Quote of the day

"Regarded as a means, the businessman is tolerable; as an end he is not so satisfactory"
— J.M. Keynes

Elon Musk, Stubborn Jerk

Ashlee Vance’s “riveting” biography portrays Elon Musk as an “egomaniacal, stubborn jerk”; a “confrontational know-it-all”; a man “unethical in business and vicious in his personal attacks”. In sum, “Musk sounds almost unbearably difficult to work or live with”. Comparisons with Steve Jobs are inevitable, and, for once, justified. The moral seems to be that if you can change the world, you don’t have to change yourself (1,080 words)

How Things Break

The story behind “the greatest sports photo of all time” — Neil Leifer’s shot of Muhammad Ali towering over a supine Sonny Liston on May 25th 1965. Leifer had one shot that night, and he got it. But the image is not all it seems. We think we see Ali triumphant. But Ali is frustrated, urging Liston to get up. He thinks Liston has taken a dive and is throwing the fight. Which may well be so. If there was a knockout punch, nobody saw it (4,600 words)

Tom Stoppard’s Hard Problems

Evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson recounts discussions about altruism with Tom Stoppard. Sloan Wilson’s books helped inform Stoppard’s play, The Hard Problem. But Stoppard contends that altruism is spiritual, not scientific: “Even if science can explain the kind of instinctive altruism found in bees and brainworms it can’t or at least hasn’t explained the kind of consciously motivated altruism found in humans” (1,690 words)

House Of Secrets

Enthralling investigation into the history and mystery of Witanhurst, the biggest private house in London, perched on the edge of Hampstead Heath and said to be worth £300 million. To the increasing despair of the neighbours, the absentee owner has spent seven years rebuilding the house and grounds to resemble Versailles. But who is he? Eventually, the New Yorker tracks him down. But that is another story … (6,950 words)

How Fox News Changed America

Highly readable academic paper (PDF) by economist Bruce Bartlett arguing that Fox News may have succeeded too well in capturing American conservatives. It is “the dominant – and in many cases, virtually the only – major news source for millions”. Viewers undergo “self-brainwashing”. They “refuse to even listen to any news or opinion not vetted through Fox, and believe whatever appears on it as gospel truth” (6,770 words)

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