Monday 18 January, 2021

Crooked Timber

This particular tree is from a pine copse on the Norfolk coast that had been ravaged by recent storms.

I’m often drawn to photograph misshapen trees because of their dramatic appearance. And I never see them without thinking of Kant’s famous aphorism and then of Isiaih Berlin, who straightened out the tortuous translation of it and made it the title of a famous collection of essays. It’s also the name of a terrific collective blog.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Telemann | Trio Sonata for flute, oboe and basso continuo.


Mary Catherine Bateson RIP

I’ve just picked up that Mary Catherine Bateson, one of the 20th century’s great polymaths, died peacefully on January 2. She was the daughter of another pair of polymaths, Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, and a formative influence on those of us who try to think systemically. One of her great adages — “We are not what we know, but what we are willing to learn” — should be engraved on every academic’s forehead. John Brockman, the curator of has published a lovely tribute to her which also includes some of her interviews and writings.

I particularly like her reply to the question John posed in 2014 — “What scientific idea is ready for retirement?”

Her answer: “The Illusion of Certainty”.

Scientists sometimes resist new ideas and hang on to old ones longer than they should, but the real problem is the failure of the public to understand that the possibility of correction or disproof is a strength and not a weakness. We live in an era when it is increasingly important that the voting public be able to evaluate scientific claims and be able to make analogies between different kinds of phenomena, but this can be a major source of error. The process by which scientific knowledge is refined is largely invisible to the public. The truth-value of scientific knowledge is dependent upon its openness to correction, yet we all carry around ideas that science has long since revised—and are disconcerted when asked to abandon them. Surprise: you will not necessarily drown if you go swimming after lunch.

Here she is giving a TED talk in 2011…


May she rest in peace.

January 6: the Parler videos

Riveting and immersive. Link.

Three video compilations: in the city; at the rally; and inside the Capitol.

Ponder them and remember Juan Peron.

The Axios ‘Bill of Rights’

Here are the promises we are making to our readers, viewers and listeners.

Every item will be written or produced by a real person with a real identity.
There will be NO AI-written stories. NO bots. NO fake accounts.
We take responsibility for all content that appears on our public platforms.
Every item will be written or produced to inform, analyze and explain.
We will never have an opinion section.
We will sacrifice scale for quality, and always aim to save you time by delivering content in the most efficient and healthy way.
We will be transparent about how we make money, and provide clear ways for you to tell us how we can better serve you. (Email us at We will play no games with your data or privacy.
We will be careful and transparent, and will provide clear, intuitive ways for you to know how your data is handled. (Our policy is here)
We are committed to helping revive local journalism — and invite local readers to help us best serve their community. (Email us at
All employees are asked to refrain from taking/advocating for public positions on political topics.
We will always cover the topics of greatest consequence with clinical, critical and balanced eyes. (For more on the fact-based framework guiding our coverage, read our editorial manifesto)
We believe high-quality journalism should not be an exclusive privilege. We will provide free access to the majority of our content.

Makes a nice change from many online news operations.

Thanks to Sheila Hayman for spotting it.

Lionel Barber: Trump and the Financial Times

From his account of years spent trying to be detached about the Trump presidency…

My test came one drizzly afternoon in March 2017 when I was escorted into the Oval Office. Seated behind the Resolute Desk, President Donald J. Trump declined to rise or extend a handshake to me and my two senior colleagues from the Financial Times. I thanked him for making time—and for subscribing to the newspaper that I edited.

“That’s OK,” the president replied. “You lost. I won.”

At a stroke, Trump had reframed our meeting as a contest: the FT as representative of the liberal global elite, himself as triumphant populist-nationalist. He boasted about his more than 100 million followers on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and declared no need to go to “fake news” media like us. My goal had been to employ a basic practice of journalism: the interview as means of eliciting information. But he wanted a fight, with himself as the preordained winner…

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