Shared something or other

Techno-Narcissism | No Mercy / No Malice

As Sacha Baron Cohen said: “Democracy is dependent on shared truths, and autocracy on shared lies.”

2001 as metaphor

New Bayer chief plans a radically different style to cut bureaucracy | Financial Times

Anderson wants managers to overcome the traditional top-down approach and allow a team to develop a life of its own.

He likes to compare the situation of senior managers with that of the astronaut in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001 — A Space Odyssey”. In the science fiction movie, the scientists aboard a spaceship gradually find out that the computer had taken over the mission.

In one of his first meetings with Bayer managers, Anderson played a clip from the film. His message was that “the astronaut is us, and we are no longer in control” but at the same time, the system “often is fundamentally flawed”.

Which reminds me of the doctors and nurses stuck within the hull that is the NHS, directed in this case by the political masters who lack the guts to actually even set foot on the ship.

On discovering the truth

Daniel Ellsberg, Pentagon Papers whistleblower, dies aged 92 | US news | The Guardian

‘I’ve never regretted doing it’: Daniel Ellsberg on 50 years since leaking the Pentagon

In March, Ellsberg announced that he had inoperable pancreatic cancer. Saying he had been given three to six months to live, he said he had chosen not to undergo chemotherapy and had been assured of hospice care.

“I am not in any physical pain,” he wrote, adding: “My cardiologist has given me license to abandon my salt-free diet of the last six years. This has improved my life dramatically: the pleasure of eating my favourite foods!”

On Friday, the family said Ellsberg “was not in pain” when he died. He spent his final months eating “hot chocolate, croissants, cake, poppyseed bagels and lox” and enjoying “several viewings of his all-time favourite [movie], Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, the family statement added.

He was 92….


Scott Galloway:Techno-Narcissism | No Mercy / No Malice

The tech innovator class has an Achilles tendon that runs from their heels to their necks: They believe their press.

Boris Johnson exits as he entered, with deceit and contempt

Boris Johnson exits as he entered, with deceit and contempt | Financial Times

Truly, nothing in his public life exposed him like the leaving of it.

Robert Shrimsley

Rearview mirror and all that history stuff

The Everything Blueprint — how British chip company Arm became a global powerhouse | Financial Times

Ashton concludes that trying “to create another Arm is as much folly as trying to create the next Google”. His recommendation is for the British government to focus instead on training and skills and providing a stable tax and regulatory regime.

But at a time when the US, EU and Chinese governments are pouring billions of dollars into subsidising their chip industries, this policy recipe seems thin gruel. Serendipity cannot substitute for strategy. And, as one industry executive is quoted as saying: “Without semiconductors, you’re nowheresville.”

Re: Serendipity cannot substitute for strategy, I am not so sure.It can for a while, anyway.

Martin Amis as the lurid chronicler of the UK

The Economist

These men dared to write vast superpower novels about the whole of society. His own smaller efforts were symptomatic of Britain’s decline: its aura of filthy pub carpets, its morbidly obese children, phone booths “slobberingly coated with thick red paint”, London “like the insides of an old plug”. Purpose had been lost along with the empire, and under Thatcher, that old witch, civility and civilisation had fallen apart. Nothing but weak left-liberalism remained to confront the ruins; that, and the scathing onslaught of his prose.

Getting rid of the fags helped the pub carpets. And Thatcher did Wales (see previous post).


‘We’re crap at capitalism. We need something different’: the battle for economic revival in the Welsh valleys | Economic recovery | The Guardian

The hope is that better access will reverse the decades-old brain drain and attract higher-paid workers from Cardiff and beyond. Vikki Howells, Labour member of the Senedd for Cynon Valley, says: “The main challenge is not unemployment, it’s low-paid employment. It is not a shortage of jobs: it is a shortage of jobs paying a decent wage so you don’t have to rely on food banks.

Richest man in the world: but can he code?

Scarcity | No Mercy / No Malice

Scott Galloway writes:

The richest man in the world doesn’t make cars, rockets, or enterprise software — he makes handbags. Bernard Arnault, the CEO of LVMH, is now worth more than Warren Buffett and Mark Zuckerberg combined. He’s made his fortune not selling things people need, but things they want. LVMH controls the most prestigious luxury brands in the world, from Tiffany & Co. to Loro Piana to Louis Vuitton.

When you assemble artisans and create scarcity that results in a supply/demand imbalance, you generate a cash volcano that you can cap the same way you do an oil well — and turn on/off as needed. Businesses are either supply-constrained (e.g., rare earth minerals, 1945 Château Mouton wine, etc.) or demand-constrained (pretty much everything else). The companies that trade at the greatest multiples are those that are artificially supply-constrained, where the supply/demand imbalance puts a dial on the spigot the managers control. Imagine the decision to have more revenue is just a function of when you’d like more revenue (see above: Hermès).

The medical student as ChatGPT

by reestheskin on 26/05/2023

Comments are disabled

I am amused that people are slow to realise that large language models (ChatGPT etc) do not understand what they are saying, or that they make things up — that is, they hallucinate. Performance on “surface layer” testing does not equate to competence. Anybody who has taught medical students knows that humans are quite capable of exhibiting the same behaviour. It was one of the values of the old fashioned viva. You could demonstrate the large gulf between understanding (sense)on the one hand, and rote — and fluent rote at that — simulation on the other (garbage).

The medical educationalists, obsessed as they are with statistical reliability, never realised that the viva’s main function was for the benefit of teachers rather than learners. It is called feedback.

The medical student as ChatGPT

Look up, not down

“in a mammoth bureaucracy obsessed with its own secrecy, the fault lines are best observed by those who, instead of peering down from the top, stand at the bottom and look up.

Absolute Friends by John le Carré

True of the NHS.

The Crumbling of a World Order

The New Age of Tragedy – New Statesman

Good article, with contributions from Robert Kaplan, Helen Thompson and John Gray.

Helen Thompson

Faith that creative human agency can triumph over nature’s limits has been a central feature of most modern political projects, not least liberalism. Missing the fact that technology cannot create energy, this conviction has long proved overly sanguine. Those who assume that the political world can be reconstructed by the efforts of human will have never before had to bet so much on technology over energy as the driver of our material advancement.

We are now a long way removed from the revolutionary hopes of the 19th and 20th centuries that the transformation of collective life would mean the complete development of all natural resources and an end to scarcity

Robert D Kaplan

To keep from destroying ourselves in this Malthusian world, we will have to husband fear without being immobilised by it. We cannot assume that technology will come to the rescue of every dilemma. The Ancient Greeks argued that no man is lucky until he is dead, since catastrophe can befall any of us at any moment. To carry that over into humanity at large, we should not assume that catastrophe cannot befall us at any moment or in any historical period. That is, we will need to think tragically in order to avoid tragedy. And precisely because our civilisation is rubbing up against limits of resources and space, such tragic thinking is more vital than ever before. (Robert D Kaplan)

Yet, it is less in evidence. Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer in Britain are technocrats in spirit and background, and technocrats assume there is a solution to every problem, which leads to a certain arrogance. Meanwhile, the American political elite is more ideological than ever before, and this leads to another form of arrogance; the world’s problems will not go away if only all of humanity became democratic – as the American elite seems to believe.

I fear that the elites in both Britain and the US will have to learn about tragedy the hard way, by actually living it, due to their failures in seeing it ahead of time.

From the editorial:

Mr Kaplan’s recent book The Tragic Mind is an attempt to grapple with his past support for the Iraq War, which led him to suffer clinical depression for years afterwards. Having visited Fallujah in 2004 and found anarchy far worse than Saddam Hussein’s tyranny, he concluded: “I had failed my test as a realist… I helped promote a war in Iraq that resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths.”

It’s bleak out there.

The danger isn’t that AI destroys us. It’s that it drives us insane

by reestheskin on 26/04/2023

Comments are disabled

The danger isn’t that AI destroys us. It’s that it drives us insane

Tech guru Jaron Lanier: ‘The danger isn’t that AI destroys us. It’s that it drives us insane’ | Jaron Lanier | The Guardian

Although many of the digital gurus started out as idealists, to Lanier there was an inevitability that the internet would screw us over. We wanted stuff for free (information, friendships, music), but capitalism doesn’t work like that. So we became the product – our data sold to third parties to sell us more things we don’t need. “I wrote something that described how what we now call bots will be turned into these agents of manipulation. I wrote that in the early 90s when the internet had barely been turned on.” He squeals with horror and giggles. “Oh my God, that’s 30 years ago!”

Horses for courses

Unseen Camilla: the five ages of a future queen – from mistress to monarchy | Camilla (Queen Consort) | The Guardian

Public schools exist to create the material they need for the class they want to build. When Eton needed soldiers, it was a very harsh environment; later, when it needed shysters and chancers, it adapted successfully to produce Boris Johnson and David Cameron. The girls’ estate is no different – and in the 50s and 60s it needed hostesses and broodmares. The last thing you would have wanted them to emerge with was a bunch of O-levels.

A home that no longer feels like it

Farewell to Dubravka Ugrešić, a fearless prophet | Financial Times

In 1993, Ugrešić went into voluntary exile, first to Berlin and then the US, finally settling in Amsterdam and taking Dutch citizenship. In a 1999 article, she repeated what she had often said: “I myself am neither an émigré nor a refugee nor an asylum seeker. I am a writer who at one point decided not to live in her own country anymore because her country was no longer hers.”

Fellow writers relished her work — Susan Sontag called her “a writer to be cherished” — but unlike many of her contemporaries, Ugrešić predicted the future of publishing too. In 1997, she saw that literature had, fatally, acquired an “aura of glamour”, and that publishers wanted writers to be chiefly “content providers” (the term was new enough then to be carried in quotes). What would become, she asked, of the “outsiders, bookworms, romantics and losers” who used to make up the despised and neglected profession of writers?

Gosh, Mr Raab: how terrible

Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite · Puny Rump: Sick Notes · LRB 13 April 2023

In a debate on the Labour government’s plans for National Insurance in 1946, Beveridge said that it ‘did frankly send a chill to my heart to realise that it was contemplated that the only way in which most people would get their sickness benefit would be through the post.’ Working through friendly societies would guard against malingering, but it would also make the system more humane: ‘I am not going to say a word … to suggest that civil servants are not human … But while civil servants are perfectly human, the unfortunate fact is that anything as big as the civil service, merely because of its size, tends to become inhuman.’

Gosh, Mr Raab.


Jonathan Meades · Let’s go to Croydon · LRB 13 April 2023

Architects’ dialect comprises delusional boasts that cast them as philosophers and their trade as at best a social service, at worst a particularly dodgy branch of alternative medicine or new age bunk: sustainabulous, green, responsible, liminal, wellness, community, performative, holistic, participatory, community (again). Mind mange? Ghosts in the infrastructure? Boney’s or Bogey’s or the Bears’ advance through the gaps between the paving stones? Architecture will get it sorted. As Reinier de Graaf noted of a speech by Richard Rogers: ‘With each new sentence a new location, topic or domain is added to the theoretical competence of architecture.’

Intellectuals as protectors of integrity

Via Adam Tooze

On the courage of Vladimir Kara-Murza (his words below are via Tooze)

At one point during my testimony, the presiding judge reminded me that one of the extenuating circumstances was “remorse for what [the accused] has done.” And although there is little that’s amusing about my present situation, I could not help smiling: The criminal, of course, must repent of his deeds. I’m in jail for my political views. For speaking out against the war in Ukraine. For many years of struggle against Vladimir Putin’s dictatorship. For facilitating the adoption of personal international sanctions under the Magnitsky Act against human rights violators.

Not only do I not repent of any of this, I am proud of it. I am proud that Boris Nemtsov brought me into politics. And I hope that he is not ashamed of me. I subscribe to every word that I have spoken and every word of which I have been accused by this court. I blame myself for only one thing: that over the years of my political activity I have not managed to convince enough of my compatriots and enough politicians in the democratic countries of the danger that the current regime in the Kremlin poses for Russia and for the world. Today this is obvious to everyone, but at a terrible price — the price of war.

In their last statements to the court, defendants usually ask for an acquittal. For a person who has not committed any crimes, acquittal would be the only fair verdict. But I do not ask this court for anything. I know the verdict. I knew it a year ago when I saw people in black uniforms and black masks running after my car in the rearview mirror. Such is the price for speaking up in Russia today.

But I also know that the day will come when the darkness over our country will dissipate. When black will be called black and white will be called white; when at the official level it will be recognized that two times two is still four; when a war will be called a war, and a usurper a usurper; and when those who kindled and unleashed this war, rather than those who tried to stop it, will be recognized as criminals.

The pleasure of electronic medical records

Digital Minimalism — An Rx for Clinician Burnout | NEJM

It’s easy to see how digital minimalism’s first tenet, “clutter is costly,” applies: the average patient’s EHR has 56% as many words as Shakespeare’s longest play, Hamlet. Moreover, half these words are simply duplicated from previous documentation.

Progress isn’t inevitable. Not even likely in some domains over working lifetimes.

The glory of science

The Economist

The great joy of science and technology is that they are, together, the one part of human culture which is genuinely and continuously progressive.

This is from the science and tech editor at the Economist who is standing down from that role at three decades. Science: Stop and starts — not continuous. And that is just for starters. Discuss!


She said…

Is France on the road to a Sixth Republic? | Financial Times

It was said of US President George HW Bush that he reminded every woman of her first husband. Macron reminds every French person of their boss: an educated know-it-all who looks down on his staff.

“Honest” Boris

Johnson looks done for from TheEconomist

Boris johnson is an honest man. It is possible to tell this by the sheer number of times he declares his honesty.

In his written submission to the committee of mps investigating whether he intentionally misled Parliament over Partygate, the word “honest” popped up around 20 times in one form or another. In a three-hour hearing on March 22nd he offered yet more honesty, at one point even “hand on heart.” And little speaks more of honesty than declaring your honesty 20-odd times in two days.

Feels like it

The England that awaits the young Mundy is a rain-swept cemetery for the living dead powered by a forty-watt bulb.

Absolute friends, John le Carré

Intellectual property

Adidas backtracks on opposition to Black Lives Matter trademark request | Business | The Guardian

Adidas has withdrawn a request to US authorities to block the Black Lives Matter movement from trademarking a design featuring three parallel stripes.

Because of how the politics of it looked (pun noted)…

I dare not show the image, but the BLM had the eponymous words in a black font, with three horizontal parallel lines in green underneath the text.

What next: the whole of geometry?


A deceit

A deceit at the heart of democracy.

No politician would fly in a plane built by politicians.

No more big letters

Just a suggestion after looking at newspaper headlines at a news stand. That feeling of despair at the world and those who pour dirt upon it.

Could we limit the font size of headlines to no more than size 14 on an A4 page. So, small, but readable. More whitespace can surround the letter above and below. This might make the context come into where it belongs: dead centre.

The penalty for clarity

via John Naugton

‘I’d been reading Clive James’s essay on Stefan Zweig in his magnum opus, Cultural Amnesia’ (writes John Naughton).

“Zweig’s own achievements,” James writes, are nowadays often patronised: a bad mistake, in my view. Largely because of his highly schooled but apparently effortless gift for a clear prose narrative, he attained, while he lived, immense popularity not just in the German-speaking countries but in the world entire, and he is still paying the penalty for it. Except in France, where his major works are never out of print, it is usually safer to call him second-rate. Safer, but not sound.

No offence

‘Dirty wee torturers’: Northern Irish man tells of British army abuse during Troubles | Northern Ireland | The Guardian

A doctor examined Auld and declared him fit for interrogation. For at least seven days and nights he was subjected to what became known – in reports by Amnesty International and other organisations – as the five techniques: the stress position, hooding, white noise, deprivation of sleep and little food and drink. When Auld moved from the stress position he was beaten. Occasionally the hood was removed and lights were shone into his eyes.

Several of the men, including Auld, were bundled on to a helicopter and thrown out, thinking they were high up. They were a few feet from the ground.

Auld assumed he would eventually be killed so tried to end his suffering by hurling himself at heating pipes to break his neck. “But I just hurt my head. That, for me, was the worst because I couldn’t die. That sense of helplessness and isolation was horrendous.”

Auld was eventually transferred to a prison, then a mental health hospital, before returning home. He was not charged with any offence.

In a case taken by the Irish government, the European court of human rights ruled in 1978 that the treatment of the “hooded men” was inhuman and degrading but not torture. Auld received £16,000 in compensation. After 9/11 the Bush administration cited the ruling to defend its “enhanced interrogation” policy.

End of an error

The SVB debacle has exposed the hypocrisy of Silicon Valley | John Naughton | The Guardian

The first thing to understand is that “Silicon Valley” is actually a reality-distortion field inhabited by people who inhale their own fumes and believe they’re living through Renaissance 2.0, with Palo Alto as the new Florence. The prevailing religion is founder worship, and its elders live on Sand Hill Road in San Francisco and are called venture capitalists. These elders decide who is to be elevated to the privileged caste of “founders”.

Error? Era? Hope so.

VIP capitalism

Banks are designed to fail — and they do | Financial Times

But few people are capitalists when threatened by losing money they regarded as safe and nobody is better than a capitalist at explaining how essential their wealth is to the health of the economy.