“Germany is Weltmeister,” or world champion, wrote Roger Cohen in his July 2014 New York Times column1—and he meant much more than just the immediate euphoria following Germany’s first soccer world championship since the summer of unification in 1990. Fifteen years earlier, in the summer of 1999, the Economist magazine’s title story depicted Germany as the “Sick Man of the Euro.”2 Analysis after analysis piled onto the pessimism: supposedly sclerotic, its machines were of high quality but too expensive to sell in a world of multiplying competitors and low-wage manufacturing. Germany seemed a hopeless case, a country stuck in the 20th century with a blocked society that had not adapted to the new world of the 21st century, or worse, a society that was not even adaptable.
Things since then have changed significantly. In the summer of 2013, more than a year before the triumph in Rio de Janeiro, the Economist reversed its own verdict—Germany now appeared on the front page as “Europe’s Reluctant Hegemon.”3 In 2014, Germany came out on top for the second year in a row in the BBC’s annual country rating poll as the country with “the most positive influence on the world.”4 Simon Anholt’s annual “Nation Brand Index” also put Germany in the top spot in 2014.5
DOUMA, Syria, February 6, 2015 – It’s an airstrike that wakes me up, just near my house in a rebel-held part of the Damascus suburbs. It’s 8.30 am. I think at first it’s just the one, but my hopes soon fade with the sound of another strike. And another.
The bombing doesn’t stop until sunset. The government jets target everything. Apartment blocks, mosques, schools, even a hospital. The assault is in reprisal for a major rebel attack that left 10 dead in the capital the day before. As I have taken to doing in such cases, I head down to the makeshift clinic, where I witness the most awful scenes you could imagine.
Like many San Franciscans, overpriced coffee is a considerable portion of my weekly budget. One day in Soma, the industrial district home to many start-ups, I came across a flier advertising a free gift card to Philz, a nearby coffee shop. All that was required was to show up for service at a local church called Epic. I hadn’t been to church in months, and decided to give it a try.
The Bay Area has never been perceived as religious: a 2012 Gallup poll found that fewer than a quarter of residents identify as “very religious” (defined as going to church weekly), as opposed to 40% of the nation as a whole. High salaries have drawn droves of well-educated millennials to the booming tech sector, which correlates with lower religious sentiment. So far afield from the Bible belt, the region is in fact seen as hospitable to all forms of old testament abominations: fornication, paganism – even sodomy.
If what we watch is a touchy subject, what we buy is even more intimate and revealing. Programs like Facebook Beacon, designed to advertise users’ recent purchases to their friends, have been widely reviled. But the study, published today in Science, isn’t about personal sharing. It’s based on testing what the researchers call unicity: the odds that if you know fragments of a person’s shopping history, you can match them against a much larger amount of data, uncovering everything else they’ve bought. As it turns out, those odds are very high.
Our democracy relies on the quality of data in the public domain, and the public’s trust in it. To maintain public trust in statistics, we need to end the practice of pre-release access whereby some people in government see statistics before the public. The independent UK Statistics Authority should keep playing a key role in public policy, and it should continue to withdraw the designation of ‘National Statistic’ from any numbers that are not of high enough quality. Sir Andrew Dilnot should continue to intervene when politicians misuse statistics. And to build the public’s trust around use of their data, the independent Information Commissioner’s Office should be better resourced, with a sustainable funding base and greater powers to audit compliance and punish bad practices.
Government has made a start in opening up its data, but there is more to be done in order to become transparent and encourage innovation. We look to the government to open up addressing and geospatial data as the core reference data upon which society depends, and also act as a catalyst to release economic value from other open datasets.
Chances are that you’ve heard of bitcoin, the digital currency that many predict will revolutionize payments – or prove to be a massive fraud – depending on what you read. Bitcoin is an application that runs on the Blockchain, which is ultimately a more interesting and profound innovation.
The Blockchain is a secure transaction ledger database that is shared by all parties participating in an established, distributed network of computers. It records and stores every transaction that occurs in the network, essentially eliminating the need for “trusted” third parties such as payment processors. Blockchain proponents often describe the innovation as a “transfer of trust in a trustless world,” referring to the fact that the entities participating in a transaction are not necessarily known to each other yet they exchange value with surety and no third-party validation. For this reason, the Blockchain is a potential game changer.
In 2008, Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonymous person or group of people credited with developing bitcoin, released a whitepaper describing the software protocol. Since then, the network has grown and bitcoin
It is the continent’s favourite hobby, and even the European Parliament cannot resist: having a pop at the world’s biggest search engine. In a recent and largely symbolic vote, representatives urged that Google search should be separated from its other services — demanding, in essence, that the company be broken up.
This would benefit Google’s detractors but not, alas, European citizens. Search, like the social networking sector dominated by Facebook, appears to be a natural monopoly. The more Google knows about each query — who is making it, where and why — the more relevant its results become. A company that has organised, say, 90 per cent of the world’s information would naturally do better than a company holding just one-tenth of that information.
But search is only a part of Google’s sprawling portfolio. Smart thermostats and self-driving cars are information businesses, too. Both draw on Google’s bottomless reservoirs of data, sensors such as those embedded in hardware, and algorithms. All feed off each other.
I attended the Ice Bowl as a 20-year-old college student and have my ticket stub to prove it. I sat in Section 18, Row 13, Seat 15, or at about the 40-yard line directly behind the Packers’ bench on the north half of the stadium. The price of my ticket was $12, and I dressed warmly enough that I don’t remember leaving my seat at halftime or at any point during the game.
Sure it was cold. The temperature at kickoff was minus-13 degrees and the wind chill was minus-46. But at least it wasn’t Siberia, or what people around the NFL called Green Bay, B.L., Before Lombardi.
Today, those of us who sat through the Ice Bowl have become targets of another slight. Tell someone you went to the game and they want to give you a lie detector test.
Hidden by a rock slide for 22,000 years, the cave came to light in December 1994, when three spelunkers named Eliette Brunel, Christian Hillaire, and Jean-Marie Chauvet scrambled through a narrow crevice in a cliff and dropped into the dark entry. Since then, what is now known as the Cave of Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc has been ferociously protected by the French Ministry of Culture. We are among the rare few who have been allowed to make the same journey the ancient artists did. The age of these drawings makes youngsters of Egypt’s storied pyramids, yet every charcoal stroke, every splash of ocher looks as fresh as yesterday. Their beauty whipsaws your sense of time. One moment you are anchored in the present, observing coolly. The next you are seeing the paintings as if all other art—all civilization—has yet to exist.
1. Liquid Gold
It was morning, ebb tide, when our launch slid up to the shore—shiny and metallic and unstable as mercury—and stuck its nose resolutely into the mud. Felt clouds sulked overhead, temporary protection from the blazing April sun. The honey collectors hopped one by one down onto the shore, which swallowed them up to their calves before releasing a thick, flatulent squelch.
Zahangir, short, dark, and strong, with a deep scar across his left cheek, trudged up the bank and into the forest first. Then came Abdul Roshid, who had organized the group; Aliur Rahman, scholarly and wispy with wire-framed glasses and a scraggly goatee sprouting from his narrow chin; Abdul Joleel, practically silent for three days running; Haleem, whose voluptuous lips seemed almost indecent in his otherwise spare and angular face; Nurul Islam, compact and smiling and warm; Kholil, a big man with a penchant for big stories; and Aminool, Nurul Islam’s nephew, the youngest in the group, who spent the day hacking absently at the underbrush with a small machete (they call it a daa in Bengali) and looking after me with mute, gesticulatory enthusiasm.
Reminds me of my great uncle, who long harvested honey.