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Entries in connectivity (33)


The Internet of Things: Resistance Is Futile, But Resilience Is Fruitful


CONTINUING LAST FRIDAY'S THEME OF WHO'S-SPYING-ON-YOU, A DISTURBING ARTICLE FROM CBS NEWS HIGHLIGHTS HOW YOUR SMART PHONE CAN BE USED AGAINST YOU IN A VARIETY OF CRIMINAL/NEFARIOUS WAYS. What this reminds us is that, per the security expert cited in the story, we're all basically carrying around a mini personal computer in our pockets all day long, and that can be as disastrously hacked as any desk or laptop. Indeed, it can be far worse because of the camera, video, and recording capacities that we tend to view primarily as standard technologies kluged together in one unit, when they're all – to varying degrees –accessible to hackers via the software.

Some highlights from the piece:

Popular apps on your smartphone can be convenient and fun, but some also carry malicious software known as malware, which gives hackers easy access to your personal information.

A security firm found that between 75 and 80 percent of the top free apps on Android phones or iPhones were breached. The number jumps as high as 97 percent among the top paid apps on those devices.

Two caveats can be offered.

  1. There is the argument that mobile devices are more secure than personal computers and servers, because they're less open (a countering argument being that PCs and servers are targeted far more because that's where the good stuff is – i.e., the data).
  2. Many experts will also draw a distinction between Android phones and iPhones in terms of architecture and hence security.

With my limited technical knowledge, I'll buy both.  But here's the thing, with the blossoming Internet of Things, the number of devices grows fantastically, and the security features built into all those devices tends to be less comprehensive and robust, primarily because these devices are designed for consumers versus enterprises, meaning ease of use and access are paramount. Thus, as we rapidly build out the Internet of Things, we create sort of a wild-west frontier that surrounds all the critical infrastructure upon which these devices depend, allowing for a radical expansion of attack vectors by criminal and malicious actors.

That's certainly not an argument against pursuing the Internet of Things, but it does say that we need to build it out with more care and vision regarding the resilience of the critical infrastructure being increasingly exposed. In effect, our critical infrastructures are going to be subjected to an evolutionary leap of sorts, so we either adapt them in turn (keeping pace), or we suffer new and worse vulnerabilities.

Back to the story and quoted "cybersecurity expert Gary Miliefsky, whose company SnoopWall tracks malware."

Milifesky said when you download an app, you also give permission for it to access other parts of your phone, like an alarm clock app that can also track phone calls.

"You think an alarm clock needs all those permissions? Access to the Internet over wifi, your call information, calls you've made, call history, your device ID? This to me is not a safe alarm clock," Miliefsky said.

And there's the weather and flashlight apps that he says exploit legitimate banking apps to capture information, as he showed us in a demonstration of what could happen when someone takes a photo of a check to send to their bank.

"The flashlight app spies on the camera and noticed the check and grabbed a copy of it. Shipped it off to a server somewhere far away," Miliefsky said.

Last year the group FireEye discovered 11 malware apps being used on iPhones that gathered users' sensitive information and send it to a remote server, including text messages, Skype calls, contacts and photos Apple fought back by removing the apps and putting stricter security measures in place.

"They get at your GPS, your contacts build a profile on you," Miliefsky said.

Some apps are simply collecting information for advertising purposes. In 2014, the Federal Trade Commission settled a lawsuit with a company over its popular Brightest Flashlight app, alleging it transmitted consumers' personal information to third parties without telling them.

But Miliefsky said he's found another flashlight app that can do much more troubling things.

"This one turns on your microphone in the background, listens in on you, and sends an encrypted tunnel to a server we discovered in Beijing," Miliefsky described.

That certainly gets your attention, yes?

Whether or not we buy into the darker, more geo-political aspects, it's clear that we're all being subjected to a game-changing degree of personal transparency, and that, in political terms, the question of who's watching the watchers is just starting to be explored.

Now, a lot of people will respond to these developments by attempting to reduce their exposure, just like a lot of enterprises have attempted over the years. But that approach typically comes with too big a price in terms of lost efficiency, convenience, and sheer opportunity. Building more firewalls as the Internet of Things comes into being is not the answer.

In short, while resistance is futile when it comes to the Internet of Things (and the Borg, of course), resilience becomes the new prime directive for individuals, families, enterprises, communities, governments, and nations.




(RESILIENT BLOG) Internet Censorship As An Inverse Indicator of National Resilience

FREEDOM HOUSE RECENTLY ISSUED ITS 2015 REPORT ON INTERNET FREEDOM, a timely notion given the ongoing debates about encryption, monitoring of social media, etc., in the wake of recent terrorist attacks ... 




Aren't all those Islamists now in power supposed to keep globalization out?

Interesting NYT story on the cotinuing explosion of social media across the Middle East:

The use of social media exploded during the Arab Spring as people turned to cyberspace to express themselves. On the back of that, social media networks, including Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, have moved into the region commercially, setting up offices to sell advertising products to companies like Mobily, which has over 200,000 Twitter followers, to capitalize on the growing audience.

In Saudi, social media gets everyone talking to everyone, which is something we just don’t have in the streets here,” said Muna AbuSulayman, a Saudi development consultant and formerly a popular television talk show host, who has over 100,000 followers on Twitter.

It’s a unique opportunity that lets people have conversations in a boundary-less way that wasn’t possible before,” Ms. AbuSulayman said. “In addition to promoting social and political discussion, it carries a powerful economic incentive for businesses, too.”

Well, you know what the experts say:


  • The Arab Spring failed - turned to a terrible winter.
  • Globalization is on the retreat- everywhere.  
  • Connectivity is oversold; it doesn't really change all that much.
  • Authoritarianism is resurgent.
  • We lost the Middle East, thank you very much.


What's odd to me?  People have no sense of patience anymore and reach for the fatalism in a heartbeat. Meanwhile, everything is moving at such a fantastically high speed in terms of positive change.


The coming age of hyper-transparency

In a huge simulation that we just ran at Wikistrat (and in several previous ones), this issue of hyper-transparency keeps popping up as a magnificently powerful shaping dynamic in future politics - as in, you can corrupt but you cannot hide (for long).

NYT reporting here that the paper's networks have been subjected to massive hacking efforts directed from China and that these repeated assaults were timed in response to the paper running that nasty expose on how Chinese political elites (and particularly the family of Premier Wen Jiabao) made - literally - billions on an insider deal involving what is now the world's largest insurance company.

Naturally, the Chinese government thinks it's sending a signal big-time - as in, don't mess with our political crooks.  Like any mafia, the Chinese Communist Party believes intimidation will always save its skin.  And when the masses of Chinese were too busy starving or struggling through their lives (see, Mao), there was no question that it worked.  

But things changed with Deng Xiaoping, who knew that what he set in motion would both make China a powerful economic giant and eventually cost the party its dictatorship.  This is why Deng is a personal hero of mine - a great and wise man who changed world history for the better.

No, his legacy is not yet complete, and Deng, who was one of those who approved the Tiananmen Square massacre, knew full well that timing was everything.  So, no illusions on his part about how long this would take.

But that hyper-transparency is arriving already across China.  What the Party wants hidden is getting far harder to hide.  Bravo Times!

So yeah, the CCP remains fearful of its citizenry and now it needs to fear the NYT as well, because it is all one vast conspiracy called globalization and connectivity and transparency and markets and democracy and super-empowered individuals.  It is a conspiracy hatched over 200 years ago by a far-sighted bunch of genuine revolutionaries.

And it's coming for you, Mr. Apparatchik - and your little (running) dog too!

As always, when in doubt, resort to nationalism - the last refuge of scoundrels the world over.  So the Party justifies this as America's doing/meddling/etc.

But rest assured, when they come for the Wens and his relatives and everybody else who stole from the Chinese people, they'll all be wearing Chinese faces.

The real "virus" has already infected too many Chinese to be stopped now.  These people are among the most rabid capitalists in the world, and you've got to respect everything that goes into that.  

But capitalism unbound is one nasty creature, which is why democracy is the only antidote.

And that's why the Chinese Communist Party is totally screwed, no matter how big a fight it puts up.

The clock is ticking, my friends.


Civilization = bad connectivity principle, but dream = good

Trio of stories (2 FT and 1 NYT) on evolving ideologies of Russia (old leader), Egypt (new leader) and China (new leader).

Putin is floating a unique Russian civilization idea - likely as his legacy signature concept in governance.  The purpose is setting the long-term course of how Moscow handles the federation's many nationalities.  For now, a trial balloon, but already the blowback is sensed and it's building.  These nationalities naturally feel like they're being told to assimilate or find themselves a bit lost in Russia's future - as defined by Putin et al.

Morsi in Egypt is now revealing a similar bias on his effort with the constitution.  He wants to make it so Islamist that Egypt's many minorities are reacting badly, seeing no good space for themselves in Egypt's future on this basis.

My point in raising both issues:  when you argue civilization and, on that basis, identity (typically tied to religion), then you're saying, "This is how we're going to run this place and this is how we're going organize our connectivity with the outside world - by requiring this sort of homogeniety at home."

Problem is, the self-limiting nature.  If you want connectivity, you want to promote diversity.   That attracts the bodies and minds and the money.  This is an old concept, as in back to Amsterdam and the Dutch when they built up their global nets.  England picks up this vibe and does similarly.  The US gets the DNA via New Amsterdam-cum-New-York.

When you don't care about identity/religion on this level, you take on all comers, meaning you're open for business with everyone.  That's how you succeed.

Third cite:  Xi Jinping in China resurrecting "Chinese dream" notion as part of his reform/progressive agenda.

That "dream" apes the US version, which is centered on success and the pursuit of happiness.  

Why good?  It says your identity is more about success than comformity and homogeniety.  You'll work with anybody, because the dream trumps the exclusionary identity.

So, my point:  if you go the civilization/religious identity route, you scare off connectivity and globalization (or certainly retard it), but if you go the "dream" route, you choose pragmatism over such identity.  Your identity is simply your culture of success.

I think both Russia and Egypt will learn the limits of this approach, and it will be a painful process. But these are natural growth patterns.

China, I think, risks the other pathway:  the cult of success makes it harder to promote morality.

So it's the old choice:  preserve the identity and the attached morality, or risk both by opening up and prioritizing success.

Why I always advocate the latter:  It simply works better on raising income, and when you raise income, it's a virtuous cycle, as the people become even more tolerant and open, seeing the value in this path.

Meanwhile, if you choose identity over success, you makes less money and achieve less, and you tend to trigger a vicious cycle, as the outside world becomes more evil in your eyes ("Why won't they do business with us on our terms?")

But this is why China succeeds where Russia (and I fear Egypt) will not.


A sign of Africa's genuine emergence within, and connectivity to, globalization

Marriott, says the WSJ ("Hoteliers race to fill a gap in Africa"), may have over 600 properties in more than 70 nations, but up to now none inside sub-Saharan Africa. That now changes with planned hotel in Kigali, Rwanda.

Yes, Rwanda of "Hotel Rwanda" infamy.

Eight more planned after that.

But Marriott just trying to keep pace with Hilton, Carlson, etc, in capturing some of the crowded business traffic. Plus, with South African, Chinese and Indian hotel chains already in Africa's biggest cities, the Western firms realize it's safe to go into the water.

The infrastructure to support expanding business travel.  Nicest sort of emergent connectivity to be found.


Chart of the Day: North Korean mobiles

Kim Jong-Eun is presenting himself in the guise of his grandfather, discounting the military and presenting a "great father of the natio" motif.

Now, with one million-plus phones, and all those portable cameras, the place opens up considerably.

My projection:  KJE is going to try and reform the place in the Chinese way and thinks he can handle the process.

My hope: it spirals out of control in a Gorby manner.

Whatever the mid-term outcome, nice signs and good progress in all of this. I honestly believe that DPRK is off the danger radar in five years.

That way, we can all get jacked about arresting fishermen in the South China Sea, pretending it serves as prelude to a high-tech war with China.


The only solution to our immigration "crisis" that matters

In the 1950s, there was a scare (mostly in NYC) about the seemingly endless influx of Puerto Ricans (you remember "West Side Story" and Leonard Bernstein's attempt to dance the problem away?), but the stream thinned out dramatically when the local GDP per capita reached somewhere in the region of 40% of the US's number.  When it got to that point, all things being equal, PRs preferred staying in PR.

This dynamic is well know and has been pointed out many times before in print.

Point of these charts from WAPO story about how returning migrant workers are bolstering Mexico's middle class is that we are reaching that point on Mexico, where - commensurately and with no surprise - the birth rate falls dramatically.

No, it doesn't end the flow of immigrants from LATAM writ large, but the point is made:  as long as a huge opportunity disaparity exists, they will come.  If you want a more manageable flow, you need to whittle down that delta along the lines I just described.

From the story:

 For a generation, the men of this town have headed north to the land of the mighty dollar, breaking U.S. immigration laws to dig swimming pools in Memphis and grind meat in Chicago.

In the United States, they were illegal aliens. Back home, they are new entrepreneurs using the billions of dollars earned “on the other side” to create a Mexican middle class.

The migrants “did something bad to do something good,” said Mexican economist Luis de la Calle.

Where remittances from El Norte were once mostly used to help hungry families back home simply survive, surveys now reveal that the longer a migrant stays up north, the more likely the cash transfers will be used to start new businesses or to pay for homes, farm equipment and school tuitions.

From Santa Maria del Refugio, a once rural, now almost suburban, community of 2,500 in central Mexico’s Guanajuato state, young men have gone to the United States seeking the social mobility they could not find at home.

Their money, and many of the workers themselves, have since returned, as the U.S. economy slowed in the global recession. For the first time in 40 years, net migration is effectively zero. About the same number of Mexicans left the United States last year as arrived. Migration experts expect the northward flow to pick up again as the U.S. economy improves. It is also possible that as Mexico provides more opportunity for upward mobility, some potential migrants will stay home.

In Santa Maria, dollars scrimped and saved in the United States have transformed a poor pueblo into a town of curbed sidewalks, Internet cafes and rows of two-story homes rising on a hillside where scrawny cattle once grazed.

“Look at this place — it’s practically a city now,” said Roberto Mandujano, 50, who moved back to his home town and opened a hardware store five years ago. “There was nothing here when I left.”

Mandujano is a member of a new demographic in Mexico, the anxious, tenacious, growing middle class who own homes and cars and take vacations. They see the United States more as a model than an exploiter.

Another argument for the US focusing more on amping up growth across LATAM: If we want to grow long-term above what history says we should be restricted to as a mature economy, then the best way to achieve that is for countries in our neighborhood to be experiencing rapid growth. [NOTE: this is ultimately why China will need to cool it on seabed territoriality disputes, but no, this logic does not rule out Beijing's stupid behavior in the meantime - as humans have an unlimited potential for letting idiocy trump logic.]

The resurrection of cheap energy in the US is the lure we should use in such an integration effort, and yes, we should most definitely be thinking about adding more stars to our flag.

You either get busy growing or you get busy shrinking in this globalized world.


A perfectly stupid 4th of July WAPO feature

Ann! You could be doing this 8 hours a day instead of writing this quasi-apocalyptic crap for WAPO!

We are slaves to technology and connectivity!  Slaves, I tell you!

By Ann Gerhart, who checked out an island of civilization in a DC Starbucks during an extended power outtage as research for this thoughtful piece.

The truly goofy start ...

Americans are a freedom-loving people.

Or, we used to be.

Before clutter, before Google and Facebook and voluntary enslavement to our kids. Before cellphones that make us always reachable and never alone. Before financial institutions reaching into our “convenient” online bill-paying mechanisms and taking fees. Before electric grids and fiber-optics and wireless transmissions that, when they go down, go down really big — and drag our self-reliance down with them.

Before we built our shaded backyard retreat but gave up our free time.

We may fly the tea party flag and protest against the tyranny of federal power, but in our daily lives we now are a freedom-surrendering people. Government mandates and perceived incursions into our rights as enshrined by the Founders? The least of our problems.

We diminish our independent selves all by ourselves.

The rest is a bunch of bitchy, whiney material leveraging the extended power outtage in and around DC. If she's trying to be funny, she's not trying hard enough.  Instead of real humor, we are left with fanciful insinuations of "societal collapse" just around the corner.  Ann clearly needs to get outside the Beltway now and then.

I suggest a trip to Plimouth Plantation in Massachusetts to get a clear sense of the "good old days" when we had real freedom . . . to crap in a hole in the ground . . . to carry water in buckets . . . to watch our children die half the time before reaching age 5 . . . to treat our women like property . . . to own slaves . . . to commit genocide against Native Americans, you know, back when freedom was real and we were genuinely self-reliant and were born with a life-expectancy well below 50!

That was living.

Now we're just all enslaved to Apple or Google Maps.  Oh, the inhumanity!

These devices and services don't free us whatsoever.  Just look around DC after the storm: this is true freedom my friends!

Freedom to write crap like this!


Iranians not unique in democratic aspirations

Interesting op-ed in WSJ by Israeli political researcher who explains his rather sophisticated attempts to surreptiously measure democratic attitudes across Iran.  It's a very impressive effort, really.

Left scale says Iran is terribly undemocratic, but bottom scale says Iranians are middle of the pack on democratic aspirations, meaning the argument that says "Iranians get what they deserve/want/etc" is absolutely wrong.  It's not an authoritarian society - just an authoritarian government.

Yuval Porat's final words

Our findings demonstrate that Iranian society as a whole is characterized by a pro-liberal value structure that is deeply at odds with the fundamentalist regime.  This presents considerable potential for regime change in Iran and for the development of liberal democracy.

You can read that statement two ways:  


  1. If you take the kinetic route on regime change, you will ultimately be rewarded; or 
  2. The soft-kill approach is the way to go.


While I have written that I think Israel will be hard-pressed not to attack in the end, I still maintain - as I have since 2005 - that the soft-kill on Iran will work.  To me, the soft-kill is the detente here, just like it was with the Sovs.  Open up ties, admit the regime is valid, blow off the nuke pursuit (which grants Iran nothing in terms of leverage with anybody - including already nuked-up Israel), and let the connectivity that results do the rest in terms of regime delegitimizing from within leading to eventual democratization.

Ultimately, this strategy - and not Star Wars - brought down the Sovs, and it can do the same on Iran - in far faster order.

Not a risk-free path, nor one that obviates unpleasant developments along the way (Russia, for example, is still a pain in the neck), but it does work.  It dismantled the Soviet system and it can do the same with the IRGC-dominated mafia-system in Iran.

Find Porat's full report at


WPR's The New Rules: In Globalized World, Time Is on America's Side

Second-to-last column at WPR.

There is a popular tendency to characterize globalization as an elite-based conspiracy or as something imposed by greedy outsiders upon unsuspecting native populations, hence the enduring belief in the possibility of its systemic reversal. In truth, the spread of modern globalization reflects a bottom-up demand function, not a top-down supply imposition. People simply crave connectivity -- in all its physical and virtual forms -- as well as the freedom of choice that it unleashes. This simple truth is worth remembering when we contemplate America’s global role in the decades ahead.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.


Wikistrat post @ CNN-GPS: Myanmar's Opening

First op-ed by a Wiksitrat analyst at CNN's GPS site.

Editor’s NoteTeresita Cruz-del Rosario is Visiting Associate Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore and a Senior Analyst at the geopolitical consultancy Wikistrat.

Boothie is a photojournalist for The Myanmar Times, the only English newspaper in Burma.   Boothie used to be cautious when taking pictures to avoid being hauled in for questioning or arrest for projecting images of Myanmar’s “dark side” - a broad enough charge to cover anything.

These days however, Boothie travels openly with his camera.  No longer hidden beneath the folds of his longyi as he surreptitiously shoots photos of a country that until very recently preferred to remain invisible.  He brandishes his Canon camera much like Clint Eastwood flaunted his Magnum 44.

Read the entire column at CNN's GPS blog.


Christmas, actually . . .

FT story that reminds me of scenario I ginned up as part of Wikistrat teaser for simulation looking at rising consumerism in East Asia and its impact on various consumer products and food & bev industries.

I can't remember the first time I was in China during the Christmas holiday, but it was probably close to a half decade ago, and I was stunned by how much people embraced the whole concept while treating it as an essentially non-religious holiday.  I mean the country has a huge winter festival holiday (Lunar New Year) that runs in the Jan-Feb timeframe, so how could they pick this up too?

Well, it's that rising middle class that seeks more outlets for its downtime and money. So the Chinese are picking up all sorts of foreign/Western holidays on top of the ones they already celebrate.  Fairly American, actually.

The quote from local expert:

Christmas is like Chinese New Year, even poor people have to celebrate it. Hotels, kindergartens, schools, supermarkets, they all have Christmas decorations. As people born after the 1980s and 1990s grow up, the [Christmas] culture is having a growing influence.

So inscrutable, these people!

Plus, this year, Chinese decorations companies are surviving the downturn in the West by selling far more at home.


Time's Battleland: "According to new Pentagon cyber strategy, state-of-war conditions now exist between the US and China"

China has been pre-approved for kinetic war strikes from the United States at any time.  Let me explain how.

First off, what the strategy says (according to the same WSJ front-page article Mark cited yesterday):

The Pentagon has concluded that computer sabotage coming from another country can constitute an act of war, a finding that for the first time opens the door for the U.S. to respond using traditional military force.

In other words, if you, Country C, take down or just plain attack what we consider a crucial cyber network, we reserve the right to interpret that as an act of war justifying an immediately "equivalent" kinetic response (along with any cyber response, naturally).  If this new strategy frightens you, then you just might be a rational actor.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.


Bhutan's gross national happiness is about to get adjusted

Is that a crane coming out of your head, or are you just happy to see me investing?

WSJ story on little old Bhutan, home of the "gross national happiness" stat, opening itself up to outside investors to jumpstart its embryonic democracy.

Wedged between India and China, just like Nepal, Bhutan was shut out from the world, Shangri-Lala-land-like, until recently.

No tourists allowed until 1970s and no TV even until the late 1990s.  No traffic lights in the capital city of Thimphu (none in my hometown of Boscobel either, when I was a kid there in the 1960s, so I commiserate).  

But you knew something was going to break after the monarch allowed (actually enabled) a peaceful transition to a parliamentary democracy two years ago.

Only 700k people, and the leadership worries that, absent heightened economic connectivity with the outside world, the place won't survive.

So now they want a domestic airline, IT park and billion-dollar education city that draws in Western universities. 

That, my friends, is some ambition.

But you have to worry about the "contact civilization" characteristics.  This is a place where businessmen, we are told, may spend several hours each day in archery competitions with each other.

McKinsey & Co, the US consulting firm, is advising the government, but the opposition leader says he doesn't think the company has a clue about the nation's real worries.  

McKinsey wants the place to go from a few thousand tourists each year to more like a quarter-million.

To be watched . . ..


What does mass blogging in China tell us?


image here

Thomas Friedman column on blogging in China becoming the true voice of the people at 70 million strong.

Positive or negative trend?  Because you're talking relatively successful people in a fast rising country, the overall voice is going to be one of nationalistic pride--even hubris, leading Friedman to hypothesize that aggressive bloggers are already becoming yet another source of populism that Beijing is both scared and mindful of in its decision-making.

Already, notes Freidman, the US ambassador is hosting big-time bloggers in an effort to get out America's message to the people with less official filtering.

Key point and a cool bit from Friedman:

“China for the first time has a public sphere to discuss everything affecting Chinese citizens,” explained Hu Yong, a blogosphere expert at Peking University. “Under traditional media, only elite people had a voice, but the Internet changed that.” He added, “We now have a transnational media. It is the whole society talking, so people from various regions of China can discuss now when something happens in a remote village — and the news spreads everywhere.” But this Internet world “is more populist and nationalistic,” he continued. “Many years of education that our enemies are trying to keep us down has produced a whole generation of young people whose thinking is like this, and they now have a whole Internet to express it.”

Watch this space. The days when Nixon and Mao could manage this relationship in secret are long gone. There are a lot of unstable chemicals at work out here today, and so many more players with the power to inflame or calm U.S.-China relations. Or to paraphrase Princess Diana, there are three of us in this marriage.

I see an advantage for us in all of these developments: our system is much more comfortable processing such popular pressures than China's is--and a lot more experienced to boot.

A lot of strategists on our side salivate at the notion that China will be forced into military confrontations with the West by all this rising nationalistic spirit, but the truth is just the opposite: fear of enraging the population by accepting any form of defeat keeps the Chinese leadership very keen to avoid any scuffle with the U.S. that it cannot control.


Connectivity creates boom market in outlier fatwas in Saudi Arabia

Too many opinionated, helping hands in the Kingdom, according to this WAPO story.

The details:

Abdullah has tried to curtail some of the powers of conservatives, including the religious scholars, and taken cautious steps to improve the situations of women and of Shiite Muslims, a religious minority in Saudi Arabia.

In June, however, the Saudi public was startled by a fatwa advocating that women breast-feed unrelated men to establish "maternal relations" and thus get around the Islamic prohibition on the mixing of the sexes. A few months earlier, another scholar had urged the killing of anyone who facilitated the mixing of men and women in workplaces and universities.

Those are extreme examples of a torrent of rulings on all aspects of life by Saudi scholars making the most of their recently acquired access to much wider audiences.

"Fatwas have become a huge problem, especially after satellite TV and the Internet," said Hamza al-Mozaini, a liberal newspaper columnist. "It has become something like a business for religious scholars, and they race to outdo each other."

As with any sudden onset of connectivity, the crazies quickly predominate--largely discrediting themselves in their aggregate nonsense. But the fear market is likewise there early on, so the King is right to move on this.


Central Asia's silk roads re-spun by China

image here

Nice sensible piece by Parag Khanna in the NYT.


The fate of the massive deposits of lithium recently discovered in Afghanistan is destined to be no different from that of landlocked Central Asia’s other natural resources: tapped by the West, and eventually controlled by the East.

Siberian timber, Mongolian iron ore, Kazakh oil, Turkmen natural gas and Afghan copper are already channeled directly to China through a newly built East-bound network that is fueling the rapid development of the world’s largest population.

China’s head-start in building roads, railways and pipelines across Central Asia creates an opportunity for the West — and the region itself. Rather than engaging in a high-stakes competition for Central Asia’s valuable resources — a new round of the 19th century Great Game — the West should support China’s initial steps by coaching local governments on how to expand textile and agricultural exports and avoid the resource curse that blights many developing, one-commodity nations.

China has paved the way to finally open up landlocked Central Asia, and the West should build on its success, creating a new, oil-fueled, East-West Silk Road.

Oil pipelines from the Caspian Sea across Kazakhstan, the recently opened gas pipeline from Turkmenistan via Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, and other planned roads and railways across Russia as well as down to the deep sea port of Gwadar in Pakistan are all part of China’s effort to turn Central Asia from a region of buffer states into a transit corridor between East and West. Beijing’s leaders have rightfully looked to Eurasia as a rich source of natural resources to fuel their booming economy.

Rather than think of China’s moves into Central Asia — and into Africa — as a suspicious form of neocolonialism, Western countries should focus on how to use Chinese-built roads and railways to make their own floundering regional strategy a success. This means cooperation rather than competition, and it can happen through heavy infrastructure investment, building new lines on the map that transcend arbitrary borders and bring real economic value.

As a longtime argument of mine (globalization:  "the last in, the next [phase of frontier integration] to begin"), I couldn't agree more.  I still spend a good chunk of my current brief arguing that we need to widen our perspective on potential allies in shrinking the Gap.  Lotsa times, I feel stupid still making this arguments almost a decade after I started using the slides, but this is still somewhat radical thinking in a US national security establishment that prefers its China as a threatening near-peer competitor. Why?  No China threat, no good argument on keeping the Leviathan fat dumb and happy in acquisitions while continuing to starve the SysAdmin.


The sheer discovery that is simply analyzing all this new connectivity

Cool Economist piece on the social web in its Technology Quarterly, but it's really about business intelligence, a field that is skyrocketing in its ability to monitor, analyze and create new marketing strategies from the wealth of info that is naturally captured by online behavior.  Similar thing is coming down the pike in the healthcare industry with the advent of electronic medical records--huge bonanza.

In the first instance, a lot of biz intell used to simply keep existing customers by making them happier.  The most sophisticated stuff will be used to sniff our fraud and criminal behavior.

A classic example of an old concept of mine--actually the heart and soul of the "new map":  with connectivity comes circumscribed behavior because each connection reveals you to others, but in return you are offered fabulous access and efficiencies and the more tailored meeting of your desires.  It is a transaction: the more you reveal, the more respondents can predict your needs and wants and behaviors--both good and bad.

And the mapping technology (like my wonderful Google maps on my Motorola Droid) only kicks that process into high gear.

An amazing amount of new rules to work out on all of this--a fascinating process to witness in coming years.


Rapid connectivity creates more suspicions than understanding

Old strawman given another good beating:  connectivity doesn't instantly heal all wounds!

Economist story on how social media doesn't change people over night by exposing them to different people and creating instant wisdom.


It turns out, research shows, that "people are online what they are offline: divided, and slow to build bridges."

I'm actually more pessimistic than that:  I believe that rapid connectivity gains generally create more unrest than peace at first.   That's why I called it the "Pentagon's new map."

Piece concludes that the Internet is just a tool, and as such, does nothing on its own.

My take:  sheer connectivity on its own does not trump real-world experience or generational weight, so expect the change to be gradual versus instant.  The Millennials will not be the Boomers, but they will not replace them overnight thanks to social media, and each country's version of the first-all-digital-generation will make its influence and thinking felt on a different timescale.

In other words, even in this connected age, change typically arrives no faster than we can handle it, because if it comes too fast, we simply ignore it and render its impact meaningless.