Raymond Carr RIP


Raymond Carr, the great historian of modern Spain, has died at the ripe old age of 96. There will be lots of respectful obituaries like this one in the Guardian. I wonder, though, if they will capture the racy essence of the man. I’ve lost count of the number of people who knew him in Oxford, all of whom tell barely-credible stories of his various adventures, one involving coming upon him working as a waiter in a Swedish cafe, where he had come in pursuit of a woman.

He was also the model for the academic in Joseph Losey’s film Accident, in which Dirk Bogarde played a charismatic Oxford don.

Why this blog suddenly looks different

As you probably know, yesterday Google implemented its long-heralded algorithmic change to give more prominence to mobile-friendly sites in its search results. They also helpfully provided an online tool for checking whether one’s site was indeed ‘mobile friendly’ according to their criteria. So I ran the test on the previous version of this blog and — guess what? — it came out as being distinctly unfriendly. So there was nothing for it except to give it a facelift. Hence this new layout.

Arrogance, arrogance, dear boy. That’s the tech business for you

Intelligent filtering and insightful curation are rare arts. But Quartz is very good at them, which is why I read its daily dispatches the moment they arrive in my inbox.

I particularly like the Saturday edition, which comes with an elegant mini-essay by one of the editors.

Here is today’s, written by Leo Mirani:

For a decade, it seemed like the technology industry was going to usher in a newer, friendlier form of capitalism. The CEOs wore t-shirts and hoodies. Their staff had spare time to improve the world. They said they wouldn’t be evil. For a while, web users believed them.

But things have been shifting. This week, the European Union formally accused Google of abusing its dominant position in search. In India, Facebook is facing an uprising against Mark Zuckerberg’s internet.org, meant to give first-time users a taste of the internet for free. Uber is under criminal investigation in the Netherlands. Apple was last week met with underwhelming reviews for its watch.

Why? The uniting factor is arrogance. Google, with over 90% of the search market in Europe, blatantly favored its own services. Of the 500 million people who’ve used internet.org, first-time internet users make up only 1.4%, and Indians saw that this was less about connecting the poor than consolidating Facebook’s dominance. Apple decided to make the watch without any notion of what it might actually be used for—except maybe as a notifications device. No wonder even people who wanted to like it had a hard time recommending it.

The ultimate symbol of that arrogance, of course, is tech company valuations. The latest example is Slack, a one-year-old chat tool for businesses, whose funding round this week prompted cries of disbelief. “Is Slack Really Worth $2.8 Billion?” asked the New York Times (paywall). “It is, because people say it is,” said the CEO.

Of course he’s right, in a sense: Markets, not tech company founders, determine what their companies are worth. But when founders conflate market value with true value, they start to think they can do no wrong. That’s where their downfall begins.

Osborne’s car-crash interview

Fascinating. Who would have thought it of Marr — normally a relatively soft-soap interviewer? This one will join Paxman’s celebrated exchange with Michael Howard all those years ago.

Interesting also that there are structural similarities between the two interviews. I wonder if Marr decided to follow the Paxman template.

What’s also very interesting is the astute use that Labour has made of the interview video. They edited it cleverly and then posted it on Facebook.

Thanks to Tom for the original link.

Uber über alles?

From Bloomberg:

Last month, Uber accounted for 47 percent of all rides expensed by employees whose companies use Certify, the second-largest provider of travel and expense management software in North America. In March 2014, Uber accounted for only 15 percent, according to a study by Certify released on April 7. Over that period, the amount spent on traditional taxis, limousines, and airport shuttles fell from 85 percent to 52 percent of expensed rides. Lyft, a rival ride-hailing service that caters more to consumers than professionals, currently accounts for 1 percent of business rides, the study found.


The average ride in an Uber—a category that includes the low-cost UberX service, in addition to the pricier black car and SUV variations—costs $31.24, while the average fare for a taxi, shuttle buses, or limo was slightly higher, at $35.40. “Across business travel we have seen the strongest growth on UberX, our lowest cost option,” says Max Crowley, who manages the Uber for Business program. “Employees recognize the value of riding with Uber and are saving their companies money in the process.”

Disruption continues apace.

Oh — and you can now use Uber to hail auto rickshaws in Delhi!

Blaming the mirror

Good rhetorical question from Dave Winer:

Why do people shame other people on the net? Because (I theorize) it’s one of the few forms of power left to them. One of the few ways their ideas are considered valid. It’s a channel for expressiveness, a gesture that might seem to have meaning.

Why do people troll on comments? Speak silly talking points they got from Fox News or MSNBC? This is one area where there is equivalence, the “left” and “right” both do this. Seek out each other for a permanent argument. My guess is they do it because it gives them a simulated nutrient-free sort of relevance.

The thing about the Internet that we rarely talk about is that it holds a mirror up to human nature. It reveals things about humanity that we’d rather not admit to. Which is why we blame the mirror, not the thing it reflects. Many years ago, when I was writing my history of the Internet and there was a lot of noise about online pornography, I tried to re-frame the discussion. If there’s a lot of porn on the Net, I argued, then doesn’t that tell us something interesting about human nature? Because if there wasn’t such an apparently insatiable appetite for porn, then ultimately it would decline on the Net. So instead of obsessing about the impact of the network, maybe we should be asking what the human appetite for porn means? What does it tell us, for example, about our relationships? About the differences between men and women? I got nowhere with that argument then, and clearly things haven’t changed much in the last 15 years.

The system failed. It happens, even in Germany

From today’s New York Times:

BERLIN — Even in the nightmarish immediate aftermath of the plane crash in the French Alps on Tuesday, Carsten Spohr, the former pilot who runs Germany’s Lufthansa airline, was sure of one thing: the co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, 27, was “100 percent” fit to fly.

Mr. Lubitz, after all, had been through the widely respected Lufthansa training system — “one of the best in the world,” Mr. Spohr said — and had met all other requirements to fly commercial aircraft.

In the decades since it emerged from the ruins of Nazism, this country — which reunited in 1990 and in recent years has dominated Europe as its economic powerhouse — has come to define itself as orderly, rule-driven and well-engineered. It is an identity that is both an antidote to its past and a blueprint for economic success. From Mercedes-Benz cars — “the best,” says a current ad campaign — to its countless tidy towns, Germany purrs excellence.

Now Mr. Lubitz — born and raised in one of those pretty towns — has upended that well-ordered world and challenged other assumptions built into German life. As Mr. Spohr noted, the co-pilot’s terrifying deed was a singular, perhaps unstoppable disaster. Yet somehow the system failed.

Sure, it did. Systems do. Even in Germany.

The fightback begins here

At last!

After Nigel Farage’s exclusion from a television programme and the assassination of Jeremy Clarkson, elections have been suspended and traditional British common sense has been classed as hate speech.

Toynbee said: “We namby-pambies, we do-gooders, we pinkos have emerged from our ivory towers and hypocritically large houses to fill the power vacuum left by the downfall of the Chipping Norton set.

“From now on, you think only what our think-pieces tell you to think.”

Resistance leaders Rod Liddle and Peter Hitchens have gone underground using a secret network of national newspapers to continue bravely saying the things they say they are not allowed to say.

Alas, only a spoof