Tuesday 1 June, 2021

We spent the long weekend at Dartington Hall in Devon, which has what are, IMHO, the most entrancing grounds in England. This is just one of dozens of photographs from a long walk round the estate.

Quote of the Day

”It is advantageous to an author that his book should be attacked as well as praised. Fame is a shuttlecock. If it be struck at only one end of the room, it will soon fall to the ground. To keep it up it must be struck at both ends.”

  • Samuel Johnson

Try telling that to some academics, though.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Gerry O’Connor (Banjo) and Arty McGlynn (Guitar) | Francie Brearton’s (Jig 0:00) & Sally Kelly’s (Reel 1:35) | Recording made for the Geantraí music series on TG4 in 2007.


Long Read of the Day

The Social Life of Forests

Trees appear to communicate and cooperate through subterranean networks of fungi. What are they sharing with one another? Fascinating essay by Ferris Jabr in The New York Times. Here’s a sample:

Simard noticed that up to 10 percent of newly planted Douglas fir were likely to get sick and die whenever nearby aspen, paper birch and cottonwood were removed. The reasons were unclear. The planted saplings had plenty of space, and they received more light and water than trees in old, dense forests. So why were they so frail?

Simard suspected that the answer was buried in the soil. Underground, trees and fungi form partnerships known as mycorrhizas: Threadlike fungi envelop and fuse with tree roots, helping them extract water and nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen in exchange for some of the carbon-rich sugars the trees make through photosynthesis. Research had demonstrated that mycorrhizas also connected plants to one another and that these associations might be ecologically important, but most scientists had studied them in greenhouses and laboratories, not in the wild.

This is a great read.

Data is not the ‘new oil’. It’s people’s lives

Last Sunday’s Observer column:

The phrase “data is the new oil” is the cliche du jour of the tech industry. It was coined by Clive Humby, the genius behind Tesco’s loyalty card, who argued that data was “just like crude. It’s valuable, but if unrefined it cannot really be used. It has to be changed into gas, plastic, chemicals, etc to create a valuable entity that drives profitable activity; so must data be broken down, analysed for it to have value.”

It turned out to be a viral idea: marketers, tech companies, governments, regulators and the mainstream media went for it like ostriches going after brass doorknobs (as PG Wodehouse might have put it) and it rapidly attained the status of holy writ. But it’s a cliche nevertheless and cliches are, as my colleague David Runciman once observed, “where the truth goes to die”.

Humby’s cliche, however, is also a metaphor – a way of describing something by saying it is something else and that should concern us. Why? Because metaphors shape the way we think and, as the philosopher George Lakoff pointed out aeons ago, the best way to win arguments is to use metaphor to frame the discourse and dictate the language in which it is conducted. Thus American anti-abortion campaigners framed abortion as murder and the music industry framed filesharing as theft.

And who’s in favour of murder or theft?

Do read the whole thing.

Inside the enigma that is Joe Biden

Short but revealing interview with Edward-Isaac Dovere of The Atlantic

Joe Biden had been president for less than two weeks when he told me something he’d heard from a friend after the election. Biden was like the dog that caught the car, the friend told him—after a lifetime of dreaming of becoming president, he’d finally done it. “I said, ‘No, I think I got the bus,’” Biden told me, reflecting on the combined crises of the pandemic, the economic collapse, and the shaky future of American democracy. “I’m the dog that caught the bus.”

This isn’t the presidency Biden had expected when he entered the race two years ago…

It sure isn’t. And he’s not the President that most of the commentariat expected, either.

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