Wednesday 28 April, 2021

Upcoming Quote of the Day

”If I read ‘upcoming’ in the Wall Street Journal again, I shall be downcoming and somebody will be outgoing.”

  • Bernard Kilgore, Managing Editor of The Wall Street Journal from 1941 to 1965 and head of the Dow Jones company.

(BTW: Many thanks to the many readers who answered my question about who advised improving one’s writing by striking out every fine passage.

It was Samuel Johnson. Kevin Cryan was first out of the traps, shortly after the email hit his inbox.

“Read over your compositions, and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.”

  • Samuel Johnson, The Life of Samuel Johnson LL.D. Vol 2

It is so nice to have erudite readers.

Felicity Allen reported that “at art school we were told that Picasso had said if you’ve painted a good bit, get rid of it.”

Sheila Hayman suggested Elmore Leonard’s dictum as an alternative:

”My advice to writers: try to leave out all the parts readers skip.”

Come to think of it, that might also be advice for bloggers. But then I would have to consult the ‘analytics’ to find out, and that would be cheating, not to mention unethical.)

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Grateful Dead | Truckin’


Well, I’m a Deadhead.

Long Read of the Day

 The Woman Who Shattered the Myth of the Free Market

Nice essay by Zachary Carter on Joan Robinson, the under-estimated heroine of Keynesian economics, whose work on the routine imperfection of markets is finally coming back into view.

What’s Behind the Apple-Facebook Feud?

From this week on, if you’re an iPhone user and you’ve updated to the latest version of iOS then you’ll find that companies and advertisers must ask your explicit permission — in the form of yes-or-no messages that pop up on the screen — to track you from one app to another. Many companies that make apps — for example Facebook — believe (correctly) that large numbers of people (including this blogger) will say no. And that means that businesses which rely on showing people online ads will have less data to customise those ads based on what tracking you tells them about your activity and interests.

What’s not to like?

Facebook, in particular, is predictably enraged by this move by Apple, for the very good reason that it will have an deleterious impact on FB’s revenues. (Personally, I doubt that it will be that big, but you never know. And nor does Facebook at the moment.) Accordingly, Zuckerberg and his satraps have been waging a fierce publicity campaign against Apple. The complaints have focussed on two themes. The first is that Apple is abusing its monopolistic hold on the iPhone. The second is the claim that the new iPhone regime will have a terrible impact on small and medium-sized companies which allegedly rely on the precise targeting that Facebook provides for them. Cue violins.

This is pure pass-the-sickbag stuff. To see Facebook shedding crocodile tears over the plight of small businesses stretches satire to its limits. And it reminds this blogger of good ol’ Sam Johnson’s observation that “the loudest yelps for liberty are heard from the drivers of slaves”. (He didn’t say ‘slaves’, but you get the gist.)

If you’re interested in the details of this farce, then the New York Times has useful explanations, as does Vox.

Think before you Link(In)

Helen Warrell, writing (behind a paywall) in the FT on April 19 reported that MI5 caused a “frisson of social media excitement” (whatever that is) with its debut on Instagram, evidently hoping to attract recruits from ‘influencers’. This coincided with a warning from the spooks aimed at civil servants using LinkedIn. It seems that China has been using it to lure targets to meetings in person where they “may be subjected to bribery or blackmail” in order to obtain intelligence.

Tut, tut.

Not to be outdone, the excellent Chris Nuttall reports that Jeremy Fleming, the director of GCHQ, has been warning about the UK facing a “moment of reckoning” in the race to protect itself from the influence of adversaries like China and Russia. He thinks that we need to up our tech game to ensure leadership in areas such as quantum computing.

Ah, that magic word “leadership” again: the quality that ageing hegemons prize so highly.

If we don’t wise up, says the GCHQ boss, “the key technologies on which we will rely for our future prosperity and security won’t be shaped and controlled by the west”. What key technologies would that be, exactly? Why ‘AI’ (aka machine learning and facial-recognition), of course. And then there’s quantum computing which could render existing encryption methods useless. In which case all our secrets could be exposed, without — as the FT wryly puts it — “any need for a fake LinkedIn account”.

I had a LinkedIn account once, for about three days. Having concluded that it was basically a ‘spamhaus’ for business people, I deleted my account — only to find that it took me about three years to stop receiving spammy emails from it.

Bang went my chance of being recruited by Beijing. Sigh.

How The Father was made

‘The Father’ is a remarkable film about dementia that has collected a number of Oscars. Judging from the trailer it looks like a worthy winner. It stars Anthony Hopkins as an elderly man with dementia who lives alone in London and has refused another nurse that his daughter Anne (brilliantly played by Olivia Colman) has set up for him. Exuberant and independent, Anthony is struggling as his memory begins to slip. Anne announces she is moving to Paris with a new boyfriend, but later in the living room Anthony sees a stranger claiming to be Anne’s husband. Who is this man? Confusion sets in…

After watching the trailer I came on a lovely conversation between the film’s Director, Florian Zeller, Olivia Colman and Anthony Hopkins. Well worth viewing.

Trust in news and in those who provide it

The Reuters Institute in Oxford has published a fine report on an investigation its researchers conducted into the extent to which citizens of four countries (Brazil, India, the UK, and the US) trust or mistrust news. The investigation was qualitative, not quantitative, (mostly by using focus groups) but in a way that makes it more illuminating because it captures nuances that statistical surveys miss.

It’s long but worth a read if you’re interested (as I am) in trustworthiness of media. And it includes a neat Venn diagram that captures the essence of the conversations.

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