Winnowing XXMMI, 5 April

by reestheskin on 05/04/2021

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What’s for dinner mum? Chips.

The Economist | No smoke, no fire

Growing in up in South Wales, I seem to remember that the chip pan was a well-used piece of technology. I didn’t change my habits as a student, either. As far as I remember this chip pan — including fat — had been handed down cohort-to-cohort. But things change. Even firemen are affected by the winds of change.

While working practices have not changed much in two decades, the demands on workers have. Oven chips are one big reason. In the mid-1990s about one in five domestic fires in Britain began with a chip pan, but by the late 2010s that was down to closer to one in 20. Less combustible cooking, fewer smokers and safer electrical appliances have all contributed to a large decline in fires. In two decades, the number of domestic fires has fallen by more than half, while the number of firefighters has declined only slightly. The result is a sharp fall in the ratio of fires to firefighters (see chart).

The universe is queerer than we can imagine

Helgoland by Carlo Rovelli — a brief lesson on quantum physics | Financial Times

From a book review in the FT.

The greatest populariser of physics today, Carlo Rovelli, prepares readers of his new book for this familiar fate when he warns that if “what I have described seems perfectly clear, then it means I have not been clear enough about it.”

Which sort of reminds me of the idea that if students claim to have understood all of your lecture, you have been wasting your time. Or, they are just being polite, or deluded. Perhaps both.

That damned follicular microenvironment

Should you start a small business in your 50s? | Financial Times

Being a market gardener was his lifetime ambition. But it happened only after he retired from a decades-long career in IT management, 11 days before his 60th birthday.

Still, he grabbed his opportunity. “Grey hair and no hair is the future,” he says.

My thoughts concur. Living the dream.

Predator and prey

Essay mills ‘infiltrating university websites’ | Times Higher Education (THE)

Hundreds of university websites have been infiltrated by hackers aiming to steer unwitting students into essay mills’ clutches, according to preliminary studies by US experts.

Content ghostwritten by the essay mills, complete with embedded hyperlinks, has been grafted on to universities’ student service web pages. Links to legitimate services have been rigged so that they redirect to contract cheating companies, while university chat sites have been peppered with recommendations for essay mills.

The most “egregious” infiltrations involve fake essay contests for students who, hoping to win scholarships, inadvertently supply the essay mills with “clean” content unknown to plagiarism-detection databases.

Some honest intellectual hygiene would solve this problem. But universities would prefer to pretend their model is not broken. Would schoolteachers be so complicit?

Even at the time of its creation, the border made no sense

Colm Tóibín: Ireland’s bloody line of division | Financial Times

Wonderful clutch1 of book reviews by Colm Tóibín in the FT.

And then, in the decades after 1960, it [Ireland] could look outwards towards Europe and concentrate on building a good relationship with London without having to represent or manage a restive Northern Ireland. Dublin could claim a right to be consulted about Northern Ireland, but it did not have responsibility for what happened there. There were times when this was seen in Dublin as a relief. [emphasis added]

In The Partition, a meticulous and finely judged study of how and why the Irish border was created, Charles Townshend shows how various British governments and Irish nationalists were outmanoeuvred by a group of Ulster Unionists whose lack of imagination was amply compensated by obstinacy and inflexibility. It is “hard to dispute”, writes Townshend, the view that partition of the island was “against the considered judgment of all parties”. But he adds: “The intensity of Unionist hostility to home rule presented a political challenge of exceptional difficulty.”

While politicians in Dublin might issue pieties about their longing for an end to partition, it should be emphasised that they don’t mean it. The self-confidence and social ease in the Republic of Ireland has come at a price — leaving Northern Ireland to its own devices. Strangely, the governing class in Dublin, in its own quiet way, would be as likely to dread a vote on a united Ireland as the Unionists would. The Unionists, however, as we learn from these books, have never made progress through being quiet.

  1. The Partition: Ireland Divided, 1885-1925, by Charles Townshend, Allen Lane.
    Partition: How and Why Ireland Was Divided, by Ivan Gibbons, Haus Publishing.
    The Dead of the Irish Revolution, edited by Eunan O’Halpin and Daithí Ó Corráin, Yale.