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Burning for the ancient heavenly connection
This week: smart is stupid, older is younger, greed is good.
Pic: Stefan Rousseau/PA Images
It’s remarkable to think that when Rishi Sunak replaced Sajid Javid as Chancellor commentators portrayed him as a placeman for Number 10, installed to carry out the orders of Johnson and Cummings. Now, less than eight months later, Sunak has clearly established himself as his own man, without coming into open conflict with the PM. If anything, Johnson is now more dependent on Sunak than Sunak is on Johnson (and Cummings almost certainly wishes he was working for Sunak, who perfectly fits his ideal of the modern politician). We know Sunak is well liked by colleagues and voters, has a strong public brand, is clever and works hard. There’s one lingering question about him - does he do politics? Being nice is one thing; having sharp instincts for the inside game is another. His announcement this week, while it got a mixed review in terms of policy, hinted that he does. That striking phrase, “living without fear”, was aimed at Tory MPs, who think the new restrictions are too harsh, rather than the public, which does not. It opens up a distinct glimmer of daylight between him and his boss.
NEW FROM ME
For the BBC, I wrote about an interesting theory of how relationships work and why strangers click. And in case you missed it, check out The Ruffian’s first book club edition, in which I review a fascinating book on how we communicate in groups.
I’m fascinated by intelligence and how we think about it. We tend to model it as a ladder with smart people at the top and stupid people at the bottom, each person having been assigned their rung at birth. But very smart people frequently believe very stupid things, and people who are not obviously super-smart often reach better conclusions. Moreover, people who were once very bright can make themselves stupid over time by not reflecting on their own habits of thought. Intelligence seems more a practice than a fixed trait. Or as this marvellous post puts it, intelligence is part hardware (raw processing power) and part software - effort, humility, curiosity - with the latter playing a much bigger part than we assume. As a slow thinker and learner - I do not regard myself as very intelligent in the hardware sense - I am a big fan of this distinction.
People in Australia and elsewhere are paying for flights that take off, fly around for a few hours, and then land at the same airport. Some folks just miss airline food or - more romantically - the sight of clouds from above.
I found this post on a new note-taking app interesting for its theory of how social apps can get network effects to kick in. Services like Slack or Facebook are really useful if lots of other people are using them, but how do you get to that critical mass in the first place? You need a “come for the tool, stay for the network” strategy. Instagram’s filters offered an instantly gratifying shiny tool that attracted early users, who were then locked in by the network.
On Covid - it’s depressing that we need to tighten again but no matter how much we want to scream it’s not necessary, I’m afraid it just is, as this pithily expressed thread from the US explains.
Why not see things from the virus’s point of view?
On which theme - tweet of the week for me, Gary (funny if you’re familiar with the Ibrahimovic brand).
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
Only one thing astonishes me more than the stupidity with which most people live their lives, and that’s the intelligence of this stupidity.
Philip Verleger, an energy economist, makes the case that world will reach net zero emissions well before the deadlines set by most governments. He argues that most climate models under-estimate the speed of the transition from fossil fuels to green energy. It’s a change which is being hastened by investors who are pulling money out of oil companies and pouring it into tech (and green energy) stocks. On this last point at least Verleger echoes a recent piece by the leading journalist of climate change activism, Bill McKibben. Exxon is tomorrow’s Time magazine, brutally disrupted and devalued. Many climate change activists are left wing and advocate for the overthrow of capitalism, but to meet this challenge we’ll need the ruthless dynamism of markets just as much as government action.
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Because Mitch McConnell is such a hate figure for Democrats, vast amounts of online donations have been flowing to his opponent in November’s election, Amy McGrath. This is…not smart, because she has virtually no chance (well, about 4% according to 538) and there’s a long list of more winnable long shots where the Democrat candidate hasn’t raised anything like as much. Those candidates include M.J Hegar in Texas, within hailing distance of the incumbent in a hitherto rock-solid Republican seat. Hegar, who flew helicopters in Afghanistan, is something special. Her campaign launch video is utterly brilliant, a real masterpiece of the form. Of course, it wouldn’t work so well if she didn’t have a story to tell.
I’m not saying it’s a great poem or even an earthshaking performance but there is still something special about this, just because of who they are, their presences. Plus - I realised with a start when I came across it the other day - I was there! McCartney popped in just to do this, then left the stage while Ginsberg took the applause. It was pretty great.