Notes From All Over (8/1/14): Tech Giants, Asian Media, and Japanese History

A collection of articles, essays, and blog post of merit.


The State of Consumer Technology at the End of 2014
Ben Thompson, Stratechery (16 December 2014).

One of the defining characteristics of the three major epochs of consumer computing – PC, Internet, and mobile – is that they have been largely complementary: we didn’t so much replace one form of computing for another insomuch as we added forms on top of each other.1 That is why, as I argued in Peak Google, many of the major tech companies of the last thirty years haven’t so much been disrupted as they have been eclipsed by new companies built during new epochs. All of the attention and relevance in tech especially is focused on emerging and growing companies, even as mature giants reap massive profits.
Every epoch has had four distinct arenas of competition that emerge in order:

  • The core technology
  • The operating system (i.e. the means by which the core technology is harnessed)
  • The killer use case for:
    • Work/Productivity
    • Communication

Certainly computers can be used for more than work/productivity or communication, but those two use cases are universal and lead to the biggest winners and most important companies….

Ben Thompson’s “Stratechery” is such a magnificent blog I am surprised I had never heard of it before. I discovered it last week and have been binge-reading through the archives since. Thompson’s topic of choice is business strategy in the consumer tech market. I suspect his posts will appeal to two types of readers here at the Stage: those interested in futuristics and the way technological change has and will yet change the structure of the global economy, and those interested in strategic thought and theory. 

Comparisons between military science and business strategy rub some folks the wrong way. I am not one of them. In an oligopolic market business strategy is much more than branding; economists model the strategic interaction between oligopolic firms with many of the same game theory models security professionals use to describe international relations. When  tech giants are involved it quickly becomes a zero-sums competition much crueler than most of today’s politics. The topic is worth your attention.

I found the following Stratechery posts to be particularly thought provoking: :”Why Uber Fights,” “Peak Google,” “Xiaomi’s Ambition” “How Technology is Changing the World (P&G Edition),” and “Newspapers are Dead: Long Live Journalism.”

The Quiet German: The Astonishing Rise of Angela Merkel
George Packer, New York Review of Books (1 December 2014).


Horrifying Civil Liberties Predictions for 2015
Radley Balko, Washington Post (30 December 2014).

 I’ll ruin the surprise ending: everything on this list happened in 2014. It is a damning list.

The Great Civil Military Freakout
Adam Elkus, Rethinking Security (31 December 2014)

The Scariest Explanation for America’s Vast Prison Population: We Want it That Way
Jakub Wrzesniewski, Pacific Standard (6 January 2015).


“Criticizing the “Low-Key” Approach: Chinese Responses to the DPRK Soldier-Murderer in Yanbian”
Adam Cathcart,  SinoNK (6 January 2014)

Mr. Cathcart’s analysis here is really top notch; he also translates a Global Times editorial on the murders. This should be read by everyone following Sino-North Korean relations, of course, but also anybody who has ever used or plans to use the Global Times as a source for their own analysis.

Regulating the Fourth Estate With China
Kaiser Kuo with Daniela Stockmann, Sincica Podcast (December 2014).

Strongly recommend listening to this one. Westerners tend to throw about a great deal of nonsense when it comes to describing the relationship between Chinese public opinion, the Party, and the media. This should help dispel a lot of the confusion. Dr. Stockmann’s book also looks like it is worth reading.

Chinese Special Ops: Not Like Back at Bragg”
Dennis Blasko, War on the Rocks (1 January 2015)

“Inside a Chinese Test-Prep Factory”
Brook Lamer, New York Times (31 December 2014).

A Family Divided: The CPC’s Ethnic Work Conference
James Lebold, The China Brief, vol 14, iss 12 (November 2014)

Chinese Media Compiles Top Internet Memes For 2014
“Joe,” ChinaSMACK (16 December 2014).


‘State Capacity’ and Sino-Japanese Divergence
“Pseudoerasmus”, Pseudoerasmus (8 December 2014).

Why China did not industrialise before Western Europe may be a tantalising and irresistible subject, but frankly it’s a parlour game. What remains underexplored, however, is the more tractable issue of why Japan managed, but China failed, to initiate an early transition to modern growth and convergence with the West….

This piece is worth reading for the graphics included alone.

And since we are on the topic of excellent graphics created and used by Pseudoerasmus, might as well throw out this tweet as well:

Samurai, Bushido, and Death, pt. I” and “Samurai, Bushido, and Death, pt. 2 
Samurai Archives Podcast, Bonus Ep. #6 (5 & 20 November 2014).

They also have what looks like a promising episode out on the economics of the Edo Period, but I have not listened to it yet.


“Populations, Not Nations, Dictate Development”
Dietz Vollrath, The Growth Economics Blog (2 January 2014).

Why Cultural Evolution is Real (and What it Is)
“BirgusLatro,” Carcinization (22 November 2014).

“Why Do They Leave?”
John Gee, Forn Poll Fira (29 December 2014).

Why do millennials leave the faith of their childhood? The post is written with a focus on the LDS (Mormon) experience, but the data analyzed is not Mormon specific.


Explaining Pakistan’s Confidence
Myra McDonald, War on the Rocks (10 December 2014).

It is worth considering another possibility. What if the United States is wrong in its assumption that Pakistan’s reliance on Islamist militant proxies is primarily a reflection of its insecurity about India? Since 2001, U.S. policies have been driven by the idea that Pakistan nurtured Islamist militants in response to the insecurity it felt after its defeat by India in the 1971 war, which turned then East Pakistan into Bangladesh. Washington’s objective, therefore, has been to convince Pakistan to turn its back on Islamist militants while fretting about Pakistani domestic stability were it to force Islamabad/Rawalpindi to go after them too abruptly. In other words, it has focused on Pakistan’s insecurity. Thus as early as November 2001, just two months after the September 11 attacks, the United States allowed Pakistan to fly out an unknown number of Taliban fighters, along with Pakistani officers and intelligence operatives, from the northern Afghan city of Kunduz in order to bolster the position of then military ruler Pervez Musharraf. Later, it assumed that Pakistani support for the Afghan Taliban was at least partly in response to rising Indian influence in Afghanistan. Thus in his 2008 election campaign, then candidate Barack Obama suggested the United States should try to help resolve the Kashmir dispute in order to let Pakistan focus on tackling militants; thereby helping to end the Afghan war. Those hopes – which had aggravated India which resents outside interference in Kashmir – disappeared with the attacks on Mumbai in November 2008.

What if it were the other way around – that the Islamist project came first and insecurity about India either provided the excuse and/or was the result?

“Rainsy Celebrates 1 Million Followers on Facebook
Ouch Sony and Alex Willemyns, Cambodia Daily (17 December 2014).

To put that into proper context: Cambodia only has 15 million people. About 1 in 15 Cambodians follow Sam Rainsy’s facebook page.

I am fascinated with how central Facebook is to Cambodia’s political culture. The readers of Facebook feeds like “I Love Cambodia Hot News” simply dwarf the circulation of the country’s largest daily, Rasmei Kampuchea (to say nothing of its English papers, Phonm Penh Post and The Cambodia Daily). Rallies and protests are all organized through Facebook; folks like 18 year old Thy Sovantha (200,000+ followers) use the medium to become over-night political stars.

People talk about how countries in the developing world have “leap-frogged” fixed-line infrastructure of the 20th century (like telephone lines) and jumped straight to the technology of the 21st century (like cell phones).  I think something very similar is happening in Cambodia with social media.

 There is a great long-form story here for any reporter ambitious enough to track the details down 

Survey of Global Perceptions of International Leaders and World Powers
Tony Saich, Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation (December 2014).

 Xi Dada is the most popular leader in the world.

Abenomics 2.0: Just What Are They Trying to Achieve?
Edward Hughs, Fistful of Euros (7 November 2014).


Simulating the Senate: Classics Course Immerses Students in Roman History and Government
Abby McBride, Bowdoin in the News (3 May 2013).

This is brilliant–quite possibly the best designed undergraduate level history class I have ever seen. Full syllabus here. There must be a way to do the same thing with imperial China.

“Seismicity and Sediment Flow in the Mekong River Basin”
Michael Burley, East By Southeast (23 December 2014).

For Geology nerds.


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