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15-16 October


Why China worries more about bytes than barrels

Armchair strategists like to pontificate about China’s “Malacca Dilemma”, says Chris Miller in his book Chip War. In a crisis, the theory goes, China might not be able to get vital oil through the Strait of Malacca, the main shipping channel between the Pacific and Indian oceans. “Beijing, however, is more worried about a blockade measured in bytes rather than barrels.” It spends more money each year importing computer chips than it does on oil.


Quoted 15.10.22

“Man is ready to die for an idea, provided the idea is not quite clear to him.”

Paul Eldridge


Quoted 16.10.22

“If you want the rainbow you gotta put up with the rain.”

Dolly Parton

Tomorrow’s world

Driverless cars are a big fat lie, says Max Chafkin in Bloomberg. After $100bn and nearly 20 years of bluster, the long list of obstacles robot-cars can’t handle still includes construction work, animals and traffic cones, not to mention turning left across oncoming traffic. Mistakes are so common there’s an “entire social media genre” featuring self-driving cars getting confused. In one, a Waymo vehicle is so “flummoxed” by a bollard that it drives away from the engineer who comes to rescue it. In another, “an entire fleet of modified Chevrolet Bolts” stop simultaneously, wholly blocking a busy intersection. In a third, a Tesla drives, at very slow speed, straight into a private jet. Experts now say that autonomous cars have one or two promising uses – things like trucks lugging ore out of mines, and big lorries staying in lane on long motorway trips. But for anything else we’ll have to wait decades. Perhaps, “an eternity”.

Inside politics

Chinese President Xi Jinping has acquired so many titles he’s known as the “Chairman of Everything”, says Katie Stallard in The New Statesman. In 2018, term limits for the presidency of China were abolished, the only constitutional barrier to him “staying in power for life”. The Chinese Communist Party’s National Congress, which begins on Sunday, is expected to hand him another five years as party leader, but he could go on for decades. Unlike his predecessor Mao, who “revelled in chaos”, the 69-year-old Xi is “obsessed with stability” – witness his zero-Covid crackdowns, state control of big business, and political repression in Hong Kong and Xinjiang. This obsession “may yet turn out to be his country’s greatest threat”.


Chess has always been full of controversy, says The New Statesman. It’s a war game, after all, with “checkmate” a corruption of a Persian phrase meaning “the king is dead”. Bloodthirsty conquerors from Charlemagne to Napoleon have been obsessed by the game; matches between Americans and Soviets were a kind of “substitute for nuclear war”. King Canute, however, “could no more command the 64 squares than he could the waves”. According to a medieval saga, he once cheated while playing chess with one of his earls, Ulf, who was so enraged “he overturned the board”. As punishment, Ulf was later “butchered by Canute’s henchman”. The artist Michel Duchamp also came to grief over the chessboard. On his honeymoon, he was so engrossed in the game that his new wife glued his pieces to the board in revenge. “Divorce ensued.”


The penthouse

This two-bedroom flat sits in a converted Victorian school in the heart of Stepney Green, east London. It has exposed brick walls, soaring double-height ceilings, and original mullion windows which let swathes of natural light pour in. Doors lead out to a large private terrace offering uninterrupted views of the city skyline. Whitechapel station is a 10-minute walk away, with Elizabeth line trains running into central London. £975,000.

The country house

The Tower is a four-bedroom home that forms part of Avon Carrow, a 19th-century former hunting lodge on the outskirts of a small village in Warwickshire. It retains a wealth of period features, including ornate stone carvings, stained glass windows and turreted staircases. It also has a private roof terrace offering views over the surrounding countryside, and shares six acres of communal gardens. Trains from nearby Banbury station run direct to London Marylebone in around an hour. £1.1m.