Saturday, 22 October 2016

Share my car

Every now and then I browse the periphery of car world, mainly because cars reflect social and political trends at least as much as the technology under that glossy paintwork. The most interesting trend is control, cars are evolving into agents of political and social control. The days when Scott Fitzgerald could depict car ownership as a surge in personal power have faded into the dreams of petrolhead nostalgia.

An element of vast importance had made its appearance with the summer; suddenly the great thing in Basil’s crowd was to own an automobile. Fun no longer seemed available save at great distances, at suburban lakes or remote country clubs. Walking downtown ceased to be a legitimate pastime. On the contrary, a single block from one youth’s house to another’s must be navigated in a car. Dependent groups formed around owners and they began to wield what was, to Basil at least, a disconcerting power.

F. Scott Fitzgerald - He Thinks He's Wonderful (1928)

Take this piece on a new car to be produced by Chinese company Geely which owns Volvo. The new car is branded Lynk & Co and among various uninteresting features we are told.

A ‘share my car’ button on the touchscreen gives other drivers the opportunity to rent your vehicle, using a digital key. Visser expects it to be a popular feature. ‘Many traditional car buyers may not like the idea of sharing their car, but that’s changing. Today’s customer wants mobility, not necessarily to own a car.’ Younger people – unexcited by today’s cars – are a key target, adds Visser.

Nothing wrong with that, but it is significant that the option comes built-in. One to watch. Perhaps there is a suggestion behind it that you should share your car. It is your social duty, the caring thing to do. You are a caring person aren't you? 

Friday, 21 October 2016

Time to switch off the traffic lights?

While reading the Daily Mail in our dentist's waiting room, a piece about useless traffic lights caught my eye. I haven't found it in the online version, but here are two quotes.

It's absolutely true that this country is rapidly becoming gridlocked. But we can't heap the blame solely on cycle lanes and van drivers.The main cause of congestion is an overabundance of traffic lights.

This certainly chimes with me. For over twenty years I commuted to Nottingham, passing through dozens of sets of traffic lights. Yet whenever the lights failed, traffic seemed to move just as quickly and just as smoothly. The optimum traffic flow sorted itself out, possibly because most drivers were experienced city drivers who knew when to go and when to give way. The writer of the Mail piece has a similar but more dramatic story.

I work as an agent for a consumables company, driving about 600 miles a week. I drive about five days a week, but lose the equivalent of almost one day every week just sitting in traffic waiting for the lights to change. In the past year or so, most people will have seen or read reports about the flooding here in Cumbria. It meant a lot of problems for most road users - but the damage also caused most of the traffic lights to break down. 

This resulted in traffic moving swiftly around towns without any jams or delays. Motorists managed to arrive at work on time and managed to get home earlier than usual. I was able to call on more customers and increase my earnings. Tradesmen reported they had more time to complete more jobs because they could get around more easily.   

There is an interesting question one could ask with wider ramifications than traffic lights. Assuming the above story reflects a genuine problem with traffic lights, how likely is it that any UK government would ever do something as radical as switching them off? Government is certainly aware of the issue.

Andrew Jones, the Road Safety minister, suggested he has noticed that traffic "flows more freely" when traffic lights are not working in his constituency.

He said he will consider calls for a pilot on the idea after Philip Hollobone, a Conservative MP, said that the move could relieve congestion.

But Mr Jones added the inevitable caveat -

"I will have a look at what you say but I think we should be very cautious about removing traffic lights because they're a key ingredient in road safety."

How did he know? His officials probably told him. As they do.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Kids in museums

An article in aeon by Brian Switek deplores what he sees as the infantilization of natural history museums. The desire to attract children inevitably introduces a childish ambience. Plus children of course.

Whenever I visit a natural history museum, especially if I’m intent on seeing the dinosaurs, I try to arrive early and race over to the exhibits before the school groups and strollers are set loose upon the floor. And I’m not alone in my concerns. As I’ve chatted with other museum-goers, the same lament has come up over and over again: as a culture, we’ve been steadily nudging natural history museums to become more like theme parks or the cartoonish restaurant chain Chuck E Cheese’s. (As Tiffany Jenkins has pointed out, the same problems plague today’s anthropology and art institutions as well, not to mention aquariums and zoos.) If visitors leave with even a chunklet of new knowledge, it’s a win.

As a paid-up curmudgeon I should agree with this but I don't. If museums manage to compete against Pokémon it's a win.

Museums were originally meant to be places of inspiration, literally the ‘seat of the Muses’. In our 21st-century interpretation, however, we expect them to function as providers of kid-oriented entertainment more than anything else.

Maybe so but on the whole they were not particularly inspiring. Inspiration was mostly imported by visitors, at least that's my memory of the museum experience. Do adults learn much from museums anyway?

One needs a fair amount of background knowledge to make the most of museums. Attracting kids may encourage a few of them to go away and acquire it. Not many perhaps, but at least as many as in more sedate but also duller times.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Drownded on Titanic

Part of a gravestone at St Mary's church, Tissington. It records the death of Frank Richard Allsop aged 43, a saloon steward on the Titanic.

Mr Frank Richard Allsop, 43, came from Devon England. When he signed onto the Titanic he gave his address as Obelisk Rd, Southampton (elsewhere recorded as Woolston, Hampshire). His sister, Mrs H. McLaren was a stewardess on the ship. 

Frank's death is recorded on his father's gravestone as his body was not recovered. 'Drownded' seems to be a dialect word, never particularly common although I've heard it a few times.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016


Our car has been nagging us for ages about getting it serviced. Yesterday we finally had the job done which stopped it flashing up a warning and treating us to an imperious beep every time we started the thing. It makes its own decisions too. If I switch on the windscreen wipers it turns the headlights on as if to say “you should have thought of that”.

Windows 10 nags me about all kinds of things. It keeps telling me that my copy of MS Office is out of date and do I want to upgrade? Although oddly enough, ever since I left a comment somewhere about moving to LibreOffice the nagging stopped for a while. Spooky that.

For some reason YouTube thinks I could be a fan of Abbott and Costello. I’m not and never was, but perhaps it thinks I should be to comply with my profile. Perhaps it’s a micro-nag. It will all become more pervasive of course - nudging and nagging.  

Monday, 17 October 2016

Whatever compromise we choose

It is a terrible dilemma in the life of reason whether it will sacrifice natural abundance to moral order, or moral order to natural abundance. Whatever compromise we choose proves unstable, and forces us to a new experiment.

George Santayana - Winds Of Doctrine Studies in Contemporary Opinion (1913)

As I sit by the fire and savour freshly-brewed coffee I detect a distinct personal fondness for natural abundance. It seems to be widely shared fondness if all those folk waddling around Derby are any guide. The human psyche has an abundant fondness for abundance.

In which case Santayana’s spectre of a new experiment in moral order looms close and large. Not the simple moral order of our forebears but a more modern, less rational version of compulsions and prohibitions. We see it already; we see it everywhere. A vastly growing tick-list – not something terse and reliable handed down on tablets of stone.

I sip my coffee again, pondering the moral order of a light supper

As the Clinton crone casts her spells
As the Middle East burns
As bloody Blair limbers up on the touchline
As May carefully sips her poisoned chalice
As the EU wallows in its ordure

As whatever compromise we choose proves unstable.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

The Times They Are A-Changin

It is not necessary to fathom the ground or the structure of everything in order to know what to make of it. Stones do not disconcert a builder because he may not happen to know what they are chemically; and so the unsolved problems of life and nature, and the Babel of society, need not disturb the genial observer, though he may be incapable of unravelling them.

He may set these dark spots down in their places, like so many caves or wells in a landscape, without feeling bound to scrutinise their depths simply because their depths are obscure. Unexplored they may have a sort of lustre, explored they might merely make him blind, and it may be a sufficient understanding of them to know that they are not worth investigating. In this way the most chaotic age and the most motley horrors might be mirrored limpidly in a great mind, as the Renaissance was mirrored in the works of Raphael and Shakespeare; but the master's eye itself must be single, his style unmistakable, his visionary interest in what he depicts frank and supreme.

Hence this comprehensive sort of greatness too is impossible in an age when moral confusion is pervasive, when characters are complex, undecided, troubled by the mere existence of what is not congenial to them, eager to be not themselves; when, in a word, thought is weak and the flux of things overwhelms it.

George Santayana - Winds Of Doctrine: Studies in Contemporary Opinion (1913)