Monday 1 February, 2021

Orchid in a window

Quote of the Day

“Baseball is a Lockean game, a kind of contract theory in ritual form, a set of atomic individuals who assent to patterns of limited co-operation in their mutual interest.”

  • Michael Novak, writer and philosopher

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Händel | Giulio Cesare | Va tacito e nascosto. Link

Thanks to Janet Cobb for the suggestion. This modest version makes an interesting comparison with the full-on Glyndebourne version.

Long read of the Day

The miracle that is OpenStreetMap. Link

You can think of OSM in several ways:

  • A distributed community of mappers contributing information about the geography of the world to a common repository
  • A free web map hosted at
  • A loosely affiliated collection of free and open source tools for mapping the world
  • A real-time stream of instructions representing how to add, change, or remove cartographically projected geometries and associated metadata based on a prior state
  • Google Maps, but openly licensed

Or you could say that Open StreetMap is to atlases as Wikipedia is to an encyclopedia but that annoys both OSM and Wikipedia supporters who think it’s like saying that baseball is like cricket for fat people.

This is a long but fascinating piece about an important collective effort which should remind people that it’s the kind of thing that the Internet enables (and the walled gardens of Facebook et al do not).

An Airbnb Listing Written by My Mom to Me

by Jenny Crowley

I loved this. Sample:

There’s no place like home. This private basement bedroom is perfect for long weekends, holiday stays, or extended visits. Departure dates are flexible yet completely unnecessary. We can discuss them later.


Relax and unwind from the stresses of working too much by staying in this charming Wisconsin oasis with all the comforts of home. Because it is your home. And will always be your home.

And this:

You also have access to the fully stocked kitchen, so help yourself. There’s chili, tater tot hotdish, homemade chicken noodle soup, beef stew, apple pie, and butterscotch oatmeal cookies in the freezer for when you get hungry. Or Smart Pop, Funyuns, Bugles, Cheez-Its, and Peanut Butter M&Ms in the cupboard for when you get bored.

A wide range of refreshments are available as well, like bottled water, Folgers coffee, hot chocolate, Lipton Iced Tea, Diet Pepsi, and one bottle of Cherry Vanilla Coke Zero I bought by mistake.

No need to pack any clothes either because the bedroom closet is still bursting with your late ’90s high school fashions. I wasn’t sure what you wanted to keep. Like your prom dress. You only wore it once and just looked so beautiful in it. I didn’t have the heart to give it away. Maybe you’ll need it for a wedding or a date or a festive costume party.

Reporters as brands

Ben Smith, the Media Editor of the New York Times (and formerly of Buzzfeed) has a long piece in the Times about the thorny question of whether journalists employed by traditional news outlets should have a significant (and sometimes combative) presence on Twitter. As far as I can see — in the best tradition of old-style American monopoly journalism — he manages to avoid taking a position, this this is how he concludes:

I suspect that successful news organizations of the future will find ways to align these dynamics: to share in their employees’ success and to add enough value that their stars stick around. Twitter’s recent acquisition of a newsletter company, Revue, could point in that direction. Revue has been focused on tools for publishers, as well as for individuals, and you could imagine a situation in which both journalists and publishers can share in the value of that promotion.

In the meantime, I will conclude simply by thanking you for reading me each week, and, if you do, for subscribing to The Times. And please follow me on Twitter at @benyt.

Personally, I don’t think professional journalists shouldn’t be prominent tweeters. Apart from anything else, they’re just feeding the troll-engine.

Rich countries have botched the pandemic, big time

Just before the pandemic, Johns Hopkins University, the Nuclear Threat Initiative, and the Economist Intelligence Unit released a World Health Preparedness Report ranking every country in the world on its pandemic preparedness. The highest-ranked country was the U.S. — but now, only eight of the 153 countries in the study have a worse death rate than the U.S. The U.K. came in second for preparedness; its death rate is even worse than America’s. Thailand and Sweden were ranked equally on preparedness, but Thailand has seen only 1 death per million people, while Sweden has seen 1,078.

So much for preparedness reports, then. Mind you, if the investigators had just looked at who was in charge of the US or the UK in 2019 they might have made more astute assessments.

Nowhere in the US Constitution are idiots disbarred from being members of Congress. Who knew?

Nice column by Jack Shafer.

Nowhere in the Constitution — and this is excellent news for freshly sworn-in Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.)—does it stipulate that a House member must have the mental capacity to cook on all four burners.

This is in keeping with the Framers’ general idea that only the lowest bars should be set for officeholders. But…

As CNN, the Washington Post, POLITICO and a score of other outlets have reported, Greene is a shambles of a human being. She subscribes to or has promoted an awful bunch of irrational and absurd ideas and positions, so irrational and absurd that you’d be doing her a favor by calling them merely “fringe.” She has trafficked in false QAnon claims of a global pedophilic-satanic cabal involving top Democrats and Hollywood celebrities; she “liked” a comment suggesting the Parkland school massacre was a “false flag” operation and asserted much the same about the Sandy Hook killings; she appeared to support the execution of Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi (also accusing Pelosi of treason); suggested the Las Vegas shooting was part of a plot to abolish the Second Amendment; claimed the 2020 presidential election was stolen; and asserted the 2018 midterms, in which Democrats took the House, represented “an Islamic invasion of our government.” On Jan. 21, shortly after Joe Biden took the oath, Greene filed, as she had promised, articles of impeachment against him. Her articles of impeachment won’t go anywhere, but they gave us a pocket preview of her flagpole-sitting skills.

And the funny thing is that if the House tried to unseat her (or if she resigned and stood again) the voters in her gerrymandered seat would probably re-elect her.

Reminds me of Bertrand Russell’s argument that one of the merits of democracy was that an MP could never be stupider than his constituents “because the more stupid he is the more stupid they are to elect him”. (MPs were overwhelmingly male in thos days.)

Other, hopefully interesting, links

  • How to stop your spectacles fogging up when you wear a mask. Useful research by Elias Visontay for the Guardian. And he seems to have found a solution. Link
  • How to stop elephants trampling your crops: put bee-hives round the perimeter. Neat and humane idea. And you can sell the honey too. Link

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