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And I know she'll be the death of me, at least we'll both be numb
This week: Bernie's fatal mistake, the power of Lego, and why we need to panic.
I suppose he may come back from this but he really shouldn't be in such dire straits after those big early wins put him in pole position. The parallel with Corbyn is interesting. I've long thought that what destroyed Corbyn's chance of becoming PM - and he did have one - was his reaction to the 2017 election. After doing much better than anyone predicted, Corbyn and his supporters told themselves if they kept doing what seemed to get them there, they'd soon get the rest of the way. Instead of trying to unify the party and present a more moderate face to voters, they became even more factional, vituperative and uncompromisingly left-wing. Similarly, Bernie doubled down on his anti-Democratic establishment rhetoric just when he should have been presenting himself as the candidate all opponents of Trump could unite behind. The hard thing about success is that it tells you to carry on doing what you're doing even when it's in your interests to change. (This thread on Sanders says all this and more very well).
BYE BYE BLOOMIE
The good news for American democracy is that money can't buy elections after all, even when intelligently deployed. Mike Bloomberg's team produced slick ads and delivered a clever social media campaign. They spent FIVE HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS in all. The result? He won American Samoa. This should increase your scepticism of claims that a few hundred thousand dollars' worth of Russian-sponsored Facebook ads can swing elections. I like Mike. It's fashionable to deride him but is it more honourable to be a recessive billionaire rolling in your money than one who seeks public office and risks all the brickbats that comes with that? It wasn't some deluded ego trip - he was an effective and popular mayor of New York. And he dropped out of the race as soon as it became clear he could only be an obstacle to the victory of a moderate. I'm not disappointed he's out of race but he deserves our respect.
CARRY ON AND PANIC
A YouGov survey suggests that most people in Britain are pretty calm about the oncoming coronavirus outbreak. That's my impression too, just from hearing people talk about it in the office or on the street. People keep saying we shouldn't overreact. Well, I'm not so sure. Shouldn't we be panicking a little more? It's very unlikely you or I will be die or become seriously ill from this virus, but many people will, and either way this is going to be a hugely disruptive event that affects every single one of us over a period of several months. Crucially, we all need to change our behaviours if we're going to minimise the devastation it incurs (take a look at this graphic to understand the importance of handwashing, for instance). That means feeling a little scared; as Peter Franklin argues, behaviour change is hard and it requires emotional impetus. Among the best things I've read on covid-19 is this interview with WHO epidemiologist Bruce Aylward. He tackles some myths about China's response to the outbreak and emphasises the importance of an informed population that self-manages this crisis. The more we do ourselves, the less pressure we put on public services. This is a useful summary of what we know about the virus, from the WHO report on China, note the two final paragraphs. For the clearest overview of the data and how to think about it, visit the excellent Our World In Data.
Lego is one of those brands that is so ubiquitous, such a constant part of our reality, that we rarely stop to think how bloody amazing it is. This post by the excellent Nicolas Colin not only summarises what makes Lego special but contains a lot of wisdom about business and branding.
The Spanish flu of 1918, which infected 500m people, was so called because the nations involved in WWI censored news of the outbreak to protect morale. Spain, neutral in the war, had no such restrictions, and its newspapers were first to report on it, which created the false impression that it was the source of the infection.
Put aside some time to read this beautifully wrought piece on the oldest woman who ever lived - probably.
I have some niche recommendation this time (niches within a niche since not all of you listen to podcasts). First up, one for the football fans among you: this interview with Damien Comolli, former sporting director of Tottenham and Liverpool, is fascinating from beginning to end; anyone remotely interested in the game will take a huge amount from it. Second, Eric Weinstein's conversation with Agnes Callard. Weinstein is a Silicon Valley investor and physicist who is extremely bright, quite eccentric and a bit of a dick. Callard is a truly brilliant philosopher with the ability to make Socrates and Aristotle feel like participants in our own society (I am a big admirer of Agnes and had the privilege of talking to her for my latest book). The conversation these two have is edgy, weird, abstruse and hard to follow, but now and again it delivers these absolute lightning bolts of insight that you just won't get anywhere else (mostly from Callard, when Weinstein lets her talk). Worth the effort. Thirdly - and I'm not sure this is niche at all, it certainly shouldn't be - an utterly wonderful three parter on William Wordsworth, from the BBC. Everything about this - the soundscape, the voices, the storytelling, and of course the poetry - is perfect.
One of the biggest trends shaping the future of humanity is biology becoming an engineering discipline. (As far as pandemics go, that can't happen soon enough - we are basically in an arms race with viruses: will a truly deadly and contagious one kill us off before we learn how to disable it?). This video offers an excellent overview of the bioengineering evolution.
In case you didn't know about it, Vox has an excellent video series called Earworm in which they open up the bonnet on pop songs and break down what makes them work. In this episode they venture into another genre to great effect. This is a fantastic breakdown of the opening movement of Bach's first cello suite (if you think you don't know it, you do). It involves a bit of music theory but I don't think you need to know that to appreciate that Bach is telling us a story.
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