Monday 12 February, 2024

Everything and the kitchen sink

Seen on the way back from a restaurant one night recently.

Quote of the Day

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.”

  • Bertrand Russell

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Berlioz |Symphonie Fantastique | First Movement | Leonard Bernstein


The music is lovely, but watching Bernstein conduct it is mesmerising.

The day I got my first pair of big HiFi speakers I went out and bought a vinyl recording of this. And turned the volume up. My neighbours never forgave me.

Long Read of the Day

Thirteen Years On

Robert Hutton’s Swiftian take in The Critic magazine on the latest outbreak of fantasising by Britain’s Zombie Conservatives.


Imagine for a moment that in early 2009, crossing Westminster Bridge, you had been hit by Gordon Brown’s motorcade and put into a coma. Waking 15 years later in St Thomas’ Hospital, you wandered out and, seeing a crowd of people in tweed jackets and mustard trousers, followed them into a hall for what turned out to be the launch of the Popular Conservatives movement.

Who, you might have thought, are these dynamic politicians? There was a comedy turn from a chap called Rees-Mogg — looks like double-breasted suits have made a comeback — and a punchy speech from someone called Liz Truss. There is an MP with a big future ahead of her, you might have told yourself.

And they certainly had a compelling story to tell. Why, it seems that, while you were unconscious, some bunch of complete chancers had been running Britain into the ground! As speaker after speaker explained, you’d woken up in a country in which nothing worked, where taxes were too high, the government intervened in every aspect of people’s lives, and where no one could afford to pay their bills. Thank goodness, you would have thought to yourself, there was a general election around the corner, so that this rotten government could be chucked out and replaced by somebody halfway competent. You wouldn’t be surprised if that Truss got a big job.

For those of us who arrived at the Popular Conservatives launch with the doubtful advantage of having been awake for much of the past decade, things were a little more confusing…

Lovely and viciously funny. Do read it.

Forget range anxiety: we should worry more about China’s global dominance in the electric car market

Yesterday’s Observer column:

The longer-term effects of a switch to EVs are only now beginning to dawn on us. The internal combustion engine spawned a huge ecosystem of auxiliary industries – garages, service centres, refineries, tankers, filling stations and so on – supply chains created to cater to the needs of a 19th-century technology based on heavy machinery, oil, gasoline and exhaust fumes. EVs, by comparison, are relatively simple machines – basically big skateboards with wheels driven by electric motors and controlled by software. They need less maintenance and different skills to minister to them.

There’s also an unexpected geopolitical aspect to the transition from ICEs that is beginning to play out in Europe. Basically a trade war is brewing between the EU and China. How come? Well, China is flooding Europe with EVs. Over the past two years, the country has become the world’s biggest car exporter. EVs are a huge chunk of those exports, and most of China’s EV sales go to Europe.

The European Commission says that China’s share of EVs sold in Europe has grown to 8% and could hit 15% in 2025, on the basis of prices that are often 20% below EU-made models. To Europeans this looks suspiciously like dumping, and may require imposing punitive tariffs “to protect European Union producers against cheaper Chinese electric vehicle (EV) imports that are benefiting from state subsidies”…

Do read the whole thing

Books, etc.

“What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”

  • Carl Sagan

My commonplace booklet

From Henry Farrell (Whom God Preserve) whose Substack is (IMO) consistently interesting and thoughtful.

This newsletter is currently hosted by Substack, an aspirationally for-profit entity with a business model. That business model is to get writers to (a) grow an audience, and (b) monetize that audience by charging a subscription fee, from which Substack can rake off its 10% cut. I’m not at all sure that it is going to work out for Substack, but it’s a reasonable set of trade offs for the author. The platform is clean and easy to use. There aren’t any obtrusive ads, though there are features designed to ‘encourage’ writers to go into pay-mode, and readers into pre-committing that they will pay up. I’m grateful (and mildly embarrassed) that enough people have said that they would pay for this newsletter, that I could turn it into a modest little sideline if I wanted to.

But – and again I’m enormously grateful for people’s generous pre-commitments – I don’t want to. I’m lucky enough to have a great academic job, which comes with an expectation that I’ll engage in public dialogue. This is one way that I can talk to people outside the academy. I can imagine radically changed life circumstances in which I might turn to a paid newsletter (I certainly don’t see anything immoral in paid side-gigs that don’t interfere with your ordinary responsibilities, and sometimes do them). But I’m much happier doing this for free.


Something I noticed, while drinking from the Internet firehose.

  • Stinge Watching Is the Opposite of Binge Watching. New idea from Jason Kottke. Since I don’t do binge watching (can’t understand people who have the time to do it) I initially thought that the idea of ‘stinge’ watching might be for me. Sadly, it isn’t.

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