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20 January 2021

Letter of the week: Sniffing out Musk’s failures

A selection of the best letters received from our readers this week. Email to have your thoughts voiced in the New Statesman magazine.   

By New Statesman

Elon Musk may be, as Will Dunn suggests, “a more interesting person to occupy capitalism’s top spot” – but watch out for his downfall (Observations, 15 January). His promises about producing a fully driverless car have been broken so many times he will eventually lose credibility.

The name of the autopilot software installed in Teslas is misleading, since drivers must pay attention at all times even when the system is engaged. Several Tesla drivers who failed to realise this have paid with their lives.

Musk has promised numerous times since 2015 that cars would soon be able to drive themselves and even go off on their own to be used as “robotaxis”. In April 2019, he said that by 2020 Tesla would have a million on the road; last July he was confident that “the basic functionality” would be complete this year. Independent assumptions suggest this will not be feasible until 2030. So far stock markets have swallowed all these predictions – but won’t forever. The question Dunn should have asked is: “When will the Musk bubble burst”?

Christian Wolmar
London N7

[see also: Is Tesla a car company, or a casino?]

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Defining fascism

Richard J Evans concludes his argument that Donald Trump and his followers are not fascists: “You can’t win the battles of the present if you’re always stuck in the past” (“Demons of the present”, 15 January).

No, you can’t, but you can learn from the past. That Trump’s modus operandi has not included armed expansion into other countries does not mean his actions are not those of a fascist: exalting the US over all other nations and individuals who don’t agree with him; favouring white Americans over people from other ethnic origins and making widespread attempts to disenfranchise often black voters in areas more likely to vote Democrat; his constant attacks on liberal democracy; his attempts to subvert the judicial arm of government by packing the Supreme Court with his supporters; his willingness to attempt to subvert a free and fair election. Surely these are more than “echoes of fascism” and are among the essential elements that constitute it?

That fascism under Trump has a new weapon in its armoury – the use of social media to spread disinformation, conspiracy theories and downright lies more efficiently – does not mean we should not name it for what it is. An elephant is still an elephant, even if it’s holding a mobile phone in its trunk.

Emma Mason
Coggeshall, Essex


Richard J Evans objects to comparing Trump with Hitler and Mussolini: he writes that it was “preparing for war, arming for war, educating for war and fighting a war” that defined fascist theory and praxis.

With regard to “arming for war”, the US’s obsession with the right to own guns was triggered by the fear that Southern whites would be massacred by their slaves,  and compounded by their losing the Civil War. Nearly two centuries later, if they are not preparing for war, why do they consider it is essential to own assault rifles?

The majority of Republican legislators backing the cancellation of the election are from ex-Confederate states. Racism is the driving force behind Trump’s supporters. Given the chance – and 6 January was the first attempt – they would like to refight the Civil War and win it.

Guill Gil
London N1


Richard J Evans writes that the storming of the Capitol on 6 January “was not an armed coup”. However, in the long term it could be just as ominous. In May 1966 a leading political figure in China called on his followers to “bombard the headquarters” and launch a cultural revolution. The legacy of Mao Zedong’s movement is still felt today.

Ivor Morgan

[see also: Why Trump isn’t a fascist]

Empty platform

I agree with your leader (“The Big Tech reckoning”, 15 January). Twitter was right to ban Donald Trump but it should be responsible for all the content on its website, and that requires more action.

In my view, “free speech” must have certain limited constraints to prevent hateful, deceitful bile infecting public discourse. Trump has incited hatred and violence on Twitter for years. This culminated in his supporters breaking into the Capitol. Why should a powerful platform be given to everyone? Why should those who spread lies be assisted in their immoral quest?

It is not a contradiction to believe strongly in free speech and also support calls for publishers and other groups to refuse to give certain people airtime. More regulation is certainly needed to ensure social media giants meet their moral responsibilities.

Sebastian Monblat
Sutton, Greater London


Say cheese

It was interesting to read the experiences of a newly qualified doctor (“On the Covid front line”, 15 January). Clara Sattentau’s account elicits feelings of sympathy and also confidence that she is quickly learning from her experience.

However, I would like to correct one possible source of misunderstanding. She refers to the NHS use of the “Swiss cheese model”, where individual healthcare professionals represent the barriers to error. This model was designed to explore how a series of circumstances can arise to cause poor outcomes: each slice of cheese representing potential for both latent and active error. It refers to organisational features, pre-existing circumstances and human resources, as well as behaviour by individuals.

Dr Mike Davis
Blackpool, Lancashire


False beliefs

Mike Chapman (Correspondence, 15 January) takes issue with Jonathan Kiek (Correspondence, 8 January) quoting GK Chesterton’s belief that when people stop believing in God, they believe anything. This is one of the commonest falsely attributed quotes. Chesterton never said it. It is a gloss from Emile Cammaerts’s 1937 book on Chesterton, elaborating on Chesterton’s Father Brown, stating: “It’s the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense.”

It seems that when people stop reading Chesterton, they’ll believe anything.

Rhys Laverty
Chessington, Greater London


King of the puzzles

I believe that the first New Statesman chess columnist (Correspondence, 15 January) was Heinrich Fraenkel (1897-1986), who used the nom de plume “Assiac”. He published two excellent books based on his column, The Delights of Chess (1951), and Adventure in Chess (1960). Reading it as a schoolboy turned me into a regular New Statesman reader of more than 60 years (so far). The return of a chess column would be welcome.

Alan Slomson


Stevie’s success

Jonathan Liew’s argument that Steven Gerrard is “driven as much by his past as his future”, and consequently cannot “bring himself to glimpse victory” is flawed and too selective with evidence (Left Field, 15 January).

As Liverpool captain, Gerrard was able to inspire his team to come from a 3-0 deficit at half-time to win the European Champions League final in 2005. In the 2006 FA Cup final, 3-2 down and stricken by cramp, he scored in the 90th minute from 30 yards. To suggest that Gerrard “never had a happy ending” at Liverpool verges on ridiculous.

Bernie Evans


It’s good to talk

Dr Phil Whitaker says he would regret the retention of telephone triage after the pandemic (Health Matters, 15 January). Let me reassure him that there are two sides to it. In the past I have often neglected to consult the doctor. The journey, the wait, the waste of time were too much. Now I book online and the doctor can decide in very few minutes if I’m being imaginative or need a prescription or same-day home visit. The shunting to and fro of large numbers of possibly sick people to keep them huddled in a crowded room is hardly beneficial, and there’s a reduction in petrol fumes.

Ann Lawson Lucas
Beverley, East Yorkshire


With bells on

I was thrilled to see my boyhood hero Colin Bell receive the appreciation of Michael Henderson (“The Manchester Nijinsky”, 15 January). The article had me wallowing in my youth attending games at Maine Road to watch my club Manchester City and my hero in the flesh.

Why did he have to spoil his appreciation by resorting to cliché about the modern City by claiming there is no kinship? All the players know of the King of the Kippax and many took to social media to mourn his passing. Fans both young and old still sing the songs we sang from my youth. We will always drink to Colin the King.

Russ Cowper
Cheadle, Greater Manchester


NS Guess Who?

I read the NS over breakfast on Saturday mornings. My two-year-old, Sebastian, has taken to asking over his Cheerios who the byline portraits are, and will now merrily sing “Stephen”, “Jeremy”, “Emily” and “Philip Collins!” at the top of his lungs every time I turn the page. The cartoons are a work in progress – he recognises the Prime Minister (“Johnson!”) and the outgoing US president is labelled “Dumpf”. The millennial in me doesn’t know whether this is a humble-brag or something to be concerned about.

James Vickers
Bourne, Lincolnshire


Tapestry triumph

Michael Prodger writes a fine history of tapestries, but he does not mention the Bayeux Tapestry (The Critics, 15 January); a pity, because according to Sylvette Lemagnen it is “one of the supreme achievements of the Norman Romanesque”. It has survived intact nearly 1,000 years and gives us a fascinating overview of the Norman Conquest.

Andrew Richardson
Bournemouth, Dorset

[see also: The fabric of nature]

I am David

I couldn’t help but notice how in the Correspondence section of the 8 January issue, five out of 13 letters were written by Davids or Daves. As a fellow David (and occasional Dave), it would be an honour to be added to the long list of faithful NS readers of my namesake.

David Nation
Enfield, London

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This article appears in the 20 Jan 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Biden's Burden