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Job creation in the New Economy

Thursday, 12 March, 2015 0 Comments

“WhatsApp crossed 1B Android downloads. btw our android team is four people + Brian. very small team, very big impact.” So tweets @jankoum. One billion Android downloads is an amazing achievement, but the boast of this being done with just five people is alarming as it confirms the theory expressed in The Jobless Future that the technologies which make modern abundance possible are enabling the production of much more output using far fewer people.

Jan Koum

Hitchens on Hillary: The case against drama

Wednesday, 11 March, 2015 0 Comments

Hillary Clinton went on a First-Lady tour of Asia in April 1995. Along the way, she visited Nepal and was introduced to Sir Edmund Hillary, of Mount Everest fame. Thereupon, she announced that her mother had actually named her for the great mountaineer. This assertion ended up a decade later in her husband’s memoirs.

Fact: Hillary Clinton was born in 1947, and Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay did not climb Mount Everest until 1953. Jennifer Hanley, a spokeswoman for Mrs Clinton, put it like this in October 2006 after the fiction had been exposed: “It was a sweet family story her mother shared to inspire greatness in her daughter, to great results I might add.”

All of this, and more, can be found in “The Case Against Hillary Clinton” by Christopher Hitchens, which appeared seven years ago in Slate. His conclusion was devastating: “Indifferent to truth, willing to use police-state tactics and vulgar libels against inconvenient witnesses, hopeless on health care, and flippant and fast and loose with national security: The case against Hillary Clinton for president is open-and-shut.” And, as the 2008 campaign record shows, the primary voters responded accordingly.

Incidentally, the Slate sub-heading on the Hitchens article was “Why on earth would we choose to put the Clinton family drama at the center of our politics again?” and Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo places “drama” at the heart of his take on the latest Hillary theatre. In “The Joy and the Drama” he observes, wearily, “The Clintons are great. But there is always something. Always. Always a dance, always drama.”

The case against Hillary Clinton remains conclusive. Martin O’Malley offers less drama.

Once upon a time in a land called Venezuela

Tuesday, 10 March, 2015 0 Comments

My, my, a lot can change in a short time. Back on 13 December 2012, famed Hugo Chávez bot Richard Gott reflected on the state of Venezuela in the Guardian. Was he alarmed, dismayed, perturbed? None of it. In fact, he painted an idyllic picture with phrases such as “huge oil revenues”, “competent team of ministers”, “running the country quite happily”, “no immediate crises”, “economy is purring along quite well” and the oleaginous “engaging and collegiate leader” for Comrade Maduro. Snippet:

Chavez “After 14 years of considerable institutional change, huge oil revenues now pour into the alleviation of the acute poverty suffered by a large percentage of the country, and there is a rock-solid base of chavista support that will take decades to erode. Chávez also leaves a competent team of ministers at the top, most of whom have been running the country quite happily in recent years. They share the radical vision of Chávez, and in Maduro they have an engaging and collegiate leader. There are no immediate crises in sight and, in spite of alarmist reports in the foreign press, the economy is purring along quite well. After more than a decade on a political roller-coaster, the country will return to a more normal profile.”

And today? Dissent, inflation and shortages of basic goods dominate the agenda. “President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government this week launched a 70 percent devaluation via a new ‘free floating’ currency system known as Simadi” reported Reuters last month. “‘They’re doing this because they don’t have any money,’ said a man who gave his name only as Felix, and who said he was 83.”

Note: Richard Gott was once the literary editor of the Guardian, but he resigned from the post in 1994 after it was alleged in The Spectator that he had been a KGB “agent of influence”. He rejected the claim, arguing that “Like many other journalists, diplomats and politicians, I lunched with Russians during the Cold War”. With the Russians said to be looking for lunch partners again, Richard Gott need never dine alone.

Of watches and cities

Monday, 9 March, 2015 0 Comments

Apple is holding one of its famous product-presentation events in San Francisco today. The focus will be on the company’s Watch, which is a big bet for Apple as  this is its first major product launch since the iPad, five years ago, and the first one under CEO Tim Cook’s leadership. If we’re so good at making things like watches and phones, how come we’re getting worse at making beautiful cities? That’s the question posed by the London-based Swiss thinker Alain de Botton in “How to Make an Attractive City,” a new video from the School of Life.

The best cities are a mix of wide and narrow streets, says de Botton. A city should be easy to navigate for both humans and vehicles, with avenues for orientation and alleys that allow us to wander and experience a sense of mystery.

March is in

Sunday, 8 March, 2015 0 Comments

Born in 1830 in Massachusetts, Emily Dickinson lived her life in almost complete isolation from the outside world. Her condensed verse profoundly influenced the direction of 20th century poetry and she is now regarded as a uniquely gifted voice. Familiar with severe New England winters, Dickinson appreciated the joys of spring.

Dear March – Come in –

How glad I am –
I hoped for you before –
Put down your Hat –
You must have walked –
How out of Breath you are –
Dear March, how are you, and the Rest –
Did you leave Nature well –
Oh March, Come right upstairs with me –
I have so much to tell –

I got your Letter, and the Birds –
The Maples never knew that you were coming –
I declare – how Red their Faces grew –
But March, forgive me –
And all those Hills you left for me to Hue –
There was no Purple suitable –
You took it all with you –

Who knocks? That April –
Lock the Door –
I will not be pursued –
He stayed away a Year to call
When I am occupied –
But trifles look so trivial
As soon as you have come

That blame is just as dear as Praise
And Praise as mere as Blame –

Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

March

Jakob Bro: Music from the cool north

Saturday, 7 March, 2015 0 Comments

“He balances on a knife-edge between precision and arrangement, and an openness that gives the musicians exceptional freedom to move intuitively in the music and express themselves in the moment.” So said the organizers of the Nordic Council Music Prize last year when announcing their award to the Danish guitarist, Jakob Bro, who’s got a new album out, Gefion. In Norse mythology, Gefjon or Gefjun or Gefion is a goddess associated with the island of Zealand, the Swedish king Gylfi, the Danish king Skjöldr, ploughing, prophecy, premonition and virginity.

When old news was news

Friday, 6 March, 2015 0 Comments

Life was hard and diversions were few around Peebles on the Scottish Borders in the early days of the 19th-century. News of the outside world was infrequent and often arrived long after events had taken place. The “headlines” of the time were conveyed by travellers and welcomed by a largely illiterate public. Robert Chambers, the famous publisher, recalled an eccentric character called Tam Fleck who wandered the area carrying a translation of The Jewish War by the Roman historian Josephus, which he read out as if it were the “current” news and which was relished by his audience:

“Weel, Tam, what’s the news the nicht?” someone would ask.
“Bad news, bad news…Titus has begun to besiege Jerusalem; it’s gaun to be a terrible business.”

Houellebecq and the capitulation of cover art

Thursday, 5 March, 2015 0 Comments

“For the purpose of Appreciation and Categorization” is the motto of The Book Cover Archive, and there is much to appreciate and categorize on this World Book Day when it comes to book covers. Think of the art of Roger Kastel for Jaws by Peter Benchley. With Soumission, the latest novel from Michel Houellebecq, however, we’re seeing a different kind of cover art. The art of capitulation.

In his book, Houellebecq paints a picture of an old, ailing Christian nation, France, submitting to a more vigorous ideology: Islam. It is a bitterly funny critique of the tolerance of the intolerant and a terrifying vision of the multicultural endgame. The book is a best-seller in France, Germany and Italy, despite the best efforts of its publishers to neutralize its appearance. The two-tone cover of the original French version is devoid of art; the German version, Unterwerfung, features the head of a bird, and the Italian cover of Sottomissione dispenses with imagery completely. The US publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, is silent about the cover of Lorin Stein’s forthcoming translation but one fears that the supine trend will continue. Given the vital role of cover art in the history of book making, it is hard to accept that publishers would willingly embrace aniconism, the proscription against the creation of images, but Sottomissione is the proof.

Soumission Soumission Soumission

Dylan goes noir

Wednesday, 4 March, 2015 0 Comments

Bob Dylan’s latest album, Shadows in the Night, is a collection of standards from the 1930’s through the 1950’s, including The Night We Called It a Day, which was written in 1941 by Matt Dennis and Tony Adair and recorded by Frank Sinatra and Doris Day. This being Dylan, comment is superfluous. The haters will hate it, and the believers will rationalize it. In the end, Bob gets away with it.

Keeping an eye on the other side of the hill

Tuesday, 3 March, 2015 0 Comments

The Battle of Waterloo was a momentous event in European history and the Bicentenary is coming up in June. The two greatest soldiers of the age, Napoleon and Wellington, who had never faced each other before, finally met on the plains of Waterloo and the rest is history. Their encounter was a long time brewing.

In 1803, when fears of a French invasion of Britain were at code red levels, a new play, Goody Two Shoes; Or, Harlequin Alabaster, was performed at Sadler’s Wells theatre. In it, a French assault by balloon is foiled at the last minute. The drama was riffing on popular rumours of the day, such as the one where Napoleon’s engineers would construct a pontoon across the English Channel, with the work being supervised by officers in balloons. There was a factual basis for this. The French army had used reconnaissance balloons in the Low Countries in 1794 and Napoleon, aware of the potential of air war, set up a Compagnie d’Aérostiers. The revolutionaries lost interest in their innovation, however, and as Historic Wings notes:

“On Sunday, June 18, 1815, the armies of Emperor Napoleon would face the armies of the Seventh Coalition at Waterloo. The key to Wellington’s initial deployment was that his forces were hidden on the back slope of a ridge, along the top of which ran Ohain Road. If only Napoleon had the services of the Aerostatic Corps, he would have known the full deployment of the enemy from the outset — and thus, history could well have been rewritten that day.”

The Duke of Wellington probably wasn’t talking about balloons or related technologies when he spoke to John Croker, Secretary to the Admiralty, post-Waterloo but he did make this observation: “All the business of war, and indeed all the business of life, is to endeavour to find out what you don’t know by what you do; that’s what I called ‘guessing what was at the other side of the hill.'” The Croker Papers

Body of glass

Monday, 2 March, 2015 0 Comments

“Seemed like the real thing, only to find mucho mistrust, love’s gone behind.” That’s what Blondie sang in Heart of Glass back in 1978. At the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona last night, glass was front and behind when Samsung unveiled its Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge phones. According to Gigaom, “Samsung has done away from the plastic cases that always characterized its phones and adopted Gorilla Glass front and back panels, which are then encased with a metal band.”

This is very good news for Corning, and it reminds us of the glass stats cited by Benedict Evans in his “Mobile is Eating the World” presentation last year.

Glass

Note: “Samsung has be known to copy Apple’s design before, which led to record sales and record-breaking lawsuits. It’s hard to say if the Galaxy S6 will bring about any lawsuits, but the similarities between it and the iPhone 6 are undeniable.” Dan Seifert, reporting for The Verge from Barcelona.