Tuesday 21 September, 2021

Quote of the Day

“This continuing edition of the letters has been praised for its detailed scholarship, and indeed its thickets of footnotes tell us more and more about less and less. When the present instalment ends, Eliot still has 23 years left to live: at the current rate of progress, should we anticipate eight more equally onerous volumes? The unexamined life may not be worth living, but the over-annotated life can be hard going.”

I love that phrase “thickets of footnotes”.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Eric Clapton | This Has Gotta Stop


Long Read of the Day

Writing in medias res 

Long, thoughtful blog post by Adam Tooze about the challenge for an historian writing about (and trying to make sense of) ongoing events.

In medias res is, according The Cambridge Dictionary, “a Latin expression that refers to a story, or the action of a play, etc. starting without any introduction”, which you’d think is hostile territory for an historian. Tooze faces the problem head-on:

Whatever thinking or writing we do, however we choose to couch it and whatever our explanatory ambition, we do it from the midst of things, not from above or beyond the fray. There are different ways of articulating that relationship – more remote or more immediate – but no way out of that situatedness.

We are thrown into situations. Most of the time they don’t come with instructions.

Shutdown: How Covid Shook the World’s Economy, his new book (just out), is based on a bet that

we can frame an understanding of the crisis in terms of two clusters of forces: on the one hand the crisis-ridden development of financial capitalism, politics and geopolitics, what you might call the old familiars (the crisis of neoliberalism for short) and on the other the shock of the anthropocene – the virus and climate.

Which explains why I’ve ordered the book. I think this essay is quite profound — and therefore worth your time.

Clive Sinclair RIP – contd.

Yesterday’s FT had an astute piece about him — and that rather nice picture.

While Sinclair knew how to inspire demand, however, he often seemed not to be able to manage it. It is a business truism that leaders should under-promise and over-deliver. Sinclair sometimes found it hard to ride the wave of publicity he was so good at generating. The Spectrum took months to reach some customers, contrary to guarantees of rapid dispatch. A personal computer for business, the QL, which stood for “quantum leap”, fell flat, despite a much-hyped launch in 1984. The C5 might even have received the unlikely celebrity endorsement of Laurie Lee, who wanted one to ride around the village immortalised in his bucolic memoir Cider with Rosie, but his order was never fulfilled, the FT once reported.

Lots of us remember his erratic record on delivering. One of my more cynical friends used to argue that the Sinclair business model involved announcing (and taking orders for) intriguing products and then using the flood of orders to provide the revenue needed to make them!

Westphalia Rules OK

Apple and Google Remove ‘Navalny’ Voting App in Russia

This New York Times story provides a useful reminder that while the Internet is supposedly global, in the world of sovereign states created by the Treaty of Westphalia, power is still local.

Apple and Google removed an app meant to coordinate protest voting in this weekend’s Russian elections from the country on Friday, a blow to the opponents of President Vladimir V. Putin and a display of Silicon Valley’s limits when it comes to resisting crackdowns on dissent around the world.

The decisions came after Russian authorities, who claim the app is illegal, threatened to prosecute local employees of Apple and Google — a sharp escalation in the Kremlin’s campaign to rein in the country’s largely uncensored internet. A person familiar with Google’s decision said the authorities had named specific individuals who would face prosecution, prompting it to remove the app.

The person declined to be identified for fear of angering the Russian government. Google has more than 100 employees in the country.

Apple did not respond to phone calls, emails or text messages seeking comment.

The app was created and promoted by allies of the opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny, who were hoping to use it to consolidate the protest vote in each of Russia’s 225 electoral districts.

As Charles Arthur observed yesterday:

For all the promise of the internet, there are only a few chokepoints at any time. App? Force its takedown. Website? Block it, by name or DNS. VPN users? Again, ban the apps. Even Tor can be stymied by blocking access to the entrance servers, or setting up your own honeypot entrance.

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