Economics Society Technology

The Reconn Reader: Dec 28, 2018

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


World & Politics

Highlighted in Yellow

The historian Anaïs Albert has shown that in the “Belle Époque” (1871–1914), the women of the popular classes were pivotal in the mobilization against high prices, low wages, and poor working conditions. Such was the case of the seamstresses’ strike in 1917 [a two-week strike in wartime which secured the abolition of Saturday afternoon work]. Women’s role owed to the fact that the management of working-class households was incumbent on them, as an important part of the domestic work they provided. (Jacobin)

The end of American hegemony

Indeed, Russia will increasingly cast itself as the indispensable power in the Middle East. By intervening in Syria in 2015, Russia saved the regime of Bashar al-Assad yet has so far avoided falling into a quagmire of the sort that exhausted America in Iraq. Russia has shown that it will stand by its allies, no matter how repulsive. It has honed its warfighting techniques, and has created a showcase for sales of military equipment. (The Economist)

When China Rules the Web: Technology in Service of the State

More than its investments in semiconductor research and quantum computing, it is China’s ambitious plans in artificial intelligence that have caused the most unease in the West. At an artificial intelligence summit last year, Eric Schmidt, the former chair of Google, said of the Chinese, “By 2020, they will have caught up. By 2025, they will be better than us. And by 2030, they will dominate the industries of AI.” China is racing to harness artificial intelligence for military uses, including autonomous drone swarms, software that can defend itself against cyberattacks, and programs that mine social media to predict political movements. (Foreign Affairs)



Business & Economics

Hot Under the White Collar

The government has gone after individuals, in particular regarding sanctions-law violations. Although the instance of the Huawei CFO has become a flash point in the trade war between the U.S. and China, hers is not an isolated case. “When a senior executive from a global company is detained, that catches headlines,” says Linney, also an adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s law school. “But there’s been a steady stream of cases in which individuals have been charged.” For example, in 2017 a banker with Turkey’s state-controlled Halkbank was convicted in federal court in New York for his role in evading sanctions on Iran and sentenced to nearly three years in jail. (Fortune)

Grand Theft Cobalt: Rotterdam

News of the heist spread quickly through the tiny network of people who trade in cobalt. All of them, it seemed, had stories about metal thieves. David Weight, the president of the Cobalt Institute, another industry body, told Bloomberg Businessweek he’d once sent a consignment to the U.S. from Rotterdam in the 1980s and received a note from the buyer in America that read, “Thanks for the gravel.” Someone—Weight never found out who—had taken the lids off the drums, removed the metal, and replaced it. Around the same time, Weight said, armed men held up a freight train en route to South Africa, decoupled the carriages containing cobalt, and towed them away on a separate getaway train. (Bloomberg)


In 2014, Amazon started a secret internal lab dedicated to developing healthcare technology that goes by at least three different names, depending on who you ask: 1492, The Amazon Grand Challenge, and Project X. As of late, the project has reportedly partnered with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle to explore using machine learning to prevent or cure cancer, and is pitching health insurance companies on a new product called Hera, which mines patient medical records to flag incorrect codes and potential misdiagnoses, and help hospitals bill patients. Amazon also sells medical supplies to hospitals through a healthcare offshoot of its business-to-business marketplace, Amazon Business. (WIRED)



Science & Technology

The CRISPR shocker: How genome-editing scientist He Jiankui rose from obscurity to stun the world

In retrospect, He had been hiding in plain sight. Although he has been a shooting star in Chinese science for about five years, ever since he returned to the country of his birth after graduate and postdoctoral stints in the U.S., he is not an alumnus of any of the world’s leading CRISPR labs. He had written no important CRISPR papers before his shocking announcement. (He still hasn’t: The CRISPR babies experiment remains unpublished, and a study editing mouse, monkey, and human embryos without starting pregnancies has been rejected.) He was on no one’s radar screen. He tried to make up for it. (STAT News)

Apollo 8, 50 Years Later: The Greater Leap

“A hundred years from now, when people reflect on our space effort, they won’t bother with Apollo 13, despite the movie and all the hoopla,” Anders says, referring to NASA’s famous near-disaster. “But they’ll certainly remember the first step on the moon, though they may not remember who made it. And the Earthrise picture will go down as the historic image of the time.” (Scientific American)

Origami spreads its wings

The flashiest early example of origami solving a scientific problem was when Koryo Miura and Masamori Sakamaki, astrophysicists at Tokyo University’s space-science department, devised a new approach to the unfolding and refolding of a satellite’s solar panels, first put into practice in 1995. The obvious approach is to fold them as one does a map. But anyone who has tried to return a good-sized map to its folded state knows the damage it can inflict on the paper. The scientists’ insight was not to fold the panel at right angles, which produces rectangles between folds, but at a slightly skewed angle, producing parallelograms. This creates a panel that can be completely unfolded just by tugging two of its opposed corners out, and refolded by pushing them in. (The Economist)


Culture & History

THE WHITE DARKNESS: A solitary journey across Antarctica.

On December 1st, he marched into what he described as “the mother of all storms.” Trudging uphill, with his head bowed against a fusillade of ice pellets, he moved at less than a mile per hour. After many hours, he abruptly paused. “I sat huddled on my sledge, down jacket on, wondering whether to go or to stop,” he later recalled. It was so windy that he did not know if he could set up his tent, and so he resumed trekking. “My hands took a battering, and often I had to stop to give them some warmth,” he said. “And the light was so flat that on two occasions, immediately after stopping, I fell straight over, such is the disorienting effect it has on your senses.” (New Yorker)

Sacred choral music touches on deep religious, moral and political questions

Byrd’s intention with the final three words of the piece is to emphasise the absence of peace in the harried lives of English Roman Catholics. As “Dona nobis pacem” is sung over and over, Byrd introduces dissonances that, to 16th-century ears, would have sounded highly unusual. On repeated listening, they become more jarring still as Byrd pleads with the authorities to leave him and his co-religionists alone. The waves of discord, it seems, will never end; the notes move gradually downwards, conveying death and decay. (The Economist)

Magnum’s 2018 Pictures of the Year

At the core of the Magnum collective’s nature is its myriad interpretations of, and approaches to, photography. As the agency co-founder Henri Cartier-Bresson said, ‘Magnum is a community of thought, a shared human quality, a curiosity about what is going on in the world.’ This sense of collective curiosity is as evident in 2018 as it was in the agency’s earliest years. (Magnum)

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