Friday 23 February, 2024

My ol’ Burgundian Home

If I had a house en Bourgogne (which, alas, I don’t), I’d like one like this.

And then I’d ask Randy Newman to do a variation on this for me.

Quote of the Day

”My problem lies in reconciling my gross habits with my net income.”

  • Errol Flynn

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Maxwell Quartet | Cill Mhuire


Long Read of the Day

Same bullshit, new tin

Charlie Stross (Whom God Preserve), reacting to plaintive cries about restoring National Service to boost UK defence capabilities, explains why Britain couldn’t do conscription now, even if Vlad the Impaler had arrived in Calais.

The Tories run this flag up the mast regularly whenever they want to boost their popularity with the geriatric demographic who remember national service (abolished 60 years ago, in 1963). Thatcher did it in the early 80s; the Army general staff told her to piss off. And the pols have gotten the same reaction ever since. This time the call is coming from inside the house—it’s a general, not a politician—but it still won’t work because changes to the structure of the British society and economy since 1979 (hint: Thatcher’s revolution) make it impossible.

Reasons it won’t work: there are two aspects, infrastructure and labour.

Let’s look at infrastructure first: if you have conscripts, it follows that you need to provide uniforms, food, and beds for them. Less obviously, you need NCOs to shout at them and teach them to brush their teeth and tie their bootlaces (because a certain proportion of your intake will have missed out on the basics). The barracks that used to be used for a large conscript army were all demolished or sold off decades ago, we don’t have half a million spare army uniforms sitting in a warehouse somewhere, and the army doesn’t currently have ten thousand or more spare training sergeants sitting idle…

Vlad doesn’t have the same problem: Russia kept National Service. Do read on, though.

Books, etc.

This arrived yesterday, and it’ll make good weekend reading. Ethan Mollick was one of the first academics to spot that Generative AI could represent a significant augmentation of human capability, and he became an imaginative early adopter and user of the technology in his teaching at Wharton. I knew that he had a book in the works, and this is just a Reader’s Proof copy, but Amazon says it’ll be out on April 4.

My commonplace booklet

Every so often Esquire magazine exhumes a few classic pieces from its archive. This week it came up with “Follow That Man in the Trench Coat!”, George Frazier’s profile of Humphrey Bogart published in May 1955.

Here’s a sample:

As irresistible as he seems to most people, Humphrey DeForest Bogart must be something of a trial to those who contend u that the willful neglect of virtues like temperance, tact, submissiveness to constituted authority, and turning the other cheek has its disadvantages. According to their lights, Bogart, who was fifty-five on Christmas Day, should long since have perished of such prankish practices as “getting a little drunk from drinking”; addressing his autograph-seeking devotees as “loathsome little monsters”; exposing his starchy superiors to ridicule; and responding to raillery by feinting at the offender’s face with a lighted cigarette. As it happens, however, Bogart, who earns more than half a million dollars a year as a result of his participation in such conspicuously successful films of recent months as The Barefoot Contessa, Sabrina, and The Caine Mutiny, and in the forthcoming We’re No Angels and The Desperate Hours, is happier, healthier, and more prosperous than at any other time in a career stretching back over some thirty years, several dozen plays, and seventy movies.

Others, of course, have also made their mark without heed to the counsel of the copybooks, and, for that matter, there have even been those who, in one way or another, were just as assertively nonconformist as he, among them Errol Flynn, who one night not long ago stepped out onto the stage at the London Palladium and proceeded to read aloud from The Kinsey Report. But such transgressions have almost always been followed by abject contrition. What sets Bogart apart is his apparent determination to flaunt his nonconformities so repeatedly and to such a degree that he seems obsessed by a terror of respectability and remorse. Four years ago, for example, when the Stork Club concluded, as El Morocco had a year and a half before, that it had had quite enough of his high spirits, his reaction was somewhat less penitent than might have been expected.

“The challengers will never overtake me now,” he announced gleefully. “I still have several more days to go in New York and feel with a little effort on my part I can probably get barred from Central Park and Ebbets Field. As a matter of fact, the only places I am really socially acceptable now are ‘21’ and Grand Central. Put it down to natural charm. I’m loaded with it. And experience, too. It takes a long time to develop a repulsive character like mine. You don’t get to be the Boris Karloff of the supper clubs overnight. You’ve got to work at it.”

They don’t write profiles like that nowadays. Last one who did was Ken Tynan, who was the Observer’s drama critic long before I joined the paper. His New Yorker profile of Mel Brooks is a classic of the genre. If you are tempted to read it, make sure not to do so in a public place or in a crowded railway carriage.


Something I noticed, while drinking from the Internet firehose.

  • Helen Mirren Rips Up AI-Generated Speech at American Cinematheque

From Variety

After being presented with the lifetime achievement award by her “Mosquito Coast” and “1923” co-star Harrison Ford at the Beverly Hilton gala, Mirren began to read her acceptance speech from a piece of a paper.

“Ladies and gentlemen and esteemed guests and dear friends, I am deeply humbled, profoundly honored to stand before you today accepting this extraordinary award. To be recognized for a lifetime devoted to the craft of acting is a privilege beyond words,” she said dramatically. “First and foremost, I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to the industry and the individuals who have supported me throughout this incredible journey. It is has been a life filled with passion, challenges and above all, an unyielding love for the art of storytelling.”

Then she added, “And that was written by AI,” before proceeding to tear up the speech and letting the pieces of paper fall to the stage floor.

The moment was met with applause and cheering.


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