LEAVING vacuum-sealed bags, digital scales and stashes of marijuana lying around was a mistake. So was getting T-shirts and hoodies emblazoned with “Cali Connect”, under which name drugs were dealt online. Selling pot to an undercover officer was a further slip-up.
SHEN XIANG LIVES in a shipping crate on a construction site in Shanghai which he shares with at least seven other young workers. He sleeps in a bunk and uses a bucket to wash in. “It’s uncomfortable,” he says. Still, he pays no rent and the walk to work is only a few paces.
MANY Brexiteers built their campaign on optimism. Outside the European Union, Britain would be free to open up to the world. But what secured their victory was anger. Anger stirred up a winning turnout in the depressed, down-at-heel cities of England (see article).
ELECTRIC lighting, television, the internet and caffeine all get blamed for reducing the amount of time people sleep compared with the days before such luxuries existed. Such alleged sleep deprivation is sometimes held responsible for a rise of obesity, mood disorders and other modern ailments.
IMAGINE a world in which getting fitted with a new heart, liver or set of kidneys, all grown from your own body cells, was as commonplace as knee and hip replacements are now. Or one in which you celebrated your 94th birthday by running a marathon with your school friends.
A NEW commodity spawns a lucrative, fast-growing industry, prompting antitrust regulators to step in to restrain those who control its flow. A century ago, the resource in question was oil. Now similar concerns are being raised by the giants that deal in data, the oil of the digital era.
MUCH of the time, argues David Runciman, a British academic, politics matters little to most people. Then, suddenly, it matters all too much. Donald Trump’s term as America’s 45th president, which is due to begin with the inauguration on January 20th, stands to be one of those moments.
WHEN Sir Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot secretly drew their lines on the map of the Levant to carve up the Ottoman empire in May 1916, at the height of the first world war, they could scarcely have imagined the mess they would set in train: a century of imperial betrayal and Arab resentment;
YU HUI, a boisterous four-year-old living in Shanghai, is what marketing people call a digital native. Over a year ago, she started communicating with her parents using WeChat, a Chinese mobile-messaging service. She is too young to carry around a mobile phone.
JUHA JARVINEN, an unemployed young father in a village near Jurva, in western Finland, brims with ideas for earning a living. He has just agreed to paint the roofs of two neighbours’ houses. His old business, making decorative window frames, went bust a few years ago.
HIS inauguration is still six weeks away but Donald Trump has already sent shock waves through American business.
FACEBOOK, whose users visit for an average of 50 minutes a day, promises members: “It’s free and always will be.” It certainly sounds like a steal. But it is only one of the bargains that apparently litter the internet: YouTube watchers devour 1bn hours of videos every day, for instance.
IN AMERICA in 1970 one child in 14,000 was reckoned to be autistic. The current estimate is one in 68—or one in 42 among boys. Similarly high numbers can be found in other rich countries: a study in South Korea found that one in 38 children was affected.
AMAZON is an extraordinary company. The former bookseller accounts for more than half of every new dollar spent online in America. It is the world’s leading provider of cloud computing. This year Amazon will probably spend twice as much on television as HBO, a cable channel.
FROM the 62nd floor of Salesforce Tower, 920 feet above the ground, San Francisco’s monuments look piddling. The Bay Bridge, Coit Tower and Palace of Fine Arts are dwarfed by the steel-and-glass headquarters that will house the software company when it is completed later this year.
MICHAEL WANG, a young Californian, came second in his class of 1,002 students; his ACT score was 36, the maximum possible; he sang at Barack Obama’s inauguration; he got third place in a national piano contest; he was in the top 150 of a national maths competition; he was in several national debat
WHEN communism crumbled in the Soviet Union, 25 years ago this week, the Chinese Communist Party seemed to many to be heading irreversibly downwards. Yes, the tanks had left Tiananmen Square after crushing a revolt in 1989, but the war appeared lost.
WHEREVER I go these days, at home or abroad, people ask me the same question: what is happening in the American political system? How has a country that has benefited—perhaps more than any other—from immigration, trade and technological innovation suddenly developed a strain of anti-immigrant, a
THINK OF THE upper echelons of the money-management business, and the image that springs to mind is of fusty private banks in Geneva or London’s Mayfair, with marble lobbies and fake country-house meeting-rooms designed to make their super-rich clients feel at home.
SEVENTEEN years after Vladimir Putin first became president, his grip on Russia is stronger than ever. The West, which still sees Russia in post-Soviet terms, sometimes ranks him as his country’s most powerful leader since Stalin. Russians are increasingly looking to an earlier period of history.
INVESTORS around the world are extraordinarily nervous. Yields on ten-year Treasuries fell to their lowest-ever level this week; buyers of 50-year Swiss government bonds are prepared to accept a negative yield. Some of the disquiet stems from Britain’s decision to hurl itself into the unknown.
LARGE technology firms used to hold on to their high-flying employees by agreeing not to poach them from each other. “If you hire a single one of these people, that means war,” Steve Jobs, Apple’s then boss, warned Sergey Brin, a founder of Google, in 2005.
FINGERS stroke vellum; the calfskin pages are smooth, like paper, but richer, almost oily. The black print is crisp, and every Latin sentence starts with a lush red letter. One of the book’s early owners has drawn a hand and index finger which points, like an arrow, to passages worth remembering.
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“ALFRED, it’s spinning.” Roy Kerr, a New Zealand-born physicist in his late 20s, had, for half an hour, been chain-smoking his way through some fiendish mathematics. Alfred Schild, his boss at the newly built Centre for Relativity at the University of Texas, had sat and watched.
It is the economics book that took the world by storm. Capital in the Twenty-First Century, written by the French economist Thomas Piketty, was published in French in 2013 and in English in March 2014.
Not since Dilbert has truth been spoken to power in soulless work settings. But the cartoon character’s successor may be David Graeber.
NEXT year marks the 500th anniversary of the event which, more than any other, gave birth to the modern world: Martin Luther promulgated his 95 theses and called the Catholic church to account for its numerous theological errors and institutional sins.
A POIGNANT feature of American bases in Iraq were their walls of Thank You cards sent by American schoolchildren. Often displayed outside the chow-hall, where the troops gathered to eat, they typically thanked them for “being over there to keep us safe”.
NOT far off the coast of Guam lies the deepest point on Earth’s surface, the Mariana trench. Its floor is 10,994 metres below sea level. If Mount Everest were flipped upside down into it, there would still be more than 2km of clear water between the mountain’s base and the top of the ocean.
JUST a year ago the world was enjoying a synchronised economic acceleration. In 2017 growth rose in every big advanced economy except Britain, and in most emerging ones. Global trade was surging and America booming; China’s slide into deflation had been quelled; even the euro zone was thriving.
OVER a couple of days in February, hundreds of thousands of point-of-sale printers in restaurants around the world began behaving strangely. Some churned out bizarre pictures of computers and giant robots signed, “with love from the hacker God himself”.
THERE are obvious reasons for watching “Breaking Bad”: for once the Hollywood hype surrounding the television series is justified. But there is also a less obvious reason: it is one of the best studies available of the dynamics of modern business.
IN DECEMBER 1989 Guido van Rossum, a Dutch computer scientist, set himself a Christmas project. Irked by shortcomings in other programming languages, he wanted to build his own. His principles were simple. First, it should be easy to read.
MAY 20th will mark the end of “mental-health awareness week”, a campaign run by the Mental Health Foundation, a British charity. Roughly a quarter of British adults have been diagnosed at some point with a psychiatric disorder, costing the economy an estimated 4.5% of GDP per year.
ALMOST 150 years after photovoltaic cells and wind turbines were invented, they still generate only 7% of the world’s electricity. Yet something remarkable is happening.
ON THE evening before All Saints' Day in 1517, Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the door of a church in Wittenberg. In those days a thesis was simply a position one wanted to argue. Luther, an Augustinian friar, asserted that Christians could not buy their way to heaven.
IN THE world of “The Hunger Games” youngsters are forced to fight to the death for the amusement of their white-haired rulers. Today’s teen fiction is relentlessly dystopian, but the gap between fantasy and reality is often narrower than you might think.
POCKET LIVING has been building and selling small flats in London since 2005. The flats have many of the things that young, single people want, such as bicycle storage, and lack the things they do not, such as large kitchens and lots of bookshelves.
EVERYONE SAYS work is miserable. Today’s workers, if they are lucky enough to escape the gig economy and have a real job, have lost control over their lives. They are underpaid and exploited by unscrupulous bosses. And they face a precarious future, as machines threaten to make them unemployable.
THAT a computer program can repeatedly beat the world champion at Go, a complex board game, is a coup for the fast-moving field of artificial intelligence (AI). Another high-stakes game, however, is taking place behind the scenes, as firms compete to hire the smartest AI experts.
WHEN the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination line up on stage for their first debate in August, there may be three contenders whose fathers also ran for president. Whoever wins may face the wife of a former president next year.
CONSIDER how far Donald Trump is estranged from fact. He inhabits a fantastical realm where Barack Obama’s birth certificate was faked, the president founded Islamic State (IS), the Clintons are killers and the father of a rival was with Lee Harvey Oswald before he shot John F. Kennedy.
IN 1662 a London haberdasher with an eye for numbers published the first quantitative account of death. John Graunt tallied causes such as “the King’s Evil”, a tubercular disease believed to be cured by the monarch’s touch. Others seem uncanny, even poetic.
IN 2003 Peter Morley-Souter, a British teenager whose hobby was drawing comic strips with his sister Rose, was sent a parody of “Calvin and Hobbes”, a strip about a six-year-old boy and his stuffed tiger, by a friend. It showed the titular pair having sex with Calvin’s mother.
WHEN Ken Martin, a hat-seller, pays his monthly child-support bill, he uses a money order rather than writing a cheque. Money orders, he says, carry no risk of going overdrawn, which would incur a $40 bank fee. They cost $7 at the bank. At the post office they are only $1.
ONE of the time-honoured tropes of writing on business is the detailed description of the life of a corporate titan. Readers are expected to marvel at the stamina of Tim Cook, for example. Apple’s chief executive rises at 3.45am to deal with emails.
NOW that Uber is muscling in on their trade, London’s cabbies have become even surlier than usual. Meanwhile, the world’s hoteliers are grappling with Airbnb, and hardware-makers with cloud computing. Across industries, disrupters are reinventing how the business works.
IN MODERN business, collaboration is next to godliness. Firms shove their staff into open-plan offices to encourage serendipitous encounters. Managers oblige their underlings to add new collaborative tools such as Slack and Chatter to existing ones such as e-mail and telephones.
“HUMAN inventiveness…has still not found a mechanical process to replace horses as the propulsion for vehicles,” lamented Le Petit Journal, a French newspaper, in December 1893. Its answer was to organise the Paris-Rouen race for horseless carriages, held the following July.
WHEN the Honduran police came to evict her in 2009 Mariana Catalina Izaguirre had lived in her lowly house for three decades. Unlike many of her neighbours in Tegucigalpa, the country’s capital, she even had an official title to the land on which it stood.
“It’s ‘fuck off’ to everything,” says Adam Curtis (pictured below), describing public sentiment today. The British documentarist sees himself as an optimist amid dystopians, and as a classical journalist whose medium happens to be film.
“THE development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race,” Stephen Hawking warns. Elon Musk fears that the development of artificial intelligence, or AI, may be the biggest existential threat humanity faces. Bill Gates urges people to beware of it.