Thursday 7 October, 2021

The Church Gate

On a walk yesterday afternoon I came on a lovely village church I hadn’t seen before and went in. On my way out I noticed the gate.

Quote of the Day

“To corral the damage Facebook does to democracy, we need government action. It complicates matters that half of that government has done far more damage to American democracy than Facebook ever could. (Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley are going to rein in Facebook for the good of democracy? Really?) It’s also notable that many of the key stories about Facebook’s malfeasance have been published by The Wall Street Journal, owned by Fox News mogul, Rupert Murdoch. And Fox News has done more damage to American democracy than Facebook. (Rupert Murdoch is going to rein in Facebook in the name of truth and transparency? Really?) Frances Haugen has done a good job connecting Facebook to the Jan 6 insurrection. But again, punishing Facebook for damaging democracy while letting Trump and his enablers walk free would be the biggest farce in American history.“

  • Dave Pell in his daily newsletter

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Dire Straits & Eric Clapton | Brothers in arms | live at Wembley at Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday celebration


Wonderful. One of those performances you never forget.

Long Read of the Day

Hanging Out With Joan Didion: What I Learned About Writing From an American Master

By Sara Davidson


She’s probably the most imitated writer since Hemingway, and her voice, like his, is catchy but can’t be imitated without the attempt being obvious. I’ve interviewed her many times for publications over the years, though, and found that the habits and practices she described could be helpful in developing and sharpening one’s own writing. Lovely piece. Via the invaluable Lit Hub.

America’s existential crisis

From Heather Cox Robinson:

The fall of the Republican Party into the hands of extremists who are willing to destroy it recently prompted former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to declare, “I’m astonished that more people don’t see, or can’t face, America’s existential crisis.”

Restoring sanity to the country will require free and fair elections, which, after years of Republican gerrymandering and voter suppression, will require federal legislation. The time for that to be most effective is running out, as Republican-dominated states are currently in the process of redistricting, which will determine their congressional districts for the next decade.

The longer this goes on, the more often I think of the famous Benjamin Franklin reply to the woman who allegedly asked him “what have we got?” as he emerged from the Constitutional Convention” “A Republic, if you can keep it.” We will find out in 2024 whether they can.

The existential threat faced by Chinese tech companies’

From the New York Times:

Chinese tech companies are reeling from regulation. Nervous creditors are hoping for a bailout for China’s largest developer. Growing numbers of executives are going to jail. An entire industry is shutting down.

For China’s leader, Xi Jinping, it’s all part of the plan.

Under Mr. Xi, China is reshaping how business works and limiting executives’ power. Long in coming, but rapid in execution, the policies are driven by a desire for state control and self-reliance as well as concerns about debt, inequality and influence by foreign countries, including the United States.

Emboldened by swelling nationalism and his success with Covid-19, Mr. Xi is remaking China’s business world in his own image. Above all else, that means control. Where once executives had a green light to grow at any cost, officials now want to dictate which industries boom, which ones bust and how it happens. And the changes offer a glimpse of Mr. Xi’s vision for managing the economy, ahead of a political meeting expected to solidify his plans for an unprecedented third term in charge.

Meanwhile in the Western democracies politicians seem unable to rein in tech giants and American legislators are reduced to simply yelling at Facebook.

Which brings me back to a question I’ve been asking for ages. Is it only authoritarian regimes that can bring these companies under control?

When I ask that question in public fora the most common response is an awkward silence.

My Commonplace booklet

(For an explanation see here)

  • From a New Statesman interview.

“Jackson accuses the management of the UK energy grid as being stuck in the past, describing the National Grid as a “monopoly” and its control room as “like a minicab office. There’s some blokes with phones, and what they’ve always done is phoned up coal and gas power stations and told them to turn on and off. What we have to do now is… a million times more complicated.”

The result of this simplified central planning could be seen the previous week, when “electricity prices were colossally high, we were having to use lots of back-up supplies… [and] we were literally paying wind generators in Scotland to turn off, because there weren’t enough cables connecting Scotland, where the electricity was being generated, to England, where we needed it.”

Greg Jackson is the founder and CEO of Octopus Energies, the disruptive outfit that supplies our electricity (and charges the car on a low tariff at night). He’s not impressed by the current fantasies of the UK government about achieving “net-zero”. Nor am I.

  • From Andrew Curry: “Housing inequality, not income inequality, primarily determines how much wealth inequality there is in most Western countries.” The conclusion he draws from an interesting new research paper. You only have to walk the streets of London, Oxford or Cambridge to see confirmation of this.

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