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Selfish

Thursday, 22 January, 2015 0 Comments

Yes, the European Central Bank’s belated embrace of quantitative easing will dominate today’s headlines, but given the widespread disaffection with the continent’s out-of-touch leadership and the gnawing sense of being left behind in an increasingly globalized world, Europeans are switching off. Instead of the dismal Mario Draghi, people want the fascinating Kim Kardashian. And she’s everywhere today.

First: Mrs Kanye West took to Instagram on Tuesday to share some snow shots while wearing a “Furkini” that shows off her big booty, flat tummy and signature boobs. She captioned the pic: “Boots with the fur…

Second: Medium has a marvellously nerdy piece titled “How PAPER Magazine’s web engineers scaled their back-end for Kim Kardashian (SFW)“. Snippet: “The first thing Knauss did was get a big honking server to run on the Amazon cloud, with a large hard drive. He copied all the images and files from the smaller original web server to the new, big server. Then he installed a piece of software called Gluster, which allows many computers to share files with each other—it’s sort of like a version of Dropbox that you can completely control.”

Third: On 28 April, Selfish, by Kim Kardashian, will be published. Blurb: “Kim has mastered the art of taking flattering and highly personal photos of oneself. For the first time in print, this book presents some of Kim’s favorite selfies in one volume.”

Over to you, Mario.

Selfie

Bartosz Kosowski illustrates

Wednesday, 21 January, 2015 0 Comments

“I am an illustrator working in Lodz, Poland” is the very simple “About” statement of Bartosz Kosowski. Such modesty. The the Society of Illustrators in Los Angeles has just awarded him its Gold Medal for his “Lolita” poster, which was created for September’s Spoke Art Stanley Kubrick exhibition in San Francisco.

Talking of last September, on the 24th of that month, Bartosz Kosowski posted the following entry in his blog: “Yesterday I learned that my portrait of Putin was used without my knowledge and permission by a Russian nationalist website Sputnik & Pogrom. First, it is a blatant copyright infringement and there is no excuse for that. Second, I would never allow any nationalist media to use my illustration!” When he positioned their website graphic beside his mock-up of a TIME cover, Kosowski added, “Actually they did award him this title a few years back (sic!).”

Person of the Year

Note: The TIME Magazine Person of the Year 2007 was Vladimir Putin: “His final year as Russia’s President has been his most successful yet. At home, he secured his political future. Abroad, he expanded his outsize — if not always benign — influence on global affairs.” Bartosz Kosowski’s mock-up captures perfectly the man behind the mask, at home and abroad.

We need to talk about Greece

Tuesday, 20 January, 2015 0 Comments

The latest poll before Sunday’s election in Greece show the anti-bailout party Syriza getting 33.5 percent of the vote. Should this translate into a majority for the left-wing agitator Alexis Tsipras, the cat will be truly among the euro doves and hawks next week. Note: Syriza has promised to enact a law preventing banks from seizing the homes of people who have fallen behind on mortgages on primary residences valued at less than €300,000.

Greek euro On Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported: “Adding to the air of trepidation ahead of the vote, Eurobank and another lender, Alpha Bank SA, have requested access to an emergency cash facility run by the central bank. Both said the moves were only a precaution and that neither faced an immediate funding crunch.” The report’s next sentence is a classic: “People familiar with the matter said the banks are seeking a few billion euros between them.” Just like that: “a few billion euros between them.” Not hundreds, not thousands, not millions; just a few billion.

The Journal article moved Bloomberg View columnist Megan McArdle to write a piece headlined “It Might Be Time to Panic About Greece.” Money quote: “I rush to note that we are hardly in the end days yet; bank officials told the Wall Street Journal that this was only a precautionary move, and they were not facing an immediate cash crunch. One is always pleased to hear that bankers are being cautious. But the Journal also reports that $3 billion has fled Greek banks over the last two months, and there are rumors that other European banks are reining in their lending to their Hellenic counterparts. Which means that, unfortunately, their caution seems more than warranted.”

Wait until Monday. Meanwhile…

Michel Houellebecq reads in Cologne

Monday, 19 January, 2015 0 Comments

Topping the bestseller list at Amazon.fr is Soumission by Michel Houellebecq. Is his vision of a supine French “submission” to a gradual Islamic takeover a farce or a warning? Tonight, in Cologne, people will have a chance to make up their own minds when the controversial author makes one of his rare trips abroad to speak about his work. Unsurprisingly, the Lit Cologne event is sold out.

Soumission is set seven years in the future, in the year 2022. Mohammed Ben Abbes becomes president of France and immediately all women must be veiled in public, state secondary schools adopt an Islamic curriculum, and the protagonist, François, is told that he cannot return to his university job unless he converts to Islam. He happily submits to the new order, not for any religious or philosophical reasons, but because the new Saudi owners of the Sorbonne pay far better — and he can be polygamous. As he notes, in envy of his new boss, who has converted already: “One 40-year-old wife for cooking, one 15-year-old wife for other things… no doubt he had one or two others of intermediate ages.”

For those who are not fortunate enough to have a ticket to see Michel Houellebecq in action tonight, this Paris Review Q&A, “Scare Tactics: Michel Houellebecq Defends His Controversial New Book,” is essential reading. Snippet:

Have you asked yourself what the effect might be of a novel based on such a hypothesis?

None. No effect whatsoever.

You don’t think it will help reinforce the image of France that I just described, in which Islam hangs overhead like the sword of Damocles, like the most frightening thing of all?

In any case, that’s pretty much all the media talks about, they couldn’t talk about it more. It would be impossible to talk about it more than they already do, so my book won’t have any effect.

Doesn’t it make you want to write about something else so as not to join the pack?

No, part of my work is to talk about what everyone is talking about, objectively. I belong to my own time.

Soumission by Michel Houellebecq

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Sunday, 18 January, 2015 0 Comments

The Latin phrase Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? is found in the Satires of the Roman poet Juvenal. The literal translation is “Who will guard the guards themselves?” and the question is commonly posed when referring to the problem of controlling the doings of people in positions of power, which brings us to Saint Fanahan.

It is said that he arrived in Brigown in County Cork in the seventh century and founded a monastery there. Over the generations, a cult of prayer and pilgrimage developed at St. Fanahan’s Well, just a short distance from the ruins of Brigown Church, which is all that is left of the monastic settlement. In the 13th century, a Norman family named “de St. Michel” founded “Villa Michel” in Brigown and the name evolved to Mitchelstown. Every year on 25 November, people from the community pay homage to Saint Fanahan, who now sits in stone in front of the Mitchelstown police station, guarding the guards.

Saint Fanahan

And the merry love the fiddle

Saturday, 17 January, 2015 0 Comments

As well as playing the fiddle, Toner Quinn has numerous strings to his bow. Together with Benedict Schlepper-Connolly and Simon Doyle, he publishes the award-winning Journal of Music, and he gives lectures, talks and concerts at home and abroad. Galway was the venue for this splendid performance with Malachy Bourke and Brian Bourke.

“For the good are always the merry,
Save by an evil chance,
And the merry love the fiddle
And the merry love to dance.”

The Fiddler of Dooney, William Butler Yeats

The Warmth of Other Suns

Friday, 16 January, 2015 0 Comments

In 2014, more than 276,000 people immigrated to Europe illegally. That’s almost 140 percent more than in 2013, according to figures published by the EU. The most of these migrants sailed across the Mediterranean, and the newest method of trafficking them is cruel and effective. The smugglers buy cargo ships from scrapyards, pack hundreds of people onto them and collect thousands of dollars from every one. Then, in the middle of the Mediterranean, the captain sets the auto-pilot for Italy and jumps ship.

Migrants

Isabel Wilkerson addresses the mass movement of people in the The Warmth of Other Suns and while her focus is the American South during the 20th Century, the eloquent conclusion she reaches is universal:

“The migration was a response to an economic and social structure not of their making. They did what humans have done for centuries when life became untenable — what the pilgrims did under the tyranny of British rule, what the Scotch-Irish did in Oklahoma when the land turned to dust, what the Irish did when there was nothing to eat, what the European Jews did during the spread of Nazism, what the landless in Russia, Italy, China, and elsewhere did when something better across the ocean called to them. What binds these stories together was the back-against-the-wall, reluctant yet hopeful search for something better, any place but where they were. They did what human beings looking for freedom, throughout history, have often done.
They left.”

The warmth of sun

Robots rising

Thursday, 15 January, 2015 0 Comments

The title of Martin Ford’s new book, due out in April, is Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future. Snippet:

Rise of the Robots “Artificial intelligence is already well on its way to making ‘good jobs’ obsolete: many paralegals, physicians, and even — ironically — computer programmers are poised to be replaced by robots. As technology continues to accelerate and machines begin taking care of themselves, fewer jobs will be necessary. Unless we radically reassess the fundamentals of how our economy and politics work, this transition could create massive unemployment and inequality as well as the implosion of the economy itself.”

No industry will be spared. In “precision farming,” for example, a “nurse” robot will tend to individual plants, injecting water, pesticide or fertilizer in the exact amounts required — instead of spraying an entire field. And “picking” robots are going to take over back-breaking jobs that would otherwise go to migrant workers.

Meanwhile, San Francisco startup Modbot is designing industrial and hobby robots that will piece together like Lego. Typically robots like this might cost $25,000, but the modular nature of the Modbot could reduce the price tag to $2,500. The picture is completed with a simple smartphone app that would control your robot.

He heard the snow falling through the uni­verse

Wednesday, 14 January, 2015 0 Comments

Snow on the Galtees

“Snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.” The Dead, James Joyce

Who is the master and who the slave?

Tuesday, 13 January, 2015 0 Comments

Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have warned of the dangers that AI (Artificial Intelligence) could pose to humanity, and during the past 24 hours scientists have been signing an open letter urging that a portion of AI research should be dedicated to “aligning with human interests.” Eh?

At the beginning of this century, Bill Joy, co-founder and Chief Scientist of Sun Microsystems, warned in Wired: “What we do suggest is that the human race might easily permit itself to drift into a position of such dependence on the machines that it would have no practical choice but to accept all of the machines’ decisions.”

AI is now here and here’s Jeremy Howard talking about the amazing and frightening outlines of the “rough beast, its hour come round at last.”

The ideology of digitality

Monday, 12 January, 2015 0 Comments

“Never mind the platforms,” writes Leon Wieseltier. “Our solemn responsibility is for the substance.” His essay, “Among the Disrupted,” is a fierce attack on what he calls “the ideology of digitality.” Snippet:

“All revolutions exaggerate, and the digital revolution is no different. We are still in the middle of the great transformation, but it is not too early to begin to expose the exaggerations, and to sort out the continuities from the discontinuities. The burden of proof falls on the revolutionaries, and their success in the marketplace is not sufficient proof. Presumptions of obsolescence, which are often nothing more than the marketing techniques of corporate behemoths, need to be scrupulously examined. By now we are familiar enough with the magnitude of the changes in all the spheres of our existence to move beyond the futuristic rhapsodies that characterize much of the literature on the subject. We can no longer roll over and celebrate and shop. Every phone in every pocket contains a ‘picture of ourselves,’ and we must ascertain what that picture is and whether we should wish to resist it.”

Talking of phones, here is a photo by Peter Dejong/AP of people holding their mobile phones in front of Rembrandt’s painting, The Night Watch, during a visit by King Carl Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden, with King Willem Alexander and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands, to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam on 5 April last year.

Amsterdam

Tomorrow, here, fear of AI (artificial intelligence) and its role in “the tyranny of technology.”