Tuesday 29 June, 2021

The divinity of cats

Further to yesterday’s picture of a regal feline, this arrived, courtesy of Dave Winer (Whom God Preserve)!

Quote of the Day

“We know no spectacle more ridiculous than the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality.”

  • Lord Macaulay

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Mozart | Così fan tutte – Come Scoglio | Corinne Winters | The Royal Opera


Long Read of the Day

Jonathan Rauch: The Constitution of Knowledge


When Americans think about how we find truth amid a world full of discordant viewpoints, we usually turn to a metaphor, that of the marketplace of ideas. It is a good metaphor as far as it goes, yet woefully incomplete. It conjures up an image of ideas being traded by individuals in a kind of flea market, or of disembodied ideas clashing and competing in some ethereal realm of their own. But ideas in the marketplace do not talk directly to each other, and for the most part neither do individuals.

Rather, our conversations are mediated through institutions like journals and newspapers and social-media platforms. They rely on a dense network of norms and rules, like truthfulness and fact-checking. They depend on the expertise of professionals, like peer reviewers and editors. The entire system rests on a foundation of values: a shared understanding that there are right and wrong ways to make knowledge. Those values and rules and institutions do for knowledge what the U.S. Constitution does for politics: They create a governing structure, forcing social contestation onto peaceful and productive pathways. And so I call them, collectively, the Constitution of Knowledge. If we want to defend that system from its many persistent attackers, we need to understand it—and its very special notion of reality.

An excerpt from his new book. Worth reading.

Operation Nightwatch

This is utterly captivating. When Rembrandt’s masterpiece, The Night Watch was moved from its original location, it was cut to fit its new location and the severed pieces were lost. The Dutch Rijksmuseum launched an extraordinary project to reconstruct and repaint the missing strips using machine-learning technology. A set of short videos explains how it was done.

For someone like me, who spends a good deal of time contemplating the downsides and abuses of the technology, this was a salutary reminder of how — in the right hands and for the right purposes — it can also be a positive augmentation of human capability.

Thanks to Gerard de Vries, who alerted me to it.

More fallout from l’affaire Hancock

Like Macaulay (see Quote of the Day) I dislike the gleeful sanctimoniousness of the British media whenever a public figure is caught in flagrante, as the former Secretary of State for Health was. But I was struck by this item from the (unmissable) daily Politico newsletter from Westminster:

Tory MPs were last night openly sharing the video of Sky News’ Trevor Phillips laying into Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis — which had more than a million views online in 12 hours. It’s worth quoting Phillips: “I wouldn’t normally do something like this but I want to put a private, personal question to you … The pictures that we saw were of an encounter on May 6. On May 11, my family buried my daughter who had died, not of COVID, but during the lockdown. Three hundred of our family and friends turned up online, but most of them were not allowed to be at the graveside, even though it was in the open air, because of the rule of 30, because of the instruction by Mr Hancock. Now the next time one of you tells me what to do in my private life, explain to me why I shouldn’t just tell you where to get off?”

Other hopefully interesting, links

  • Preliminary Assessment: Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP = officialese for UFOs) Published by the office of the US Director of National Intelligence. It’s only nine pages long and is billed as a ‘preliminary’ report. My reading of it is that the US government is genuinely puzzled about some of the reported ‘sightings’. Link Useful background might be the long New Yorker piece by Gideon Lewis-Kraus in the April 30, 2021 issue of the magazine.

  • People of Earth: Hello Lovely New Yorker message from aliens by Will Stephen. Sample:

We have been observing you for millennia, from a great distance. Your development, your cultures, your wars. Your ways fascinate us. Recently, you have seen our crafts in your airspace. Yes, we are real. And, yes, we are ready to initiate contact.

In earthly terms, we have progressed beyond the concepts of nations, division, and conflict. We are a peaceful civilization, built on coöperation, technological progress, and the power of thought.

We have gathered from our observations that currently the most powerful Thought Leader in your most powerful nation is a human known as Tucker Swanson McNear Carlson. Is that correct?

Because, frankly, this . . . confuses us. What is his deal, exactly?

He is decent at speaking on television, we understand that. But he is far from your most intelligent or most capable human. By, like, a long shot. He seems very upset, all the time, about things that basically don’t exist. And this is coming from aliens.

So why him? Your planet is suffering, its extinction is imminent. And yet this asshole is talking about Antifa. It’s, like, dude. Zoom out.

He does realize Antifa isn’t a thing, right? I mean, we have technology beyond the scope of human comprehension, and even we cannot find a shred of evidence that an organization called Antifa exists, let alone poses any actual threat to your “suburbs.” So some Nazis get punched every once in a while. No offense, but who gives a shit?

Your world is melting, its people are more divided than ever. We want to share our knowledge and alleviate your pain. But, honestly, that Tucker weirdo kinda makes us want to turn around and go home. I mean, good Lord, what a pill.

Puts it in context, eh? The big question is not whether there is intelligent life in space; it’s whether there’s any intelligent life in the Republican party.

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