Economics Society Technology

Reconn Reader: Mar 1, 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. Inclusion does not mean endorsement. -CA


World & Politics

Will Maduro’s Supporters Abandon Him?

Most other officials disagreed with this assessment and blamed the opposition for its own failures. Not even the most pragmatic Chavistas were willing to countenance a release of Venezuela’s political prisoners, of which there are an estimated 966. On matters of political and judicial reform, they are defensive, meeting their critics with counterarguments and caveats. A Spanish journalist recently probed Maduro on why he created the Constituent Assembly in 2017, dislodging a National Assembly controlled by the opposition. The journalist jokingly asked whether Maduro would create a “third parliament” to deal with the current crisis. Maduro responded: “I won’t answer. It’s irony. Ask another question … Venezuela had powerful reasons to launch a constitution-making power. You don’t understand? Respect us. The only thing we ask from you is respect.” (Foreign Affairs)

What to Do with Islamic State Returnees?

Despite such verbal protestations, Berlin seems to have realized that it can no longer ignore the problem. Germany needs to come up with a clear position and a plan about what to do with the IS returnees. Contrary to what Foreign Minister Maas led the public to believe several days ago, German intelligence officials have already gathered a great deal of information about most of the captured IS supporters. Their goal is to have enough incriminating evidence for the police to arrest the Islamists should they ever set foot in Germany. (Der Spiegel)

How economic inequality impacts caste politics

When we think of caste-based inequality in India, we typically think of a pyramid where scheduled castes (SCs or Dalits) and scheduled tribes (STs) are at the bottom, other backward classes (OBCs) above them, and upper castes at the very top. Official survey data which measure caste along such broad lines support such a view. A new World Bank study by the economists Shareen Joshi, Nishtha Kochhar and Vijayendra Rao challenges this narrative, suggesting inequality within caste groups could be higher than that across caste groups. (Georgetown School of Foreign Service)

The End of the Big Cartels

Large criminal groups such as the Sinaloa Cartel and the CJNG are still powerful, and they still serve an important purpose in the drug trade. They assume a good portion of the risk of transporting drugs in bulk and selling them wholesale to smaller networks engaged in street-level distribution. In the case of fentanyl, for instance, Mexican cartels sell to Dominican groups that control much of the fentanyl and heroin market in the United States. Taking them down should be part of any counternarcotics strategy. But the days of the monolithic, hegemonic criminal groups with all-powerful leaders are over. For U.S. policymakers, it may be overkill to direct the resources of six federal law enforcement agencies toward dismantling these groups, especially in the era of synthetic drugs. (Foreign Affairs)



Business & Economics

Are Robots Competing for Your Job?

That was then. The reason that things will be different this time, Ford argues, has to do with the changing pace of change. The transformation from an agricultural to an industrial economy was linear; the current acceleration is exponential. The first followed Newton’s law; the second follows Moore’s. The employment apocalypse, when it comes, will happen so fast that workers won’t have time to adjust by shifting to new employment sectors, and, even if they did have time to adjust, there would be no new employment sectors to go to, because robots will be able to do just about everything (New Yorker)

How fashion tripped over the hip-hop economy

With those offensive products, brands seemingly mocked the very communities they rely on to purchase and, indeed, shift their wares. The ignorance highlighted a distinct lack of meaningful dialogue between brands and the cultures they enthusiastically mine for inspiration. It suggested a failure to understand that diversity extends beyond promotion of the black body, spotlighting the problem of surface-level representation, where black models are used to sell a product, but not given any authority or power in the boardroom or in the creation process. An all-too-similar example occurred recently with Dolce & Gabbana, who cancelled a much-hyped 2018 show in China following backlash against an advert showing a Chinese model struggling to eat Italian food with chopsticks. (Financial Times)

This Is What Peak Car Looks Like

Ultimately, individual car ownership will give way to having a mobility app on your phone, where an automobile is but one mode available, says Kersten Heineke, a McKinsey transportation specialist. A wealthy commuter might order a driverless Uber Black to take her to the office in solitude. A regular joe could hail a robo-shuttle that gets him to the subway just before his train departs for the city center, where he’ll hop a prebooked e-scooter to carry him the last mile to work. “This is the ideal future of mobility for a city,” Heineke says. “The main question around peak car is how much of this will trickle down to smaller cities and the countryside.” (Bloomberg)

Porsche’s Quest to Make Eco-Friendly Sports Cars

It’s a billion-euro bet with enormous possibilities — and enormous risk. If Blume’s plan works out, Porsche could become an ecologically oriented sports-car company, a role model for the entire German automobile industry. It would be proof that the industry has learned its lesson after the diesel scandal — in which Porsche’s parent-company, the Volkswagen Group, was found to have tricked emissions tests to make its vehicles seem more environmentally friendly than they really were — and that it has not entirely slept through the transition to electric mobility. (Der Spiegel)



Science & Technology

The secret lives of Facebook moderators in America

The moderators told me it’s a place where the conspiracy videos and memes that they see each day gradually lead them to embrace fringe views. One auditor walks the floor promoting the idea that the Earth is flat. A former employee told me he has begun to question certain aspects of the Holocaust. Another former employee, who told me he has mapped every escape route out of his house and sleeps with a gun at his side, said: “I no longer believe 9/11 was a terrorist attack.” (The Verge)


He reminds us of the difference between the limits to our communicative systems that we cannot overcome (such as the speed of light) and the ones that we can manipulate (such as regional differences between different parts of the web). Clark emphasizes that thinking about the future of the internet has at least as much to do with planning a city as with cornering a market, Airbnb or Uber style. Online architecture and infrastructure, like the layouts of cities, have a huge influence on the shape human activities take within them. It is disarming and exhilarating to consider the extent to which our digital lives could be changed by the rearrangement of these foundations. (Public Books)

Why Living in a Poor Neighborhood Can Change Your Biology

It’s a phenomenon that neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky took on in his 1994 book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. The short answer? Zebras don’t worry about being chased by lions until they’re actively being chased by a lion. As far as we know, only humans worry the rest of the time, keeping their stress levels high and increasing inflammation and illness. Over time, the damage can be profound. “The same systems that help us adapt and deal in situations of danger can cause us problems when they’re abused or dysregulated,” says Rockefeller University neuroscientist Bruce McEwen, who coined the term “allostatic load” to describe the toll chronic stress takes on our bodies and our brains. (Nautilus)

Remembering Concorde, 50 years on

The name alone conjures images of glamor, prestige and above all, speed. Fifty years after its maiden flight, Concorde still captures the imagination, even though the supersonic plane has been out of service for years. (DW)


Culture & History

But ancient tragedy is not just a celebration or vindication of democracy or Athenian glory (although Athens does come off quite well in some of the plays). Rather, theater is the place where the tensions, conflicts and ambiguities of democratic life are played out in front of the people. It is the place where those excluded from Athenian democracy are presented on stage: foreigners, women and slaves. Theater is the night kitchen of democracy. (New York Times)

We’ve also learned that good opinion video journalism can lead to significant impact, which is obviously the overriding goal of our department. In early 2018, Taige produced a video about #MeToo in the church. It’s the story of a woman who called out her pastor for sexual assault. Our video gained a ton of traction in the local press in Nashville where the pastor worked at a megachurch. Eleven days later, he resigned, and he quoted our video in his resignation later. I think the victim had been interviewed for like 20 seconds by some newscasts, but it was her first full telling of her story. (Neiman Lab)

Debunking Green Book: Jazz Greats on What It Was Really Like to Tour During Jim Crow

Going further west didn’t exactly change the situation. Simmons’ trio got a three-month contract at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas in 1956. At the time, the city was so segregated it was known as “the Mississippi of the West.” Like most black performers on the Strip, Simmons was not permitted to stay at the hotel where he was working. Instead the band was to find housing in a majority-black area, which Simmons says had no paved roads and was “on the other side of the tracks.” While on the job, he and his trio weren’t permitted to talk to customers at the venue; they were relegated to a table in the corner when they weren’t playing. (Pitchfork)

A 19th-Century Guide to Euclid’s Geometry Reborn as an Interactive Site

Now there’s a new version of Euclid’s Elements for the digital age. Chicago-based web designer and artist Nicholas Rougeux has meticulously reproduced Byrne’s edition of Elements as an interactive website. Clickable links to references, animated diagrams that indicate a shape being discussed, and relevant images that follow a scrolling text, all are aimed at making this groundbreaking work accessible. The visuals are based on scans in the Internet Archive from an edition at the Getty Research Institute. (Hyperallergic)

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