Clippings: Anna Karenina

“if you’re going to be proud of your ancestry, why stop short at Prince Rurik and repudiate your oldest ancestor — the ape?”  – Oblonsky

“‘Tell us something amusing but not malicious,’ said the ambassador’s wife, a great adept at that kind of elegant conversation which the English call ‘small-talk,’”

“if it is true that there are as many minds as there are heads, then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts.’”

“‘Oh, no! Some mathematician has said pleasure lies not in discovering truth but in seeking it.’ ” – Oblonsky

‘But I am married, and believe me, that “knowing only your wife, whom you love” — as somebody once said — “you can understand all women better than if you knew thousands”.’

 

 

 

 

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Boom

Shanghai 1990 and 2010

Evgeny Morozov’s The Net Delusion Clippings

I made the following clippings from The Net Delusion when reading it on my Kindle:

IN A NUTSHELL

– yes the internet can be used to pass on antigovernment information, but it can also be used to:
1) spy on citizens
2) satisfy their hunger for entertainment (internet the distraction)
3) subject them to subtle propaganda
4) launch cyberattacks on the Pentagon

INTERNET THE DISTRACTION

– Big Brother no longer has to be watching its citizens because they are themselves watching Big Brother on TV.

– the Internet has dampened the level of antigovernment sentiment – because people have acquired access to cheap and almost infinite digital entertainment (making them numb to the real issues)

– From a government’s perspective, it’s far better to keep young Russians away from politics altogether, having them consume funny videos on Russia’s own version of YouTube, Ru-Tube (owned by Gazprom).

– the Vietnamese firewall allows youngsters to consume plenty of porn but not Amnesty International reports

– The information consumption of an average American reached 34 gigabytes of data per day

– Orwell noted “man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions”

INTERNET A TOOL FOR TERRORISTS AND DESPOTS

– That Al Qaeda seemed to be as proficient in using the Internet as its Western opponents did not chime well with a view that treated technology as democracy’s best friend.

– IN early 2010 Google announced it was pulling out of China, fed up with the growing censorship and demands of the Chinese government and mysterious cyber-attacks on its intellectual property

– When the director of the FBI publicly admits that he doesn’t bank online out of security concerns, it’s a sure bet that more control and regulations of the Internet are on the way

– control officers at Tehran’s airport asked Iranians living abroad if they had facebook accounts and proceed to write down any suspicious looking online friends a traveller may have

– the digital revolution has made surveillance easier as digital information is easier to collect and store.

– A 2009 MIT study has shown that is possible to predict, with a striking degree of accuracy – the sexual orientation of Facebook users by analysing their online friends. THis is hardly good news for those in regions like the Middle East.

INTERNET FOR PROPOGANDA (propagate don’t censor)

– Why does government propoganda – and especially propoganda based on lies and intentional misrepresentation of facts – still work in an age when one could find plenty of credible evidence online to disprove it? It works for the same unfortunate reasons that myths about Barack Obama’s missing birth certificate.

– Other myths that live on thanks to the internet – death panels, that climate change is a hoax

– The more you try to get something off the Internet, the more you fuel everyone’s interest in it

– Censoring only confers additional credibility to whatever criticism was expressed in the original blog post or article. It is better to counter the blog post with effective propaganda.

– All it takes to discredit a blogger is to accuse him of being funded by the CIA, MI6 or Mossad.

– It is easier to get people to doubt something than to believe in something

– The ruling Chinese Communist Party took Tony Blair’s re-invention of British Labour as a model for their own repackaging in the 90s and even invited Peter Mandelson to give a talk.

NAIVE WORSHIP OF ONLINE SOLUTIONS

– Wired magazine is the official printing organ of the Church of ‘Cyber-Utopianism’ (which believes that there is a technological fix to all ills)

– Marshall MacLuhan who coined the ‘global village’ reductionism is Wired magazine’s adopted patron saint

– one’s previous experiences with solving similar problems block us from seeking more effective solutions to new problems (Einstellung Effect)

ON DEMOCRACY AND ECONOMIC LIBERALISATION

– Electoral success is not the only way a regime can claim legitimacy. Legitimacy can be derived from other things such as jingoistic nationalism (China, and Palin?), fear of a foreign invasion (Iran), fast rates of economic development (Russia) and governing competence (Singapore).

– China is becoming like the West in more visible ways ways (Starbucks, Hooters, Cellphones) and the West is becoming more like China (torture, warrantless wiretapping, indefinite detention, though not nearly on the Chinese scale).

– In early 2009 the US National Security Agency (NSA) was reported to have offered a sizeable cash bounty to anyone who could help them break Skype’s encrypted communications; to date no winners have been announced.

– Chinese today buy TVs with the biggest screens in the world

– Moscow has the highest number of BMWs per square meter

– the most impressive and most unambiguous triumph of democracy in the last few decades: the peaceful dissolution of the Soviet Union

– Except for North Korea, Turkmenistan and perhaps Burma, modern authoritarian states have embraced consumerism, and it seems to have strengthened rather than undermined their regimes

– Simon Bolivar was the nineteenth century aristocrat who liberated much of Latin America from Spanish rule.

– Rebiya Kadeer is the exiled leader of China’s Uighur minority

ON 1984 V. BRAVE NEW WORLD

– Orwell’s vision of Stalinist terror in 1984 never really arrived, but Brave New World is everywhere (power by control v. power by distraction).

– Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

– Propaganda, censorship and surveillance are the three main pillars of Orwell-style authoritarian control

– Orwell’s work was an attack on Stalinism and the stifiling practices of the British censors, while Huxley’s was an attack on the then popular philosophy of utilitarianism

– Orwell, the younger of the two, studied French under Huxley’s tutelage at Oxford

HOW TO SET UP A WIRETAP

– About six people enter the apartment wearing soft shoes; they move aside a bookcase, for example, cut a square opening in the wall paper, drill a hole in the wall, place the bug inside, and glue the wallpaper back. The artist on the team airbrushes the spot so carefully that one cannot notice any tampering. The furniture is replaced, the door is closed, and the wiretappers leave.

MISC

– a Rorschach test is where different people look at the same ink splotch and see very different things

Economist Weekly Round up April 30th – May 6th 2011

THE ECONOMIST STAYS “NO” TO AV
– It proposes it’s own voting reform i.e. the First Past the Post Plust (FPTP+). FPTP+ would inject a dose of PR into the current FPTP system such that a fifth of MPs would be selected on a PR basis.

AMERICAN ECONOMY IS ON ITS KNEES
– but can still boast assets that other emerging powers can’t such as the Ivy League and Silicon Valley.
– Obama’s policy to “out innovate” China is nonsense. Ideas spill over from one economy to another: when China innovates Americans benefit i.e. innovation is not a zero sum game.
– The US (Japan aside) is the  only global power without a credible austerity plan and is unlikely to have one till after the 2012 elections (when a new political mandate is established and the presidents first 100 days in office begins).
– There is a growing risk of America catching Europe’s disease of ‘Structural Unemployment’ i.e. a layer of the workforce who never will be employed.

SYRIA IS NOT LIBYA
– Syria, unlike Libya, is a hub of the Arab world, which makes intervention there a lot more tricky and potentially messy affair.
– Syria is entangled with Lebanon, Hizbollah, Iran, Iraq and carries much regional sympathy following regular suffering at the hands of Israel.
– Death toll already likely to have exceeded 450.
– There are only modest amounts of oil in Syria for a middle east nation.
– Economist still holds hope that Assad may stand down.

DIGITAL INSECURITY IS A FACT OF LIFE
– Re, the SONY Playstation hacking saga – being open with customers when things go wrong is something particularly difficult for Japanese firms. Compare to the Japanese governments lack of communication over the developing situation at Fukushima following the tsunami/earthquake.
– Managing multiple passwords and being able to detect phishing are now important life skills.

SPEND ON CHILDCARE, NOT ON TAX BREAKS
– Childcare costs around 28% of the average net income of a two-earner household with children – over double of the OECD average.
– Countries that spend more on services – especially high-quality child care – than on cash hand-outs and tax breaks (e.g. child benefit) tend to get better results for a smaller outlay. But in Britain the proportions are reversed.

BRITISH ADVERSITY TO THINKING/INTELLECTUALISM
– The country’s  preference for common sense over deep thinking has served it well. Unlike much Europe, Britain never fell for fascism or communism.

GERMANY’S LABOUR MARKET ABOUT TO BE FLOODED
– Is about to be inundated by east Europeans as their  labour markets are now open to citizens of the eight east European countries that joined the EU in 2004 (which DE and Austria have put off as long as possible.

FRENCH HIPPOCRACY ON GLOBALISATION
– A giant Abercrombie & Fitch store is set to open on the Champs-Elysee, which is becoming one of the world’s premier retail streets.
– Although the French proclaim hostility to free markets they generally lap up the offerings e.g. France is one of the most profitable markets for McDonalds.

ITALY’S IMMIGRATION SOLUTION
– Following a large influx of north Africans on the back of the unrest in that region, Italy granted a swath of immigrants resident permits (thus granting them free travel across the Shengen) and put them on trains destined for France.
– France immediately gathered up the immigrants and erected border controls on its border with Italy.
– Sarkozy and Burlesconi in a joint press conference called for more powers of border controlled in the EU and more solidarity in the management of immigrants across the EU.

AVERAGE DAILY COMMUTE
– Is 37 minutes in the UK
– 48 minutes in the US
– 30 mins in Italy

EXIT BOB GATES
–  Despite 2008 election rhetoric, Obama’s foreign policy closely follows on from Bush’s – winding down war in Iraq, deploying drone attacks in Afghanistan, desire but inability to shut down Guantanamo and ratcheting up sanctions on Iran, but most importantly having the same defence secretary Robert Gates (until last week).
– Hillary Clinton has already said she will not stay after 2012.
– Obama’s running military policy himself: America’s counter-insurgency plan in Afghanistan was in large part drafted by the president himself after his generals failed to provide one he liked. The decision to embark on a half-war in Libya was very much his own, in the face of objections from Bob Gates.

END FINALLY IN SIGHT IN LIBYA?
– The latest liberation of the city of Misrata may well be a turning point in the Libya conflict.
– The Regime’s Orwellian spin on events is on overdrive – claiming that a swath of regional tribesmen would descend to Misrata and retake the city from the rebels using violent means if necessary – there was little sign of this playing out.
– Regime’s only remaining hope for hanging on was to maintain this defacto split between the West and the East (i.e. the running stalemate), which has been pierced following Misrata’s liberation.
– NATO has been more strategic in its stirkes – instead of tragetting dispersed military units, they are now targeting Gadaffi’s command and control centres, which appears to have the regime on the back foot.

CLOSING CORPORATE TAX LOOPHOLES
– Firms should be taxed not where they say they make profits but where they generate sales i.e. where their consumers are. This would make sense as it is relatively simple and would surely shift much of the tax base to bigger economies and away from tax havens.

FUKUSHIMA GOOD AND BAND FOR FRENCH NUCLEAR
– Areva is a French state backed nuclear power plant manufacturer that is very expensive.
– Although the market for nuclear power plants has shrunk in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, the existing projects that remain are looking for extra safe plants which the more expensive Areva provides.

GOLD IN THE WAY DOWN?
– 2 signs it could be on the way down:
a) Increasing participation the public (i.e. not just financial institutions) in gold means the market is on overdrive.
b) The basis for valuations is switched from the purchasing power in terms of barrels of oil to weakening paper currencies.

The Economist, weekly digest, 12th-18th March

EU SPLITTING INTO EUROZONE AND NON EURO
Is the EU splitting into two tiers i.e. euro zone and non euro zone members? The euro zone members are to have their own meeting following the upcoming EU summit. The euro zone members are in general less economically liberal than the non euro zone members (driven by France). In particular, there are greater calls for more economic integration between the euro-zone members (e..g a common rate for corporation tax and more fiscal harmonisation). There is likely to be spill over into general EU matters which will further disenfranchise the UK, to the point of perhaps having to drop out of the union.

COTE D’IVOIRE – DON’T DO A KENYA/ZIMBABWE COMPROMISE
As Libya has dominated headlines, the post presidential election  stalemate in the Ivory Coast continues as the losing president refuses to refurnish power. Civil war has consequently broken out leaving many Ivorians destitute. The AU should resist its tendency to allow bad losers to stay on by endorsing governments of BOGUS NATIONAL UNITY (read Kenya and Zimbabwe). Such governments are often unable to govern and sets a bad example.

INEQUALITY GROWING IN THE UK BUT SHRINKING IN GERMANY
The Watford Gap (valley) is the unofficial boundary between the north and the south. Inequality has rocketed in the UK over the last 20 years, such that a quarter of the UK now has a per capita GDP of lower than municipal Shanghai. The parts of UK in question are typically the northern rural areas. Investment in education is seen as the means to best address this, however, this is unlikely in face of the looming public spending cuts. Note that in the equivalent period, the inequality between the most affluent and poorest parts of Germany has dramatically fallen as more investment went to the reunified East.

UK PENSION REFORM – MULTIPLE ATTACKS
George Osborne’s 3 pronged attack on public sector workers: 1) 2 year pay freeze, 2) large scale redundancies; and 3) less pension benefits. Public sector workers are to now contribute more to receive a smaller pension after retiring later. This is to help address the massive (£1 trillion) unfunded UK public sector pension liability that has accrued due to commonplace defined benefit (i.e. final salary) schemes.

HEATHROW BEHIND IN BATTLE FOR EUROPE’S PREMIER HUB AIRPORT
London Mayor Boris Johnson is calling for more airport capacity in London. He proposes the government should either invest in a new airport in the Thames Estuary or increase capacity at Gatwick or Stansted. This is in response to Heathrow already operating at overcapacity (after plans to expand it were voted down by parliament due on environmental  and noise pollution grounds) despite serving fewer destinations than Paris’s Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt (serving 185, 200 and 300 respectively). So the fight continues for the crown of pre-eminent European hub. It is also seen as BJ taking aim at George Osbrone, his likely rival for the future leadership of his party.

UK FOREIGN POLICY BLUNDERS
– The UK tried to engage with the Libyan rebel Council by sending diplomatic representation into Libya under SAS cover. The team arrived unannounced in the dark and were subsequently were rounded up by the alarmed rebels.
– The UK was slow in its attempts to evacuate Britons stranded in Libya (mostly oil workers).
– The Foreign Office developed a strategy of sending ambassadors and  other high ranking officials (read Prince Andrew) to drum up business for Business abroad. It recently emerged that Prince Andrew has links to a convicted sex offender in America.

WE NEED A VIRTUAL CENSUS
Has been conducted every 10 years since 1801 (bar 1941 due to WW2). It’s suggested that the current formal paper based  complete and submit regimen should be replaced by a VIRTUAL CENSUS that feeds into information from existing computerised databases of public records (e.g. tax records), which has already been pioneered in Scandinavia. This is likely to to be cheaper, more current (as data increasingly expires more quickly) and likely to identify fewer Jedi knights.

BURLESCONI LIVES
Despite facing ongoing charges, his position is looking more secure thanks to the backing of coalition partners, the Northern League.

US MANUFACTURING REBOUNDING
Rebounding following the post recession huge slump as orders pick up from abroad. Each additional percentage point of another country’s growth boosts its imports from America by three percentage points.

CHINA SPENDING MORE ON INTERNAL SECURITY
Annual announcement of the revised 5 year budget included the announcement of double digit growth in national security spending. The growth, however, in addressing internal security threats was greater than that of external threats. Also it was announced that school children should receive an hour of physical exercise in school every day.

SUBWAY OVERTAKES MACCY D’S
Subway officially overtakes Macdonalds in number of worldwide branches (33 thousand to 32 thousand).

PC MARKET UNDER A TRIPLE THREAT
HP and Dell, the world’s two foremost PC manufacturers are coming under attack by three major computing trends:
1) The rise of the Tablet (notably the Apple iPad) has resulted in downgraded future growth projections for the PC.
2) Cloud computing is now encouraging businesses to store information in the Cloud (with say Amazon or Rackspace) rather than servers from HP or Dell. (In turn Amazon will need servers to host the cloud data but can drive a hard bargain because of their size).
3) Vertical integration means that consumers now expect an “all-in-one solution” from their IT systems provider. This has resulted in computer companies coming into HP/Dell’s turn (e.g. Oracle buying Sun Microsystems).

CLOTHING RETAIL – KEEPING PACE WITH CHANGING FASHIONS
Zara (SP) vs. H&M (SWE). Zara are the logistics experts in managing to get new clothing styles into their stores within weeks, whilst the same takes H&M months. H&M makes 65% of its wares in lower-cost Asian countries.

HOW MUCH OIL IS SLOSHING AROUND?
The US has a reserve of 727m barrels, Japan:320b and Europe as a total has 420b. The US consumes 20m barrels a day, thus its reserves could support it for about a month. Global world output is about 85m b/d , and less than half of this is opec. World consumption is also about 85m b/d.

The Economist Weekly Round Up, Mar 5th – 11th

WHY OIL PRICES ARE SPIKING
1) Oil prices reached $120/barrel due to FOREIGN WORKERS FLEEING Libya amidst the civil unrest. Compare to the peak of $150/barrel in 2008. There is much concern in India and China where the monetary policy is loose and inflation is rife. Aside from the Libya ‘blip’ wider structural issues remain as oil demand is fast outpacing increases in readily availably supply. More must be done in the areas of electric vehicles and pricing carbons.

DEVELOPING WORLD’S BIG HITTERS
A new trend of ‘diversified global conglomerates’ was identified. Examples include Tata (India), Brazil’s Embaraer (aircraft) and South Africa’s MTN (mobile phones). Such groups able to unlock developing markets where governments are frequently incompetent and the markets are hopelessly underdeveloped.

TIME FOR NO FLY IN LIBYA
Britain is pushing for a no-fly-zone over Libya to quash the regime’s use of helicopter gunships and aircraft on dissecting civilians. Deployment of a no-fly-zone helped save the lives of Kurds in Iraq. America did not support this proposal as it is concerned of being embroiled in another misadventure.

REMARKABLE UN SOLIDARITY ON LIBYA SANCATIONS
Although the international community is mostly against a no-fly-zone over Libya, there is surprising consensus on international sanctions against Libya and the referral of Colonel Gadaffi to the International Criminal Court as unanimously voted for by the UN Security Council (which includes Russia and China). It is believed that this because of the inevitable fall of Gadaffi.

COURT SAYS OK TO BASH THE TROOPS
The Supreme Court defended the right of Kansas’ Westboro Baptist church to PICKET the funeral of troops killed in the Afghanistan and Iraqi wars. The church believes the fatalities are due to American society’s tolerance of homosexuality. Compare to the picketing of returning British military coffins at Wooton Basset.

OBAMA CONCEDES TO MANDATE WAIVERS
Obama will immediately give states the opportunity to seek waivers from the MANDATES in his healthcare package as soon as it comes into effect. There have been state level challenges against the constitutionality of the healthcare mandates.

2012 RUNNERS
Obama’s looking good for 2012 because: 48% approval rating is respectable, economy gradually recovering and he has a slick electoral machine. Obama’s not looking good for 2012 because: whites are deserting him in key electoral battlegrounds including Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Indiana and Wisconsin. Names touted for the republican nomination contest include Romney, Gingrich, Pawlenty, Daniels, Huntsman, Rick Santorum, Hayley Barbour, but surprisingly not Sarah Palin (who only received 3% of the votes at the recent CPAC convention).

WILL APPLE’S CLOSED MODEL WORK FOR APPS?
Apple is steaming ahead in the tablet market (which it itself pioneered) following the release of the iPad 2 (its predecessor sold over 15m units). Competing tablet manufacturers are adopting Google Android’s OS (which has now been adapted for tablets). It is unclear whether the iPad’s closed model will succeed in the same way it did with iTunes (where the music market is dominated by a few major publishers).

SECOND/THIRD GENERATION IMMIGRANTS ARE THE WORST!
Jewish riots in Brick Lane in the 19th Century, black riots in Brixton in 1981 and asian riots in Bradford in 2001. All involving 2nd generation immigrants who are less willing to live with the slights and marginalisation experienced by immigrants. Optimism lies as future generations integrate better. Exemplified by modern day Jews and Blacks.

BANKERS TIRE OF SWIZERLAND
The well off bankers who left London for Swizerland are being outgunned by the super-rich. Schools are a particular background where there is an overdemand for places at the local international schools. Although banks may be regulated less, every day life appears to be regulated more e.g. if you want a Sunday lunch, you have to drive to France (as everything is closed in the city because people are out skiing and sailing in the countryside).

BILATERAL TIES OR GLOBAL INSTITUTIONAL PLAY?
The Labour party is articulating its foreign policy position in opposition. It takes issues against the Foreign Office’s policy of circumventing the international bodies (e.g. EU/UN) in order to forge its own bilateral ties with countries. Douglas Alexander, the shadow Foreign Secretary, believes the real power lies with the internal bodies. He’s seen a right leaning figure in a heavily leftwards Labour party.

HIGH SPEED RAIL NOT NECESSARILY PROFITABLE
High Speed Rail 2 (HS2), which will provide high speed rail to Manchester and Leeds from London, is due to start being built from 2017 and operable form 2026. The cost-benefit on high speed rail investment is not clear following schemes like the Channel Tunnel which has never come close to achieving its projected passenger numbers.

OFSTED ARE A JOKE
Almost half of school pupils leave without 5 GCSE passes despite 89% of secondary schools being rated satisfactory or better by OFSTED.

DEMOCRACY BUT NO LIGHT IN IRAQ
Even though democracy has already been installed in Iraq, street protests against the government continue as it is not able to delivery basic services including a regular supply of electricity.

We should all have jet packs by now…

jetsons peter thiel

“People thought we were going to be like the Jetsons; vacation trips on the moon, flying cars, robots doing all your work… and it hasn’t quite happened”
– Silicon Valley hedge fund manager, Peter Thiel, gives an interview on how the US (and the World) has fallen well below 1960s expectations.