Discover more from The Ruffian
I don't understand how I'm at your command
In this edition: the value of mistakes, how to learn anything, the future of everything, and a whole lot of death.
NEW FROM ME
My first New Statesman column of 2020 argues that instead of trying to avoid mistakes, the trick of life is to choose the mistakes you want to make. The latest edition of Polarised, the podcast hosted by the RSA's Matthew Taylor and me, is about recent debates over racism. It's a fascinating discussion thanks to our guests, Adam Rutherford, who has written a book about the science of race, and Nimco Ali, the Somali-British social activist. Nimco in particular has some things to say that may surprise you.
SATNAV FOR THE FUTURE
If you're interested in trends in technology, media and retail and where the hell it's all heading I commend the latest annual presentation from Benedict Evans. Benedict is the most incisive tech commentator around (rivalled only by the other Ben). Unlike gurus who are more about hype than analysis, naming no names, he brings depth to topics that are usually discussed superficially. Apart from anything else his deck is a model of visual and verbal clarity. Too many fascinating themes to pick one, so I'll pick a detail - a third of Amazon's revenue comes from offering sales platforms for other businesses. When people put Amazon in the dock, they ought to take into account the way it's an engine for the wider economy. The last section of Benedict's presentation offers a sceptical take on calls for tech regulation. Even if you're pro-regulation, his arguments will sharpen your thinking.
After having my head in book edits I'm coming up for air and taking on more advertising/communication work, freelancing and consultancy. If you have any strategic projects you need help on, get in touch.
HOW TO LEARN ANYTHING
Devon Zuegel, a software developer in San Francisco is one of my favourite online presences, I do recommend following her on Twitter. She's been learning Spanish and has put together a great list of unconventional tips for how to do it: change your phone's language to Spanish, start a Twitter account in Spanish, etc. Check it out and see if it inspires you to learn a new language in 2020. You can pair it with this useful short thread on evidence-based ways to learn stuff. For a really, really deep dive into one of the techniques mentioned in that thread (Devon mentions it too), read this.
BEHIND THE THRONE
When I wrote about Dominic Cummings for the NS I asked whether he will stick around long enough in government to achieve anything substantial. Post-election events have made me more sceptical that he will. First, that blog, which as I said here last time seems callow to me. Since then there have been two big No.10 decisions, on Huawei and HS2, to which he was marginal (he opposed both). The only report on him actually doing something is about a new R&D department modelled on DARPA, which may well be worthy but is politically unimportant. It's too early to say with confidence but this all suggests that instead of being a Cardinal Wolsey, DC is more of a Steve Hilton - a Special Projects guy who will rattle around the edges for a while, get frustrated by the machine, and eject. (Ps the Huawei decision should be a corrective to the theme, popular among Remainers, that post-Brexit Britain will be compelled to bend the knee to America.) (Pps - this is an essential thread on HS2- why did the costs go up so much?)
There are 5.5 billion people on earth and 4 billion of them have a smartphone. (From Benedict Evans's deck). Considering the iPhone came along in 2007, that is a quite astonishing rate of change.
Dublin is the seventeenth most traffic-congested city in the world. The most congested city in the UK is Edinburgh.
Between 2012 and 2016, Norway reduced homelessness by 40%.
I really have nothing to say about it, it has exhausted itself as a subject as far as I'm concerned, at least for the time being. But I did enjoy this magisterial overview of what Brexit means, by The Atlantic's Tom McTague. I only hope it means the end of "Remainers" and "Leavers".
I'm reading a very good book at the moment which is, at least in part, about the big guy himself Johann Sebastian Bach, maybe the greatest composer who ever lived, though in his lifetime he wasn't seen that way. He was an organist who also composed a bit - not much of his work was published. A provincial figure, never quite where the action was, already a figure of the past in the last third of his life. Only in the nineteenth century did musicians (led by Mendelssohn) look at his scores and realise he was a blazing visionary genius. Another thing that struck me: the amount of death in Bach's life. Last year I wrote a piece for the BBC about how a lot of successful people suffered traumas early on. I didn't know about Bach when I wrote it. Bloody hell. His mother died when he was nine, and his father when he was ten. Siblings drop off at various points. His beloved wife died when he was in his thirties. He married again, happily, but then there's this almost throwaway sentence: "Anna Magdalena gave birth to thirteen children, six of whom survived to adulthood." Wow. Yet all the way through, he's creating, creating, creating. You can find deep sadness in his music but there is immense exuberance and joy too. He clearly loved life intensely, despite or perhaps because of the constant presence of death. It made me wonder, not just about Bach, but about what it was like just to be a person before the modern era, whether we can really conceive of it. Thirteen children, six of whom survived. How did they - Johann, Anna Magdalena, the many others who experienced similar - how did they survive that? Why did it not break them?
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Ooof this is some poor copywriting: "Right now there is more private information in your home than on your phone. Think about that." THINK ABOUT THAT. Seriously guys, make us think, don't tell us what to think about. (More broadly, is digital privacy something that consumers, as opposed to journalists etc, actually care about?)
I don't know much about Kobe Bryant but I've been moved by the love and admiration people have for him and of course the love he and his daughter clearly had for each other. So, two things to share: first, this 90 second story about his last game (only indirectly about him). Second, this appreciation in the TLS, by the American novelist Ben Markovits, useful as a primer on Bryant. It also takes you to that final game.
Three musical delights. Firstly, Beatles for lounge piano. At first I thought it was cheesy, then I was impressed by her technical ability, then by the time I got to Come Together I realised she's a great interpreter. Secondly - Kanye, having finally discovered something greater than himself, is doing gospel (seriously, watch the whole thing through). Finally, Cecilia Bartoli singing Handel, particularly for the sublime hush she reaches on the last verse.