Saturday 16 January, 2021

Tulip mania

This was an experiment. Shot with an iPhone6 using the DxO add-on camera, which has the same sensor as my Sony RX100 IV.


Quote of the Day

“The principal task of civilisation, its actual raison d’etre, is to defend us against nature.”

  • Sigmund Freud in his Introductory Lectures.

Yeah. And the virus shows that we’re making a pig’s ear of it.


Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Eric Clapton & Mark Knopfler | Same old blues

Link


The flight from WhatsApp

Not surprisingly, Signal has been staggering under the load of refugees from WhatsApp following Facebook’s ultimatum about sharing their data with other companies in its group. According to data from Sensor Tower Signal was downloaded 8.8m times worldwide in the week after the WhatsApp changes were first announced on January 4. Compare that with 246,000 downloads the week before and you get some idea of the step-change. I guess the tweet — “Use Signal” — from Elon Musk on January 7 probably also added a spike.

In contrast, WhatsApp downloads during the period showed the reverse pattern — 9.7m downloads in the week after the announcement, compared with 11.3m before, a 14 per cent decrease.

This isn’t a crisis for Facebook — yet. But it’s a more serious challenge than the June 2020 advertising boycott. Evidence that Zuckerberg & Co are taking it seriously comes from announcements that Facebook has cancelled the February 8 deadline in its ultimatum to users. It now says that it will instead “go to people gradually to review the policy at their own pace before new business options are available on May 15.” Ho, ho.

Signal is a very interesting outfit, incidentally, and not just because of its technology. It’s a not-for-profit organisation, for one thing. Its software is open source — which means it can be independently assessed. And it’s been created by interesting people. Brian Acton, for example, is one of the two co-founders of WhatsApp, which Facebook bought in 2014 for $19B. He pumped $50m of that into Signal, and no doubt there’s a lot more where that came from. And Moxie Marlinspike, the CEO, is not only a cryptographer but also a hacker, a shipwright, and a licensed mariner. The New Yorker had a nice profile of him a while back.


Long Read of the Day

The American Abyss by Tim Snyder Link.

An historian of fascism and political atrocity on Trump, the mob and what comes next. Illustrated by some pretty impressive photography too..


Taming the beast

From Democracy: A Journal of Ideas… How do we return authoritarian true believers to civil society? There are, it says, short-term and long-term answers.

Confronting white domestic terrorism (for that’s what a lot of this is) is the obvious short-term step. We’ll see how the good the US is at that. Normally iot’s only good at tackling external terrorists. Home-grown ones are a bit trickier.

The longer-term challenge is at least as difficult:

Desperate faith in Trump’s demagoguery is only the most dramatic part of the problem. There are also America’s perennial racism and tribalism, and, more recently, their expansion owing to widespread ressentiment — the curdled rage of individuals whose market-driven losses of security and social belonging and status I sketched here recently.

Trump’s base may morph into something even uglier until we take their grievances seriously… They need jobs that pay enough to have a nice house and car, good health care and education, as they had for three decades after World War II. Today’s unregulated capitalism isn’t giving it to them. We need public-private partnerships that create jobs. People will stop calling that ‘socialism’ as soon as they get one of those jobs.

Not a good outlook IMHO.


Office Meeting 2.0

Lovely post on Quentin’s blog this morning. Like me, he’s not a fan of Microsoft Teams. But as Teams is what’s used by his lab for its weekly all-hands meeting, he has to use it. Since almost everyone at the meeting stays muted unless it’s their turn to speak, he decided to ‘attend’ on his phone while out walking his dog in the rain. Which seemed to work out fine. At the end of the meeting, though,

as people were saying goodbye, I turned on my camera to reveal that I was in fact wrapped up and squelching through the mud in pursuit of my spaniel, something nobody had been aware of up to that point. And for me, it had been a thoroughly enjoyable meeting. Just imagine what it would be like in sunshine!

Anyway, strongly recommended, if you have the option. Combine your meetings with your daily exercise. Go and watch the rabbits. I promise you it’ll be a more pleasant experience than sitting in your average office meeting room.

And remember, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.


Internet giants should be treated as public utilities

From Quartz :

Whether you are, like Facebook and Twitter, creating the social media tools for people to publish hateful messages, or, like Google and Apple, allowing an app that contains those tools to exist on your company’s devices, or, like Amazon, Microsoft Azure, or Google Cloud Platform, supplying the invisible backbone for the companies behind the tools, you cannot claim neutrality.

These firms have demonstrated that they can and will draw lines around who is allowed to be one of their clients, something that’s completely within their rights to do as private firms.

Yeah. But if they’re infrastructure shouldn’t they be regulated as such?


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Kubler-Ross, Grief and the Pandemic

Watching people’s responses to, and thinking about, the pandemic what often comes to mind is Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s model of the ‘five stages of grief’ which postulates that those experiencing grief go through a series of five emotions: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Over the years there’s been much debate about the model with critics lining up to point out that there’s little empirical evidence for it etc. My feeling, as someone who has lived through a bereavement, is that it’s useful not as a model but as a metaphor.

In that sense, I’ve seen something of each stage in people’s responses to the Covid virus in the last year.

(a) Denial This was much in evidence in Boris Johnson’s ludicrous Greenwich speech of February 3, 2020. Here’s the passage I had particularly in mind, verbatim:

We are starting to hear some bizarre autarkic rhetoric, when barriers are going up, and when there is a risk that new diseases such as coronavirus will trigger a panic and a desire for market segregation that go beyond what is medically rational to the point of doing real and unnecessary economic damage, then at that moment humanity needs some government somewhere that is willing at least to make the case powerfully for freedom of exchange, some country ready to take off its Clark Kent spectacles and leap into the phone booth and emerge with its cloak flowing as the supercharged champion, of the right of the populations of the earth to buy and sell freely among each other.

And here in Greenwich in the first week of February 2020, I can tell you in all humility that the UK is ready for that role.

We are ready for the great multi-dimensional game of chess in which we engage in more than one negotiation at once and we are limbering up to use nerves and muscles and instincts that this country has not had to use for half a century.

(b) Anger All you have to look for is the rage that ran through right-wing regimes on both sides of the Atlantic against the ‘China virus’ and the defeatism of governments who were afraid to let it rip until the magical properties of ‘herd immunity’ wold manifest themselves, enabling Supermen Johnson and Trump to emerge from their phone booths to vanquish the Oriental plague. (En passant one wonders how many people under the age of 20 know what a phone booth is — except perhaps as the Tardis in Dr Who.) Remember Trump’s rage when it dawned on him that the virus might adversely affect his chances of re-election.

(c) Bargaining Here we come to the discussions about the trade-off between the economic and other costs of lockdowns. How much lockdown would people stand, and stand for? How could it be enforced if people revolted? Would the hypocrisy displayed by Dominic Cummings’s testing his eyesight in Northumberland be widely replicated? And so on. The talk was all about costs and benefits.

(d) Depression Now widespread, despite the availability of vaccines, because of the dawning realisation that this virus, like all viruses, understands neither borders nor economics.

(e) Acceptance We’re nowhere near that yet. People still haven’t grasped that there’s no going back to the way we were. That past is indeed a different country. It’s also a country that was heading straight for climate catastrophe. So every time someone talks about a “return to growth” you know that the reality of what lies ahead hasn’t yet been appreciated. The only kind of growth worth having post-pandemic is a greener, carbon-neutral one. And the only question worth asking is: could we create such a future?

Friday 15 January, 2021

Getting the picture


Quote of the Day

”Free speech does not mean free reach. There is no right to algorithmic amplification. In fact, that’s the very problem that needs fixing.”


Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Randy Newman | My Old Kentucky Home

Link


Long Read of the Day

 Richard J. Evans: Why Trump isn’t a fascist

Richard and I are colleagues: I was Vice President of Wolfson College when he was the President and between 2012 and 2017 we were (with David Runciman) co-directors of a big research project on Conspiracy and Democracy. He is a leading expert on the history of Nazi Germany, so it’s fascinating to see him take on the much-repeated current trope about Trump as a fascist. Trump is a lot of evil things, he argues, but fascist he ain’t.


Cory Doctorow and the FBI

The other day, Cory celebrated his two decades as a blogger. The occasion brought him an unexpected bonus: a call from the FBI.

I’ll let him tell the story in his own inimitable style.

As it happens, an anonymous reader gave me a hell of a blogiversary gift: my first-ever FBI investigation! I’ve spoken to FBI agents before (Agent: Does your Tor exit node keep logs by any chance? Me: Nope. Agent: Dang), but I’ve never actually been investigated.

phone rang with an unfamiliar local number. A calm voice on the other end introduced itself as an FBI special agent with the LA office. I pointed out that this was an unlikely claim and asked for a switchboard number I could call back on.

The agent said this was an entirely reasonable thing to do. A few minutes later, I was back on the phone with him.

Me: What can I do for you?

Him: I’m calling about a blog post you published. I’m sure you know which.

Me: Uh, no.

Him: The one about toppling statues.

He meant this post.

tldr: it’s a link to a Popular Mechanics article on the science of toppling monuments, with a brief intro and summary.

There’s nothing illegal in that post, but also you should never talk to cops without a lawyer, so I asked him if he minded my setting up a time to make that happen. He said that was fine with him.

My EFF colleague Mark Rumold was kind enough to volunteer to call the special agent. He reported back shortly thereafter to say that the agent was responding to a complaint, and that he agreed my post was not unlawful in any way.

Mark confirmed for the agent that I was not planning any unlawful activity, and the agent asked him to remind me that people can misinterpret the things we publish on the internet.

That was it.

It was an anticlimax, sure. I confess that I was a little freaked out. It was just the anniversary of Aaron Swartz’s death, and my mind kept going back to his account of the time the FBI showed up to ask him about PACER, and the horrors that followed.

But it’s over. The agent, to his credit, was pleasant and reasonable. But I’m mystified by the complaint – my guess is some troll has figured out that you can sic the FBI on people you disagree with on the internet – and even more by the fact that the FBI acted on it.


Wikipedia is 20 today!

Now that’s something really worth celebrating. And while we’re on the subject, why not give it a donation? It’s one of the wonders of the digital world. Link

I have a strategy for dealing with representatives of the two main views about Wikipedia.

The first is the person who speaks disdainfully about Wikipedia because “it’s full of errors”.

Me: So you’ve found something in Wikipedia that you know to be wrong?

Him: (it’s usually a male, btw) Certainly! Absolute rubbish it was.

Me: Well then, why haven’t you corrected it, since you know it’s wrong?

Usual outcome: Blustering about being too busy, what’s the point? etc.

The second is the person (male or female) who gushes enthusiastically about how wonderful Wikipedia is.

Me: So when was the last time you made a donation? It is a charity, you know, and your donation can be gift-aided.

Usual outcome: embarrassed silence


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Thursday 14 January, 2021

Quote of the day

”Literature is mostly about having sex and not much about having children. Life is the other way round.”

  • David Lodge, 1965

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Grieg | Piano Concerto II, Adagio | Arthur Rubinstein

Link

I included this a while back, but last night listened to it again and found it utterly riveting. Often video of musicians at work is annoying and distracting. But this particular one is hypnotic, especially as one watches Rubenstein (who always reminds me of Bertrand Russell) in what looks like a trance as he awaits his turn to play.


The WhatsApp Exodus

This clever satirical image comes from a post on Quentin’s blog about the stampede from WhatsApp after its owner, Facebook, published an ultimatum to users which basically said: share data with Facebook or stop using the app.

Quentin was a trifle surprised by the fact that

lots of people are shocked to discover that it now says they will share your details — location, phone number, etc — with the rest of the Facebook group.

I actually read, or at least skimmed, the Terms when they came out, and didn’t blink an eye, because I’ve always assumed that’s what they did anyway! I deleted my Facebook account many years ago, but I was aware that they still knew a lot about me because I do still use WhatsApp and Instagram (though only about once a month).

WhatsApp is the only Facebook service that I actually use. I joined it long before it was owned by Facebook and was charmed by it because of its neat design, the declared philosophy of its founders that it would never accept advertising and the fact that it had an honest business model: free use for the first year, and a modest annual fee after that.

Not surprisingly, I was mightily pissed off then when Facebook acquired WhatsApp for a staggering $19B in 2014. It was an outrageous sum so I guessed that the founders just caved. Who wouldn’t? But after that my use of it declined.

Two things changed that. One was the fact that two family members moved to Australia; the other was the lockdown imposed by the pandemic. After that, WhatsApp became part of the central emotional infrastructure of our extended family. And it has been, frankly, wonderful. But when the Facebook ultimatum arrived I thought: ok; enough’s enough. And I announced to the group that I would — with regret — be deleting my account and moving over to Signal, citing the ultimatum as the reason. I also tried to indicate that I would not feel judgemental about anyone who chose to remain.

Frankly, I expected nobody else to depart. My feeling was that the network effect of WhatsApp, with its 2B+ users would be too great. And besides, most members of my family are not techies. Somehow I couldn’t see them bothering with Signal.

How wrong can you be? To my astonishment, I suddenly discovered that one of them (who is a serious geek) had set up a Signal group, and family members were rapidly joining. Now my phone is buzzing with messages from my family just it did when we were all on WhatsApp. And it turned out we were not unusual: everywhere people were flocking to Signal (and to Telegram, another encrypted app).

Here, for example, is the FT on the scale of the stampede:

Signal was downloaded 8.8m times worldwide in the week after the WhatsApp changes were first announced on January 4, versus 246,000 times the week before, according to data from Sensor Tower. The app also got a boost when Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla, tweeted “Use Signal” on January 7.

By contrast, WhatsApp recorded 9.7m downloads in the week after the announcement, compared with 11.3m before, a 14 per cent decrease, Sensor Tower said.

Telegram, a popular messaging app among cryptocurrency traders, also benefited from the WhatsApp concerns. It reached 11.9m downloads the week after the January 4 change from 6.5m the week before, Sensor Tower said. In a message sent to all its users on Tuesday, Telegram said that it had now surpassed 500m active users.

A few thoughts prompted by these developments.

  1. Network effects create great power for incumbents — until they don’t. Investors regarded WhatsApp’s 2B happy users as constituting a defensive ‘moat’ round Facebook. But if a single event (a poorly-timed, badly phrased and preemptory pop-up notification) can trigger a stampede, it’s a reminder that moats can quickly run dry if they spring a leak.

  2. The biggest irony perhaps is that for many WhatsApp users there would actually be no change. If you had taken the opportunity offered in 2016 to not have your data shared with Facebook then you would not be affected by the draconian new policy on February 8. But the Facebook messaging on this was poor and it seems that a lot of people didn’t realise that they would be exempt.

  3. The kerfuffle led some analysts — notably Ben Thompson (he of the Stratchery newsletter) — to begin looking at the whole encrypted messaging marketplace and assessing the security of the five competitors — Signal, WhatsApp, Telegram, Facebook Messenger and iMessage. On message security, Signal came out top (and surprisingly, Apple’s iMessage bottom.

  4. On the amount of data that can be harvested from an app, Signal also came out on top. Thompson’s rankings were:

1/ Signal, which only collects your phone number.

2/ iMessage, which collects your phone number and email address.

3/ Telegram, which collects your phone number and contact list.

4/ WhatsApp: Unless you opted out in 2016, Facebook does collect pretty much everything else it can get its hands on, including information about your device, your contacts, your IP-derived location, etc.

5/ Messenger is like WhatsApp, but with ads!

So, on balance, this looks like a good outcome for those who switched.


Long Read of the Day

 We Mock the Rioters as Ignorant Buffoons at Our Peril

Jack Shafer on the dangers of disdainful myopia about the insurgency in the Capitol. Here’s how he winds up:

Yes, there was plenty of class resentment at play at the Capitol and lots of overt racism, but we can’t assume that this was just a revolution by the powerless, the pathetic and the rural. The most shocking thing about the attack on the Capitol was that so many of the rioters were people who better resemble our kin and neighbors than they do the so-called barbarians from the boondocks.

The point here isn’t to sympathize with the rioters, or even seek to “understand” them, but to see them as they are and to prepare ourselves for future confrontations. How are we to deal with them as a country? I want to believe the intruders who now say they regret their actions of January 6. That’s exactly the sort of response you would hope to hear from an otherwise lawful American. But for every such apology we can be certain at least one person—and likely more—has been radicalized, maybe irreversibly, by the events. There are no easy ways to quell this national rebellion, a rebellion that appears to be gaining velocity, but the first step has got to be organizing a political taxonomy that doesn’t marginalize them as aliens. Instead of thinking of the rioters as “them,” try thinking of them as “us.” It’s bound to make you uncomfortable, but at least it’s a start.


Lockdown viewing

Lovely excerpt from David Vincent’s latest Covid diary post:

We also have some information about what we chose to watch on our television sets during 2020. The most popular video, boxed or downloaded, was Frozen II, with sales of 973,000. This suggests a market driven by children, or by parents driven to distraction finding them something to do. I have yet to encounter this film, so have no explanation for its success. Instead I ask my oldest granddaughter, now eight years old, to compare the sequel to the original. She writes:

“yes I have watched it and I do think that it is a little bit better than the first one because it has quite a lot more to it and so it is a bit more exciting. There is also a little bit of a mystery in it because they have to find out what happened to their parents and how they met. There are also lots of different elements to the story, more people and more adventures and more mysteries!”

David’s response? “Better get a copy.” My response: smart grandaughter!


Why those of us who are baffled by Trump’s supporters are the Weird ones.

Gillian Tett, the Financial Times’s US Editor had a fascinating column on Saturday which is, sadly, probably behind a paywall. In it she addresses the bafflement that many of us felt after discovering the extent of Republican support for the ‘insurrection’ on January 6.

A snap YouGov survey released last week suggested that only a quarter of Republicans viewed the attack on the Capitol as a threat to democracy — and almost half approved the storming of the halls of Congress.

A separate poll last December by Quinnipiac University showed that three-quarters of Republicans thought that there was widespread voter fraud during the November presidential election (while 97 per cent of Democrats did not believe this).

She also cites an Edelman survey which suggests that

many Americans today only have faith in people and institutions that are familiar to them, be it in their neighbourhood, company, line of sight or social group, meaning that “trust is local”. Tribalism is rife, in other words, in both ideological and epistemological terms.

The standard reaction is to blame Trump, Fox News, social media, whatever. But Tett suggests that an alternative explanation might come from a recent book by the Harvard evolutionary biologist and anthropologist Joseph Henrich —  The Weirdest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar . In it Henrich outlines the mentality of Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich and Democratic (“WEIRD”) people, versus other non-WEIRD groups. WEIRD modes of thought are, he says, based around the ideals of individualism, moral consistency and, above all, the type of sequential logic used in alphabet-based writing systems. Western elites tend to assume that it is the only valid mode of thought. In other words, inheritances of the Enlightenment.

Henrich’s view is that WEIRD thinking is culturally and historically an outlier. And the key thing to understand about non-WIERD modes of thought, says Tett, “is that gut reactions to the patterns in an ecosystem matter more than focused, one-directional reasoning, and that performative symbols count more than words”.

So what Trump has done is masterfully to play to this mentality on an epic scale. But for us WIERDos it’s so hard to comprehend that we have basically ignored it. Which is one of the consequences of being neither historians nor anthropologists.

Useful to remember, then, that Gillian Tett studied anthropology before she took up journalism. Which maybe was one of the reasons she was among the first journalists to suspect that the sub-prime mortgage business was a gigantic scam.


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Wednesday 13 January, 2021

Our Research Centre has an interesting Zoom Webinar tomorrow (Thursday 14th):

Ron Deibert and David Runciman on Reclaiming the Internet for Civil Society

It’s free and open to all who are interested. Time: 17:00-18:30

To register, click here.


Quote of the Day

“The most interesting things are always happening behind one”

  • Iris Murdoch

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Joe Brown | Here Comes The Sun (Live)

Link

Nice rendition of a lovely Beatles number.


Long Read of the Day

 Where Journalism Fails

Wonderful essay by Doc Searls on why and how journalism was suckered by Trump. It’s the most insightful piece on this puzzle that I’ve come across. Doc spotted Trump’s significance before he was elected in 2016. This piece was published in 2019 and I missed it. Ouch!


America’s middle-class yobs

Interesting piece in The Atlantic by Adam Serwar on The business owners, real-estate brokers and service members who rioted acted not out of economic desperation, but out of their belief in their inviolable right to rule.

The mob that breached the Capitol last week at President Donald Trump’s exhortation, hoping to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, was full of what you might call “respectable people.” They left dozens of Capitol Police officers injured, screamed “Hang Mike Pence!,” threatened to murder House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and set up a gallows outside the building. Some were extremists using the crowd as cover, but as federal authorities issue indictments, a striking number of those they name appear to be regular Americans.

And there’s nothing surprising about that. Although any crowd that size is bound to include people who are struggling financially, no one should be shocked to see the middle classes so well represented among the mob.

The notion that political violence simply emerges out of economic desperation, rather than ideology, is comforting. But it’s false. Throughout American history, political violence has often been guided, initiated, and perpetrated by respectable people from educated middle- and upper-class backgrounds. The belief that only impoverished people engage in political violence—particularly right-wing political violence—is a misconception often cultivated by the very elites who benefit from that violence.

The members of the mob that attacked the Capitol and beat a police officer to death last week were not desperate. They were there because they believed they had been unjustly stripped of their inviolable right to rule. They believed that not only because of the third-generation real-estate tycoon who incited them, but also because of the wealthy Ivy Leaguers who encouraged them to think that the election had been stolen.

Well, well. Remember the “Brooks Brothers mob” rustled up by the Republicans in 2000 to stop the count in Florida and enable the Supreme Court to hand the presidency to George W. Bush — as The Inquirer usefully  reminds us?

M@any of the 74 million citizens who voted for the guy who then incited an attempted coup do fit the stereotype of struggling or laid-off blue-collar worker in a rusted-out rural community. But those folks aren’t the ones who can take a Wednesday off and fly hundreds of miles, let alone plunk down hundreds of dollars, to get to the nation’s hub. While the Capitol mob was bulked up with other Trumpists — including an alarming number of off-duty police officers, as well as some neo-Nazi or KKK types who’ve been around forever — it was the 401(k) crowd that formed the front line of America’s first real putsch.

If that surprises you, then you weren’t really paying attention. For the last four years, political scientists have been trying to wrap their brains around Trump’s shocking 2016 victory in the Electoral College while trying to tell us that the 45th president’s true base is a lot of things — but it’s not poor. In fact, polling guru Nate Silver noted during 2016′s primaries that the average Trump voter had a median household income of $72,000, which was both higher than the national average and also higher than the numbers that year for supporters of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Footnote: One of the few entertaining outcomes of the pandemic was that Brooks Brothers went bust. Wonder where Preppies now go for their suits.


Why we should worry about facial-recognition technology

Michal Kosinski’s latest paper has just been published by Nature. He used to work in Cambridge, and with David Stillwell did the pathbreaking research on what kinds of intimate personal information could be gleaned from a collection of an individual’s Facebook ‘Likes’. (This was the psychometric work that was eventually appropriated and figured in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.) Michal is now at Stanford, and this astonishing piece of research suggests that facial-recognition technology is even more of a threat to privacy than most of us had supposed.

Here’s the Abstract:

Ubiquitous facial recognition technology can expose individuals’ political orientation, as faces of liberals and conservatives consistently differ. A facial recognition algorithm was applied to naturalistic images of 1,085,795 individuals to predict their political orientation by comparing their similarity to faces of liberal and conservative others. Political orientation was correctly classified in 72% of liberal–conservative face pairs, remarkably better than chance (50%), human accuracy (55%), or one afforded by a 100-item personality questionnaire (66%). Accuracy was similar across countries (the U.S., Canada, and the UK), environments (Facebook and dating websites), and when comparing faces across samples. Accuracy remained high (69%) even when controlling for age, gender, and ethnicity. Given the widespread use of facial recognition, our findings have critical implications for the protection of privacy and civil liberties.

One of the pieces of research we’re doing in the new Minderoo Centre for Technology and Democracy in Cambridge is on the vetting processes that could be used to authorise public procurement of this kind of technology. This paper gives an idea of why this work is important. (If you have any doubts on that score, then a visit to mainland China might be instructive.)


Other, hopefully interesting, links

  • Husband on leash breached Quebec’s Covid curfew. BBC News story, via Dave Pell. Link
  • San Diego Zoo Safari Park gorillas test positive for COVID-19. Link
  • Oriol Ferrer Mesià’s retro computer terminals. It’s amazing what you can do with a 3D printer and a Raspberry Pi. Link

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Tuesday 12 January, 2021

An evening in Provence

One evening, on our way down to the village for dinner, I suddenly saw this.


Quote of the Day

“April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.”

  • TS Eliot, The Waste Land

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Handel | The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba

Link

For some reason I always think of Margaret Thatcher when I hear this.

And say what you like about Handel, he was no crank.


Long Read of the Day

 How COVID unlocked the power of RNA vaccines

One of the unintended but almost magical consequences of the Covid emergency is how it has demonstrated the utility of basing vaccine development on RNA. This fascinating Nature article explains why this is potentially so powerful, and how we came to realise its potential.

RNA vaccines seem built for speed. From the genetic sequence of a pathogen, researchers can quickly pull out a potential antigen-encoding segment, insert that sequence in a DNA template and then synthesize the corresponding RNA before packaging the vaccine for delivery into the body.

Moderna, for example, managed this within 4 days of receiving the SARS-CoV-2 genome sequence. It focused on the virus’s spike protein, a surface protein used to enter cells. Collaborating with the US National Institutes of Health, the company then ran proof-of-concept experiments in mice before kicking off first-in-human testing in a span of just two months.

Any vaccine, in theory, could be created in the same way. “It truly is a platform in that sense,” says John Shiver, head of vaccine research and development at Sanofi Pasteur. With RNA, “you don’t have to recreate the entire process”.


Platforms Must Pay for Their Role in the Insurrection

Roger McNamee treading familiar (for him) ground:

The platforms hide behind the First Amendment to justify their policies, claiming that they do not want to be arbiters of truth. There are two flaws in this argument. First, no thoughtful critic wants any platform to act as a censor. Second, the algorithmic amplification of extreme content is a business choice made in pursuit of profit; eliminating it would reduce the harm from hate speech, disinformation, and conspiracy theories without any limitation on free speech. Renee DiResta of the Stanford Internet Observatory made this point in a WIRED essay titled “Free Speech Is Not the Same As Free Reach.”

Until this insurrection, many policymakers and pundits have dismissed the rising tide of online extremism, believing it to be safely contained and therefore harmless. Their lack of concern allowed extremism’s audience and intensity to multiply…

The TL;DR version is that “Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have spent years fomenting and enabling yesterday’s violence at the Capitol. Policymakers need to do something about it.”

Yeah, Mr McNamee, we kinda knew that. But what do we do about it?


Thierry Breton: Capitol Hill — the 9/11 moment of social media

M. Breton is the European Commissioner for the internal market — and so a big cheese sur le Continent. Here he is, on Politico sounding off:

Just as 9/11 marked a paradigm shift for global security, 20 years later we are witnessing a before-and-after in the role of digital platforms in our democracy.

Social media companies have blocked U.S. President Donald Trump’s accounts on the grounds that his messages threatened democracy and incited hatred and violence. In doing so, they have recognized their responsibility, duty and means to prevent the spread of illegal viral content. They can no longer hide their responsibility toward society by arguing that they merely provide hosting services.

The dogma anchored in section 230 — the U.S. legislation that provides social media companies with immunity from civil liability for content posted by their users — has collapsed.

Maybe, maybe not. But amending Section 230 so that the changes, overall, do more good than harm looks really difficult. Vox has an entire piece headlined “Capitol riot revives calls to reform Section 230 and regulate Twitter and Facebook” which nicely illustrates how difficult it would be — and how confused legislative thinking about it is at the moment.

Last week’s insurrection marked the culminating point of years of hate speech, incitement to violence, disinformation and destabilization strategies that were allowed to spread without restraint over well-known social networks. The unrest in Washington is proof that a powerful yet unregulated digital space — reminiscent of the Wild West — has a profound impact on the very foundations of our modern democracies…

All this before he gets to the one serious point in the whole diatribe:

The fact that a CEO can pull the plug on POTUS’s loudspeaker without any checks and balances is perplexing. It is not only confirmation of the power of these platforms, but it also displays deep weaknesses in the way our society is organized in the digital space.

The main point of his piece, though, seems to be to flag up the EU’s two new proposed laws to do something about all this — the Digital Markets Act and the Digital Services Act.


Other, hopefully interesting, links

  • An updated daily front page of The New York Times as artwork on your wall. Nice idea, but the necessary hardware is a bit pricey. Link
  • The Great Gatsby is now in the public domain. Get your free copy from here.
  • 100 Tips for a Better Life. Lovely. For example, No. 18: “Keep your desk and workspace bare. Treat every object as an imposition upon your attention, because it is. A workspace is not a place for storing things. It is a place for accomplishing things.” I really need to tidy my desk. Link.

This blog is also available as a daily email. If you think this might suit you better, why not subscribe? One email a day, delivered to your inbox at 7am UK time. It’s free, and there’s a one-click unsubscribe if you decide that your inbox is full enough already!


 

Monday 11 January, 2021

Quote of the Day

”I have a number of literary projects on my desk at the moment, but I’ve decided to take time out to do a take-down of a youngish journalist, a New Yorker writer, named Malcolm Gladwell, whose books on semi-social-scientific subjects (their titles are Blink, Tipping Point and Outliers) rest for long periods atop the New York Times bestseller lists. Gladwell is a Village Explainer: with the aid of second-line academic psychologists he’ll tell you why certain shoes come back into style or how people decide to hire tall CEOs or why Korean airline pilots had a strong propensity for crashing their planes. None of it is quite convincing: all of it flattens out the world, robbing it of its rich complexity. Gladwell himself is a terrific self-starter; he is said to give talks to corporations for as much as $40,000 a whack ( that’s a pretty good whack, I’d say). He is youngish, bi-racial with an Afro hairdo in such dishabille that he looks as if, instead of combing his hair, he chose to put his thumb into a live electric socket.”


Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Randy Newman | Sail Away | Live in London

Link

One of my favourites, beautifully recorded. And poignant in the age of Trump and Brexit.


Long Read of the Day

What Happened? by Kieran Healy

If you read nothing else today, read this.

Healy is a very smart sociologist who teaches at Duke. This essay is a strikingly plausible interpretation of what happened on January 6. And, in a way, it’s consoling for those of us who believe in the superiority of the cock-up theory of history.


Censorship, Parler and Antitrust

Cory Doctorow, Whom God Preserve, has a very thoughtful post about the implications of the extensive ‘de-platforming’ of Trump and his supporters following les eventments on January 6.

There’s an obvious, trivial point to be made here: Twitter, Apple and Google are private companies. When they remove speech on the basis of its content, it’s censorship, but it’s not government censorship. It doesn’t violate the First Amendment.

And yes, of course it’s censorship. They have made a decision about the type and quality of speech they’ll permit, and they enforce that decision using the economic, legal and technical tools at their disposal.

If I invited you to my house for dinner and said, “Just so you know, no one is allowed to talk about racism at the table,” it would be censorship. If I said “no one is allowed to say racist things at the table,” it would also be censorship.

Having got that out of the way, he goes back to Parler, which has been thrown off Amazon’s AWS cloud and seems currently to be trying to find an alternative host on the Web.

It’s true that no one violates the First Amendment (let alone CDA 230) (get serious) when Parler is removed from app stores or kicked off a cloud.

But we have a duopoly of mobile platforms, an oligopoly of cloud providers, a small conspiracy of payment processors. Their choices about who make speak are hugely consequential, and concerted effort by all of them could make some points of view effectively vanish.

This market concentration didn’t occur in a vacuum. These vital sectors of the digital economy became as concentrated as they are due to four decades of shameful, bipartisan neglect of antitrust law.

And while failing to enforce antitrust law doesn’t violate the First Amendment, it can still lead to government sanctioned incursions on speech.

The remedy for this isn’t forcing the platforms to carry objectionable speech.

The remedy is enforcing antitrust so that the censorship policies of two app stores don’t carry the force of law; and it’s ending the laws (copyright, cybersecurity, etc) that allow these companies to control who can install what on their devices.

Right on! There’s a deep connection between antitrust and democracy.


The backstory of an insurgent permalink

Matt Stoller has a thought-provoking post about the Trump supporter who was shot while trying to break into the Speaker’s Chamber in the Capitol building on January 6. Her name is Ashli Babbitt and she was the subject of a New York Times profile, on which Stoller drew extensively.

According to the New York Times, Babbitt was a 35 year-old woman from California who spent 14 years serving in the U.S. Air Force, deploying to both Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. government sent Babbitt abroad eight times, and though not every time was in a combat zone, such repeated deployments into violent areas tend to cause brain damage.

After her time at war, Babbitt had a modest propensity for violence, threatening a rival love interest by rear ending her with a car in 2016. She married, and bought a small business with her husband, a pool supply company called Fowlers Pool Service and Supply. There she ran into commercial problems common to small businesses these days.

She borrowed money at an extortionate rate (169%), then defaulted, but sued on the grounds that her lender had cheated her with too high of an interest rate. She lost, as “courts have held that such arrangements don’t amount to loans and are not bound by usury laws.” At which point she became more into politics through social media, and then was sucked into the QAnon conspiracy-theory-cum-cult.

So, says Stoller,

here’s the profile of a rioter, a working class person who went overseas eight times in military service, including two combat zones, who then tried her hand at a small business where financial predators and monopolists lurked. She then fell in with conspiratorial social media, and turned into a violent rioter who, like most of the rioters, thought she was defending America by overturning an election.

It’s easy to mock this kind of thinking, to see rioters as losers or racists. And no doubt there’s a strain of deep-seated racial animus that is with us and always will be, but I think ascribing all of it to such an explanation is too simple. Racist or no, Babbitt really was at one point a patriotic American, serving in the military for over half her adult life. More broadly, she’s far from alone in expressing rage at the status quo. There have protests against the existing social order for almost a decade, starting with the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, and then Black Lives Matter in 2014 and accelerating into protests and riots earlier this year. I’ve written about the relationship between unrest and corporate power in the context of those protests, a sense of alienation that normal political channels, that politics itself is not a realistic path for addressing social problems.

Babbitt, he argues,

was both an adult making dangerous political choices, and a product of our policy regime, having been a soldier in a violent unnecessary war and trying to make her way a society that enables predators to make money through financial chicanery and addictive products. She chose poorly, but she also had few choices to make, one of which was getting on social media and being lured into joining a violent and paranoid cult of personality.

As everyone and his dog has realised by now, the shambolic insurgency on January 6 has been a long-time building. It was the culmination of a decade-long process of alienation, inequality, white supremacy and right-wing and neo-fascist resurgence. But it leaves the US with an almost existential problem.

There are, Stoller thinks, only two paths in a representative democracy which has a large group of its citizens who live in a cult-like artificial world of misinformation, and many more who rightly or wrongly don’t trust any political institution.

One is to try to strip these people of representation and political power; that is the guiding idea behind removing Trump, as well as a whole host of conservatives, off of Silicon Valley platforms that have become essential to modern society.

The trouble is that “Removing these people is a choice to not have a society, to pretend that we can put these people into a closet somewhere and ignore them.”

It’s not going to work.

The alternative Stoller sees is less dramatic.

We can take on the legal framework behind social media so these products aren’t addictive and radicalizing. As I’ve written, there are legal immunities and policy choices that allow Facebook to profit in especially toxic ways through compiling detailed user profiles and targeting them with ads. If we change how social media companies make money, we can change how these services operate to make them socially beneficial instead of engines of radicalization.

Yep. The business model is the key to this. If it’s not brought under control then the game’s up. So there is an urgent connection between antitrust and other forms of regulation and the future of the US as a functioning democracy. Trump may or may not be finished, but the line of elected Republican presidential-hopefuls who lined up in the Senate and House to try to overturn the election shows that the supply-line of prospective autocrats is filling up nicely.


This blog is also available as a daily email. If you think this might suit you better, why not subscribe? One email a day, delivered to your inbox at 7am UK time. It’s free, and there’s a one-click unsubscribe if you decide that your inbox is full enough already!


The backstory of an insurgent

Matt Stoller has a thought-provoking post about the Trump supporter who was shot while trying to break into the Speaker’s Chamber in the Capitol building on January 6. Her name is Ashli Babbitt and she was the subject of a New York Times profile, on which Stoller drew.

According to the New York Times, Babbitt was a 35 year-old woman from California who spent 14 years serving in the U.S. Air Force, deploying to both Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. government sent Babbitt abroad eight times, and though not every time was in a combat zone, such repeated deployments into violent areas tend to cause brain damage.

After her time at war, Babbitt had a modest propensity for violence, threatening a rival love interest by rear ending her with a car in 2016. She married, and bought a small business with her husband, a pool supply company called Fowlers Pool Service and Supply. There she ran into commercial problems common to small businesses these days.

She borrowed money at an extortionate rate (169%), then defaulted, but sued on the grounds that her lender had cheated her with too high of an interest rate. She lost, as “courts have held that such arrangements don’t amount to loans and are not bound by usury laws.” At which point she became more into politics through social media, and then was sucked into the QAnon conspiracy-theory-cum-cult.

So, says Stoller,

here’s the profile of a rioter, a working class person who went overseas eight times in military service, including two combat zones, who then tried her hand at a small business where financial predators and monopolists lurked. She then fell in with conspiratorial social media, and turned into a violent rioter who, like most of the rioters, thought she was defending America by overturning an election.

It’s easy to mock this kind of thinking, to see rioters as losers or racists. And no doubt there’s a strain of deep-seated racial animus that is with us and always will be, but I think ascribing all of it to such an explanation is too simple. Racist or no, Babbitt really was at one point a patriotic American, serving in the military for over half her adult life. More broadly, she’s far from alone in expressing rage at the status quo. There have protests against the existing social order for almost a decade, starting with the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, and then Black Lives Matter in 2014 and accelerating into protests and riots earlier this year. I’ve written about the relationship between unrest and corporate power in the context of those protests, a sense of alienation that normal political channels, that politics itself is not a realistic path for addressing social problems.

Babbitt, he argues,

was both an adult making dangerous political choices, and a product of our policy regime, having been a soldier in a violent unnecessary war and trying to make her way a society that enables predators to make money through financial chicanery and addictive products. She chose poorly, but she also had few choices to make, one of which was getting on social media and being lured into joining a violent and paranoid cult of personality.

As everyone and his dog has realised by now, the shambolic insurgency on January 6 has been a long-time building. It was the culmination of a decade-long process of alienation, inequality, white supremacy and right-wing and neo-fascist resurgence. But it leaves the US with an almost existential problem.

There are, Stoller thinks, only two paths in a representative democracy which has a large group of its citizens who live in a cult-like artificial world of misinformation, and many more who rightly or wrongly don’t trust any political institution.

One is to try to strip these people of representation and political power; that is the guiding idea behind removing Trump, as well as a whole host of conservatives, off of Silicon Valley platforms that have become essential to modern society.

The trouble is that “removing these people is a choice to not have a society, to pretend that we can put these people into a closet somewhere and ignore them.”

It’s not going to work.

The alternative Stoller sees is less dramatic.

We can take on the legal framework behind social media so these products aren’t addictive and radicalizing. As I’ve written, there are legal immunities and policy choices that allow Facebook to profit in especially toxic ways through compiling detailed user profiles and targeting them with ads. If we change how social media companies make money, we can change how these services operate to make them socially beneficial instead of engines of radicalization.

Yep. The business model is the key to this. If it’s not brought under control then the game’s up. So there is an urgent connection between antitrust and other forms of regulation and the future of the US as a functioning democracy. Trump may or may not be finished, but the line of elected Republican presidential-hopefuls who lined up in the Senate and House to try to overturn the election shows that the supply-line of prospective autocrats is flowing nicely.

Sunday 10 January, 2021

An ideal gift for Trump on January 20?


January 6 in 180 seconds

Great video by Politico.


Quote of the Day

“According to a snap YouGov survey released on Thursday, just 27 per cent of Republicans considered the attack on the Capitol a threat to democracy, while 45 per cent of them approved of the storming of the halls of Congress.”

  • Financial Times, 9 January.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Vivaldi Four Seasons: Winter, complete; Cynthia Freivogel, Voices of Music

Link

Well, it is Winter!

The original version performed on original instruments by Cynthia Miller Freivogel and the Early Music ensemble Voices


Long Read of the Day

 How @realDonaldTrump Changed Politics — and America

Not that long, but thoughtful throughout. Derek Robertson on how Trump ‘governed’ 140 characters at a time.


Katharine Whitehorn RIP

One of the great figures of British journalism has died, at the age of 92, after some tough years with Alzheimer’s.

I started writing for the Observer in 1982, by which time the was already a legend (she had started on the paper in 1963, when I was still an undergraduate) and I was, frankly, in awe of her. She had the accent and bearing of a dowager duchess, combined with the sense of humour of a longshoreman. And that voice! “Two parts Diana Rigg to one part James Mason” as my Observer colleague Rachel Cooke put it.

She may have looked and sounded like a duchess, but in person she was friendly, warm, welcoming and supportive, especially to younger hacks. Many women journalists particularly remember her encouragement with affection and gratitude. For them, she was a lodestar: the first woman to hold down a serious editorial job in a major British newspaper.

And not just journalists. I had a lovely email today this morning from a friend who remembered Katharine as “a shining light in my girlhood… She responded very generously to my letter seeking advice, in the face of strong parental opposition, on how to become a writer. I read her column in the Spectator avidly- a magazine provided with astonishing forethought by my Manchester girls’ grammar school. I miss who she was.”

When it became clear to her that she would have to get to grips with “the dreaded email” she and I had several conversations on the subject in which I tried to be encouraging. I think that initially her household must have had a Virgin connection, so I still treasure the email she sent me on 20 April 2011 from her new @gmail address which read: “I am no longer Virgin!”

May she rest in peace. If I were a believer I think I’d have fun imagining the exchanges between her and St Peter before he felt obliged to hold the door open (and roll out the red carpet) for her.

The Guardian had a nice obituary of her and Barbara Ellen has a generous tribute in today’s paper.


How FarmVille and Facebook helped to cultivate a new audience for gaming

My Observer column this morning.

Two deaths you may have missed last week – for the simple reason that you have better things to do with your time than monitoring the tech industry. One was the end of FarmVille, a simplistic, time-wasting online game that consumed the attention of millions of Facebook users over the years; the other was the much-delayed execution of Flash, the animation tool that powered countless games and assorted website tricks for two decades, but which will no longer be supported by most web browsers or by its maker, Adobe.

As it happens, both deaths are related, because one application used the other, but both were ubiquitous for different reasons. The FarmVille story is about human nature and the dynamics of addiction, social media and surveillance capitalism, whereas Flash is really just about tech and the evolution of the web…

Do read the whole piece


Boris Johnson on Trump

From an interesting FT piece by Kim Darroch, the former UK Ambassador to the UK (who Johnson declined to support when he was attacked by Trump):

Through much of this time, Mr Johnson was foreign secretary and a frequent Washington visitor. On policy, he was poles apart from Mr Trump: an advocate of action on climate change, a liberal on immigration, a supporter of the Iran nuclear deal. Yet he was also intrigued, I believe, by Mr Trump’s rise to power, by the devotion he inspired among supporters, and by his never-give-an-inch approach to the media. Mr Johnson also thought he could manage Mr Trump, build a much stronger relationship than Mrs May, and make domestic capital out of his support for Brexit and a UK-US trade deal.

These were reasonable objectives. It’s important that the British prime minister be close to the US president. But Mr Johnson never knowingly understates, and this led him to statements he didn’t need to make: asserting that Mr Trump had “many, many, good qualities”, was “making America great again”, and even suggesting he was as good a candidate as Barack Obama for a Nobel Peace Prize.


Other, hopefully interesting, links

  •  The Impractical but Indisputable Rise of Retrocomputing. Digital nostalgia, really. I still have my original Macintosh. Sigh. Link
  •  Let there be lights! Lovely use of drone technology. Thanks to Quentin, who spotted it. Link

This blog is also available as a daily email. If you think this might suit you better, why not subscribe? One email a day, delivered to your inbox at 7am UK time. It’s free, and there’s a one-click unsubscribe if you decide that your inbox is full enough already!


Saturday 9 January, 2021

Word-processing, antique style


Quote of the Day

“Mark Zuckerberg is what happens when you replace civics with computer science.”

  • Scott Galloway (see below)

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Grace Kelly Blues | Eels

Link

One of my favourite tracks.


Long Read of the Day

Lawrence Wright: The Plague Year

Truly extraordinary (long) New Yorker essay by Lawrence Wright. Includes some very good reasons why you should not be blasé about Covid. For example:

“There are three things this virus is doing that blow me away,” Brooks told me. “The first is that it directly infects the endothelial cells that line our blood vessels. I’m not aware of any other human respiratory viruses that do this. This causes a lot of havoc.” Endothelial cells normally help protect the body from infection. When SARS-CoV-2 invades them, their powerful chemical contents get dumped into the bloodstream, resulting in inflammation elsewhere in the body. The rupture of individual endothelial cells coarsens the lining in the blood vessels, creating breaks and rough spots that cause turbulent blood flow.

The second surprise was hypercoagulability—patients had a pronounced tendency to develop blood clots. This reminded Brooks of Michael Crichton’s 1969 novel, “The Andromeda Strain,” in which a pathogen causes instant clotting, striking down victims in mid-stride. “This is different,” Brooks said. “You’re getting these things called pulmonary embolisms, which are nasty. A clot forms—it travels to the lung, damaging the tissues, blocking blood flow, and creating pressures that can lead to heart problems.” More puzzling was evidence that clots sometimes formed in the lungs, leading to acute respiratory distress. Brooks referred to an early report documenting autopsies of victims. Nearly all had pulmonary thromboses; until the autopsy, nobody had suspected that the clots were even present, let alone the probable cause of death.

“The last one is this hyperimmune response,” Brooks said. Most infectious diseases kill people by triggering an excessive immune-system response; COVID, like pneumonia, can unleash white blood cells that flood the lungs with fluid, putting the patient at risk of drowning. But COVID is unusual in the variety of ways that it causes the body to malfunction. Some patients require kidney dialysis or suffer liver damage. The disease can affect the brain and other parts of the nervous system, causing delirium, strokes, and lasting nerve damage. COVID could also do strange things to the heart. Hospitals began admitting patients with signs of cardiac arrest—chest pains, trouble breathing—and preparing emergency coronary catheterizations. “But their coronary vessels are clean,” Brooks said. “There’s no blockage.” Instead, an immune reaction had inflamed the heart muscle, a condition called myocarditis. “There’s not a lot you can do but hope they get through it.” A German study of a hundred recovered COVID patients with the average age of forty-nine found that twenty-two had lasting cardiac problems, including scarring of the heart muscle.

Even after Brooks thought that COVID had no more tricks to play, another aftereffect confounded him: “You get over the illness, you’re feeling better, and it comes back to bite you again.” In adults, it might just be a rash. But some children develop a multi-organ inflammatory syndrome. Brooks said, “They have conjunctivitis, their eyes get real red, they have abdominal pain, and then they can go on to experience cardiovascular collapse.”

You get the idea. It’s an amazing piece. Very long. And an example of what only a few high-end magazines can do. Must have taken ages to research and write.


The best commentary I’ve read on what happened this week

It came from Scott Galloway in his terrific blog. Lots of great stuff in this week’s edition and it’s worth reading in full. But here are a few striking extracts:

One:

Record deaths from Covid-19 and the U.S. Capitol overrun by a mob on the same day. How did this happen?

The virus has broken containment, preying on our comorbidities.

The ascendant comorbidity is the steady denigration of our public institutions, particularly government and its agencies, over the last four decades. Since the Reagan Revolution in 1980, a conservative philosophy of limited government has morphed to an anti-government creed. President Trump is the manifestation of that narrative. The President blames the “deep state” for every setback and has stocked his cabinet with appointees opposed to the departments they lead, from a Secretary of Education who doesn’t appear to believe in public education to a Secretary of Energy who once proposed eliminating the Department of Energy.

Two:

Just as elected officials helped hollow out the government they are charged with leading, the mandarins of media bear blame for the weakness of their branch. Conservative outlets have shelved citizenship as they recognize that novelty and tribalism make more cabbage than truth. Social media firms are doing the same — but at greater scale. Liberal media, terrified of being labeled “elitist,” has fallen back on a feeble bothsidesism that normalizes, and brings oxygen to, outrageous conduct. Progressives have a guilty need to understand and feel the pain of anybody who claims victimhood. Among liberals, being offended and angry means you are right.

Three:

As our institutions have retreated, private capital has emerged as a shadow government. Banks command our economy, the shareholder class commands the politicians, and big tech reigns over it all. Our idolatry of innovators equates wealth with virtue, and does not hold the innovator class, or their firms, to the same standards as old economy firms (or the general population). Twenty-four hours after a failed coup, the lead story on Twitter is Elon Musk becoming the wealthiest man in the world.

Four:

If there is any question that big tech is our new government, then register that these are the only entities whose actions seem to have a meaningful impact (or what we view as meaningful). Which has had more impact? Futile discussions about the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, or Facebook and Twitter suspending President Trump’s accounts and Shopify closing MAGA stores? Applaud these actions if you like, but accountability for sedition should not be meted out by private companies (in the case of Shopify, a foreign one). We should not be pandering to part-time CEOs to save the nation they demonstrate no regard for.

And, Five:

Under some f..ked up version of wokeness, we have decided that stupid people are a special interest group who warrant empathy and latitude re the damage they levy. We excuse Trump’s mob, as they are the ones America left behind or who didn’t have access to higher education. No, they’re just stupid — even the ones with “Senator” before their name. The President and his mob registered a deep blow to our democracy and global standing … with no commensurate benefit. If Betsy DeVos and Elaine Chao have reached their limit, the insurrectionists and their dear leader are either going to jail or losing advertisers for the launch of his network. We are only awakening to the profane assault on America, our forefathers, and the sacrifices of previous generations after the unprecedented events of Wednesday.

We need to recognize that stupid is a thing and, per Professor Cipolla, encourage our youth to discern how not to be stupid and to aspire to be “intelligent,” which also is a thing … and a noble thing, and not derived from a place of privilege that demands apology and self flogging…

But do read the whole thing. And sign up to his blog.


Other, hopefully interesting links

  •  The end of the Swedish model. Link
  •  Anger increases susceptibility to misinformation. Well, well. Who knew? Link
  •  The 147 Republicans Who Voted to Overturn Election Results. If you want a real rogue’s gallery, this is it. Link

This blog is also available as a daily email. If you think this might suit you better, why not subscribe? One email a day, delivered to your inbox at 7am UK time. It’s free, and there’s a one-click unsubscribe if you decide that your inbox is full enough already!