Monday 15 August, 2022

Floral dance, anyone?

Hanging on a wall in Aups.

Quote of the Day

”Pardon my long preamble. It’s like a chorus-girl’s tights — it touches everything and covers nothing.”

  • Gertrude Lawrence

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Ry Cooder | How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live?


Thanks to John Newman for the suggestion.

Long Read of the Day

We Ignored Salman Rushdie’s Warning

Sobering blog post by Bari Weiss.

I have spoken on the same stage where Rushdie was set to speak. You can’t imagine a more bucolic place than the Chautauqua Institution—old Victorian homes with screened-in porches and no locks, a lake, American flags and ice cream everywhere. It was founded in 1874 by Methodists as a summer colony for Sunday school teachers. Now, it attracts the kind of parents and grandparents who love Terry Gross and never miss a Wordle. It is just about the last place in America where you would imagine an act of such barbarism.

And yet as shocking as this attack was, it was also 33 years in the making: The Satanic Verses is a book with a very bloody trail…

Weiss reminds us of the way prominent writers stood firm in support of Rushdie in 1989. Her piece includes a nice picture of Susan Sontag, Gay Tales, E.L. Doctorow and Norman Mailer at a ‘Writers in Support of Salman Rushdie’ event in New York in 1989. I guess what she’s hinting at is that it’d be harder to muster that kind of courageous support now. But perhaps that’s just her grinding an anti-woke axe.

Still, it’s worth a read, given what’s happened.

Footnote: Writing in yesterday’s Observer, Kenan Malik succinctly expressed what I think Weiss was getting at:

Penguin, the publisher, never wavered in its commitment to The Satanic Verses. It recognised, Penguin CEO Peter Mayer later recalled, that what was at stake was “much more than simply the fate of this one book”. How Penguin responded “would affect the future of free inquiry, without which there would be no publishing as we knew it”.

It’s an attitude that seems to belong to a different age. Today, many believe that plural societies can only function properly if people self-censor by limiting, in the words of the sociologist Tariq Modood, “the extent to which they subject each other’s fundamental beliefs to criticism”.

Exclusive or not, this is one Clubhouse I was happy to leave

Yesterday’s Observer column:

In March 2020, a new app suddenly arrived on the block. It was called Clubhouse and described as a “social audio” app that enabled its users to have real-time conversations in virtual “rooms” that could accommodate groups large and small. For a time in that disrupted, locked-down spring, Clubhouse was what Michael Lewis used to call the “New New Thing”. “The moment we saw it,” burbled Andrew Chen of the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, “we were deeply excited. We believe Clubhouse will be a meaningful addition to the world, one that increases empathy and provides new ways for people to talk to each other (at a time when we need it more than ever).”

The app could not have come at a better time for social media, he continued. “It reinvents the category in all the right ways, from the content consumption experience to the way people engage each other, while giving power to its creators.” His firm put $12m of its (investors’) money behind Chen’s fantasies and followed up a year later with an investment that put a valuation of $1bn on Clubhouse, which would have made it one of the “unicorns” so prized by the Silicon Valley crowd.

This endorsement by an ostensibly serious venture capital firm undoubtedly helped to boost the hype about Clubhouse, but the main drivers – snobbery and elitism – had little to do with funding…

Do read the whole thing.

Video of the Day

Marvellous recent talk by Huw Price on how and why the Cambridge Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, which he co-founded, came about. Existential risks are events of very low probability which, if they were to occur, would pose an existential risk to human society. For many years, these were ignored (and sometimes ridiculed) by conventional science, so in setting up a scholarly centre to study them the first problem Huw and his colleagues had to solve was how to make the subject academically ’respectable’. The fact that the Centre now thrives is a reflection of how successful they were in doing this.

The talk is 23 minutes long, and worth your time IMHO.

Full disclosure: I know and admire Huw, and also was able to observe CSER evolve from the very beginning because it was incubated in CRASSH, the interdisciplinary research centre in which our Minderoo Centre for Technology and Democracy is based.

My commonplace booklet

A Brooklyn Bar menu generator


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