Tuesday 2 May, 2023

Premium baroque

Copenhagen, 2013

Quote of the Day

”A horse race confers an equivalence upon all candidates. The only detail that matters is who is going to win — not all that might be lost. To view America through that lens today is an exercise in the absurd, a practice stuck in the insular logic of the past.

  • Dan Rather

I wish more political journalists thought like this, especially those covering presidential politics in the US.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Fauré | Trois romances sans paroles op.17 n°3 | Théo Fouchenneret


Long Read of the Day

AI has hacked the operating system of human civilisation

Yuval Noah Harari finds something distinctive to say about ChatGPT et al. In doing so he will delight his admirers and infuriate his critics. Which, I suppose, is what a good essayist should be able to do.


What would happen once a non-human intelligence becomes better than the average human at telling stories, composing melodies, drawing images, and writing laws and scriptures? When people think about Chatgpt and other new ai tools, they are often drawn to examples like school children using ai to write their essays. What will happen to the school system when kids do that? But this kind of question misses the big picture. Forget about school essays. Think of the next American presidential race in 2024, and try to imagine the impact of ai tools that can be made to mass-produce political content, fake-news stories and scriptures for new cults.

In recent years the qAnon cult has coalesced around anonymous online messages, known as “q drops”. Followers collected, revered and interpreted these q drops as a sacred text. While to the best of our knowledge all previous q drops were composed by humans, and bots merely helped disseminate them, in future we might see the first cults in history whose revered texts were written by a non-human intelligence. Religions throughout history have claimed a non-human source for their holy books. Soon that might be a reality…

A photographer whose subject is everyday life 

Judith Joy Ross, one of the best portrait photographers of our era, is the subject of a large retrospective at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The New York Times has a nice piece about her and her work which includes some of her more famous images.

The show was jointly organized by the Philadelphia museum and the Fundación Mapfre in Madrid, where it appeared first; it then made stops at Le Bal in Paris and Fotomuseum den Haag in the Netherlands. “She’s better known in Europe than she is here,” Mr. Barberie said.

Although she rarely works in color, calling Ms. Ross’s photographs black-and-white is not exactly right; the images occupy a place on the spectrum between gray and sepia. And except for her 1986-87 series featuring Washington politicians, Ms. Ross has taken pictures mostly of people on the street, in parks or in schools…

Like Ansel Adams, she uses a large folding 10×8 camera on a tripod, which — though fine for the landscape photography in which Adams specialised — would seem pretty clunky to the people she photographs in streets and parks. But somehow it turns out to be a feature, not a bug. “They think the circus has come to town,” she said. And its effect is that of an icebreaker, and a piece of protective armour for an essentially shy person.

If you’re interested, there’s a charming and fascinating interview with her on YouTube. It’s nearly an hour long, so brew some coffee before embarking on it.

Hope you enjoy it as much as I did. She reminds me of Jane Bown, the Observer’s legendary photographer, with whom I was lucky enough to work occasionally.

Books, etc.

There’s an interesting new book coming:  The Chile Project: The Story of the Chicago Boys and the Downfall of Neoliberalism by Sebastian Edwards. I haven’t seen it yet, but Tyler Cowen has. Here’s an excerpt from his characteristically succinct summary.

  1. The Allende regime was a disaster, with for instance real wages falling by almost 40 percent (this one I knew).

  2. Pinochet’s much-heralded private pension reform really did not work (I may do a whole post on this).

  3. Milton Friedman’s famed visit really was quite modest, contrary to what you sometimes hear. Nonetheless he was so persuasive he really did convince Pinochet to proceed with the shock therapy version of reform. He had mixed feelings about this for the rest of his life, and did not like to talk about it: “But deep inside, Friedman was bothered by the Chilean episode.”

  4. You may know that pegging the exchange rate was one of the major Chilean mistakes during the reform era. Friedman, although usually a strict advocate of floating exchange rates, did not take the opportunity to criticize that decision, and in fact made some remarks that suggested a possible willingness to tolerate a moving peg regime for the Chilean exchange rate.

  5. Friedman underestimated how long Chilean unemployment would last, following shock therapy.

This Blog is also available as a daily email. If you think that might suit you better, why not subscribe? One email a day, Monday through Friday, delivered to your inbox. It’s free, and you can always unsubscribe if you conclude your inbox is full enough already!