Thursday, 26 February 2015

Day Boat Fish

This may just about be the most pretentious thing I've ever seen in a restaurant, and I've had lunch at Le Negresco in Nice. Day Boat frigging Fish! Two hundred yards from Liverpool Street Station? Which Day Boat would that be? Old Jack's or Young Master Thomas'? Day-caught fish is what you get at the sea front at Aldeburgh. All of which further re-enforces my feeling that there's something not quite real about the City of London. Like it's a giant theme park made of second-hand ideas.

Monday, 23 February 2015

God and Mammon: St Botolphs + Heron Tower

One morning last week, around 07:45 I saw the top picture and got a few more. A couple of hours later, the sun went in.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

I wake up at 05:30 and get back home at 19:00 at the earliest

It’s cold. I wake up at 05:30 and get back home at 19:00 at the earliest. I go to bed at 21:30 or a little later. I’m taking two magnesium pills after the gym to help with recovering afterwards. I’m benching 3x4x80 kgs (again), 3x6x70 the deadlift and (again) you do it at my age. I do not have a lot of energy spare at the end of any day, and Saturday is a day dedicated to recovering. Sunday I’m back in the gym and maybe a movie if there’s one worth watching.

So I don’t have anything much to say. I will do soon. I’m listening to Walter Rudin talking about how Set Theory emerged out of problems to do with the convergence of Fourier Series.

A couple of days ago I watched an old video of Jean Dieudonne talking about the history of algebraic geometry

You Tube is full of rubbish. Its existence is entirely justified by stuff like this.

Plus I read a really interesting post by Krauser on the train home this evening, because I was too tired to concentrate on Max Tegmark’s book.

Thus my life at the moment.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Curators + Extremists = Win-Win PR

Towards the end of January this happened
An artwork depicting high-heeled shoes on Islamic prayer mats has been removed from an exhibition after a Muslim group warned of possible violence in the wake of the Paris attacks. The French-Algerian artist, Zoulikha Bouabdellah, withdrew the work from an exhibition in a northern Paris suburb with a large Muslim population after an Islamic group told local authorities it could provoke “uncontrollable, irresponsible incidents”.
A few days ago, a film called 50 Shades of Grey opened and this happened 
As stars Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson walked the red carpet in London’s Leicester Square with director Sam Taylor-Johnson and author El James, who wrote the original novel, protestors made it clear they would not be among the four and a half million cinemagoers who have already bought tickets to view the movie this weekend across the globe. The group, which calls itself 50 Shades is Domestic Abuse, said it was determined the film should not arrive in the UK unchallenged.
A few years ago, Tate Modern included Richard Prince’s notorious painting of a naked 10 year old Brooke Shields in its Pop Life show, and this happened
Tate Modern has bowed to pressure from London's Metropolitan police and permanently removed a controversial photograph of film star Brooke Shields from public view. The image, which depicts the 10-year-old actor nude and heavily made up, was originally taken in the 1970s for a Playboy publication, then reproduced by artist Richard Prince in a 1983 work entitled Spiritual America. It had been a key part of Tate's Modern's Pop Life show, which also contains works by Warhol, Jeff Koons and Cosey Fanni Tutti, but the room containing it was sealed off following a visit by officers from the Met's obscene publications unit two weeks ago.
Even the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid got in on the act last year, with a tiny piece of work about burning churches by a group you will never hear of again.

I am not going to go on a rant about freedom of speech and artistic creativity. Someone did that in the case of the Tate, and they missed every relevant point while discussing a bunch of meaningless art theory twaddle. This isn't about freedom of speech and political correctness.

 It’s the PR coverage, stupid.

Many curators now look for at least one piece that one or more single-interest activist groups (aka “extremists”) might take exception to, maybe by some kind of public demonstration, or threatening communication that the PR department can pass on to the Press. If the Press does its job properly, everyone wins: the artist gets their name out there, as does the gallery, and as do the extremists. Everyone gets a sound-bite in favour of their cause (the extremists) or of some highfalutin’ principle (the gallery, the artist).

But most of all, everyone gets to feel, for a brief moment, as if they matter a sparrow’s tweet.

There is little that matters less in this world than modern art, except the views of a single-issue group. (I like art, even modern art, but I don’t think it matters.) A junior product manager putting together a "compelling" Powerpoint slide to persuade the product team to persuade the marketing team to alter the wording on a brochure has more impact on the world than a modern artist or a single-issue-extremist. And if there is one group of people haunted by the sense of the pointlessness and utter insignificance of their jobs, it’s junior product managers. So the artists and gallerists and curators get in on the politics game, because that makes their daubs significant. This creates an over-heated world in whch it matters if Dasha Zukova sits on a couch that looks like a black woman . Everyone got props on that one, especially Claire Sulmers, editor of, a fashion blog of which you will never hear again in your life.

The curators do it deliberately (I don’t think the Zhukova chair incident was deliberate: Russians just don’t get the American way of moral posturing). In fact, I would be utterly unsurprised to learn that the PR departments of the galleries and museums, uh, prompt some of the groups who subsequently object.

Capitalism turns everything to its advantage. Absolutely everything.

Should you think I’m being a trifle conspiratorial, well, way back in 1997 Charles Saatchi put the infamous Myra Hindley children’s handcasts painting in his Sensation show at the Royal Academy. Someone threw eggs and ink at it. Other people cried. The painting was taken down and cleaned, but not put up again. The queues were round the block.  This journalist got the point.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Will Anyone Actually Buy This Book?

Here's the book...

Which looks interesting. Then I turned it over to look at the price...

£163.99? One hundred freaking sixty fracking how much?

Statistics books are peculiarly over-priced compared with mathematics texts, which are still cheaper than physics or engineering texts. Maybe maths books are cheaper than regular academic books. But along with food technology texts, statistics books do seem to be pricey. 

I don't know if it contains £163.99's worth of useful techniques and insight, but if it does, it's an exception.

Monday, 9 February 2015

How Not To Be Silly About the New DPP Guidance on Rape Investigation

Oh my, did the DPP’s new guidelines about rape investigations cause some ruckus. It’s easy to misread the guidance. In the Context section a casual glance will see the line "insincere compliments and/or kindness shown by the suspect” and indeed "any earlier provision by the suspect of any gifts, alcohol or drugs“ and shudder: what? I can’t flatter a girl anymore? Bring her flowers? We all have to be honest? I can’t cook her a meal or surprise her with a trip to the ballet? Now read carefully. This is preceded by the condition "and, especially for younger and/or vulnerable victims”.

”Vulnerable” is a code-word in the law: it means things like “doddering”, “simple”, “low-IQ”, “retarded”, “Downs Syndrome”, “child in sheltered accommodation" and a bunch of other stuff like that. Not a hard-faced late-20’s career girl who has recently sacked a couple of her staff or delayed payment on suppliers' bills. She’s not “younger” and certainly not “vulnerable”.

Remember that when looking at English, though not French or American, law, you have to bear in mind the intention of the legislature when framing the law. Sometimes it takes the House of Lords to divine it, but divine it we must.

The guidance itself says:
Victims of rape are often selected and targeted by offenders because of ease of access and opportunity - current partner, family, friend, someone who is vulnerable through mental health/ learning/physical difficulties, someone who sells sex, someone who is isolated or in an institution, has poor communication skills, is young, in a current or past relationship with the offender, or is compromised through drink/drugs. This list is not exhaustive. Victims may be chosen for grooming because of their vulnerabilities. The suspect/offender may hope that these vulnerabilities will limit belief in the complainant by authority and a court.
That doesn’t sound as if it’s about hard-faced late-20’s career girls earning top-decile salaries and dining out on the pretext of dating.

It’s clearly not, nor could it be, the intention of the law to make a rapist out of every husband (family member) who had sex with his SAHM wife (complainant dependent on the suspect financially) after a couple of glasses of wine (under the influence of drink). Nor is it the intention of the law to make a rapist out of a player who spits some Game on that same hard-faced 28-year old with a top-decile salary, and gets consensual, if slightly Merlot-tasting, sex as a result.

Look at the context. This guidance came out after Rotherham, Newcastle  Halifax, and heaven knows how many other places, where gangs of mostly ethnic men sexually exploited vulnerable mostly white, always under-aged girls. Then there is the low background rate of abuse by doctors, social workers, elderly carers and the like, some of which is sexual, though more is financial. This legislation is officialdom sending a warning to itself. It’s aimed at the exploiters in social services, the Police, the caring professions and others, and warning them that they won’t be able to hide behind their “status” and insinuations about the instability of their victims.

However, the journos and misandrists don’t really understand how British law and institutions work, so we had a lot of silly remarks about men needing a legal consent form and recorded evidence of ongoing sobriety and consent. Men are not supposed to have sex with women who are incapably drunk. Tipsy, yes, actually drunk, no. (Drunk women are best left alone: nobody held her down and poured the booze down her throat. She got that way, she can take the consequences.) A woman has always been able to change her mind at any point from the meet-cute to the short strokes, and the man has always had to stop and figure out whether she’s having an actual change of mind or a temporary hesitation. Female consent has always been temporary, contingent, revocable and generally unreliable.

Why the silly remarks if the DPP advice is simply stating what we accept is good behaviour anyway? Here’s a clue: it’s not the men who are worried. It’s the normal straight women. A lot of them can’t have sex unless they have had a couple of drinks or a puff or snort of something illegal. Sober, they are more or less incapable of arousal, or of acting on their arousal. The DPP guidance seems to say that if she has to have a couple of drinks to loosen up, it’s actually rape, because she wouldn’t do it sober. It says: have more than one drink, and one of your frenemies will cock-block you for the rest of the night with “Go away, she’s had too much to drink”. It says that the sex she has with her Beta provider whom she likes but doesn’t find arousing when sober, is actually rape, which is a nice thing to say about her marriage.

However, that too is a misinterpretation. It can’t be the intention of the UK legislature to make it impossible for women to have sex. So “under the influence” must, in this context, mean something north of “a couple of glasses of wine”. In practice, the legislators are not going to specify an amount of blood-alcohol that disqualifies a woman from sex. They will stick to some vague remark that could mean “was in the same room as an open bottle of wine” or “was falling over even when leaning against the wall”, and leave it to the jury to decide. (At least one activist group will adopt the line “too drunk to drive, too drunk to consent”.) All this does is shift the he-said, she-said from consent to sobriety, and that’s not a lot of progress. For regular people with jobs and functional lives, these new guidelines will make very little difference: rape investigations will be just as difficult, inconclusive and intrusive as they are now. The DPP is expecting an extra 300 or so cases, which doesn't sound like they are after, nor expect to be after, every husband or lad on the town in the country.

Finally, the idea that a woman would be ongoingly enthusiastically aroused if the man checked in on her consent every couple of minutes is laughable, and the law knows it. She wants to get lost in the moment as much as he does. The guidance says that investigators should ask if the man checked that consent was continuing, and since it cannot be the intention of the DPP to pour cold water over every steamy moment of passion, what counts as checking for consent must be broadly interpreted. Because female consent is temporary, contingent, revocable and generally unreliable, YES has always meant "Until I say NO", just as NO sometimes means "give me five minutes and try again, and don't take it personally."

Surely there will be misandrist groups who will interpret this guidance in line with their agendas. I can hear council for the prosecution asking the complainant if she had “been drinking”, as if one drink was all it took for a woman to lose her judgement. I can hear the divorce solicitors adding ‘marital rape’ to ‘child abuse’ in their armoury of nuisance tactics. All that will happen and more. And sensible judges and juries will shrug it off.

Of course the numerous unaccountable bureaucracies - social services, employers, newspapers, television, social media, universities, schools and local government - will add this to their list of legislation to be abused when needed and ignored otherwise. The media will print whatever will sell, or get clicks. The bureaucracies will use these guidelines to further their internal political agendas, and individual managers will use them to get rid of people they don’t want around. Thus has it always been and always will be.

But no, you're not going to need a signed consent form.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

What’s Wrong With Mediocrity?

I read that the Conservatives are promising to make children learn their times tables (up to 12 at least please, 15 would be better) by the time they are eleven, and also to stamp out mediocrity in schools. I’m all for children learning their tables, but mediocrity gets an undeserved rap.

What’s wrong with mediocrity? It means average, not very good. Which is what most people are at most of the things they do, including me. By definition, excellence can only be for the few (although one generation’s excellence can be another generation’s passing grade, as has happened in the music world. Once upon a time, very few orchestras could play the Rite of Spring, and now student orchestras knock out technically flawless performances as a matter of routine.)

(Not polished, but not out of tune and missing stuff either.)

Being good at X means you have to give up the time needed to become even competent at a whole bunch of Y’s. Being professional at X means you will be unable to do most of the Y’s in the world.

But that’s not the point. The point is that Capitalism needs mediocrity. You and I need the next guy and gal walking past us to be mediocre. We need them to be average and content with a mediocre lot (actually I don’t care if they are content, just as long as they don’t organise and revolt) because our lives depend on the provision of services and products that can only be made by processes that need to be run by people prepared to do routine and often entirely ceremonial jobs that only make sense in the context of a large organisation. We don’t want people to be creative, we need them to be able to tolerate huge amounts of boredom.

Specifically, I don’t want people choosing quality culture, I want them at home watching junk, so I can get a ticket when I want to without too much forward planning. I don’t want exceptional people, I need most of them to be concerned with their own personal and family affairs, with raising their children and with doing their jobs.

Mediocrity is like marriage: it’s something other people should definitely do. Sadly, just as I am far too shallow, self-absorbed, narcissistic, selfish and Peter Pan-ish to be worthy of marriage, I am also socially inept, introverted, pretentious, don’t know how to relax and have fun, and just plain too intellectual, vain and with a little OCD, and so I want to be better than 97.5% of the human race at whatever it is I choose to do. Of course I’m not and I’m delusional, but I have a better chance of being so if the other 39 people can’t even hold a camera steady and couldn’t sweat an onion without burning it.

Monday, 2 February 2015

January 2015 Review

“Has every day this week felt like it’s lasted 15 hours?” Asked a colleague as we exited the building the first working Friday of the year. Yes it did.

It’s been so cold this month that just getting through the day was enough. At this time of year, the animals are more sensible than us: burrow deep, stay warm. (You want to find a gene that will unlock all the bigger workings of the genome? Find the hibernation gene.)

I hit my seventh (!) session of sports massage at Sports Massage Zone on Throgmorton St. Before Christmas I decided to get the aches, tension and accumulated abuse out of my legs. Whereas you get tense shoulders and back, I know enough not to do that, but I take it out on my legs instead. I had ropey muscles where you don’t even know you have muscles, and the wonderful Maggie has been digging her elbows into all of it. I’m getting there, but it’s painful. And slow. And undoing many, many years of bad habits.

I watched Burn Notice S7 and Inspector de Luca on DVD; Birdman, Whiplash and Wild at the Curzon Soho; Foxcatcher and American Sniper at Cineworld.

I read Philip Kerr’s A German Requim, Elmore Leonard’s Swag, John Bude’s The Cornish Coast Murder, Stanislaw Lem’s The Investigation, Hubert Dreyfus’ Skillful Coping, and the first half of Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind.

Saturday lunchtimes, I cooked: Kidneys Turbigo; Ragout of lamb with borlotti beans; Liver venetian. And Sis and I ate at Herefordroad in Bayswater.

Despite all this activity, I’m still haunted by a sense of inactivity. I need to revise my CV and LinkedIn, but just can’t get worked up enough about it. And there’s a mysterious patch on the kitchen wall I really need to talk to the insurance company about.

February is going to be just as cold. And I haven’t bought any tickets for the Sadlers Wells Flamenco festival, which will be the first time in about eight years that I haven’t gone. But then again: do you know how much sports massage costs?