Tuesday 25 October, 2022

Airstream on a stormy night

Eddington, near Cambridge

Quote of the Day

”Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the picture of man at twice its natural size.”

  • Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own, one of my favourite books.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Ralph McTell with John Williams | Streets Of London Live


Long Read of the Day

Why I think an invasion of Taiwan probably means WW3

If you’ve been paying attention to the translations of Xi Jinping’s address upon obtaining a ‘Putin extension’ of his leadership, then this long post by Noah Smith makes interesting — and sobering — reading. In it he applies elementary game-theory to think through the consequences of a move by Xi to ‘reunite’ the lost province of Taiwan with the motherland. What’s nice about the post from a public-sphere viewpoint is that it’s an attempt to go beyond the generalities in which an invasion of Taiwan is usually discussed in the media.

If you don’t have time to read it, then maybe his conclusion might persuade you to save it for later:

I expect that U.S. defense planners and their Chinese counterparts are gaming out far more sophisticated versions of these scenarios, with far better-informed probabilities. And I think those will still be subject to mistakes and miscalculations. In the past, humankind has often been very stupid about blundering into wars — Putin’s invasion of Ukraine being only the most recent example. So I think the people warning about a war over Taiwan are far from alarmist; there are lots of reasons to be worried here.

Yep. We’ve been on a holiday from history for decades. Putin’s invasion should have brought us back to earth. But it may be just a dry run for something worse.

Magical thinking and the modern ‘conservative’ party

From a marvellous column by Matthew d’Ancona of Tortoise Media about the strange hold that Boris Johnson has on the Tory party…

(It’s behind a members’ paywall but some access is possible for non-members.)

My point is that Johnsonism is not an exogenous force. It emerged from the very heart of contemporary Conservatism and it flared up again dangerously over the weekend. At 6:15pm on Friday, the Press Association reported that Sir James Duddridge, International Trade Minister and Johnson’s former PPS, had been in contact with him. “He’s going to fly back. He said, ‘I’m flying back Dudders. We are going to do this. I’m up for it’.”

And there it was: “Dudders”. The trademark Wodehouse idiom, the jolly japes ahoy, Duddridge and Nadine Dorries referring to the prospective return of “the boss”. What larks!

And – like it or not – adrenaline coursed suddenly through the body politic. Johnson’s fans were thrilled that he might take up the reins so quickly. Those who were not so in love with the idea were no less captivated, checking their social media feeds with unhealthy regularity to see if there were any updates on the return of Sauron to Middle Earth (flying economy, to be fair).

The essence of this is that Johnson had again pulled off the Trump trick — of inserting himself at the heart of things — the classic narcissist’s manoeuvre. And the mainstream media fell for it — again. Sigh.

D’Ancona also perceptively remembered Neil Postman’s prophetic book, Amusing Ourselves To Death, in this context. When, many years ago, I was a TV critic it shaped my thinking about the medium.

My commonplace booklet

The Financial Times is a great newspaper, one that I read every day online (I’m lucky enough to have a subscription because of where I work). On Saturday, though, I always buy the weekend edition in paper form. It comes with a preposterous colour magazine, previously called ‘How To Spend It’, containing glossy advertisements showing starved but fashionable waifs wearing clothes costing thousands of pounds, ads for men’s watches costing more than the GDP of small island nations and features about super yachts and other trophy-possessions of the super-rich. Eventually, the incongruity of a serious paper becoming a puff-piece for the yacht-owning classes began to embarrass the paper, and so the offending magazine was renamed HTSI.

Last weekend, in a token gesture to the austerity that will be inflicted on ordinary citizens, the editors of the magazine had an attack of conscience and produced an edition about “How to spend it Wisely.”

Intrigued, I investigated how I might spend my money sensibly. The nice young woman on the front cover was wearing a “CELINE vintage wool jumper” costing £700. Someone else was wearing a “BEYOND REMADE post-consumer suede jacket” costing £795. Newly-wed billionaires setting up house could purchase a “PLASTICIET Mother-of-Pearl chair” made from plastic waste, a snip at 5,500 Euros. Or they could opt for a “CHARLOTTE KIDGER side table” made from “salvaged PU dust and resin composite”, available for £12,500.

I know, I know: the fabulous profits generated by this glossy trash subsidise the excellent journalism that I value so highly. But still…

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