The Sunday dozen

21st January 2024

John Wyver writes: for your enjoyment and edification, herewith this week’s selection of articles and audio that have engaged and challenged and enriched me over the past week.

The fatal flaw in Mr Bates vs The Post Office: I don’t agree with David Aaronovitch’s conclusions but this essay from his Notes from the Underground Substack is among the best things written on the ITV drama series (above) and its fallout.

The Post Office scandal and machine morality: Jamie Bartlett reflects productively on broader questions raised by the ‘lethal mix’ of faulty software or human dishonesty:

The most immediate risk from the machine age is not that they go rogue – that’s for Hollywood. It is that we stay in charge of our machines but blindly follow their outputs, no matter how idiotic or immoral, because it’s easier.

Who are we talking to when we talk to these bots?: Colin Fraser with a dense but truly fascinating discussion of ‘who’ is actually on the other side of ChatGP and the like.

Harnessing AI to transform climate action II – exponential progress towards a planet-positive future: Climate Collective describe themselves as ‘a leading community of entrepreneurs, investors, non-profits and scientists leveraging digital technology (AI, blockchain, geospatial) for climate and nature action at scale’; this week they released as a free download this valuable ‘report’high level vision’ about the potential of artificial intelligence in this most urgent of struggles. Note though, as they say, ‘this is not a 101 type tutorial’; for that, start with November’s part I report, also free to download, A paradigm shift.

Useful cinema: Rick Prelinger on The Spectrum of Sponsorship: the great archivist and activist Rick Prelinger interviewed by Screen Slate about two programmes of American sponsored films that he is presenting at MoMA; Rick is among the most thoughtful and engaged figures in film preservation and access, and is always worth reading and listening to.

Not not jazz: a terrific Ben Ratliff essay for New York Review of Books [£, but limited free access] on Miles Davis’ recordings in the late 1960s and early 1970s – and here’s Miles performing ‘Bitches Brew’ live in Copenhagen in 1969:

Rhythms of history: for New Left Review‘s online Sidecar, Jacob Collins pays tribute to the late and great French historian Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, suggesting that his ‘detailed and complex longue durée history of human beings’ relationship with the climate’ is a valuable source for all those seeking to combat climate catastrophe.

The Persephone Letter: is there anything more charmingly English and gloriously heartening than the monthly newsletter from the wonderful Bath-based publisher that, in their words, ‘reprints neglected fiction and non-fiction, mostly by women writers and mostly dating from the mid-twentieth century’. My wife Clare and I adore their books, of which we have A LOT, delight in visiting their shop in Bath, and are immensely pleased every time the newsletter arrives – this month it’s mostly about Hampstead.

Things Fell Apart S2: Jon Ronson has returned with eight new origin stories of the culture wars; each tale begins with something seemingly inconsequential and then spreads out to reveal an invariably unexpected panorama of our recent past; highly recommended.

Composer of the Week – Caroline Shaw: five exceptional editions (available in full @BBCSounds for just another 10 days) with Kate Molleson speaking with and exploring the brilliant musical mind of Caroline Shaw; as a taster here, she is with Sō Percussion performing her version of ABBA’s ‘Lay All Your Love on Me’; what’s perhaps a little tricksy at the start becomes urgent and moving and memorable:

An old-fashioned future: thanks to Billy Smart for pointing me to this Peter Hitchens piece about memory, ageing and the continuing allure of Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles – it’s from the journal The American Conservative, which I admit is not on my regular reading list.

The schools of the London School Board – ‘Sermons in brick’: a terrific Municipal Dreams post about the 400 schools built by the late Victorian Board, which unarguably are collectively ‘one of municipalism’s outstanding achievements’; once you know about the schools and their distinctive architecture you see them everywhere across London.

And finally…: this week saw the death of Mary Weiss, lead singer of The Shangri-Las, and so here’s a bizarre but oddly lovely clip (that hair!) from 1964 of the band miming to their best song (although ‘Remember (Walking in the Sand)’ runs it close) – the accompanying background on the Youtube page is worth a read too. And see also Alexis Petridis’ great Guardian tribute, Mary Weiss brought streetwise realism to the Shangri-Las – and let 60s girl groups flirt with danger.

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