Sunday 30 August, 2020

Quote of the Day

“All men are cremated equal”.

  • Spike Milligan

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

What happens when you put a piano in a public place


Made my day! Hope it makes yours.

Let’s not forget, Bill Gates hasn’t always been the good guy…

This morning’s Observer column:

Twenty five years ago last Monday, Microsoft released Windows 95, its first operating system based on the Wimp (Windows, Icons, Menus, Pointer) interface that had been developed at Xerox PARC in the early 1970s and, er, borrowed by Steve Jobs for the Apple Macintosh that he launched in 1984.

Few geeks who were around and sentient at the time will forget the hoop-la that surrounded the launch of the Microsoft system. It included a commercial that had the Rolling Stones’ Start Me Up as a soundtrack. The symbolism of this was that in order to get Win95 rolling you had to press the “Start” button. (Satirists quickly noted that in order to turn the operating system off you also had to press the Start button, but the joke was clearly lost on Microsoft’s designers.) It was variously reported that the company had paid the Stones between $8m and $14m for the right to use the song, but Microsoft said that this was just a rumour spread by the band to increase their market value, and that the company actually paid a fraction of that amount.

The geek community, which was – then as now – sceptical of the Microsoft juggernaut, viewed the hoop-la with a certain ironic detachment. Some observed that it had taken the company 11 years to catch up with Apple, or 22 years to catch up with PARC. But the most interesting aspect of the launch was the evidence it provided that even in 1995 Microsoft had not yet fully twigged the significance of the internet…

Read on

Some readers have pointed out that Microsoft had a number of earlier attempts at the WIMP user interface, which is true. But having used them, I can testify that none of them was what you might call a finished product. Win95 was the first attempt to do WIMP properly. Which is why Microsoft made such a fuss about it.

The GOP’s secret election platform

Perceptive Atlantic article by David Frum.

Republicans have decided not to publish a party platform for 2020.

This omission has led some to conclude that the GOP lacks ideas, that it stands for nothing, that it has shriveled to little more than a Trump cult.

This conclusion is wrong. The Republican Party of 2020 has lots of ideas. I’m about to list 13 ideas that command almost universal assent within the Trump administration, within the Republican caucuses of the U.S. House and Senate, among governors and state legislators, on Fox News, and among rank-and-file Republicans.

In summary they are:

  1. The most important mechanism of economic policy—not the only tool, but the most important—is adjusting the burden of taxation on society’s richest citizens.
  2. The coronavirus is a much-overhyped problem. It’s not that dangerous and will soon burn itself out.
  3. Climate change is a much-overhyped problem. It’s probably not happening. If it is happening, it’s not worth worrying about.
  4. China has become an economic and geopolitical adversary of the United States. Military spending should be invested with an eye to defeating China on the seas, in space, and in the cyberrealm.
  5. The trade and alliance structures built after World War II are outdated.
  6. Health care is a purchase like any other. Individuals should make their own best deals in the insurance market with minimal government supervision.
  7. Voting is a privilege. States should have wide latitude to regulate that privilege in such a way as to minimize voting fraud, which is rife among Black Americans and new immigrant communities.
  8. Anti-Black racism has ceased to be an important problem in American life. At this point, the people most likely to be targets of adverse discrimination are whites, Christians, and Asian university applicants.
  9. The courts should move gradually and carefully toward eliminating the mistake made in 1965, when women’s sexual privacy was elevated into a constitutional right.
  10. The post-Watergate ethics reforms overreached. We should welcome the trend toward unrestricted and secret campaign donations.
  11. Trump’s border wall is the right policy to slow illegal immigration.
  12. The country is gripped by a surge of crime and lawlessness as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement and its criticism of police.
  13. Civility and respect are cherished ideals. But in the face of the overwhelming and unfair onslaught against President Donald Trump by the media and the “deep state,” his occasional excesses on Twitter and at his rallies should be understood as pardonable reactions to much more severe misconduct by others.

Storytelling with a camera

My son Brian (the other photographer in the family) has a new website.

Living with Covid-19

The head of France’s equivalent of the UK’s SAGE put it nicely when advising the organisers of the Tour de France: Covid is like a chronic illness: it’s going to last so you just have to learn to live with it.

Succinct articulation of the reality that so many people haven’t yet grasped. This thing isn’t going to go away.

How words morph

Edward Luce has an interesting review essay in the weekend edition of the Financial Times (which may be behind the paywall: apologies if so) in which he discusses the way political terms change their meanings over time. The three examples he picks are ‘populism’, ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ from Robert Frank’s new book, People without Power: the war on populism and the fight for democracy.

Frank claims, says Luce,

that the word “populism” has been hijacked. The term, an American original, now stands for what used to be meant by “Jacksonian” — resentful of those above you (the bankers and intellectuals) and cruel towards those below (the slaves and native Americans). In fact, Frank reminds us, the origins of US populism were very different. The prairie populists of the 1890s were in favour of racial integration, women’s emancipation and opposed to the robber baron capitalists. They gave birth not only to the term “populist” but also to the People’s Party, which briefly threatened to re-align US politics. Its legacy carried into the progressive era that helped tame American capitalism, enshrine fiat money, create income taxes and launch trust busting… It was quintessentially American in its yen for social equality and economic fairness. “Equal rights to all, special privileges to none”, was its founding creed.

And as far as ‘liberal’ is concerned…

The term used to mean 19th century bourgeois nationalists who believed in free trade. In America it evolved to mean people who believe both in social freedom and government intervention in the economy.

And what about ‘conservative’?

Conservative originally derived from “conserve” that things should be kept the same. Now, in America at least, it means whatever Donald Trump wants it to mean, which can take even his closest acolytes by surprise.

The Johnson method of government: total power with zero responsibility

Great Observer column by Andrew Rawnsley.


Within Mr Johnson’s inner circle, it is a private boast that they are “tearing up the rule book” of government. One of the rules that they have been shredding most aggressively is the concept of ministerial responsibility. Under previous governments of many different complexions, this idea has been central to how democratic politics is supposed to work. When things go wrong, the minister is accountable to parliament and must answer to the public for his department’s failings. When things go badly wrong, the minister resigns. Ministerial responsibility is at the core of the compact between government, parliament and public. Bronwen Maddox, the director of the Institute for Government, has it right when she says: “Unless there are consequences for ministers of the decisions that are their responsibility, the UK’s principles of democratic accountability will become meaningless.”

This government has inverted the doctrine to the point where ministers assign responsibility for misjudgments and failures to anyone but themselves. When searching for somewhere else to throw the blame, their first choice is civil servants, who make convenient targets because they are not supposed to answer back. So out goes Sally Collier, chief executive of Ofqual, the regulator, over the grading fiasco. Following her overboard goes Jonathan Slater, the permanent secretary at the Department for Education, who was sacked in a fashion brutal even by the standards of the current regime. Mr Williamson, meantime, stumbles on towards his next appointment with calamity in an apparent determination to make Chris Grayling feel a bit better about his time in government.

In an even darker part of the forest, there is a manifest effort to manipulate inquiries into the handling of the coronavirus crisis by shifting culpability from the prime minister and his lieutenants.

The Johnson/Cummings playbook is a variant of the Trump one. And people used to think that that kind of thing couldn’t happen here.

One of the things we didn’t properly appreciate until 2016 is how liberal democracy depends as much on norms and conventions as it does on the rule of law. When elected politicians like Trump and Johnson start to flout conventions and ignore norms, then things go to pieces very quickly. And the flouting creates precedents for their successors, whoever they turn out to be.

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