Tuesday 4 May, 2021

The Blossom Explosion

Our apple tree. Every year it happens. And every year its exhuberance takes us by surprise. Yesterday, I stood under it in the morning and all I could hear was birdsong and the humming of hundreds of bees.

Quote of the Day

“It’s quite easy to keep all your principles intact and end up with a result which is not what you wanted.”

  • Classicist Mary Beard, in an interview with the Financial Times, 1 May 2021.

It’s what’s known as the ‘reformer’s trap’.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Schubert | Ständchen | Camille Thomas and Beatrice Berrut


First time I’ve heard an instrumental version of it.

Long Read of the Day

 What Conspiracy Theorists Don’t Believe is as important as what they believe

Characteristically thoughtful essay by Tim Harford on why it’s difficult to persuade conspiracy theorists that what they believe is nonsense — and how companies exploit that cognitive bias:

In the 1950s, when Big Tobacco faced growing evidence that cigarettes were deadly, the industry turned doubt into a weapon. Realizing that smokers dearly wished to believe that their habit wasn’t killing them, Big Tobacco concluded that the best approach was not to try to prove that cigarettes were safe. Instead, it would merely raise doubts about the emerging evidence that they were dangerous. The famous “Frank Statement to Cigarette Smokers” from 1954 managed to look socially responsible while simultaneously reassuring smokers that “research scientists have publicly questioned” the significance of the new findings.

Publicly questioning things is what research scientists always do, but that didn’t matter. The artful message from the tobacco industry to smokers was “This is complicated, and we’ll pay attention to it so that you don’t have to.” When we are confronted with unwelcome evidence, we don’t need much of an excuse to reject it.

Give that the tech companies are currently discovering the tactics of the tobacco companies, we’ll see a lot more of this.

That Lenin guy, he was some dude, and no mistake

Amazing what one finds in the London Review of Books. Consider, for example, this letter from Paul O’Brien.

Ingólfur Gíslason writes that an Icelander called Jón Stefánsson, who was researching in the British Library at the same time as Lenin, recounted that Lenin pronounced the ‘th’ in ‘thanks’ as if he was German (Letters, 4 March). More likely, it was a Hiberno-English pronunciation, where the ‘th’ sound is similar to the German. According to Roddy Connolly, the son of the Irish socialist James Connolly, who was in Moscow in 1921, Lenin spoke English with a Dublin accent. Connolly’s recollection is confirmed by H.G. Wells, who met Lenin in Moscow in 1920 and noticed his Irish accent. When Lenin lived in London, his English teacher was a man from Ireland.

Malcolm Gladwell and the importance of changing one’s mind

I’ve always thought that, deep down, Malcolm Gladwell is superficial. After reading this FT piece (which, Deo gratias, doesn’t seem to be behind a paywall) I’m not so sure. The peg for it is his new book, The Bomber Mafia: A Story Set in War, but that’s ok. It’s the way the book industry and literary journalism works.

Here’s an excerpt that gives a flavour of the piece:

I ask Gladwell what he’s changed his mind about recently, and the man who popularised “broken windows” is telling me he’s now pretty close to being a prison abolitionist. “That is not a position I thought I would ever take. But I’m very close to thinking that no one should ever go to prison. Do I know how to resolve the problematic cases? No, I don’t. What do you do with someone who murdered someone in cold blood? I don’t know.”

One of Gladwell’s conclusions from the Black Lives Matter protests last summer was that “we were arguing about the wrong thing. That prison is infinitely more toxic and corrosive to the fabric of free society than inadequate policing is. It’s not that I’m opposed to correcting police. I just thought, if I was going to pick something to get really upset about, prisons, mass incarceration, has just been devastating to this country. Whereas good policing, if it’s done well, everybody wins.”

Nice, thought-provoking, interview. And it’s made me change my mind — a bit.

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