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Economist, DeSantis, Trump, Shakespeare
A wrap-up of interesting stories (and why they're interesting) from last week, plus a short exploration of how "The Economist" deployed Shakespeare in an article about the 2024 election.
This will be an unusual issue of The Dispatch featuring a collection of little things and a medium-sized article because I've been happily wrapped up with this:
Congratulations to my son, William Berens, on graduating high school and an early Happy Birthday! I'm proud of you!
Also, I'll be away next Sunday, so the next Dispatch will be hitting your inboxes on June 18th, which is also Father's Day.
Things worth knowing about...
A new frontier in human rights? When a neuroscience startup in Australia went bust one result was the company removed an experimental brain implant from a test subject because they couldn't keep it running anymore. The problem was that the implant had transformed the life of the woman who had it because it helped her to manage her severe epilepsy. This compelling article from MIT Technology Review explores "neuro rights" and whether removing an implant is like stealing somebody's internal organs. It reminds me of a wearable device I read about a few years ago that helped orient the wearer to where magnetic north was. Some users mourned when they took it off, feeling like they had lost one of their senses. The brain computer interface/implant example is much more severe.
Apple's Smart Glasses: Christopher Mims in The Wall Street Journal has a nice preview of the stakes of Apple's about-to-be-announced Heads-Up Display (HUD) device at next week's Worldwide Developers Conference. As I've written before, HUD is the next transformative technology that will change everything... so long as manufacturers can figure out the battery problem. Note, too, that once HUD becomes a thing, then Voice Interfaces will become critically important since we will no longer want to hunch over magic pieces of glass tapping away.
A disturbing experiment on the frontiers of advertising: Miller Coors attempted to get subjects to dream about a Super Bowl ad for Coors Light (since Bud Light has the rights to the game locked up). Reminds me of Inception.
It's obvious that mentally ill people don't get better in jail, so don't miss this harrowing Wall Street Journal article about how very, very many sick folks are in jail—often for longer than the maximum sentence for the crimes of which they're accused—awaiting evaluation before they can stand trial. Staffing challenges and bureaucratic indifference make it still worse. We're still far from done with the ravages of COVID.
Up and Down, Up and Down: A Bloomberg article about Amazon possibly offering cheap or free mobile phone service as a Prime perk sent markets into a tizzy, but the next day a Reuters piece disconfirmed the rumor. This only shows the terror that industries experience anytime Amazon even hints about entering.
The Bloomberg piece sagely noted that this is all part of Amazon's rivalry with Walmart. As longtime Dispatch readers might recall, I've long argued that Walmart should outright buy Paramount as a way to make headway against Prime.
Are you seeing what I'm seeing? Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom's new project is Artifact, a smartphone app that uses A.I. to rewrite clickbait headlines and make them less clickable and to reduce the power of the outrage industrial complex. (The Verge.)
I'm all for reducing salacious, outrageous, and misleading headlines (I accidentally typed "head lies" a moment ago, which is better), but I worry that this app might unintentionally increase polarization if some people are getting a clickbait headline while others are getting a "just the facts, ma'am" version. (For those of you on the younger side, that's a Dragnet reference.)
We can start calling it "A.I.-dvertising:" Speaking of A.I., WPP and Nvidia have announced a big tie up where the agency holding company will use the chip maker's technologies to create hyper-customized ads using A.I. instead of all those pesky humans. (CNN.) This is another example of where public companies go wrong by only privileging shareholder value and forgetting that companies include employees as stakeholders. Also, it won't work.
I've seen this movie before. This partnership will only be a short term advantage for WPP. A while back, I was on the board of an agency that earned $250K a pop creating websites for clients, only to see the technology for creating websites get cheaper and cheaper and cheaper faster than they could innovate their offering. Likewise, A.I.-driven creative technologies will follow Moore's Law and become more accessible to smaller and smaller agencies, ultimately making it possible for a couple of people sitting in the corner table of a cafe to compete with the biggest shops. Expensive new technologies only favor incumbents temporarily.
Watching CNN's evolution in real time: Don't miss this long and thoughtful Atlantic profile of newish CNN CEO Chris Licht, who is trying to tack to the political center in an age of increasing polarization. So far, results are mixed at best, with many wondering how long Licht will keep the job.
Relatedly, in his Madison & Wall newsletter, my friend Brian Wieser explores how Warner Bros Discovery, saddled with $48B in debt (with $4.5B coming due at the end of 2024), might benefit from selling off CNN.
McBroken: On the amusing side, if you're fond of McDonald's ice cream and have ever been vexed to find that the machine is broken after you've driven there, there's a McBroken website that the wisdom of the crowd maintains to help those in search of soft serve learn if the machine is broken ahead of time. Plus, here's an article from AllRecipes that explains why the machines break so often. Ironically, at the time I'm writing this, the part of the McBroken website that tracks all soft serve at U.S. McDonald's locations is itself McBroken. H/T to my brother-in-law Craig Inman for this story.
Finally, a shortish article...
Economist, DeSantis, Trump, Shakespeare
The May 27th issue of The Economist has an in-depth briefing entitled, "A bungled coup: Ron DeSantis has little chance of beating Donald Trump to his party's nomination."
The Economist is always literate, but it isn't often literary. This piece persistently conjures up Shakespeare's Julius Caesar throughout.
That includes the opening line: "Belatedly and nervously, the would-be assassins have been lining up," an interesting way to characterize Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley in their respective campaigns to wrest the GOP nomination away from Trump.
A little later, we read:
It is as if Brutus had overslept on the Ides of March, giving Julius Caesar a chance to put on his armour, but had tried to proceed with his hit job all the same. The plot to overthrow Mr. Trump, which once seemed plausible, now looks forlorn.
And there are many other allusions to Julius Caesar throughout.
This is far from the first time that people have compared Trump to Julius Caesar. Shortly after Trump won election in 2016, but before his inauguration, there was a New York production of Shakespeare's play featuring an Trump-wigged Caesar who wore overly long red ties.
(That production was actually less of an innovation than many made of it: a similar production had taken place when Barack Obama was first elected, featuring a black Caesar. Moreover, U.S. Presidential politics and Shakespeare's Julius Caesar have been intertwined since John Wilkes Booth, part of a famous Shakespearean acting family, assassinated President Lincoln.)
What I haven't figured out is what cognitive work the persistent evocations of Julius Caesar are doing in the minds of the readers of that Economist piece?
If Trump is Caesar, then does that mean his attempt to win a second, non-consecutive term as President is doomed? Or does casting DeSantis as Brutus mean that he is the doomed one? Or is it a prediction that the United States is doomed to another Civil War torn between different factions?
The analogy breaks down the longer you scrutinize it because these are all Republicans vying for their party's nomination, so who are the Democrats? Augustus and Mark Anthony?
That's OK because literary analogies aren't logical: they are metaphorical in the sense that the philosopher Donald Davidson explored in his classic article, "What Metaphors Mean." Prior to Davidson, many thought that there was a special, almost celestial zone of metaphorical meaning. Davidson showed that was not the case. Instead of containing meaning, metaphors provoke the readers of metaphor to create meaning. "My love is like a red, red rose" prompts readers to take everything they know about love and everything they know about roses and generate a relationship. Analogies work the same way.
Part of me thinks that the Economist piece uses the Julius Caesar allusions to dress up a story that isn't terribly interesting on its own merits. People who follow U.S. Presidential Politics have watched DeSantis foundering in real time, so the ink devoted to the Economist briefing might not be worthwhile.
Finally, and unsurprisingly for regular Dispatch readers, my real question is "why Shakespeare?" Why is the source of literary allusion that an unnamed journalist working for The Economist grasps for when writing a story about U.S. politics in 2023 a play by a guy who has been dead since 1616?
This is the key issue I'm exploring in The Shakespeare Strategy—the book I'm working on about how Shakespeare's omnipresence in Western culture is the direct result of innovative business practices he created starting in the late 1590s.
Thanks for reading. See you next on Father's Day!
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