Wednesday 1 June, 2022

Jubilee Souvenir

From the current Private Eye.

Quote of the Day

”Three o’clock is always too late or too early for anything you want to do.”

  • Jean-Paul Sartre

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Ladyva | Boogie Woogie Stomp


Well, it’s one way of getting people out of bed in the morning.

Long Read of the Day

 Digital Technology Demands A New Political Philosophy

Good essay in Noema magazine by Jamie Susskind (whose forthcoming book, The Digital Republic, I’m reading at the moment). In it he argues that we need an intellectual framework for thinking about tech power, and that republican ideas (which have nothing to do with the Republican party in the US, by the way) are needed.

But, he asks,

where are the digital republicans? To be a republican is to regard the central problem of politics as the concentration of unaccountable power and to regard the primary purpose of law as the reduction of that unaccountability. For the republican, the challenge presented by digital technology isn’t Musk or Zuckerberg; it’s the idea that people who command technologies will gain a degree of command of society, too.

What I liked about the essay (and like even more about the book) is his insight that the problem of tech power needs to be conceptualised at a higher level than our current preoccupations. This is because the unaccountable power that tech giants wield poses an existential threat for democracy itself. Such a challenge has to be addressed at the level of the future of democracy rather than in detailed arguments about particular regulatory instruments. The question is not how democratic institutions can be reshaped to accommodate digital power, but what democracies will allow these corporations to do — and what they will forbid.

Brandeis, privacy and Roe v. Wade

Zeynep Tufecki, one of the wonders of the networked world, has got tenure at Columbia, which is richly deserved. She was also recently a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize. Last month, she had an interesting OpEd in the NYT which, among other things, explores how digital tech will, in due course, be used to track and harass women seeking abortions in the US.

This passage caught my eye:

Now the Supreme Court seems poised to rule that there is no constitutional protection for the right to abortion. Surveillance made possible by minimally-regulated digital technologies could help law enforcement or even vigilantes track down women who might seek abortions and medical providers who perform them in places where it would become criminalized. Women are urging one another to delete phone apps like period trackers that can indicate they are pregnant.

But frantic individual efforts to swat away digital intrusions will do too little. What’s needed, for all Americans, is a full legal and political reckoning with the reckless manner in which digital technology has been allowed to invade our lives. The collection, use and manipulation of electronic data must finally be regulated and severely limited. Only then can we comfortably enjoy all the good that can come from these technologies.

But when I got to the penultimate sentence (“… must finally be regulated and severely limited”) I had the same sinking feeling that I get when reading the exhortations about gun control that regularly follow mass shootings. It’s not going to happen because tolerating unconscionable abuses is a systemic feature, not a bug, of democracy, American style.


My commonplace booklet

The consolations of blogging

The great thing about having a blog is that your readers know more than you do. They spot errors quickly but (unlike what happens in social media) they point them out gently. And sometimes they give the blogger the (unwarranted) benefit of the doubt.

When, for example, I recently referred to the fictional portrayal of Vogue editor Anna Wintour in the film The Devil Wears Prada, I inadvertently typed “Pravda”. Generous readers interpreted this careless typo as a brilliant satirical move!

Thus Nick masters wrote,

Lol John. The Devil Wears Pravda may be the best typo in history – the tell-all story of one lowly fashion assistant surviving a Russian Wintour.

And Sheila Hayman (Whom God Preserve), observed

I LOVE ’The Devil Wears Pravda’! Immediately suggests an image of Anna Wintour in a Tristan Tzara cabaret c 1922, entirely outfitted in propaganda…

At which point I began to see a promising new career for me as a typo comedian who might go down in history much like the hapless William Spooner, the Warden of New College, Oxford. He was the chap who allegedly berated one student for having “tasted a whole worm” and another for having “hissed all my mystery lectures” and being “caught fighting a liar in the quad.”

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