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This week: how to campaign for change, why the bicycle arrived late, and a unified theory of deliciousness.
THE NO NO DEAL PROBLEM
The political consultant Ian Warren observes that the anti-No Deal message isn't getting through and suggests that's because nobody's found the right trigger. As he explains, social media means effective political communication has to be more hotly emotional than it used to be. It's not enough to define talking points, which are then propagated by spokespeople and filtered vertically down through conventional channels. You need to create a brutally simple, emotionally triggering message that people feel instantly compelled to pass on to peers. Sadly Ian doesn't offer any suggestions in this case. It might be that by letting it be called 'No Deal' we anti-No Dealers have already lost. 'No deal' sounds like an act of self-assertion (just as "Leave" sounded more assertive than "Remain"). In reality, it would be an act of submission, passivity and weakness. Now turn that into a meme.
A couple of years ago I wrote a piece for the FT contrasting the creative fertility of TV with Hollywood's increasing reliance on franchises and sequels. This is a long but interesting (to me) update on the current state of play in the film industry. Short version: blockbuster franchises are still dominant and are likely to remain so. But cinema-going in the U.S. has been in decline for twenty years and is now at its lowest per-capita level since its birth in the 1800s. In marketing terms, the problem is not penetration - as many people go to the movies as ever - it's frequency: they go less often. The reason for the decline is probably quite simple: TV got better.
DOM THE DESTROYER
I wrote about Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister's chief honcho, for the New Statesman. He is a fascinating character - an effective operator determined to change the world but with blind spots about how the world actually works - and a guy who may be better at breaking things than building them. (I interviewed him a few years ago for a profile of Michael Gove.)
In 1980 Paul McCartney was busted for cannabis possession when entering Japan. The great reggae musician Lee 'Scratch' Perry wrote this letter to the Japanese Justice Ministry, in defence of McCartney.
I enjoyed Tyler Cowen's provocation on whether Greta Thunberg should be getting a plane or a boat across the Atlantic. The deeper question he poses is similar to one I've been pondering: how good is the Greta/Extinction Rebellion theory of change? By which I mean, how effective are campaigns based on impossible demands (net zero by 2025), stark moralistic distinctions (flying is evil) and anti-politics rhetoric? Arguably they were more useful ten or twenty years ago when the goal was raising awareness. But if we really are at the urgent stage now, the risk of this approach is that it's purely symbolic when we need to be getting real about choices. Is the top priority reducing meat consumption? Well, campaign on that. There's a lot of rhetoric about changing lifestyles, ending consumerism, etc. But people who aren't disposed to that kind of talk can easily ignore it, while those who are get to enjoy the satisfaction of applauding the stance without confronting the trade-offs. Maybe the biggest contribution to species survival an organisation like XR could make is to transform perceptions of nuclear energy. One tragedy of the climate change debate is that most green campaigners reject nuclear for historical and ideological reasons rather than species-saving ones. Here is a balanced and detailed assessment by Michael Liebriech of nuclear's potential and problems (& btw all the solutions have problems, that's the problem). He says, "anti-nuclear activists will be weighed in the same scales by history as fossil fuel promoters."
LAWS OF LIFE
I love numbers 2, 7 and 8 in particular. This is a great post.
a) In 2018, online video-viewing generated as much greenhouse gas as Spain.
b) Mosquitos have killed 52 billion humans, nearly half of all the humans who ever lived. (For more on "our apex predator" read this excellent New Yorker article.)
DE-LOVELY AND DELICIOUS
I can't tell you how much I loved this article by the chef David Chang on his unified theory of deliciousness. It's insanely pretentious and intensely practical at the same time, my ideal combination. (It's from 2016, why hasn't he turned it into a book already?).
If you're enjoying The Ruffian, please spread the word. Exhort your friends, force it upon your enemies, press it on people about whom you feel relatively neutral. Thanks to all of you who have done so already. Oh and REMEMBER THE LINK: https://tinyletter.com/IanLeslie
A lot of interesting data all on one page.
Most of the discrimination faced by minorities is straightforwardly negative. But American researchers have gathered evidence of another type of discrimination - a kind of reverse racism, in which well-meaning liberal whites unintentionally patronise blacks. That work came to mind when I read this thoughtful post on what it's like to be a (British) black academic in the U.S. One problem he identifies is that white tutors are more likely to tolerate mediocrity from black students. He advises young black students to "resist the siren call of people who will kill you with kindness". It seems like good advice. We all need mentors and bosses who are tough on us precisely because they respect us.
DEPT. OF QUESTIONS THAT AREN'T OFTEN ASKED
Why didn't the bicycle get invented earlier?
PETE AND CHRIS
My comedy hero, from the age of about 18 to about now, was Chris Morris (On The Hour, The Day Today, Brass Eye, Four Lions...) who, like everyone else in British comedy was influenced by Peter Cook. I didn't know they'd done something together, so I was delighted to come across this series of short interviews with Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling (one of Cook's characters), recorded for BBC Radio 3. It's very loose: they maybe had a rough idea of where they'd go but it sounds improvised. How they carried it off without giggling I'm not sure...