Where we discuss a crazy aviator, BongBong and a pigeon …

In another case of the speed of news catching out the SmallDataForum’s best-laid arguments, Neville’s, Sam’s, and my combined Musk-whispering was rendered somewhat outdated by the announcement – just hours after our podcast recording – that enigmatic Elon has put his Twitter purchase on hold because … oh never mind the stated reasons.

Actually, it wasn’t our exploring Musk’s motivations that had become outmoded, it was merely the factual base of our musings. Will he, won’t he buy Twitter? Will he, won’t he lose billions over the deal?

Musky musings

Will he, won’t he instate rules and regulations that draw the line really only at whether speech has been performed by an actual human (you’re fine, and if you say something that’s “illegal or destructive to the world”, you face temporary suspension, because free speech is a more holy principle than protecting against the impacts of hate speech, ostensibly), or a bot (in which case Elon really doesn’t want you, and in fact will retract his offer if he feels he is being outbotted).

Borrowed from the Seattle Times

The free speech issue is one of many highlighted by Neville in his characteristically well informative and well judged blog post. Neville also points us to an Axios piece listing everything Elon Musk wants to change about Twitter (surely another news item that would benefit from hourly updates), as well as challenges surrounding the commercials of the bid: a triple whammy of Twitter’s market cap dropping $9bn below Elon’s offer, Tesla’s share price down by a third from April Fool’s Day, and the Bitcoin crash impact on Tesla’s investment position.

So maybe, just maybe, Musk’s stated bot problem is a bit of a sock puppet. The Washington Post at least thinks that won’t get him out of the deal.  

One point where I slightly disagree with Neville is that “Twitter is largely a US platform”. Earlier this week, I attended an Institute for PR Measurement Commission meeting where US colleagues made the point that Twitter is very much NOT a dominant channel in the very much Disunited States.

But of course, that depends on context. The interesting thing about Twitter is that is has a very distinct audience who use it for very distinct purposes; this can differ from country to country, from culture to culture. And in the US, where Twitter is only used by around one in five adults (as a recent Pew Research study informs us), usage skews strongly Democrat:


As our exploration of the meaning of Musk continues, Sam brings up the Tony Stark comparison (which many Iron Man fans are really not marvelling over), and highlights Elon/Tony’s achievements as an electricity pioneer. Lest we forget, Musk’s electric vehicle company is named after Croatian-American genius Nikola Tesla, he of the “war of currents” with arch rival Thomas Edison, to which we owe AC/DC

For Neville, Elon is more of a modern Howard Hughes – a comparison first drawn by Fortune magazine in an essay comparing “eerie similarities” between two “crazy aviators”.  Between EVs and SpaceX, there is certainly space for the electric disruption of aviation, though as Neville points out, the problem of batteries remains largely unresolved for the foreseeable future. 

Elon and Howard: two slightly loopy aviators, as per Fortune magazine, 2019.

To round up our Musk section, Sam mentions TED’s Chris Anderson’s recent long form interview with the free speech absolutist. One of those tiring ‘never a dull moment’ characters, I’m still not sure whether Musk is the reincarnation of the Wizard of Oz, Tony Stark, Howard Hughes, the Messiah, or really just a very naughty boy?

Election night special

Done with extensive Musk whispering, we turn our attention to recent elections, and Sam talks us through the UK local ones that non one remembers, as well as the French presidential elections that brought us cinq ans de plus with Monsieur Macron, despite a growing base for a somewhat detoxified Marine Le Pen.

I point out that said growth has been rather moderate when looking at first round votes, of which the nice cat lady amassed about 6.4m in 2012, 7.7m in 2017, and now 8.1m in 2022. From a low base, increasing one’s voter base by a quarter over two election cycles – that does look like small data to me.

Cartoon by Zach, 9th May 2022: https://cartoonmovement.com/cartoon/boomerang-effect-1

More volatile, and thus interesting, were last week’s elections in the Philippines, where the son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his not-just-shoes hoarding wife Imelda, Ferdinand Jr. (better known as BongBong) ran and won on a ticket together with most recent strongman-in-chief Rodrigo Duterte’s daughter Sara.

This Guardian Q&A on why Marcos won provides some good insights for those with limited knowledge of Filipino affairs (and that would be most of us).

Data round-up

Coming to the end of our typically lively exchanges before we get to SCOTUS, Roe v Wade, and a deep dive into the dark arts of culture war wedging (for that dear reader/listener you’ll have to come back for the next episode in June), Sam has some closing vignettes for us, led by qual and quant data – you’ll see what’s what …

  • Al Jazeera report on Russia’s economy shrinking by 15% this year alone
  • The US now tops 1m dead from Covid, as per Johns Hopkins’ excellent resource
  • The highlight of the week is provided by the Wagatha Christie’ trials, and it’s not even small chipolatas, but defecating pigeons. With much gusto, Sam shared this quote by Rebekah Vardy: “Arguing with Coleen [Rooney] is like arguing with a pigeon. You can tell it that you are right and it is wrong, but it’s still going to shit in your hair.”

As for our Elon-gated Musk-eteering, we’re still wondering who EM’s Jane Russell might be, and what his bra design might look like.  

Listen to Episode 57:

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