Peter Rhodes on Qatar, our debt to the developing world and the enduring gift of pernicketyness

“Dipping napkins in a few spoonfuls of cornflour dissolved in water makes for delightfully crisp, starched table linen.” Letter to the Daily Telegraph reminding us that, no matter how bad the recession gets, pernicketyness will survive.

Lord Lucan – still missing
Lord Lucan – still missing

I have no idea why Qatar, a tiny country with no history of football, wanted to host the World Cup. But it is presumably an exercise in winning hearts and minds to show the world that Qatar is a modern and progressive place for tourism and business, where civil rights are respected, contracts are honoured and you can get a beer at half time. So how's that going?

I note that the weekly newspaper where I worked as a trainee reporter (long ago and far away, naturally) has just raised its cover price to what, back then, was my daily rate of pay.

The miracle of the computer never fails to astound us. Artificial intelligence (AI) has been put to work identifying a painting owned by a Swiss collector. The program diligently compared the portrait to 206 works by Renoir and concluded there is an 80.58 per cent probability that the Swiss painting is also by Renoir. I was reminded of another AI face-recognition program which, a few weeks ago, figured that an old bloke living in Australia is Lord Lucan, who vanished in 1974. The program was claimed to be “never wrong” but Home Office experts said it was definitely wrong, and it's all gone a bit quiet.

At times like this beware of the term “state of the art,” used to suggest something is perfect. Sometimes the art is in a right old state.

And who knows how brilliant AI must become before it can answer the burning issue raised at the Cop27 climate summit; how much “loss and damage” money does the developed world owe the developing world for the harm caused by man-made climate change? Industrialisation, like the British Empire, was neither wholly good nor wholly bad. Some third world nations could never have prospered without the water pumps, windmills, railways and generators of the industrialised West.

It is a conundrum but I can make one prediction. The final “loss and damage” bill will be a lot more than we want to pay but a lot less than they want.

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