Friday 21 May, 2021

Still life with reflections

One of those pictures one snatches before the light changes. Reflections of a log fire and shadows of foliage cast by the winter sunshine flooding in through a window.

Quote of the Day

”Virginia Woolf herself never got used to the fact that if you write books, some people are bound to be rude about them.”

  • Anthony Powell

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

J.S. Bach | Suite for Solo Cello No. 3 in C Major, BWV 1009: II. Allemande | Andrés Segovia


I love these suites and often have them playing when I’m writing.

Long Read of the Day

On Rereading

Serendipity works! I stumbled on this meditation in the Yale Review by Victor Brombert on how the re-reading of long-forgotten books in his library during the pandemic lockdown made him reassess what those books had meant to him in his youth.

But the supreme lesson in flux came with my reading of the Essays by Michel de Montaigne, who has accompanied me ever since an admired mentor made me appreciate his restless curiosity, openminded skepticism, and fondness for paradoxical ideas. Montaigne looked with equanimity at the other side of any argument. The protean nature of his thinking delighted me, as did the unpredictable twists and turns of his conversational style. I found wisdom in his readiness to cohabit with what the flesh is heir to. After absorbing hefty doses of his writings, my glance turned inward. I was impressed by his justification for the unremitting interest he took in himself. Others look outward, he remarked, but he wished to penetrate into his own intimacy, and to explore his self in all its folds and creases, its “naturels plis.” The reason, however, is not narcissistic. No self-­indulgence here. Montaigne looks at himself as the only human reality he can observe with some accuracy, not as a unique and irreplaceable individual, but as a reflection of the entire human condition. Yet even this closely examined self tends to elude him, for it is multifaceted, constantly evolving and mutating. Flux is indeed the great lesson. Human nature is multifarious and unstable. Life allows for no fixity. A terse formula sums up Montaigne’s project. “I do not depict being. I depict passage.” I have reread these words many times in my mind.

A very nice, intellectually spacious, read.

How Paul Romer became disenchanted with tech

Paul Romer used to be Silicon Valley’s second favourite economist (after Hal Varian, Google’s Chief Economist) because of his ‘endogenous growth’ theory — the theory that ideas are the fuel that drives economic progress. Since the tech crowd view themselves as ultra-smart innovators, they regarded Romer as providing high-level theoretical justification for their profitable exploitation of ideas, an opinion that appeared to be confirmed in 2018 by the award of the Nobel Prize in economics to him and William Nordhaus.

But now, according to the New York Times Romer has changed his mind about the tech companies and turned into a fierce critic, championing new state taxes on their advertising businesses. His specific contribution is

a proposal for a progressive tax on digital ads that would apply mainly to the largest internet companies supported by advertising. Its premise is that social networks like Facebook and Google’s YouTube rely on keeping people on their sites as long as possible by targeting them with attention-grabbing ads and content — a business model that inherently amplifies disinformation, hate speech and polarizing political messages.

So that digital ad revenue, Mr. Romer insists, is fair game for taxation. He would like to see the tax nudge the companies away from targeted ads toward a subscription model. But at the least, he said, it would give governments needed tax revenue.

In February, Maryland became the first state to pass legislation that embodies Mr. Romer’s digital ad tax concept. Other states including Connecticut and Indiana are considering similar proposals. Industry groups have filed a court challenge to the Maryland law asserting it is an illegal overreach by the state.

Mr. Romer says the tax is an economic tool with a political goal. “I really do think the much bigger issue we’re facing is the preservation of democracy,” he said. “This goes way beyond efficiency.”

The puzzle is: what took him so long? After all, he’s smart enough to have realised this decades ago. Still, any convert is welcome. Or maybe in those days he didn’t think there was enough evidence of what was wrong.

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