Friday 25 March, 2022


Slowly, agonisingly slowly, I’m getting the hang of this wildlife photography business.

Quote of the Day

”Comments Are the Radioactive Waste of the Web.”

(Via Charles Arthur)

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Pinetop Perkins | How Long Blues



Long Read of the Day

The Art of Monetary War

A long and sobering essay by economist Dominik Leusder pointing out the longer-term implications of the West’s ability effectively to shut down the Russian economy. The financial war, he argues, is a genuine war — and its stakes are immense. Over the course of a week, targeted financial sanctions escalated into measures that, if not lifted in the near future, “are almost certain to condemn Russia’s quasi-autarkic economy to sharp and lasting stagnation. No matter their intent or longevity, these sanctions will change the country forever”.

Globalisation turns out to be a many-faceted sword.

As globalization underwrote Putin’s militarism and his increasingly hostile posture toward Russia’s neighbors, it simultaneously rendered the country’s economy fatally reliant: on the net demand from other countries such as Germany and China; on imports of crucial goods such as machinery, transportation equipment, pharmaceutical and electronics, mostly from Europe; on access to the global dollar system to finance and conduct trade. This is one way to construe the deceptively simple insight of Henry Farrell and Abraham L. Newman’s theory of weaponized interdependence: the logic of financial globalization that generated Russia’s trade surplus and gave Putin room to maneuver also provided the economic and financial weaponry that was turned against him.

This vulnerability is reflected in Putin’s strategic economic logic. In the period since 2014, the Russian central bank has successfully sought to de-dollarize a substantial portion of its reserves, and outstanding dollar liabilities throughout the economy have been reduced. These moves were informed by Western dominance of the global payment infrastructure via SWIFT and the dollar interbank system. In a very meaningful way Russia had prepared for the current conflict. But it was also guided by a belief in the sanctity of foreign reserves held at the world’s central banks. If such a sanctity ever existed, it has been obliterated overnight.

What’s happened provides a vivid illustration of the untrammelled power of the global financial system that has turned our ‘democratic’ world upside down. At one level, it’s obviously satisfactory to see the effectiveness of the sanctions against a pitiless adversary. But at the same time we need to ask: who controls this colossus? And if it can do this to an apparently powerful country like Russia, what could it do to others who trigger its rage?

Maybe we will find after this war ends that we should have been more careful about what we wished for.

Calculator Construction Set

If you’re interested in computer lore, then this little tale by the sainted Andy Hertzfeld is a gem. It tells of how Chris Espinosa invented a way of getting Steve Job’s approval on designs.

The history of the personal computer is littered with great stories like this. Many years ago, when I taught at the Open University, Martin Weller and I had the idea of teaching the technology of the PC and the Internet through narratives about the way the technology evolved. The course we created — entitled You, Your Computer and the Net — had 12,000 students on its first presentation and was one of the most popular courses the Open University ever created.

My commonplace booklet

Tyler Cowen on John McGahern

Tyler is one of the most voracious and insightful readers I know of. He’s just read McGahern’s novel, Amongst Women (which is marvellous IMO). Here’s his succinct verdict:

That is the title of a 1990 Irish novel by John McGahern, well-known in Ireland but as of late not so frequently read outside of Ireland. In addition to its excellent general quality, I found this book notable for two reasons. First, it focuses on the feminization of Ireland, being set in the mid-century decades after independence. An IRA veteran slowly realizes that the Ireland he fought for — a place for manly men — was a figment of his civil war imagination, and not an actual option for an independent, modernizing Ireland. The latter will be run according to the standards and desires of women, and actually be far more pleasant, whether or not Moran likes it. Second, the book is an excellent illustration of the importance of context for reading fiction. The story reads quite differently, depending how quickly you realize the protagonist is an IRA veteran with his wartime service as a fundamental experience. Few readers will know this from the very beginning, but I suspect many Irish readers — especially older ones — will figure this out well before they are told. In general, the very best fiction is context-rich, and this is one reason why many people may not appreciate all of the literary classics.

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