Tuesday 12 October, 2021

Taken on a magical walk along the upper reaches of the river Dove, Derbyshire

Quote of the Day

”All this fuss about sleeping together. For physical pleasure I’d sooner go to my dentist any day.”

  • Evelyn Waugh, who nevertheless fathered seven children.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Haydn | Piano Sonata in D, H.XVI No.42 – 1. Andante con espressione | Alfred Brendel


Long Read of the Day

 The Last Days of Intervention

Very thoughtful, long essay in Foreign Affairs by Rory Stewart, one of the few British politicians who has been talking sense about Afghanistan over the last few years. It was outside the paywall when I read it on Sunday. Hopefully it still is.

To the Americans and their allies, it seemed impossible that the U.S. military, with its fleets of gunships and cyberwarfare capabilities, its cutting-edge plans for counterinsurgency and state building, and its billions of dollars in aid and investment, could be held off by a medieval group that lived in mud huts, carried guns designed in the 1940s, and rode ponies. The interveners continued to believe that the international community could succeed in nation building anywhere in the world, provided that it had the right plan and enough resources. 

Blowing the whistle on Facebook is just the first step

Francis Haugen is a courageous and astute whistleblower, and we should salute that, says Maria Farrell (Whom God Preserve) in a fine blast, but

she is not the arbiter of what should be done. So far, when asked about solutions, she’s made vague gestures toward “regulation,” but in the context of her belief that “the version of Facebook that exists today is tearing our societies apart.” To this way of thinking, there is a reachable version of Facebook that would do less harm and be OK. This incremental approach is no surprise. Haugen has already worked for 15 years for companies with names that are synonymous with surveillance capitalism. She doesn’t have a problem with the basic business model of extracting people’s data to sell ads. She just has a problem with Facebook being the most egregious of a very bad bunch.

What triggered Maria’s ire (and mine when I read it) was this quote from Haugen:

”I have a lot of empathy for Mark, and Mark has never set out to make a hateful platform. But he has allowed choices to be made where the side-effects of those choices are that hateful polarizing content gets more distribution and more reach.”

This is just another articulation of the ‘founder-worship’ that is one of the most disfiguring aspects of Silicon Valley ideology. Maria has memorably excoriated it before — as, for example, in her celebrated Prodigal Techbro essay, and she now returns to the fray:

Insider critiques are uniformly based on the feeling that “Mark” or “Sheryl” either don’t really understand the harms they do, aren’t sufficiently informed about them, or just want to do the right thing but are trapped in a system of wrong incentives. “It’s one of these unfortunate consequences,” Haugen says, “No one at Facebook is malevolent, right? But the incentives are misaligned.” But Facebook created its own incentives from nothing, hiring Sheryl Sandberg to build its data-extractive, advertising-based business model. Its focus on growth above all else is what made its platform an extreme amplifier of disinformation and hate, simply because that’s what drives clicks. And the amount of money the trillion dollar company spends on moderating content and following up on the direct incitements to violence it generates is miniscule.

End of the republic?

Just remembered this from Heather Cox Richardson’s blog on September 24:

On Monday, we learned that after last year’s election, John Eastman, a well-connected lawyer advising former president Donald Trump, outlined a six-point plan to overturn the outcome of the election and install Trump as America’s leader. They planned to cut the voters’ actual choice, Democrat Joe Biden, out of power: as Trump advisor Steve Bannon put it, they planned to “kill the Biden presidency in the crib.” This appears to have been the plan that Trump and his loyalists tried to execute on January 6.

That is, we now have written proof of an attempt to destroy our democracy and replace it with an autocracy.

This was not some crazy plot of some obscure dude in a shack in the mountains; this was a plan of the president of the United States of America, and it came perilously close to succeeding. The president of the United States tried to overturn the results of an election—the centerpiece of our democracy—and install himself into power illegitimately.   If this is not a hair-on-fire, screaming emergency, what is? 

Yep. Especially when one remembers that nearly half the US electorate voted for Trump.

See also Maybe We Should Be Talking More About the Trump Coup Memo in Mother Jones.

My Commonplace booklet

Eh? (See here)

“The sped-up culture that delivers that novel to your doorstep overnight is the same culture that deprives you of the time to read it.” — Mark McGurl in his book Everything and Less: The Novel in the Age of Amazon

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