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Inbox 86

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Editor’s letter

Mira Katbamna

Welcome to the Lent edition of CAM. What does Brexit hold? As I write this, with only a few weeks to go, the only possible answer is: uncertainty. So, naturally we ask Catherine Barnard, Professor of EU Law, to predict the future.

What does Kant have to say about Slayer? Or indeed, about Metallica? According to Dr Ross Wilson, Lecturer in Critical Theory, rather more than you might think. In this issue, he explains how his youthful obsession with heavy metal music has influenced his academic day job.

Elsewhere, we examine why, from the General Strike to the campaign to ban Sainsbury’s, Mill Road has long provided a home to radicals (and students), and we delve into the undergrowth to uncover the secret life of plants.

Professor Jason Sharman explains why the current global crackdown on kleptocracy – rule by thieves – has the potential to be revolutionary, both for those poor nations whose money has been looted and for those rich nations where the money is spent.

As ever, on all these topics, we look forward to your contribution to the debate, whether by post, email or on social media.

Mira Katbamna (Caius 1995)

Social media


On charisma

To my mind charisma and charm are co-dependent and represent compelling attractiveness that can inspire devotion in others. The CAM feature (CAM 85) infers that this can be learnt, which is suspect, given that a charm offensive is soon unmasked. Since I have yet to encounter a depressed charismatic individual, I would add optimism as a key ingredient to be considered – and I doubt that optimism can be taught to an individual or a robot.
Nigel Collin (Christ’s 1968)

Really enjoyed reading the fascinating piece on the subject of charisma in the last issue. It’s perhaps interesting to note, though, that well before the rise of totalitarianism in the 20th century, the German sociologist Max Weber did think he had seen someone who, at least in prototype, embodied the qualities that he perceived as characterising the ‘charismatic leader’: William Gladstone. Historian Colin Matthew relates how those attending the Liberal statesman’s public meetings often came away feeling ‘Gladstonised’ by the experience.
James Smith (Pembroke 2009)

Contrary to the assertion made in your piece on charisma, Nigel Farage et al did not persuade “almost 52 per cent of the British public that leaving the EU was a good idea”. On a turnout of 72.21 per cent, 51.89 per cent voted to leave; in other words, 37.47 per cent of the electorate (and an even smaller percentage of the “public”) voted to leave.
Ian Wilson (Churchill 1970)

Reading your article on charisma made me realise its importance in the ‘age of anxiety’, as CAM so calls it. In particular, it made me ponder the notion that charisma can be ‘learned’ and if we were all to learn it, would it still retain its effect as explored in your article? Food for thought.
Cordelia North (Homerton 2011)

Machine learning

I took particular note of the comment at the end of your piece on AI: “We need human intelligence to control it.” Bravo! But let’s go further: human intelligence in this context surely means wisdom, thus arguably ‘the knowledge of how to be and behave for the best for all concerned in any given situation’. It therefore strikes me that we need wisdom very badly in the world today, and in many more problematic and artificial circumstances than those presented by AI.
Larry Culliford (St Catharine’s 1968)

The speed and extent of development have vastly increased. With no cars, the first rideable bicycles only came when my grandfathers were young men. Antibiotics and atomic bombs came in the early 1940s. The first electronic computer came after I started at Emmanuel. “Wow, it can play tic-tac-toe!” As you point out, AI has not taken over humankind. We started it for its benefit to us. Let us think how we want to develop the civilised world. If we do not think about it we might well just obliterate ourselves.

Maybe Cambridge can lead the way in showing what developments in people are possible. The changes could be just as vast and rapid as those have been in physical possessions and in AI. They surely could rank as important as developments in physical possessions and AI. Cambridge University has a deserved reputation for encouraging research and development. How about the future of humankind? Is Cambridge ready to take a big part in finding ways towards a humane future for the world? I hope so.
Charles Simmonds (Emmanuel 1943)

Peterhouse sex club

It is the privilege and joy of every generation to believe, for a short while at least, that they invented sex. However, the implication that the Peterhouse JCR became the Sex Club when Virginia Murray became president in 1988 must be challenged by those older, if no wiser. I have no doubt that the founders of the Sexcentenary Club in 1884 intended to
bequeath the joke in perpetuity to their successors, and I can attest to its currency in 1963, when it justified the risqué soubriquet by subscribing to two copies of the News of the World.
Alan Calverd (Peterhouse 1963)

Geographers anonymous

Great to see @bhask286 featured in the new issue of @Cambridge_Uni CAM magazine! I’m glad to know I’m not the only Cambridge geographer who has never studied geography…
Chris Sandbrook (University Senior Lecturer and Director of the MPhil in Conservation Leadership; Fellow of Darwin)

Still busy doing nothing

Your correspondents (CAM 85) misunderstand boredom: “Mummee! I’m bored.” “Well, darling, why don’t you… or… or….” “No, Mummy, you don’t understand. Being bored isn’t not knowing what to do. It’s not wanting to do anything and wishing you didn’t not want to do anything.” Courtesy of my brother Ben (Trinity 1969), then aged about 11.
Simon Clackson (Trinity 1962)

Nine lessons from Cornwall

I always look forward to reading your excellent magazine. However, readers may not be aware that the Nine Lessons service originated in Cornwall in Truro Cathedral, in 1880, 138 years ago.
Harry Woodhouse (Queens’ 1949)

The suggestion that the first Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols was held at King’s College in 1918, 100 years ago, is not entirely accurate. The festival was actually designed by Edward White Benson, first bishop of Truro, and inaugurated in the cathedral-under-construction on Christmas Eve 1880.
John Key (Pembroke 1957)

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