Strange what one finds on the Net.
Archive for the 'Asides' Category
From David Runciman’s LRB review of Alex Ferguson’s fourth shot at autobiography.
Alex Ferguson is a conspiracist, which is not quite the same as being a conspiracy theorist. Conspiracists see patterns of collusion and deceit behind everyday events. Their default position is that someone somewhere is invariably plotting something. Conspiracy theorists go further: they want to join up the dots and discover the overarching pattern that makes sense of seemingly unrelated happenings. They are looking for the single explanation that underwrites everything. A conspiracist thinks that nothing is entirely innocent. A conspiracy theorist thinks that nothing is entirely incidental. Conspiracists can be devious, suspicious, confrontational and difficult to be around but they are also capable of making their way in the world, leveraging their paranoia into real power. Conspiracy theorists are often simply nuts.
Interestingly, though, Fergie and Gordon Brown share an obsessive interest in the assassination of JFK.
I’m reading John Kay’s terrific book, Obliquity: Why our goals are best achieved indirectly, and went looking to see if he has given any lectures about it.
Here’s his TEDx talk, which neatly fits the bill.
I was very struck by this piece by Zachary M. Seward in my Quartz Weekend Briefing.
(En passant, Quartz has been one of the great discoveries of 2013.)
Half a century ago, author Isaac Asimov peered into the future: “What will the World’s Fair of 2014 be like?” he wrote in the New York Times. “I don’t know, but I can guess.”
With the exception of assuming the World’s Fair would still be around, Asimov was remarkably prescient. His essay forecast everything from self-driving cars (“Much effort will be put into the designing of vehicles with ‘Robot-brains’”) to Keurig machines (“Kitchen units will be devised that will prepare ‘automeals,’ heating water and converting it to coffee”) to photochromic lenses (“The degree of opacity of the glass may even be made to alter automatically in accordance with the intensity of the light falling upon it”).
But Asimov’s most impressive prophecy had less to do with gadgets than perceiving what that progress would mean for society. ”The world of A.D. 2014 will have few routine jobs that cannot be done better by some machine than by any human being,” he wrote. Later, he added, ”The lucky few who can be involved in creative work of any sort will be the true elite of mankind, for they alone will do more than serve a machine.”
Heading into 2014, the so-called disruptive technologies we write about frequently at Quartz—from robotics to 3D printing to drones—are magical, yes, and inevitable, too. They also carry with them a specter of loss. Lost jobs, mostly, but also a sense of being lost. Where do we go from here? What is society’s replacement for factory work, clerical work, retail work? The honest answer is that we have none, at least for now.
The US may never return to full employment. Ravaged economies in Europe are putting an entire generation of youth at risk. China can’t put its college graduates to work. Jobs simply aren’t materializing.
Predictions are a fool’s errand. (Asimov assumed we would have moon colonies.) But if we had to make just one forecast, it would be that, in 2014, the reality of this loss of work will hit the world hard. The bright side is that we may finally start to confront the issue and start working on a new economy with jobs to spare.
Watch this and tell me which of Microsoft’s two co-founders has done more for humanity?
Just in time for the panto season comes this apparently-official report of the ‘trial’ of the North Korean Boy Emperor’s dastardly uncle.
It is an elementary obligation of a human being to repay trust with sense of obligation and benevolence with loyalty. However, despicable human scum Jang, who was worse than a dog, perpetrated thrice-cursed acts of treachery in betrayal of such profound trust and warmest paternal love shown by the party and the leader for him.
No shilly-shallying with extended trials, juries, evidence, cross-examination and all the other tedious appurtenances of Western ‘justice’. These folks don’t hang about. The whole thing took about four hours, after which Uncle Dang was shot like the, er, dog that he was supposed to be.
Emily Bell has a terrific review of David Folkenflik’s book, Rupert Murdoch: The Last of the Old Media Empires, in which she makes the point that the Digger’s assiduously-fostered image as an ‘outsider’ doesn’t quite fit the facts.
Murdoch and his properties are forever booing and hissing at the public sector; he is a lusty advocate of the free market, he is frequently at odds with communications regulators, and he loathes publicly funded media. His personal Twitter feed is full of pithy aphorisms urging the dropping of regulation and the lowering of taxes.
However, Murdoch’s expedience in dealing with government is a defining feature that distinguishes him from his less successful peers. His engagement with the political process in every country he operates in is intense. Whether being readily received by Margaret Thatcher, his great political ally in breaking UK print unions in the 1970s, meeting with Russian oligarchs on his yacht, or consulting with Chinese party officials, Murdoch maintains close ties to regional power. He leans on the door of regulation so often and because of his facility with establishments, it gives way. Is that something we should blame Murdoch for? No. He is only doing what all business people would do—he is just more efficient and persistent and strategic than most.
Too close, indeed, in the UK, where subsequent governments of opposing parties demonstrated obeisance toward him, his family, and his executives in a startling inversion of the normal patterns of patronage and lobbying. Rebekah Brooks, the former Sun and News of the World editor who is now indicted on hacking charges, rode horses with British Prime Minister David Cameron, who, despite repeated warnings not to, also employed former Murdoch editor Andy Coulson as his head of communications. That was before Coulson also faced charges similar to Brooks. The hacking scandal at the News of the World, once uncovered, did not reveal an organization at odds with the establishment, but one that was indistinguishable from the establishment.
Excerpt from a lovely, quirky Financial Times column by Douglas Coupland:
Last year, at a conference about cities, I met this guy from Google who asked me what I knew about Fort McMurray, Alberta. I told him it’s an oil-extraction complex in the middle of the Canadian prairies and, because of this, it has the most disproportionately male demographic of any city in North America. Its population is maybe 76,000. I asked him why he was asking and he said, “Because it has the highest per capita video-streaming rate of anywhere in North America.” Nudge nudge.
I think that because of the internet, straight people are now having the same amount of sex as gay guys were always supposed to be having. There’s a weird look I can see on the face of people who are getting too much sex delivered to them via hooking up online: wait, is this as good as it gets?