For as long as I can remember, I have had to endure lectures from men in uniforms – policemen, soldiers, teachers, clerics – about courage and honour. I recall a particular egregious lecture from a cleric on the cowardice of men who had long hair. (For next millennium readers, this was part of a larger argument accusing anyone not supporting US and Australian involvement in the second Indo-Chinese war of cowardice. Of course, it required great courage for a 17-year-old conscript to openly confront such logically specious, and morally tendentious, nonsense.) The forces of conservatism always accuse those who confront them of cowardice, it seems.
The Hillsborough coronial verdict shows just what true courage and valour and honour are: It is fighting for justice against all odds, against the overwhelming sentiment of those in authority and of society in general, against friend and peer, as well as journalist and foe, against recalcitrant judges and lying policemen. But courage is also admitting when one has made a poor decision, and bravely facing the consequences of that decision. It is not too late for these men in uniform to finally reveal some courage and accept the consequences of their negligence, their lack of preparation, and their poor judgment.
For any fifth millennium readers, here are some incidents and observations from London’s Underground:
- Northern Line, Barnet Branch, heading into London, a hot summer’s day in July 2022, about 10am: A middle-aged man reads a pocket-sized book. Beside him, a woman he does not know with a child of about three years, looks over his shoulder to see what he is reading, and then starts to recite aloud a poem. It is the Shakespearean Sonnet about a summer’s day, #18. After that, she then recites Sonnet #130, about the futility of comparisons. They discuss the Sonnets. She says she is an English teacher. She has an American accent.
- Northern Line, East Finchley station, heading South, a weekend day in summer 2017, about 17.00: Two teenage boys, about 14 or so years old, ride skateboards down the footpath on the High Street to the Station, riding around pedestrians and bantering as they go. They enter the station and join the first train south, boisterously and loudly sitting across from each other and still engaging in banter. They are not hurting anyone, but some of the older passengers seem offended or scared. Into the same carriage a young woman with a baby in a pram also enters and she sits on a fold-down seat in the middle of the carriage, with the pram beside her. She forgets to lock the wheels of the pram. So, as the train starts off, the pram rolls backwards, towards the two boys. Immediately, both boys leap up to grab it from their seats on opposite sides of the aisle. As they return it to the woman, the look in her eyes is one of great relief.
- Northern Line, Bank branch, heading north, Saturday 2016-04-09, 21.35: A dozen drunk young women board the train at Old Street, all but one dressed as elderly women, with wigs, granny glasses, handbags, etc. One is dressed in pyjamas and a dressing gown – presumably she is the bride-to-be. Several carry large plastic penises. They are loud and boisterous, but good-natured. The gentleman sitting opposite, a dapper man in his 60s with a thin moustache, dressed in a suit and tie, with a flower in his lapel and a silk handkerchief in his top pocket, awakes from his slumber. It turns out that he too is drunk, and, in a loud Irish accent, he engages the women. Banter is exchanged, and there are smiles and laughter the length of the carriage. The women detrain at Kings Cross, the Irish gent following them. Was that his planned stop, one wonders? What does it say about our culture that a young person seeking to act trangressively dresses as a very elderly person?
- Northern line, London Bridge station, northbound platform, a Friday evening in February 2014, around 23.30: the platform is empty apart from a group of 8 men in suits and ties, in their early 20s, huddled in a close circle with arms around one another. They are taking turns to ingest something, each throwing his head back as he does.
- Northern line, Charing Cross branch, heading south, a station between Euston and Embankment, a cold winter’s morning in winter 2012-2013, all the seats in the carriage taken, but the aisle free: a passenger stands up to detrain as the train stops. Apparently his gloves had been sitting in his lap and these are thrown off in different directions as he stands up. He does not see this and moves to leave. Both gloves are caught superbly by other passengers seated opposite and on different sides of him, and one of these passengers shouts at him. He turns and both gloves are thrown back to him. He catches both and shouts his thanks. The scene looked choreographed and rehearsed, so perfect are the four arcs of the flying gloves and the catches.
This is a list of movies which play with alternative possible realities, in various ways:
- It’s a Wonderful Life [Frank Capra, USA 1947]
- Przypadek (Blind Chance) [Krzysztof Kieslowski, Poland 1987]
- Lola Rennt (run lola run) [Tom Tykwer, Germany 1998]
- Sliding Doors [Peter Howitt, UK 1998]
- The Family Man [Brett Ratner, USA 2000]
- Me Myself I [Pip Karmel, Australia 2000]
On the topic of possible worlds, this post may be of interest.
Franco’s Cafe, Jermyn Street, London.
Indeed, both these are mathematical dynasties. For the Delaunays, see here and here.
Gibson Hall, London, venue for DevCon1, 9-13 November 2015. There was some irony in holding a conference to discuss technology developments in blockchains and distributed ledgers in a grand, neo-classical heritage-listed building erected in 1865. At least it was fitting that a technology currently taking the financial world by storm should be debated in what was designed to be a banking hall (for Westminster Bank). The audience was split fairly evenly between dreadlocked libertarians & cryptocurrency enthusiasts and bankers & lawyers in smart suits: cyberpunk meets Gordon Gekko.
For reasons of record, here is a list of musical instrument museums, ordered by their location:
- Athens, Greece: Museum of Popular Musical Instruments
- Berlin, Germany: Musikinstrumenten Museum
- Brussels, Belgium: Musical Instrument Museum
- Monte Estoril, Portugal: Museum of Portuguese Music, Casa Verdades de Faria
- New York, NY, USA: Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Phoenix, AZ, USA: Musical Instrument Museum
- Rome, Italy: Museo di Strumenti Musicali dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
- Vermillion, SD, USA: National Music Museum, University of South Dakota
- Vienna, Austria: Collection of Historic Musical Instruments, Kunsthistorisches Museum
Why do we read? Many people seem to assume that the only reason for reading is to obtain information about the world. With this view, reading fiction is perhaps hard to justify. But if one only reads to learn new facts, then one’s life is impoverished and Gradgrindian. Indeed, this reason strikes me as like learning to play the trumpet in order to have a means to practice circular breathing.
In fact, we read for many other reasons than just this one. One could say we primarily read novels for the pleasure that reading them provides:
- the pleasure of reading poetic text (as in the novels of Hardy, Joyce or Faulkner, for instance)
- the pleasure of reading elegant, finely-crafted prose (eg, Fanny Burney, Doris Lessing, Perec, Brautigan, the English translations of the books by Zhores and Roy Medvedev)
- the pleasure of engaging in deductive reasoning (any detective or espionage novel)
- the pleasure of imagining alternative societal futures (scifi), presents (political thrillers, espionage novels), or pasts (historical fiction)
- the pleasure of being scared (crime thrillers, horror stories)
- or the pleasure of parsing an intricate narrative structure (eg, Calvino, Fowles, Murnane, Pynchon).
These various pleasures are very distinct, and are orthogonal to the desire to gain information about the world. And some of these pleasures may also be gained from reading non-fiction, for example the finely-honed journalism of Lafcadio Hearn or AJ Liebling or Christopher Hitchens, or the writing of Oliver Sacks, who passed on today.