Economics Society Technology

The Reconn Reader: August 25, 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

How Germany Became the Country of Cars

Exploring Germany’s place in automotive history was what brought me to the industrial heartland of the south. I was road-tripping through Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria – the states where Germany’s luxury carmakers are based – visiting an extraordinary concentration of car-culture attractions and museums. “When you dissect a country from a completely different perspective, like automotive history, you’re really discovering it anew,” Meyer said as we navigated the countryside. “That’s the adventure.” (BBC)

Putin and the Patriarchs

Outwardly, Putin and the head of the Russian church, Patriarch Kirill, have presented a united front. In late January, sweeping orchestral music played as the two men entered the Kremlin’s main concert hall for a celebration of Kirill’s first decade at the head of the Russian church. Kirill, in black robes and a gold-embroidered white headdress adorned with a cross, thanked God and “especially you, Vladimir Vladimirovich […] for this dialogue between church and state” during his time as patriarch. “I would even dare say that church and state have such relations for the first time in all the history of Russia . . . Even in the times of the Russian empire, the church did not have an equal partner in the face of the government.” (Financial Times)

What’s It Like to Live In An Over-Touristed City

“Tourists bother me when a group of eight or more take the neighbourhood bus – a small minibus that neighbours use to go uphill to their homes, especially for elderly and families with kids or strollers or people carrying heavy shopping bags,” said Barcelona native Marta Laurent Veciana, owner of tour company Big tourist groups also often block the subway ticket validating machines. “Leave at least one machine available for locals so they don’t have to wait until your entire group has validated their ticket to go in.” (BBC)

A New Kind of Climate Protest Movement

XR doesn’t see itself as a bunch of elitist activists, but rather as a collective movement that accepts all people with open arms. Ever since the first XR activists proclaimed a “rebellion against the government” in London’s Parliament Square on Oct. 31, 2018, the movement’s organizers say it has expanded into dozens of countries, including the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific and the United States. Alongside Fridays for Future, Extinction Rebellion is setting out to establish itself as the second arm of a new global climate protection movement. (Der Spiegel)



Business & Economics

Sex, Beer, and Coding: Inside Facebook’s Wild Early Days in Palo Alto

Steve Perlman (Silicon Valley veteran who started in the Atari era): We shared a break room with Facebook. We were building hardware: a facial capture technology. The Facebook guys were doing some HTML thing. They would come in late in the morning. They’d have a catered lunch. Then they leave usually by mid-afternoon. I’m like, man, that is the life! I need a startup like that. You know? And the only thing any of us could think about Facebook was: Really nice people but never going to go anywhere.(Wired)

How the World’s Biggest Brewer Killed the Craft Beer Buzz

(If this all sounds familiar — a flailing but still powerful leader inciting a rank-and-file base against perceived elites by vilifying certain socio-cultural stereotypes — you’ll be unsurprised to learn that vendors on e-commerce platforms like eBay and TeeSpring are selling MAGA/Dilly Dilly mash-up merchandise for enthusiasts of both.) This “shut up and drink your beer” attitude is even trickling down to some of ABI’s craft holdings as well. “Friendly tip,” read the side of some recent Goose IPA six-packs. “Your mouth is for drinking IPA, not talking about drinking IPA.” (Medium)

America’s CEOs Seek a New Purpose for the Corporation

In that light, it’s perhaps no wonder that Salesforce’s Benioff publicly took on a “religious liberties” law in Indiana that he viewed as discriminating against gay people. Or that Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan publicly objected when the legislature in North Carolina, the bank’s home base, passed a bill limiting transgender access to public bathrooms. Or that Delta CEO Ed Bastian battled with his home-state Georgia legislature when he discontinued a discount program for the National Rifle Association. Or that Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier withdrew from President Trump’s advisory council after the President’s equivocal comments about the Charlottesville riots. The CEOs in each case took courageous moral stands, in my view, but it’s also likely their workforces—and a good chunk of their customer bases—were deep in support. (Fortune)



Science & Technology

Yet arguments that the humanities will save STEM from itself are untenably thin. “We have a number of drugs that are slowly entering the clinic with the very specific aim of slowing down aging,” Verdin says. “The problem is, how do you measure this?” That’s where a mortality predictor comes in handy. It’s not practical to follow people for 20 or 30 years in a clinical trial. But if you could see whether a drug is having an effect on the aging process in a shorter time frame, that would be a boon to drug developers. For instance, you could test someone’s mortality risk at the beginning of a study and at specific points throughout a study, such as every six months, to see if that risk score goes up, down, or stays the same. (OneZero)

Is the Mathematical World Real?

Imagine that the computer is printing its results. Each time it finds two primes that add up to a specific even number, the computer prints that even number. By now it is a very long list of numbers, which you can present to a friend as a compelling reason to believe the Goldbach conjecture. But your clever friend is always able to think of an even number that is not on the list and asks how you know that the Goldbach conjecture is true for that number. It is impossible for all (infinitely many) even numbers to show up on the list. Only a mathematical proof—a logical argument from basic principles demonstrating that Goldbach’s conjecture is true for every even number—is enough to elevate the conjecture to a theorem or fact. To this day, no one has been able to provide such a proof. (Scientific American)

Silicon Valley’s Crisis of Conscience

“A few people around the Bay are starting to wake up,” Tauber, who now works as an executive coach, told me recently. “They’re acknowledging where things have gone wrong, and their role in that, and they’re trying to get their peers to do the same.” Many of the conversations, Tauber acknowledged, would not play well in Peoria. “It can get kind of out there,” he said. “There are folks exploring mindfulness, bodywork, psychedelics. Personal growth can take many forms. But ultimately if a handful of people have this much power—if they can, simply by making more ethical decisions, cause billions of users to be less addicted and isolated and confused and miserable—then, isn’t that worth a shot?” (New Yorker)

“They think it’s a phone call to God”: inside the looming crisis in British criminal forensics

Dr Carole McCartney, a professor of Law at the University of Northumbria, tells me that we don’t know the true scale of flawed forensics, both because each of the country’s 43 police forces have their own system, and because of a controversial new efficiency measure called “Streamlined Forensic Reporting.”

“Streamlined Forensic Reporting” often involves an A4 piece of paper which a defendant ticks off to say they won’t challenge certain forensics that the police may have on them. In other words, the form will say: we have your DNA at the scene of the crime, do you agree? If the defendant agrees, they will tick “yes,” and the DNA won’t be used against them at trial.

The issue with this system is that it pretends that the science is black and white. It doesn’t say where the DNA was found, or what the likelihood of a false positive is. Ultimately, it prevents further detailed analysis being conducted and it means fewer forensics are being used as evidence in a court environment where they could be challenged. (Prospect)

Culture & History

Reality TV Mattered, and We Should Have Realized It

What were people gathering around when they watched Donald Trump on The Apprentice? What meaning were they sharing with him, and with each other? It couldn’t have been just “entertainment.” Donald Trump is the president of the United States in part because people bought into the persona he played on The Apprentice and identified with the fawning contestants kowtowing to him. He was on TV. He was rich. He was ostentatious. He was tough. And it was enough. It was enough because he was on the box we gather around to hear stories, and the box told us to value him. (Medium)

Hate giving up data for access? Tell these Chinese all about it

A survey from the China Consumers Association last year showed that 85% of people in China had suffered some sort of data leak, such as their phone number and email address being sold to spammers.

To be sure, although public concern is rising, many Chinese currently have no choice but to share their data or be blocked from shopping, eating or using their favorite app.

“I do not care about data collection. Cameras are everywhere in China and I think efforts to protect my personal information are simply in vain,” said Yu Zhiyao, a 32-year-old salesman in China. “I comfort myself in the fact that apps make my everyday life more convenient, so if you want my personal information – here you are, it’s yours.” (InkStone)

Misinformation Has Created a New World Disorder

Having monitored misinformation in eight elections around the world since 2016, I have observed a shift in tactics and techniques. The most effective disinformation has always been that which has a kernel of truth to it, and indeed most of the content being disseminated now is not fake—it is misleading. Instead of wholly fabricated stories, influence agents are reframing genuine content and using hyperbolic headlines. The strategy involves connecting genuine content with polarizing topics or people. Because bad actors are always one step (or many steps) ahead of platform moderation, they are relabeling emotive disinformation as satire so that it will not get picked up by fact-checking processes. In these efforts, context, rather than content, is being weaponized. The result is intentional chaos. (Scientific American)

A New Definition of “Museum” Sparks International Debate

Backlash to Sandahl’s suggestion came quickly. Juliette Raoul-Duval, who chairs ICOM France, soon denounced it as an “ideological” manifesto, “published without consulting“ the national branches. Even Hugues de Varine, a former director of ICOM and an early proponent of the “new museology” movement in the 1970s, found the definition effuse. The Art Newspaper reports that he was surprised by the “over inflated verbiage” of an “ideological preamble,” which does not distinguish a museum from a cultural center, library, or laboratory. (HyperAllergic)


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