Wednesday 10 January, 2024


This is the kind of daft things that photographers do (well, this photographer anyway) when they should be working.

It’s a photograph taken with an iPhone of what a venerable analog camera (a Hasselblad 501CM) saw yesterday morning. (And, yeah, I know that the Hass wasn’t level. Growl.)

And here’s what the iPhone saw, all on its own.

Of the two, I think I prefer the analog one. Not sure why.

Quote of the Day

”Nothing is inevitable until it happens”.

  • A.J.P. Taylor

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Op. 64, TH. 29 – II. Andante cantabile, con alcuna…


Ravishingly beautiful.

Long Read of the Day

The desperate race to save Generative AI

Lovely blast by Gary Marcus, who with Reid Southen published a pretty damning analysis of generative AI plagiarism in the IEEE Spectrum journal. The tech companies, led by OpanAI are lobbying furiously for protection from having to pay for their IP theft.

TL;DR summary:

We won’t get fabulously rich if you don’t let us steals please don’t make stealing a crime.

Oh, and don’t make us pay licensing fees, either.

Sure, Netflix might pay billions in licensing fees, but we shouldn’t have to.

But don’t rely on that summary. Do read the whole thing. Basically, the tech industry is having its “Napster Moment”. One’s heart bleeds for it. Not.

Pandemics and diaries

For the first 100 days of the pandemic I kept an audio diary. Every night, before going to bed, I would record my thoughts on the day, and readers of this blog would listen to it at breakfast. It was, said the wife of one dedicated reader, “Like Thought for the Day but without the God stuff”. Later, I published the scripts as a Kindle book, 100 Not Out: A Lockdown Diary.

I was going through the text the other day looking for something that I needed to check, when I came on the entry for Day 61, Thursday 21 May, 2020. This is how it went, in part:

Among the many things I’ve always thought I would not like to do for a living, running a restaurant ranks pretty high. It seems to me to be backbreaking, tense work, done in very pressurised environments, and requiring you always to be polite to customers, many of whom are obnoxious.

My Observer colleague, our restaurant critic Jay Rayner, told a nice story a couple of weeks ago that illustrates this nicely. It comes from the opening chapter of Wine Girl, the entertaining memoir of a well-known American female sommelier, in which she describes an encounter with a diner from hell.

It is a Monday lunch at a posh New York eatery and the creep in question has chosen a fancy Burgundy (a 2009 Chevalier-Montrachet from Domaine Ramonet). Having checked at her serving station that the wine is ok, James returns to the table and pours a small measure for the customer to taste. He declares it corked. “I think she has too much perfume in her nose, this girl…” he says, as if competing for a gold in the misogyny Olympics.

There are only two bottles of the wine in the restaurant’s cellar. James does not want to waste a big-bucks bottle when she knows it is perfectly fine. Instead, she presents the unopened second bottle, takes it away, then returns and gets him to taste the original bottle again. And between racist epithets, he declares it perfect, with a fat top note of triumph in his voice.

This, says Rayner, “is small penis energy at work.”

You can see why I love having colleagues like this.

While we’re on the subject of Covid reflections, my friend, the historian David Vincent, has also published his thoughtful and scholarly diary of the first year of the plague.

My commonplace booklet

From Kevin Munger

First, the facts: in 2024, either Trump or Biden would be the oldest person to win a presidential election. We have the second-oldest House in history (after 2020-2022), and the oldest Senate. A full 2/3 of the Senate are Baby Boomers!

Not only is the age distribution of US politicians an outlier compared to our past—we also have the oldest politicians of any developed democracy. And not just the politicians, but the voters, too: more Americans will turn 65 years old in 2024 than ever before—and given macro-trends in demography, maybe than ever again.

We baby boomers have a lot to answer for.


  1. In my reference to the new film about Nicholas Winton, I mistakenly referred to his rescue effort as the Kindertransport. Judy Armit has written to point out that this term only related to children saved from Germany and Poland. Those rescued by Winton are known as “Nicky’s Children”. She also pointed me to an impressive resource which fosters “historical understanding and an understanding of the Holocaust’s contemporary relevance. I regret the mistake and am grateful to Judy for having it so tactfully pointed out. One of the great compensations of being a blogger is having readers who know more than I do.
  2. Thanks also to Andrew Clark, who pointed out that I didn’t spell Hillary Clinton’s name correctly in Monday’s edition. I would of course like to blame Apple’s bossy autocorrect for the error, but in this case but instead have to fall back on Samuel Johnson’s answer to the annoyed lady who asked him how he could have made the mistake of defining “pastern” as “the knee of a horse”. “Ignorance, Madam, pure ignorance”.

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