Monday 21 November, 2022

Hot stuff

We have a new wood-burning stove, and our cat approves of it.

Quote of the Day

”Windbags can be right. Aphorists can be wrong. It is a tough world.”

  • James Fenton

There’s hope for me yet.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Ben Harper | Please Me Like You Want To


I wonder if he ever doesn’t sound lugubrious.

Long Read of the Day

Farewell, My Lovely  The New Yorker

E.B. White’s paen of praise to his Ford Model T, published in the New Yorker in 1936. It’s a beautiful — and sometimes hilarious — essay, which delighted this recovering petrolhead. And in certain respects reminded him of his Tesla which — like Henry Ford’s car and Robert Louis Stevenson’s donkey — has an unfathomable mind of its own. Which is why her name is Modestine. (Tesla allows — nay encourages — owners to name their vehicles.)

I see by the new Sears Roebuck catalogue that it is still possible to buy an axle for a 1909 Model T Ford, but I am not deceived. The great days have faded, the end is in sight. Only one page in the current catalogue is devoted to parts and accessories for the Model T; yet everyone remembers springtimes when the Ford gadget section was larger than men’s clothing, almost as large as household furnishings. The last Model T was built in 1927, and the car is fading from what scholars call the American scene—which is an understatement, because to a few million people who grew up with it, the old Ford practically was the American scene.

It was the miracle God had wrought. And it was patently the sort of thing that could only happen once. Mechanically uncanny, it was like nothing that had ever come to the world before. Flourishing industries rose and fell with it. As a vehicle, it was hard-working, commonplace, heroic; and it often seemed to transmit those qualities to the persons who rode in it. My own generation identifies it with Youth, with its gaudy, irretrievable excitements; before it fades into the mist, I would like to pay it the tribute of the sigh that is not a sob, and set down random entries in a shape somewhat less cumbersome than a Sears Roebuck catalogue…

Do read it. You won’t be disappointed, even if you’re not a petrolhead.

Elon Musk needs to learn that more debate does not mean more truth

Yesterday’s Observer column:

Underpinning Musk’s views about free speech and the public sphere (AKA town square) is the fatuous metaphor of “the marketplace of ideas” that emerged from the deliberations of the US supreme court in 1953 (though something like it was mooted by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes way back in 1919). It suggests that ideas compete with each other in a conceptual marketplace where they can be critically evaluated by every individual. As law professor David Pozen and others have pointed out, there’s no empirical evidence that a larger volume of speech, or a more open “marketplace” of ideas, tends to lead people away from falsity and towards truth. Subscribing to the metaphor is thus either a matter of faith or of evidence-free credulity. And if Musk believes that it is the secret sauce for managing Twitter then he’s a bigger crackpot than even I thought.

Do read the whole thing.

Books, etc.

My esteemed colleague, the economist Diane Coyle, runs what is, IMO, the best book blog in the world. Every year she chooses her economics ‘book of the year’. This year, the prize is shared by two authors: Brad DeLong for his *Slouching Towards Utopia and James Bressen for The New Goliaths. Since I’d already read DeLong’s book and hadn’t known about the Bessen I decided to investigate it further. It looks really interesting (it’s about why some companies get so far ahead of others) but before jumping in I was struck by an earlier book of his —  Learning by Doing: The Real Connection Between Innovation, Wages, and Wealth, partly because it addresses a question that has always puzzled me: how is knowledge transmitted from person to person. So I’ve ordered that and am looking forwards to it. In the meantime, Diane’s two winners each qualify for a free lunch.

Chart of the Day

Shipping container rates are now back to where they were before the pandemic. Is this a good thing? I’m reminded of a Christmas 15 years ago, when one of my sons needed a new overcoat (not an anorak). So we went to Debenhams, then a busy Department Store, now defunct. I sat in the relevant department while he tried on various coats. Out of curiosity I started to examine the Christmas goods on display, and to my astonishment I found that every single item in the department had been made in China.

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