Thursday 16 June, 2022

Happy Bloomsday!

Oil on canvas by Jacques-Emile Blanche, 1935 Now in the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Today’s the day that admirers of James Joyce’s great modernist novel Ulysses celebrate every year. Why? Because all the action in the novel takes place on a single day, 16 June, 1904, in Dublin. The name comes from the fact that the novel tracks the progress of its hero, an ad-salesman named Leopold Bloom, as he navigates his way round the city on that particular day.

For many years (except for the Covid break) I’ve hosted a lunch on the day when some friends and fellow-Joyceans gather for Burgundy and Gorgonzola sandwiches (what Leopold Bloom had for his lunch in Davey Byrne’s pub) and readings from the book.

This is a special Bloomsday because the novel was published 100 years ago this year.


Quote of the Day

”Life is too short to read a bad book.”

  • James Joyce

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Joan Sutherland | I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls | The Bohemian Girl

Link

Music plays a big part in Joyce’s work. He was himself a fine singer. This song crops up several times in Finnegans Wake and the opera itself plays a role in two of his short stories in Dubliners.


Long Read of the Day

Judge John Woolsey’s judgment on Ulysses.

An unlikely literary hero.

United States v. One Book Called Ulysses was a celebrated 1933 case in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. At issue was whether James Joyce’s novel was obscene. In deciding it was not, Judge John M. Woolsey opened the door to importation and publication of serious works of literature, even when they used coarse language or involved sexual subjects. The decision was affirmed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, but it is Judge Woolsey’s trial court opinion which is the high point of the story.

Here it is, in all its glory.


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Wednesday 15 June, 2022

An early version of Habermas’s ‘public sphere’?

An illustration of an 18th-century coffee house from the British Library’s Breaking the News exhibition that I went to yesterday.


The mystery of our mysterious plant.

Many thanks to everyone who emailed with suggestions. Turns out it’s even more complicated that I thought, and I’m trying to assess the various suggestions. More later.


Quote of the Day

“When Boris Johnson has nowhere to go, the nowhere he goes to is Northern Ireland. It is, for him, an empty space, a vacuum he can fill with any old blather that is useful to him at the time.

What suits him right now is to try to reassemble the old Brexit band of 2019 – the ERG and the DUP – in the hope that the forces that brought him to power will help keep him there.

The needs and desires of the people of Northern Ireland are neither here nor there. NI stands for Not Interested.

  • Fintan O’Toole, Irish Times, 14.06.2022*

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Boccherini | Sonata for Two Cellos in C Major, G74 | Amit Peled and Ismael Guerrero

Link


Long Read of the Day

Cory Doctorow on ‘regulatory capture’

First, some background if you’re new to this stuff…

Here’s a story about “regulatory capture”: Donald Trump appointed Ajit Pai, a former Verizon lawyer, to run the Federal Communications Commission, which is in charge of regulating companies like Verizon. Verizon — and the other big telcos and cable operators — wanted to kill Net Neutrality.

Net Neutrality is the idea that your ISP should send you the bits you request as quickly and reliably as it can. That means when you click a link, your ISP does its level best to get that link for you.

Net Neutrality’s opposite is net discrimination. That’s when your ISP is allowed to slow down or otherwise degrade your connection. Why would ISPs do this? Because it represents a new revenue source: ISPs get to charge you for your internet connection, and then charge the companies that run the services you value for “priority” access to you. If they don’t pay, your ISP can slow down their services so they’re less useful to you, prompting you to switch to a rival who did pay for priority carriage.

Internet users really don’t like network discrimination. How do we know that? Well, the FCC had to ask them (all US federal administrative agencies have to accept public comments before changing policy).

It’s a great story and nobody tells it as well as Cory.

So worth your time.


My commonplace booklet

Fascinating Hacker News thread on “Which book can attract anyone towards your field of study?” James Scott’s Seeing Like a State comes top, followed by Jane Jacobs’s The Life and Death of Great American Cities. I can vouch for both.


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Tuesday 14 June, 2022

Our mystery plant

As regular readers know, I think that the great thing about being a blogger is that readers usually know more about stuff than you do.

So can I please exploit your collective IQ? My wife found this fascinating little plant growing on the gravel of our driveway, and we have racked our brains (and ransacked the various reference works we possess) to try and identify it — so far without success.

The fact that its leaves are asymmetrical seems to be a feature, not a bug, btw.

Advice/suggestions welcomed.

The photograph (taken with a macro lens) exaggerates the relative size of the leaf. Here’s a wider shot to give some perspective.


Quote of the Day

”Satire is a lesson, parody is a game.”

  • Vladimir Nabokov

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Wagner | Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg | Act 3 – Prelude

Link


Long Read of the Day

 ‘We have a populist government that is – fatally – not popular’

Terrific profile by my Observer colleague Tim Adams of Chris Patten, the kind of liberal, thoughtful Conservative who used to exist before the party was taken over by fanatics.

Patten lives in a large villa in Barnes in south-west London, next to the wooded common. There is a 1930s village atmosphere, which bankers and lawyers now pay £5m to inhabit. Visiting him is like stepping into a lost Conservative hinterland. I’m met at the door by his wife, Lavender, and their terrier, Bobby. The gracious, book-lined sitting room gives out on to a generous garden. Under a painted portrait of Patten and his wife of 51 years are photographs of their eight grandchildren. He turns off a muted symphony when I arrive. On the table is the book he’s just put down, Julia Boyd’s A Village in the Third Reich: How Ordinary Lives Were Transformed by the Rise of Fascism, and a copy of his own new book, The Hong Kong Diaries, which is the occasion for our meeting. Very nice, revealing profile of an essentially decent man.


My commonplace booklet

Well, well. IKEA is getting into Vinyl — and selling a turntable. Link


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Monday 13 June, 2022

Warning: economist at work!

Portrait of Maynard Keynes by Duncan Grant, probably painted at Charleston.

You need some nerve to wear a hat like that.


Quote of the Day

”Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

  • Edmund Burke, Speech to the Electors of Bristol, 3 November, 1774

Really sound argument for representative democracy and against the idea of government by Twitter poll, but it didn’t get him elected! (Unsurprisingly.)


Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Regina Spektor | Better

Link

One of my long-time favourites.


Long Read of the Day

 We Need To Talk About The Carbon Footprints Of The Rich

I hate the term ‘carbon footprint’ because it was an invention of an oil company to convince individuals that global heating is their fault, rather than that of the energy extractors. But this essay by Genevieve Guenther makes good use of the idea

The discretionary carbon footprints of the 1% are not only unjust on a symbolic level. They are also quite literally a material cause of the climate crisis. Researchers estimate that more than half of the emissions generated by humanity since our emergence on this planet have been emitted since 1990. But in these past 30 years, the emissions of the poorest 50% of people have grown hardly at all: They represented a little under 7% of global emissions in 1990, and they remain a little over 7% of global emissions today. By contrast, the richest 10% of people are responsible for 52% of cumulative global emissions — and the 1% for a full 15%.

Do read the whole thing.


As energy prices soar, the bitcoin miners may find they have struck fool’s gold

Yesterday’s Observer column:

In the bad old days, prospecting for gold was a grisly business involving hysterical crowds, pickaxes, digging, the wearing of appalling hats, standing in rivers panning for nuggets, “staking” claims and so on. The California gold rush of 1848-55, for example, brought 300,000 hopefuls to the Sierra Nevada and northern California and involved the massacre of thousands of Indigenous people.

In our day, the new gold is bitcoin, a cryptocurrency, and prospecting for it has become a genteel armchair activity, although it is called “mining”, for old times’ sake. What it actually involves is using computers to perform unfathomably complicated calculations to create cryptographic “hashes” – codes that are, in practical terms, uncrackable.

Sounds intimidating, doesn’t it? But in reality anyone can play the game. You just have to have the right kit…

Read on


My commonplace booklet

What? You didn’t know Paul Simon has a brother? Neither did I — until now. But — contrary to appearances, they’re not twins. Link


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Friday 10 June, 2022

A year is a long time, sometimes

Our beloved cat, Zoombini, passed away a year ago today. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t think of her. What made her remarkable was the extent to which she craved human contact, and how communicative she could be. Every time we sat down to eat she would suddenly appear from wherever she was in the house and stand on the floor looking up at us reproachfully. In the end my wife and I gave in and set up a high stool between us at the table so she could sit as part of the company. She didn’t want food but simply to be part of what was going on.

I have dozens of lovely photographs, and a few videos, of her. This is technically a terrible picture but I love it because it captures something of her essence. It was taken on a winter’s night; she had been sitting outside the back door declining to use the cat flap and complaining loudly. Normally I would give in and open the door, after which she would regally strut in — having established her precedence over a mere servant. But that evening I felt cussed and stood my ground, and eventually she appeared on the kitchen windowsill wearing this expression of amazed puzzlement at my rank disobedience!


Quote of the Day

”It is sobering to consider that when Mozart was my age he had already been dead for a year.”

  • Tom Lehrer

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Schumann | Fantasiestücke op.73 | Jacqueline Du Pré & Gerald Moore

Link


Long Read of the Day

 ‘Homo sapiens is an obsolete algorithm’

2016 essay by Yuval Noah Harari outlining a key argument of his second best-seller,  Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow on how ‘dataism’ would become the new universal religion. I enjoyed the book but was less impressed by it than I was by Sapiens — the logical conclusion of which is that humans weren’t such a good idea after all.

There’s an emerging market called Dataism, which venerates neither gods nor man – it worships data. From a Dataist perspective, we may interpret the entire human species as a single data-processing system, with individual humans serving as its chips. If so, we can also understand the whole of history as a process of improving the efficiency of this system, through four basic methods…


My commonplace booklet

Ayn Rand on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson | Aug. 1967

Link

Wow! This is an unexpected find. I haven’t ever seen her in action. And I like her even less now. I’ve often wondered how she managed to attract so many disciples — some of them very powerful and influential. For example, Alan Greenspan. And lots of folks in Silicon Valley.


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Thursday 9 June, 2022

Rose-tinted lenses

Shot with DXO ONE Camera


Quote of the Day

“She thoroughly understands what no other Church has ever understood: how to deal with enthusiasts.”

  • Thomas Babington Macaulay, on the Catholic Church

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Ed Pickford | The Workers’ Song

Link


Long Read of the Day

FTC: How scammers are cashing in on crypto craze

This paper from the Federal Trade Commission fits neatly with my view that the ‘crypto’ obsession is the Tulip Mania de nos jours.

And the Commission is not noted for its sense of humour.

From Super Bowl ads to Bitcoin ATMs, cryptocurrency seems to be everywhere lately. Although it’s yet to become a mainstream payment method, reports to the FTC show it’s an alarmingly common method for scammers to get peoples’ money. Since the start of 2021, more than 46,000 people have reported losing over $1 billion in crypto to scams – that’s about one out of every four dollars reported lost, more than any other payment method. The median individual reported loss? A whopping $2,600. The top cryptocurrencies people said they used to pay scammers were Bitcoin (70%), Tether (10%), and Ether (9%).

Crypto has several features that are attractive to scammers, which may help to explain why the reported losses in 2021 were nearly sixty times what they were in 2018. There’s no bank or other centralized authority to flag suspicious transactions and attempt to stop fraud before it happens. Crypto transfers can’t be reversed – once the money’s gone, there’s no getting it back. And most people are still unfamiliar with how crypto works. These considerations are not unique to crypto transactions, but they all play into the hands of scammers.

Reports point to social media and crypto as a combustible combination for fraud. Nearly half the people who reported losing crypto to a scam since 2021 said it started with an ad, post, or message on a social media platform…

And this paper only covers fraud that’s reported to the FTC.


My commonplace booklet

  • My question in Monday’s edition about whether it would be possible to drive the Kystriksveien in an EV brought a helpful reply from Seb Schmoller (Whom God Preserve) with a link to charging points on the route. And Harry Rutter sent a link to a Norwegian news item dated May 2021 suggesting that there were ambitious plans to put EV chargers on the route. I don’t think I’ll set off for it just yet.

  • With uncharacteristic effrontery, Ford surprises F-150 Lightning owners with an accessory that can recharge stranded Teslas! Link


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Wednesday 8 June, 2022

Putting the horse before the cart

Just came on this and liked it. It’s by Georges Seurat and painted in 1884. Currently in the Guggenheim in New York.


Quote of the Day

””Life is a long preparation for something that never happens”

  • W.B. Yeats

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Miles Davis & Chaka Khan | Human Nature (live in Montreux 1989)

Link


Long Read of the Day

’AI’ is an ideology, not a technology

A thoughtful essay by Jaron Lanier (Whom God Preserve) on our commitment to a perilous belief that fails to recognise the agency of humans.

A leading anxiety in both the technology and foreign policy worlds today is China’s purported edge in the artificial intelligence race. The usual narrative goes like this: Without the constraints on data collection that liberal democracies impose and with the capacity to centrally direct greater resource allocation, the Chinese will outstrip the West. AI is hungry for more and more data, but the West insists on privacy. This is a luxury we cannot afford, it is said, as whichever world power achieves superhuman intelligence via AI first is likely to become dominant.

If you accept this narrative, the logic of the Chinese advantage is powerful. What if it’s wrong? Perhaps the West’s vulnerability stems not from our ideas about privacy, but from the idea of AI itself…


My commonplace booklet

(Spoiler alert: only for folks who are interested in what Apple is up to with its iPad range.)

But if you are interested, this Twitter thread by Steven Sinofski is terrific.


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Tuesday 7 June, 2022

A cannon for our times

This cannon, an artillery piece from the Crimean war, stands on the green in front of Ely cathedral in Cambridgeshire. It was captured from the Russians in Sebastopol and given to Ely City by Queen Victoria in 1860 after the Crimean War in recognition of the successful formation of the Ely Rifle Volunteers. On a visit to Ely on Saturday, my friend Laura Zucconi spotted that it has been cleverly repurposed for our times.


Quote of the Day

”I don’t believe in astrology. The only stars I can blame for my failures are those that walk about the stage.”

  • Noel Coward

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Sonny Terry | Whoopin’ The Blues

Link

Never underestimate the harmonica!


Long Read of the Day

Remembering Apple’s Newton, 30 years on

Lovely reminiscence by ArsTechnica of the Apple Newton, a great idea that was too far ahead of its time, not because it wasn’t visionary enough, but because the tech of the time wasn’t up to its demands.

Thirty years ago, on May 29, 1992, Apple announced its most groundbreaking and revolutionary product yet, the Newton MessagePad. It was released to great fanfare a year later, but as a product, it could only be described as a flop. Widely mocked in popular culture at the time, the Newton became a poster child for expensive but useless high-tech gadgets. Even though the device improved dramatically over time, it failed to gain market share, and it was discontinued in 1997. Yet while the Newton was a failure, it galvanized Apple engineers to create something better—and in some ways led to the creation of the iPad and the iPhone.

I remember lusting after one at the time, but couldn’t afford it. Some of my colleagues had Newtons, however, and it was clear (to me, at least) that it provided a keyhole peep into the future. I’m writing this on an Apple iPad, whose processor is a descendant of the RISC processor that Acorn developed in Cambridge, and which Apple invested in to build the Newton. It lead to the dominance of ARM processors in almost every mobile device worldwide.


Why your ability to repair a tractor could also be a matter of life and death

Sunday’s Observer column:

It was one of the few pieces of cheery news to emerge from the war in Ukraine. Russian looters, no doubt with the assistance of Russian troops, stole 27 pieces of John Deere farm equipment, worth about $5m, from a dealership in Melitopol. The kit was shipped to Chechnya, where a nasty surprise awaited the crooks. Their shiny new vehicles had, overnight, become the world’s heaviest paperweights: the dealership from which they had been stolen had “bricked” them remotely, using an inbuilt “kill-switch”.

This news item no doubt warmed the cockles of many a western heart. But it would have raised only hollow laughs from farmers in US states who are customers of John Deere and are mightily pissed off, because although they have paid small fortunes (up to $800,000 apparently) for the firm’s machinery, they are unable to service or repair them when they go wrong…

Read on


The ESG racket begins to unravel

From Saturday’s FT…

John Gapper writes;

Chief executives have many responsibilities, but one of the most valuable is persuading investors and others that their companies are performing well financially and doing good for the world. If cracks appear in these stories, trouble follows.

Doing good is often measured in environmental, social and governance terms, and the German asset management group DWS seemed to be setting an example until recently. “We have placed ESG at the heart of everything we do,” Asoka Wöhrmann, chief executive, declared in its 2020 annual report.

And then, according to another FT report in the same issue:

This week the German probe began to look The asset manager now stands accused of “greenwashing” by exaggerating the ESG credentials of its investment funds and its offices in Frankfurt were raided this week by German police on suspicion of prospectus fraud. Wöhrmann then resigned. serious indeed, when about 50 police officers raided DWS’s and Deutsche’s Frankfurt headquarters. The prosecutor’s office said it was exploring possible “prospectus fraud”, explaining: “Sufficient factual evidence has emerged that, contrary to the statements made in the sales prospectuses of DWS funds, ESG factors . . . were not taken into account at all in a large number of investments.”


My commonplace booklet

Kevin Kelly: 103 Bits of Advice I Wish I Had Known

Link

Worth your time. Here are a few I like:

  • Dont keep making the same mistakes; try to make new mistakes.

  • If you stop to listen to a musician or street performer for more than a minute, you owe them a dollar.

  • Anything you say before the word “but” does not count.

  • When you forgive others, they may not notice, but you will heal. Forgiveness is not something we do for others; it is a gift to ourselves.


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Monday 6 June, 2022

Quote of the Day

Everybody complains of their memory, but nobody of their judgement”

  • La Rochefoucauld

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Handel | Nightingale chorus | Solomon

Link


Long Read of the Day

 The Kystriksveien: Earth’s most beautiful road trip?

Even if you love (as I do) long drives, then this road — all 640km of it — might give one pause. My worry would be whether there would be EV charging points all the way.

Norway’s coastal road from the town of Stiklestad to the Arctic city of Bodø is a 670km journey between two very different worlds. It’s also one of the most beautiful road trips on the planet.

At one end is the quiet sophistication of central Norway, with its perfectly manicured meadows and oxblood-red wooden cabins. At the other is the spare, serene beauty of the north: a world of glaciers, ice-bound mountains and empty, far horizons. Connecting the two, the Kystriksveien – a route also known as the Coastal Way or Fv17 – charts a sinuous path along the coast, bucking and weaving along rugged contours all the way to the Arctic.

The Scandinavian nation is blessed with one of the most beautiful yet difficult stretches of coast in Europe. Seeming to wrap itself around the country like a protective shield from the freezing Arctic, Norway’s coastline appears to have shattered under the strain, riven as it is with islands and fjords cutting deep fissures inland. Along such a coast, it seems impossible that a road should exist here at all. In short, it seems like a miracle.

From the outset, Norway has been very sensible about EVs. So maybe we could do it. Hmmm…


How Not to Spent It

The Financial Times is, IMO, one of the world’s great newspapers. I’m lucky enough to have a digital subscription, and so read it every weekday online. But at the weekend I buy the weekend edition, which in a way is a different paper, edited by a different editor from the daily. Most weekends, it’s an absorbing read, with terrific book reviews, good interviews and a stable of excellent columnists like Simon Kuper, John Gapper and Gillian Tett.

The only problem with this weekend edition is that it comes with a large format glossy magazine with the insolent title “How To Spend It”, which is basically aimed at people who are so rich that shopping has become boring. It features high-end fashion photography of waifs wearing ‘clothes’ (see pic above) with no price tag attached, travel guides to hotels where a room costs more than most people’s annual rent, Swiss watches (i.e. male jewellery) costing half the GNP of smaller African republics, and so on. It has also, in the past, thrown in interesting articles about the market for superyachts and other billionaire indulgences.

Its target audience seems to be those bored, expensive dames you find wandering round Bond Street jewellers or outside Harrods supervising loading of the proceeds of their retail therapy into the Maybach. How To Spend It is, in other words, a pain in the ass. It’s as if it’s designed to rub the reader’s face in the rampant inequality of our neoliberal world. But I put up with it (though sending it straight to the recycling bin) because I assume it’s insanely profitable and therefore subsidises the high-quality journalism that I value in the rest of the paper.

But this weekend, something seemed to change. The wealth-flaunting banner — HOW TO SPEND IT — had disappeared, replaced by ‘HTSI’ in the top left-hand corner.

Inside, there’s a touching little message from the mag’s editor.

“Over the course of our 28-year existence,” she burbles,

“the title How To Spend It has always been one we used with pride. The magazine has tried to promote a slightly escapist lifestyle and embodied, I hope, the best ways in which to spend one’s time. We have always encouraged readers to interpret the ‘spend’ as less transactional in its meaning.”

But, she continues,

”It is clear that the irony with which the title was first conceived has sometimes failed to land. Times have also changed: we have lived through two years of a global health catastrophe. We are in the midst of a cost of living crisis. We have been publishing issue after issue against the backdrop of war in Ukraine. We want everyone to feel that the magazine offers something life-affirming, enriching and diverting. And so we have evolved.”

As an example of Grade-A corporate cant, this is hard to beat. The “irony” of the magazine’s title somehow “failed to land”. The publication aspired to embody “the best ways to spend one’s time” which usually meant the optimum way to expend eye-watering sums on conspicuous, Gilded Age consumption. “We” have apparently “lived through two years of a global health catastrophe.”

Hang on: who’s the ‘we’ here? Compared with average citizens, there’s little evidence that the said catastrophe unduly affected the super-rich — although it may sometimes have grounded their Gulfstream jets.

So how does the first edition of this rebranded glossy measure up to the lofty ambitions of its editor?

First up is a feature on one Timothy Taylor, a London-based gallery owner. His Place that Means a Lot to Me is “Basil’s Bar on Mustique, a spectacular island in the Caribbean.” Where Princess Margaret used to hang out, if memory serves me right.

The Best Gift he’s ever received is

“A personalised wallet from Anya Hindmarch. My wife [Lady Helen Taylor] gave me this wallet, in which she inscribed the words, in her own handwriting, ‘What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours’”.

The indulgence that he could “never forgo” is Bordeaux and Burgundy wine, “a spectacular selection of which Corney & Barrow holds for me”.

A casual inspection of Corney & Barrow’s fine wine list reveals that a bottle of 2010 Chateau Mouton-Rochschild will set you back a cool £3,350.

You get the idea.

I’ll continue to buy the Weekend FT — and our recycling bin will continue to benefit from HTSI.


My commonplace booklet

Want to see something really stupid?

Try this ad for Rolls-Royce’s new SUV.


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Friday 3 June, 2022

Peak viewing time

The view from the top of the Connor Pass in Kerry.


Quote of the Day

”If this were played upon a stage now
I could condemn it as an improbable fiction.”

  • Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

Comes to mind every time I look at the current UK government.


Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

The Rolling Stones | I Can’t Get No Satisfaction | Glastonbury 2013

Link

Extraordinary moment. But Jagger sounded off-key at the beginning. Maybe the significance of the moment got to him? Most of my kids (and one grandson) were there that night.


Long Read of the Day

An Open Letter to Congress on Crypto scamming

One of the most curious events in Western history was the Dutch tulip mania of the 1630s, the period during the Dutch Golden Age when contract prices for some bulbs of the recently introduced and fashionable tulip reached extraordinarily high levels, with the major acceleration starting in 1634 and then dramatically collapsing in February 1637. We think of it now as the first recorded speculative bubble in history.

But here’s the strange thing: we are now living through the same kind of madness — the ‘crypto’ bubble: a speculative mania that has been gripping millions of people (some of whom have lost their savings) who have been fooled into investing in illusory assets that they do not understand and that currently lie beyond the regulatory reach of the state. Worse, this frenzy is being fuelled not just by shysters on the make but also by a number of powerful Silicon Valley venture capital firms.

‘Crypto’ is a portmanteau term to cover a multitude of things — from cryptography (a legitimate and powerful way of protecting information and communications), cryptocurrencies, distributed ledger technology called ‘Blockchain’, virtual assets called Non-fungible Tokens (NFTs) and something called Web3 which is a buzzword straight out of Alice in Wonderland.

For me the most astonishing about this mania is how apparently rational people fall for it — and how, once they have fallen, they double down on insisting that it is a real thing, not to mention ‘the future’. They fear (rightly) that the slightest whisper of doubt or criticism will puncture the bubble and lead to the devaluation of the virtual assets on which they have pinned their hopes. In that way, the current frenzy bears a distinct resemblance to the religious cults which have gripped deluded followers through the centuries.

All of which makes this open letter from a number of experts to Congress such a welcome development.

This is how it opens:

We are 26 computer scientists, software engineers, and technologists who have spent decades working in these fields producing innovative and effective products for a variety of applications in the fields of database technology, open-source software, cryptography, and financial technology applications.

Today, we write to you urging you to take a critical, skeptical approach toward industry claims that crypto-assets (sometimes called cryptocurrencies, crypto tokens, or web3) are an innovative technology that is unreservedly good. We urge you to resist pressure from digital asset industry financiers, lobbyists, and boosters to create a regulatory safe haven for these risky, flawed, and unproven digital financial instruments and to instead take an approach that protects the public interest and ensures technology is deployed in genuine service to the needs of ordinary citizens.

We strongly disagree with the narrative — peddled by those with a financial stake in the crypto-asset industry — that these technologies represent a positive financial innovation and are in any way suited to solving the financial problems facing ordinary Americans…

Do read the whole thing. And if you’d like to know more, head over to Molly White’s wonderful blog. She’s been tracking the evolution of this latter-day tulip mania for quite a while. And, while you’re at it, read Cory Doctorow’s essay on some of the latest crypto scams.


Madman, Architect, Carpenter, Judge: Roles and the Writing Process

Neat blog post by Betty Flowers (a professor of English who is also Director of the LBJ Presidential Library), providing some astute advice for anyone who’s ever struggled to write something coherent. Which is most of us.

Thanks to Andrew Curry (Whom God Preserve) for pointing to it.


My commonplace booklet

Who said sheepdogs can’t have fun?

Link


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