"YOSEMITE I, OCTOBER 16TH 2011"IPAD DRAWING© DAVID HOCKNEY

Why doesn’t David Hockney see beauty in wind farms?

There’s a new documentary about David Hockney coming to the BBC, so he’s been doing media interviews.  This morning he was on the Radio 4 Today Programme and last week he was in the Observer Answering questions from fellow artists, he came out in support of… fracking!

Why? Well, for the pragmatic reason that we need the energy… and he can’t abide the alternative, which is wind turbines. In 2011, feeding reactionary quotes to the Daily Mail Hockney said that modern windmills are “big ugly things… I certainly wouldn’t paint them”.

I find the “beauty/ugliness” argument against wind farms incredibly odd. If we eschew renewable energy and burn more fossil fuels, as Hockney advocates, we will add to the problem of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere and accelerate global warming. This, in turn, will lead to the ruination of precisely the landscapes that Hockney and his fellow artists throughout history have enjoyed painting.

I suppose that wind farm critics might instead be in favour of nuclear energy, but if a person thinks that wind turbines are ugly then I assume they will also hate the sight of the massive nuclear power stations with their aggressive, monolithic architecture.1

But it vexes me that David Hockney in particular is against wind farms. This is an artist whose most famous works are of swimming pools – icons of modernity, faux ponds, interventions in the landscape. He is also an artist who champions the use of technology when it comes to art. He wrote a fascinating book Secret Knowledge in which he theorised that many of the Old Masters used lens technologies—camera obscura, camera lucida—to paint photo-realistic portraits. More recently he created some acclaimed paintings using an iPad app.  So one would expect that the idea of wind farms, which represent technological progress and a defence of the environment, would be completely Hockney’s bag.

Moreover, in the Observer article, Hockney himself gives a quote from John Ruskin which shows how interventions in the landscape become beautiful as our expectations of the landscape change.

Ruskin said: “Why build bridges between Manchester and Liverpool just to get the businessman there quicker?” A hundred years later they want to keep the bridges and things. It’s always like that, isn’t it really?

Quite.  But in quoting Ruskin thus, Hockney appears to be acknowledging and embracing his own reactionary views.  Which seems an incredibly odd thing for an artist to do!  Infuriating.


1. Personally, I’m in favour of nuclear energy and wind farms. Nuclear power will supply our vast energy needs in the medium term while renewable energy matures. Nuclear power at least has the virtue of not polluting the entire atmosphere. I know dealing with nuclear waste is an expensive  inconvenience, but it’s orders of magnitude less problematic than anthropogenic climate change.

I Have Literally No Idea What Title to Give to This Blog Post About the EU, Space Probes and Web Comics

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Congratulations to the rocket scientists from the European Space Agency who successfully landed a probe on the duck shaped comet 67P. It makes me proud to be European, a fine thought amid the relentless Euro-skepticism from UKIP and the Tories. As Nick Cohen said in the Spectator today, it’s worth remembering that support for the EU is at a 23 year high, with a plurality of British voters favouring membership. 56% of people favour staying in, while 36% of people would leave. Yes yes, the ESA is not an EU body, but apparently 20% of its funding originates from the EU. Let us just say that the success of this mission shows the value of international cooperation towards a shared vision, that could never be achieved by just one of the countries involved. Continue reading

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Waterloo and the First World War – Timeline Twins

The Great War began 100 years ago, but it still feels like part of our world.  First, because the outcome of that war shaped the rest of the twentieth century, and framed many of our current obsessions.  But also because most of us are only once-removed from the action.  I was born relatively late in the twentieth century, yet I met and was photographed with a great-grandfather who fought on the Western Front.  Many of us will have spoken to relatives who remember the conflict (even if they were not combatants).

The centenary of the war is a landmark moment that prompts me to ponder how history is like a concertina.  Sometimes, events feel very close; at other times, they are incredibly far away.  We often get a shock when we realise that an event we think of as quite recent is actually ‘history’ (today, for example, Twitter is in shock that ‘Everybody Want To Rule The World’ by Tears For Fears is thirty years old). Continue reading

Our humanity drowns in the Mediterranean

Should the EU act to save illegal immigrants from drowning in the Mediterranean? Superficially, this question sounds a bit like one of those dilemmas presented by moral philosophers: do you switch the path of the runaway train so it kills one old man instead of a family of six?

But in this case, the question is not a like-for-like, life-for-life comparison. Instead, it boils down to whether we

  1. save the lives of dozens, or perhaps hundreds of illegal immigrants; or
  2. try to save a few million Euros of costs incurred by the Italian navy

… and I suppose, a few million more Euros caused by the inconvenience of being stuck with a boat-load of Africans without identity documents.

Students in ‘Introduction to Ethics’ seminars should not find this example particularly troubling. Since we are not weighing up human lives, a few humane heuristics will see us through. One of those is that if its a choice between people and money, you save the lives. When confronted with someone in clear and present danger, and the power to save them, we should not sit on our hands and watch them drown.

Really, what is so hard about that? Continue reading

Jurassic London in exclusive deal with Best Little Bookshop

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Well, well, this is very exciting: The Bookseller is reporting that Jurassic London have an exclusivity arrangement with the Best Little Bookshop.

The two Jurassic London titles are The Good Shabti by Robert Sharp, a thriller that spans thousands of years, and The Reef by Mark Charan Newton, originally published in 2008 by Pendragon Press and described as “a tale of weird pulp adventure”.

The Good Shabti will be available as an exclusive limited, numbered edition with cover art by Jeffrey Alan Love, and a portion of all proceeds will be donated to the Egypt Exploration Society.

Are you interested in learning more about this project? I have recently established an announcement list so I can go stright to people’s inboxes with news about my writing. Sign up below! You may also wish/prefer to sign up for Jarassic London mailings, too.

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#Gamergate and political correctness

It’s been a while since I’ve logged anything here about political correctness, a concept I believe to be much maligned and in need of defence. This quote from Deadspin a summary of the #GamerGate controversy neatly summarises a dynamic that exists all over the politic discourse

Co-opting the language and posture of grievance is how members of a privileged class express their belief that the way they live shouldn’t have to change, that their opponents are hypocrites and perhaps even the real oppressors. This is how you get St. Louisans sincerely explaining that Ferguson protestors are the real racists, and how you end up with an organized group of precisely the same video game enthusiasts to whom an entire industry is catering honestly believing that they’re an oppressed minority.

This rings true to me, but of course its a problematic analysis. No-one of whom this is said is likely to believe it is actually about them. And even if they do, they are bound to believe that it is simply another example of media bias or snide liberal condescension. This is the problem with ‘culture war’, the paucity of common ground and the disbelief that the other side is acting in good faith. These kinds of debate scare me.

#Gamergate, by the way, is the hashtag around which a modern, online culture war has arisen. The Deadspin link above gives a good, quick summary. It’s interesting that for people not online, or rather, people not on Twitter… or rather, people who do not follow social media and gaming accounts on Twitter, will have absolutely no idea that the controversy is even happening. I think its fascinating that there could be such vicious and virulent arguments raging—arguments that may become defining moments for many people—to which the rest of the world is utterly oblivious. I know offline, plenty of communities and countries experience disasters and wars to which the rest of the world remains ignorant, but what’s interesting in this case is that your neighbours and co-workers could be foot-soldiers in this war, and you might never know. In that respect, there are similarities with the #McCann controversy discussed previously: I had no idea the controversy even existed.

Brenda Leyland and Twitter Storms

This is an emotive and controversial subject so it’s worth reminding ourselves of my standard disclaimer.

On Thursday, I was interviewed on Sky News about free speech on social media.   On Sunday evening, it emerged that the woman confronted by Martin Brunt in his associated report had been found dead in a hotel in Leicester.  At the time of writing details about the circumstances of Brenda Leyland’s death have not been made public.

This development raises all sorts of new questions about the conduct of the media, about discourse on social media, about the targetting of other social media users by online vigilantes, and about mental health issues.  I will not try to answer them here, but I will raise a couple of points I think are pertinent.

First, the entire Twitter history of Ms Leyland’s @SweepyFace Twitter account can currently be viewed and downloaded via GrepTweet  (or here as a .txt file).  There are over 4,000 tweets in the account and all of them appear to be about the McCanns… or rather, about #McCann, the ongoing “he said, she said” debate between pro- and anti- tweeters.  Browsing through the tweets, I see none that I would describe as threats or abuse.  The tweets do not directly address the McCanns, who are not on Twitter.

Related to this: its unclear which, if any of these tweets were in the dossier sent to the police and seen by Martin Brunt.

Second, it is incredibly sad and ironic that the death of a woman acused of trolling should mean that the Sky News reporter who exposed Brenda Leyland is now the subject of a Twitter storm.  This week I have often thought of this message from legal blogger Jack of Kent which sums up the situation perfectly:

Discussing McCann Twitter Trolls on Sky News

Last week I was invited into the Sky News central London studio to discuss free speech and ‘trolling’ on social media.  The segment had been prompted by a report by Sky journalist Martin Brunt into a ‘dossier’ of alleged abuse of Kate and Gerry McCann, the parents of missing Madeleine.

During the discussion I made the distinction between tweets that were abusive or threatening on the one hand, and others that were merely ‘offensive’.  I cited the Crown Prosecution Service guidelines on when to prosecute, and also warned at the development of ‘privatised censorship’ where different ideological groups use poorly-worded laws to threaten each other with prosecution.

A viewer recorded the segment off the TV and uploaded it to YouTube.

Continue reading

A modest proposal to improve the tabloid press a notch

Alan Hemming has been murdered in Syria. What a disgusting, inhumane act.

Few of us have much faith in the tabloids to show much restraint in these situations.

However, Stig Abel, Managing Editor at The Sun, says his paper will not glorify the killing and will instead focus on celebrating the life of a kind and decent man.

Continue reading