Bitcoin Is Bigger Than The Bubble

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There may be people who still haven’t heard of Bitcoin, but there can’t be many and they must live a long way back from the road. From its beginnings as a niche of niches somewhere on the outer belt of the internet, this strange and next-to-impossible-to-understand mathematical construct has turned into a phenomenon that has transformed the loose change of its earliest adopters into millions …

First published on CapX: read more here

Trump has been consistent – and wrong – for decades

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Trumpism remains grotesquely fascinating. And as the Trump “administration” cavorts and capers its way to what increasingly looks like an early termination, there is still a small window of time in which to reflect on what Trump is, and how this extraordinarily compelling and talentless individual has captured and destroyed the 45th American presidency.

Into this field of debate comes a new book entitled Donald Trump: The Making of a World View. The authors, Brendan Simms and Charlie Laderman, are both historians, at Cambridge and King’s College London, respectively. They have clipped speeches and trawled transcriptions of interviews going back to 1980, when Donald Trump started to make known his views on world affairs. Their conclusion is this: at least ideologically, Trump is not as erratic as he seems. On the contrary, he is drearily consistent …

First published on CapX: read more here

Erdogan’s authoritarianism is fuelled by resentment

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Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the strongman president of Turkey, scourge of liberals and secularists, promoter of conservative Islam and Islamism throughout the Middle East, baiter of the West, and jailer of journalists and judges, has been very lucky in his enemies.

Piece by piece Erdogan has overturned a century’s worth of carefully constructed secularism in the largest and most dynamic economy in the Middle East, and he has done so with the unwitting assistance of his political opponents. Like a martial art master, Erdogan draws his enemy close. Then he turns and uses his opponent’s weight against him. Effectively, he weaves a political narrative that casts whoever opposes him as representative of a murky, secretive and privileged order …

First published on CapX: read more here

South Sudan: a lesson to the world in how not to build a nation

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There is no standard definition of what makes a country viable as a country. What are the materials, the history, the culture, the institutions that allow a territory to grow into a something more than just a geography of resources? What are the building blocks of an accountable and democratic state?

Whatever these ingredients are, we know what happens when they are not present. And nowhere is this lesson clearer than in the case of South Sudan.

Only five years ago, South Sudan was the newest and most optimistic member of the community of nations, a state-building project backed by the goodwill and expertise and cash of well-intentioned supporters around the world.

Today, the country has imploded into a fireball of violence and suffering, an off-the-radar disaster comparable in its scale to Syria (the number of refugees recently passed the one million mark). In other words, the outcome of the project has been as disastrous as its ambition was great. But why?

First published on CapX: read more here

All The Kremlin’s Men: decoding Putin’s game

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“Russia is Putin. Russia exists only if there is Putin. There is no Russia without Putin.” These are the words of the Kremlin’s current policy-wizard-in-chief, Vyacheslav Volodin. Many people in Russia happily believe this kind of clap-trap, and even the many who don’t are quite content to live with it. How did it get to this? How did the obscure middle-ranking state functionary of 25 years ago end up as one of the two or three most powerful people in the world?

First published on CapX: read more here

Political Profiles, By A Master Of The Art

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The political profile is a paradoxical thing, and that is part of its fascination. Power is rarely introspective: at its height it is usually unable to reflect or describe itself, and even at rest the last person you would ask for insight into the politician is the politician. But there comes a phase in political careers when the essential battles are over, when there is no message to stay on, but all is still recent enough to be vivid in the mind and to inform some part of the present day political contest. This is the moment that the eminent historian of government Peter Hennessy chooses to conduct the profiles that are collected in his new book Reflections: Conversations With Politicians …

First published on CapX: read more here

Leadership Lessons From Hipster Central

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According to one estimate there are about 11,000 business books published every year. Many sell well and some sell millions: business advice is very big business. Companies and entrepreneurs – the active ingredients of capitalism – seem to be weirdly desperate to find out how to operate the machinery of capitalism. Leadership, teamwork and organizing are all in the mix, but what they really want to know usually boils down to this: how do you run an efficient organization?

First published on CapX: read more here

Eat A Crazy Salad In Kathmandu!

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Kathmandu!

Even the name is powerfully magnetic, drawing in dreamers and crooks from every corner of the earth. Up until the 1950s the Kingdom of Nepal remained closed, a Himalayan mystery; today fifty dollars cash will buy anyone a visa at the airport, and you are off, down into the city that is a prodigy of every kind of pollution and intrigue and incense-wreathed enchantment …

First published on CapX: read more here

Drone Drama Comes Of Age

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Now the terrorists are on the screen in front of you, live, just as it happens. Their bombs are primed and ready for use, today. Their automatic weapons are loaded. Yet all the while above the jihadi house a Reaper drone circles at 20,000 feet, its missiles locked on to the very room where the suicide attack is being assembled. Out in the street civilians pass. Just feet from the bomb factory a young girl sells bread from a stall. Do you fire the missile?

First published on CapX: read more here

A Picture Of Cape Verde

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In the islands of Cape Verde off the coast of West Africa there is an institution called the aluguer. Perhaps ‘institution’ is too weak a word. The aluguer – from the Portuguese verb ‘to rent’ – may at first sight seem nothing more than a shared taxi in the form of a Toyota van or a flatbed pickup truck. In reality the aluguer is the backbone of society and economy: not just a bus but also an informal courier and messaging service, a small-scale cash-banking network, an ambulance, a limousine, and a theatre on wheels. Take an aluguer through the cobbled streets of Mindelo or the mountain roads of Santo Antao and you will see more than the view.

First published on CapX: read more here

The Descent Of Egypt

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In January this year an Italian graduate student from Cambridge University disappeared in Cairo. Giulio Regeni had been researching independent trade unions in Egypt; on the evening of January 25 he was on his way to meet an academic colleague from the British University in Cairo. According to the Associated Press news agency Regeni got as far as a security check in a metro station close to his apartment. Then he disappeared.

First published on CapX: read more here

The Propaganda Game: Inside North Korea’s Dreamworld

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The Propaganda Game is a documentary film made inside North Korea that attempts to take that mysterious country’s version of reality at face value. Set mostly in the capital Pyongyang it shows North Koreans eating ice cream in the street, skateboarding in the park, and generally larking about during what seems to be a perpetual sunny Sunday afternoon. And strangely enough this approach ends up telling us more than any number of hard-edged news reports. Invited to tell their own story on their own terms the North Koreans reveal more than they intended.

First published on CapX: read more here

The Oscars: A Gambler’s Guide

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Heads up: the Oscars ceremony is on the last Sunday in February. By the end of the evening you can expect some serious surprises and some cruelly overlooked losers, accompanied by public emotions that will certainly be profuse and may even be real. By far the biggest deal of the night is the award for ‘Best Picture’. This is the only award that all the 6,000 or so Academy members can vote on, and it is also the award that has the biggest impact on current box office and future productions. Here’s the CapX guide to who might win Best Picture and why.

First published on CapX: read more here

City, Vanishing

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According to an account by Leonard Rauwolff, a German doctor and botanist who visited Aleppo around 1575, the following story was told (by a palace gardener) of Suleiman The Magnificent, the Ottoman emperor. Suleiman was being solicited by his advisors in Aleppo to drive the Jews from the empire. The emperor heard them out. And then ‘he bade them look upon a flower-pot, that held a quantity of fine flowers of divers colours, that was then in the room, and bid them consider whether each of them in their colour, did not set out the other the better and that if any of them should decay, or be taken away, whether it would not somewhat spoil the beauty of the rest.’

First published on CapX: read more here

Spotlight Deserves Several Oscars

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So far it is shaping up to be a big year for Oscar-nominated ‘true life’ stories in the cinema. This weekend following hard behind The Big Short comes Spotlight, a film about two great American institutions – the big city newspaper and the Catholic church. Spotlight is the name of the investigative desk at The Boston Globe, and the story is the almost incredible one of the highly organized involvement of the church hierarchy in concealing, even facilitating, the sexual abuse of hundreds of children over many years, and the work of the Globe’s team in uncovering the story. Almost incredible, except that it is now known to be true.

First published on CapX: read more here

Chinese Money On Sunset Boulevard

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Wang Jianlin is China’s richest man. With a personal fortune of over $30 billion, he owns businesses that range from department stores to commercial property, from e-commerce to media to tourism. But that is not enough for Wang Jianlin: in the past he has made no secret of the fact he also wants to be a Hollywood film mogul. And this year his dream has been fulfilled.

First published on CapX: read more here

Review: The Big Short

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Successful investors are lucky. With the kind of timing that most PR people can only ever dream of, Paramount Pictures has chosen a week when stock markets around the world have been in freefall for the UK release of The Big Short, which is a film about the last time that stock markets around the world were in freefall. Film-making itself is a form of high risk financial gambling, and to get that kind of result from your bet you need luck in abnormal quantities. The schedulers at Paramount have been so lucky that if you made a film about it, no one would believe your story.

First published on CapX: read more here

The Franchise Awakens

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The astonishing global success of Star Wars is a partly inexplicable phenomenon. Why is this sometimes entertaining but always derivative space opera the most valuable piece of intellectual property the world has ever seen? That mystery is now part of its success. Decade in and decade out audiences queue and queue again, as if to repeat the question. Too often they come away miserably traduced by yet another cynical marketing manoeuvre – and of course the mystery of Star Wars only deepens. Now with The Force Awakens we have the latest instalment of the ‘franchise’. Fans and anti-fans the world over are in their different ways braced for disaster. Just how bad can it get?

First published on CapX: read more here