Friday 29 July, 2022

Two Horses are better than one

One of the joys of being a recovering petrolhead in Provence is coming on beautiful examples of iconic cars — in this case the Citroen Deux Chevaux or 2CV. It was a brilliant concept when it was introduced in 1948 — a combination of smart engineering and utilitarian design. It was cheap to make and purchase, easy to maintain and repair and powered by an economical air-cooled engine. (Just like the original VW Beetle, in fact.) But because it was French, it was always somehow more chic than the German people’s wagon.

In the last week I’ve come on two interesting examples of the 2CV. This beautifully-maintained one:

And this imaginatively upgraded version:

Provence is also a good place to spot original WW2 Jeeps still in daily use (spare jerrycan and all). Alas, this year we haven’t as yet seen any. And of course I keep my eyes peeled for a properly restored DS19.

Quote of the Day

”All really new ideas have a certain aspect of foolishness when they are first produced.”

  • Alfred North Whitehead

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Tom Waits | Hold On


Those stories that Tom is in the pay of manufacturers of throat pastilles are fake news.

Long Read of the Day


This utterly riveting story by Stewart Brand about the world’s first round-the-world solo yacht race is a great read. The race was a thrilling and, for some, deadly contest. The moral that Brand draws from it is how important being able to maintain your boat can be.

Here’s a sample (about Robin Knox-Johnson) the eventual winner of the race…

Dressing in a dark shirt and jeans to hide his white body from potential sharks, he dove down and tried wedging strips of cotton caulking into the gaps. But five feet underwater, he couldn’t hold his breath long enough to secure the caulking in place.

He thought some more. Then he cut a 1- 1/2inch canvas strip seven feet long, sewed caulking to one side of it, coated it with Stockholm tar, and pushed tacks through the canvas every six inches. With a hammer he kept suspended below the hull, he was able to pound in the tacks to hold the caulking in place, but he could only manage one tack at a time before having to surface to breathe. It took two hours.

Then, worried that the canvas strip might tear off eventually, he cut a long strip of copper that could be nailed over it. Meanwhile a shark had arrived and was circling the boat. He fetched his rifle, shot the shark, and watched it sink out of sight, apparently without attracting other sharks. He went back into the chilly water hoping that was so…

Wonderful stuff, and good enough to confirm me as a definite landlubber.

My commonplace booklet

**An Apple-1 prototype that was hand-soldered by Steve Wozniak is going under the hammer. Link from The Register.

This specific piece of hardware is expected to bring in a cool half a million, being the board the Steves (Wozniak and Jobs) used to demo the Apple-1 to Paul Terrell, leading Terell to give them their first big purchase order for fifty Apple-1s in 1976. The Byte Shop owner paid them $500 per unit, cash on delivery, and sold them for $666.66 apiece.

Woz alone designed the hardware, circuit boards, and the operating system for the computer, first demonstrated at a meeting of Palo Alto’s Homebrew Computer Club (Terrell and Jobs were also members) in July of the same year. As the listing points out: “Without Jobs, Woz had no market — he had already given away the Apple-1 design to members of the Homebrew Computer Club, and had little interest in exploiting it for profit.” But Jobs, as history tells us, did.

And so the path to a $2.453 trillion market cap company began…

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Thursday 28 July, 2022

Provisional lives

Book poster — Arles, July 2022. The blurb reads: “Provisional Life – Life on Borrowed Time – is a photo book that presents the living conditions of people who have had to flee war to survive in refugee camps for years.”

Quote of the Day

”Meetings are a great trap. However, they are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything.”

  • J. K. Galbraith, in his diary, 22 April 1961

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Carolina Arango (Colombia) Fiddle and Pamela Schweblin (Argentina) Uilleann Pipes | Three reels: Famous Ballymote, The Glentan & Peter Street


Amazing how far this music travels.

Long Read of the Day

 Settling in for the long haul

This extraordinary essay by Maria Farrell on living with ME will stop you in your tracks, especially if you’re lucky enough to be healthy and well. Maria is someone I know slightly and admire greatly, and her writing reaches parts of the psyche that other people’s prose cannot.

Here’s a sample:

What worked for me was sick-hacks, the ultimate operation of neo-liberalism at the individual level. I’ve written about his before; stuff like only taking stairs when no one I knew would see, always commuting and travelling alone so I could build in sit-downs, turning up half way through group activities so I could stay on the sideline and not move around too much, bathing less frequently and never, ever showering in the morning. But basically the answer is I was sick all the time, sick in a way that’s unimaginable to a well person, because if they felt that bad they’d take time off. When you’re not ever recovering, you don’t take time off. (And you can’t – if I’d confided in employers early on, I’d have been unemployable and would have defaulted on my education loan. Many years in I did confide, and went part-time, and the lifting of that burden of secrecy and expectation was life-changing.) ME/CFS is defined by fatigue that isn’t cured by rest. A bone-deep resistance to rest sets in when you know how much time it demands and how it will never, ever be satisfied. The ultimate sick-hack is just pretending to be well, whatever the personal cost.

But this is just a sample: the whole thing is well worth your time.

My commonplace booklet


Thanks to Azeem Azhar for the link.

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Wednesday 27 July, 2022

Analogue nostalgia

Arles, at the end of a very hot working day.

Quote of the Day

”If we had had more time for discussion we should probably have made a great many more mistakes.”

  • Leon Trotsky

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Ry Cooder & David Lindley | The Promised Land | 1994 | Fillmore Auditorium


Long Read of the Day

Algorithmic anxiety

An interesting New Yorker essay by Kyle Chayka on the subtle pressures of surveillance capitalism.

Of course, consumers have always been the targets of manipulative advertising. A ubiquitous billboard ad or TV commercial can worm its way into your brain, making you think you need to buy, say, a new piece of video-enabled exercise equipment immediately. But social networks have always purported to show us things that we like—things that we might have organically gravitated to ourselves. Why, then, can it feel as though the entire ecosystem of content that we interact with online has been engineered to influence us in ways that we can’t quite parse, and that have only a distant relationship to our own authentic preferences? No one brand was promoting leg warmers to Peter. No single piece of sponcon was responsible for selling her Van Cleef jewelry. Rather, “the algorithm”—that vague, shadowy, inhuman entity she referenced in her e-mail—had decided that leg warmers and jewelry were what she was going to see…

I think this piece will resonate with many (most?) social media users.

What the Confederate flag signifies

Very interesting review in the Financial Times ($) by Rachel Bowlby of Sarah Churchill’s new book, The Wrath to Come. The photograph illustrating the piece is of one of the January 6 ‘insurrectionists’ inside the Capitol building holding the Confederate flag.

It is with this moment that The Wrath to Come takes its complex cue: “To anyone who knows the history — the real history — of what that flag meant, who these people the white supremacists were and what they fought for, it was a terrible, sickening sight. But as America has spent the last century and a half trying to obliterate that real history, only a tiny minority fully grasped the reckoning at hand.”

As a demonstration of that longstanding practice of historical erasure, Churchwell focuses on a grand cultural exhibit from midway between the civil war and the present day. Gone with the Wind was a phenomenally popular novel by Margaret Mitchell, published in 1936 and adapted three years later into an equally successful movie starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh. Both book and film follow the moral transformation of the initially self-absorbed Scarlett O’Hara in the years during and after the civil war.

That point about most people in the US not realising what the flag signifies is really significant. The slave-owning Confederate South was the heartland of white supremacy. And those who carry it now are declaring that that’s what they stand for now too. Wonder if some of them realise that.

My commonplace booklet

Best newspaper corrections (contd.)

My favourite correction that was Monday’s Quote of the Day has prompted some nice emails (for which many thanks). I particularly liked Alexander Melichar’s personal favourite, which came from the New York Times:

”Because of an editing error, an article on Monday about a theological battle being fought by Muslim imams and scholars in the West against the Islamic State misstated the Snapchat handle used by Suhaib Webb, one of the Muslim leaders speaking out. It is imamsuhaibwebb, not Pimpin4Paradise786.

Don’t you just love Pimpin4Paradise786?

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Tuesday 26 July, 2022

Life, eh?

Arles, July 2022

Quote of the Day

”Of all the horrid, hideous notes of woe,
Sadder than owl-songs or the midnight blast,
Is that portentous phrase, ‘I told you so.’”

  • Byron, Don Juan

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Van Morrison | Have I told you lately


Ignore the ludicrous video that goes with it.

Long Read of the Day


If, like me, you tend to assume that barristers are wealthy professionals, then perhaps this guest post  by Joanna Hardy-Susskind on the ‘Law and Policy’ blog might give you pause. It certainly had that effect on me.

Off I went. Defending people. People who had less luck, less guidance, fewer words. Many of them hoped that the courts would be fairer to them than life had been.

The words did not prepare me for the fighting. For the people I had to fight for. The terrified 14 year old girl in custody who asked me for a tampon, the shamed 55 year old who had lost his job and stolen, the addicted 21 year old with the sobbing mother, the father concealing a wobbly lip for a son who had not done his best. “Keep a professional detachment” my elders would say and I would nod before going home to lie on my bathroom floor with a rock in my heart. On and on it went. The drivers, the employees, the teachers, the students, the children, the ordinary people who thought court was no place for them until it was. Human story after human story. Stories I recognised. The grey area between right and wrong expanded. And I fought. A first court appearance then paid £35. I would have done it for free if I had not been shouldering a five-figure student debt. The cases got more serious, the money got a little better, but the relentless conveyor belt never let me exhale. I measured my success in precious ‘Tha nk You’ cards I stored safely in a box.

When luck runs low, I read them.

Do read it. And thanks to Rob Miller for alerting me to it.

An iPod revived

The story of how my cherished iPod Classic was brought back to life.

My commonplace booklet

 I’m a Short Afternoon Walk and You’re Putting Way Too Much Pressure on Me

Nice satire by Emily Delaney.

Hey, it’s me: Short Afternoon Walk. As you may have noticed, you’re all turning to me an awful lot these days. Don’t get me wrong, I love what we have together, but I think we need to face the truth: I can never be everything you want me to be.

When this little routine first started, I thought it was the greatest thing in the world. I was an escape. I was an adventure. I was beloved. But somewhere along the way, I became your everything.

Now, I’m both your leisure activity and your only form of exercise. I’m the last thing tethering you to reality, yet your only way of escaping it. I’m the singular effort you make to maintain your sanity and your sole means of experiencing joy, hope, and happiness. It feels as if I’m your lover, friend, and therapist all wrapped into one, and, frankly, it’s making me uncomfortable…

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A tale of an iPod

This is my old iPod Classic.

It was a present from a wealthy and generous friend many years ago, when 40GB iPods were seriously expensive (he brought six of them to a dinner at our house one winter’s evening and distributed them like Santa Claus). It was my favourite device — the container of all my recorded music. And then, after quite a long time, it died, and ever since has sat on the windowsill in my study next to other treasured icons (like my piece of the Berlin Wall).

Recently, though, I decided that we should restore it to life, and I enlisted the help of my 12-year-old grandson Jasper in the project. Given that he’s been running his own 3D printer for a couple of years, I guessed that it would be, er, child’s play. And, in a way, it was.

From the outset, our guess was that the iPod’s demise could be due to one — or perhaps two — problems: a dead battery plus (possibly) a failed hard disk. We bet on the battery, and ordered a replacement from iFixit.

I also ordered one of their terrific toolkits (which, among other things, contain every screwdriver head that the fiends at Apple have ever devised to discourage device owners from messing with Jony Ive’s jewellery boxes).

Initially, I thought that the biggest hurdle might be opening the device, but some YouTube research revealed that it would yield to determined pressure, and it did.

Since we were all meeting up in Provence I brought the dissassembled device, plus the new battery and the toolkit and Jasper settled down to extract the (clearly knackered) old battery and insert its replacement.

He then reassembled the device, clicked the plastic cover into place, and — miming nonchalance — we hooked it up to power and to a speaker.

From the fact that I’m writing this to the sound of Van Morrison singing Days Like This you can guess the outcome. There are indeed days like this, when everything works as it should.

Two morals of the story.

  • Owners should have the Right to Repair their devices.
  • And every blogger should have a grandson who knows what he’s doing.

Footnote. Two other thoughts were striking. The first is how physically large a 40GB disk was once upon a time. The second is how different Apple’s production system was when my iPod was made — compared to the glossy, slick perfectionism of the iPhone era. Here’ for example, is what the old battery looked like.

Monday 25 July, 2022

My swimming companion

Well, actually, s/he is entirely functional — to monitor the temperature of the water!

Quote of the Day

”Instead of being arrested, as we stated, for kicking his wife down a flight of stairs and hurling a lighted kerosene lamp after her, the Revd James P. Wellman died unmarried four years ago.”

  • Anonymous. The best newspaper correction ever. I found it in Geoffrey Madan’s Notebooks.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Ella Fitzgerald | Blue Moon


Long Read of the Day

 Moderation or Death

This is the title of Christopher Hitchins’s magisterial review in the London Review of Booksof Michael Ignatieff’s biography of Isiah Berlin. It came to mind because I was reading Christian Lorentzen’s review-essay in Harper’s on  A Hitch in Time: Writings from the London Review of Books, by Christopher Hitchens, which is usefully critical of Hitch’s strange ideological odyssey over the flamboyant course of his life. Lorentzen describes that LRB review as “the most magnificent piece of literary journalism” in the collection, and he’s right, IMO.

Tricked out with Hitchens’s memory of encountering Berlin at Oxford and in the letters pages of the New Statesman, as well as fact-checking accounts from Berlin intimates and rivals, the essay is a tall thirteen-thousand-word cocktail of gossip, flirtation, and jousting with the ghost of a not entirely unsympathetic ideological foe. Hitchens reckons with liberalism and the bargains it makes with violence in the name of liberty.

Hitchins’s review is genuinely long — 12,912 words. So make an appointment with it. And if, like Hitchins, whisky is your poison, keep a glass of it to hand.

When datacentres as well as railways can’t take the heat

Yesterday’s Observer column:

Interestingly, the railway industry was not the only one that couldn’t take the heat. When the temperature reached 40.3C on Tuesday, datacentres operated by Google and Oracle had to be taken offline. According to The Register “Selected [Google] machines were powered off to avoid long-term damage, causing some resources, services, and virtual machines to become unavailable, taking down unlucky websites and the like.” And at 3:41pm Oracle customers received an alert telling them that: “As a result of unseasonal temperatures in the region, a subset of cooling infrastructure within the UK South (London) Data Centre experienced an issue. This led to a subset of our service infrastructure needing to be powered down to prevent uncontrolled hardware failures. This step has been taken with the intention of limiting the potential for any long term impact to our customers.”

None of this will come as a surprise to anyone who has been lucky enough to have visited one of these centres…

Read on

My commonplace booklet

Edward Hopper: Ground Swell

I love this painting, but enjoyed even more the commentary on the WikiArt site.

Edward Hopper’s lifelong enthusiasm for the sea developed when he was a boy in Nyack, New York, then a prosperous Hudson River port with an active shipyard. Years later, in 1934, he and his wife built a house and studio in South Truro, Massachusetts, where he produced a number of oil paintings and watercolors manifesting his avid interest in nautical subjects.

Despite its bright palette and seemingly serene subject, Ground Swell echoes the themes of loneliness and escape typical of Hopper’s oeuvre. The blue sky, sun-kissed figures, and vast rolling water strike a calm note in the picture; however, the visible disengagement of the figures from each other and their noticeable preoccupation with the bell buoy placed at the center of the canvas call into question this initial sense of serenity. The lone dark element in a sea of blues and whites, the buoy confronts the small catboat in the middle of an otherwise empty seascape. Its purpose, to emit a warning sound in advance of unseen or imminent danger, renders its presence in the picture ominous. The cirrus clouds in the blue sky—often harbingers of approaching storms—reinforce this sense of disturbance in the otherwise peaceful setting. Although Hopper resisted offering explanations of his paintings, the signs of impending danger here may also reference a more severe disturbance: during the time that Hopper worked on Ground Swell, from August to September 15, 1939, World War II broke out in Europe.

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Friday 22 July, 2022

Bread and Circuses

Arles, on a July evening.

Quote of the Day

”I was mistaken for a prostitute once in the last war. When a GI asked me what I charged, I said, ‘Well, dear, what do your mother and sisters normally ask for?’”

  • Thora Hird

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Fleetwood Mac | Monday Morning | Live in Japan | December 1977


One of the great rock bands of my lifetime.

Long Read of the Day

 Endemic Covid-19 Looks Pretty Brutal

If you’re puzzled about where we are now with Covid, then join the club. I’ve been trying to get a long view of the pandemic. My amateurish intuition is that it will become like a much more dangerous kind of flu — and one that we haven’t yet figured out how to live with it. Which is why I found this essay by David Wallace-Wells interesting.

Wallace-Wells has talked a lot to Michael Mina, an epidemiologist who used to be at Harvard and is now Chief Scientist at the online health portal eMed. This part of their conversation provided what looks to be a helpful metaphor:

Before the pandemic, Mina’s research was focused on the development of immunity in babies and children, and his mental model for our collective experience here is the same. “I’ve always said that we have to grow out of this pandemic,” he said. “We have to literally just build up enough immunity for us to get out of the pandemic as a human species.” Right now, he said, we are the equivalent of 2- or 3-year-olds immunologically speaking — having passed through “the real risk zone,” we are now for the first time able to navigate a world of viruses and bacteria without the same acute medical risks as before. “We know that 3-year-olds still go to the hospital a lot, but we know that given the same infections, 3-year-olds do a lot better than 1-year-olds. And that’s because of immunity.”

The novel coronavirus is no longer novel to us, in other words. Our immunity to Covid-19 is growing up. “That’s where we are as humans,” Mina says.

For many of us, he says, the process will continue. The immunological gains aren’t necessarily huge anymore, given how many times most of us have been exposed — and will be, going forward. “Those who get through it will probably actually have then seen the virus, maybe 10 or 15 times over the next five years,” he says.

My reading of it is that we will —— or should — be wearing masks for many more years.

It’s long, but worth your attention.


A nicely ironic take by Imogen West-Knights in Slate arguing that London’s hottest day ever brought on madness that far exceeded the temperature.


The hotter it got, the more insane the advice trotted out to deal with the heat became. Don’t put an ice pop in any of the body’s less salubrious holes, carry frozen vegetables under your top on the train, rub yourself with a raw onion. And look, some of the heatwave madness is funny—of course it is. It’s funny to see videos of a burnt Englishman yelling at a passerby about their right to enjoy a cocktail in their own wheelie bin filled up with water undisturbed. It’s funny that Sky News ran splitscreen coverage of the heatwave with a livestream of the sun on one side like it was O.J. Simpson on the freeway. With all due respect to the animals involved, it is funny that Welsh pigs had to be lathered with suncream ahead of an agricultural fair. It’s funny that one cinema chain offered free tickets to ginger people. It’s funny that chocolate deliveries were suspended because makers remembered the summer of 1990 when the entire stock of a chocolate factory in Liverpool melted.

I really liked another of her observations:

Sir John Hayes, one of the nation’s large supporting cast of grisled Tory MPs and (yes) the former energy and climate change minister, said that “this is not a brave new world but a cowardly new world where we live in a country where we are frightened of the heat.” Hayes has been given a £50,000 salary by an oil company since 2018.

Sir Herbert Gusset, where are you when Britain needs you?

My commonplace booklet

ARIA — the ‘Advanced Research and Invention Agency’ (i.e. the UK’s attempt to learn from the ideas underpinning the US’s DARPA) is hiring. Link

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Thursday 21 July, 2022


Outside a café in Arles where I felt the kid wanted the adults to make up their minds.

Quote of the Day

”The newly published diaries of Chris Patten, the last governor of Hong Kong, are meant to be an elegy for that place. They end up leaving the reader wistful, yes, but for a certain genre of politician. Smart, administratively able, undoctrinaire: Patten wasn’t even the outstanding member of a Tory cohort that included a lawyer who took silk at 40 (Ken Clarke) and the builder of a commercial fortune (Michael Heseltine). By way of comparison, Britain might soon be run by someone who tried to get the word “cock” into a parliamentary speech as often as she could. The crisis of democracy is the crisis of the restaurant trade and of Heathrow airport. You just can’t get the staff.”

  • Janan Ganesh, writing in the Financial Times on the implications for liberal democracy of talented people shunning politics as a vocation.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Paul Simon | René and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog After the War | Acoustic Version


This was one of the most delightful outcomes of my Matisse/Magritte mistake the other day — a link from Richard Mortier, for which many thanks.

Long Read of the Day

À la cashpoint

Yesterday morning I had a charming conversation in my best Franglais with one of the staff in the local pharmacy on the important subject of mosquito repellents. As we talked, I suddenly remembered a lovely memoir by my friend Quentin.

It goes like this…

About twenty years ago, my brother and I went on a cycling holiday in France. As we sat eating a baguette in the central square of a small town in the Loire Valley, we watched a wonderful scene play out before us. There was a bank on the square, which had a shiny new cashpoint (ATM) machine – something of a rarity back then, at least in rural France. As we munched our lunch, a family approached it hesitantly; a tall, gaunt father, a rather shorter and decidedly less gaunt mother, and a young boy. It was an outing which was to end in disappointment, because, despite the careful attention of the father and the suitably Gallic gesticulations of the mother, the machine swallowed the card and they departed empty-handed.

What I had forgotten was that, that evening in our tent, I had written a short (and most unworthy) homage to Miles Kington’s wonderful ‘Franglais’ sketches. When clearing out my filing cabinet this weekend, I came across a faded dot-matrix printout, and decided to post it here, if only for nostalgia…

M. Jones: Ah! Monsieur! Vous êtes le bank manager, n’est-ce pas?

M. le BM: Oui, c’est moi. Can I help Monsieur?

M. Jones: Peut-être. Votre super-electronique nouvelle machine de cashpoint a mangé mon card!

M. le BM: Ah oui, Monsieur. Si la machine n’aime pas le card, elle le mange.

M. Jones: That’s as peut-être. Mais c’etait un perfectly bon card, avec des jolies couleurs et un hologram.

M. le BM: Oui, Monsieur. Mais c’etait le card de la super-store just round le corner. Monsieur is holding notre cashcard dans son main gauche.

M. Jones: Oh. So je suis. Et voila pourquoi votre machine a mangé l’autre?

That’s just the beginning. Keep reading!

My commonplace booklet

 What human-made structures can be seen from space?

Good question. Link

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Wednesday 20 July, 2022

Our world today

Actually, our world as it was on Sunday 17th.

And the implication? We aren’t going to make it to 2050 without catastrophic collapse. The graphic comes from a sobering essay by Umair Haque, who’s never been a barrel of laughs. But I fear he’s right about this.

What’s the brutal truth I’m trying to get to? It goes like this. We’re not going to make it to 2050. Not even close to that far.

By “make it,” I don’t mean…some kind of dumb Marvel Movie. We’re all going to die tomorrow! Nope. I mean “Civilization as we know it.” I mean that things are going to collapse much, much faster and harder than we think. Isn’t that already the case? That’s the trend which every clear thinking person should understand very, very intently right about now.

Take a hard look at right now. Do you really think our civilization’s going to survive another three decades of this? Skyrocketing inflation, growing shortages, runaway temperatures, killing heat, failing harvests, shattered systems, continents on fire, masses turning to lunacy and theocracy and fascism as a result?

Seriously? Another three decades? Where every summer is that much worse than this one?

It’s eerie watching what’s going on against this background. The currently-governing UK Tory party is having a ‘leadership’ contest in which nobody is talking about this, just about who will cut taxes the most. And over in the US on Thursday, a single Senator from a smallish state who represents the coal industry, torched the bi-partisan Climate Bill.

I’ve thought for years that we need a theory of incompetent systems — ones that can’t fix themselves. We’ve got two such systems already: our global heating system; and US democracy.

Quote of the Day

”Calamities are of two kinds: misfortune to ourselves, and good fortune to others.”

  • Ambrose Bierce

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Schubert | Impromptu Op 90 No 3 D 899 G flat major | Alfred Brendel


What I turned to for solace after reading the Haque essay above.

Long Read of the Day

On Tossing the Canon in a Cannon

An interesting essay by Marie Snyder on the challenges of teaching an ‘Introduction to Philosophy’ course to the Instagram generation. A few students of her students this year were adamant that she shouldn’t be getting them to read philosophers who are sexist or racist or homophobic.

The problem is that that’s almost all of them!

There is, however, some benefit to tracing the dominant ideology to its origins, as has been tackled in book form by Hannah Arendt and Charles Taylor, so that we can better chip away at the foundation. It can be useful to see what spawned exploitation, to see how long we’ve been thinking this way and how slowly our understanding of the world has changed as necessary words to the contrary were finally heard. We can infiltrate the enemy to deconstruct the arguments. But that shouldn’t be the entirety of an intro course.

We further benefit from controversial ideas in order to test the limits of our own thought-process by disputing them, either on our own or in discussions. We’ll have a limited knowledge, a dangerous naivety, if we only read what’s agreeable to us. I introduce some of Peter Singer’s controversial ideas, provoking them to find problems with the logic without leaning on amassing criticisms from social media, an unfortunate skill they’re developing outside of school even though unpopular opinions are not necessarily wrong. In my class, they have to look at problems with the position, specifically, premise by premise. Learning that bit of artistry is vital to counter the effects of wayward Instagram or Reddit threads; just imagine if it were mandatory!

Worth reading for the way it navigates through treacherous waters. Her’s is a dilemma I wouldn’t like to have.

My commonplace booklet

”I love programming but hate the industry. Can anyone relate?”. An interesting thread on Hacker News which, I guess, will resonate with many programmers working in the tech industry.

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Tuesday 19 July, 2022

The family that cycles together…

… stays together.

Spotted in Arles on Friday evening.

Quote of the Day

”Basic research is like shooting an arrow into the air and, where it lands, painting a target.”

  • Homer Adkins

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Alison Krauss | Down To The River To Pray


Long Read of the Day

Medium in the rear-view

There’s been lots of commentary about the ‘blogging’ platform Medium since it was announced that its founder and CEO, Evan Williams, was stepping down. Dave Winer (Whom God Preserve) has written a perceptive post about it on his blog.

He’s taken on the three things that people regarded as distinctive about Medium:

  • Its ‘clean’ look
  • Users didn’t have to start their own blog to write a post
  • It provided authors with a way of making money.

Dave thinks that the need for the platform to make money was the key flaw. Interestingly, it may also turn out to be the Achilles heel of Substack, the service I use to produce this newsletter version of my blog.

Do read Dave’s piece in its entirety because he’s the wisest guy around on this stuff. He was the blogger who best articulated the First Law of Online Writing: always make sure that anything you want to endure is hosted on a platform that you control. I used to write on Medium sometimes, for example, but I always made sure that anything by me that appeared there was also published on Memex — i.e. on the open Web. Same things applies to this newsletter version — it’s always on the Web, every day. So if, one day, the folks who run Substack turn nasty or greedy, well they can go whistle and I’d use a piece of open source software to create a newsletter version.

Monkeypox: What You Actually Need to Know

Really informative piece by Donald McNeil, just about the only journalist I would trust on a topic like this.

If there are two effective vaccines for this disease and one solid treatment, why are we losing the fight?

I blame several factors: shortages of vaccines and tests, the initial hesitancy by squeamish health agencies to openly discuss who was most at risk, and the refusal by the organizers of lucrative gay sex parties to cancel them over the past few months—even as evidence mounted that they are super-spreader events.

Also, something I didn’t know: the virus is related to smallpox, but it’s not nearly as lethal. The successful 25-year effort to eradicate smallpox held it in check (the smallpox vaccine also prevents monkeypox). But smallpox vaccination ended in 1980 because the old vaccines had some rare but very dangerous side effects. So…, well you can guess the rest.

Terrific piece by a great journalist who was — IMO — unfairly forced out of the New York Times.

My commonplace booklet

Two titans when young

Dave Winer found this when going through his (capacious) archives.

On not trying to be too clever…

When trying to think of a smart-aleck title for the wonderful trompe l’oeil artwork on the front of a house in Arles, I thought it’d be nice to adapt the title of Magritte’s famous ‘This is not a pipe’ painting of a pipe. And then typed “… as Matisse might put it.” A stupid error, of course, but sometimes the nice thing about being a blogger is the amusing (and tolerant) ways readers respond. So a flood of emails came alerting me to the mistake, but also pondering the significance of the mistake. After all, the original painting had a number of titles — “The Treachery of Images”, “This is not a pipe” and, apparently, “The Wind and the Song”. Magritte pointed out laconically that it was not a pipe but an image of a pipe — hence perhaps his ‘Treachery of Images’ title. Chris Patten generously observed that my readers think of me “as a medieval craftsman who deliberately creates an imperfection, so as to not offend God”. And Felicity Allen suggested that the mistake reflected not only the treachery of images, but also “the treachery of memory”.

I’ll drink to that last one. I’m a great believer in Mark Twain’s dictum that “The older I get the more clearly I remember things that never happened”.

Thanks to everyone who transformed what might have been an embarrassing morning into a lovely start to the day.

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