Friday 29 January, 2021

In other words, don’t re-tweet idiots, even if the tweet is so stupid you think your friends should see it just to understand how daft it is.

Nice Banksy graffito. Thanks to Dave Winer for spotting it.

Quote of the Day

“The French are a logical people, which is one reason the English dislike them so intensely. The other is that they own France, a country which we have always judged to be much too good for them.

  • Robert Morley

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Handel: Semele HWV 58 / Act 2 – Where’er you walk | Bryn Terfel


Long Read of the Day

Roy Scranton: There’s no going back to that normal

TL;DR summary: Climate change is upending the world as we know it, and coping with it demands widespread, radical action. Link

The other night, I went to pick up takeout at a local Irish pub. It was a gray and rainy evening at the end of a long week, and my partner and I were suffering from Zoom fatigue. We love this pub not just because it has good food, but because it’s a living part of our community. Pre-Covid, they used to have Irish traditional music sessions, and any cold and snowy night you’d be greeted with a burst of cheer, a packed house, friends and families all out for a cozy good time.

Now it’s a ghostly quiet. Social distancing rules mean that even at max capacity, it still only has a tiny fraction of its usual clientele. Standing in that empty pub, haunted by the sense of what we were missing, I felt an ache for “normal” as acute as any homesickness I ever felt — even when I served in the Army in Iraq. I still feel the twinge every time I put on my mask. I want our normal lives back.

But what does normal even mean anymore?

It’s easy to forget that 2020 gave us not just the pandemic, but also the West Coast’s worst fire season, as well as the most active Atlantic hurricane season on record. And, while we were otherwise distracted, 2020 also offered up near-record lows in Arctic sea ice, possible evidence of significant methane release from Arctic permafrost and the Arctic Ocean, huge wildfires in both the Amazon and the Arctic, shattered heat records (2020 rivaled 2016 for the hottest year on record), bleached coral reefs, the collapse of the last fully intact ice shelf in the Canadian Arctic, and increasing odds that the global climate system has passed the point where feedback dynamics take over and the window of possibility for preventing catastrophe closes.

The ‘Roaring Kitty’ Rally: How a Reddit User and His Friends Roiled the Markets

Several readers were puzzled by my mention of the GameStop frenzy yesterday. This NYT piece might help.

In mid-2019, a Reddit user — known as “Roaring Kitty” on some social media accounts — posted a picture on an online forum depicting a single $53,000 investment in the video-game retailer GameStop.

The post attracted little attention, except from a few people who mocked the bet on the struggling company. “This dude should sell now,” a Reddit user named cmcewen wrote at the time.

But Roaring Kitty was not deterred. Over the next year, he began tweeting frequently about GameStop and making YouTube and TikTok videos about his investment. He also started livestreaming his financial ideas. Other Reddit users with monikers like Ackilles and Bowlerguy92 began following his every move and piling into GameStop.

“IF HE IS IN WE ARE IN💎💎💎,” one user wrote on a Reddit board called WallStreetBets on Tuesday.

Roaring Kitty — who is Keith Gill, 34, a former financial educator for an insurance firm in Massachusetts — has now become a central figure in this week’s stock market frenzy. Inspired by him and a small crew of individual investors who gathered around him, hordes of young online traders took GameStop’s stock on a wild ride, pitting themselves against sophisticated hedge funds and upending Wall Street’s norms in the process.

On Tuesday, Gill posted a picture on Reddit that showed his $53,000 bet on GameStop had soared in value to $48 million. (The Times said that “His holdings could not be independently verified”, Ho,Ho.) The post was “upvoted” — the equivalent of being liked — more than 140,000 times by other users. GameStop, which traded at $4 a year ago, closed on Yesterday at $193 after reaching more than $480 earlier in the day.

Needless to say, the Wall Street Journal was not amused by these guys taking the piss out of Wall Street. “How the Wisdom of Crowds became the Anarchy of the Mob” was its headline on the story.

Apparently books really do furnish a Zoom

There’s an hilarious piece on the Penguin site — “How to create the perfect background bookshelf” about a guy called Thatcher Wine (I am not making this up) who is “the world’s most sought-after celebrity ‘book curator’.” No doubt he thinks he’s the latest thing, but in fact this is a venerable racket invented by a great Irish writer — as I pointed out in May last year, on Day 52 of my Lockdown Diary. Here’s the audio:


And here’s the transcript:

Tuesday 12 May — Day 52

Like many people, I’m spending too much time on Zoom. I’ve even set up a Zoom station in my study, so that when a meeting is due I just go to that part of the room, log into to the Mac that sits there with Zoom running, and start. No fiddling with laptops or microphones for me. Straight down to business.

I’m lucky enough to have a very large study. The guy from whom we bought the house many years ago was an architect, and he ran a successful practice from this room. So it’s big and airy. And it’s lined with books for the very simple reason that I have a book habit. So my background for the purposes of Zoom is a wall of books. This often gives rise to comment in the smalltalk that goes on while people are waiting for others to join the call. Have I read all those books, I am asked?

I’m about to respond indignantly, and then I think of Flann O’Brien, one of the funniest Irish writers of the 20th century. His actual name was Brian O’Nolan, but he wrote under pen names because in real life he was a fairly senior civil servant in the government of the Irish Free State, as the Republic was then known. His other pen-name was Myles na Gopaleen, under which moniker he had a regular column in the Irish Times —a “black protestant newspaper,” as my devoutly Catholic mother used to call it — a column that was so surreal that it made Salvador Dali look like Spinoza.

Flann used the column for many purposes, but one of them was to publish prospectuses for the numerous wacky businesses he had dreamed up. And one of these involved books.

It all started with a visit he made to the new house of a friend of “great wealth and vulgarity”. After kitting out the house, his friend decided that it needed books —because, as is well known, books really do furnish a room. “Whether he can read or not, I do not know,” wrote Flann, “but some savage faculty for observation told him that most respectable and estimable people usually had a lot of books in their houses. So he bought several bookcases and paid some rascally middleman to stuff them with all manner of new books, some of them very costly volumes on the subject of French landscape painting.”

“I noticed,” Flann continued, “that not one of them had ever been opened or touched, and remarked on the fact.” “When I get settled down properly,” said his friend, “I’ll have to catch up on my reading”.

At this point Flann had an epiphany. “Why should a wealthy person like this be put to the trouble of pretending to read at all? Why not have a professional book handler to go through and maul his library for so-much per shelf? Such a person, if properly qualified, could make a fortune.”

Thus was born the concept of a book handling service. Its founder envisaged four levels of handling. The lowest was ‘Popular Handling’: “each volume to be well and truly handled, four leaves in each to be dog-eared, and a tram ticket, cloakroom docket or other comparable item inserted in each as a forgotten bookmark. Say £1 7s 6d. Five percent discount for civil servants.”

Next level up was ‘Premier handling’: “Each volume to be thoroughly handled, eight leaves in each to be dog-eared, a suitable passage in not less than 25 volumes to be underlined in red pencil, and a leaflet in French on the works of Victor Hugo to be inserted as a forgotten bookmark in each. Say, £2 17s 6d. Five per cent discount for literary university students, civil servants and lady social workers.”

Two —even more sophisticated —levels of service were envisaged: ‘De Luxe’ (which included five volumes to be inscribed with the forged signatures of their authors). And then there was the ‘Handling Superb’ service. You can imagine what that involved.

So perhaps you can see why I think of Flann whenever I look at my background during an online meeting. Those books have been well and truly handled. And he would have known that books really do furnish a Zoom.

If you’re interested, you can get the Diary here.

Other, hopefully interesting, links

  • Tab minimalists look away: Vivaldi introduces two-level tab stacks. If you currently have twenty or more tabs on your browser window this might be helpful.
  • Michael Lewis has a new book coming — and it’s about the pandemic. First printing 500,000 copies. Join the queue. Link
  • Hover Text on Apple Macs. If you are reading this on a Mac then you might find the ‘Hover’ function hidden away in Systems Preferences > Accessability useful. Link

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