Monday 1 November, 2021

My friend Jonathan’s Memorial was on Saturday in his college. It was a celebration which did him justice — attended by lots of his friends, former colleagues and students. There was poetry by Wallace Stevens and Elizabeth Bishop, a beautiful remembrance by his brother David (also a distinguished academic), a warm and affectionate speech by Christine Carpenter, a nice memoir by Arthur Kiron, his colleague and neighbour at the University of Pennsylvania, and — finally — an appreciation by Chris Clark, a great historian and a former student of Jonathan. There was also music by Alexander Goehr (who was present to hear it) and it closed with Unfinished Business, that lovely poem of Primo Levi’s:

Sir, please accept my resignation
As of next month,
And, if it seems right, plan on replacing me.
I’m leaving much unfinished work,
Whether out of laziness or actual problems.
I was supposed to tell someone something,
But I no longer know what and to whom: I’ve forgotten.
I was also supposed to donate something 
—  A wise word, a gift, a kiss;
I put it off from one day to the next. I’m sorry.
I’ll do it in the short time that remains.
I’m afraid I’ve neglected important clients.
I was meant to visit Distant cities, islands, desert lands;
You’ll have to cut them from the program
Or entrust them to my successor.
I was supposed to plant trees and I didn’t;
To build myself a house,
Maybe not beautiful, but based on plans.
Mainly, I had in mind A marvelous book, kind sir,
Which would have revealed many secrets,
Alleviated pains and fears,
Eased doubts, given many
The gift of tears and laughter.
You’ll find its outline in my drawer,
Down below, with the unfinished business;
I didn’t have the time to write it out, which is a shame,
It would have been a fundamental work.

He was a truly lovely man. If you’re interested, you can find my tribute to him here on the day he died.

Quote of the Day

“There is a Pythonesque sketch waiting to be written about a judge passing a sentence of imprisonment for attempted suicide: ‘Let this be a lesson to you and to any others who may be thinking of killing themselves.’ In fact, by the mid 19th century the law had got itself into such a tangle that a person injured in a failed attempt at suicide could be indicted for wounding with intent to kill, an offence for which Parliament had thoughtfully provided the death penalty.”

  • (Sir) Stephen Sedley in the LRB, at the beginning of a coruscating examination of the absurdities and contradictions of British legal and legislative attitudes to assisted dying.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Dvořák: Serenade for Strings in E, Op.22 – 1. Moderato


Not a bad way to start November.

Long Read of the Day

 The Next Cyberattack Is Already Under Way

Jill Lepore’s New Yorker review essay on Nicole Pelroth’s This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends: The Cyberweapons Arms Race which, if anything, is more alarming than the book itself. Put succinctly, the message of both book and essay is that the online world we have built is catastrophically insecure. And yet we continue to ignore this reality. Perhaps that is because not to ignore it would be to force us to come to terms with it. In that sense it’s more like the climate crisis than like anything else. And yet we stand a slightly better chance of dealing with the pervasive insecurity of the online world that we do of fixing the climate.

Here’s how the essay concludes:

The arrogant recklessness of the people who have been buying and selling the vulnerability of the rest of us is not just part of an intelligence-agency game; it has been the ethos of Wall Street and Silicon Valley for decades. Move fast and break things; the money will trickle down; click, click, click, click, buy, buy, buy, like, like, like, like, expose, expose, expose. Perlroth likes a piece of graffiti she once saw: “Move slowly and fix your shit.” Lock down the code, she’s saying. Bar the door. This raises the question of the horse’s whereabouts relative to the barn. If you listen, you can hear the thunder of hooves.

But it’s worth reading in its entirety.

Hertz’s supercharged Tesla deal could haul us into the electric vehicle age

Yesterday’s Observer column:

On Tuesday, Hertz, the car-rental firm that recently emerged from bankruptcy, announced that it had made a deal to buy 100,000 cars from Tesla for what knowledgeable sources estimate to be worth $4bn. On learning this, my first thought was that if this is what insolvency is like, please direct me to the nearest bankruptcy court. My second thought, though, was that this could be a significant moment on the road to wider adoption of electric vehicles (EVs).

The reason is, as anyone who has rented conventional cars will know, is that the best way of having a realistic test drive of a vehicle is to rent one for a week or two on holiday. As Teslas become available via Hertz, many more people will have a chance to experience what an EV is like. This is important because, generally, only geeks and masochists (like this columnist) are early adopters of novel technology and normal cautious consumers regard EVs as rather exotic and peculiar, not something you’d rely on for commuting or the school run.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that a key factor in changing people’s minds about EVs is word of mouth: someone you know has taken the plunge and has given you a ride in theirs. This was the driving force behind the widespread adoption of the Toyota Prius hybrid in the last decade and it seems to be happening now with EVs, which may account for the fact the Tesla Model 3 was the biggest selling new car in the UK in September, despite the fact that the company spends zilch on overt marketing or advertising.

Do read the whole thing.


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