Best of, round up for new subscribers...
Here’s a taster of a fortnightly digest, with eight of my favourite, timeless pieces from posts to date…
Cinéma vérité – Kennedy vs. Wallace: A Crisis Up Close
A 1963 documentary, Kennedy vs. Wallace: A Crisis Up Close. All raw footage. Almost no voiceover/narration. But you’re sat with JFK and his five or so most intimate advisors, in the White House, listening to their deliberations.
You also follow, with equal filmmaking intimacy, Alabama (Democratic) governor George Wallace, who was intending personally to block the entrance of two black students to the all-white University of Alabama (the last university in the U.S. to integrate), who JFK had to threaten to bring his own National Guard against, risking losing support for civil rights legislation in so doing.
This is a remarkable documentary.
One thing that stood out to me was how calm it all was. High stakes, but calm.
In addition to pulling out a clip from the documentary, here’s the story of how such intimate, behind-closed-doors White House access came to be:
This was the first film ever shot of a President doing real work in the White House, and it’s said no other independent filmmaker has been inside the Oval Office recording a President actually making decisions like this.
‘Kennedy himself grasped that the technique could create a new form of history, once musing to Robert Drew [the filmmaker] that he wished he could have observed FDR in the 24 hours before he declared war on Japan.’
I’m glad that the new British Prime Minister’s camera team are capturing so much footage, and hopefully are aware of this.
Hedge fund managers versus venture capitalists. How different are the personality types?
Sebastian Mallaby with Matt Clifford:
Volcker’s mystique, Judy Shelton
~1 minute clip:
Recounting Paul Volcker:
‘People think that those of us on the Fed Board have some kind of secret plan, that if everything goes to hell, we somehow know what it will take to put us back on course… Here’s what they don’t know. We don’t have anything! We don’t know. We’re reading the same things… If people knew the truth, we’d really be in trouble. But the fact that they wrongly believe we have a plan… ironically, that is what saves the system.
In a word, what makes a successful central banker? Mystique.’
Judy Shelton is a brilliant and interesting figure in her own right. Nominated to the Fed Board, she was denied a seat, by a single vote, for being so independently minded.
Robb Wolf on ‘clean’ (lab-grown) meat
…And his concerns. [Clipped for speed; not changing sentiment]
On the carbon cycle – clip from the Sacred Cow documentary:
A really inspiring school Principal
Remainder of this video:
If you enjoy this, I highly recommend this 10-minute video with Hamish.
The neglected prophet of airpower, Billy Mitchell
I came across the following passage:
A quarter century earlier, in 1921, the Navy had suffered a public relations disaster when General Billy Mitchell’s bombers sank every target ship the Navy provided for the Project B ship-versus-bomb tests.
This 1962 documentary illustrating it is excellent. Clip: 9:55–16:
Billy Mitchell, who is considered the father of the Air Force:
faced unrelenting bureaucratic resistance
fought virtually alone for airpower
had foreign leaders (Mussolini/Hitler) taking note of the correct things he was saying much more seriously than his own country.
‘he was court-martialed for insubordination after accusing Army and Navy leaders of an “almost treasonable administration of the national defense” for investing in battleships instead of aircraft carriers.’
He was ultimately (post-humously) vindicated.
AI on the battlefield
My most vigorously highlighted passage of The Age of AI, Henry Kissinger and Eric Schmidt’s 2022 book:
Whether an individual playing AI‑assisted chess might be counseled to sacrifice a valuable piece that sophisticated players had traditionally deemed indispensable is of little consequence, but in the context of national security, what if AI recommended that a commander in chief sacrifice a significant number of citizens or their interests in order to save, according to the AI’s calculation and valuation, an even greater number? On what basis could that sacrifice be overridden? Would the override be justified? Will humans always know what calculations AI has made? Will humans be able to detect unwelcome (AI) choices or reverse unwelcome choices in time? If we are unable to fathom the logic of each individual decision, should we implement its recommendations on faith alone? If we do not, do we risk interrupting performance superior to our own? Even if we can fathom the logic, price, and impact of specific alternatives, what if our opponent is equally reliant on AI?
Was the Queen the only person ever to have met 14 U.S. Presidents?
Stories of Ronald Reagan insisting she come out to Hollywood instead of meeting in D.C.; the Obamas having a mouse in their room at Buckingham Palace… Recorded a few months prior to her passing, the below with Robert Hardman and Andrew Roberts, for 12 minutes, is a truly wonderful collection of stories.
As has been written elsewhere, ‘The late monarch was the country’s [and arguably the world’s] best diplomat’.
Thank you for reading. If you know one person who might enjoy this, please share it on!
Last updated: 15 November 2022