The Reconn Reader: Jan 19, 2019

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

Even a columnist for The Economist, an organ of the British elite, now professes dismay over “Oxford chums” who coast through life on “bluff rather than expertise.” “Britain,” the magazine belatedly lamented last month, “is governed by a self-involved clique that rewards group membership above competence and self-confidence above expertise.” In Brexit, the British “chumocracy,” the column declared, “has finally met its Waterloo.”(The New York Times)

Welcome to Jamaica, Home of the World’s Best-Performing Stock Market

It doesn’t take much investment to make a tiny market boom, and the total value of the 37 stocks in the main Jamaica index is less than $11 billion, smaller than the valuation of Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. But it’s also a story about Kingston’s nascent attempts to reinvent itself as a financial hub, even as it works to reduce the heavy debt load that brought the country to the brink of crisis a decade ago. “Clearly, capital goes where it’s comfortable,” says Paul Simpson, a 36-year-old banker and investor in Kingston. “To see capital coming here means people must be comfortable.” (Bloomberg)

Mexico’s Postmodern Populism

In 1984, the American journalist Alan Riding wrote Distant Neighbors, a shrewd account of the state of affairs in U.S.-Mexico bilateral relations. The book became a best seller in Mexico and was understood as a call for a new diplomacy focused on getting the two countries closer to each other. This outcome coincided with the neoliberal dream, and was the anticipated result of globalization. With AMLO and Trump in power, that dream now seems shattered. But, paradoxically, it may be the shared rejection of a self-forgetting globalism that allows for a new diplomacy grounded on the well-being of each country’s own people. Two “postmodern-populist” leaders, who may have more in common than either would be willing to admit, will decide the outcome.   (American Affairs)



Business & Economics

Can Hollywood’s Biggest Media Companies Avoid Getting Crushed by Debt?

The ballooning leverage only heightens the enormous stakes at play for the largest media companies. AT&T, Disney and Comcast are faced with reinventing large parts of their core businesses — to compete in the global streaming marketplace established by Netflix’s fast rise — at the same time they navigate the tricky process of integrating high-priced acquisitions into existing operations, with all the potential for culture clashes, turf wars and dysfunction that entails. The demands of meeting ambitious synergy targets and servicing a higher level of debt require that everything go right for these corporations in the next two years in order for the math to work. (Variety)

Bernie Madoff’s Lesson: Beware ‘Just This Once’

It all starts with “one small step,” Christensen suggests, “a relatively small error” to which we don’t want to admit. Which prompts us to cover it up, lying to cover lies. Forging documents. Making false statements. All of which were “almost impossible to see … from the vantage point of where [we] started – but that’s the danger of marginal thinking.” “Once we take the first step down a “path of deception,” there is “no longer a boundary where it makes sense to turn around. The next step is always a small one, and given what you’ve already done, why stop now?” (Barrons)

The Quiet Ways Automation Is Remaking Service Work

The concealing effect continues even with the very artificial intelligence credited with powering automation: Much of it comes from low-wage work. The facial-recognition technology used to automate hotel check-in, for example, relies on patterns and templates fed by millions of images of people’s faces. These databases are often furnished by universities, which may pay students to scrape the internet for pictures or enroll themselves. The self-driving cars that may one day deliver groceries to your door are monitored by human test drivers, who are paid hourly wages to sit in the front seat while the car pilots itself, taking over control in case of emergencies. Automation, again, masks time. (The Atlantic)



Science & Technology

Autonomous weapons and the new laws of war

The challenge that modern armed forces, and armsmakers like iai, are working on is the ability to pick the target out from a field of non-targets. There are two technological developments that make the challenge a timely one. One is that computers are far more powerful than they used to be and, thanks to “machine learning”, getting much more sophisticated in their ability to distinguish between objects. If an iPhone can welcome your face but reject your sibling’s, why shouldn’t a missile be able to distinguish a tank from a school bus? (The Economist)

Aboard the giant sand-sucking ships that China uses to reshape the world

In recent years, China has assembled an armada of oceangoing dredges. Some it buys from Japan, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Increasingly, though, China manufactures them itself. China’s homemade dredges are not yet the world’s largest, nor are they any more technologically advanced than those of other countries, but it is building many more of them than any other country. In the past decade, Chinese firms have built some 200 vessels of ever greater size and sophistication. In 2013, Rabobank, a Dutch firm, declared that China’s dredging industry had become the biggest in the world, and it has only grown since then. Chinese firms bring in as much revenue from domestic dredging as is accrued in all of Europe and the Middle East combined. (MIT Tech Review)


To stand a shot at the hour record, an athlete must maintain for 60 minutes a power output that most people would struggle to hold for 60 seconds. Stevens averaged just over 300 watts for the duration of her attempt. British cyclist Bradley Wiggins, who, in 2015, pedaled 54.526 kilometers (33.881 miles) to set the current men’s record, is estimated to have averaged 440 watts. If you’ve ever paid attention to your numbers during spin class, those figures will no doubt astound you. If spinning’s not your thing, imagine this: 440 watts is the energy it takes a 150-pound person to climb a flight of stairs in about 5.5 seconds. Now imagine climbing 655 flights at that pace. That’s an hour.(WIRED)


Culture & History

The Language Debate Inside Japan’s Convenience Stores

Within the framework of Japanese speech exists the somewhat controversial practice of employing formulaic honorific speech by those in the service industry. Manual keigo—so named for the training manuals of phrases that clerks and employees are expected to memorize and use in interactions with the public—creates artificial, repetitious, or otherwise grammatically questionable honorific expressions as companies strive to outdo themselves in terms of reverentially addressing their customers. (CityLab)

China’s tech boom has inspired a wave of internet-related art

Anxieties about economic advantage, national security, and censorship tend to dominate the West’s conversation about technology in China. But Chinese artists have a different set of concerns about technology’s ramifications. Shanghai-based artist Miao Ying references censorship in some of her works. But she is less interested in taking a stand against the Chinese government’s regulation of the internet than in highlighting the unique cultural tics that take shape under those strictures. Much of her work deals with her concept of the “Chinternet”—a break with Western norms that supplies fertile ground for new ideas and identities to grow. (MIT Tech Review)

Once a Year, Hundreds of Artists from Around India Gather on One Street to Sell Work

The fair, to borrow Susan Sontag’s description of naïve camp, is a “proper mixture of the exaggerated, the fantastic, the passionate and the naïve.” The merit of the art at Chitra Santhe might not always be something to rave about, nor might a lot of them pass muster in the haloed art world, but the fair serves as a pathway for thousands of artists to find a market for works that might never otherwise find a home outside of their studios. For most people, art is still seen as an indulgence, a luxury that they have rare and little access to. Chitra Santhe goes a long way in breaking down such perceived barriers by making art both approachable and largely affordable.. (Hyperallergic)

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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