Monday 27 December, 2021

Unicyclist plus friend and pooch

Seen one Summer evening in Arles.

A letter from Father Christmas

John Gapper is one of my favourite Financial Times columnists. His most recent column, a message from Father Christmas is a masterful interweaving of fairytale and Covid reality but, like most things in the FT resides behind a non-porous paywall. But I enjoyed it so much that I read it aloud to some members of my long-suffering family over breakfast. And then thought that there’s no reason why my equally-long-suffering readers shouldn’t hear it too. So here it is, if you’re interested.

Quote of the Day

”I seldom think of politics more than eighteen hours a day.” * LBJ

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Johann Albrechtsberger | Harp Concerto in C Major: Finale


Long Read of the Day

 The Critic’s Critic: George Steiner and the art of hopeful failure.

Lovely essay in The Hedgehog Review by Richard Hughes Gibson.

George Steiner was called many things across his lengthy writing career—sage, pedant, philosopher, snob, the last great European intellectual, a “mimic” staging a decades-long “impression of the world’s most learned man”—but the title he always claimed for himself was simply critic. As we reflect on the meaning of Steiner’s work in the wake of his death in February 2020, that self-characterization cannot be forgotten. Steiner was in many ways a formidable scholar, and his commentaries on core texts (Antigone, The Brothers Karamazov, the poetry of Paul Celan) and enduring themes (tragedy, translation, the inhuman) will surely be cited for many years to come. Yet from the beginning of his career in the late fifties to his last notable works at the turn of the century, he was explicitly engaged in the practice of criticism — the goal of which was to reach the wider republic of readers (not just academicians) with his urgent dispatches on the state of the arts and culture. It was as a critic that he asked to be judged.

I knew and liked George, and so may be prejudiced, but I found this essay both fair and perceptive, especially in discussing the implicit contradiction in Steiner’s thinking between, on the one hand, his profound conviction of the humanising impact of the Humanities and, on the other, his view that it did not save us from the barbarism of the 20th century inflicted by ‘cultivated’ people who could run concentration camps by day but “come home from their day’s butchery and falsehood to weep over Rilke or play Schubert.”

Well worth your time.

Worried about super intelligent machines? They’re already here

Yesterday’s Observer column:

But for anyone who thinks that living in a world dominated by super-intelligent machines is a “not in my lifetime” prospect, here’s a salutary thought: we already live in such a world! The AIs in question are called corporations. They are definitely super-intelligent, in that the collective IQ of the humans they employ dwarfs that of ordinary people and, indeed, often of governments. They have immense wealth and resources. Their lifespans greatly exceed that of mere humans. And they exist to achieve one overriding objective: to increase and thereby maximise shareholder value. In order to achieve that they will relentlessly do whatever it takes, regardless of ethical considerations, collateral damage to society, democracy or the planet.

One such super-intelligent machine is called Facebook. And here to illustrate that last point is an unambiguous statement of its overriding objective written by one of its most senior executives, Andrew Bosworth, on 18 June 2016…

Read on

Also: Here’s a fuller excerpt from the Andrew Bosworth cited in the column:

“So we connect people. That can be bad if they make it negative. Maybe it costs someone a life by exposing someone to bullies. Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack cooordinated on our tools. And still we connect people. The ugly truth is that we believe in connecting people so deeply that anything that allows us to connect more people more often is de facto good.”

My commonplace booklet

  • How Many Books Does It Take to Make a Place Feel Like Home? Link

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