That Alabama ‘victory’

I agree with Dave Pell’s assessment:

“Before anyone gets too excited, I think it’s worth keeping this particularly unusual race in perspective. Roy Moore; an ill-informed, racist, misogynist, anti-gay, child molesting criminal who was shunned by many in his own party lost an election — and that was still considered an upset.”

Yep.

The madness of King Donald

Interesting post by Elizabeth Drew, who IMHO has been a shrewd observer of US politics over many decades. She outlines the two current theories circulating in Washington about Trump’s mental state thus:

The most widely accepted view is that he suffers from a narcissistic personality disorder, which is far more serious than simply being a narcissist. According to the Mayo Clinic, such a disorder “is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.” Moreover, “behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”

This definition is all too reflective of traits that Trump regularly exhibits. Another view held by a number of medical professionals, based on how Trump spoke in interviews in the late 1980s and how he speaks now – with a far more limited vocabulary and much less fluency – is that the president is suffering from the onset of dementia. According to the highly respected medical reference UpToDate, a subscription-financed service used by professionals, the symptoms of dementia include agitation, aggression, delusions, hallucinations, apathy, and disinhibition.

So, which is it? Or maybe it’s both. But the worst delusion of all is the one shared by all of us liberals — namely that even if it becomes clear that the President is off his rocker or incapable, the Republicans will do nothing about it. And then there’s the terrible thought that if they did do something about it then the world will be stuck with Mike Pence.

Facebook’s new gateway drug for kids

This morning’s Observer column:

In one of those coincidences that give irony a bad name, Facebook launched a new service for children at the same time that a moral panic was sweeping the UK about the dangers of children using live-streaming apps that enable anyone to broadcast video directly from a smartphone or a tablet. The BBC showed a scary example of what can happen. A young woman who works as an internet safety campaigner posed as a 14-year-old girl to find out what occurs when a young female goes online using one of these streaming services…

Read on

Thinking ten years ahead

Ben Evans is one of the tech commentators I follow. This para from one of his blog posts struck me:

First, ecommerce, having grown more or less in a straight line for the past twenty years, is starting to reach the point that broad classes of retailer have real trouble. It’s useful to compare physical retail with newspapers, which face many of the same problems: a fixed cost base with falling revenues, the near-disappearance of a physical distribution advantage, and above all, unbundling and disaggregation. Everything bad that the internet did to media is probably going to happen to retailers. The tipping point might now be approaching, particularly in the US, where the situation is worsened by the fact that there is far more retail square footage per capita than in any other developed market. And when the store closes and you turn to shopping online (or are simply forced to, if enough physical retail goes away), you don’t buy all the same things, any more than you read all the same things when you took your media consumption online. When we went from a corner store to a department store, and then from a department store to big box retail, we didn’t all buy exactly the same things but in different places – we bought different things. If you go from buying soap powder in Wal-Mart based on brand and eye-level placement to telling Alexa ‘I need more soap’, some of your buying will look different.

Quote of the Day

“Data is neither a good or service. It’s intangible, like a service, but can easily be stored and delivered far from its original production point, like a good.” Michael Mandel

He goes on to make a useful observation about how our national statistics surveys may be missing something important:

Paradoxically, economic and regulatory policymakers around the world are not getting the data they need to understand the importance of data for the economy. Consider this: The Bureau of Economic Analysis, the U.S. agency which estimates economic growth, will tell you how much Americans increased their consumption of jewelry and watches in 2011, but offers no information about the growing use of mobile apps or online tax preparation programs. Eurostat, the European statistical agency, reports how much European businesses invested in buildings and equipment in 2010, but not how much those same businesses spent on consumer or business databases. And the World Trade Organization publishes figures on the flow of clothing from Asia to the United States, but no official agency tracks the very valuable flow of data back and forth across the Pacific.

The problem is that data-driven economic activities do not fit naturally into the traditional economic categories. Since the modern concept of economic growth was developed in the 1930s, economists have been systematically trained to think of the economy is being divided into two big categories: ‘Goods’ and ‘services’.

Goods are physical commodities, like clothes and steel beams, while services include everything else from healthcare to accounting to haircuts to restaurants. Goods are tangible and can be easily stored for future use, while services are intangible, and cannot be stockpiled for future use. In theory, a statistician could estimate the output of a country by counting the number of cars and the bushels of corns coming out of the country’s factories and farms, and by watching workers in the service sector and counting the number of haircuts performed and the number of meals served.

But data is neither a good or service…

The Winklevii rise again!

Well, well. This from Fortune, no less:

Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss—the brothers who tried and failed to gain control of Facebook after alleging that it had been appropriated from them—have rebounded big-time.

The Winklevoss twins own one of the largest portfolios of Bitcoin in the world—and recent surges in the digital currency’s value have put the value of that portfolio at over $1 billion. That’s an impressive return on an $11 million investment just four years ago.

The brothers have reportedly not sold a single one of their Bitcoins, sitting on them and watching them accrue value. And it’s been a stunning thing to witness: when the Winklevoss’s invested in Bitcoins, the currency was trading at just $120. As of Monday morning, a single Bitcoin’s value was $11,247, according to Coindesk.

My favourite clip from The Social Network is their encounter with Larry Summers (then President of Harvard).

Larry Summers thought it was broadly accurate too:

Why China’s development is interesting

Interesting essay by Thomas Meaney on the writings of Francis Fukuyama and John Dunn. The bit that caught my eye (given that I’ve been going on for ages about Chinese astuteness in managing the Internet) is:

If the Chinese example poses a challenge to Western politicians and political theorists, the reason is not because it offers states around the world an attractive authoritarian alternative to liberal democracy—at least not yet—nor because it has, more impressively, done more for its people in the past thirty years, in relative terms, than any Western government has done for its own. More simply, it is because China shows that in the twenty-first century a functioning state can rule over and claim the allegiance of more than a billion people without any pretense of liberal-democratic governance. Among some Anglo-American observers today, one detects the sort of admiration for China that in the nineteenth century was directed toward the bureaucratic efficiency of the Prussian state. It seems at least possible that in the near future the world will have something concrete to learn about the possibilities of the modern state from the Chinese experience. Already, China presents us with the unsettling fact that democratic rule does not automatically entail favorable economic or political outcomes—a lesson we apparently still haven’t learned from the last century. The point is not that China has become a model for governance, but that the pretense of any model, including a Western one, being stable and exportable is getting harder to uphold. Under democracy, we may be fortunate enough to experience good government, but good government is far from something that democracy guarantees—in theory, much less in practice.