Monday 28 August, 2023

Island View

If you’re ever in West Kerry make sure to visit the Blasket Centre, a striking institution housing exhibitions that deliver an imaginative re-telling of the story of the Blasket islands, their rich heritage and literature which is of national and international significance. It’s an elegant piece of modern architecture with, as a central feature, a long corridor oriented towards the Great Blasket (the main island in the group), and a seat on which to sit and contemplate it in peace and tranquillity.

And if you’re really interested, there’s always Robert Kanigel’s magnificent book about the island.

Quote of the Day

”Liberals’ predictions about China have often betrayed wishful thinking. In the 2000s Western leaders mistakenly believed that trade, markets and growth would boost democracy and individual liberty. But China is now testing the reverse relationship: whether more autocracy damages the economy. The evidence is mounting that it does—and that after four decades of fast growth China is entering a period of disappointment.”

  • Economist Leader, 25.10.2023

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Sharon Shannon | “Galway Girl” | Live at the Cambridge Folk Festival


I’ve seen many memorable acts at the Festival, but this is something else.

Long Read of the Day

Evelyn Waugh is laughing at you

Nice essay by Will Lloyd on Evelyn Waugh, “one of those widely read novelists who only appears laden with disclaimers. Pinch your nose before you enter his sty. We must dissociate ourselves from his bigotry and snobbery, his cruelty and his love for the aristocracy; we must approach him, Nicholas Lezard wrote in the Guardian, as ‘we might an ogre’.”

Yet, says Lloyd,

there he is, the misogynist, whose closest friends and confidants were all women. There he is, the xenophobe, whose novel Black Mischief (1932) adds up to a rattling takedown of white supremacy in Africa. True, he was cruel, but Waugh was mean for amusement’s sake. The aim was to generate mirth, not maim people. His son Auberon said he “lived for jokes”. And what appears to be a bewildering admiration for the aristocracy is its opposite. Read in sequence the major novels are an excruciating portrayal of the English upper-classes between the wars. Their insularity breeds false confidence, their decadence numbs them to reality, and their amorality makes them callous. Waugh may have loved their world – country houses, fat cigars, St James’s clubs – but he was not deceived about how feckless the upper-classes really were. He spent decades aping their mannerisms while digging their graves.

And the interesting thing, Lloyd observes, is that

The society Waugh satirised has the same contours as our own. Our ruling classes are silly and venal. Our world feels like it is racing towards the same smash-up Waugh’s generation faced. In New York, avant-garde personalities convert to Catholicism for the same slightly perverse reasons Waugh did. History wretches itself up again. Waugh understood that as long as human beings were involved, history would always be a farce first, a farce second and a tragedy third.

It’s an essay that raises a tricky question for all of us. Given that many great artists have been — how shall I put it? — horrible human beings, is it ok to admire or love their work knowing how terrible they were in life. Waugh was an appalling person, but I love his writing. Always have.

Can AI-generated art be copyrighted?

My column in yesterday’s Observer:

Evelyn Waugh famously held that taking a keen interest in ecclesiastical matters was often “a prelude to insanity”. Much the same might be said about newspaper columnists taking an interest in intellectual property law. But let us take the risk. After all, you only live once – at least until Elon Musk creates an electronic clone of himself.

On Friday 18 August, a federal judge in the US rejected an attempt to copyright an artwork that had been created by an AI. The work in question is, to the untrained eye at least, no great shakes. It is called “A Recent Entrance into Paradise” and depicts a three-track railway heading into what appears to be a leafy, partly pixellated tunnel and had been “autonomously created” by a computer algorithm called the Creativity Machine.

In 2018, Stephen Thaler, CEO of a neural network firm called Imagination Engines, had listed Creativity Machine as the sole creator of the artwork. The US Register of Copyright denied the application on the grounds that “the nexus between the human mind and creative expression” is a crucial element of protection.

Mr Thaler was not amused and issued a lawsuit contesting the decision…

Read on

My commonplace booklet

Photographers Slam the Quality of Trump and Co-Defendants’ Mug Shots. Link

My problem is not with the quality of the pics, but with the people portrayed by them.


Something I noticed, while trying to drink from the Internet firehose.

Bertrand Russell’s essay, “In Praise of Idleness”.

I hadn’t read it for years, but it’s still enjoyable. It contains his wonderful definition of ‘work’:

Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth’s surface relatively to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so. The first kind is unpleasant and ill paid; the second is pleasant and highly paid. The second kind is capable of indefinite extension: there are not only those who give orders but those who give advice as to what orders should be given. Usually two opposite kinds of advice are given simultaneously by two different bodies of men; this is called politics. The skill required for this kind of work is not knowledge of the subjects as to which advice is given, but knowledge of the art of persuasive speaking and writing, i.e. of advertising.

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