Monday 9 May, 2022

Getting to first base

Base of a table in one of my favourite cafes.

Quote of the Day

“It is outrageous that five unelected, unaccountable and relatively unknown political operatives masquerading as impartial jurists can so profoundly alter our lives.”

  • Maureen Dowd (also see below)

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Handel | Ombra mai fu (from Xerxes) | Andreas Scholl


I still remember the first time I heard this. It was on a beautiful, sunny early-September afternoon and we had driven over the Simplon pass from Switzerland into Domodossolo, a small town in in northern Italy. My wife and our son had gone off looking for a cafe, but I was tired and opted to sit quietly in a small church, when an elderly man in the gallery suddenly started to play it on the violin.

Long Read of the Day

The World Order Reset

This extraordinary blog post is a really long read, but it left me brooding all weekend. It’s by ’N.S. Lyons’ which is a pen-name for someone who is probably someone in the foreign policy establishment, but who seems relatively detached from it and has a helicopter’s-eye view of how geopolitics might pan out from now on. It’s basically an exploration of what the puncturing of the myth of Russian military superiority and competence means, first for China and then for the West.

As I read it, I was sometimes reminded of George Kennan’s ‘Long Telegram’ which, in a way, shaped the architecture of the Cold War world.

Worth your time, but you need to make an appointment with it and brew some coffee.

How Russia and Ukraine are finding new ways to use tech in the war

Yesterday’s Observer column

One of the few welcome surprises of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was the speed and apparent effectiveness of western governments’ imposition of conventional sanctions on his country. In short order, half of Russia’s $600bn foreign reserves held in western financial institutions was immediately frozen. The country was expelled from Swift, the vast messaging network that banks use to transfer money across the world. PayPal, Visa and Mastercard abruptly ceased to work in Russia. There was an immediate ban on technology transfers from the west. Then there was the sudden sanctioning of Putin-friendly oligarchs and those who service them in London, though Ben Elliot, the Tory co-chair and Quintessentially, the “concierge service” for the super-rich that he runs, seem to have been exempted from the strictures.

Trebles all round, then? Only up to a point: some of the successes involve measures that in other contexts are deeply toxic. Russian troops, for example, have been nabbing high-end John Deere tractors in Ukraine and shipping them back to Mother Russia. But when the lucky beneficiaries of these wondrous machines attempt to start them up, they discover that John Deere has remotely “bricked” them – ie turned them into multi-ton paperweights. Which is why many western farmers detest John Deere. Having paid a fortune for their new tractors, they find that they are not allowed to repair them themselves and any attempt to download bootleg software to diagnose malfunctions may get them into legal trouble on intellectual-property and user-agreement grounds.

Similarly, Ukraine has been using another toxic technology – facial recognition – to identify dead Russian soldiers…

Read on

Marilyn Monroe v. Samuel Alito

Fighting talk from Maureen Dowd:

Then Variety sent out a news bulletin that Kim was actually wearing Marilyn’s dress. I had last seen the crystal-strewn souffle concoction back in 1999, at a Christie’s exhibit for an auction of Marilyn’s property. It sparkled amid detritus such as sombreros, see-through nighties, and lighters from Frank Sinatra’s Cal-Neva lodge. The “nudest dress,” as the designer Jean Louis called it, was reverently displayed in a room by itself, lit from above like the Pieta.

As I was contemplating the comeback of this sartorial symbol of American seduction, I got another news bulletin: The Supreme Court was going to yank away the right of women to control their own bodies, strapping us into a time machine hurtling backward.

The two simultaneous emails were a perfect distillation of America’s bizarre duality — our contradictory strains of sexuality and priggishness…

A terrific read. Especially in her view that “Alito is a familiar type in American literature: the holier-than-thou preacher, so overzealous in his attempts to rein in female sexuality and slap on a scarlet letter that one suspects he must be hiding some dark yearnings of his own”.

Also relevant, perhaps: this (crudely-scanned) chart in Friday’s Financial Times.

My commonplace booklet

Intriguing typographic analysis of the leaked US Supreme Court opinion on Roe v. Wade. Does it given any hints to the identity of the leaker? Link

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