Monday 3 April, 2023

School Trip!

King’s Parade, Cambridge.

Note the girl on the left looking snootily at the photographer. Smart kid.

Quote of the Day

”Carbon capture is currently ineffective and an extremely costly experiment, distracting from the measures that we know are effective and can implement today. The UK government should not be investing £20billion in a strategy that is essentially an ambulance at the bottom of a cliff when we could use the money to not go down the cliff in the first place.”

  • Dr Friederike Otto, senior lecturer in Climate Science at Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute, commenting on the UK government’s latest climate-catastrophe-averting ‘strategy’ — technology which will capture and store carbon dioxide in undersea caverns, thereby enabling an expansion of oil and gas extraction in the North Sea.

The Greeks were right: those whom the Gods wish to destroy they first make mad.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Mary Bergin, Cologne, Germany, 1990


Long Read of the Day

Vermeer’s Daughter

Fabulous long, long read by Lawrence Weschler about a speculative theory that Maria Vermeer was not only a model for her father but also an artist who created several of the paintings attributed to him. Also, en passant, a memorable profile of the, er, unforgettable Vermeer expert whose theory this is. And, for good measure, it provides a good account of the impenetrable snootiness of the art-critic establishment.

Cheered me up no end.

Programmers, beware: ChatGPT has ruined your magic trick

Yesterday’s Observer column:

Seeking a respite from the firehose of contradictory commentary, I suddenly remembered an interview that Steve Jobs – the nearest thing to a visionary the tech industry has ever had – gave in 1990, and dug it out on YouTube.

In it he talks about a memory he had of reading an article in Scientific American when he was 12 years old. It was a report of how someone had measured the efficiency of locomotion for a number of species on planet Earth – “how many kilocalories did they expend to get from point A to point B. And the condor won – came in at the top of the list, surpassed everything else; and humans came in about a third of the way down the list, which was not such a great showing for the ‘crown of creation’.

“But then somebody there had the imagination to test the efficiency of a human riding a bicycle. A human riding a bicycle blew away the condor, all the way to the top of the list. And it made a really big impression on me – that we humans are tool-builders, and that we can fashion tools that amplify these inherent abilities that we have to spectacular magnitudes.

“And so for me,” he concluded, “a computer has always been a bicycle of the mind – something that takes us far beyond our inherent abilities. And I think we’re just at the early stages of this tool – very early stages – and we’ve come only a very short distance, and it’s still in its formation, but already we’ve seen enormous changes, [but] that’s nothing to what’s coming in the next 100 years.”

Well, that was 1990 and here we are, three decades later, with a mighty powerful bicycle…

Do read the whole thing.

Cold War 2.0 is up and running

From the Editor of the Economist in this week’s edition:

When I and some of my London colleagues travelled to Beijing last week, we arrived to find the atmosphere laced with intimidation and paranoia. The world’s most important relationship—that between China and America—has become more embittered and hostile than ever.

In the halls of government Communist Party officials were denouncing what they see as America’s bullying. They told us that the United States is intent on beating China to death and that it will never accept that any country can be as powerful as itself, regardless of whether it is communist or a democracy. America, in their view, will tolerate China only if it is submissive—in the words of one Chinese academic, a “fat cat, not a tiger”.

Meanwhile Cold War 1.1 is actively being waged in Ukraine.

Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’?

One of the strangest things about the UK’s Classic FM radio station is the incessant stream of advertisements it carries for ocean cruises.

I wonder therefore if the station’s marketing executives have seen this interesting story in Buzzfeed News.

“Hundreds Of Passengers Have Said They Were Sexually Assaulted On Cruise Ships. Their Stories Highlight Years Of Lax Security, Critics Say.”

In dozens of court documents reviewed by BuzzFeed News, cruise ship passengers say they have been dragged into cabins and raped, pushed into janitors’ closets and assaulted, and even attacked in the public corridors of ships. Likewise, parents and guardians have alleged that their children were molested by other passengers or crew members, plied with alcohol, and in some instances, abused by daycare staffers at onboard activity centers. As recently as two weeks ago, the parents of a 17-year-old passenger filed a civil suit alleging she was raped by a fitness instructor onboard a Carnival cruise ship.

In fact, sexual assaults are the most prevalent reported crime on cruise ships, according to the FBI. Since 2015, there have been 454 reported allegations of sex crimes on cruise ships. Experts believe that the actual numbers are far higher, as many sexual assaults often go unreported. (For reference, more than two-thirds of all sexual assaults in the US are not reported to law enforcement, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.)

And many of the major cruise lines have been told — even by their own security staffers — that more could be done to protect passengers, such as installing more surveillance cameras and hiring additional security personnel. But according to court records, including a deposition from this February in a lawsuit alleging the gang rape of a minor on a Carnival Cruise ship, senior executives have opted not to implement the changes, claiming they’re too expensive.

Shiver me timbers, etc.

My idea of hell is being locked on a ship with thousands of other people.

My commonplace booklet

 Venice Is Saved! Woe Is Venice.

The New York Times has an imaginative report on Venice’s now-operational sea wall and what it might mean for the city’s future.

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