China’s Great Wall of Tech


“Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards.” – Aldous Huxley


China’s Great Wall of TechnologyChina’s technology industry has grown by leaps and bounds, thanks to innovation and ambition, and it’s rivaling Silicon Valley. But some worry President Xi Jinping’s strongman approach, tightening controls on the internet and bearing down on companies that step out of line, could stifle the competitiveness and innovation that transformed Chinese firms into global heavyweights. A fellow at the University of Hong Kong says Xi has “scared the absolute bejesus out of everyone, which doesn’t normally work in tech. That fear is the antithesis of creativity.”

Xi, who has been more willing than past leaders to purge officials and arrest high-profile businessmen, has certainly made China’s tech giants more willing to work with the government. WeChat, the country’s most popular messaging and social media service, has become instrumental in policing what people say and do. Political activists report being followed based on WeChat conversations, and chat records have turned up as evidence in court. The police have used technology from WeChat’s parent company, Tencent, to monitor crowds at public events. E-commerce titan Alibaba is helping city authorities manage traffic. And, Alibaba’s main rival in online shopping, is working with the military to upgrade its procurement and logistics systems.

Critics say the government’s divvying up an industry before it has matured risks stifling competition, and forcing companies into specific activities could discourage them from creative exploration. On the other hand, Chinese firms making themselves useful to the government just might be the price they must pay for regulatory and financial blessings, or perhaps even to exist at all.


Political Triangulation in Turkey: Several Turkish opposition parties are planning to form a coalition to take on President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling party in the upcoming June 24 elections. On Thursday, a formal announcement should be made of the coalition, which will include the Republican People’s party (CHP), the Iyi (Good) party, the Islamist Saadet party (SP), and the Democrat party (DP). The move could pose a real challenge to Erdogan’s Justice and Development party (AKP), which has also formed a coalition with the Nationalist Action party (MHP). Erdogan moved the presidential and general elections up a full year and a half hoping to disadvantage challengers by limiting their time to campaign. The winner of the presidential race will inherit sweeping new powers that were narrowly passed in a referendum last year. Erdogan is expected to win, but a larger opposition bloc in parliament would present a significant challenge.


-One Italian town has become the template for assessing how life will change under the right’s creeping anti-immigrant influence in politics and society. Sesto San Giovanni, just outside Milan, used to be a bastion of the left, when migrants from Italy’s poorer south came to work in Sesto’s factories. More recent migrants came from other countries, and despite having lived in Sesto sometimes for years, they’re feeling less and less welcomed. After taking office last month, the town’s new conservative mayor boasted of expelling 230 undocumented migrants, taking control of the city’s public housing to give preference to Italians, and blocking the construction of a mosque that the previous administration had approved. (NYT)

-Oh, what tangled webs we weave, when first we practice…to speak somebody else’s language? Yep, lots can get lost in translation. Even if you have good word command in more than one language, slightly different meanings can always trip you up. Like when French President Emmanuel Macron, in Australia Tuesday on a diplomatic visit, told Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull that he wanted to thank him and his delicious wife for the warm welcome. The French word délicieux can be used to describe a very tasty meal, but it can also refer to something very good or very agreeable, i.e. “delightful.” Whereas “delicious,” in English, really just means something tastes really good. Linguists call these similar-sounding words in both languages “false friends.” And that needs no explanation. (BBC)

-Macron’s innocent tongue-slip was nothing compared to former US president Jimmy Carter’s epic embarrassment on his trip to Poland in 1977. Hard to know for sure whether it was his thick southern accent, or some diabolical plot, but the linguistic misunderstandings were monumental.  Carter was trying to tell his audience that he wanted to learn about the Polish people’s “desires for the future.” The interpreter’s translation was “I desire the Poles carnally.” His interpreter also turned “I left the United States this morning” into “I left the United States, never to return.” And this one’s a little hard to swallow: When Carter benignly said he was happy to be in Poland, the translator sent it out as “he was happy to grasp at Poland’s private parts.” (TIME)

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When Patrolling the Border Patrol is Necessary: The US border patrol is a part of the umbrella agency US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which is the largest and most funded federal law enforcement agency under the Department of Homeland Security. President Trump has continually called for an expansion of border patrol forces at the southern border, tweeting recently “Border Patrol Agents are not allowed to properly do their job at the Border because of ridiculous liberal (Democrat) laws.” He even ordered national guard troops be deployed to provide extra support to border agents.

The border patrol has extraordinary police powers. Agents operate checkpoints where they stop motorists every day without suspicion; they can board planes, trains, and buses up to 100 miles into the interior of the country. Stories appear daily about immigration and the need for more border security. What lacks much attention is the border patrol’s history of interactions with civilians, both native-born and immigrant, and the costly settlements paid out to victims of patrol agents’ misconduct.

The Guardian analyzed more than a decade of official data, court files, and media reports. The records show that between October 2005 and July 2017, the federal government paid out more than $60 million to settle claims and judgments involving border agents in deaths, driving injuries, assaults, wrongful detentions, negligence, and other abuses. A spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union, which monitors CBP nationally, says the settlements suggest there are larger patterns of misconduct that go unchallenged, and notes the border patrol’s refusal to adopt the use of body cameras as a barrier to evidence collection.


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No, you’re not imagining it or overreacting – your job is bad for you. Workplace stresses – toxic managers, long working hours, work-family conflict, job insecurity, and, in the US, not having health insurance – are slowly killing us. “According to the Mayo Clinic, your supervisor is more important to your health than your family doctor,” says Bob Chapman, CEO of the manufacturing firm Barry-Wehmiller. For too many of us, this news isn’t news – it’s what we’ve experienced our entire working lives. (BBC)

In 1890, William Morris imagined a world free from wage slavery. Thanks to technology, is his vision is finally within reach? (We sure hope so – see above). (Aeon)

Frozen food sales aren’t so hot these days – they have flattened or dropped by a percentage or so annually for the past few years. The deli department is carving out a larger footprint in the typical American grocery store, and the frozen aisle is cold, with the food walled off behind glass doors. Trader Joe’s employs a better set-up that keeps sales steady – storing frozen food in open cases so that customers can rummage around and make discoveries. (NPR)

-“Inertia is the force that holds the universe together. Literally. Without it, matter would lack the electric forces necessary to form its current arrangement. Inertia is counteracted by the heat and kinetic energy produced by moving particles. Subtract it and everything cools to -459.67 degrees Fahrenheit (absolute zero temperature). Yet we know so little about inertia and how to leverage it in our daily lives.” – (Farnam Street)

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“Even the technology that promises to unite us, divides us. Each of us is now electronically connected to the globe, and yet we feel utterly alone.” – Dan Brown

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