The Reconn Reader: Dec 7, 2018

Each week, I share some of the most interesting articles from the past seven days. Here is this week’s selection. -CA


World & Politics

The Rise of Islamic Soft Power

Although Islam has always been present in the region’s politics, its importance has grown in recent years—thanks not only to the convulsions of the Arab Spring but to decisions made in Washington. U.S. President Donald Trump, like his predecessor, Barack Obama, has tried to disengage from the daily irritations of Middle East politics and hand over more responsibility to Arab allies. This has encouraged these allies—particularly Saudi Arabia—to adopt more aggressive foreign policies, which has in turn required an ideological language for sustaining that aggression. Islamic soft power, whether in the form of anti-Shiism or “moderate Islam,” offers just that. (Foreign Affairs)

The Yellow Vests and Why There Are So Many Street Protests in France

As with Brexit, Italian Berlusconism, Trumpism, and the extremist movements in Central and Eastern Europe which are awkwardly called “populist,” looking for a single local cause seems to miss the multiplied global point. Journalists have diligently gone out to inquire about the grievances of the gilets jaunes and have discovered economic complaints mixed with conspiracy theories and a resentment of “élites.” Certainly, the inequality that afflicts America afflicts France, too. And the rural-urban divide, which was so striking in our just concluded elections, seems equally strong there: the yellow vest is a rural emblem, rarely seen in the cities. (New Yorker)

The Road to Confrontation

Doing business in China became even harder after the financial crisis of 2008. By that time, China had passed Japan to become America’s largest creditor, holding about $600 billion of United States Treasury notes. Chinese officials were appalled by the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers and fearful of their own exposure. If they were always suspicious of American politicians, now they turned against their friends on Wall Street, too, taking a harder line in negotiations and rejecting their calls to open up the Chinese economy further. (New York Times)



Business & Economics

The language of capitalism isn’t just annoying, it’s dangerous

By demonstrating how dramatically these words’ meanings have transformed, Leary suggests that they might change further, that the definitions put in place by the ruling class aren’t permanent or beyond dispute. As he explores what our language has looked like, and the ugliness now embedded in it, Leary invites us to imagine what our language could emphasize, what values it might reflect. What if we fought “for free time, not ‘flexibility’; for free health care, not ‘wellness’; and for free universities, not the ‘marketplace of ideas”? (The Outline)

Amazon HQ2 and the ‘Gentrification of Jobs’

Despite its personal commitments to workforce training, Amazon’s impending entrance has already meant that a developing plan to increase space for tech education in the city has squealed to a halt, at least for now. The waterfront property Amazon will occupy was once slated to become the Long Island City Innovation Center, which, based on initial plans, would have included: 22,500 square feet of pre-built incubator spaces; 10,000 square feet for an Arts and Technology Accelerator; 10,000 square feet of classroom space for workforce development and career training; and a 600-seat public school. (CityLab)

Seeing your way to better strategy

Rather than prescribe performance metrics from the top down—ordering, for instance, that no one can have more than a 1 percent increase in cost in the next fiscal year—a retail company picks two or three “growth cells” each year that get twice the relative marketing budget (among other investments) compared with other areas of the business. As a result, strategy discussions are now focused solely on which cells should be designated for accelerated growth, rather than minutiae about the budget. (McKinsey)



Science & Technology

The Hippies Were Right: It’s All about Vibrations, Man!

Fries calls his concept “communication through coherence” or CTC. For Fries it’s all about neuronal synchronization. Synchronization, in terms of shared electrical oscillation rates, allows for smooth communication between neurons and groups of neurons. Without coherence (synchronization), inputs arrive at random phases of the neuron excitability cycle and are ineffective, or at least much less effective, in communication. (Scientific American)

Memories Can Be Inherited, and Scientists May Have Just Figured out How

“We previously showed that worms inherited small RNAs following the starvation and viral infections of their parents. These small RNAs helped prepare their offspring for similar hardships,” Dr. Rechavi said. He goes on the explain the research, noting “We also identified a mechanism that amplified heritable small RNAs across generations, so the response was not diluted. We found that enzymes called RdRPs are required for re-creating new small RNAs to keep the response going in subsequent generations.” (Futurism)


GANs have been put to use creating realistic-sounding speech and photorealistic fake imagery. In one compelling example, researchers from chipmaker Nvidia primed a GAN with celebrity photographs to create hundreds of credible faces of people who don’t exist. Another research group made not-unconvincing fake paintings that look like the works of van Gogh. Pushed further, GANs can reimagine images in different waysmaking a sunny road appear snowy, or turning horses into zebras. (MIT Tech Review)


Culture & History

Why do so many people fall for financial scams?

Mr Carter never saw a penny. Instead he owes $80,000, which he is paying off from his retirement savings. The job was too good to be true. All he had to do was use his credit card to buy iPhones and iPads. He started in June, buying them at Best Buy and Walmart and sending them from his home in Maryland to an address in California. The company paid his credit-card bill—for a few weeks. In July those payments were voided. His bank said the debts were his. The company’s website vanished. The people he had spoken to stopped answering the phone. (The Economist)

Wall Street Rule for the #MeToo Era: Avoid Women at All Cost

A manager in infrastructure investing said he won’t meet with female employees in rooms without windows anymore; he also keeps his distance in elevators. A late-40-something in private equity said he has a new rule, established on the advice of his wife, an attorney: no business dinner with a woman 35 or younger.

The changes can be subtle but insidious, with a woman, say, excluded from casual after-work drinks, leaving male colleagues to bond, or having what should be a private meeting with a boss with the door left wide open. (Bloomberg)

Before Capitalism, Medieval Peasants Got More Vacation Time Than You. Here’s Why.

Beyond burnout, vanishing vacations make our relationships with families and friends suffer. Our health is deteriorating: depression and higher risk of deathare among the outcomes for our no-vacation nation. Some forward-thinking people have tried to reverse this trend, like progressive economist Robert Reich, who has argued in favor of a mandatory three weeks off for all American workers. Congressman Alan Grayson proposed the Paid Vacation Act of 2009, but alas, the bill didn’t even make it to the floor of Congress. (evonomics)

Carlos Alvarenga

Founder and CEO at KatalystNet and Adjunct Professor in the Logistics, Business and Public Policy Department at the University of Maryland’s Robert E. Smith School of Business.

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