My most dangerous car ride
I visited a megalith from a lost civilisation. My podcast with Annemarie Naylor on digital innovation. Buses outside London as a levelling up idea. Climate, ESG, creativity, AI. Poetry.
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Hana Loftus: planning policy idea
Haiku, I come back to often + most dangerous jeep ride
Buses outside London, levelling up idea
Links: AI produces my picture idea; David Sedaris has non-fiction writing tips; old blog on quality of government; Vacliv Smil on climate transistion + counters to Smil; arguments for remote work; Amazon Venture fund; ESG: new Alex Edmans et al paper on tilting investment strategies; JP Morgan on climate transistion.
This week I’ve been reflecting on a haiku that I have returned to over and over across the years.
I first came across it at 14 years old as I stumbled across Japanese and Chinese literature. I encountered old pond / Frog leap / splash around the same time. The frog haiku also comes back to me in quiet / surprising moments in nature.
But summer grassses haunts me more.
I was reminded of this in a recent exchange with a philosopher. I mentioned I was cycling across London. He recalled a terrifying taxi ride when young. This triggered my memory of my most terrifying vehicle ride.
The scariest vehicle ride I had was in Indonesia. In 1998, I was travelling in Sulawesi. We heard about puzzling megaliths in the Bada Valley. Getting to the valley would involve a jeep ride. This jeep was stacked seemingly with the possessions of 3 families, their chickens and their wares, and us. My travel companion thought we would die as the jeep careened around the crumbling path that clung to the slopes. The burned out car wreckages lining the slopes did not allay our fears. Amongst the fear, I do recall an impression of beauty about the valley. (Mark Moxon has a photo, below taken in about the year I went).
I remember this trip, not so much for the jeep ride, but because in the Bada Valley we trekked to see these mysterious statues. (I found this account from Moxon, and his one of the funerals of Toreja land similar to my experience and one year earlier then my visit). This statue (locally named, Palindo “the entertainer”)
all that remains
a civilisation’s entire dreams
Now to be gawped at by tourists.
Nobody really knows how old the Bada megaliths are, or who made them, or even why they're there. They date anywhere between 1,000 and 5,000 years old. The locals don't have a clue – 'They've always been here,' is the most common response if you ask someone where the statues came from. They seem to pre-date the current Bada people. Adding to the mystery, all the objects in the area are made from a type of grey stone of which there are no deposits in the vicinity. cf. Stonehenge or Easter Island, The statues are huge, heavy, and in the middle of nowhere, a long way from any stone which could make them….
…I ponder what this era will leave behind and what will be remembered. Bringing me back to the haiku poet,
…Having left Edo in late spring of 1689, Matsuo Basho and Sora travel north, arriving at Hiraizumi on June 29th. Once the seat of the Northern branch of the Fujiwara family, it was destroyed in 1189. As the poet gazes down at the old battlefield, he hears in his head the words of the ancient Chinese poet Du Fu and explains:
“In the space of a dream, three glorious generations of Fujiwara vanished; two miles in the distance are the remains of the Great Gate. Hidehira’s headquarters have turned into rice paddies and wild fields. Only Kinkeizan, the Golden Fowl Hill, remains as it once was.
First, we climbed Takadachi, Castle-on-the-Heights, from where we could see the Kitakami, a broad river that flows from the south. Nearby, Koromo River rounds Izumi Castle and at a point beneath Castle-on-the-Heights, it drops into Kitakami. The ancient ruins of Yasuhira and others, lying behind Koromo Barrier, appear to close off the southern entrance and guard against the Ainu barbarians.
With his most loyal retainers, Yoshitsune fortified himself in the castle, but his dreams of glory quickly turned to grass.
“The state is destroyed, / rivers and hills remain. / The city walls return to spring, / grasses and trees are green. “
With Du Fu’s lines in my head, I lay down my bamboo hat and let time and tears flow.”
I once adapted a Noh play. It happened to win a prize. Was performed in London (at the Gate theatre) and garnered good reviews.
I’ve loved Scrabble and word play from a young age. Translation and adaption - across a language and culture - is one of those satisfying puzzles.
Let’s look at this poem. First consider for Basho - or any poet in this style - the calligraphy or writing style adds to the impact of the poem. You can compare this, for instance, to the hand written poems of Emily Dickinson.
For the average English poet, the hand writing form or written form in general matters less - another exception would be the typewriter form of ee cummings.
In Emily Dickinson - to my mind her handwritten forms are a superior art to the typed page form. The length of her “dash line” varies, and the vigour of its stroke conveys a sense of pause and fluidity that the standardised text does not.
The same for Basho. Even more, Basho’s writing would often be intertwined with ink drawing for an even more complex impact. As the below (the writing itself seems to be falling quietly at the start)
horo horo to / yamabuki chiru ka / taki no oto
quietly quietly / yellow mountain roses fall / sound of rapids
I can not find Basho’s original calligraphy here but we need to possibly imagine the flow of ink.
I went on the CFAi podcast with Matt Orsagh. I asked him several data questions as a lens into the state of the world.
The question on poverty summarises much of this. 1.9 billion people below the poverty line in 1980. Today that is 700 million people. Good news that >1bn lifted out of deep poverty, Bad news that 700m are still in poverty.
Bad news that so many live on <10$ a day –
If you’d like to listen to me on ESG things, check out below or wherever you get podcasts.
Annemarie is Director of Innovation for the Seetec Group. Before that, she was, Director of Policy and Strategy at Future Care Capital - a national charity that uses the insight gathered through evidence-based research to advance ideas that will help shape future health and social care policy to deliver better outcomes for society.
We chat about what is under appreciated about libraries and how to think about public goods and common ownership of those goods.
Annemarie discusses the idea of a Sovereign Health Fund and how to think about healthcare data as a public good, what trust is needed and how health value can be created by pooling data.
We discuss the benefits and cons of social media, how tricky regulation is (partly because it is always behind the times) and how there might be more benefits than commonly thought.
Annemarie talks about her work and Seetec’s on the future of justice and how leveraging data and digital technology can help shape a better justice system and also prevent re-offending. She offers insights into how new technology is creating new forms of crime and whether more careful thinking can prevent these types of crime from occuring. How will crime in the metaverse work out?
This UK “levelling up” idea could be good. I travel with JP on buses outside London. I can concur local buses could really improve.
Jennifer Williams @JenWilliamsMENI’m sorry about this but I must do a v v long 🚌 thread. Just listened back to PM this afternoon, on R4, which did a special on bus services outside London, with the springboard a service cut in Birmingham (the 144)
My friend Hana has an intractable policy idea on changing how local planning decisions might be made.
I asked an AI (Dalle) “A philosopher and a dodo looking at and debating existential risk” The AI produced this!
You can read these around the internet but this summarizes what David Sedaris has said about essay writing from life. The style is humorous narrative non-fiction. He says much of this in his “Masterclass”:
One of my older, more popular blogs on quality of government being important.
Smil makes arguments.
This thread makes counter arguments, contra Smil.
Jeremy Wallace @jerometenkThe energy transition will be hard, and decarbonization maybe harder, but it's not as depressing as that Vaclav Smil piece in the NYT suggested. Short (maybe?) thread.
New Alex Edmans + co-authors paper on “tilting” vs divestment, also see my Linkedin.
Arguments for remote / hybrid - also see AirBnB
Amazon venture fund
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