Finished TTC's History of the U.S. Economy in the 20th Century. Short, 10 lecture course by Timothy Taylor, the same guy who did the main Economics course. Pretty non-technical since it's supposed to be entry-level, but still interesting to see how various government have tried to solve the various problems with various degrees of success.
Also interesting to see how this stacks up against the preconceptions. He has Hoover first helping the recovery of what was to become the Great Depression, but then making things worse by raising taxes in response to Roosevelt's election campaign which wanted a balanced budget.. Seems a bit unfair: it was Hoover's decision to give in to that political pressure.
Amidst the perfect storm of elements that combined to produce the depression, he chiefly blames the lack of money supply. He regards exports as too small a share of the economy for Smoot-Hawley to take the blame, and the collapse of the overvalued late-Twenties stock market as not capable of producing such a long recession, Poor handling of interest rates and the inflexibility of a true gold standard (when gold's scarce, money's scarce) as being the immediate problems.
Conversely, the Carter administration gets some of the credit for ending the Seventies stagflation, with the beginning of tough anti-inflation policies and the deregulation of some markets,
Overall, the impression you get is that lagging indicators and the time taken for effects to show up, mean that politicians rarely get the credit or blame that they deserve.
Some other interesting points: a lot of the problems that we think are new have actually existed over the last century, This applies to 20s concern over immigration, the growth of the service sector at the expense of manufacturing,
Interestingly, he points out that long-term unemployment has remained at about 5% throughout the century, and not just working hours but working lives were a lot longer at the start of the century, with most people over 65 still in work.
Overall, an informative course. Especially useful if you're interested in macroeconomics in policy terms.
Finished Charlotte Gray by Sebastian Faulks. WW2 spy and love story. Started out pretty well in a kind of gritty John le Carré style, but didn't really come together. The different plot-strands didn't really come together neatly, though they were obviously supposed to be following similar Emotional Journeys. The psychobabbly childhood trauma thing just seemed a bit silly, and the Holocaust subplot seemed to be mainly introduced on the grounds of "um, this is looking a bit slushy, lets stick some Holocaust stuff in to give it some edge".
On the plus side, manages a fair amount of tension, and has a fairly realistic period feel without obvious anachronisms.
If you want a tense, gripping story of love and betrayal in the WW2 resistance, watch the "Black Book" movie instead.
Back from Belgium. Mostly just did art galleries and museums. Good food too. Was interesting, but feeling absolutely knackered: got footsore too which hasn't happened before. I don't really like this aging business. It's not going to keep getting worse is it...?
Spend most of the time in Brussels and did a day in Bruges. Didn't bother with any battlefields: apparently these days they just look like fields.
Useful tip: If you arrive by Eurostar at Brussels Midi, the ticket includes a transfer by train to Centrale or Noorde stations. Not sure if it covers the Metro.
Belgians all seem to use the default ringtone on their mobiles. Also, they like dogs.
Brussels Metro is nice, easy and cheap; so's the Belgian rail system. Practically everyone seems to speak English.
Definitely had an England moment when we came back on Eurostar. They announced we were to stop at Ashford International. The train slowed, kept going, sped up. After that there was another announcement. "Due to an signalman's error, we were not put on the right track to stop at Ashford International. Passengers who were due to alight, please contact the train manager..." Gosh, it's good to be back on the British train network...
Daily notes follow.
15 Aug 2007
Eurostar OK again. Terminal's a bit grotty, but it's less hassle than the plane.
On arrival after some farting around found out that a Eurostar ticket allows you to transfer to any of the three stations, so transferring was easy. Hotel is just opposite Central Station so was easy to get to. Hotel seems pretty good so far: rooms clean, fairly spacious and well appointed: full-sized desk with 2 chairs, an armchair as well as a double bed, big TV. Charges a fortune for extras though. Will probably pay out for the breakfast though: need something to get me going.
Brussels seems OK: odd mix of narrow touristy bits and broad boulevards. Had a few walks around, but with my crappy sense of direction haven't really got to grips with the geography yet. There's a free music festival round the corner from the hotel but didn't spend long there: odd mix of tourists and apparently enthusiastic probable friends of the band.
16 Aug 2007
Age definitely catching up with me. Was wandering around with plenty of short breaks from 9.30 to 4.30 and am now tired, footsore, and not immediately inclined to go wander around some more. Wishing the hotel restaurant wasn't closed.
Had a good day though. Managed to pass the temptation of the hotel's American Breakfast: went to a cafe and had a croque-monsieur, which according to my GCSE French course is about 90% of the French diet. Nice, but seems remarkably like a toasted sandwich.
Mostly did museums today.Started off at thew Musee Royaux des Beaux Arts. Lots of good stuff, though not as vast as the guidebook suggested; though some of the galleries were closed.
Highlights: Landscape Containing the Fall of Icarus, which I had as my desktop wallpaper for a while. Like the way everyone's just going about their business, oblivious to the tiny legs of the mythical hero flailing away in the corner.
Also, Breughel's massacre of the innocents: pretty intense with all those pleading and struggling figures.
I think the unique thing about Dutch/Belgian art is its sense of the insignificance of man: there's nowhere else you get all those huge canvases full of tiny figures; and other pictures with homely and domestic figures.
Few other things: the Death of Marat and an interesting pre-Raphaelite things. Also Magritte, Chagall, Delvaux, and others.
The Musees Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire are a bit disappointing.Big museum, packed with stuff, but nothing particularly outstanding. Bet thing I saw was a full-size replica of an Easter Island statue, hiding disconcertingly away in a dark room. Lots of medieval, gothic, Roman, Egyptian and Greek exhibits: bit like the duller bits of the BM and the V&A crammed together.
Next door is the Musee Royale de L'Armee though, which is superb. Strangely, much less sanctimoniously war's-a-horrid-thing than the Imperial War Museum: I suppose having been so heavily fought over for so long the Belgians don't feel they have to hammer the point home.
Anyway, walls practically tiled with portraits, corridors showing just about every uniform of WW1 and 2, lots of intricately-arranged swords. The highlights though are the big hall and courtyard stuffed full of dozens and dozens of planes and tanks. The early WW1 planes look unbelievably fragile and primitive, though the wood is nicely polished: look rather like someone sprayed superglue on a coffee table and dragged it through a scrapyard. I suspect one major engineering problem must have been the drag and weight of the enormous balls you would have needed to climb into the damn things.
Includes a Sopwith Camel, Spad and Fokker Triplane. No sign of Biggles though.
17 Aug 2007
Took a day trip to Bruges. Very picturesque, well-preserved medieval city with lots of canals, which seem to have acted as a useful city moat. Seemed quite spacious by comparison with some: guidebook complained about the crowds of tourists but seemed less so than York or Siena.
Had a few interesting museums. Main one is the Groeninge. Has a bunch of Van Eycks, Hieronymous Bosch's wince-inducing Last Judgment (guy being severed lengthwise on a knife; people forced to drink bathwater, which must have been pretty nasty in medieval times.) Also a big bunch of Flemish painting. Liked the one shaped like wheel, with 12 panel-segments illustrating sowing, reaping and so on.
Also climbed the Belfry: good view from the top, interesting carillon workings, and the bells are pretty loud when you're closed. Craft (Volkskunde) museums and hospital museums's a bit dull, though the hospital has some nice Memling's. Ate at Van Eycks, mentioned in the guidebook: very nice.
Also saw a windmill.
18 Aug 2007
Back in Brussels today. This morning had a quick look at the outside of the REU buildings: they're closed at the weekend. Don't look too impressive: like the headquarters of a moderately unsuccessful bank.
Also looked round a couple of museums. The Musee Wiertz covers just one somewhat cheesy but pleasantly melodramatic 19th century artist.
The Musee des Beaux-Arts d'Ixelle has a superb collection of 19th and 20th century art: lots of Delvauz, Vosges, some great shipping posters, some Magrittes, a Rodin sculpture of a contorted dancer.
After that, went to the Atomium: pretty crap. Expensive to get in, long queues, and not a lot to see. Interesting building but best admired from a distance. It's a group of spheres arranged like a molecule, built for a World's Fair.
On the way back tried to find the Magritte museum which is allegedly 10 minutes North-West of a metro station, but after stumbling around for the best part of an hour gave it up.
That pretty much ticks off all the sights I was Interested in. Have half a day tomorrow, not sure what to do yet.
(Turned out to be another big meal, the Autoworld car museum and Belgium city museum.)
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