Monday 4 July, 2022

This is what a lock-jam looks like

Seen in Bath on Saturday morning!

Quote of the Day

“Professor Einstein would not have liked a stuffy tribute. My wife and I loved him. He was a charter subscriber to the [Weekly], and often strained its primitive bookkeeping facilities by renewing when no renewal was due. We and our three children had the great pleasure on several occasions of having tea with him at his home. It was like going to tea with God, not the terrible old God of the Bible but the little child’s father-in-heaven, very kind, very wise and yet himself very much like a child, too…

  • Izzy Stone, remembering Albert Einstein, April 1955.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Martin Hayes and The Gloaming | The Sailor’s Bonnet


A magical slow start to a famous tune. Stay with it to see how it develops.

Long Read of the Day

Geographies in Transition

Or why the technological is geopolitical. This article raises interesting thoughts about the neocolonialism implicit in the rich world’s desire to switch to ‘green’ technologies. Put crudely, the problem is that in order to electrify our societies we need huge quantities of certain minerals — so-called ‘rare earths’ plus cobalt, nickel, lithium, etc. — which mostly don’t exist in significant amounts in the global north and which are now known as ‘Critical Raw Materials’ (CRMs). So for Europe and the US making the transition to greener technologies requires (a) a step-change in the extraction of these critical raw materials, and (b) secure access to them by European and American industry.

Requirement (a) is troublesome because for many CRMs China is the pre-eminent supplier, and so a ‘greening’ West will find itself strategically dependent on an authoritarian regime with its own hegemonic ambitions — in much the same way as European countries made themselves dependent on Russian gas and oil.

Requirement (b) has to take into account that the West is no longer the only customer in town: Asian countries are becoming big players in the ‘green’ technology business (witness the numbers of EVs now coming from Korea and its neighbours). Which means that they will be competitors for supplies of these CRMs.

The obvious implication is that CRMs are likely to shape the geopolitics of our medium-term future, much as oil did in the automobile age. It also means that the EU has to play nice with African and other countries in the global south which are potential sources of some of them. Poor countries might find themselves burdened with a new variant of the “resource curse” — extracting raw materials (from which corrupt regimes extract illegal rents rather than using them to support local industrial development) which are then shipped abroad for processing by advanced industrial states, leaving the source country under-developed. Or, as the paper puts it, the EU needs…

… To seriously engage with the historical legacy of colonialism, the EU’s future cooperation and infrastructure strategy must recognize Europe’s historical responsibility for the lack of industrialization in the developing world. This would legitimate demands for more value added from resource-rich states. Crucially, it might help correct the colonial logic of extraction that is deep-seated and widely embedded in European institutions and public debates. If anything, the current shift eastwards could tame the intrinsically Eurocentric perspective dominant in mainstream social sciences.

Worth reading.

Could Molly White be the new JK Galbraith?

Yesterday’s Observer column:

In 1955, the economist John Kenneth Galbraith published a slim volume entitled The Great Crash 1929, a history of the Wall Street crash. In it, he chronicled, with his customary caustic wit, the rampant speculation that led to the catastrophe and its striking resemblance to all speculative bubbles in one key respect: speculators’ endearing belief that they can become rich without doing any work. The book ran through many editions and reprints, for many of which Galbraith wrote new prefaces. When his Harvard colleagues asked him why he continued to do this, his reply was that a good knowledge of what happened in 1929 would be the best safeguard against its recurrence.

In believing this, Galbraith was uncharacteristically naive, as even a cursory inspection of recent history will confirm…

Read on

How consumer drones are changing warfare

An ‘explainer’ from the Economist. Mostly behind its paywall (clearly the paper doesn’t believe in explaining things to the hoi polloi), but you get the drift from the intro…

In may a pro-Kremlin journalist posted on Telegram, a messaging app, asking Russians to donate their drones to the armed forces. In Ukraine both sides have been buying cheap consumer drones. In peacetime, these were the playthings of technology enthusiasts and amateur film-makers. How are Russia and Ukraine using devices that have more in common with toys than military hardware?

Consumer drones were first popularised by Parrot, a French company. In 2010 it released the AR.Drone, a 400g quadcopter. A camera gave the pilot a bird’s-eye view, and a sophisticated autopilot made manoeuvring and hovering simple. The AR.Drone was successful in part because it required little piloting skill, unlike previous radio-controlled toys. In 2013 the market changed radically with the arrival of the Phantom, made by dji, a Chinese startup. A more sophisticated device with a range of one kilometre and a GoPro video camera, it brought affordable aerial photography to the masses. dji has dominated the consumer drone market ever since. Its recent offerings boast a range of several kilometres, broadcast-quality cameras and automatic obstacle-avoidance…

Interesting that the piece doesn’t mention that the first outfit to appreciate the military utility of consumer drones was ISIS.

My commonplace booklet

  1. If you want the world to change, join a Union. (And if democracies want to survive, they need to make it a legal requirement that employers have to recognise a union if the majority of their workers wish to belong to one.) Why? Because in the long run no democracy will endure if the living standards of the majority of its population inexorably decrease while the profits of companies and their owners continue to increase. Which is what’s happening in every ‘liberal’ democracy I can think of.
  2. What if someone opens the door of an airliner in flight? A pilot explains why you shouldn’t worry about it. Phew!

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