Economics Society Technology

The Reconn Reader: 14 February, 2020

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

A Pedophile Writer Is on Trial. So Is the French Elite.

As protests have increased, however, authoritarian regimes have adapted their survival tactics to focus on mitigating the threat from mass mobilization. Data compiled by Freedom House reveal that since 2000, the number of restrictions on political and civil liberties globally has grown. A large share of this increase has occurred in authoritarian countries, where leaders impose restrictions on political and civil liberties to make it harder for citizens to organize and agitate against the state. (Foreign Affairs)

Voices from China: What people at the center of coronavirus outbreak want you to know

“I think the outbreak in Wuhan shouldn’t become a piece of supporting evidence in one’s argument against China’s government and public health policy or Chinese people’s eating habits.”

“Shouldn’t we focus more on how to solve this humanitarian crisis, more than any of those other discussions? It’s a shame that we aren’t.”  (Inkstone)

Lebanon’s financial crisis leaves its envied media industry in freefall

Its newspapers set agendas, its TV stations tested boundaries, and its proprietors defied both war and downturn, producing content that challenged state narratives and tested the patience of the powerful.

Then came the meltdown that could well end it all. In the past three months, a financial collapse that had long been predicted has obliterated revenues that were keeping much of Lebanese media on life support. Since then, popular radio stations have closed, newspapers have stopped paying staff, or slashed salaries, and once omnipotent TV networks have been left scrounging for foreign backers.

So far in February alone, the only local English-language newspaper, the Daily Star, stopped its print run. A longstanding radio station closed, after nearly 40 years, and staff at a raft of other titles and stations were struggling to pay bills. (The Guardian)

Capitalisn’t: Brazil on the brink

Brazil, the world’s fourth-largest democracy, has elected controversial right-wing politician Jair Bolsonaro as its next leader. On this episode of the Capitalisn’t podcast, writer and lawyer Glenn Greenwald (now living in Brazil) tells hosts Kate Waldock and Luigi Zingales how rampant corruption, violent crime, and a struggling economy have given rise to yet another populist movement. (Chicago Booth Review)

The Child Police of Guerrero

But now the Nahua are feeling compelled to include their own children in the police force. The man yelling the commands in the video is Bernardino Sánchez Luna, head of the Policia comunitaria. When asked on the phone why he is handing weapons to children, he takes a deep breath and says: “Everyone needs to help: men, women – and the children too. Otherwise, we will never be able to control the threat posed by the criminals.” (Der Spiegel)

Business & Economics

Silicon Valley’s new extreme: The 2:30 a.m. tech bus from Salida

The expansion of tech shuttles is part of what demographers call a budding “Northern California megaregion” that blurs the economic boundaries between the Bay Area and Sacramento. Some liken the sprawl to New York and New Jersey’s bedroom community dynamic. Others, including Stockton’s young Mayor Michael Tubbs, aim to translate the new wave of interest and property investment into better local jobs.

There’s a long way to go to be competitive with job offers “over the hill” in Silicon Valley. The median income is more than $116,000 in Santa Clara County, where companies including Google and Apple are based, compared with just over $57,000 in Salida’s Stanislaus County. (Protocol)

How to avert a disastrous group decision

This scenario is a bit different from previous installations of Business Practice. In most of our earlier situations, it is clear with whom you should have a conversation: a boss, a coworker, a potential employer, etc. In this case, the organization (or at least your team) is out of sorts— everyone seems to be following along with Velma’s lousy idea. Should you keep your mouth shut? If not, with whom do you talk? And what do you say? (Chicago Booth Review)

Gender Parity in the Boardroom Won’t Happen on Its Own

Our research shows that organizations with women in top leadership positions have almost double the number of board seats held by women. The inverse is also true, as gender-diverse boards are more likely to appoint women to leadership positions, like CEO and board chair. This suggests that some diversity spurs more diversity. But it also implies that homogeneity spurs homogeneity — and that without intensive efforts to provide women with more opportunities to climb the ranks within their own organizations, women will continue to be underrepresented in the C-suite and boardroom. (Harvard Business Review)

P&G Is Developing Its Next Big Thing in a Room Buzzing With Flies

Fish, the R&D chief, agrees that P&G is getting its steps down. She mentions that Pampers Pure, introduced in 2018, took about 18 months to go from idea to market, compared with 10 years for Pampers Swaddlers. And if people want to gawk at the proverbial elephant, so much the better. At this January’s CES, P&G had a marketing coup, of sorts, with one of the show’s most-discussed innovations: the Charmin RollBot, a bear-faced prototype for delivering toilet paper seat-side. Intended less as a consumer-goods breakthrough than as a “cheeky” way for P&G to tout its bathroom products, comedians pounced. “What an advancement,” said The Late Show’s Stephen Colbert. “It replaces the previous toilet roll replacement technology of … Here it is. Can you grab it? (BloombergBusinessweek)

Science & Technology

Holland Aims to Bring Back Its Starry Nights

The Netherlands is one of the brightest countries in Europe. Thanks to a high population density and a landscape saturated with highways, industry, and illuminated greenhouses, the country that produced Van Gogh’s Starry Night is now covered in a thick layer of light pollution. Even on the clearest nights, only 10 percent of the stars visible from Earth can be seen from Dutch cities.

Restoring the night sky would not only help repair ecosystems damaged by constant artificial light; it could also re-awaken the awareness that we live on a fragile blue planet. After all, the first picture of Earth from space roused the environmental movement. Could bringing back starry nights invigorate the climate movement in the same way? (CityLab)

Global genomics project unravels cancer’s complexity at unprecedented scale

Comprehensive genomic characterization of tumours became a major goal of cancer researchers as soon as the first human genome had been sequenced in 2001. Since then, advances in sequencing technology and analytical tools have allowed this research field to flourish. In six papers16 in this issue of Nature, the Pan-Cancer Analysis of Whole Genomes (PCAWG) Consortium presents the most comprehensive and ambitious meta-analysis of cancer genomes so far. Unlike previous efforts that focused largely on protein-coding regions of the cancer genome, PCAWG analyses whole genomes. Each article scrutinizes an important aspect of cancer genetics — together, their findings will be key to understanding the full genetic complexity of cancer. (Nature)

‘The intelligence coup of the century’

Even so, the Crypto operation is relevant to modern espionage. Its reach and duration help to explain how the United States developed an insatiable appetite for global surveillance that was exposed in 2013 by Edward Snowden. There are also echoes of Crypto in the suspicions swirling around modern companies with alleged links to foreign governments, including the Russian anti-virus firm Kaspersky, a texting app tied to the United Arab Emirates and the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei. (Washington Post)

Robotic (super) microsurgery: Feasibility of a new master‐slave platform in an in vivo animal model and future directions

Advanced microsurgical procedures are currently limited by human precision and manual dexterity. The potential of robotics in microsurgery is highlighted, including a general overview of applications of robotic assistance in microsurgery and its introduction in different surgical specialties. A new robotic platform especially designed for (super) microsurgery is presented. Results of an in vivo animal study underline its feasibility and encourage further development toward clinical studies. Future directions of robotic microsurgery are proposed. (Journal of Surgical Oncology)

History and Culture

The Artist Walking Between Two Seas in Istanbul

“No one knew exactly where the canal would be, so I made my route anticipating its most probable path from an engineering perspective,” Taycan says, explaining that he drew on his original training as a civil engineer in surveying, way-marking, and mapping the route. Building on his previous artistic work Shell, a series of images of the large-scale construction projects transforming Istanbul’s periphery, Taycan shot photographs at every kilometer mark of his walk, recording their GPS coordinates as a way of preserving a record of a city in the midst of rapid change. (Hyperallergic)


During intermission, the police arrested a few of the rowdiest offenders in an attempt to make an example of them. The newly arrested were put in a room underneath the stage, where they tried to light a fire. A rioter inside managed to poke his head through a window to inform the crowd outside that their confederates had been locked up. Around the same time, a police officer in the lobby stuck a hose through one of the windows and began to spray the crowd in Astor Place. At these provocations, the mob went berserk. A sewer had recently been dug on Lafayette Place, and the unearthed paving stones provided a ready supply of missiles to use against the theater and the cops. (The Outline)

In this city of tenants, a certain number of them socialists and ex-communists, animosity toward landlords finds frequent expression. In April 40,000 people filled the streets to protest what they call Mietenwahnsinn, or “rent insanity.” (It’s a play on the German term for mad cow disease, Rinderwahnsinn.) A few months later, the windows of one branch of high-end real estate broker Engel & Völkers AG were smashed. Graffiti a few blocks away read, “CAPITALISM IS THEFT” and “Gentrifick dich,” which basically means, “F— yourselves, gentrifiers.” Two vans belonging to Germany’s biggest real estate company, Vonovia SE, were also bashed in, spray-painted, and set ablaze. “We took care to insure that no other cars caught fire,” wrote the anonymous perpetrators on an anarchist website. (Bloomberg)

The Cultural Distances Between Us

The deeper the blue, the more culturally distant you are. If you look at Canada and parts of South America, they’re not all that culturally distant. If you look at Europe, many places are quite culturally similar to the U.S. Whereas you look at, let’s say, North Africa and the Middle East—quite culturally different, and somewhere in between you have East Asia. But just because, on this map, Taiwan and Colombia are, culturally, similarly distant from the U.S., it doesn’t mean that they are culturally similar to one another. (Nautilus)

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