Friday, September 26, 2014

Coalition grows against IS; Saving eurozone through debt forgiveness; Smart phones, dumb users

1 Coalition grows against IS (Straits Times) Three more European countries on Friday promised warplanes to join the US-led air armada battering Islamic State targets in Iraq, as coalition forces seek to destroy the jihadists' oil business.

Britain, Belgium and Denmark approved plans to join the war in the air, but Washington warned up to 15,000 "moderate" rebels would need to be trained and armed to beat back the militants in Syria, where they have set up their de facto capital.

The Pentagon said air strikes - which continued for a fifth day in Syria - had disrupted lucrative oil-pumping operations that have helped fund the militants, but that a final victory, perhaps years away, would need local boots on the ground. The new European countries recruited to the Iraq operation are expected to add a total of 19 fighter jets in the air campaign over the country.

2 Saving eurozone through debt forgiveness (Bob Swarup in The Guardian) The eurozone debt crisis never went away. It merely acquired a misleading veneer of resolution thanks to grand promises, political chest-thumping and frazzled financial markets that were desperate to believe in happily ever after.

Today, there is an accentuated sense of deja vu. Europe faces the spectre of deflation. Some members, such as Italy, have toppled over the edge for the first time in more than half a century. Germany threatens recession, and France is a basket case. Enter quantitative easing (QE) as the white knight, as envisaged by the European Central Bank. This is fast becoming a modern-day rain dance. QE is not a cure. It is a shot of morphine that sedates an ailing patient while doctors figure out what to do in the long term.

Europe has a singular problem. It has far too much debt, and in a globalised world much of it is bound in a complex web, particularly among the weaker economies – namely Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain – and their main creditors: France, Germany, the UK and the US.

This is a game of dominoes. Any solution that does not involve large-scale debt forgiveness is doomed to failure. In the 1920s, the Dawes plan - an ambitious scheme of credit easing to tackle the intractable debts left by the first world war - fuelled an enormous bubble that ended in the great depression, as the underlying reality of sovereign insolvency became clear. It also created a fertile political climate for the nationalism that ended so disastrously more than a decade later. Money is divisive when things turn sour.

Here is a solution for Europe that tackles the root cause. Write down the debt – not piecemeal, as events force you discordantly to that realisation, but rather coordinated and on an ambitious Europe-wide scale. This acknowledges that the system is saturated with debt, much of it bad, and restores the capacity for future economic growth. This is not unprecedented. The Brady bonds are an earlier example that successfully tackled the seemingly intractable Latin American debt crises of the 1980s. Europe needs its own Brady bond plan.

3 Smart phones, dumb people (Sushmita Bose in Khaleej Times) My smarty-pants phone is synced in with Facebook, and, apparently, one of my friends had posted something about her ‘birthday’ gifts already arriving on her wall; so Smarty picked up on the cues and decided to flag me, and I wished her on the wrong day. (Three days later, it again sent me a reminder — this time, for the socially-correct date/occasion).

It’s all very unnerving, this tendency of trying to second-guess in an attempt to make life easier for the customer — who is king (or queen). They are saying that there will be a time, soon, when smartphones will shape our thoughts, and one will be as smart as one’s smartphone is… we’ll be, literally, walking the talk.

I am not of a fan of technology and I firmly believe that Smarty and its ilk have had a dehumanising effect on homo sapiens, while holding the species in thraldom. Having said that, I have to admit there have been some rather nice interfaces. I’ve discovered an overtly social side to myself thanks to apps like Whatsapp and BBM. And I’m infused with a false sense of security about my filmmaking abilities when I create short snatches of moving pictures on Story Maker; maybe smartphones make me delusional — but, hey, more power to them.

Recently, I downloaded a free app (it actually happened by chance, when I touched an icon above the one I had to touch in order to play a round of Sudoku) that keeps track of the number of steps every day. Alongside, it also calculates the number of calories I am expending.

Smartphones, in the palm of our hands, are a manifestation of tech overtaking our lives. We’ve been copouts, willing genuflectors, happy to be guided and auto prompted. A couple of days ago, I read the bizarre findings of a survey: 77 per cent respondents (in a developing market like India, so imagine how far gone the figures would be if it were a developed one) said that, by 2025, they would have been to a house that speaks to them and reads their mind. My hand is already talking to me. And reading my mind.

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