Monday 8 March, 2021


Seen in our greenhouse last Summer. And hopefully this coming Summer too.

Quote of the Day

“The great nations have always acted like gangsters, and the small nations like prostitutes.”

  • Stanley Kubrick, 1963.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Aisling Gheal (Slow Air) and O’Farrell’s Welcome to Limerick (Slip Jig) | Traditional Irish tunes arranged and played by Steven Johnson.


Beautiful piping.

Harry and Meghan expose a ruthless, racist anti-fairytale in their primetime Oprah interview

That’s the headline on the Independent story. As an Irish citizen rather than a British subject (contrary to popular belief, monarchical states don’t have citizens), I don’t have a dog in this fight. But the interview confirms two things we knew already. One is that the British Royal family is a dysfunctional tribe on an Olympic scale. The other is that British tabloid culture is vicious, racist, and xenophobic to a pathological degree. Poor Meghan is in the same boat as Diana Spencer was in all but one respect: she has been able to persuade her husband to dump the charade before it was too late.

‘This could be dangerous’: Why Tim Wu’s appointment has Big Tech rattled

As this Protocol piece points out, Biden’s appointment of the Columbia lawyer Tim Wu to the National Economic Council is “the most ominous sign yet that Wu’s signature warning is correct: The ‘antitrust winter’ is over”.

As special assistant to the president for technology and competition policy, a newly-created position under Biden, he will work across the federal government to identify policies that could loosen the grip the major tech companies hold on the economy and encourage competition in the tech industry.

This is the first piece of unambiguously good news in this area that’s come out of the Biden administration. Up to now, those of us who watch this stuff closely have been increasingly concerned by the numbers of refugees from the tech companies who have found comfortable and sometimes powerful perches in the new administration. And of course the Vice President, during her time as Attorney General in California, took a relaxed view of the tech companies’ preemptive acquisition policies and never challenged them.

Wu is definitely smart. His book The Master Switch was a gem. But I wonder if he’s tough enough to make a difference. The New York Times seems to think that he might be.

How can Clubhouse stay ‘clubby’?

Idiotic question, discussed on Sifted by Ronjini Joshua.

I’ve been on Clubhouse since October; I was invited by an early member who was even the face of the app. But even in those five months, I feel the slow creep of the internet troll seeping into the platform. Clubhouse’s intimacy can create overfamiliarity or inappropriate behaviour. There are some users who have already become infamous for being provocative and offensive about sensitive racial, political or religious issues. Others have tried to use it as a pick-up platform, inviting women on stage only to proposition them.

If Clubhouse and others want to preserve and scale the magic of the early days, they should start treating online spaces more like physical ones: creating some filter over what people and behaviours are acceptable, and allowing the community to hold itself accountable.

Clubhouse is a tech business. That means it needs to grow fast, to achieve the powerful network effects that kick in when you’ve got a big network. It’s called the scalability problem in the business. But, writes Ms Joshua,

This scalability problem is already breaking Clubhouse. The more I use it, the more I see people ejected from rooms for either spurting out racist or sexist comments, or for shameless self-promotion.

When will tech commentators ever learn? Nothing that expands at Internet scale stays intimate. Period. Intimacy at scale is an oxymoron — like ‘military intelligence’.

Long Read of the Day

 Tech spent years fighting foreign terrorists. Then came the Capitol riot.

This is good and quite detailed. The TL;DR version — as seen by me, anyway — is that the social media companies discovered that they could be quite efficient and effective in controlling content that was either spectacularly illegal (child porn) or defined by the political establishment as hostile to the US (e.g. ISIS). But when it came to dealing with content produced by white domestic terrorists — ah, that was a different matter. Especially when one of them wound up being elected President.

But that’s just my summary. Do read the whole thing if you have the time.

Other, hopefully interesting, links

  • Needledrop: listen to YouTube audio using a virtual vinyl turntable. Analog nostalgia gone mad. But also sweet: proof that if someone smart wants to code something, they can. Link.
  • Earthrise — as seen from our moon. Eerie and lovely. Link.

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