‘You have seen the Foundation/Base of the Building/Tree’

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I searched for Threshold Kids and this happened:

Threshold Kids search results

Apparently it’s referring to the Tree of Jesse. The collective unconscious moves in mysterious ways indeed.

The Royalties of Benin

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Recently the Telegraph not only carried an opinion piece on the Benin Bronzes, but supplemented it with a news item about the existence of the opinion piece. (Links may be paywalled.)

If Sarr-Savoy was a manifesto, this is more of a harangue. The baddies are ‘an outgoing Blairite generation of museum bureaucrats [who] promoted the ideology of what they called the “universal museum”’ (Cuno is a Blairite now?). Exercises in seeking consistent moral principles are dismissed as ‘those tired cross-references to the “Elgin Marbles”, or any other whataboutist or obscurantist distraction’ (the nicest spin I can put on which is that maybe he’s a particularist about ethics).

So I find myself more interested in the professional etiquette of all this. A man with a book to promote is publicly telling a great many other institutions what their own deaccession policies ought to be. For Africa, of course.

How It Terned Out

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Heritage organisations are less immune to short-termism than their vocation might suggest. I know of a National Trust property that got rid of its snowplough (dead money, according to the accountants), and then found itself unable to open for parking on many Winter days.

The onset of another economic Winter coincides with Ecclesiastical’s ‘Heritage Barometer’, which includes some passing but striking remarks about the precariat:

Our initial discussions revealed that the large numbers of small organisations, with lots of volunteers and lower-paid staff means that people ‘zigzag’ around the sector. This means it can be difficult to maintain rigorous and consistent training in the right areas. [...] Half of all organisations agree that it is difficult to recruit people with digital skills in the heritage sector [and] ultimately pay will be the primary carrot to get the right skills.

What came of all those internships, with the dangling promise of building up skills and eventually gaining an actual job? Now we can see how that’s turned out. No reserve army is there to ride to the cultural sector’s rescue.

Taxing the Artificial Brain

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Wanting the truth doesn’t mean you aren’t training people to lie to you. I learnt this way back when I tried answering Panelbase surveys: completing a survey earnt a small amount of money, but it had to be a completed survey, and many surveys included screening questions. Give a disliked answer to one of those and you’d be kicked out with no payment for your time (you’d be entered into a weekly prize draw, I think, as a sort of consolation award). One pattern that soon became obvious was that you’d usually be kicked out for giving a low figure when asked for your household income. (Remember that wealthy people are not likely to be doing surveys for peanuts in the first place. I think there was usually an option not to say, but it would get you kicked as well.) Which is why I’d take anything such surveys supposedly reveal about income distributions with a pinch of salt: everything we know about incentives and human nature indicates that plenty of respondents would have optimised their answers to favour returns over truth.

Recently Google’s captchas have been asking me to identify taxis. I say recently: other people have been getting this one since at least 2017. And I say taxis: actually it very obviously wants me to click on pictures of yellow cars. In this sceptred isle, however, taxis can be basically any colour and the iconic taxi is a London black cab. Are all the yellow cars Google’s showing me American taxis? Honestly, I don’t know: it isn’t always possible to say for sure that the yellow car in the photo is a taxi. But I can tell the captcha expects me to click on yellow cars before I’m allowed to accomplish whatever I was trying to, so by Jingo I will click on the yellow cars.

Perhaps one reason we can’t yet hand over driving to AI is that the poor machines are stuck inside an enormous epistemological thought experiment, fed with training data by distracted and exasperated non-Americans with a Frankfurtian indifference to truth.

Antinominalistic

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Thanks, Doctor Irvine. Now I get to spend the rest of the day speculating about who this was.

I can’t say it mirrors my experience, but then it wouldn’t: I live in Derby these days. (Possibly since before the mystery professor was appointed.)