31 May 2022

The Washington Post: “The nuclear missile next door”

Ed turned the TV off and looked out the window at miles of open prairie, where the wind rattled against their barn and blew dust clouds across Butcher Road. Ed’s family had been on this land since his grandparents homesteaded here in 1913, but rarely had life on the ranch felt so precarious. Their land was parched by record-breaking drought, neglected by a pandemic work shortage, scarred by recent wildfires, and now also connected in its own unique way to a war across the world. I wonder sometimes what else could go wrong, Ed said, as he looked over a hill toward the west end of their ranch, where an active U.S. government nuclear missile was buried just beneath the cow pasture.

Do you think they’ll ever shoot it up into the sky? Pam asked.

I used to say, No way, Ed said. Now it’s more like, Please God, don’t let us be here to see it.

It was known to the government as Launch Facility E05, one of 52 active nuclear missile sites on the old homestead farms of Fergus County. The government had chosen to turn the lonely center of Montana into a nuclear hot spot in the 1950s because of what was described then as its relative proximity to Russia, and also because the region could act as what experts called a “sacrificial nuclear sponge” in the event of nuclear war. The theory was that rather than unloading all of its missiles on major U.S. cities, an enemy would instead have to use some of those missiles to attack the silos surrounding Winifred, Mont., home to 35,000 cattle and 189 residents whose birthdays and anniversaries were all printed on the official city calendar.

Eli Saslow

It must be a surreal experience to spend your entire life in the vicinity of a nuclear missile silo – goes to show how much people can adapt to the presence of constant, low-level threats, and still go about their daily lives as if everything’s normal. A lesson perhaps for those fearful of having nuclear plants nearby, even though they’re much safer than being the potential target of a nuclear strike.

30 May 2022

Bloomberg: “A Startup wants to Rescue You from Browser Tab Hell”

Miller’s blandly named startup, the Browser Co. of New York Inc., has raised about $25 million from strategic investors such as Salesforce and big-name founder-CEOs including Stripe’s Patrick Collison and Zoom’s Eric Yuan to explore that possibility. This is the place where most people spend most of their time on their computers, but from a building-blocks level, the browser has not had a lot of brand-new thinking in a really long time, says Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger, another investor.

The first thing a newcomer notices in Miller’s browser, called Arc, is the lack of menus or tabs across the top. Navigation tools have been pushed instead to a skinny side panel hugging the web page vertically. Users are prompted to tailor this panel to their day-to-day habits by creating spaces, say, for work or personal interests, each with its own distinct bookmarks and colors. Swiping will slide through these mini-libraries.

Arc, by contrast, isn’t defending any other business. This stance means it’s not afraid to serve fewer (or any) ads. By extension, that leaves it more open to a fundamentally different environment. Arc comes with a built-in ad blocker and promises not to track users with cookies or log their search queries. It will be free upfront; the team is looking at developing premium subscription features for enterprise users, perhaps somewhere around $12 a month, echoing the freemium model of Slack Technologies Inc., Dropbox Inc., and other productivity services.

Austin Carr

Imagine writing an entire article about an experimental browser with vertical tabs and not mentioning once that Edge added this as an option more than a year ago…

NBER: “GDPR and the Lost Generation of Innovative Apps”

Using data on 4.1 million apps at the Google Play Store from 2016 to 2019, we document that GDPR induced the exit of about a third of available apps; and in the quarters following implementation, entry of new apps fell by half. We estimate a structural model of demand and entry in the app market. Comparing long-run equilibria with and without GDPR, we find that GDPR reduces consumer surplus and aggregate app usage by about a third. Whatever the privacy benefits of GDPR, they come at substantial costs in foregone innovation.

We have five broad findings. First, GDPR sharply curtailed the number of available apps, via two mechanisms. When it took effect, GDPR precipitated the exit of over a third of available apps; and following its enactment, the rate of new entry fell by 47.2 percent, in effect creating a lost generation of apps. Second, consistent with the unpredictability of app success, the falloff in app entry prevented the launch of both ultimately-successful and ultimately-unsuccessful apps. The numbers of apps reaching ten thousand or one hundred thousand cumulative installations within, say, four quarters of birth fell nearly as much as the decline in overall entry. Third, apps became less intrusive after GDPR, although the decline in intrusiveness was partly the continuation of a pre-existing trend. Fourth, average usage per app rose for the vintages launched after the imposition of GDPR, consistent with GDPR raising app development costs. Fifth, using the structural entry model, we estimate that the depressed post-GDPR entry rate would give rise to a longrun 32 percent reduction in consumer surplus and a 30.6 percent reduction in aggregate usage and therefore revenue. Whatever the benefits of GDPR’s privacy protection, it appears to have been accompanied by substantial costs to consumers, from a diminished choice set, and to producers from depressed revenue and increased costs.

Rebecca Janßen, Reinhold Kesler, Michael E. Kummer & Joel Waldfogel

This study made some rounds on Twitter a couple of weeks ago, probably timed to coincide with the 4th anniversary of the adoption of GDPR. I haven’t read the entire 50 pages of it, but this certainly looks like GDPR working as intended, weeding out low quality apps that existed primarily to illegally harvest user data. The study unquestionably repeats the Big Tech talking point that fewer apps equal less innovation, as if anything new was necessarily innovative and value-added as well. Google is also constantly removing apps from the Play Store for breaching its rules – you don’t see anyone bemoaning that Google is stifling innovation by enforcing basic quality standards.

28 May 2022

OneZero: “By the End of This Century, the Global Population will Start to Shrink”

The great defining event of the 21st century — one of the great defining events in human history — will occur in three decades, give or take, when the global population starts to decline. Once that decline begins, it will never end. We do not face the challenge of a population bomb, so rampant in the popular imagination, but of a population bust — a relentless, generation-after-generation culling of the human herd. Nothing like this has ever happened before.

If you find this news shocking, that’s not surprising. The United Nations forecasts that our population will grow from 7 billion to 11 billion in this century before leveling off after 2100. But an increasing number of demographers around the world believe the UN estimates are far too high.

More likely, they say, the planet’s population will peak at around 9 billion sometime between 2040 and 2060 and then start to decline. By the end of this century, we could be back to where we are right now and steadily growing fewer.

The demographic transition model, which was first developed in 1929, used to contain only four stages. Stage four, the final stage, envisioned a world in which life expectancy was high and the fertility rate was low, around the level needed to sustain the population: 2.1 babies per mother (one per mother, one per father, and an extra 0.1 to account for children who die in infancy and women who die before childbearing age). But as it turned out, there is a fifth stage: one in which life expectancy continues to slowly increase, even as fertility rates continue to decline below the replacement rate, eventually leading to a declining population. Just about the entire developed world is in stage five.

Darrell Bricker & John Ibbitson

Taking a break from the urgent issues of today, here’s a worldwide trend that will certainly reshape our societies in the coming century: the upcoming shift from the population growth we experienced since the dawn of civilization to a stagnating and shrinking population. There were of course numerous dips in various regions in times of famine and plague, but the overall trend was ascending owing to a high birth rate. Modern science and civilization have reversed both fundamentals: better healthcare has decreased child mortality and increased life expectancy, while increased urbanization, education and secularism have reduced previous pressures to have as many children as possible.

27 May 2022

Time: “Inside Volodymyr Zelensky’s World”

The experience illustrated how much Zelensky has changed since we first met three years ago, backstage at his comedy show in Kyiv, when he was still an actor running for President. His sense of humor is still intact. It’s a means of survival, he says. But two months of war have made him harder, quicker to anger, and a lot more comfortable with risk. Russian troops came within minutes of finding him and his family in the first hours of the war, their gunfire once audible inside his office walls. Images of dead civilians haunt him. So do the daily appeals from his troops, hundreds of whom are trapped belowground, running out of food, water, and ammunition.

Friends and allies rushed to Zelensky’s side, sometimes in violation of security protocols. Several brought their families to the compound. If the President were to be killed, the chain of succession in Ukraine calls for the Speaker of parliament to take command. But Ruslan Stefanchuk, who holds that post, drove straight to Bankova Street on the morning of the invasion rather than taking shelter at a distance.

Stefanchuk was among the first to see the President in his office that day. It wasn’t fear on his face, he told me. It was a question: How could this be? For months Zelensky had downplayed warnings from Washington that Russia was about to invade. Now he registered the fact that an all-out war had broken out, but could not yet grasp the totality of what it meant. Maybe these words sound vague or pompous, says Stefanchuk. But we sensed the order of the world collapsing. Soon the Speaker rushed down the street to the parliament and presided over a vote to impose martial law across the country. Zelensky signed the decree that afternoon.

Simon Shuster

As the imminent danger of Russian troops capturing the capital subsided, reporters started getting access to Ukraine’s now-wartime President, Volodymyr Zelensky. I found it a bit ironic how much this article emphasizes his former job as comedian, including ending on this exact note (that is the role he intends to play) – not the most reassuring way to portray a leader during such a consequential conflict.

25 May 2022

The New Yorker: “If God is Dead, Your Time is Everything”

One of the most beautifully succinct expressions of secular faith in our bounded life on earth was provided not long after Christ supposedly conquered death, by Pliny the Elder, who called down a plague on this mad idea that life is renewed by death! Pliny argued that belief in an afterlife removes Nature’s particular boon, the great blessing of death, and merely makes dying more anguished by adding anxiety about the future to the familiar grief of departure. How much easier, he continues, for each person to trust in himself, and for us to assume that death will offer exactly the same freedom from care that we experienced before we were born: oblivion.

Rather than simply replace the realm of necessity with the realm of freedom—which would be impossible anyway, because there is always tedious and burdensome work to be done—we should be able to better “negotiate” the relationship between those realms. Hägglund gives an example of how this might be done when he talks about the way his own work on the book we are reading unites the two realms: writing “This Life” was labor, of course, but it was pursued as an end in itself, as a matter of intellectual inquiry. In a Hägglundian utopia, labor would be part of our freedom. Even drudgery—his example is participating in the garbage removal in our neighborhood on a weekly basis—could be an element of our freedom if we see it as part of a collective understanding that we are acting in order to reduce, in the aggregate, socially necessary labor time and to increase socially available free time. This revolution, he says, will require the revaluation of value (in Nietzsche’s phrase); and he criticizes a number of thinkers on the left, such as Thomas Piketty and Naomi Klein, for wanting to alter capitalism (via redistribution) rather than effectively abolish it (via a deep redefinition of value). Such people, he says, are stating that capitalism is the problem while also stating that capitalism is the solution.

James Wood

I was meaning to share this article for a long time – I read it some three ago, a bit after it was published. It offers a compelling vision of human life and society assuming there’s no such thing as an afterlife – an atheist credo if you like. This participatory society where everyone shares the burden of labor to maximize overall free time strongly reminds me of the anarchist Anarres in The Dispossessed – a fantastic novel which carefully constructs an apparent utopia while subtly pointing out its shortcomings. It also offers a good counterpoint to the concept of Longtermism, which emphasizes the fulfillment of future human beings at the detriment of contemporaries.

24 May 2022

War on the Rocks: “The August War, Ten Years On: A Retrospective on the Russo-Georgian War”

Russia set up Georgia’s leader, Mikheil Saakashvili, into initiating hostilities against its proxy forces in South Ossetia, and then crushed the Georgian military in a brief conventional conflict. Saakashvili walked down that path, despite U.S. warnings, because of his own ambitions. Yet Moscow was also surprised by the timing of the Georgian attack, which somewhat pre-empted Russian plans. NATO’s declaration added a broader geostrategic dimension to a war that was already well on its way to happening given Georgia’s ambitions to retake lost territory, and Russia’s intent to deal Saakashvili a major defeat. Putin was not going to let Saakashvili take the territories back, but after NATO’s declaration at the Bucharest Summit he resolved to teach the West a lesson about Russia’s ability to veto further NATO expansion eastward.

Georgia was no great military power, but for a tiny nation it was well-armed, far beyond anything currently fielded by the Baltic states. Whether or not the Georgian military had the leadership and experience to make good use of this gear is another story. The perpetual dream of such states is to become the Israel of their region. The problem with small states is that they think they can be David, but outside of the Book of Samuel, most of the time David gets crushed by Goliath. By 2008, Saakashvili bragged that Georgia had 33,000 professional service members, 100,000 reservists, the number of tanks had increased by a factor of ten and combat helicopters by a factor of three. Georgia’s build-up was sold as an effort at achieving “NATO standards” and “interoperability”. In reality Georgia’s armed forces kept expanding in size and capability in defiance of NATO recommendations to reduce the force and make it affordable. Most of the heavy equipment Georgia procured was actually Soviet gear, with Ukrainian and Israeli upgrades, not meaningfully interoperable with NATO forces.

Michael Kofman

Interesting retrospective of the Russo-Georgian War, a brief confrontation that many quote now in relation to Putin’s imperialist tendencies and the current invasion of Ukraine – including the David vs. Goliath analogy. The quick Russian victory back then probably contributed to Putin’s boldness and expectation that he will subdue Ukraine similarly fast.

22 May 2022

Engelsberg Ideas: “Thucydides was a Realist”

What does it mean to say Thucydides was a realist? It is to say that he was one of the founders of a pessimistic intellectual tradition that believes the world, like the one he endured, is inherently a cold, harsh, dangerous place in which power and its acquisition is paramount. In this world, interests diverge and clash, and cooperation is bound to be impermanent. There is no reliable authority above the fray. No-one can be certain of others’ intentions, which can change. This makes for a world of ultimate solitude. Ruthless self-help and prudent self-restraint are both imperative. To survive in it, polities must accept and work within its constraints.

Realism at its core is the capacity to look at the world without euphemism. In that spirit, Thucydides is a tonic to wishful thinking, thereby supplying the intellectual tools to resist fanciful expectations. If there is one source of false hope in our time, leading to ill-preparedness and shock, it is the widespread conceit that the ‘twenty first century’ or ‘Europe’, or something in our contemporary condition, should rule out certain bad things happening.

As we too have discovered, ‘hope is an expensive commodity’. Against earlier expectations that a growing China would supplicate itself to US hegemony, it grabs land, coerces and threatens far and wide, and has embarked on a vast naval and nuclear build-up. Against confident earlier claims that his regime ‘must’ go, Gulf states reconcile themselves to Syrian tyrant Bashar al-Assad’s victory after a civil war of unimaginable terror. And against prophecies that geopolitics is an illusion and that Russia would not dare go further than subversion around the edges, Vladimir Putin has launched his latest aggressive lunge into Ukraine.

Patrick Porter

The Greek historian Thucydides was regularly mentioned in a podcast I frequently listen to, and this short recap of his work – and the increasing geopolitical instability – makes me appreciate his insights more. Scholars started applying his history of the Peloponnesian War to the U.S.-China relations in the twenty-first century, a confrontation emerging as a rising power challenges a ruling one.

IEEE Spectrum: “Their Bionic Eyes are now Obsolete and Unsupported”

Ross Doerr, another Second Sight patient, doesn’t mince words: It is fantastic technology and a lousy company, he says. He received an implant in one eye in 2019 and remembers seeing the shining lights of Christmas trees that holiday season. He was thrilled to learn in early 2020 that he was eligible for software upgrades that could further improve his vision. Yet in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, he heard troubling rumors about the company and called his Second Sight vision-rehab therapist. She said, Well, funny you should call. We all just got laid off, he remembers. She said, By the way, you’re not getting your upgrades.

These three patients, and more than 350 other blind people around the world with Second Sight’s implants in their eyes, find themselves in a world in which the technology that transformed their lives is just another obsolete gadget. One technical hiccup, one broken wire, and they lose their artificial vision, possibly forever. To add injury to insult: A defunct Argus system in the eye could cause medical complications or interfere with procedures such as MRI scans, and it could be painful or expensive to remove.

Abandoning the Argus II technology—and the people who use it—might have made short-term financial sense for Second Sight, but it’s a decision that could come back to bite the merged company if it does decide to commercialize a brain implant, believes Doerr.

Who’s going to swallow their marketing for the Orion? he says. Doerr is glad he has Second Sight’s technology in his retina instead of his brain tissue. If it has to come out, it’s going to be bothersome, he says, [but] nobody is messing with my brain.

Eliza Strickland & Mark Harris

Exciting that technology to partially restore vision to blind people is in development and slowly becoming mainstream. The article exposes quite well the downsides of relying solely on private companies in this field: despite innovating and delivering a product with clear benefits to its customers, the small market size and high costs can make the business side unsustainable. Similar questions apply to other startups, such as Elon Musk’s Neuralink; if at some point in the future Musk loses interest or lacks funding to continue research, what happens to the enthusiasts who might have gotten their skull drilled for one of his implants?

18 May 2022

Salon: “Elon Musk, Twitter and the future: His long-term vision is even weirder than you think”

In brief, the longtermists claim that if humanity can survive the next few centuries and successfully colonize outer space, the number of people who could exist in the future is absolutely enormous. According to the “father of Longtermism”, Nick Bostrom, there could be something like 10^58 human beings in the future, although most of them would be living “happy lives” inside vast computer simulations powered by nanotechnological systems designed to capture all or most of the energy output of stars. (Why Bostrom feels confident that all these people would be “happy” in their simulated lives is not clear. Maybe they would take digital Prozac or something?) Other longtermists, such as Hilary Greaves and Will MacAskill, calculate that there could be 10^45 happy people in computer simulations within our Milky Way galaxy alone. That’s a whole lot of people, and longtermists think you should be very impressed.

So the question is: If you want to do “the most good”, should you focus on helping people who are alive right now or these vast numbers of possible people living in computer simulations in the far future? The answer is, of course, that you should focus on these far-future digital beings.

Phil Torres

In my previous linked article, the author writes at some point that he believes Elon Mask wants to do some flavor of good. And here we have some clues as to what Musk considers ‘good’ for the future of humanity. I would take this with some grain of salt, as we can’t definitely know what his plans and expectations are, but seems plausible considering the kind of projects he’s involved in.

17 May 2022

Mike Industries: “Anchors Away”

So in short: More callousness at the company, bad. More callousness on the service, bad.

I’m not sure why we would expect a man who has shown zero ability to empathize with anyone to improve either of those situations. In fact, I think we should expect both to get much, much worse if this transaction ends up going through (which I’m not yet convinced it will).

One other distinction I think is important is that I don’t think Musk’s callousness crosses over into hate or nihilism. No nihilist would work as hard as he has over the course of his lifetime. I actually believe the guy wants to do some flavor of good. I just think his definition of “doing good” is measured only by the accomplishments and not the damage; especially the emotional damage, which again he has openly admitted to not being able to detect or understand. It’s similar to the way I have heard certain Facebook executives describe their service: it’s a “net positive” to society. As if that distinction only requires helping 100 people after you hurt 99.

If you agree with me about those three factors, there are a few things you can do about it. You can try and solve them, you can leave them alone and make your service more popular in other ways, or you can just be cool with the idea that Twitter doesn’t need to be as big as its contemporaries.

The company has actually tried versions of all of the above. They’ve made a TON of progress on curbing abuse (although it’s never enough unless you hit zero), they’ve made the service more visual (although there is a limit before the nature of the service changes), and they’ve made it a bit easier to connect with friends. If you ask me, it’s always been that last one that holds the most promise. Twitter — like many things in life — is just so much better when your friends are there.

Mike Davidson

A thoughtful and balanced article on Twitter’s past and future from a former employee. I agree with most of his remarks, especially regarding Elon Musk. There’s a long-held view that people who work at Twitter don’t really understand Twitter, and I think the author also misunderstands Twitter’s fundamental appeal when he argues that it is just so much better when your friends are there.

15 May 2022

MSNBC: “Joe Biden never ended the war in Afghanistan”

Following the American withdrawal, international funding for Afghanistan, equivalent to 40 percent of the country's GDP, was severed in compliance with sanctions from the U.S. and the U.N. Security Council. That delivered an almost globally unprecedented level of economic shock to the war-torn nation, William Byrd, an economist specializing in Afghanistan at the U.S. Institute of Peace, told me. The U.S. also blocked access to billions of dollars of the Afghan government’s foreign currency reserves held in the U.S., worth more than a year’s worth of imports to a country heavily dependent on them.

Afghanistan has long been an impoverished country, but the exceptional nature of its current crisis is born of a deliberate policy regime designed to cripple it. While the soldiers and planes have left, the brutality of the U.S. war is continuing in a different form. The U.S. has transitioned from a hot war to an economic war, Adam Weinstein, a research fellow at the Quincy Institute who focuses on security, trade and rule of law in Afghanistan and Pakistan, told me.

Collectively punishing the Afghan people through their economy is morally heinous: it marks the evolution of a project of imperial sadism against a people who have already endured tens of thousands of casualties and terror after decades of a vicious U.S. occupation that never needed to happen. It’s also backward as a geopolitical strategy: If the country collapses into a failed state, it will become vulnerable to takeover by the exact kind of ambitious terrorist organizations, like the Islamic State Khorasan, that drove the U.S. to war in the first place.

Zeeshan Aleem

This is the sort of policy that drives distrust and outright hate of America abroad but is still pursued because of internal politics and fear of looking soft on the Taliban. Some 20 million people in Afghanistan are facing acute malnutrition, almost half of the country’s overall population, but the country can’t access its reserves, nor receive substantial international aid, because of the sanctions regime against the Taliban… In most cases, economic war ends up hurting the general population more than the governing elite, and rarely convinces the group holding power to change direction to obtain sanctions relief.

14 May 2022

The Guardian: “The invisible addiction: is it time to give up caffeine?”

Cognitive psychologists sometimes talk in terms of two distinct types of consciousness: spotlight consciousness, which illuminates a single focal point of attention, making it very good for reasoning, and lantern consciousness, in which attention is less focused yet illuminates a broader field of attention. Young children tend to exhibit lantern consciousness; so do many people on psychedelics. This more diffuse form of attention lends itself to mind wandering, free association, and the making of novel connections – all of which can nourish creativity. By comparison, caffeine’s big contribution to human progress has been to intensify spotlight consciousness – the focused, linear, abstract and efficient cognitive processing more closely associated with mental work than play. This, more than anything else, is what made caffeine the perfect drug not only for the age of reason and the Enlightenment, but for the rise of capitalism, too.

Alas, there is no free lunch. It turns out that caffeine only appears to give us energy. Caffeine works by blocking the action of adenosine, a molecule that gradually accumulates in the brain over the course of the day, preparing the body to rest. Caffeine molecules interfere with this process, keeping adenosine from doing its job – and keeping us feeling alert. But adenosine levels continue to rise, so that when the caffeine is eventually metabolised, the adenosine floods the body’s receptors and tiredness returns. So the energy that caffeine gives us is borrowed, in effect, and eventually the debt must be paid back.

Caffeine is not the sole cause of our sleep crisis; screens, alcohol (which is as hard on REM sleep as caffeine is on deep sleep), pharmaceuticals, work schedules, noise and light pollution, and anxiety can all play a role in undermining both the duration and quality of our sleep. But here’s what’s uniquely insidious about caffeine: the drug is not only a leading cause of our sleep deprivation; it is also the principal tool we rely on to remedy the problem. Most of the caffeine consumed today is being used to compensate for the lousy sleep that caffeine causes – which means that caffeine is helping to hide from our awareness the very problem that caffeine creates.

Michael Pollan

Interesting piece on the merits and downsides of caffeine consumption on individual health and society overall. I am far from a big drinker of coffee, with no more than two cups a day, but I still occasionally felt its adverse effects on my sleeping patterns – I made a habit to drink coffee in the early afternoon, so sometimes I have trouble falling asleep late at night. Attributing the Enlightenment and capitalist society to the regular intake of caffeine strikes me as grossly exaggerated though. As most good things in life, coffee is best consumed and enjoyed in moderation.

12 May 2022

Noahpinion: “Interview: Ryan Petersen, founder and CEO of Flexport”

R.P.: The supply chain crunch was started by increasing demand for goods, as consumers stopped spending on services. Americans in particular had more money in their pockets because they weren’t going on trips, spending at restaurants and bars, or attending concerts. Instead as city after city started enforcing lockdowns and restrictions, people started spending a lot more goods and not services. You’ve got to get your dopamine somewhere. So what we saw was an unprecedented increase in imports from China—as much as 20% more containers entering the United States than were leaving our ports since the start of the pandemic.

Then there was the impact of cascading second orders that are inherently unpredictable. For example, as imports increased as much as 20%, exports actually decreased because the United States economy was slow to reopen. In fact exports are still down. If you look at the journey of a shipping container, it runs in a loop: The same container that brings in imports later helps transport exports out of the U.S. So if there are fewer exports going out, that means companies are consciously choosing to ship empty containers back to Asia or else they will run into shortages at the origin ports. At one point over the last year, as an industry, we were 500,000 shipping containers short in Asia. These shortages led to increases in prices. If you wanted to get a container you had to pay a real premium to get access. In some cases renting a container for one journey was more expensive than the price to buy one.

Noah Smith

Very informative discussion about the growing supply chain issues, their complex and world-spanning causes, and the lack of local investment and planning that has amplified the problems in the US more than in other regions. Since it was published at the beginning of the year, new factors have increased the strain on global supply chains and inflation, from the rise of coronavirus cases and subsequent lockdowns in major Chinese manufacturing hubs to the war in Ukraine.

10 May 2022

The Guardian: “Is escalation in Ukraine part of the US strategy?”

In the spring of Russia’s war on Ukraine, Washington DC seems haunted by the ghosts of history. The US Congress has passed the Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act of 2022 to expedite aid to Ukraine – just as Franklin D Roosevelt did, under the Lend-Lease Act, to the British empire, China and Greece in March 1941.

The sums of money being contemplated in Washington are enormous – a total of $47bn, the equivalent of one third of Ukraine’s prewar GDP. If it is approved by Congress, on top of other western aid, it will mean that we are financing nothing less than a total war.

However, history is complex – scratch the surface and the ambiguities multiply. What does invoking Lend-Lease really imply for the direction of US policy?

Presumably, the narrative is sustained by the promise that a good war fought against an evil regime will be won through the generous sponsorship of the United States. But to complete that narrative arc you have to keep winding the clock forward from Lend-Lease in March to the Atlantic charter in August 1941 and, by December, to Pearl Harbor and the US entry into the war. Providing aid to both China and the British empire, Lend-Lease was a crucial step in turning what was originally a separate Japanese war on China and a German war in Europe into a world war.

If the US Congress is now launching a new Lend-Lease programme, the question of whether escalation is part of the plan must come into consideration.

Adam Tooze

A valid question that the US administration seems to be purposefully avoiding. There are numerous signs of this hidden intent, from Biden’s comments labeling Putin a war criminal and saying that he should not remain in power; to the breakdown of communication channels between the US and Russia; to unnamed senior American officials leaking to the press that the US has provided intelligence allowing Ukrainians to target and kill Russian generals on the battlefield and strike the Moskva, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet; to US senators openly calling it a proxy war against Russia. A common pattern to these public postures is declaring new ambitious targets, then quickly walking them back in future statements, but overall moving the goalposts further towards increased belligerence – a slippery slope not unlike what got the US tangled up in Afghanistan and Iraq.

03 May 2022

XDA Developers: “Microsoft Edge is getting a built-in VPN powered by Cloudflare”

Microsoft is testing a VPN-like service for its Edge browser, adding a new layer of security and privacy to the browsing experience. A recently-discovered support page on Microsoft’s website details the “Microsoft Edge Secure Network” feature, which provides data encryption and prevents online tracking, courtesy of Cloudflare.

While it isn’t available yet, even if you have the latest Dev channel build, the Microsoft Edge Secure Network feature appears to be similar in nature to Cloudflare’s service. This is essentially a proxy or VPN service, which encrypts your browsing data so that it’s safe from prying eyes, including your ISP. It also keeps your location private, so you can use it to access geo-restricted websites, or content that’s blocked in your country.

João Carrasqueira

Good to see Microsoft continuing to invest in new features for their browser. The idea of integrating a VPN into the browser is not exactly novel, as Opera and Mozilla offer something similar, but it’s good to expand the reach of secure browsing services to more users. In its current, pre-release state, Microsoft Edge Secure Network looks fairly limited, as you need to sign in with a Microsoft account and the traffic is capped at 1 gigabyte a month. It would be a great idea to turn this on by default in InPrivate mode, as it would offer an extra layer of protection. Perhaps at launch Microsoft will offer a paid tier as well with unlimited traffic for a monthly fee.