Bill Simmons-ing

Any US sports fan that grew up in the 2000s would have read Bill Simmons at some point. He pioneered internet sports writing in a lot of ways, and made us all think that we could do it to (sadly it’s actually pretty hard). I am one of the people who always enjoyed and appreciated what he did, even if it was sometimes annoying – I guess I have learnt that creative stuff is never always good so appreciate the highs more than I think about the lows, like remembering a holiday you were on or a past relationship one pines for.

Like anyone successful, plenty of people resent the prominence he has been able to achieve, and criticise some of his views.  But it is hard to argue that he hasn’t worked super hard and continued to try different ways of getting his views out there. He didn’t take no for an answer like a lot of us do. And he paved the way for people to become writers about a topic of which they are passively observing, and ti use one platform to branch into others. Sports writers before him were all in locker rooms interviewing players and coaches, making interesting angles and detached views difficult. They stuck to sports. Simmons began as a non locker room guy writing as a fan, and turned writing into interviews, producing and broader content management.

No matter what you think of his views, Simmons has also done a better job than any writer I know at giving other people chances. Who else has given anyone an obvious chance? I am sure there are plenty of people behind the scenes (David Carr springs to mind), but to leverage his popularity to hire a bunch of people no one had mostly heard of to create a cool website that made people feel like the web could be hipster too and the corporate conglomerates could produce niche content. People called it a vanity project, but who even cares if it was?

Anyway, I like Simmons (obviously). Because his documentary Andre the Giant is coming out now, he has done a bunch of interviews, which is relatively rare (people asking him question that is). But they are worth watching or listening to for the insights he gives into the creative process, or how he ended up becoming what he is now. Like with most people who make it, it’s a bit of luck, but there is always a lot of working harder than everyone else (sadly). So as follows..

  1. Simmons on a random Callaway golf show (does everyone have a show now?) talking The Ringer and other things for 30 mins
  2. Joining Marc Maron on the WTF to talk the life trajectory, ESPN and other things
  3. A little interview with ESPN about the Andre the Giant doc and how it came to be

Not a huge list, but still a list.

Recent reading and other things

Lot’s going on in the world, here is a list of my latest reading material and other interesting things:

  1. Let’s Talk About Why So Many Young Women Are Convinced Motherhood Is Going To Suck – why women don’t want to me mothers
  2. Beyond #DeleteFacebook: More Thoughts on Embracing the Social Internet Over Social Media – Cal Newport – a more strategic view of how to live in an internet age without being destroyed by social media ‘s hold on our attention
  3. Will HBO Stay in the Bill Simmons Business? – What Bill Simmons is doing for HBO and whether it makes sense for him to stay with them long term
  4. On Bill Simmons, an interview he did with some random guy from Callaway golf that is not much about golf and actually intesting
  5. Getting Rich: from Zero to Hero in One Blog Post – an old but great piece by Mr Money Moustache about how to live differently and have more control over your life and you time
  6. At Uber, a New C.E.O. Shifts Gears – Dara Khosrowshahi took over from Travis Kalanick when the organisation was in chaos which leads to an interesting New Yorker profile
  7. The End of Windows – from the Stratechery website and Ben Thompson, detailing the changes at Microsoft under their CEO Satya Nadella
  8. The Last Conversation You’ll Ever Need to Have About Eating Right – there is too much confusion out there about what to eat to be healthy, this is an entertaining conversation that doesn’t give quick fixes and points us in the right direction (more beans)
  9. Homo Orbánicus – I have no idea what is going on in Hungary, but I remember seeing in the news that they are pretty authoritarian these days, which is trending over in Europe as much as anywhere. This looks at how it happened.
  10. Two American Power Centers Are About to Clash – a good angle on an interesting trend in the US, the growth of DC and Silicon Valley as power centers and how they clash – from Tyler Cowen
  11. Thus Spoke Jordan Peterson – who knows why even Foreign Policy is writing about Jordan Peterson, but they are, and this sums up my feelings pretty well (the conclusion is a little extreme, but the process is right on)
  12. ‘Being Charlie’ – the sexual revolution of the 80s and 90s was hailed as a new era, and people like Bill Clinton were leading it. How does that look in the midst of the #metoo movement? Not that great.
  13. End of an Idea – this is a piece I want to read, but it is very long (my reading app tells my 87 minutes). It’s on the National Health Service in the UK, a service that has been the jewel of their political system that is being slowly gutted from the inside.
  14. For the Australia section – Batman: how it went wrong for the Greens – a look inside why the Greens lost the inner Melbourne seat they should have won (not a pretty scene)
  15. The fundamental operating model of Australian politics is breaking down – the trends of partisan voting in Australia (gradually voters are moving from the center to the sides) and what it means.

Excitingly, almost none of those mention Donald Trump. Happy reading.

What is going on in Saudi Arabia

Not the hottest topic in the world, but there is specific change happening in Saudi Arabia, and whilst oil is less important and the Middle East is less important to global stability that once in the past, significant changes in Saudi Arabia, an ongoing alley of western countries in the region has the potential to be significant. The changes centre around the new “leadership” of Mohammad bin Salmon, more commonly referred to as MBS. The nickname makes him sound cooler than he is and probably makes us cognitively take him less seriously.Meanwhile, he just purged the Kingdom of competitors to the crown (more difficult than it sounds) and become one of the closest allies of the Trump administration (as stupid as it sounds).

To  learn about MBS, some good pieces to read are

  1. London review of books on Saudi Arabian royal family changes within the context of the Trump administration
  2. Major profile of MBS by the most plugged in journalist in the Middle East – Dexter Filkens of the New Yorker
  3. A piece from Prospect magazine in the UK wondering if MBS will save Saudi Arabia

Royal families and oil money. The “Keffiyeh” doesn’t have the same ring to it as “The Crown”, and the definitive Netflix drama may never be made, but money and power and strange family relationships have their intrigue. You never know when the Middle East might be back in the thick of it again.

Tax cuts the sugar hit for our overweight economy

On the agenda in Australian politics since 2016 when Malcolm Turnbull was re-elected have been these corporate tax cuts. The current tax rate for corporations in Australia is 30%. The suggested cuts would bring that down to 25%. The idea being that it would stimulate investment, particularly foreign investment. Australia is being “left behind” from other countries who are “more attractive” to invest in, or have company headquarters in. The argument makes sense in a vacuum, just like choosing a hit of sugar over a grain bar does if you need instant energy.

Long term it is not better for anyone except big business. And the question is – are they they ones missing out in this changing economy? Is the goal of populist movements creating chaos in foreign politics to make life easier for big business? The opposite.  People feel like they are getting screwed, like the playing field is unfair. Tilted towards the elites. And yet in Australia, to keep destructive populism at bay, and the economy going, the big proposal is to make Australia more like other countries that are going through incredible upheaval. “Trump did it” and of course, any decision he makes is obviously worth following. Surely this is not the best we can do.

We want a financially healthy country, and a healthy world economy. Currently we have an overweight economy with housing and mining propping it up. In this complicated global world, everything is a competition. Manufacturing is dying because it’s cheaper to do in China. Retail is dying because ASOS is cheaper than Myer. And on and on. This is all made easier and more likely by free-trade, championed by both major parties, but particularly by the right wing.

Part of the reason it’s cheaper to do business in other countries is because the labor is cheaper. But another part (supposedly) of why a company would do business somewhere else is because of the tax rate they pay. We see this most clearly in Europe, where there is a free market within the EU but the tax rates vary wildly. This leads to some countries benefiting more than others. Ireland decided to become the “low tax” place, and as a result a lot of the tech company’s “headquarters” are there. But when is the last time you heard about Ireland’s economy killing it?

Ireland is still struggling. The smart people are leaving. The main staffs of tech companies are not in Ireland because Ireland is not London or Paris, and high skilled workers can afford to choose where they live. The “benefit” of tax arrangements mainly allow companies to funnel their money through Ireland for a marginal benefit to Ireland. Tax competition get’s Ireland tax revenue (although it’s still low because the tax rate is so low) but not that many jobs, or that much flow on stimulants to the economy. It also decreases the entire ability of the EU to benefit from all the profit companies are making from their citizens. It’s a slight gain to Ireland (a place where people are still leaving), for a net loss to everyone else.

This is how the tax competition works. You can see why big business pushes this idea of “missing out”, and countries (and states, and cities) needing to be “tax competitive”. Big business are the big winners from a global competition to lower tax rates and play governments off against each other. So the deeper question to tax cut is not about whether they will have the intended effect (this is questionable, at best maybe a sugar hit), but rather – do we agree with the rules of this game?

Is governments role to compete to win over corporations that are driven by profit objectives? Because if that is the goal, then ultimately the argument should not be able tax cuts, but about shifting the power to corporations – the government wants big corporations to define the rules of the game, that is the big picture of lower taxes. Here we all were thinking that democracy was about government setting the agenda. In the tax competition game shareholders are more important than citizens. Yet that is not the discussion.

So if we cut, and get some of that investment, and then others cut and it goes away. I think we all know what the government will say in response to that – “we need to cut corporate taxes to be competitive”. It won’t end. Therefore the argument should not be about cutting corporate taxes, but about what is an effective tax rate that we should be working towards. Why is cutting it by 5% beneficial? What is the ideal number that both stimulates innovation but also ensures businesses play fairly and treat employees and the society in which they profit from well. These discussions are unfortunately not being had.

Of course, the worst thing about black and white “tax cuts” conversations is that the fundamentals of successful economies are not being discussed. Australia (or anywhere) will be successful if they develop a skilled workforce that produces output that society values well. It will be successful if the best people want to stay here, and not (like Ireland) want to leave. California is one of the highest taxed placed in the US, but everyone in tech and entertainment is there. New York is the same and everyone in finance is there. Value based economies are more sustainable than competition based ones. Productive economies are better than ones with cash flowing through them (do you want to live in the Cayman Islands?). High taxing Nordic countries are hardly struggling, they are innovative and happier than other places. They are providing value to their citizens.

People want to live in exciting places with good transport good services and young people who drive culture. People are leaving Sydney because it has less of that. Business want’s tax cuts whilst at the same time saying they will leave if the infrastructure does not get better. $65 billion would pay for a few projects, wouldn’t it? Maybe we can kill two birds with zero stones.

The UK and Brexiting

Brexit was one of the big events of 2016, and whilst the consequences of others are known, Brexit remains relatively ambigious today. Primarily because it hasn’t happened yet and the consequences of what might happen remain completely unknown. Of course this has not stopped the Brexiter’s from claiming success because the economy is doing fine (again, noting nothing has happened so this demonstrates nothing) and from the Remainer’s continuing to be depressed about what is to come. It’s like if the transition period after a US election was 2 years instead of two months. It would seem like nothing has really changed Obama would still be in and the politics would have stabilized. But eventually, it will hit.

There have been some interesting pieces written about the events of Brexit and the inner workings of UK politics. Like most conservative parties in the western world, the Tories seem to be a complete shambles of mixed opinions. From hard liners and borderline racists to rich elitists who just want low taxes and to be able to keep their Chateau in France, it’s a complicated mix. That Brexit flies in the face of the traditional free market thinking of conservatives makes it even more complicated. That the leader in charge of making it happen now was a Remainer add’s to the mix. Boris Johnson, the most famous Brexiter in the government is running around as foreign minister and appear like he could not give a toss about lying to the public constantly during the campaign. Imagine if the general of the Army gave orders to pursue a risky strategy, and then as soon as it was agreed, quit his job. You would question the order a bit right? Britain is a confusing place.

Nonetheless, some of the good reading on the topic is:

  1. Britain beginning to comprehend their place in the world in the NY Review of Books
  2. A questioning of what the Brexiters actually want considering they know the consequences of their actions
  3. The state of British politics in the midst of the strange conservative victory at the last election and a very left wing guy leading the Labour Party
  4. Thoughts on the sociology of Brexit
  5. Some broader points from the Intercept about why people are voting for extreme change that will likely make things worse

It’s strange that such a monumental event at the time still hasn’t been implemented. That there are actually pieces calling all the analysis overblown, even though it hasn’t been implemented. If you order a burger you don’t write the review while you are waiting for it to come to the table.

All this episode has taught everyone is that there a lot of people really hurting, that a minority movement can become majority through exploiting fears, lies, and potentially interesting data tactics. (The old school British way!) It has made the conservative government less stable, and demonstrated the divide that is beginning to blur party lines. The free traders were always the conservatives. In the past, the protectionists were Labour with their union workers. There is a blurring of these lines now, as social issues like immigration become more associated with the left, along with (gradually) higher taxes. But protectionism, with Brexit, now comes further into the realms of the previous free traders. Is this just a culture war? This is the same trend in the US, and in other countries. It likely means that elections will be fought on different issues than they used to, with the winners  being those who can best maintain their previous base with their success based on gaining new voters through creating narratives that focus on their issue of choice. How much do conservative voters care about globalism? How much do Labour voters care about higher taxes? These questions will be asked again and again.

As for the Brexit consequences? We will see. It will all depend on the deal that is made. With a general unwillingness to make a deal, and the continual delays, it is likely the current optimism is buoyed by the potential that there is no Brexit.

To judge otherwise is to be a fool.

Facebooking

In the week of stories about Facebook, it is easy to get lost in the information. These links will prove helpful in figuring out the most important big picture elements of the story.

  1. James Allworth on Facebook’s misplaced strategy that led to them giving away all their data for free
  2. Ben Thompson with another angle on Facebook’s brand
  3. A podcast between Ben and James where they cover the issues and throw a nice amount of shade on Facebook and Cambridge Analytica
  4. John Lancester in the London Review of Books with the best “What is Facebook” piece from a philosophical angle. More in the LRB regarding the timing of the outrage when Facebook was giving away data for free for so long.
  5. David Remnick with reasonable take on Silicon Valley’s ideology
  6. One of Zuckerberg’s many interviews, this one is the most awkward because Kara Swisher DGAF
  7. Inside some of the machinations in Facebook as the story came out
  8. A previous piece on Facebook (too) slowly reckoning with the problems they have
  9. NY Mag highlighting Facebook’s struggles to figure out their business model with some truly troubling quote that highlight the absurdity of their power

These stories all highlight that Facebook actually have no idea what they are doing. Very troubling. Particularly as they have a lot of power. The theme running through a lot of this is that Facebook doesn’t want to offend or put anyone off, which is how they go about making decisions. They strive to have no ideology, demonstrated by Zuckerberg not wanting to make any decisions about content. From the Recode interview:

“What I would really like to do is find a way to get our policies set in a way that reflects the values of the community, so I am not the one making those decisions,” Zuckerberg said. “I feel fundamentally uncomfortable sitting here in California in an office making content policy decisions for people around the world.”

“[The] thing is like, ‘Where’s the line on hate speech?’ I mean, who chose me to be the person that did that?” Zuckerberg said. “I guess I have to, because of [where we are] now, but I’d rather not.”

They want everyone to use their platform all the time. But don’t want to make decisions about how the platform is used for fear of putting people off. Zuckerberg and co want all the power and none of the responsibility. Is this an ideology we can trust?

(Frantically trying to delete my Facebook data)

The stupidity of Australian Cricket

With the recent revelation and footage of the Australian cricket team being caught red handed cheating in South Africa, the media has blown up with righteous outrage, and even the prime minister has commented on the farcical nature of the issue. It’s just cricket, and no one has cared about test cricket outside of the Ashes for a long time. (It’s actually a great example of the media being full of people who were around when test cricket mattered – but that is another issue)

Friends of mine who barely care about cricket and generally think the Australian cricket team are a bunch of entitled wankers are outraged. Once I started reading into it I realised I was pretty outraged too, which is something considering I haven’t watched a test match since Australia beat the Pom’s 5-0 in the Ashes that was Warney and co’s swansong. There are a few random things at play here that combined to make this scandal particularly absurd.

The most interesting one is why we all inexplicably care:

Righteous nationalism

A big part of nationalism is feeling like being Australian means something, that it somehow matters and makes us better for it. Whilst this is likely mythical (there is nothing actually special about being Australian), there is something we feel when meeting an Australian overseas, and connection that we like to know exists. Part of that is caught up in the concept that Australians are “good blokes” or “good chicks”. I have always liked it when I hear and overseas friend has met an Australian and conveys these remarks to me, like it somehow reflects well on me too. We have this myth of being a fair nation, and punching above our weight. Even in cycling, where everyone else get’s done for drugs, Cadel Evans has never been questioned as a drug cheat. There was always a feeling that it would just never be possible. His integrity is too high.

People are offended by this incident, even those that are not that into cricket, as it forces them to confront the idea that Australian’s are just like everyone else. There is nothing more special or integral. We are subject to the same pressures and rules as everyone else. We will cheat if we are under pressure if we think we can get away with it.

Another element that we are not used to as Australian’s is being the best. Which brings us to the second key point:

Cheating because you are good, not despite it

Strangely, cricket is one of the sports that Australia has been truly dominant. The team has punched above it weight from a population standpoint, we pump so much money into the game, and we have been so successful that we have begun to expect to win. When the dynamic changes from hopes and “just being there is a win” to expectations and criticism, the dynamics change. Once you expect to win, not winning becomes a failure, and failures must be avoided. Most cheating comes at the highest level, not at the underdog level. Once you are elevated to hero status, also a part of the expect to win repertoire, there is also less to keep you accountable, and it’s more common for people to feel invincible. This is often true in other sports. Diving is much more rife in Euro football in teams with higher expectations. But it makes sense. Once you are holding onto something as opposed to gaining it, the dynamics and desperation change. This is Loss Aversion in real life. We hate losing things more than we like getting them. The Australian cricket team is losing their status as the world’s best. It’s a slow process, but it is happening. They are losing their relevance on the Australian sporting scene. This combination leads us to a place where cheating is more likely.

The ultimate kicker, is hard to predict but also quite clearly the key factor here:

Utter Stupidity

The plan, cooked up by the “leadership group” to cheat in broad view of the camera’s is so dumb it is hard to fathom. It’s like if Lance Armstrong had taken a giant syringe and put it in his ass before starting the Tour de France. The absurdity of the player’s excuse and lack of remorse highlights the incredibly stupidity on display. There is not much further to say apart from this.

Cricket has been a place for the privileged in Australia for a while. The locker room culture has prevailed for longer than other sports, and their has been less oversight on the culture of the team. That no other country combines caring about cricket with the financial resources we are willing to devote to the sport has led Australia to be the best in the world.

For how much longer?