Thursday 28 April, 2022

Peep-oh!


Quote of the Day

”Sir, I have found you an argument; but I am not obliged to find you an understanding.”

  • Samuel Johnson

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan | Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right |Live | 2014

Link

Eccentric version of a great song but I love the guitars.


Long Read of the Day

How hypersonic missiles work and the unique threats they pose

Fascinating (and useful) explainer by Professor Iain Boyd.

Russia used a hypersonic missile against a Ukrainian arms depot in the western part of the country on March 18, 2022. That might sound scary, but the technology the Russians used is not particularly advanced. However, next-generation hypersonic missiles that Russia, China and the U.S. are developing do pose a significant threat to national and global security.

I am an aerospace engineer who studies space and defense systems, including hypersonic systems. These new systems pose an important challenge due to their maneuverability all along their trajectory. Because their flight paths can change as they travel, these missiles must be tracked throughout their flight.

A second important challenge stems from the fact that they operate in a different region of the atmosphere from other existing threats. The new hypersonic weapons fly much higher than slower subsonic missiles but much lower than intercontinental ballistic missiles. The U.S. and its allies do not have good tracking coverage for this in-between region, nor does Russia or China.

This matters because hypersonic missiles threaten to upend the relative stability of the current era of nuclear weapons. Just something else to keep one awake at night.


A Yacht Owner’s Worst Nightmare

Interesting piece in The Atlantic by Olga Khazan on how Europe and the U.S. Seize Oligarchs’ Yachts

TL;DR: it’s more difficult than you think.

I was hoping for exciting nighttime combat on the high seas, but the process of detaining a yacht is rather boring. Most of the 16 yacht “seizures” that have occurred so far have been more like freezes, according to Alex Finley, a writer and former CIA officer who has been tracking the seizures. First, a country will notice that a large, majestic vessel is parked in one of its shipyards and attempt to ascertain its true owner—a process that requires cracking open shell company after shell company, a nesting doll of paperwork, if you will. If the yacht is indeed connected to an oligarch, the country’s port authority simply forbids the yacht to move. The yacht remains at the dock, and the oligarch can’t use it for a while. The owners aren’t usually on their yachts when the boats are seized, Finley told me, so there are unfortunately no images of carabinieri dragging away tuxedoed men as they curse in Russian. Nor are the boats chained to the docks with comically large padlocks, as I had hoped. “They just are not given permission to leave,” Finley said.

Some countries are deregistering the yachts, negating their insurance, which discourages the boat from sailing off. An Italian official who was not authorized to give reporters his name told me that the boats are simply floating in the harbor, with no one allowed to get on. This person then sent me some videos of Italian officials walking around a dock in a calm and unhurried manner.

The real drama seems to happen either before or after the yachts are seized…

Pity. I was hoping for gunboats and boarding parties and Putin’s buddies swinging from the yardarm. Still, it’s an informative read.


My commonplace booklet

 I Like Free Speech So Much I’ve Decided to Buy It by Eli Grober

From McSweeney’s

Hi there, I’m Elon Musk. I’m mostly known for rockets and cars, but what I really care about is free speech. I can’t get enough of it. In fact, I like free speech so much I’ve decided to buy it.

That’s right, it turns out free speech isn’t free—it costs exactly $44 billion. That might sound like too much money for one person to be allowed to spend, but that’s only because it is. And I’ve decided free speech is worth the cost. I’m going to make sure some board full of rich guys doesn’t get to define what counts as free speech. Instead, just one rich guy will get to decide what counts as free speech: me.

So what does free speech mean to me? Free speech means… well, anything you want it to mean. Free speech is magical. It’s amorphous. It’s undefinable. That’s the power of free speech: nobody in history has ever defined it—not our founders, or politicians, or judges, or even average citizens. There’s simply no definition of free speech.

“That’s not true,” you might say, “It’s pretty clearly defined.” And to that, I’d say, “That’s the beauty of free speech—it can be a lie. I was lying to you. And that’s allowed.”


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Wednesday 9 February, 2021

Signs of Life

Last year we bought a young cherry tree to replace an acer that had died in the first year of the pandeic, possibly because we hadn’t reckoned with the very dry Spring. So we have and watched over its successor like a pair of anxious parents. Yesterday morning I went out to check on it and photographed the top of one of its branches, relieved by the realisation that it is clearly ok.

Later, looking again at the photograph, I find myself marvelling at how good the camera in the iPhone 11 is. I’m a serious photographer and usually bring a Leica with me when we go walking. But, even then, I sometimes find that the iPhone produces better pictures. And, of course, the old adage — that the best camera is always the one you happen to have with you — applies with increasing force. Apple’s decision to pour astonishing amounts of resource and technical talent into the iPhone camera has clearly paid off.


Quote of the Day

The Prime Minister made much the same false statement to parliament on 24 Nov, 5 Jan, 12 Jan and 2 Feb. @FullFact have repeatedly requested a correction and the Office for Statistics Regulation have written to his office to ask him to stop. The claim is important in its own right (it’s that there are hundreds of thousands more people in employment now than before the pandemic; in fact there are hundreds of thousands less) but the principle is important too. You can be thrown out of the House of Commons for accusing someone of lying – but not, it seems, for repeatedly making untrue statements?

Tim Harford, on his blog


Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Chet Atkins and Mark Knopfler | I Still Can’t Say Goodbye

Link

It’s nice the way it steals up and grabs you.


Long Read of the Day

What Was the TED Talk?

An insightful assessment by Oscar Schwartz of the TED-talk phenomenon and the story about our future(s) that it’s been subliminally pushing over recent decades and which, Schwartz thinks, “has contributed to our unending present crisis”.

The story goes like this: there are problems in the world that make the future a scary prospect. Fortunately, though, there are solutions to each of these problems, and the solutions have been formulated by extremely smart, tech-adjacent people. For their ideas to become realities, they merely need to be articulated and spread as widely as possible. And the best way to spread ideas is through stories — hence Gates’s opening anecdote about the barrel. In other words, in the TED episteme, the function of a story isn’t to transform via metaphor or indirection, but to actually manifest a new world. Stories about the future create the future. Or as Chris Anderson, TED’s longtime curator, puts it, “We live in an era where the best way to make a dent on the world… may be simply to stand up and say something.”

And yet, Schwartz maintains, TED’s archive is actually “a graveyard of ideas” an endlessly optimistic manifesto for futures that never materialised. So what happened to those futures?

It’s a great read, so the spoilers stop here.

But afterwards…

I came away with two thoughts.

One was that the interesting futures envisaged by the attractive solutionists on the TED stage didn’t come about because they seemed blissfully unaware of the realities of political, ideological and corporate power which are actually making sure that those futures never happened, or — if they did — happened under their supervision.

Another thought sparked by one striking passage:

Perhaps the most incisive critique came, ironically, at a 2013 TEDx conference. In “What’s Wrong with TED Talks?” media theorist Benjamin Bratton told a story about a friend of his, an astrophysicist, who gave a complex presentation on his research before a donor, hoping to secure funding. When he was finished, the donor decided to pass on the project. “I’m just not inspired,” he told the astrophysicist. “You should be more like Malcolm Gladwell.” Bratton was outraged. He felt that the rhetorical style TED helped popularize was “middlebrow megachurch infotainment,” and had begun to directly influence the type of intellectual work that could be undertaken. If the research wasn’t entertaining or moving, it was seen as somehow less valuable. TED’s influence on intellectual culture was “taking something with value and substance and coring it out so that it can be swallowed without chewing,” Bratton said. “This is not the solution to our most frightening problems — rather, this is one of our most frightening problems.”

I also liked Robert Cottrell’s assessment on his curated newsletter, The Browser.

He thought that Schwartz’s piece was,

an astute assessment of the impact that the TED Talk had on the cultural role of the public intellectual. No punches are pulled. At the height of its popularity, the “inspiresting” style of these speakers was reaching tens of millions. This mode is “earnest and contrived. It is smart but not quite intellectual, personal but not sincere, jokey but not funny. It is an aesthetic of populist elitism”


Has Facebook peaked?

My OpEd in last Sunday’s Observer:

Facebook was much in the news last week, although you may not realise that because it has been renamed Meta in the hope the bad vibes associated with its maiden name would gradually fade from public memory. (Google tried the same stunt with Alphabet and that hasn’t worked either.)

For a change, though, Facebook’s latest moment at the top of the news agenda had nothing to do with scandals and everything to do with its financial results, which were so unexpectedly bad that the shares dropped 25% at one point, taking $240bn (£177bn) off its market value, which in turn led to a 2% drop in the Nasdaq index.

Given that Facebook has hitherto been a licence to print money, so much so that at one stage (in 2019), when it was fined $5bn by the Federal Trade Commission, its shares actually went up as Wall Street registered that the ostensibly massive fine was actually the equivalent of a fleabite on an elephant.

But this time was different. Why? Three factors stood out from reports of Mark Zuckerberg’s conference call with stock market analysts: the impact of TikTok; Apple’s move to require iPhone users to consent to being tracked by advertisers; and the revelation that the hitherto unstoppable growth in the number of Facebook users has stalled…

Read on


Embracing George W?

Fabulous essay by Elayne Oliphant on meeting George W Bush at the ceremony where she became a US citizen.

Beforehand, I had told myself numerous stories about why I was pursuing American citizenship: the US had undeniably become home, I wanted to vote, I wanted to cross borders with the same passport as my children. To myself, however, I carefully avoided the question of whether or not I could obtain American citizenship—with relative ease as a white, cis-gendered, straight, professional, upper middle-class Canadian—without also engaging in American violence.

But now here I was, participating in a shocking display of televised propaganda, waving my tiny flag furiously as the camera swooped around us ahead of each commercial break. In the presence of George W. Bush, I uttered an oath in which I promised to forego all previous loyalties and be willing to “bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law.” It was a powerful and painful reminder that all of these elements—my family, my community, and American violence—cannot be disentangled.

Fascinating, nuanced piece.


My commonplace booklet

Testing the effectiveness of KN95 and surgical mask ‘fit hacks’. You’d be amazed what people do to try and improve the fit. Link

Tuesday 16 November, 2021

Little Gidding

Last Sunday morning I watched a televised conversation between Andrew Marr and the actor Ralph Fiennes, who is currently engaged in an amazing theatrical experiment — doing TS Eliot’s Four Quartets, his last great poem, as a combination of Shakespearean soliloquy and an intimate monologue. (Arifa Akbar has a nice review of it in the Observer.)

Towards the end of the conversation, Marr asked Fiennes to read a piece from Little Gidding, the last of the four poems that make up the set. It was spellbinding to watch and listen to him. And a reminder of what an amazing gift actors have of bringing text to life.

And so on the spur of the moment, I decided to get into the car and drive to Little Gidding, a tiny hamlet about 45 minutes’ drive away. I’d often seen signs to it when driving up the A1 and made the kind of mental notes one makes but never follow up. So this was a nice way of making amends.

We drove along country roads of decreasing width and eventually came to the sign. We turned onto a narrow straight road which was marked as a dead end (somehow appropriate for Eliot, I thought) and eventually came to a beautiful spot with one large house and a few smaller dwellings. And a tiny church set in what appeared to be the garden of the large (but currently apparently deserted) house. There was nobody around — although there were some cars parked near the smaller dwellings.

Somewhat to our surprise, the church was open, but as it was towards the end of a November day, it was pretty dark. But it was also extraordinarily peaceful. If you wanted to retreat from the world, this would be a pretty good place to do it.

And then I took out my phone and found the text of the poem, and read this:

If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire
Beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.


Quote of the Day

”However conservatism might be defined, placing the free market at its centre has been self-defeating. Margaret Thatcher’s political outlook was a blend of Burkean traditionalism with Hayekian libertarianism, a highly combustible mix. Unleashing the anarchic energy of free markets dissolves any social order that is based on traditional notions of duty and responsibility. Choice trumps other values, and everything is for sale. The result has been a culture of narcissism and the commodification of anti-capitalism. It is probably only an oversight on the part of their PR team that the Kardashians have not been marketed as daily readers of Karl Marx.”

  • John Gray, writing in last week’s New Statesman

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Händel | Lascia Ch’io Pianga (from Rinaldo) | Michael Rieber (double bass) and Götz Schumacher (piano)

Link

This is the first instrumental version of the aria I’ve ever heard.


Long Read of the Day

How Does Britain Maintain Relevance in a Changing World?

With difficulty, I’d say. Terrific, perceptive essay by Tim Marshall on the Political Future of Post-Brexit England.

This is how it opens:

Britain’s instinct post-2016 has been to look to the United States. Given America’s continuing political and economic power, this makes sense; but there are now differences to the 20th-century rationales for doing so. In the Cold War, it wasn’t just politically unacceptable to do major trade deals with Russia, it was of limited economic value. But this is not the case with 21st-century China, which, along with the EU and the US, is one of the three modern entities with massive purchasing power. So another hybrid strategy will be required, one that sticks with Washington, but somehow leaves the door open for good political and economic relations with Beijing. It will be, as the diplomats in the Foreign Office like to say, by way of understatement, “challenging.” However, a clear indication of what the British believe to be their best option was seen in the summer of 2021 when its new aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, was dispatched to the South China Sea with ten US Marine Corps F-35 jets on board.

Don’t you just love that word — “challenging”?


Seán Quinn, the Streisand Effect, and improving the operation of the right to be forgotten

Very interesting blog post by Eoin O’Dell (Whom God Preserve), a distinguished Irish legal scholar, on the flaws in the so-called ‘Right to Be Forgotten’ (RTBF).

Before you embark on it, it might be helpful to know a bit about the Quinn family which features in the story. The Wikipedia page on Seán Quinn, once allegedly the richest man in Ireland, is helpful in that context.

Footnote: The RTBF is a misnomer as the material of which a petitioner complains remains published on the Web. It’s just the right to have Google exclude that article or articles from its Search engine. Perhaps it should be known as The Right to be ‘Disappeared’, since in a comprehensively networked world if the dominant search engine can’t (i.e. won’t) find you then you have been ‘disappeared’ as Pinochet & Co used to put it.


A commonplace booklet

Airless tyres

Now here’s a really good idea.

Made by Michelin, it combines an aluminum wheel with a special “tyre” around it. Made with a plastic matrix laced with — and reinforced by — glass fibres. The company claims to be hoping to have them on the market by 2024.


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Thursday 22 September, 2021

LW’s last resting place

Ascension Churchyard, Cambridge.

Frank Ramsey is buried nearby.


Quote of the Day

”It takes 15,000 casualties to train a major-general.”

  • Ferdinand Foch

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Ry Cooder | Feelin’ Bad Blues

Link

Not that I’m feeling bad, mind. But this is a nice reflective track.


Long Read of the Day

How a hormone affects society

Testosterone is, IMHO, much overrated, and indeed responsible for much of what is depressing in human behaviour. So it was interesting to encounter this report of a discussion about its significance with Carole Hooven, a Harvard academic whose book,  Testosterone: The Story of the Hormone that Dominates and Divides Us was published in July.

Hooven, lecturer and co-director of undergraduate studies in Human Evolutionary Biology, waded directly into the nature versus nurture debate Thursday evening, laying out her case for the hormone’s function as a foundation for aspects of male behavior. She traced the role of testosterone in the natural world, pointing out its role in differentiating males from females across the animal kingdom. Its far higher levels in males — 10 to 20 times that in females — act as a switch that turns on genes, creating stronger, more heavily muscled individuals, along with more aggressive behavior.


Facts are sacred, but opinions are everywhere

Hadley Freeman has decided to stop being a columnist.

or someone who never actually wanted to be a columnist, I have written a heck of a lot of columns. I’ve been a Weekend columnist for five and a half years, and before that I was in the Guardian’s opinion section, and before that I was a columnist in the daily features section, G2, meaning I’ve foisted about 10 million of my random opinions on all of you. It has been a joy (for me, anyway), but now it is time to stop. I’ll still be doing interviews for the Guardian, but there is a tide in the affairs of man (all columnists love a random classic quote), and even an overly opinionated, 80s movies-obsessed, Jewish New Yorker (I’m WAWKIN’ here, I’m WAWKIN’!) knows when to step away from the table. So I’ll be banging on about fewer of my opinions, and writing more about those of others.

Like I said, I never wanted to be a columnist, but no one did when I started back in 2000…

I’ve always liked her writing, and hope to go on reading her, whatever she does next.


Chart of the Day

Remember Clubhouse? It was Silicon Valley’s Sensation du jour way back in February. And now?

From Google Trends via Exponential View.


Finally, some good news about Bolsonaro!

From the Daily Beast:

Brazil’s unvaccinated far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has been photographed nibbling a pizza slice on the street in New York City, where indoor diners have to have had at least one COVID-19 shot. Bolsonaro is in NYC to take part in the United Nations General Assembly, and, last week, he boasted that he would ignore a vaccine mandate for attendees. However, it seems the city’s restaurant managers aren’t letting him bend the rules. According to Brazilian newspaper Correio Braziliense, Bolsonaro’s tourism minister Gilson Machado posted an Instagram snap of the president and his ministers having a humble outdoor dinner of pizza and Coke on their first night in NYC. The paper also noted that the unmasked Bolsonaro had to sneak into his hotel through the back door on Sunday due to protesters.

Couldn’t happen to a nastier guy.


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Friday 17 September, 2021

Quote of the Day

”It is advantageous to an author that his book should be attacked as well as praised. Fame is a shuttlecock. If it be struck at only one end of the room, it will soon fall to the ground. To keep it up it must be struck at both ends.”

  • Samuel Johnson

Hmmm… try telling that to some authors I’ve known.


Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

The Wailin’ Jennys | Bird Song

Link

God, they are a wonderful group.


Long Read of the Day

Why Are Ebooks So Terrible?

Nice essay by Ian Bogost.


None of the world’s biggest economies are on track to meet their Paris Accords emissions targets

Surprise, surprise! This from CNN:

None of the world’s major economies — including the entire G20 — have a climate plan that meets their obligations under the 2015 Paris Agreement, according to an analysis published Wednesday, despite scientists’ warning that deep cuts to greenhouse gas emissions are needed now.

The watchdog Climate Action Tracker (CAT) analyzed the policies of 36 countries, as well as the 27-nation European Union, and found that all major economies were off track to contain global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The countries together make up 80% of the world’s emissions.

The analysis also included some low-emissions countries, and found that the Gambia was the only nation among all 37 to be “1.5 compatible.” As the study only included a few smaller emitters, it’s possible there are other developing countries in the world on track as well.

We need my proposed Theory of Incompetent Systems — ones that can’t fix themselves.


The toxicity of Facebook

I write a weekly column about tech in the Observer, and every week before I sit down to write it I have a conversation with my editor about possible topics. Virtually every week one of the possible items is some new scandal related to Facebook. We’ve long past the point where anyone is surprised by this. There’s a kind of resigned acceptance that this is the kind of toxic outfit it is and nobody should expect anything good to come from it. And this is dangerous because it amounts to a passive, resigned acceptance that nothing can be done about this dangerous and corrupt organisation.

Fortunately, some media organisations have the stamina to keep monitoring the company. The Wall Street Journal’s has a new series delving into Facebook’s misleading handling of user-generated content. The evidence seems to have come from leaked documents which the Journal’s reporters have used to demonstrate how the company often says one thing about its policies only to secretly be doing another.

Since the WSJ is behind a non-porous paywall I went looking for a summary that wasn’t so that I could relay it here. I found a good summary on a Bloomberg site. Here are some of the highlights.

  • Facebook told its independent oversight board in June that a program designed to protect high-profile figures from having their posts mistakenly taken down only affected a “small number of decisions.” Turns out, Facebook’s programs in 2020 included at least 5.8 million users, some of them among the highest rungs of politics, popular culture and journalism, according to the Journal. Facebook employees said the system was specifically designed to avoid negative media attention.

  • As Facebook unveiled its plans to create a kids’ version of Instagram, its executives repeatedly said research shows the effects of social media on young users’ mental health were a mixed bag and that the platforms can play a positive role in their lives. However they downplayed the fact that their own internal research found that a third of teen girls said they felt bad about their bodies because of Instagram.

  • And when Facebook made a change to its news feed in 2018 to emphasise posts from friends and families, it concealed the fact that the change might also boost the platform’s lacklustre engagement numbers.

  • It also didn’t explain that one unfortunate byproduct of that change was that it made angry and more polarizing content more popular.

This is dishonesty and hypocrisy on an Olympic scale. And yet still supposedly respectable organisations are anxious to recruit Facebook as a ‘partner’ in their activities.

Take, for example, Cambridge’s wealthiest College, Trinity, convener of The ’Trinity Challenge’, described as

“a coalition of partners united by the common aim of developing insights and actions to contribute to a world better protected from global health emergencies.”

Guess who one of these ‘partners’ is. Don’t take my word for it — just go and check the website.

The naiveté of this is astonishing.


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Friday 27 August, 2021

Our second cat, Tilly, who is still missing her dear departed sister.


A message from the Publisher

In what can only be described as an outrageous act of pure self-indulgence, this blogger proposes to take a week off in order to stomp around the Peak District hoping to avoid a mobile phone signal. His devoted readers (Whom God Preserve) may therefore also have a week off, and can feel liberated from the obligation to peruse the Long Read of the Day when they have better things to do! Normal service will be resumed on September 6.


Charlie Watts RIP

Nice and revealing 1966 interview, now fortunately on YouTube. I love his reply to the question of how being a success has influenced him as a person. “I no longer think, unfortunately, about spending £5”. It’s the ‘unfortunately’ that signals his intrinsic good sense and humanity.

Many thanks to James Miller for pointing that the interview was 30 years earlier than I had originally claimed!


Quote of the Day

”A celebrity is one who is known to many persons he is glad he doesn’t know.”

  • H.L. Mencken

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Jeff Lynne, Dhani Harrison and Joe Walsh | Something

Link

There’s something moving about this. Maybe it’s the presence of George Harrison’s son on stage.


Long Read of the Day

Dead Marxists Society

Lovely New Statesman essay by Stuart Jeffries on how Theodor Adorno and the Frankfurt School failed to change the world.


Video of the Day

 How the U.S. military response to the 9/11 attacks led to decades of war.

Sobering NYT video. Summed up by Einstein’s famous definition of insanity: continually doing the same thing and expecting different outcomes.

Worth the 12 minutes.


Electrifying a bike can be electrifyingly easy

Nice DIY guide by David Schneider. Before trying it at home, though, it’d be worth noting that it was published in IEEE Spectrum, a journal of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.


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Charlie Watts, RIP

Lovely 1966 interview. I love his reply to the question of how being a success has influenced him as a person. “I no longer think, unfortunately, about spending £5”. It’s the ‘unfortunately’ that signals his intrinsic good sense and humanity.

Link

Many thanks to James Miller for pointing that the interview was 30 years earlier than I claimed!

Saigon 2.0

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and academic, Viet Thanh Nguyen, managed to escape from Vietnam when the US pulled out. He’s written a sobering OpEd about it in the New York Times:

We were lucky; many others weren’t. My brother remembers dead Southern paratroopers hanging from trees. In Nha Trang, some people fell to their deaths in the sea, trying to clamber onto boats. In Da Nang, desperate soldiers crammed into the luggage compartments of a plane, while the ones left behind threw grenades and fired at the plane.

Images of bodies falling, of people running desperately, are now with us again, from Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul. Comparisons to Vietnam began early in America’s misadventure in Afghanistan: It was classic mission creep, a quagmire, another forever war. The pessimism was warranted. Two decades, billions of dollars and tens of thousands of deaths later, Taliban forces are now in Kabul, having secured control of the country with dizzying speed. As much as some American leaders resist it, the analogy presents itself again, with the fall of Saigon and resulting catastrophe foreshadowing the possible fate of tens of thousands of Afghans.

Interesting, isn’t it, that it’s Joe Biden, not George W. Bush, who is carrying the can for the fiasco.

Thursday 8 July, 2021

Evening in America

Dave Winer had this wonderful Edward Hopper picture on his blog yesterday. It reminded me of how much I love Hopper’s work. Most of his pictures evoke impressions of the US in an age when it was possible to be optimistic about its future, and one of my favourites — Nighthawks — has a figure in it who looks very like my Dad.

I’m old enough to remember a time when there were no ‘petrol stations’, just roadside pumps like the ones in the picture. One of our family friends, Horace Davin, had a big grocery store in the town square. And he also had a couple of petrol pumps on the street outside. It was no big deal: he sold groceries; and he sold petrol. And during the Suez crisis in 1956, when petrol was briefly rationed in Ireland, Horace was a good man to have as a friend.

If Edward Hopper were alive today, what kinds of scenes would he paint? The new Gridserve EV-charging station in Braintree, perhaps? There’s a touch of genius in its design. When you drive in, it looks exactly like the forecourt of a petrol station — until you realise that the pumps aren’t pumps. Its designers understood a basic truth about new technology: if you want to encourage the average Joe to switch to EVs, you have to make doing so as ‘normal’ as possible. Only geeks and show-offs want to be ahead of the curve. Sensible people don’t.


Quote of the Day

Samuel Coleridge

“Did you ever hear me preach?”

Charles Lamb

”I never heard you do anything else.”


Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

JJ Cale, Eric Clapton | After Midnight and Call Me the Breeze

Link


Long Read of the Day

Social class in America

TL;DR version: Class in America is so complex, so multidimensional and fragmented, that it requires an enormous amount of cultural capital just to navigate.

It also requires a perceptive thinker to analyse it, and Smith fits that bill.

Link


Another, sobering, link

  •  4th Of July Shootings Across The Country Killed More Than 180 People From NPR. Link

The Libertarian slogan “Live Free or Die” needs updating. It now reads “Live Free and Die”.


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