Wednesday 20 January, 2021

A volcanic plug near Puy-en-Velay. I’ll never forget the first time I saw this. The idea that this is all that remains of an ancient volcano seemed mind-blowing to a chap who grew up in rural Ireland.

Quote of the Day

“He believed in sudden conversion, a belief which may be right, but which is peculiarly attractive to the half-baked mind.”

  • E.M. Forster in Howards End.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news Bob Dylan and Joan Baez | Blowing In The Wind


I never heard them sing this together before.

Long Read of the Day

An Oral History of Wikipedia

Lovely — and done in an interesting way. Link

The near-death experience of the American republic

Martin Wolf in today’s Financial Times:

We have come to a hinge moment in history. The US is the world’s most powerful and influential democratic republic. For all its mistakes and flaws, it was the global model and protector of democratic values. Under Mr Trump, this vanished. He was a consistent opponent of the values and aspirations embodied in a republican ideal.

Mr Trump failed. Moreover, after his attempted coup, nobody can deny his threat was real. But this is not enough. If US politics unfolds as seems likely, there will be more Trumps. One of them, more competent and ruthless, may succeed. If that is to be prevented, US politics must now shift to respect for truth and an inclusive version of patriotism.

Rome was arguably the last republican superpower. But the rich and powerful destroyed that republic, bringing forth a military dictatorship, 1,800 years before the US was born. The US republic has survived the test of Trump. But it still needs to be saved from death.

Watching the Republican senators who, after the Capitol invasion had been cleared, still voted to reject the Electoral College returns, it’s clear that we were watching Trump Mk2 in the making.

Singapore on Thames?

Jonty Bloom has some useful advice for the Brexiteers who dream of turning the UK into Singapore on steroids.

For a start if you want to be like Singapore you’d better start nationalising things quickly, Singapore’s government and its sovereign wealth funds hold shares in huge swathes of the economy, among which are telecommunications, media, public transportation, defence, ports, banking, shipping, airlines, infrastructure and real estate. Many of those shares are held by its two sovereign wealth funds which are independent from Government, in the sense that the Prime Minister and his wife sit on their boards.

The Government owns 90% of Singapore’s land and 80% of all housing and although income taxes are low, a maximum of 22%; there is also a compulsory savings rate of 20% (invested with the Government) that pays for your pension and health insurance. Singapore also has a high level of income inequality, is a tax haven and imports 99% of its food.

More work for Johnson and Carrie.

Trump’s pro-tem exit

Nice comment from Dave Pell: Donald Trump went out like he came in. An unAmerican, narcissistic, childish loser. He served up one more helping of international shame as he skipped the inauguration on the way to Mar a Lago, where he’s promised to find the real killers of democracy. It would have been more fitting if he and Melania had left in a White Ford Bronco. Before boarding the aircraft, Trump said, “So just a goodbye. We love you. We will be back in some form.” (Hopefully in an orange jumpsuit.) As a last pathetic attempt to garner attention, the WSJ reports that Trump Has Discussed Starting a New Political Party. (It should be called the Defendants.)

The other time private US media companies stepped in to silence the falsehoods and incitements of a major public figure

As the commentariat struggled with the problem and implications of social-media companies de-platforming Trump it was nice to see someone looking at this with an historical perspective. He’s Bill Kovarik, a Professor of Communication, and he tells a good story. This is how it begins…

In speeches filled with hatred and falsehoods, a public figure attacks his enemies and calls for marches on Washington. Then, after one particularly virulent address, private media companies close down his channels of communication, prompting consternation from his supporters and calls for a code of conduct to filter out violent rhetoric.

Sound familiar? Well, this was 1938, and the individual in question was Father Charles E. Coughlin, a Nazi-sympathizing Catholic priest with unfettered access to America’s vast radio audiences. The firms silencing him were the broadcasters of the day.

As a media historian, I find more than a little similarity between the stand those stations took back then and the way Twitter, YouTube and Facebook have silenced false claims of election fraud and incitements to violence in the aftermath of the siege on the U.S. Capitol – noticeably by silencing the claims of Donald Trump and his supporters.

Worth reading in full.

Other, hopefully interesting or useful, links

  • Guy Kawasaki: The Art of Web Conferencing. What you need if you want to project your Zoom image well. Link
  • Animals interrupting wildlife photographers. It’s hard to earn a living, sometimes. Link
  • Eszter Hargittai on Amazing Marvin. Link. It’s not often you find academics writing about tech tools. Amazing Marvin is one such tool.

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