Friday 7 June, 2024

No parking

Quote of the Day

”An intellectual is someone whose mind watches itself.”

  • Albert Camus

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Sweet Home Chicago | Blues Harmonica


It’s clear that I’ve been underestimating the harmonica for a long, long time.

Long Read of the Day

D-Day 80 years on – World War II and the “great acceleration”

Adam Tooze’s reflections on yesterday’s anniversary.

The rest of the world may be somewhat puzzled by this trip back in time, but for “the West” the 80th anniversary of “D-Day” is the perfect occasion for a rally. For the United States, France and the Commonwealth (the former members of the British Empire), D-Day is the decisive turning point in “our” World War II.

In June 1944 the landings had been a long time coming. After a series of crushing defeats between 1939 and 1942, the comeback of the British Empire and the USA in World War II began in North Africa in 1942 and continued in Italy 1943. But, it was the landing in Normandy in June 1944 that were the decisive breakthrough. The destruction of the German forces in Northern France opened the door to the liberation of Paris and to the eventual meeting with the Red Army in Central Germany in May 1945.

Many evenings, growing up in West Germany in the 1970s, my parents, who were children of wartime Britain, would tune in to the BBC World Service. The broadcast began then with a radio call sign that the BBC had used in World War II: “This is London” followed by an orchestral rendition of the 17th century tune Lillibullero (or Lilliburlero). Translated into morse code the opening bars sound out the “Victory V” – dit-dit-dit-dah. As a child, I imagined people across occupied Europe huddled around their radio sets listening for that tune, waiting for the moment of D-day to come. …

What troubles me now is how this “legendary” history of World War II continues to operate at the heart of Western political ideology. How it is used, 80 years later to frame and shape our understanding of a radically different world. What I struggle with is how to frame a historical understanding of the war that wrenches it out of this framing, that is not saccharine, that is not nostalgic that is not atavistic, but speaks in more challenging and eye-opening ways to the present…

Characteristically thoughtful. Worth a read.

Books, etc.

Six non-fiction books you can read in a day (according to the Economist anyway.)

Poolside reading for busy executives?

  1. Six Records of a Floating Life. By Shen Fu. Translated by Leonard Pratt and Chiang Su-Hui. Penguin Classics; 144 pages; $16 and £9.99
  2. Oranges. By John McPhee. Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 149 pages; $16. Daunt; £9.99
  3. A Room of One’s Own.  By Virginia Woolf. Mariner; 128 pages; $16.99. Penguin Modern Classics; £5.99
  4. Iphigenia in Forest Hills: Anatomy of a Murder Trial. By Janet Malcolm. Yale University Press; 155 pages; $13.95 and £9.99
  5. Ways of Seeing. By John Berger. Penguin Modern Classics; 155 pages; $11 and £9.99
  6. A Man’s Place. By Annie Ernaux. Translated by Tanya Leslie. Seven Stories Press; 96 pages; $13.95. Fitzcarraldo Editions; £7.99

I’ve only read #3 and #5 but can recommend both.

My commonplace booklet

LLMs are weird

Well, we knew that. But we didn’t how weird. Some Harvard evolutionary biologists have been finding out. Here’s the Abstract for their paper.

Large language models (LLMs) have recently made vast advances in both generating and analyzing textual data. Technical reports often compare LLMs’ outputs with “human” performance on various tests. Here, we ask, “Which humans?” Much of the existing literature largely ignores the fact that humans are a cultural species with substantial psychological diversity around the globe that is not fully captured by the textual data on which current LLMs have been trained. We show that LLMs’ responses to psychological measures are an outlier compared with large-scale cross-cultural data, and that their performance on cognitive psychological tasks most resembles that of people from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) societies but declines rapidly as we move away from these populations (r=-.70). Ignoring cross-cultural diversity in both human and machine psychology raises numerous scientific and ethical issues. We close by discussing ways to mitigate the WEIRD bias in future generations of generative language models.


Something I noticed, while drinking from the Internet firehose.

  • What happens when you ban cars from city centres? Ask Paris. Changes designed to encourage people to take other forms of transportation have contributed to a 40% decline in air pollution, according to city officials.

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