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The plurality of Silicon Valleys
It’s a long-awaited development that Silicon Valley is now a global mindset (“A New Atlas,” April 16). As your article correctly noted, we are seeing an abundance of innovation around the world, resulting in numerous clusters from São Paulo to Bengaluru to Estonia. Having been closely involved in the growth of the Estonian and London ecosystems, I look forward to seeing many more happen. Often their development is accelerated by great early successes that inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs.
However, when ranking clusters, we must be careful to remember that the smallest can often be the strongest examples. Estonia has a population of 1.3 million but has spawned ten unicorns, businesses worth at least $1 billion. Or zooming out from Estonia, the region known as the New Nordics (the Nordic and Baltic countries) has a combined population of over 30 million people and has spawned a similar number of unicorns. As the same population to unicorn ratio extends over Europe, we will soon take the lead in America.
Founder and Technology Investor
China and Taiwan
You again make a comparison between the Taiwanese file and the Ukraine (“How to become a porcupine”, April 23). You urged Taiwan to increase its military budget and build up its defense capability to withstand a so-called invasion from China, and you even advocated that America strengthen its political and military ties with Taiwan and provide it with more of weapons. These statements are seriously erroneous and we strongly condemn them.
The question of Ukraine is an international dispute between two sovereign nations. The Taiwan issue is purely China’s internal affair and is completely different in nature. There is only one China. Taiwan is an inseparable part of Chinese territory, and the government of the People’s Republic of China is the only legitimate government representing the whole of China. The one-China principle is the broad consensus of the international community.
The Taiwan issue concerns China’s core interests and we will not tolerate any outside interference. Resolving the Taiwan question and realizing China’s complete reunification is the common wish and firm will of all Chinese people and is a historic trend that no one can stop. China will do its utmost to promote peaceful reunification of the motherland but will never allow anyone to separate Taiwan from China in any way. No one should underestimate the Chinese people’s firm resolve and ability to safeguard the nation’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Chinese Embassy Spokesperson
Large majorities are a problem
Presumably, many Tory voters now recognize that the good governance approach has ceased to be effective, if it ever was (“Waiting for Boris,” April 16). As long as a government can secure an 80-seat majority out of 44% of the vote, any prime minister can change any rule of governance they choose. After Boris Johnson’s historic offence, will defenders of the status quo still argue that the first-past-the-post voting system brings stability and strong government? Or will the One Nation Tories realize that the democratic values and rule of law they claim to value would benefit from a more representative electoral system with better accountability?
Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform
Viktor Orban won an election with about half the votes, you say, but “thanks to gerrymandering” two-thirds of the parliamentary seats (“Imaginary hobgoblins”, April 9). In the 2019 UK election, the Conservatives won 44% of the vote and 56% of the seats, and in 1983 42% of the vote and 61% of the seats. It is clear that the British electoral system is more maladjusted than that of Hungary, even without gerrymandering.
The shift to self-service in mass retailing, of all kinds, not just for gasoline, was one of the great wealth-creating engines of the 20th century. Walmart and Ikea owe their fortune to the phenomenon of replacement of paid merchants by customers whose work (selection and picking of goods) in their stores is free. This reinforces their economies of scale.
For those who study or are obsessed with fuel retailing (and luckily there are only a few of us), New Jersey’s ban on motorists pumping their own gasoline has always been a charming fossil (“To pump or not to pump?”, April 16). Smaller stations persist because, with smaller economies of scale, it makes sense for retailers to maintain more smaller outlets rather than fewer, larger outlets. Think hairdressers. The same logic explains why there isn’t a large “Hair Cuts R Us” outlet on the outskirts of town.
The move to self-serve gasoline has been accompanied by a drastic reduction in the number of gas stations in the United States. In the 1960s, there were about 450,000 gas stations, almost all full-service. Today, there are around 125,000 despite the increase in the fuel market.
Partner, POC (retired, mostly)
Salt Lake City
Your correspondent really had to go there and mention the pork rolls. Just to be clear, nothing can start a fight in New Jersey sooner than the mention of my state’s pork products naming convention. It is called pork roll in South Jersey and Taylor ham in North Jersey. Our delicious ham, egg and cheese on a roll or bagel can’t be found anywhere else in America.
Long Branch, New Jersey
Johnson’s column on prefixes, such as tera- and nano-, mentioned that some people object to words that combine elements from different languages (April 9). We could solve this objection by matching Old English prefixes with units that have English roots.
For mega- and micro-, there are the well-matched words for large and small, mycel- and lytel-, as in mycelwatt and lytelfoot.
As for giga- and tera-, the Anglo-Saxons seem to have been fascinated by giants and monsters. I recommend ent- and aglac-, as in entapound and aglacyard. The Ents were said to be giants, credited with building impressive Roman ruins. And Grendel’s mother in “Beowulf” is described, rather gallantly, as “ides aglacwif”, lady monster-woman.
St. Paul, Minnesota
time is an illusion
The gap between the theories of time of Henri Bergson and Albert Einstein can be bridged by the thought of yet another genius of the 20th century (“Time against the machine”, April 9). Douglas Adams concocted the “harmonic wave theory of historical perception” while hitchhiking. He states that “history is an illusion caused by the passage of time, and time is an illusion caused by the passage of history”.
This article appeared in the Letters section of the print edition under the headline “Unicorns of Europe, China and Taiwan, electoral systems, gas stations, English prefixes, time”