Friday 29 December, 2023

Essence of Xmas, 2023

New Yorker cover, December 11, nailed it.

Quote of the Day

”An optimist will tell you the glass is half-full; the pessimist, half-empty; and the engineer will tell you the glass is twice the size it needs to be.

  • Oscar Wilde

Yep, and most of the time the engineer is right.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Diana Krall | Narrow Daylight


Nice line: Winter is over, Summer is near. Nice thought, that, in the bleak midwinter.

Long Read of the Day

A Love Song for Deborah

Lovely essay by Michael Tobin on life after his wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and on how he found a way of reaching her.

If life were fair, Alzheimer’s should never have eaten Deborah’s brain.

My wife had no family history of the disease. All four of her Lebanese grandparents lived far into their nineties and were as acerbic, argumentative, and quick-witted at ninety-five as they were at twenty-five.

But Alzheimer’s devoured my wife, my best friend, my soul mate. Gone is the compassionate psychologist who graduated from Wellesley, MIT, and the Sorbonne. The polymath fluent in five languages who could calculate complex mathematical formulas in her head and whose brain came with its own GPS. The woman whose body could contort into pretzel-like yoga postures with the ease and grace of a ballerina. The truth-seeker who had an uncanny ability to pierce through layers of psychic sludge to unearth a soul in all its shining glory.

Diagnosed in November 2018, she had won a very perverse lottery…

Do read it, not least because it’s about something that some of us may one day have to live with.

Books, etc.

Nothing for Something: Cryptos, Cons, and Zombies

Peter Lunenfeld’s sharp review essay on the crypto phenomenon in the Los Angeles Review of Books is worth reading. What I liked most about it is his attempt to get up ‘above’ the crypto craze to “the conceptual space where desires are forever leading us to heartbreak and shame, the universal emotions of every mark who has ever been conned”.

The general greed around cryptocurrencies, the nerdish interest in their underlying blockchain technologies, and the desire for something—anything — to fully commodify digital art has not abated. We should expect rebrandings, relaunchings, and hype cycles that do their best to explain that “this time it’s different” even when it’s not. There will be more Bankman-Frieds and FTXs — in fact, there are plenty like him and them on trial or in bankruptcy at this very moment—and when they are gone, their spots will be taken by probably even worse actors in the global techno-economy. One thing we can and should do at this relatively quiescent period in the hype cycle is figure out how these technologies and concepts have attained a kind of immortality already—i.e., how they became zombies destined to shamble through the rest of the 21st century.

My commonplace booklet

“UK quietly drops Brexit law to return to imperial measurements”

From the Financial Times yesterday…

Rishi Sunak’s government has been criticised by a leading Brexiter, after it quietly announced it would not be legislating to expand the use of imperial measures in the UK.

The decision to drop the idea, which had been hailed as a potential “Brexit freedom”, came after it turned out that only a tiny fraction of British businesses and consumers wanted to see a bigger role for imperial units.

The government revealed on Wednesday that out of 100,000 people who responded to a consultation on boosting Britain’s “long and proud history of using imperial measures”, only 1.3 per cent were in favour of increasing their use for buying or selling products.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, former business secretary, said the decision not to expand the use of traditional British measurements — such as gallons, pints, pounds and ounces — was regrettable.

“It is a small reminder that we have government of the bureaucrat, by the bureaucrat, for the bureaucrat,” he said.

(Note for readers outside of the UK: I did not make this up. Apart from anything else, you couldn’t make up a clown like Rees-Mogg.)


Something I noticed, while drinking from the Internet firehose.

The Duke of Wellington writing to his nominal bosses in London.


Whilst marching from Portugal to a position which commands the approach to Madrid and the French forces, my officers have been diligently complying with your requests which have been sent by H.M. ship from London to Lisbon and thence by dispatch to our headquarters.

We have enumerated our saddles, bridles, tents and tent poles, and all manner of sundry items for which His Majesty’s Government holds me accountable. I have dispatched reports on the character, wit, and spleen of every officer. Each item and every farthing has been accounted for, with two regrettable exceptions for which I beg your indulgence.

Unfortunately the sum of one shilling and ninepence remains unaccounted for in one infantry battalion’s petty cash and there has been a hideous confusion as to the number of jars of raspberry jam issued to one cavalry regiment during a sandstorm in western Spain. This reprehensible carelessness may be related to the pressure of circumstance, since we are at war with France, a fact which may come as a bit of a surprise to you gentlemen in Whitehall.

This brings me to my present purpose, which is to request elucidation of my instructions from His Majesty’s Government so that I may better understand why I am dragging an army over these barren plains. I construe that perforce it must be one of two alternative duties, as given below. I shall pursue either one with the best of my ability, but I cannot do both:

  1. To train an army of uniformed British clerks in Spain for the benefit of the accountants and copy-boys in London or perchance,
  2. To see to it that the forces of Napoleon are driven out of Spain.

Your most obedient servant,


Sadly, it’s so good that it has to be a spoof. Wellington was no admirer of officialdom, but the phrase “may come as a bit of a surprise” is unlikely to be one that he would use. Still,…

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