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Elon Musk just made a lot of enemies in Britain

There is a lot to admire about Elon Musk. I thought the space car was glorious. The whimsicality of it, which so many objected to, delighted me.

It is sad that Mr Musk has now shown that his whims can take a nastier turn.

British cave diver considering legal action over Elon Musk’s ‘pedo’ attack

A British cave diver who was instrumental in the rescue of 12 children trapped in a northern Thailand cave says he is considering legal action after the inventor Elon Musk called him a “pedo” on Twitter.

Vernon Unsworth told the Guardian on Monday he was “astonished and very angry” at the attack, for which Musk offered no evidence or basis. The billionaire initially doubled down on the comments made on social media, but has since deleted them.

Apparently it started when Mr Unsworth was rude about Mr Musk’s offer of his mini-submarine to help in the rescue:

Previously, Unsworth had described Musk’s offer to help the rescue effort as a “PR stunt”, and had told CNN Musk could “stick his submarine where it hurts”.

If nothing else had been said, my sympathies would have been with Mr Musk. Even if it was something of PR stunt, I am sure Musk did genuinely want to help save lives. Still, I dare say tempers often flare in these high pressure situations. One man’s praiseworthy offer of aid can be another’s dangerous distraction from an urgent task.

However then Mr Musk went on to call Mr Unsworth a “pedo”, not just once – in which case it might have been written off as a random zero-content insult like calling someone a “bastard” when you neither know nor care whether their parents were legally married – but repeatedly. Mr Musk’s “evidence” for this allegation out a blue sky was that Mr Unsworth is a white guy living in Thailand. Musk said that that in itself was “sus”, meaning suspicious.

Angry comments are coming thick and fast to the Times article “Thai boys’ rescuer Vern Unsworth could sue Elon Musk over paedophile smear”. If even a fraction of those commenting on the Times website and those of other British newspapers who have said that they are about to cancel their Tesla order follow through with it, Musk’s UK operation could be in real trouble. That comes on top of the doubts already raised about the company by Tesla’s failure to live up to some of Musk’s earlier extravagant promises. For all the fame of the brand, the number of Tesla electric cars in the UK is still only in the low thousands, and Times subscribers are exactly the sort of people who would be most likely to buy them.

Charismatic individuals can push forward scientific innovation. They can also screw up big time.

28 comments to Elon Musk just made a lot of enemies in Britain

  • Edward Treen

    “…They can also screw up big time…”

    I remember in days of yore (although not concerning technology) a certain businessman, successful up until that point, screwing things monumentally with one oh-so-clever comment. His name? Gerald Ratner.

  • terence patrick hewett

    Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay!
    Alas! I am very sorry to say
    That ninety lives have been taken away
    On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
    Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

  • I wonder what sort of people Elon surrounds himself with now… continuing to bang on about that diver, no matter how rude he was, is so obviously losing in every way… isn’t anyone telling him to close the airlock on that? It appears like Mr Musk could be availing himself of pharma-grade substances, perhaps a bit too much.

    I’ve been following what Tesla has been doing largely because of the scoffing dislike of electric cars that some of the regulars here have shown… from calling a Tesla a ‘pedal-car’, to that article arguing that the electric car revolution isn’t here, I think you skeptics have missed it. In terms of sending a sports car into Earth orbit, the score is Elon Musk: 1, entire rest of humanity: 0. Still, maybe he needs to give twitter a break.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Edward Treen,

    I was a lot sorrier for Gerald Ratner than I am for Elon Musk. As I recall Ratner was making a quite good point about a genuine dilemma for the jewellery industry and many others: as people get richer and manufactured goods get cheaper, the amount purchased goes up, but the cachet of simply owning “a pair of gold earrings” decreases towards zero when, as Mr Ratner so memorably put it, the earrings are cheaper than a M&S prawn sandwich. If he had had less of a way with words and had made the same observation in boring corporate jargon, his speech would probably have gone unnoticed. It did go unnoticed for quite a while before the media picked up on it.

    In contrast with Ratner calling his own company’s products “crap”, Elon Musk has accused another person of the vilest of crimes based on nothing more than where he is resident. To make it worse the person concerned had just helped rescue a bunch of children in grave peril. The role of British divers in rescuing the Thai boys was a source of national pride to many people.

  • Jim

    Actually thats not a true representation of the Musk/Thailand/submarine timeline. It was Musk who started the mud slinging by insulting the Thai chap who was in charge of the operation, and who had told Musk that his underwater coffin wasn’t required for the rescue operation. This after the kids had been rescued and the decisions made proven to be good ones. And then when the British cave diving guy was interviewed he was asked about Musk and he did indeed tell him where to stick his sub. So in fact it was Musk who started this spat, by throwing his toys out of his pram when his technological magnificence (in his own mind) was rejected. A normal person would have been pleased that the rescue had been successfully concluded, but not Elon, it had to be all about him……

    If you’ve been following the Musk/Tesla situation recently its pretty obvious that Musk is teetering on the edge mentally – his behaviour has become more and more erratic as the pressure ramps up on him over the failure of Tesla to produce the numbers of cars he has repeatedly assured everyone it can. Strange outbursts on Twitter have become commonplace, and senior Tesla employees have been leaving in droves.

  • pete

    Mr Unsworth shouldn’t be rude if he can’t stand the response.

    As for Tesla, it has a showroom in Knutsford which I pass several times a week. I’m surprised it is still open as I rarely see a customer in there.

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    Apparently Musk has said recently that he is a kind of socialist.

    It is such a shame. His rockets are great, and I enjoy the launches and the brilliant touch-downs; he has some smart ideas. But when he gets out of his prime area of focus he seems to act like a twerp.

    To call the diver – who helped rescue those kids – the term he did is so reckless you have to wonder if Musk has a couple of slates loose on the roof, as it were.

  • llamas

    I remember a chairman of Barclays group – Barrett? – telling a Parliamentary committee that a Barclaycard was expensive for the consumer and he didn’t use it.

    Didn’t Helen Mirren get herself fired as the spokesperson for some skin-care product because she said repeatedly that it doesn’t work – only a bit-more colorfully?

    So saying foolish and product-disparaging things is a commonplace, it would seem.

    However, I’m with Natalie Solent on this – if Elon Musk truly said this, and doubled down, as reported, then this is a different and special level of both stupid and despicable, and the man he smeared should sue him witless. Not only should the individual sue, but his shareholders should penalize him too, for saying such a stupid thing that the stock price was noticeably impacted.

    I’ve long been of the opinion that Mr Musk is entirely (as they say in some parts of the UK) “up himself”, and he has a bit of form for ill-judged and intemperate outbursts. And he’s obviously unfamiliar with the Streisand Effect. But this latest episode takes it to a new place. Funnily enough, there hasn’t been much coverage of this in the US – maybe because it broke on a Sunday. If it does get wider coverage, interesting to see what happens.

    @ Darryl Watson – are you suggesting that what he said wasn’t so bad, really, because people here (including me) have criticized his car-making activities in the past? Putting a car into space somehow give him permission to say vile and despicable things? Am I reading you right?



  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    pete writes, Mr Unsworth shouldn’t be rude if he can’t stand the response.

    Even if we assume the very worst interpretation of what Mr Unsworth said, there’s a big difference between rudeness and libel.

  • pete

    Natalie, Mr Musk is very rich.

    Even if the does have to give Mr Unsworth a few million dollars he might consider it a worthwhile expense.

    Just as lack of wealth means many people don’t take legal action when they are libelled so rich people have less to fear from the consequences of their libel.

    That’s how the libel market works.

  • bobby b

    Darryl Watson
    July 16, 2018 at 3:33 pm

    “I’ve been following what Tesla has been doing largely because of the scoffing dislike of electric cars that some of the regulars here have shown… from calling a Tesla a ‘pedal-car’ . . . “

    Apparently we all heard it wrong. It’s a pedo-car.

    The merits of his car aside, Musk has been exploding for some time now. If you have listened in to any of his shareholder conference calls lately, his behavior has been strange. He curtly cuts off any questions about manufacturing capacity and makes rude comments about the questioners. He stops calls midstream if they get off his preferred rails.

    His most recent mess comes from having made a small donation to some GOP political action committee (which he says he made to maintain access to certain ears – a reasonable thing.) Twitter has been full of lefties now disclaiming him, his cars, and his philosophies, and with his intemperate responses to them.

    People have huge egos for many reasons. Some are valid, some are fanciful. Musk can support his huge ego, but the mere presence of even a warranted huge ego can be problematic in and of itself. As more and more people seem to regard Musk as a god, so too does Musk, and he’s becoming less able to let the barbs bounce off of him.

    Generally, the solution to all of this would be for Musk to STFU for a bit. But his empire really does depend on him out there selling his own magnificence. So this is only going to become more entertaining. As someone who receives huge financing primarily based on image and god-status, Musk risks everything on his ego.

  • Musk says the diver must be in the habit of molesting boys because he is “a white guy living in Thailand”. This may be going a bit far even for the PC, to whom white guys are normally exempt from protection. One could casually deduce a great deal that was unflattering about members of groups the PC patronise – and so have the PC getting really quite rude about one on twitter – if one reasoned down at the Musk level. 🙂

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    Musk should learn some politeness. Just because you damn yourself (I’m a kind of socialist), that doesn’t mean you can use lesser smears on others. Free speech does allow self-censorship.

  • Musk has never personally designed anything in his entire life. He’s done well in enabling others to do so, but he’s no engineer.

  • Bloke in the real world

    He’s nothing more than a taxpayer subsidy farmer. His products cannot compete in the market without huge subsidies.
    He’s not a genius, he’s a parasite.

  • Mr Black

    I suppose we should consider the possibility that Elon knew some things we don’t.

  • He’s not a genius, he’s a parasite.

    May may be a parasite but he is also a genius.

  • Mr Black (July 17, 2018 at 9:48 am), if the diver goes ahead and sues a guy with Elon Musk’s legal resources then I think we can safely assume the diver is confident that neither Musk nor the media who would swarm over the case know anything we don’t. Even if the diver does not sue, Musk’s publicised reasoning deserves contempt and IIUC he has not offered the least hint of any other.

    One should always remember Lyndon Johnstone’s remark about “I know it’s a lie – but lets make the bastard deny it”, which is an example of throwing pure mud so something will stick. It’s one way propagandists play games with your mind – smearing someone by inserting an association they hope you will never be able to forget, despite its lack of logical connection. It is therefore wise when you meet such things to do a logical analysis and let that – not the propagandist’s spin – be what you remember.

    It is not on the face of it likely that Musk would be informed at all about random divers resident in Thailand, let alone so well informed he could respond accurately with the speed of a tweet when one of them scorned him. (He has the wealth to commission an investigation into people, once they come to his attention, and thus in time perhaps be informed, but that is quite a different thing.) It is obvious a diver might live in Thailand for diving-related reasons, and also for many others that have nothing to do with why Bangkok is a slightly unfortunate name for its capital.

    So at this point I think it wiser not to consider the possibility, just as it is equally wiser not to consider the possibility that Musk himself is a pedophile, though obviously Musk would know anything we don’t on that point.

    (For the record, I think the diver could offer a mild apology for using such vitriol when rejecting Musk’s offer, and ask Musk in return to withdraw his accusation – with a strong hint that an apology for making it would also be welcome. If Musk refuses, the diver can sue.)

  • Rob

    Mr Unsworth shouldn’t be rude if he can’t stand the response

    From rejecting his offer as unsuitable directly to being branded a “pedo” for doing so. Well, as they say on Twitter, that escalated quickly.

  • Mike Solent

    Make enemies or just exasperate people?

  • the other rob

    “Pedo”? “Sus”? – I was not aware that Mr Musk had grown up in Millwall.

  • Andy in Japan

    ‘He’s nothing more than a taxpayer subsidy farmer. His products cannot compete in the market without huge subsidies.’

    That maybe the case with Tesla (I’m not familar with its details) but SpaceX is different. It seriously undercuts the old space firms like Boeing and Lockmart, even NASA admitted if they’d built Falcon 9 it would have cost 6 times what SpaceX spent

  • Rob Fisher

    The submarine can’t have been entirely a PR stunt. The idea that Musk turned up unwanted is false. Musk asked if it would be needed and one of the other divers told him to keep working on it, please: https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1016684366083190785

    “It is absolutely worth continuing with the development of this system in as timely a manner as feasible. If the rain holds out it may well be used.”

  • Jim

    “The idea that Musk turned up unwanted is false. Musk asked if it would be needed and one of the other divers told him to keep working on it, please: ”

    No one is saying he turned up entirely unasked, like Paul Gascoigne with a cooked chicken at the Raul Moat stakeout. Some people involved may indeed have encouraged him to experiment with things and bring them out. However what is at question is his reaction to the rescue having been effected successfully without his input. If you’ve just put in a lot of effort into solving a crisis, but its been solved by other means, the correct reaction is ‘Great, my efforts may have been in vain, but others have not been, and the problem was overcome, which is what we were all working towards’. And everyone celebrates. I’m sure there were guys drilling shafts for days in an attempt to get down to the chamber where the lads were holed up, all their undoubted hard work will have been wasted, yet I don’t see them moaning that their method was a far superior one and somehow they should have been left to effect the rescue themselves.
    Musk’s reaction has been one of peevishness that his (freely offered) efforts were not required (and lets be frank not really practical either) and seemingly that the boys were rescued without his input.
    Which basically makes him a weapons grade c*nt.

  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    Jim, he was peevish about ill-informed people claiming it was all a useless publicity stunt, not that it wasn’t needed in the end.

    I’m inclined to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. The diver was probably throwing insults around in his excitement at the media interest. Musk over-reacted and threw a very poorly-worded (though obviously not sincere) insult back. In private they would have yelled at each other a bit and both would have felt better. In public and with all the media interest everything gets exaggerated and taken seriously.

  • Jim

    “he was peevish about ill-informed people claiming it was all a useless publicity stunt, not that it wasn’t needed in the end.”

    The people who get the most wound up about allegations are the ones who deep down know there’s at least some truth in them. A fat person will be hyper sensitive to comments about weight, precisely because they know they are fat, and don’t like it (if they’re happy being fat they don’t care if the fact is mentioned). So if Musk gets annoyed because people were calling it a publicity stunt, then chances are it was. If it wasn’t a publicity stunt, he wouldn’t have showed up himself, just have sent the sub and the engineers who built it. But of course he had to go and make it all about him.

    Musk had started the name calling several days before Vern Unsworth was even interviewed. He had a public go at the Thai leader of the rescue (the man who’d just led the operation to successfully extract the boys from the cave) as ‘no expert’ and ‘not the real leader of the rescue’, because he was the one who’d told Musk his sub wasn’t needed. He continued to chunter on about it all on Twitter, again before Vern Unsworth was interviewed. If he’d congratulated the Thai authorities on getting everyone out, shut up and gone back to building his cars, I doubt Unsworth would even have been asked about him. But because he’d been shooting his mouth off about how his sub could definitely have saved them all, even though the whole thing had been concluded, he was in everyone’s thoughts and thus the spat got going.
    The only thing any decent human being needed to think or say after that rescue was ‘How wonderful they were all got out safely!’ If you feel the need to defend your own honour/integrity/role in the operation over that fact, it says more about you than anything else.

  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    “If you feel the need to defend your own honour/integrity/role in the operation over that fact” — but he’s defending himself against criticism. Arguably he could have done everything in secret, except he was involved in a public discussion to begin with when someone asked for help and says he kept it open so people “closer to the problem” could suggest how he could help.

    This Quora reply from Jeremy Arnold highlights some things that the typical media reports are leaving out: https://www.quora.com/Whats-the-full-story-behind-Elon-Musks-involvement-with-the-Thai-cave-rescue-effort