Time to start adding galleries again to Detail, with a third collection of panoramas from the past few years of camping trips, mini-breaks and outings around Scotland. I have some international ones in the wings as well.
And so we collapse into 2017, waiting to see just how dire the Trump administration will be, whether Brexit really will mean Brexit, and who next among the West’s democracies will follow Britain and the US down the road to nowhere. It’s enough to take the wind out of any little-read blog’s sails. I do have a few ideas about more substantial projects for coming months, but for the moment only a few links.
A small selection of dozens of bookmarks from the past month. The one you should really be reading on all of this is Sarah Kendzior.
The Republican machine. The election was rigged. Everything mattered. Something is deeply broken. We all have plenty to fear. Is this how democracy ends? Is progress history? Trump’s looming mass criminalization. “These people.” The lessons of Berlusconi. Take danger at face value.
Google, democracy and the truth about internet search. It’s like the fascists saw John Perry Barlow’s Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace and thought “Lebensraum!”
The Department for Education agreed to share pupil nationality data with the Home Office. What could possibly go wrong.
Kelp on White Beach, Tasmania, December 2009.
Kelp, a large seaweed that grows in underwater forests along temperate coasts, supports many marine species in turn. The Kelp Highway Hypothesis postulates that Pacific Rim kelp forests and the wealth of fish, mammals and birds that they supported sustained maritime hunter-gatherers spreading into the New World 16,000 years ago. Kelp species play an important role in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean cuisines, and fuelled the production of soda ash in the Scottish Highlands and islands until the industry’s collapse in the 19th century, which fuelled emigration to North America and beyond. Charles Darwin wrote of the kelp forests of Tierra del Fuego that “if in any country a [terrestrial] forest was destroyed, I do not believe nearly so many species of animals would perish as would here, from the destruction of the kelp”.
In October 2016, an ocean heatwave destroyed the last giant kelp forest on the east coast of Tasmania, bringing an end to an ecosystem that has dominated it for tens of thousands of years.
The Great A.I. Awakening: How Google used artificial intelligence to transform Google Translate (via Mefi) is a fantastic article, both for its contents and as a piece of journalism (I’m enjoying the author’s earlier article on travel photography as a result). As a computer science undergrad in the late 1980s, I took a course on AI, which involved building our own expert systems; it seemed obvious what a challenge that was always going to be, compared with some of the promising machine-learning alternatives. I now see that this was a brief window when neural networks were taken seriously, before their proponents were cast into the wilderness for the next decade and a half. That seems crazy to me, as someone who left the field. In the 1990s I was reading neuroscience theories about how minds emerge in an evolutionary way. Surely these theories and AI research would cross-fertilize each other, leading to new insights in both domains? But it seems that for a long time they didn’t. Maybe they will now.
It didn’t take long for the racist and misogynist horrors of Trump World to emerge, but despite this, much post-election punditry has focussed on the economic suffering of the Rust Belt states that delivered him victory, on what this says about the American national mood, and on how the Democrats and the world should account for it. In the Guardian, for example, Thomas Piketty wrote: “Let it be said at once: Trump’s victory is primarily due to the explosion in economic and geographic inequality in the United States over several decades and the inability of successive governments to deal with this.”
There’s only one way in which I can see the implications of such a statement as tolerable, and it isn’t that Democrats should pander to misogyny and white racism. It’s that economic and geographic inequality has become a feedback loop driving people from depressed regions to the metropoles—the ambitious, the educated, the young, the persecuted, attracted by a more welcoming culture and more opportunities to get ahead—and that this has increased the cultural and political differences between states and regions over time. If the major cities of the Midwest and Rust Belt were twice the size they are today and the coastal metropoles were correspondingly smaller, we wouldn’t see these extremes of opportunity and opinion. This is just as true of Britain or Australia as it is of the US, and I suspect of many other countries as well.
But this explanation of difference doesn’t explain the mood of the American people as seen last Tuesday. It’s frustrating to see so many analyses that try to explain why the Democrats failed to capture it when we know that Hillary Clinton will end up way ahead in the popular vote, and this despite legislated voter-suppression and suspicions of interference in key states favouring Republicans. Hillary won the vote and lost the election, which means that she spoke more to the mood of the American people despite all the obstacles in her way, and it’s the electoral system that’s broken. Talking about how we need to pay more attention to the people in small states because those are the rules of the game effectively accepts that a person living in California or New York is worth less than a person in Wisconsin, and screw that. And I say that as someone born and raised in a small state.
The right is already attempting to rewrite this history, because although they’re happy to reap the spoils either way, they want the legitimacy that appearing to have won the popular vote confers. The only dismal consolation of last week’s result is that they don’t have it.
America, I’m afraid, has thrown away the right to stand as an example of democracy and how it should be done, no matter how peaceful a transition the Obama White House attempts to effect. I say “I’m afraid” because I’m genuinely fearful that no country anywhere is now capable of holding that democratic authority (or at least of having a reasonable claim to it), and we’re all now stumbling around in the dark.
Adapted from a MetaFilter comment.
My son drew this on the whiteboard in my office when he visited it a couple of months ago, and I’d kept it there ever since.