Quote of the Day
“In the short-run, the stock market is a voting machine; in the long-run, it’s a weighing machine.”
- Warren Buffett, whose 250 million Apple shares currently weigh about $118B.
(A single Apple share purchased at the 1980 IPO price – $22 – would be worth $27,859 today.)
Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news
Bach: Cello Suite No 1 in D played on the guitar by John Feeley (19 minutes)
What is it about Uber and Chinese students?
A friend who lives in Cambridge and uses Uber reports a common theme in his current conversations with drivers. When he asks them the standard “how’s business?” question the common refrain is “terrible”. And the reason? There are no Chinese students around at the moment. It seems that they are the biggest users of the service when they’re in residence. They even use Uber to take them to lectures (this in a town where everything is within easy walking distance.)
Why is this, I wonder? Could it be that they have more money than sense? Or that they don’t like walking or cycling? Or that they feel vulnerable on the street? Weird.
Quartz has a series of articles on this general theme. It’s a mixed bag, but some of them — for example the one about regulating Amazon like a railroad — is interesting.
e-Scooters: drowning not waving
Hundreds of e-scooters are picked up from waters around European cities every year. In Stockholm, the lake cleaning organisation Rena Mälaren has picked up 355 in total in the last couple of years. In Paris another organisation, Guppy, has picked up 235 over seven excursions.
Each e-scooter is worth a few hundred euros and the newer models have a predicted lifespan of three to five years. Apart from lost earnings, every time one is lobbed into a canal or river it also damages the scooter operator’s relationship with the local authorities.
But one scooter startup has come up with a new plan to tackle the problem: a drowning button.
Voi, the Stockholm-based scooter operator, is in the process of unveiling a new scooter with features such as indicators. It is also likely to have a feature which is the scooter equivalent of an SOS signal.
“That is the plan. We just have to work out the functionality,” says Kristina Hunter Nilsson, communication manager at Voi. She hopes the feature could also be retrofitted to Voi’s older scooters too. “Some of these things are software-driven which means that we can add it to the older models as well. And it is in everyone’s interest that we have that.
When an electric scooter ends up in the water it loses its connectivity and is therefore difficult to find. The drowning feature will alert Voi when a scooter ends up underwater and the hope is that, in many cases, it can then be rescued before too much damage has been done.
But exactly how long a scooter survives underwater is something that Hunter Nilsson cannot say for sure. “That really depends on a lot of things and I wouldn’t want to give you an exact number of days,” she says.
What have these people been smoking?
The US is facing the possibility of an illegitimate election
“A sitting president trying to undermine the postal service so he might win an election is not something that happens in rich, developed democracies,” says University College London’s Brian Klaas, the co-author of How to Rig an Election. “It’s the kind of thing that happens in post-Soviet countries, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East.” In the language of political science, President Donald Trump is hoping to take America from “self-enforcing democracy”—a system of government in which leaders allow fair elections and accept the results—to “competitive authoritarianism,” in which rulers allow elections, but those elections are neither fair nor free.
The good news, or at least the 2020 version of good news, is that Americans can protect the integrity of their elections without appealing to the better angels of Trump’s nature. Would-be autocrats are unlikely to be persuaded, but they can be deterred. By making it far less likely that stealing an election would work—and far more likely that those who try to would face consequences for their actions—the United States can preserve democracy this year and beyond.
Defending American democracy starts with taking advantage of one of its greatest existing strengths: its decentralized nature. Each state, territory, and district administers its own local contests with near-total independence. The federal government sets certain rules for federal elections; that authority falls to Congress, not the White House. This makes it hard for the president to undermine an election’s integrity, and easier for local officials to uphold it. Already, some states are adding secure drop boxes for ballots, recruiting additional election staff, and finding room in their budgets to ensure that the casting and collection of ballots runs as smoothly as possible during the pandemic. The less chaos that takes place on November 3, the fewer excuses the president will have to interfere with vote counting.
Even in places—including some swing states—where officials are all too happy to help the president undermine the democratic process, individual Americans can do a great deal to protect the integrity of the election…
The most astonishing thing is that such a piece doesn’t seem outrageous in a serious magazine nowadays. It’s a measure of how serious the risks to democracy even in mature states are becoming.
Stefan Collini on the enigma of Frank Kermode
Lovely essay by Stefan Collini in the London Review of Books on a critic we were both fortunate enough to have known. Sample:
So when and how, I wondered, not for the first time, did the ‘Frank Kermode’ we admired come into being, il capo di tutti capi in the world of reviewing and criticism for more than half a century? During another of my trudges along the forgotten caravan routes of criticism (now undertaken electronically, thanks to lockdown), I chanced upon, in the online archive of the Listener, a review by John Gross of Frank’s Puzzles and Epiphanies: Essays and Reviews 1958-61, published in 1962. The very existence of such a collection of reviews – and the brazen proclamation of its origin in such a brief period – itself suggested the dramatic transformation which must have overtaken Frank’s career by this point. Gross, then a 27-year-old up-and-coming reviewer-academic who was later to write The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters and to become editor of the Times Literary Supplement, had evidently been attending to Frank’s presence on the literary scene for some time. He noted that the contents of the book were all products of a three-year period, and then went on: ‘Reading them as they appeared, one became aware of Professor Kermode as the most interesting reviewer to emerge for a long time.’ The reviews had been published in a variety of periodicals, including the Listener, Partisan Review and the London Magazine, but the majority were from either the Spectator or Encounter. So when had all that started to happen, when did the smart London weeklies and monthlies begin to commission reviews from the little-known young lecturer who, recruited by Gordon, had moved to the University of Reading in 1949?
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