Print Story The British Museum had lost its charm
Diary
By TheophileEscargot (Sat Dec 19, 2009 at 10:50:29 AM EST) Reading, Watching, MLP (all tags)
Listening: "London: A Short History of the Greatest City in the Western World". Reading: "The Storm". Watching: "Avatar".

Poll: Greatest City in the Western World?



What I'm Listening To
London: A Short History of the Greatest City in the Western World by Robert Bucholz. Teaching Company course defending a rather unlikely proposition.

However he makes a reasonable job of it. I think if you look at any individual measure London certainly isn't the greatest: less historically significant than Rome or Constantinople, less artistically significant that Florence or Paris, less economically significant than New York. However if you add everything up and squint, a kind of magic-eye view of his case emerges, Rome, Athens, Constantinople: strong starters but haven't done much for us lately. Florence and Paris: pretty small, economic backwaters. New York: hasn't yet hung around long enough to plop out much history yet. London combines political, cultural and economic importance with a stubborn refusal to die and stay dead.

So, it may possibly be true, though I might have a bit of a vested interest. Also note the subtle "Western" qualification which carefully rules Beijing and Tokyo out of the competition.

Bucholz also makes an interesting case that London's tradition of protest and freedom have been an important driver of developments in political freedom. Before the Reform Bill London was one of the more democratic areas of the UK, with freemen having the vote for un-Rotten MPs; and there were Aldermen and a Common Council representing the City. Bucholz thinks that by a mixture of protest, riot and votes Londoners were influential in securing rights and democracy. Though also he says:

It seems that whenever the best values of Western civilization--freedom, equality, individuality--come under attack, their enemies strike at the place where so many of those values took so many giant steps: London.
The course is mainly a general, chronological, history of the city. At regular intervals he takes us on various theoretical walks through the city describing how its structure has changed.

Overall, a good course, enthusiastic and informative.

Coming Soon
Next TTC course is probably Popes and the Papacy: A History. I also have War and World History though.

What I'm Reading
The Storm: The World Economic Crisis and What it Means by Vince Cable. Short book by a British financier turned politician.

Does a good job of clearly explaining the causes of the crisis. He's good at explaining what's known and what's unknown, the disagreements over which of the causes were most important, and the pros and cons of various solutions.

It's written at a general level and needs no particular knowledge of finance or economics. However, he doesn't explain the basics here. Probably a good decision as it would take too long to explain it, but it does mean you have to take his word on some things.

Certainly a much better guide than Robert Peston's hasty rewrite of Who Runs Britain.

However, it suffers from the same problem as any paper book: events rapidly make things outdated. He talks about Quantitative Easing only as a theoretical proposition, closes some stable doors on bank bailouts, and is unaware of the startlingly sudden return to profitability and giant bonuses that's made moral hazard a much more immediate issue.

Makes a good introduction to the subject: fair and doesn't grind axes. If you've been following the crisis closely there won't be much that's new to you though.

What I'm Watching
Saw Avatar 3D. Pretty much what you'd expect. Superb 3D effects, especially the ferns in the forest, and good battle scenes especially with floor-rumbling Dolby sound.

Actual movie: fairly poor. Ludicrously clichéd plot where everything is obvious in advance, which would be tolerable a 90 minutes but gets wearing when it's stretched out to two and half hours. Could at least have done with a subplot or three. The villains are cartoonishly evil. There's also quite a lot of schmaltz.

Overall though, worth seeing if you're a 3D fan. Seemed surprisingly popular: cinema was much fuller than usual for that time.

Me
Finished work for the year now. Going to spend the holidays with the folks, leaving Monday, back early January.

Web
Video. 70 minute ultra-nerdish analysis of The Phantom Menace. I know that sounds like a description of Hell, but it's actually funny and informative. If you want a taster try these 5 minutes. (Via). Sound only: Hibernian Rhapsody. Enhance! montage.

Pics. Skiffy Christmas magazine covers (via) View a day by dragging a circle. Diagrams: How fanboys see operating systems, The Morgan Freeman Chain Of Command.

Articles. Searching for a man who fought Ali via. US death sentences at lowest level since 1976. Abandoned water park.

Sci/Tech. Google browser size tool lets you see how much people see of your website. Why are white people white via. Scientist complains about being a TV talking head (via).

Economics. Banker exodus is price worth paying. Also, Doom Loop is a much better term than Moral Hazard. US could diminish debt by 20% by 6% inflation for four years.

< Snowpocalypse 2009! | My friend from Philly called. >
The British Museum had lost its charm | 53 comments (53 topical, 0 hidden)
(Comment Deleted) by xth (4.00 / 1) #1 Sat Dec 19, 2009 at 11:39:19 AM EST

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Yeah I wouldn't say Queen Victoria by jump the ladder (4.00 / 1) #2 Sat Dec 19, 2009 at 12:52:55 PM EST
Was one of the greatest individuals in history, she just was a fairly powerless figurehead when Britannia really did rule the waves thanks to the head start in Industrial Revolution.

Actually London has been a great European city since 1300s (normally in the top 5 in population since then). I would still say it is one of only 2 current World Cities, the other being New York. The  Asian megapolis's are not as internationally focused nor as culturally diverse.

Greatest city in history. Not sure as it's not really a city state like Rome or Athens or even Florence. It's history is pretty much tied up  with the rest of England and the UK in general. It became the great city as result of the UK becoming a great power rather than other way around.

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(Comment Deleted) by xth (2.00 / 0) #3 Sat Dec 19, 2009 at 01:01:26 PM EST

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(Comment Deleted) by xth (4.00 / 1) #4 Sat Dec 19, 2009 at 01:04:13 PM EST

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I'd second you on Hong Kong by lm (4.00 / 1) #5 Sat Dec 19, 2009 at 01:12:09 PM EST
Judged only by internationalism, Toronto gets bandied about quite a bit.

Kindness is an act of rebellion.
[ Parent ]
Where? by Tonatiuh (4.00 / 1) #16 Sun Dec 20, 2009 at 10:54:28 AM EST
In Canada?

Toronto does not figure as major city anywhere.

Yeah, it is the kind of town everybody has heard about, but nobody really refers to it as a centre of power, culture or money.

[ Parent ]
The UN by lm (4.00 / 1) #19 Sun Dec 20, 2009 at 12:42:45 PM EST
According to the United Nations, Toronto is the most cosmopolitan city on the planet.

Your point about power and money is well taken. This is why I qualified my previous comment to being ``judged only by internationalism.''


Kindness is an act of rebellion.
[ Parent ]
I think that is based.. by infinitera (4.00 / 1) #20 Sun Dec 20, 2009 at 01:03:41 PM EST
On the majority of Toronto residents being born outside of Canada, and being from a rather large number of places of origin.

[…] a professional layabout. Which I aspire to be, but am not yet. — CheeseburgerBrown

[ Parent ]
Singapore is a derided autocracy.... by Tonatiuh (4.00 / 1) #15 Sun Dec 20, 2009 at 10:52:57 AM EST
Hong Kong is not even master of its own future...

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(Comment Deleted) by xth (2.00 / 0) #25 Sun Dec 20, 2009 at 04:40:10 PM EST

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It depends. by Tonatiuh (2.00 / 0) #26 Mon Dec 21, 2009 at 03:52:57 AM EST
If you are close to the harbour, where there are no tourist landmarks, the police may approach you to check why you are taking pictures there.

In any case suing opposition leaders into economic submission is way above passing unclear guidelines to the police regarding photography.

[ Parent ]
Since he's a history professor by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #22 Sun Dec 20, 2009 at 03:04:30 PM EST
Doing a history course, I can't really see New York being a candidate. If it was an economics course, sure, but I don't see how it has much historical significance.

As I said it's a fairly young city. But even in its history, it hasn't had that much importance. In the American Revolution it was held by the British until quite a while after the war ended: it didn't have enough strategic significance to affect the course of the war. It wasn't directly involved in the American Civil War at all: it only gets a mention because the draft riots. It's not the capital city, so the big political marches and movements have centred on Washington DC instead.

Boston or Richmond, Virginia would seem to have more significance to an historian of America, but they don't really have significance outside America. New York has artistic and economic importance outside America, but no huge political importance either inside or out.

In general I think the USA suffers in Greatest City terms because it doesn't have any primate city like London or Paris: with political power in Washington DC, economic power in NYC and cultural power in Hollywood it's all too spread out.
--
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
(Comment Deleted) by xth (2.00 / 0) #23 Sun Dec 20, 2009 at 04:21:16 PM EST

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(Comment Deleted) by xth (2.00 / 0) #24 Sun Dec 20, 2009 at 04:37:14 PM EST

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Aside from Gershwin.... by Tonatiuh (2.00 / 0) #27 Mon Dec 21, 2009 at 04:09:43 AM EST
... is that really all what NY has offered musically to the world?

If you name the 10 most influential US musicians, lets say Elvis, Jacko, Madonna, Miles Davies, Glenn Miller, Steve Reich or Philip Glass (name some more if you wish) only one or two would list NY as a major influence or point of reference.

In the other hand some of the greatest bands that people like me, not really interested in pop music, can recognize, come from London: the Rolling Stones, Queen, Pink Floyd, and even the Beatles, a Liverpool band, produced some of their most important work here (trying to cross Abbey Road is one of the most perilous activities in town: too many tourists).

Sorry, but it looks as a no contest to me.

[ Parent ]
(Comment Deleted) by xth (2.00 / 0) #30 Mon Dec 21, 2009 at 04:33:06 AM EST

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[ Parent ]
Glass by Scrymarch (2.00 / 0) #34 Mon Dec 21, 2009 at 05:29:11 AM EST
Philip Glass (and Steve Reich, it seems) both got stats in NY so it is somewhat moot ... Glass is pretty important in 20th century classical music, even I've heard of him ...

Will sig for food

[ Parent ]
Hip hop is the best selling music genre by Herring (2.00 / 0) #36 Mon Dec 21, 2009 at 09:11:38 AM EST
The Sun is the best selling newspaper

You can't inspire people with facts
- Small Gods

[ Parent ]
(Comment Deleted) by xth (2.00 / 0) #37 Mon Dec 21, 2009 at 09:20:10 AM EST

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[ Parent ]
But by Merekat (2.00 / 0) #38 Mon Dec 21, 2009 at 09:32:42 AM EST
Actual cheddar is *fantastic*.


[ Parent ]
(Comment Deleted) by xth (4.00 / 1) #39 Mon Dec 21, 2009 at 09:59:15 AM EST

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[ Parent ]
and more! by Merekat (2.00 / 0) #40 Mon Dec 21, 2009 at 10:03:02 AM EST



[ Parent ]
Well said by nebbish (2.00 / 0) #44 Mon Dec 21, 2009 at 05:34:55 PM EST
Have you ever had that Sardinian cheese with maggots in it? That fascinates me. I'd like to think I wouldn't chicken out.

Once upon a time we had cheeses like that here...

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It's political correctness gone mad!

[ Parent ]
(Comment Deleted) by xth (2.00 / 0) #46 Mon Dec 21, 2009 at 06:41:24 PM EST

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Ha! by Herring (4.00 / 1) #41 Mon Dec 21, 2009 at 02:11:30 PM EST
While I was away, Merekat already counter-counter-trolled your counter-troll to my original troll.

So actually this post is redundant.

You can't inspire people with facts
- Small Gods

[ Parent ]
I know the Beatles are from Liverpool. by Tonatiuh (2.00 / 0) #49 Tue Dec 22, 2009 at 07:37:14 PM EST
But their most influential albums were produced in London (which is why I mentioned Abbey Road, but I guess the point was not well made).

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(Comment Deleted) by xth (2.00 / 0) #51 Wed Dec 23, 2009 at 03:59:19 AM EST

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Names my boy. by Tonatiuh (2.00 / 0) #52 Fri Dec 25, 2009 at 06:22:45 PM EST
Names.

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(Comment Deleted) by xth (2.00 / 0) #53 Sat Dec 26, 2009 at 03:18:05 PM EST

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You'll hate me for saying this by nebbish (2.00 / 0) #43 Mon Dec 21, 2009 at 05:29:47 PM EST
But I think Italy and Italian cities have struggled to have a continuing cultural relevance internationally. I'm not being Anglo-centric saying this at all - I think the French film industry is the most exciting in Europe at the moment, and Germany leads in the visual arts - but Italy seems to struggle to throw off the weight of its awesome artistic past.

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It's political correctness gone mad!

[ Parent ]
(Comment Deleted) by xth (2.00 / 0) #45 Mon Dec 21, 2009 at 06:38:02 PM EST

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[ Parent ]
From the Morgan Freeman CoC: by ammoniacal (4.00 / 1) #6 Sat Dec 19, 2009 at 03:13:32 PM EST
"Watching Avatar Will Get You Laid" lol

Also - EVERYONE should watch The Phantom Menace review and LEARN SOMETHING ABOUT FILM.

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

The Phantom Menace review by jump the ladder (4.00 / 1) #7 Sat Dec 19, 2009 at 03:40:16 PM EST
really explains why I felt "meh" about all three prequels as they have essentially the same flaws.

[ Parent ]
The look on McCallum's face says it all. by ammoniacal (4.00 / 1) #9 Sat Dec 19, 2009 at 04:55:00 PM EST
His shame was palpable.

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

[ Parent ]
Avatar is kind of a date movie by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #12 Sun Dec 20, 2009 at 03:49:37 AM EST
While it does have a few battle scenes, it also has slushy romance and lots of byteage of glittery-sparkly forest glades.
--
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
Skin tone article by ucblockhead (4.00 / 2) #8 Sat Dec 19, 2009 at 04:51:07 PM EST
Thanks for that...I've heard lots of that stuff before, but have never seen it put together into a single story so coherently.

The only complaint is that it is pretty ridiculous to take this painting as at all meaningful in terms of skin town.  Cave paintings and rock art are not truly representational.  Their purpose is generally to tell a story, not show how something actually looked, and so are more analogous to a cartoon than anything else.  (Not to mention that paleolithic artists had huge materials limitations and generally only used two or three pigments at most.)
---
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman

Wien: by ammoniacal (4.00 / 1) #10 Sat Dec 19, 2009 at 08:18:43 PM EST
I venture to say most of our lives would be very, very different without it, Allah be praised.

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

Constantinople too by jump the ladder (4.00 / 2) #13 Sun Dec 20, 2009 at 07:25:01 AM EST
In that respect.

[ Parent ]
Many great battles.... by Tonatiuh (4.00 / 2) #14 Sun Dec 20, 2009 at 10:50:54 AM EST
.... have been fought in outside outposts.

Although the future of Europe as we know it was won in Vienna, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was never more than a local European curiosity.

[ Parent ]
The empire, maybe, at a stretch ... by Scrymarch (2.00 / 0) #35 Mon Dec 21, 2009 at 05:34:07 AM EST
... given that battle was actually won by the Poles ...

But Wien was a cultural and intellectual powerhouse from the 18th to the early 20th century. Mozart, Mahler, Klimt, Freud, Hertz, etc.

Will sig for food

[ Parent ]
Which battle are you talking about? by Tonatiuh (2.00 / 0) #47 Tue Dec 22, 2009 at 07:33:27 PM EST
No poles mentioned: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Vienna

In any case, all was organized under Austro-Hungarian leadership...

[ Parent ]
Ok I was thinking of the later one by Scrymarch (2.00 / 0) #50 Wed Dec 23, 2009 at 12:47:00 AM EST
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Vienna

Particularly the role of Jan III Sobiewski. They have Black Mustafa's sword and banner in the Krakow museum.

Will sig for food

[ Parent ]
The argument by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #11 Sat Dec 19, 2009 at 11:56:13 PM EST
... which is of course inherently silly, like the argument about the world's greatest novel, etc, reminds me inevitably of Civilisation. I'm afraid while London has a decent population, and good output of culture and great people, it doesn't have any wonders of the world, just a few national wonders. So it is hard pressed to compete with Istanbul (Hagia Sophia), Rome (Sistene Chapel and the Apostolic Palace), and New York (Broadway and the Statue of Liberty) on that front.

I'm not counting Stonehenge. That clearly belongs to Bath. Should have invested more there, maybe an older university, rather than letting it get crowded out by the other cities.

Will sig for food

Statue of Liberty, Wonder of the world? by Tonatiuh (4.00 / 2) #17 Sun Dec 20, 2009 at 10:57:59 AM EST
You are joking, right?

London's West End has as good an international reputation as NY's Broadway, and both places are barely mentioned outside the sphere of the English speaking world.

[ Parent ]
Lady Liberty by Scrymarch (2.00 / 0) #29 Mon Dec 21, 2009 at 04:22:25 AM EST
Gives one free specialist in every city on the continent, so Sid Meier at least thinks it's a wonder :). I thought the reference would be kind of obvious.

Theatre districts may not be a good source of global reputation, due to the language gap. I'd say Broadway probably has the edge due to scale and money ... seems like more shows go east than west across the Atlantic.

Will sig for food

[ Parent ]
Stonehenge belongs to Bath? by ambrosen (4.00 / 1) #18 Sun Dec 20, 2009 at 12:36:32 PM EST
I'm pretty sure it belongs to England. It is after all, 50 km away from here, and only 40 from the much larger city (but much less touristed) of Southampton.

And yeah, the University of Bath has a good reputation (most other cities this size wouldn't have any internationally significant research centres in their unis), but it'd be much nicer if it were more than 40 years old and in the city centre. Oh, wait, you meant London. ;) I think if there had been a university in London earlier than the 19th century, then the UK would be much less likely to have the 10-20% of the world's top 100 universities that most rankings do.

London's other attractions are the fact that as the capital of the only large country which has had essentially the same borders and no revolutions for a millennium, the royal palaces, the Tower of London and the houses of parliament are all quite impressive, and then it has the lavish museums from when it was the capital of the British Empire. So there's a lot that is impressive about it.

[ Parent ]
Bath is in England ;-) by Tonatiuh (2.00 / 0) #28 Mon Dec 21, 2009 at 04:17:16 AM EST
The biggest town in close proximity is Salisbury.

[ Parent ]
Salisbury is a city innit. by darkbrown (2.00 / 0) #32 Mon Dec 21, 2009 at 05:12:59 AM EST
Rule of Cathedrals.

[ Parent ]
So is Ely by anonimouse (2.00 / 0) #33 Mon Dec 21, 2009 at 05:25:29 AM EST
..but its smaller than most towns. In fact Ely is smaller than some villages ....


Girls come and go but a mortgage is for 25 years -- JtL
[ Parent ]
50000 people. by Tonatiuh (2.00 / 0) #48 Tue Dec 22, 2009 at 07:34:27 PM EST
My neighbourhood in Mexico City has more people :-)

[ Parent ]
I was pretty sure Stonehenge hadn't seceded ... by Scrymarch (2.00 / 0) #31 Mon Dec 21, 2009 at 04:52:07 AM EST
It's a bit of a stretch to say it's in an city is my point, which was tied to a joke about the game Civ IV which I kind of expected this crowd to get. Oh well.

London's a great city, I was lucky enough to live there for a few years. As the lecturer in the course mentioned argues, it's one of the few cities in the world with both a long history and continuing global political and cultural relevance. Eg Venice had a long and glorious heyday but is now mostly a kind of 18th century Disneyland (oh but so pretty). That hasn't happened to London, yet.

Not sure about no revolutions, unrest or border changes for a millenium though - didn't you miss one or two?

Will sig for food

[ Parent ]
I saw Avatar in a theater rented out by folks in by muchagecko (2.00 / 0) #21 Sun Dec 20, 2009 at 01:36:44 PM EST
the 3D industry. These folks create 3D environments, people and creatures for a living.

Nobody was impressed. My buddy (a renowned world artist) said that nothing in the movie was any different from any other current CGI creation. He even explained how he could do some of it much better.

I wouldn't waste money on Avatar.


A purpose gives you a reason to wake up every morning.
So a purpose is like a box of powdered donut holes?
Exactly
My Name is Earl

Avatar by nebbish (2.00 / 0) #42 Mon Dec 21, 2009 at 05:21:07 PM EST
I was gobsmacked. It is such a spectacle and the environment of Pandora is so richly done that its failings are mere details. Having said that, ever since I read Hothouse as a kid I've had a thing for psychedelic jungles...

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It's political correctness gone mad!

The British Museum had lost its charm | 53 comments (53 topical, 0 hidden)