The musings of Mr Monkeysized

Billy you’re so far away from home by monkeysized
August 28, 2010, 21:23
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Mrs Monkeysized is away, so I’ve been sat watching a favourite film with a favourite bottle of wine. The film is the majesterial ‘Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid’.

Majesterial? A western? Well yes. It’s a meditation on when progress overtakes individuals – in this case the ranching system overtaking the frontier law in New Mexico.

BtK: “How does it feel?”

PG: “It feels like times have changed.”

BtK: “Times maybe – but not me.”

Men grow moustaches, wear underwear for weeks without taking them off, and life is cheap. Whores are octoroons, although there are other types. An astonishing amount of whiskey is drunk, bringing to mind an excellent podcast from Dan Carlin about how many figures in history were drunk when they embarked upon being historic.

I cried when Slim Pickens’ character is fatally wounded and goes to die by the edge of some water, eyes fixed on the confused face of the woman he loves, all to the strains of Bob Dylan’s ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’. As I said, it’s a top film.

And then Paco dies. He’ll build a house with a veranda. On the veranda he’ll have three chairs.

“And I’ll sit on the middle one. Anyone who doesn’t do right according to nature, and my mother, I will blow his head off.”

I’m off to drink whiskey and not change my underwear.

Progress doesn’t always allow for sensible revisions by monkeysized
June 17, 2010, 09:36
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The Sunday Times soft-shoe-shuffled into the blog yesterday on the back of a quote about the majesty of air travel from The Economist. It reminded me to revisit the newly paywalled site for a marvellously monkeysized review of a car by Jeremy Clarkson.

On Sunday he made the point that

if the motor car were invented now, in its current form, no government on earth would allow ordinary people to drive around in one.

This single monkeysized line is worth an unadorned blog post all of its own, so I won’t ramble on too much. But it tells you something about both the nature of progress and the need to step back from the banal and obvious and think about them once again in relation to our over-evolved and under-cooked apelike selves. Driving a car is an extraordinary and largely unnatural business. It requires responsibility and a sense that what you are doing is a privilege. It is not a right.

Go outside, look at the old streets near where you work, where you live, and where you grew up. Imagine them without 80% of the cars, without any of the cars. That’s often how they were designed. The car is a fantastic invention, but don’t take cars and their impact for granted.

Rushing for a window seat by monkeysized
June 16, 2010, 13:51
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It’s not just me: other people, no doubt having read Mr Monkeysized’s thoughts on this here computer and then having discussed it while having a wee in their local pub, have made a rush for a window seat.

Not just Mr Gulliver on The Economist, but somebody on the firmly pay-walled Sunday Times, have joined that rush. Here is Gulliver‘s take, starting with the quote from the ST:

My favourite window-seat ride is crossing America — with the asphalt labyrinth of the crammed east coast giving way first to ceaseless Appalachian forest, then to the eerie geometric perfection of the farm-belt fields, then to the intimidating, jaw-dropping emptiness of the west, before the smog starts lapping at your window as California sprawls into view.

It’s like a six-hour tutorial on the most powerful combination of man and land in human history — and you, in the aisle seat, were playing online poker instead?

I suspect many frequent flyers will roll their eyes at the suggestion that they giggle excitedly at the view—they’re too busy working and they have, probably, seen it all before. But those who do retain some sense of wonderment at where they are and what they are seeing will doubtless fly more contentedly.

As you’ll no doubt remember, this fits in with my push to remember the wonder of flight when we board a plane, to spare a thought for blasting through the air in an aluminium tube, and how much Newton would have paid for a window seat on an Easy Jet flight to Malaga.

Next up: the wonder of lifts.

Get your kids into prostitution rather than journalism by monkeysized
June 15, 2010, 09:57
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I listened to a podcast from The Economist on the way to work today. The starting line was

“The notion of thinking of journalism as something you go into at age 21 or even at age 18 as used to be, and something you retire from in your sixties, I think that is no longer a wise way of thinking about it.”

It was a piece about the future of journalism. When inside the Big Corporation I felt it easy to criticise other industries for failing to reform – journalism’s own troubles made me feel mildly queasy in a slightly hidden way. It didn’t affect me in my cast-iron job. But then I jumped ship and waved goodbye to my large pay off to do so. I didn’t want to be that frog sitting still in the water as it comes to the boil. It’s one of the few brave things that I’ve ever done, and my own individual attempt to avoid being Monkeysized.

I have my own thoughts about the future of journalism now. I’m shocked at how well prepared journalists are for the outside world, but also at the denial that most journalists have about being forced to show it. One of the two men on the Economist’s pod said he’d prefer it if it his kids stayed well clear of it.

I put the pod up on my Facebook page. My journalistic friends seem to be avoiding it – they’re instead going for the Onion report that I put up about Football:

“Deep down soccer’s about a bunch of guys running around, not touching a polka-dot ball with their hands. It shouldn’t have to hide how gay it is.”

Roll up for Economic punditry by monkeysized

To chance my arm at economic punditry, I have a monkeysizer’s comment about the deal reached by EU finance ministers last night.

The problem they have is that they do not have the vision to tackle the fundamental underlying problems that they face. The FTSE and other financial indices are up at the news that the various nuts and bolts to tackle the debt funding problems faced by European economies has been nailed in place. In fact it’s value is higher than I’d imagined was possible, given the inability of most governments (in particular those in trouble and those hypnotised by a political imperative rather than rational and evolving interests) to think beyond their nostril hair.

But what has been agreed, as suggested by the magnificent Stephanie Flanders, tackles the symptoms and not the causes of the crisis. Where is the real fix to European economies going to come from? From absurd faith in ludicrous schemes like the Lisbon Agenda and 20:20? Hell no. From budgetary discipline now that we’re deep into an exercise in moral hazard? Hmmm.

The failure to see the big picture is unedifying among these leaders. They are the proverbial frogs in water on the stove. The water is heating up and they refuse to clamber onto the stone. They have no idea that they need to understand monkeysizing.

Of Reapers, Predators and excellent journalism by monkeysized
March 18, 2010, 14:06
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The excellent journalism of which I speak is in Der Spiegel, and this is a continuation of yesterday’s post about Drones and un-monkeysized warfare. This one is about another part of the same set of reports into unmanned drones. Yesterday I referenced the bit from an expert at Brookings – today we hear from the ‘pilot’ himself – in itself an excellent bit of monkeysized journalism. Here is Bryan Callahan:

Killing someone with an RPA is not different than with an F-15. It’s easy to think that, to fall down that trap. We’re well aware that if you push that button somebody can go away. It’s not a video game. You take it very seriously. It’s by far nowhere near a video game.

Well this supports what I wrote yesterday, that the business of war had already moved a long way from twatting someone over the head with a rock. From Slingshot to matchlock to B52, this dislocation was already there, and waiting for us to get used to it or not. Far better, I suggested, to deal with death in a way that made us more aware of what it actually involved – such as having to kill an animal if we wanted to eat meat. This isn’t so different from Ancient Rome, where they gained insights into the reality of death by watching gladiators battle to the death in the sand in front of them (not an option in most bits of England in 2010).

Mrs Monkeysized disagreed. But then she hates the idea of killing rabbits, and has much more of an instinctive dislike of war than me. She also mentioned that she can’t work out whether I am in favour or against monkeysizing. Hmm again.

Plane Crashes and Sir Isaac Newton by monkeysized
February 25, 2010, 19:38
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The final four minutes of flight AF447, the Air France jet that hit the Atlantic on a flight from Rio, are picked apart in a chilling article in Der Spiegel. It’s compulsive reading, even for those of us who love flying or depend on it rather too much to want to work out just when you would have realised that it was all going wrong, or exactly what forces of 36G (the impact) would do to your body. How much would you know?

Certainly, if I’m in an air accident I will be miffed, livid and rather put out. I may even purse my lips in silent anger (if I remember to do it before the 36G kick in). But they aren’t the real thing that bugs me about air travel.

People are what bug me about air travel. In particular the acceptance of air travel as routine. It’s not. It’s amazing! Grab that window seat and see the world from astonishing angles as you blast through the sky in a pressurised aluminium tube. What doesn’t look better from high up?

And then try to imagine just how remarkable what you’re seeing is. What you’re doing. How it works. Where you’re going and how quickly you get there.

How much, I start wondering, would people from a pre-plane age pay for just one Easyjet flight from Stansted to Marbella? A window seat, obviously. How much would the great philosophers pay? The natural scientists? How much would the great Sir Isaac Newton pay, out of his life earnings? Would he be able to convince others to stump up part of the fee, on condition that he described it to them once back on the ground? Would he calculate a payment based on fees for the fabulous written and spoken accounts where he would relate the experience afterwards. Far more, I would imagine, than what it would cost to fly to Australia on silk sheets while being caressed by a quartet of gorgeous lovelies made entirely of chocolate.

And he’d probably go for priority boarding too. Sensible man.