Wednesday 17 January, 2024

This is how you do it

Trinity Street, Cambridge.

Quote of the Day

”I love criticism so long as it is unqualified praise.”

  • Noel Coward

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Tuba Skinny | Jubilee Stomp – Royal Street I


Long Read of the Day

 The Case for Trump … by Someone Who Wants Him to Lose

A really interesting column by Bret Stephens, a columnist on the New York Times. It’s significant because it comes after a day that confirms that Trump will be the Republican candidate for President. The piece makes for uncomfortable reading — mostly because it makes one contemplate the mote in one’s own (liberal) eye.

You can’t defeat an opponent if you refuse to understand what makes him formidable. Too many people, especially progressives, fail to think deeply about the enduring sources of his appeal — and to do so without calling him names, or disparaging his supporters, or attributing his resurgence to nefarious foreign actors or the unfairness of the Electoral College. Since I will spend the coming year strenuously opposing his candidacy, let me here make the best case for Trump that I can…

If I had to sum up the argument, I’d say it was this. Trump is unquestionably a monster (a point upon which even many of his supporters may conceivably agree). So we need to look at why some many Americans seem willing to overlook his loathsomeness. In a nutshell, my hunch is that it’s because the kind of democracy that our neoliberalist ruling elites have carefully curated and venerated hasn’t been much good for many of them. And so they may be less troubled than we privileged elites are by the thought that Trump might be the wrecking ball that will blow up the whole wicked system. To adapt the the old joke — “What has posterity ever done for me?” — Trump voters may be asking “What has this neoliberal democracy ever done for me?” Of course they should be careful what they wish for for. But still…

The hard truth about AI? It might produce some better software** 

Sunday’s Observer column:

In its Christmas issue, the Economist carried an instructive article entitled “A short history of tractors in English” (itself an understated tribute to Marina Lewycka’s hilarious 2005 novel, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian). The article set out to explain “what the tractor and the horse tell you about generative AI”. The lesson was that while tractors go back a long way, it took aeons before they transformed agriculture. Three reasons for that: early versions were less useful than their backers believed; adoption of them required changes in labour markets; and farms needed to reform themselves to use them.

History suggests, therefore, that whatever transformations the AI hype merchants are predicting, they’ll be slower coming than they expect.

There is, however, one possible exception to this rule: computer programming, or the business of writing software…

Read on

Books, etc.

Just downloaded this, after strong recommendation by a friend with good judgement. Entrancing title, ne c’est pas?

My commonplace booklet

If you want to understand how difficult cybersecurity is, read this.

New iPhone Exploit Uses Four Zero-Days.


Something I noticed, while drinking from the Internet firehose.

Mute inglorious Miltons

Lovely meditation by John Quiggin on those who worry about ‘peak population’.

I’m going to start with a claim that came up in discussion here and is raised pretty often. The claim is that the more children are born, the greater the chance that some of them will be Mozarts, Einsteins, or Mandelas who will contribute greatly to human advancement. My response was pre-figured hundreds of years ago by Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. Gray reflects that those buried in the churchyard may include some “mute inglorious Milton” whose poetic genius was never given the chance to flower because of poverty and unremitting labour

But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page
Rich with the spoils of time did ne’er unroll;
Chill Penury repress’d their noble rage,
And froze the genial current of the soul.

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