Monday 18 July, 2022

Ceci n’est pas une fenêtre…

… as Matisse Magritte might put it.

Seen on Friday evening in Arles, the final waypoint on our slow journey to Provence.

Quote of the Day

”Negotiating with de Valera…is like trying to pick up mercury with a fork.”

  • Lloyd George

(To which de valera memorably replied, “Why doesn’t he use a spoon?

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Harold Arlen | Stormy Weather


A very early, and lovely, recording. You might have to turn up the volume a bit because the sound balance is a bit off.

Long Read of the Day

Is the World Really Falling Apart, or Does It Just Feel That Way?

One of the besetting sins of most journalism is that it is — inevitably — obsessed with what the sociologist Michael Mann once called “the sociology of the last five minutes”, which I guess is a really good description of ‘news’. But we need to escape that tyranny sometimes, because understanding the last five minutes often requires understanding how we got to them.

That’s why I liked this essay by Max Fisher. Has the world entered a time of unusual turbulence, he asks, or does it just feel that way?

Scanning the headlines, it’s easy to conclude that something has broken. The pandemic. Accelerating crises from climate change. Global grain shortage. Russia’s war on Ukraine. Political and economic meltdown in Sri Lanka. A former prime minister’s assassination in Japan. And, in the United States: inflation, mass shootings, a reckoning over Jan. 6 and collapsing abortion rights.

That sense of chaos can be difficult to square with longer-term data showing that, on many metrics, the world is generally becoming better off.

The idea that things used to be better than they are now is hard to shake off. But any attempt to make sense of our contemporary traumas requires us to

Consider the mid-1990s, a time that Americans tend to remember as one of global stability and optimism. If today were really a time of exceptional turmoil, then surely that world would look better in comparison?

In reality, the opposite is true. The mid-1990s saw genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia. Years of war in Europe amid Yugoslavia’s collapse. Devastating famines in Sudan, Somalia and North Korea. Civil wars in over a dozen countries. Crackdowns and coups too numerous to mention.

Yep. This is an interesting piece. Worth your time.

My commonplace booklet

N.I.M.B.Y. Membership Application

Painfully acute satire by Devin Wallace.

Question Three: What is your biggest concern about building new homes in your area? A. Decreasing property values. B. More people, specifically ones that don’t look like me. C. Option B but I feel more comfortable publicly choosing option A.

Question Four: Where do you think new housing should be built instead? A. The town on the other side of the railroad tracks. B. A brand-new city, that’s a thing we can definitely do, right? C. Mexico.

Question Five: Should all new housing be affordable to all? A. Absolutely! Especially because my own house is so expensive. B. Yes and new residents should be crowned the kings and queens of small, independent island nations in the Pacific. If that entirely reasonable request prevents new housing from being built, so be it. C. Are we still using affordable housing as a smokescreen? Can I re-check the box about people that don’t look like me?

You get the point?

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Friday 15 July, 2022

Meet Wurzel Gummidge

Natural and er, lifelike. In a field near where I live.

Quote of the Day

”He objected to ideas only if others had them.”

  • A.J.P. Taylor on Ernest Bevin

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Chris Rea | Stainsby Girls


A classic track, IMO.

Long Read of the Day

Mitt Romney on wishful thinking

You can tell how screwed the US is when Mitt Romney sounds like someone with gravitas. Could this be the same Mitt Romney who initially appeared to cosy up to Trump? Shurely not. Still…

What accounts for the blithe dismissal of potentially cataclysmic threats? The left thinks the right is at fault for ignoring climate change and the attacks on our political system. The right thinks the left is the problem for ignoring illegal immigration and the national debt. But wishful thinking happens across the political spectrum. More and more, we are a nation in denial.

I have witnessed time and again—in myself and in others—a powerful impulse to believe what we hope to be the case. We don’t need to cut back on watering, because the drought is just part of a cycle that will reverse. With economic growth, the debt will take care of itself. January 6 was a false-flag operation…

This Blog is also available as a daily email. If you think that might suit you better, why not subscribe? One email a day, Monday through Friday, delivered to your inbox. It’s free, and you can always unsubscribe if you conclude your inbox is full enough already!

Thursday 14 July, 2022

The Lone Wolf

A solitary breakfaster, photographed from my room at a luxurious German Schloss I stayed in a few years ago. (For the avoidance of doubt: a big corporate outfit was footing the bill for my stay.)

Quote of the Day

”Golf had long symbolised the Eisenhower years — played by soft, boring men with ample waistlines who went around rich men’s country-club courses in the company of wealthy businessmen and were tended by white-haired, dutiful men of colour.”

  • David Halberstam in his great book, The Best and the Brightest.

Footnote: I changed the word used to describe those dutiful attendants in the book. Times — and sensibilities — change.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Liam O’Flynn, Arty McGlynn, Christy Moore and Rod McVey | The Point, Dublin | 1997


Amazing quartet. No wonder we miss Liam.

Long Read of the Day

 Elon Musk is an honorary Facebook Boomer

Life’s too short to be obsessed about Elon Musk, so it’s good of Charlie Warzel to focus on him so that the rest of us don’t have to. His current column, in which he argues that Musk’s conspiracy theorising about Twitter bots reminds him of the madness that grips aged family members who are constantly getting into arguments on Facebook about stuff they don’t really understand.

Back in April, in response to the news that the Tesla and SpaceX founder was mulling an offer to buy Twitter, I argued that Elon Musk was a master of pseudo-events. “Musk commandeers the attention, legions speculate,” I wrote. “But ultimately we end up where we started. The only winner is Musk.”

It’s three months later, and we are, in so many ways, back where we started. Musk is trying to pull out of the deal, arguing through his lawyers that Twitter is not being cooperative and that he believes the platform is not being honest about the number of bots and spam accounts. If you’re interested in the particulars of Musk’s justifications and what the legal battle between Twitter and Musk might look like, you can read more at length about it here. But I’d like to talk about Elon Musk’s obsession with bots and how it actually illustrates the ways he is an extremely shallow thinker when it comes to online dynamics.

In short, Elon’s bot obsession is like Facebook-addled Boomer behavior.

Musk’s bot excuse is obvious bullshit…

Yep. And it will probably cost him more than the $1B breakup fee.

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Wednesday 13 July, 2022

Seeing to infinity and beyond

From Tortoise Media’s indispensable daily Sensemaker newsletter…

This image, the first produced by the James Webb telescope, “shows the infrared light put out by galaxies formed over 13 billion years ago, which appear as red smudges. To think about: the picture covers a patch of sky equivalent to holding up a grain of sand at arm’s length.”

Which kind of puts our mortal coil (not to mention the nauseating Tory ‘leadership’ race) in perspective.

Quote of the Day

”He was born to be a salesman. He would be an admirable representative of Molly Royce. But an ex-King cannot start selling motor-cars.”

  • The Duchess of Windsor on her husband, the former Edward VIII

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Strauss | Four Last Songs | #4 | Im Abendrot | Reneé Fleming | BBC Proms 2001


I love these songs, and keep coming back to them.

Long Read of the Day

Mark Twain, Tech Prophet

The Atlantic (to which I subscribe) has just made its entire archive — 165 years of Atlantic journalism — available online. Nearly 30,000 articles, reviews, short stories, and poems, published between magazine’s founding in 1857 and 1995, the year it launched its website (a site that included, from its start, articles that originated both in print and on the web) are now accessible to subscribers, researchers, students, historians, “and that blessed category, the incurably curious”.

David Graham’s been digging in the archive and thinks that a short story by Mark Twain published a 1878 issue may contain the first literary reference to a telephone — “along with striking insights into modern dating”.

The Times Literary Supplement’s always amusing NB column—which also unearthed this image of Proust playing air guitar on a tennis racket—has been searching for literary firsts, such as the earliest mention of a telephone. TLS readers came up with Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore, which premiered in May 1878. But Mark Lasswell of The Weekly Standard came up with an even earlier reference: Twain’s “The Loves of Alonzo Fitz Clarence and Rosannah Ethelton,” a short story that The Atlantic published in its March 1878 issue. As Lasswell notes, that makes it just 24 months after Alexander Graham Bell was awarded the first patent for a telephone.

The story is weird enough to deserve more than a mere footnote for early phone adoption…

Do read on

My commonplace booklet

”How to streamline the hiring process” is an article by Atta Tarki, Tyler Cowen and Alexandra Ham in the Harvard Business Review. If you’ve ever been involved in making hiring decisions (and I have been over the last two years in particular) you’d sometimes wish that some of your colleagues took these rules (suggested by the authors) to heart.

  1. Reduce the number of interviewers in your process. If you have more than four or five interviewers, chances are that the costs associated with the additional complexity in your process have exceeded the benefits they produce.

  2. Be explicit about whose decision it is. Steer your organizational culture away from a consensus-oriented approach. Instead, for each role make it explicit whose decision it is, who else might have veto power, and that other interviewers should not be offended if a candidate is hired despite not getting their approval. And then keep repeating this message until most of your colleagues adapt to this new approach.

  3. Ask interviewers to use numerical ratings when evaluating candidates. We’ve experienced that doing so helps hiring committees focus on the holistic view rather than on one-off negative comments. Having interviewers submit their ratings before getting input from their colleagues will have the further benefit of reducing the chance of groupthink in your evaluations.

  4. Remove the “Dr. Deaths” from your hiring committee. Track which interviewers turn down the most candidates, and if they are not better at picking good hires, communicate with them that they will be removed from the hiring committee if they don’t correct their behavior.

  5. Change your culture to reward those who spot great hires, not penalizing those who end up with an occasional poor performer. You can further do this by emphasizing the difference between good decisions and good outcomes. Sometimes a fully logical bet will result in a poor outcome. If needs be, call out those spreading negativism.

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Tuesday 12 July, 2022


We’re getting ready for our slow drive down to Provence and I was suddenly struck by this lovely Degas landscape while looking for something else. At one point on our route we cross the Somme.

Quote of the Day

”If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”

  • Rudyard Kipling

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Mark Knopfler | I’m the Fool


Long Read of the Day

At dinner the other night someone jokingly (I think) asked me what I saw as the next looming tech catastrophe and I replied “TikTok”. This provoked astonished puzzlement, as I don’t think anyone present except me (we are all d’un certain age, as the French say) was really aware of the service. But I was serious. And so is Scott Galloway, who has written critically about TikTok before. On his blog this week, he has a post with a nice twist on a metaphor from ancient history — “Trojan Stallion”.

The most mendacious enemies hide in plain sight. And this enemy is in your pocket. Social media now captures and holds more of our attention than all traditional news outlets. The hand that holds the social graph has its grip on how the next generation of Americans and Europeans feel about capitalism, democracy, and BTS.

But, no, this post is not about Mark Zuckerberg.

Do read on.

What it takes to run Q&A at scale

Stack Exchange is one of the wonders of the online world — a network of question-and-answer (Q&A) websites on topics in diverse fields, each site covering a specific topic, where questions, answers, and users are subject to a reputation award process. The reputation system allows the sites to be self-moderating. The most popular site on the network is Stack Overflow, the one I find most useful.

Stack Exchange handles 1.3 billion page-views per month and they’ve recently published an interesting graphic showing what’s needed to make the service work so briskly. Among other things, it’s a reminder that convenience doesn’t come without environmental costs.

My commonplace booklet

“The five best biographies ever written”

This interesting list by Anne Wroe, the Obituaries Editor of the Economist (and also an accomplished biographer) is a nice antidote to the standard list of poolside reads that most newspapers compile at this time of year.

I think it’s outside the paywall and hope I’m right.

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Monday 11 July, 2022

Shepherd’s delight?

Driving home the other evening.

Quote of the Day

”A state led by Sunak, Gove or Truss with reforming zeal would be an unpleasant place to live. But it’s also damaging to be governed by intellectually deficient, personally ambitious, corrupt or simply uninterested ministers. Fewer ministers than ever care about their departments, as the internecine vortex of Westminster and dreams of a slot on Question Time suck in most of their attention. This has been especially true since 2016, though the problem is of longer gestation. It doesn’t entirely explain why Britain, after twelve years of Conservative government, is run-down, stagnant, expensive, underpaid, unequal, corrupt, socially fractured, backward-looking, hungry and fearful. But it doesn’t help. It will take far more than dislodging Johnson to change that.

  • James Butler, writing in the London Review of Books.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

B.B. King | The Thrill Is Gone | with Slash, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, Ronnie Wood and Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall.


Long Read of the Day

Journeys of the Pyramid Builders

By Daniel Weiss. Nice long read for a hot summer afternoon from Archaeology Magazine.

On a summer afternoon around 4,600 years ago, near the end of the reign of the pharaoh Khufu, a boat crewed by some 40 workers headed downstream on the Nile toward the Giza Plateau. The vessel, whose prow was emblazoned with a uraeus, the stylized image of an upright cobra worn by pharaohs as a head ornament, was laden with large limestone blocks being transported from the Tura quarries on the eastern side of the Nile. Under the direction of their overseer, known as Inspector Merer, the team steered the boat west toward the plateau, passing through a gateway between a pair of raised mounds called the Ro-She Khufu, the Entrance to the Lake of Khufu. This lake was part of a network of artificial waterways and canals that had been dredged to allow boats to bring supplies right up to the plateau’s edge.

As the boatmen approached their docking station, they could see Khufu’s Great Pyramid, called Akhet Khufu, or the Horizon of Khufu, soaring into the sky. At this point in Khufu’s reign (r. ca. 2633–2605 B.C.), the pyramid would have been essentially complete, encased in gleaming white limestone blocks of the sort the boat carried. At the edge of the water, perched on a massive limestone foundation, loomed Khufu’s valley temple, known as Ankhu Khufu, or Khufu Lives, which was connected to the pyramid by a half-mile-long causeway. When the pharaoh died, his body would be taken to the valley temple and then carried to the pyramid for burial. Nearby stood a royal palace, archives, granary, and workers’ barracks.

After offloading their cargo, the men anchored their boat in the lake alongside dozens—if not hundreds—of other boats and barges that had brought a variety of materials necessary to complete construction of the pyramid complex…

An antidote to the condescension of hindsight, and our hubris about how smart we are compared to those who went before us.

Britain’s electric dreams may be dependent on Chinese goodwill

Rare earth elements hold the key to a carbon-free future, but a new report reveals the UK’s shortcomings and vulnerabilities

Yesterday’s Observer column:

In his book Electrify: An Optimist’s Playbook for Our Clean Energy Future, Saul Griffith, an American inventor, entrepreneur and engineer, sets out a plan for decarbonising the US: electrify everything. From now on, every time people replace a vehicle or renovate a building or buy an appliance, they should be buying electric. Every new roof must have solar panels, all new housing must be energy efficient and shouldn’t contain a gas cooker. All that’s required to make this happen is a collective national effort comparable to the mobilisation of the US economy for the second world war. And it could be financed with the kind of low-cost, long-term loans reminiscent of the government-backed mortgages that created the postwar American middle class. QED.

Reading Griffith’s engaging, optimistic book, a wicked thought keeps coming to mind: HL Mencken’s observation: “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.” But Griffith is too smart to be caught in that particular net. There is, though, one serious difficulty with his grand plan and it goes by the abbreviation CRM.

It stands for “critical raw materials”. It turns out that an all-electrical future won’t be possible without secure supplies of certain elements we extract from the Earth’s crust…

Do read on

I had an email from a reader in Canada pointing out that his country has lots of these elements, which is good news if true, but didn’t seem to figure in the surveys which triggered by column.

My commonplace booklet


Thanks to Andrew Laird for spotting it.

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Friday 8 July, 2022


Quote of the Day

”After days of high political drama in Britain, Boris Johnson’s government has collapsed at last. For months the prime minister wriggled out of one scandal after another with braggadocio and buffoonery. Now, irretrievably rejected by his own MPs, he has agreed first to quit as Conservative Party leader and then to leave office within months. That day cannot come soon enough.

Mr Johnson was brought down by his own dishonesty, so some may conclude that a simple change of leadership will be enough to get Britain back on course. If only. Although Mr Johnson’s fingerprints are all over today’s mess, the problems run deeper than one man. Unless the ruling Conservatives muster the fortitude to face that fact, Britain’s many social and economic difficulties will only deepen.

Britain is in a dangerous state. The country is poorer than it imagines. Its current-account deficit has ballooned, sterling has tumbled and debt-interest costs are rising. If the next government insists on raising spending and cutting taxes at the same time, it could stumble into a crisis. The time when everything was possible is over. With Mr Johnson’s departure, politics must once more become anchored to reality.”

  • The Economist, yesterday.

For those Tories anxious to succeed him, here’s a cautionary thought. Would you like to be Prime Minister on the day (in late August) when it dawns on British households that the cost of heating their homes is going up from £800 to at least £3,000 a year?

When ignorance really is bliss

Some interesting things about the media frenzy (at least those media trapped in the Westminster bubble) on Johnson’s last day of denial…

1. The way that Trumpian ideas have seeped into British media and political culture.

cf Johnson’s bluster in Parliament that, regardless of what was going on inside his own party, he had a “mandate” from the British people which entitled him to carry on regardless. This idea of a party leader having a popular ‘mandate’ is an American, presidentialist idea. The Conservative party, led by Johnson at the time, won the election. In a parliamentary democracy it’s the party that people vote for, not the leader.

2. The way some journalists — and some Tory politicians, who should have known better — spun this ‘mandate’ fantasy.

The massive Tory victory in the General Election was as much due to the fact that the Labour Party was, at the time, led by Jeremy Corbyn, as un-electable a politician that anyone could wish for. That, combined with Johnson’s pledge to “get Brexit done” was what clinched the outsome.

3. There was also an echo of Trump in the aftermath of the election.

Under the ragbag patchwork of concepts and conventions that constitutes the British ‘constitution’, the leader of a party that commands a significant majority in the House of Commons is, to all intents and purposes, an elected dictator who can more or less do what s/he likes. That’s the point of the country’s first-past-the-post electoral system — to deliver decisive power to the winning party. And yet Johnson — who was given that power free from the tiresome meddling of Brussels — didn’t seem to have a single coherent, worked-out idea about what he could do with it.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Handel | Zadok the Priest


Ironically, this is what the Massed Bands of the Household Division were playing on Horse Guards parade behind 10 Downing Street on Wednesday as breathless TV reporters tried to explain how Johnson was bluffing his way out of trouble. Handel wrote it for the coronation of George II in 1727.

Long Read of the Day

Oliver Sacks: The Machine Stops

Lovely New Yorker essay, by the most literary neurologist of his generation, on steam engines, smartphones, and fearing the future. And on E.M. Forster’s astonishing 1909 short story, from which the title of this essay is taken.

I have not adjusted as well as my aunt did to some aspects of the new—perhaps because the rate of social change associated with technological advances has been so rapid and so profound. I cannot get used to seeing myriads of people in the street peering into little boxes or holding them in front of their faces, walking blithely in the path of moving traffic, totally out of touch with their surroundings. I am most alarmed by such distraction and inattention when I see young parents staring at their cell phones and ignoring their own babies as they walk or wheel them along. Such children, unable to attract their parents’ attention, must feel neglected, and they will surely show the effects of this in the years to come.

In his novel “Exit Ghost,” from 2007, Philip Roth speaks of how radically changed New York City appears to a reclusive writer who has been away from it for a decade. He is forced to overhear cell-phone conversations all around him, and he wonders, “What had happened in these ten years for there suddenly to be so much to say—so much so pressing that it couldn’t wait to be said? . . . I did not see how anyone could believe he was continuing to live a human existence by walking about talking into a phone for half his waking life.”

These gadgets, already ominous in 2007, have now immersed us in a virtual reality far denser, more absorbing, and even more dehumanizing…

The Forster story is indeed amazing, especially when you realise when it was written. The Wikipedia plot summary reads, in part:

The story describes a world in which most of the human population has lost the ability to live on the surface of the Earth. Each individual now lives in isolation below ground in a standard room, with all bodily and spiritual needs met by the omnipotent, global Machine. Travel is permitted, but is unpopular and rarely necessary. Communication is made via a kind of instant messaging/video conferencing machine with which people conduct their only activity: the sharing of ideas and what passes for knowledge.

The two main characters, Vashti and her son Kuno, live on opposite sides of the world. Vashti is content with her life, which, like most inhabitants of the world, she spends producing and endlessly discussing secondhand ‘ideas’. Her son Kuno, however, is a sensualist and a rebel. He persuades a reluctant Vashti to endure the journey (and the resultant unwelcome personal interaction) to his room. There, he tells her of his disenchantment with the sanitised, mechanical world.

He confides to her that he has visited the surface of the Earth without permission and that he saw other humans living outside the world of the Machine. However, the Machine recaptures him, and he is threatened with ‘Homelessness’: expulsion from the underground environment and presumed death. Vashti, however, dismisses her son’s concerns as dangerous madness and returns to her part of the world.


Finally, the Machine collapses, bringing ‘civilization’ down with it. Kuno comes to Vashti’s ruined room. Before they both perish, they realise that humanity and its connection to the natural world are what truly matter, and that it will fall to the surface-dwellers who still exist to rebuild the human race and to prevent the mistake of the Machine from being repeated.

My Commonplace booklet

What to say when you can’t think of anything to say


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Thursday 7 July, 2022


Taken two days ago. For some reason we’ve had more butterflies in our garden this year. No idea why.

Quote of the Day

”More than 220 Americans were killed by guns over the holiday. Seven of them were in my hometown.“

  • Maya Sulkin, writing here.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Liam O’Flynn, Seán Keane, Paddy Glackin, Arty McGlynn & Paul Brady | Gradam Ceoil TG4 2007


The Humours of Carrigaholt (Reel 0:00), Mayor Harrison’s Fedora (Reel 1:13) & Tommy Peoples’ (Reel 2:26)

Long Read of the Day

Why are British politicians so rotten?

Perceptive essay by Michael Crick, one of the sharpest observers of British politics over many years. His answer to his own question is that the secretive way parliamentary candidates are chosen lies at the root of the problem.

Whereas American parties choose their candidates under the intense public scrutiny of primary elections, Britain’s parliamentary selections are conducted with great secrecy. They are rarely reported on these days; many places don’t have a local paper anymore, while those that do survive don’t regard candidate selections as particularly newsworthy.

Yet they are a vital part of British politics. Local parties aren’t just picking the MPs of tomorrow, but the ministers, Cabinet ministers and whips of future decades — the pool of people from which governments are formed. If parties regularly choose incompetent, lazy and stupid MPs, then weak and inept governments will follow: the sort of governments populated by the likes of Chris Pincher; the sort of governments that make a man accused of sexual misconduct a deputy chief whip. That, ultimately, is why I’ve started a new project to report on the selection process for every candidate who might have a chance of becoming an MP…

My Commonplace booklet

Minecraft for Adjunct Professors

Nice satire by Ross Bullen…

Getting Started

First, you need to decide between Creative Mode and Survival Mode. In Creative Mode, you are like a god, the lord and master of all you see, with an infinite number of items and resources at your disposal. Creative Mode is only available for tenured professors. Everybody else has to play in Survival Mode. You will also need to choose a difficulty level. Your options are Peaceful, Easy, Normal, Hard, and Adjunct Professor. Let’s select that last one and see what happens.

Your Character Spawns

Your character could spawn in any biome, but since you selected Adjunct Professor Mode, there is a 90 percent chance you will appear in the bathroom of a Subway restaurant where you are grading essays using a malfunctioning hand dryer as a desk and trying to answer panicky student emails on a nine-year-old iPhone. If you chose to begin with a Bonus Chest, it should be in one of the adjacent bathroom stalls. Look inside to find useful items that will help you on your quest, including more essays to grade, half a meatball sub, and a PhD in the History of Consciousness from UC Santa Cruz…

Lovely stuff — unless you’re an Adjunct Prof.

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Wednesday 6 July, 2022

Corporate cant

Er, it’s not “my” store (or yours), but the premises of a gigantic public corporation.

Quote of the Day

”The Papacy is not other than the ghost of the deceased Roman Empire, sitting crowned upon the grave thereof.”

  • Thomas Hobbes

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Eels | Grace Kelly Blues | Albert Hall


My favourite recording of the song.

Long Read of the Day

 The Lost Art of Looking at Nature

Nice essay by Rachel Riederer in Dissent on David Attenborough (Whom God Preserve). “Perhaps we love Attenborough”, she concludes, “because he is an advocate and practitioner of a special way of seeing and relating. His interest in the natural world begins not with the gaze of an empath, for whom another’s feelings become real because he feels them himself, but with the humility of an observer content to be an outsider”.

Yep. Worth your time.

New York Times heads downmarket…

It’s found a gap in the market between Hello magazine and The Tatler.

Witness yesterday’s pass-the-sickbag piece about a flashy dame with aspirations to pass as a public intellectual, and a culture-war spat at Princeton, a hedge-fund with a nice university attached. The centre-piece of the essay is a dinner-party that she and her husband are hosting with some friends who, apparently, are on their side in the aformentioned culture wars.

Some choice cuts from the piece.

Exhibit A:

PRINCETON, N.J. — Solveig Lucia Gold was setting the table in her backyard, next door to the house once occupied by Albert Einstein. Her yard is a sweeping field of emerald green grass leading down to the 18th-century blacksmith’s cottage with stone floors that houses her home study.

Ms. Gold, 27, was preparing for an intimate dinner with some of the few people — “our little cabal,” she said — who publicly admit to being on friendly terms with her and her husband, the recently fired (she prefers “canceled”) former Princeton classics professor Joshua Katz.

Exhibit B:

As her guests were about to arrive, Ms. Gold changed from a plain blue summer shift into a more glamorous cinched-waist yellow dress, drawing an approving smile from her husband, who was wearing a pink linen shirt.

She set the long rectangular table in the grass precisely, with a Wedgewood-blue and white tablecloth, cloth napkins tied up in yellow ribbons, place cards inked in a neat cursive hand and melamine dishes in a Provençal design. She was schooled in formal manners from a young age, she said, as an only child to an actress and a soap opera writer. “My mom threw a lot of dinner parties, and I ended up talking to adults,” Ms. Gold said.

Exhibit C:

At the dinner table, Ms. Gold, wearing a checked kitchen apron over her yellow dress, sat at one end and Dr. Katz at the other. Ms. Gold said a swift prayer (“Come Lord Jesus be our guest, and let these gifts to us be blessed”) and the chilled pea soup was served.

Needless to say, the happy couple “are going to start house-hunting in Washington, D.C.” where Dr. Katz is a fellow at — you guessed it! — the American Enterprise Institute.

The New York Times, by the way, was once a serious newspaper.

This Blog is also available as a daily email. If you think that might suit you better, why not subscribe? One email a day, Monday through Friday, delivered to your inbox. It’s free, and you can always unsubscribe if you conclude your inbox is full enough already!

Tuesday 5 July, 2022

Into the light

Quote of the Day

.”You will know you’re old when you cease to be amazed.”

  • Noël Coward

(In that case, I’m old.)

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

J.S. Bach | Goldberg Variations, BWV 988 | Aria | Lang Lang


Lovely but a bit showy. Makes an interesting comparison with Glenn Gould’s 1955 recording, though.

Long Read of the Day

’Davos Man’ and climate-change baloney 

I can never understand why anyone takes the Davos crowd seriously.

This sharp piece by Jag Bhalla does a nice demolition job on the climate ‘pledges’ made by the First Movers Coalition, a public-private partnership launched last year at the United Nations Climate Change Conference. The coalition consists of 55 corporations and nine national governments that have made “ambitious commitments” toward limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.


Coalition members seek to use their collective purchasing power to jump-start early markets for green technologies in “hard to abate” sectors including aluminum, aviation, chemicals, concrete, shipping, steel, and trucking. Automakers Ford and Volvo, for instance, have pledged that, by 2030, a tenth of the primary aluminum they purchase will be produced with little or no carbon emissions. Alphabet, Microsoft, and Salesforce — also First Movers — pledged to invest $500 million in carbon recapture technology. And some coalition members announced specific carbon removal goals. For instance, Swiss Re committed to remove 50,000 metric tons by 2030; Boston Consulting Group pledged 100,000 metric tons. At Davos, U.S. climate czar John Kerry heralded the moves as a “gigantic shift” and lauded businesses for “taking the lead” in areas where governments have been slow to act.

Sounds impressive? Actually it’s baloney. The $500m ‘investment’, for example,

represents about 0.1 percent of Alphabet, Microsoft, and Salesforce’s collective revenues last year. And it’s dwarfed by the nearly one trillion dollars that energy companies plan to put into new oil and gas projects — so-called “carbon bombs” each blasting more than a billion tons of carbon skyward — by 2030. Likewise, the 150,000 metric tons of carbon removal promised by Swiss Re and Boston Consulting is barely a sliver (0.00002 percent) of the extra 646 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas that those carbon bomb projects are expected to spew into the atmosphere — pollution that will cook the planet for centuries, unless it can be later removed.

In fact, Swiss Re and Boston Consulting Group’s carbon removal commitments won’t even nearly offset the carbon footprints of their own employees. The average individual in the top 10 percent of global earners — and with the current Euro-to-dollar exchange rate, if you earn more than $39,100 a year, you qualify — causes about 31 metric tons of annual carbon emissions each. (These figures are according to the 2022 World Inequality Report.) Assuming most of Swiss Re’s 14,000 employees and Boston Consulting’s 25,000 staffers fall into that category, which for Boston Consulting seems almost certain given the six figure salaries that many of their workers appear to command, those employees alone would collectively produce more carbon in just two months than the companies’ carbon removal projects would remove over the next eight years.

You get the drift. This is just corporate happy-talk while they and their clients get on with heating the planet.

My commonplace booklet

 A Declaration of Independence from the United States Supreme Court

Righteous indignation from Jennie Egerdie…

We hold this truth to be self-evident: We are sick of this shit.

We have established that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That when any branch of government becomes destructive of these rights, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it.

We acknowledge an institution such as the Supreme Court has, like our country, a complicated past. Previous Supreme Courts have supported civil rights and liberties, yet have also passed decisions reinforcing slavery, eugenics, and corruption. But now, as this current court transitions away from modern democracy and towards despotism, it is again the People’s right—and their duty—to strip power away from such governance. After all, this is what the United States of America was founded on…

Do read on.

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