Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Interesting stuff

Quite a bit of interesting stuff today, all below the break.

I'll start with the short ones.

First, some uplifting tales. Here's some legal news: "Mom Throws Dream Party for Personal Injury Lawyer-Obsessed Toddler". A reminder that advertising has the capacity to bring joy to people's lives.

That leads me onto advertising's Rory Sutherland, who writes here: "Heathrow expansion is, when you think about it, a great way of providing low-cost housing for the deaf."  It's not about advertising but the effect is similar: some toddlers like lawyers, some people like planes, and let's not forget about them.

Next, a couple of sad stories. HitchBOT, the charming/winsome/pointless hitchhiking robot has done great deeds: "HitchBOT has been around the world, including trips across the entirety of Canada and Germany without major incident." One Canadian told me that HitchBOT would be shot if it went to the US. And that seems not too far from the truth: "But America is clearly a hard land for our robot brothers and sisters" - HitchBOT has come to a bad end. (On a different note, I doubt HitchBOT would last long in England. The brand of law-abidingness we have here is not inconsistent with a kind of boisterous fun that I suspect HitchBOT is not built to withstand.)

The other sad story is, of course, that of the world's most famous lion. The Bulawayo Chronicle is reasonably close to the horse's mouth, so to speak. For those of us who had not spotted the colonial implications the story, it tells us: "Many believe the lion was named after Cecil John Rhodes, the celebrated forerunner of British colonialism in Southern Africa" and points out that this lion was famous because Oxford University (spot the Rhodes link) was studying him. On a more practical level: "Cecil was not our only lion. It was one of tens of thousands of lions in the country. They are a critical species on the food chain and are equally critical to the tourism sector. ... This was a simple hunt and Zimbabwe wants more of them to generate revenue for our tourism sector. ... It is not an overstatement that almost 99.99 percent of Zimbabweans didn't know about this animal until Monday. Now we have just learnt, thanks to the British media, that we had Africa's most famous lion all along, an icon!"

Next, a little snippet. Jacob Fugger was a rich banker and perhaps the most influential businessman who ever lived: "One leader of the German Peasants’ Revolt in 1520 was a primitive communist priest, Thomas Müntzer, who promised his followers that God would kill Fugger. (During the cold war Müntzer’s portrait appeared on an East German stamp, Fugger’s on a West German one.)" That's from the Economist here, but that detail is really all you need to know.

Finally, a longer piece. This is a fascinating account of Chinese businesspeople in Egypt: "“The ones with the crosses—are they Muslim?” one Chinese dealer asked me. He had been living for four years in Minya, a town with sectarian strife so serious that several Coptic Christian churches had been damaged by mobs armed with Molotov cocktails. During one of our conversations, I realized that he was under the impression that women who wear head scarves are adherents of a different religion from that of those who wear the niqab. It was logical: he noticed contrasts in dress and behavior, and so he assumed that they believe in different things; a monolithic label like “Islam” meant nothing to him. In general, Chinese dealers prefer Egyptian Muslims to Christians. This is partly because Muslims are more faithful consumers of lingerie, but it’s also because they’re easier to negotiate with. The Copts are a financially successful minority, and they have a reputation for bargaining aggressively. This is what matters most to Chinese dealers—for them, religion is essentially another business proposition." Note that I say the piece is about 'businesspeople', not 'businessmen': "He rarely says much about local culture, but once, when I asked casually what he considered to be the biggest problem in Egypt, the forcefulness of his response surprised me. “Inequality between men and women,” he said immediately. “Here the women just stay home and sleep. If they want to develop, the first thing they need to do is solve this problem. That’s what China did after the revolution. It’s a waste of talent here. Look at my family—you see how my wife works. We couldn’t have the factory without her. And my daughter runs the shop. If they were Egyptian, they wouldn’t be doing that.”" What about this too? "Here in Egypt, home to eighty-five million people, where Western development workers and billions of dollars of foreign aid have poured in for decades, the first plastic-recycling center in the south is a thriving business that employs thirty people, reimburses others for reducing landfill waste, and earns a significant profit. So why was it established by two lingerie-fuelled Chinese migrants, one of them illiterate and the other with a fifth-grade education?" And that is without mentioning the underwear-buying habits of Egyptians, also very interesting: in some ways Westerners are the prudish ones, Perhaps the most interesting thing you will read on the Arab Spring, the Chinese future and several other things is here.

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