes:
The richest man in the world doesn’t make cars, rockets, or enterprise software — he makes handbags. Bernard Arnault, the CEO of LVMH, is now worth more than Warren Buffett and Mark Zuckerberg combined. He’s made his fortune not selling things people need, but things they want. LVMH controls the most prestigious luxury brands in the world, from Tiffany & Co. to Loro Piana to Louis Vuitton.
When you assemble artisans and create scarcity that results in a supply/demand imbalance, you generate a cash volcano that you can cap the same way you do an oil well — and turn on/off as needed. Businesses are either supply-constrained (e.g., rare earth minerals, 1945 Château Mouton wine, etc.) or demand-constrained (pretty much everything else). The companies that trade at the greatest multiples are those that are artificially supply-constrained, where the supply/demand imbalance puts a dial on the spigot the managers control. Imagine the decision to have more revenue is just a function of when you’d like more revenue (see above: Hermès).
Architects’ dialect comprises delusional boasts that cast them as philosophers and their trade as at best a social service, at worst a particularly dodgy branch of alternative medicine or new age bunk: sustainabulous, green, responsible, liminal, wellness, community, performative, holistic, participatory, community (again). Mind mange? Ghosts in the infrastructure? Boney’s or Bogey’s or the Bears’ advance through the gaps between the paving stones? Architecture will get it sorted. As Reinier de Graaf noted of a speech by Richard Rogers: ‘With each new sentence a new location, topic or domain is added to the theoretical competence of architecture.’
There is always something suspicious about an intellectual on the winning side.
Makes me feel better already. I used to read Havel a lot, but this line had fallen from my RAM. Sadly, not applicable to rugby.
The fertile hatred had dried up in Grosz’s headlong attempt transform himself into an American and get into the spirit of the place. ‘Nobody really needs art anymore, since everybody is practising it,’he wrote in his autobiography. ‘I really love the American optimistic believe that everything can be learned; but I don’t quite believe it.’
Thomas Meaney on the artist, George Grosz, in the London Review of Books, 16th of February 2023
“The trouble with computers is that all they give you is answers.”
Via Ian Leslie: Answer Machines – by Ian Leslie – The Ruffian
As far as Toby was concerned, Jay Crispin was your normal, rootless, amoral, plausible, half-educated, nicely spoken frozen adolescent in a bespoke suit, with an unappeasable craving for money, power and respect, regardless of where he got them from.
And from there, he wandered off into an argument with Friedrich Schiller’s grandiose statement that human stupidity was what the gods fought in vain. Not so, in Toby’s opinion, and no excuse for anybody, whether god or man. What the gods and all reasonable humans fought in vain wasn’t stupidity at all. It was sheer, wanton, bloody indifference to anybody’s interests but their own.
A Delicate Truth, John le Carré
YMMV, but for me, one of his very best.
Sarah O’Connor in today’s FT
I’m one of life’s optimists. When I think about living to be 100 years old, I picture a birthday party where I am surrounded by my devoted descendants, perhaps followed by a commercial space flight as a celebratory treat.
But I’m in the minority here. A lot of people would rather be dead. In a recent UK poll by Ipsos, only 35 per cent of people said they wanted to become centenarians.
John Naughton’s Quote of the Day
”If people don’t believe mathematics is simple, it is only because they don’t realise how complicated life is.”
John von Neumann
Debt is the sexually transmitted disease of finance. People won’t discuss it in public.
F Scott Fitzgerald remains correct that first-class minds can handle ambiguity and contradiction. The rest of us need structure.
Via John Naughton
”Three hours a day will produce as much as a man ought to write.” Anthony Trollope
He would know. According to some reports, he paid a servant an extra £5 a year to wake him up at 5:30 am every morning and get him a cup of coffee. Trollope would then work on a novel for three hours. The first half hour was spent reading over what he had already written, and after that he wrote at a pace of 250 words per 15 minutes. So, over three hours, he would write approximately 2,500 words.
And he did that while holding down a serious job in the Post Office. Infuriating, isn’t it? [JN]
Here’s the second thing I learnt: it’s still better to be disappointed by your own dreams than shaped by the dreams of others. Patrick Freyne
Was my own research philosophy. I would rather my own less-than-perfect experiments than be a cog.
There are several reasons to worry about the future. One is the past.
Janan Ganesh in the FT.
We all get our closing parentheses. I’ve gone longer without closing mine than Kim did before closing his. That also makes me sad, not that I’m in a hurry. Being old means knowing you’re in the exit line, but okay with others cutting in. I just wish this time it wasn’t Kim.
Britt Blaser says life is like a loaf of bread. It’s one loaf no matter how many slices are in it. Some people get a few slices, others many. For the sake of us all, I wish Kim had more.
I am reminded of what a friend said of Amos Tversky, another genius of seemingly boundless vitality who died too soon: “Death is unrepresentative of him.”