The Sunday Post for June 9, 2019

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles we enjoyed this week, good for consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.

Uber's path of destruction

Most of what this article details about Uber’s business practices and structure is known, at least in a general way, to the general public. But do we truly understand that this company is failing, from a consumer perspective, while succeeding wildly at extracting subsidies and avoiding regulation?

Do read this, even if you think you know all about Uber, the geeky detail will make your brain bigger. (Well, anyway, it did mine.)

These beliefs about Uber’s corporate value were created entirely out of thin air. This is not a case of a company with a reasonably sound operating business that has managed to inflate stock market expectations a bit. This is a case of a massive valuation that has no relationship to any economic fundamentals. Uber has no competitive efficiency advantages, operates in an industry with few barriers to entry, and has lost more than $14 billion in the previous four years. But its narratives convinced most people in the media, invest­ment, and tech worlds that it is the most valuable transportation company on the planet and the second most valuable start-up IPO in U.S. history (after Facebook).
Can reading make you happier?

Betteridge’s law is wrong! Ceridwen Dovey brings the receipts. What’s fun about this piece is the description of a career I’ve never heard of — bibliotherapist! Prescriber of books for all of life’s discomforts and uncertainties! Check out this list of ailments customized by country, from the bibliotherapist’s bible, The Novel Cure: An A-Z of Literary Remedies.

In the Dutch edition, one of the adapted ailments is “having too high an opinion of your own child”; in the Indian edition, “public urination” and “cricket, obsession with” are included; the Italians introduced “impotence,” “fear of motorways,” and “desire to embalm”; and the Germans added “hating the world” and “hating parties.” Berthoud and Elderkin are now working on a children’s-literature version, _A Spoonful of Stories_, due out in 2016.

If a woman who is her own bibliotherapist has a fool for a client, I don’t wanna be smart.

Why parents are addicted to Calpol

Speaking of self-medicating, British(ish) brand Calpol has pulled a sort of reverse Munchausen, soothing parents by helping them soothe their kids. Calpol, a mild analgesic for children that soothes fever and minor pains, is almost as popular as a binky — thanks to some truly squirmy and effective marketing by Johnson & Johnson over the decades.

A Calpol booklet offering an immunisation guide for parents depicts a blissed-out baby asleep with her arms outstretched and a smile on her face. Sick children don’t have a role to play in Calpol’s marketing strategy: the messages emphasise the emotional rather than medical reasons for giving the medicine. By focusing on the positives, they give the impression that Calpol can cure your child’s discomfort, no matter what the reason for it might be.

When I put this to Farahi [J&J's head of marketing for Northern Europe], she told me this was intentional. “The strategy for us is always to show the end benefit that parents are looking for,” she said. But their marketing strategy is about more than being back to normal: it’s about portraying children who have had Calpol as being happy, or asleep, or both.

David Brooks's moral journey

Not to make negative book reviews a regular feature (“the weekly hate”?), but this takedown of David Brooks’s most recent offering is delightfully dry. Taking down The Second Mountain, which seems to be a book-length mixed metaphor, is like shooting monkeys in a barrel of worms. Or something.

Spend too many years on “the Instagram life,” he warns, and you will end up in “the ditch.” The ditch is not to be confused with the “valley,” which is the necessary passage between the first and second mountains, except for those who start out on their second mountains and never leave ...