Stained Glass Gazette 29/08/18: We’re All Elon Now

As much as I like the whole “stained glass” metaphor for my approach to events, I wonder if I messed up by not calling this column “Desdenews”.

Anyway, I’m trying a new format: one U.S. story, one Mexico story, and one story from outside North America.

Elon Musk and the Celebritization of Literally Everything

Yesterday I came across a heated debate in my twitter feed. Did Musk cry? If so, does this make him anti-women? Does the fact that he denies crying make him anti-men?

As of this writing, I still have no idea what he was or was not crying about. That might sound like shoddy journalism, but it’s actually my point. I’m currently uninformed about the news of the day because I’m unclear about the extent of emotion one businessman may or may not have expressed.

Today, I searched his name and was immediately presented with these three headlines from the same website (Forbes):

  • Stop Worrying About Elon Musk
  • Don’t Bet Against Elon Musk
  • The Scrutiny of Elon Musk

I’ve noticed over the past year or so that, at least within my echo chamber, it’s gone from being cool to love Musk to being cool to hate him. I’m not entirely clear on why, though I think it has something to do with capitalism and Musk acting cocky on social media.

The first article I referenced generally praises Musk while simultaneously urging him to step back from his companies and delegate more to his staff. The second refers to Aristotle to explain that Musk is a genius and all geniuses are insane, and also Musk should stop using twitter. The last argues that Musk should actually double down on his current path because it’s worked so far.

Everyone has an opinion. Elon Musk is definitely an interesting guy, and I can’t fault people for wanting to talk about him, but I feel this should be a separate conversation from the one about actual business matters at SpaceX, Tesla, and SolarCity. As far as I can tell, however, they are inextricably linked. Opinions about Musk’s morality and sanity aren’t idle cocktail chatter about the human condition, but a defining conversation about business.

I noticed something similar with the last U.S. election. When Trump was elected, everybody was talking about how everything had changed forever, either for the best or for the worst. To me, the revolutionary element has nothing to do with Trump himself but the fact that people care about him. Sure, people have cared about presidents before, but not like this. At least not in my lifetime.

The president is a celebrity. Musk and other CEOs are becoming celebrities. Conversations about legislation and industry are focusing more and more on the personalities, quirks, and likability of individuals.

That certainly makes these conversations more fun, but I’m not sure it’s a good thing. People are irrational about other people. That’s by design. We don’t have a logical process for selecting friends or who to fall in love with. The fact that human relationships transcend logic is what makes them special. The question is whether we want business and government to transcend logic, too.

Trouble in Guerrero

I’ve always known parts of Mexico were faced with serious crime problems. Until today, I didn’t realize how much time I’d spent in those parts.

My girlfriend’s mother comes from Taxco, a beautiful town in the southwestern state of Guerrero. Much of her extended family still lives there, and I always look forward to our visits. Surrounded by rolling hills and vibrant forest, Taxco is made up of pretty old houses and has a serene, almost sleepy atmosphere. The food is wonderful, the people are friendly, and the street markets–which have been held in the same forums since the Aztecs–are home to all sorts of wonders.

Today I came across headlines about the “brutal” state of Guerrero, and learned that the U.S. government classifies it as a “do not travel”, the same classification as Libya and Yemen. Aid workers consider the state a war zone.

While the articles were very sensationalist in the way they were written, I did some research and they seem to check out. The situation is very bad, and my experience is not meant to deny the trouble. I’m just trying to reconcile my experience with what I now know is going on there.

Part of it is that the crime seems to be centered in a few key settlements, and Taxco is not one of them. Just as people generalize all of Mexico as being like the highest crime states, it makes sense that people would assume all of Guerrero is the same as its highest crime towns.

Still, I’m struck by the contrast. I can’t deny that the area, statistically speaking, is dangerous, but it doesn’t fit my mental image of a “dangerous area”. I imagine a generally hostile or uneasy populace, with danger lurking just beneath the surface wherever you go. The reality is an area filled with cheerful, friendly people living normal lives, interrupted by incidents of appalling violence carried out by highly organized criminal syndicates.

These organizations crop up in areas of extreme poverty that have a strong economic connection to the states. All of Mexico suffers from economic dependence on its northern neighbor. In some places, entire states are built around catering to gringos to bring it tourist money. Guerrero used to be such a place, when the beach city of Acapulco was popular among U.S. celebrities. Lately, it has gone the way of border states like Sonora and Chihuahua. These states cater to U.S. demand, and the U.S. has an overwhelming demand for drugs.

Though our president elect promises to solve drug violence (he has yet to explain how), I think it will take one of two things to assuage this crisis: either the States needs to stop importing and using so many drugs, which I don’t see happening, or Mexico needs to disentangle its economy from the States altogether.

Ironically, the Trump presidency might be a blessing in this regard.

War Games

I’m out of time for the third story I was going to talk about, which is unfortunate because it seemed interesting. The gist is that China and Russia are doing huge military exercises, a sign of their shared interests against Western powers, but they still show no signs of trusting each other whatsoever.

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