May 8th – The Day’s Most Fascinating News

Car Sick Economy, Chuck Crowned, The End of Free Returns

Billy Ocean famously sang, Get out of my dreams, get into my car. For an increasing percentage of Americans, owning a new car is now reserved for those with an economic life in the fast lane. The fast and furious rise of new car prices is due to lingering supply chain issues, global inflation, higher interest rates and other factors that have conspired to carjack yet another aspiration on the road to the American dream. And once again, this is a story about the great divide. “Spending on new cars by the lowest 20 percent of earners dropped to its lowest level in 11 years. Meanwhile, spending on new cars by the top 20 percent reached its highest level on record.” WaPo (Gift Article): New cars, once part of the American Dream, now out of reach for many. In today’s America, you’re either riding shotgun or stuck with an economic lemon.

+ “The line outside Boston’s American Red Cross Food Pantry on a recent Saturday morning stretched the length of two football fields. The number of people filing into the red-brick industrial-zone warehouse on some days now exceeds the worst periods of the pandemic economic crisis and in April it had the second highest monthly traffic since it opened in 1982.” Lines stretch down the block at food banks as costs go up and pandemic aid expires.

+ This divide is directly related to the current despair in American cities, where we respond with fear instead of empathy. I touched on this last week: Fear and Loathing on the F Train.

+ One of the big concerns about AI is that it will ultimately increase the already gaping economic divide. The people who create these technologies are often motivated by a desire to level the playing field. The people who ultimately deploy them have other motivations. Ted Chiang in The New Yorker with a very interesting look at the conundrum. Will A.I. Become the New McKinsey? “It will always be possible to build A.I. that pursues shareholder value above all else, and most companies will prefer to use that A.I. instead of one constrained by your principles.”


Charles in Charge

“More people watched Elizabeth’s funeral last year than Charles’s coronation last weekend. One commemorated the past; the other was meant to look toward the future. But it doesn’t feel like a future in which the monarchy will become stronger or grander, or more expansive, or more powerful—or even more relevant, as the new king so clearly hopes it will be.” Anne Applebaum in The Atlantic (Free Article): King Charles’s Impossible Job.

+ Photos: The coronation of King Charles III. (Personally, I’m proud to live in a country where we earn power in a more democratic way. By calling Georgia officials and asking them to find a few thousand votes.)


The Point of No Return

“Internet retailers have been saber-rattling about the need to tighten up anything-goes return policies for years. Now they’ve found their chance. When everyone’s already hooked on online shopping, why let us return things for free?” Amanda Mull The Atlantic: The Free-Returns Party Is Over. (I’m stubbornly sticking to my long term returns strategy. I throw away the packing too soon and set the item aside somewhere where it remains, for eternity.)


Lizzy Spells

Articles, books, documentaries, miniseries … perhaps no story in modern business crime has been covered more exhaustedly or exhaustingly than that of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos. What can one say. We love truth-challenged, malignant narcissists with criminal tendencies. NYT (Free Article): Liz Holmes Wants You to Forget About Elizabeth. “If you hate Elizabeth Holmes, you probably think her feigned perma-hoarseness was part of an elaborate scheme to defraud investors. If you are a person who is sympathetic to Holmes, then the James Earl Jones inflection was a sign of the impossible gymnastics that female founders must perform to be taken seriously. If you spend time with Holmes, as I did, then you might come away like me, and think that, as with many things about Holmes, it was both. Either way, even Evans agrees, the voice was real weird.”

+ More in the mood for a different financial crime that duped powerful investors? The Atlantic: The Billion-Dollar Ponzi Scheme That Hooked Warren Buffett and the US Treasury. “His invention, he thought, was ‘crazy, harebrained.’ But investors saw the makings of a clean-energy revolution.”


Extra, Extra

Texas Maul: “Steven Spainhouer’s son was working at Allen Premium Outlets when he received the phone call no father ever wants to hear … Spainhouer said he saw devastation unlike anything he had seen in the Army. “I never imagined in 100 years I would be thrust into the position of being the first responder on the site to take care of people. ‘The first girl I walked up to … I felt for a pulse, pulled her head to the side, and she had no face.'” Texas mall massacre gunman identified as witnesses describe horror of the shooting spree that killed 8 people. Federal officials are looking into whether the gunman expressed an interest in white supremacist ideology. (Whatever your motive or ideology, America has just the right high-powered, fast-shooting guns for your needs.)

+ Spree: Henryetta, Cleveland, Bowdoin, Dadeville, Highland Park, the list goes on and on. AP has compiled a (long) list of recent high-profile shootings in the United States.

+ License to Kill: “The man who rammed an SUV into a group of migrants at a bus stop in this Texas border city has been charged with eight counts of manslaughter.”

+ Unbridled Disaster: The biggest story from this year’s Kentucky Derby was the horses that didn’t finish a race. Or even start one. “Over the past week, a total of seven horses died in the lead-up to the final race on Saturday.”

+ Don’t Drag Them Down: Right-wing trolls couldn’t stop this Santa Cruz drag sleepover camp. For eff’s sake. Leave these kids alone.

+ Vida: “Blue was voted the 1971 American League Cy Young Award and Most Valuable Player after going 24-8 with a 1.82 ERA, 301 strikeouts and 24 complete games, eight of them shutouts.” Vida Blue, former AL MVP and 3-time World Series champ, dies. Bay Area baseball beat writer Susan Slusser: “My favorite Vida story was how one year Charlie Finley didn’t give him a raise but gave him a gas card. So Vida would go fill up and then let everyone else at the station use the card, too.”


Bottom of the News

The next time you order food in a drive-thru, you might be talking to an AI. Carl’s Jr., Hardee’s partnering with AI companies to automate drive-thrus. (The day AI can fully decode my daughter’s typical Starbucks drink order is the day we’ve hit the singularity.)

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