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What the hell am I doing here?
This week: why capitalism might stop us killing ourselves, why wellness is killing fashion, and how to not kill people when you exit a car.
I write from Paris, where I am lucky enough to be spending a month on a writing fellowship at a wonderful place called the American Library In Paris. When I'm not writing I'm doing a lot of walking and a lot of eating. This must be the greatest walking town on earth and of course it's one of the greatest eating towns too, and luckily the two go together; I've long thought the best reason to exercise is to create appetite. The French are just so....French. They carry baguettes and queue in cheese shops and smoke a lot and a few of them even wear berets. And those faces. Hard for me to tell of course, but I don't think the English look quite so English.
COLOUR OF MONEY
Amidst the bleak news on climate change (and by the way, doesn't it need rebranding to something less benign? Climate crisis?) there is one story of hope: the very steep and ongoing fall in the prices of solar and wind power, and battery storage. Next question: when does global demand for fossil fuels stop growing? The energy industry analyst that Bill McKibben quotes, in this fascinating piece (McKibben is America's leading environmental journalist-cum-activist) says, very soon: early 2020s. Next question after that: when does the bottom fall out of the oil industry? To put it another way, when does Exxon become the new Newsweek? Again, possibly sooner than you might imagine. McKibben, like most green activists, is on the left, and strongly believes in the necessity of government action to combat this crisis. But one fascinating thing about his analysis is its reminder of the upside of financialised capitalism. It's a system that can move at high speed to destroy one vast industry and create another - and in this case that may be just what we need. Can you imagine a government ever doing that, or ordering it? Oh and one more thing. McKibben is a good writer, which is why he can't resist starting with the name of the analyst (who is British). It's almost too good to be true. Actually two more things. Britain has reduced its carbon emissions for six years running; the last time our emissions were this low was 1888.
My latest Digital Dispatch for the New Statesman in which I argue (with tongue somewhere in the region of cheek) that politicians and journalists should stop tweeting.
This stimulating if slightly overheated take on the future of home delivery envisions a world of robots darting in and out of our houses, not just dropping off packages but taking them away. The juicy insight here is that we maybe we don't actually have some innate desire to accumulate stuff; we just can't be bothered to get rid of it. Returning things we don't like, or even disposing of them, is always a bit of a hassle. In the new world that will be much easier, which means stuff will just circulate endlessly in and out of our homes. What will Marie Kondo have to do? This reminds me, tangentially, of a conversation I had recently with someone who works for a retailer about how product descriptions are changing. Since online clothes retailers lose money when goods get returned, they're constantly looking for ways to cut down on "mistakes". One way is to design more sophisticated sizing guides. But retailers also asking their marketers to tone it down a bit. If the imagery or copy over-promises how cool an item is going to look, there's a higher chance it will get returned. Thus is e-commerce bringing truth to advertising.
This interview with former Olympic rower Annie Vernon is gripping. Vernon has written a book about the psychology of elite sport, a subject I find endlessly fascinating, maybe because the mindset required is so very distant from my own. Vernon has lots of interesting things to say about it. But what gives the interview a certain dramatic tension is that she still can't quite bring herself to confront what happened to her in 2008, when she was 25. Even years later, even having written this book, it is still too emotionally painful to talk about. What was this trauma? Her team came second at the Olympics.
I love stories about little things that make a big difference. This one is about a method of getting out of a car from the driver's seat that makes it less likely you'll knock over a cyclist or pedestrian. It's now being codified in highway codes across the world. The rule is, use your left hand instead of your right to open the car door (I'm transposing left and right from the article, which is American, for the Ruffian's British readers). Doing so forces you to turn your body and look over your shoulder for any oncoming traffic.
I really liked this piece, from the Guardian's excellent fashion correspondent Jess Cartner-Morley, on the way that wellness has replaced fashion as the new way to fritter away income on boosting one's self-esteem.
The problem with singers on talent shows, at least when it comes to the singing, is that most of the contestants sound the same. You tend not to get genuinely surprising or interestingly odd artists, just a bunch of highly proficient Adele (or whoever) impersonators. So it's brilliant to see this lovely, unglamorous, slightly odd looking, completely wonderful sisters swoop and yowl their way through Radiohead's Creep in an utterly inimitable way. It's a real interpretation of the song, just like a good cover should be. The clip is from the German version of The Voice Kids. Oh and this gives me a chance to repost one of my favourite things anyone has said about a song.
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