Economics Science Society Technology

Reconn Reader: 22 March, 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

Brexit Borderlands

The Irish Border by comparison has 208 official road crossings, mostly made up of country roads, along its 500km stretch. Some Border residents claim that if every laneway, track and trail were included the number would be closer to 300. This is nearly twice as many as the entire border to the east of Europe, making it potentially the most porous land border in Europe. Could Brexit bring a hard border, like in the east, to Northern Ireland? (The Irish Times)

What a Military Intervention in Venezuela Would Look Like

The most likely scenario lies somewhere between the two extremes. After a U.S. invasion, the Venezuelan military would likely surrender quickly, the regime would collapse, and most Cuban and Russian personnel would withdraw. But the U.S. presence would push military defectors, paramilitary groups, and militias into hiding. The United States would have to lead the rebuilding of Venezuela’s security forces and keep troops in the country for years. (Foreign Affairs)

Brexit and How Japanese Companies Are Navigating Its Uncertainties

Japanese financial holding company Nomura, with about 2,300 people in London, will set up a broker-dealer in Frankfurt to use as its trading hub, shifting 50 to 100 staff to Frankfurt and elsewhere in Europe. Nomura plans to repatriate a small number of bankers to the EU countries that they cover, so bankers covering Spanish companies could move to Madrid, for example. Nomura already has a French banking license, but must get agreement from the country’s regulators to expand its balance sheet. It is in talks with French regulators about using Paris as its post-Brexit European lending entity. (Harvard Business Review)


Here we begin to see just how complicated the simple injunction to obey the Party can become. Xi’s 2016 speech on the role of the media was chockfull of talk about the need to uphold the “Party spirit,” the concept at the heart of the notion of being “surnamed Party.” The injunction to “love the Party, protect the Party and serve the Party” must apply at the local and regional level as much as at the national level. But how does one balance this all-encompassing, veto-power value with the values the Party and government ostensibly uphold on a practical level? . . . Values, for example, like putting the people first, or serving the development of the private sector, or upholding law-based administration? (China Media Project)


Business & Economics

The Old Daytime-Drinking, Sexual-Harassing Ways Are Thriving at Lloyd’s

Women with international experience in insurance and other areas of finance say the pervasive harassment at Lloyd’s and in the wider London market is unique. And they all say it begins with alcohol. Deals born on the Lloyd’s floor, or in nearby offices, slosh into the pubs and vice versa. All day long, underwriters move from the trading floor to the pub to their own offices, then back to the pub again. The London insurance market is the last place in global finance where drinking isn’t only tolerated, it’s expected. (Bloomberg)

Why big tech should fear Europe

A key part of Europe’s approach is deciding what not to do. For now it has dismissed the option of capping tech firms’ profits and regulating them like utilities, which would make them stodgy, permanent monopolies. It has also rejected break-ups: thanks to network effects, one of the Facebabies or Googlettes might simply become dominant again. Instead the eu’s doctrine marries two approaches. One draws on its members’ cultures, which, for all their differences, tend to protect individual privacy. The other uses the eu’s legal powers to boost competition. (The Economist)

The Future of Sports Is Interactive, Immersive and Intense

Traditional leagues will learn a lot on this front by watching esports, as gamers continue to gain recognition as a new breed of professional athlete. “Our players jump in the chat, and they’ll engage with fans,” said Brendan Donohue, general manager of the 2K League, the NBA’s esports offering. It’s not crazy to imagine one day watching an actual basketball game, chatting with other viewers, when suddenly one of the bench players logs on and joins in. (Wall Street Journal)

Wanted: 3,732 Women to Govern Corporate America

The glacial rate of progress inspired the California law, which had wide support in the state legislature. From a constitutional standpoint, the measure and its copycats may be on shaky ground, said Doreen Lilienfeld, a corporate governance attorney for Shearman & Sterling. Most Russell 3000 companies are incorporated in Delaware, including 83 percent of those headquartered in California. It’s not clear whether another state can, legally, tell them what to do. (Bloomberg)



Science & Technology

It also questions whether the resources host universities get from Hanban put pressure on them to discourage campus discussions of these issues.
“Even if universities don’t get DoD funding they’re not compelled [to cut ties], but they’re probably reading the tea leaves,” Lewis of CSIS said.
At least seven US universities closed their Confucius Institutes around the time the National Association of Scholars (NAS) produced a 2017 report largely critical of the amount of control Hanban has over the instructors and teaching materials used in CI classrooms. (SCMP)

DeepMind and Google: the battle to control artificial intelligence

For many founders, this would be a happy ending. They could slow down, take a step back and spend more time with their money. For Hassabis, the acquisition by Google was just another step in his pursuit of AGI. He had spent much of 2013 negotiating the terms of the deal. DeepMind would operate as a separate entity from its new parent. It would gain the benefits of being owned by Google, such as access to cash flow and computing power, without losing control.

Hassabis thought DeepMind would be a hybrid: it would have the drive of a startup, the brains of the greatest universities, and the deep pockets of one of the world’s most valuable companies. Every element was in place to hasten the arrival of AGI and solve the causes of human misery. (1843)

The Internet Knows You Better Than Your Spouse Does

In an experiment published in 2018, he and his Stanford colleague Yilun Wang fed hundreds of thousands of photographs from a dating portal into a computer, along with information on whether the person in question was gay or straight. They then presented the software with pairs of unknown faces: one of a homosexual person and another of a heterosexual individual of the same sex. The program correctly distinguished the sexual orientation of men 81 percent of the time and of women 71 percent of the time; human beings were much less accurate in their assessments. (Scientific American)

Scientists rise up against statistical significance

In 2016, the American Statistical Association released a statement in The American Statistician warning against the misuse of statistical significance and P values. The issue also included many commentaries on the subject. This month, a special issue in the same journal attempts to push these reforms further. It presents more than 40 papers on ‘Statistical inference in the 21st century: a world beyond P < 0.05’. The editors introduce the collection with the caution “don’t say ‘statistically significant’”3. Another article4 with dozens of signatories also calls on authors and journal editors to disavow those terms.

We agree, and call for the entire concept of statistical significance to be abandoned. (Nature)


Culture & History

Gutenberg’s moving type propelled Europe towards the scientific revolution

Printing initiated a process that transformed the production of knowledge in Europe. The economic process involved the interaction between two markets: the market for ideas; and the labour market. Printing delivered a shock to markets for ideas, understood broadly as the interactions between producers and consumers of ideas. Printing reduced prices for consumers and increased the size of the market facing producers. This shock was transmitted to the labour market, in which universities and states competed over talent and employed highly trained personnel. (Financial Times)

This Is How You Sell Pot to Rich People

The move by Barneys could begin a new stage in the normalization of marijuana use in America. Across the country, pot businesses have been springing up as state after state legalizes pot for medical and recreational use. Although there remains a conflict of laws, given the federal government’s continued proscriptions against pot, the marijuana economy is nevertheless flourishing.  (Bloomberg)

How Painting Survives in the Digital Era

Thought-provoking assessments of painting’s death (or near-death) aside, Graw maintains that “in recent years, painting, after losing its dominant position, has received much more attention in critical writing and theory, and contemporary painting exhibitions have been extremely popular, bolstering an increased interest in the art form.” Fair enough, but she might have raised the question of whether such popularity places painting on a dangerous path to derivative conformity. (Hyperallergic)

“I’m here because I don’t want to have to grow up in a world where I am terrified the people I love could lose their home,” Simone Rubin, a senior at NEST+M high school, told The Outline, referencing the potential affect sea level rise could have on New York City’s coast. “It’s unfair that we’re in this situation now because adults refuse to act and now we’re tasked with cleaning up an earth that we shouldn’t have had to do because we shouldn’t have put ourselves in this situation to begin with.” (The Outline)

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