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Sina Odugbemi's blog

FT Weekend: Glimpses of Unattainable Opulence

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Why do we consume the media that we do, especially the ones we rely on all the time? Many media scholars argue that we consume media because of their usefulness to us and the gratifications they bring. This is known as the uses-and-gratification paradigm. Says Alan M. Rubin:
 

The assumptions of uses and gratifications underscore the role of audience initiative and activity. Behavior is largely goal directed and purposive. People typically choose to participate and select media or messages from an array of communication alternatives in response to their expectations and desires. These expectations and desires emanate from, and are constrained by, personal traits, social context, and interaction. [i]

If this is true, and I believe it is, then the media you regularly consume says a lot about you, particularly your expectations and desires.

Quote of the Week: Shimon Peres

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“Polls are like perfume: nice to smell, dangerous to swallow.”

- Shimon Peres, a Polish-born Israeli statesman who served as both Prime Minister of Israel from 1984-86 and 1995-96 and as President of Israel from 2007 to 2014.  In 1993, Peres was serving as the Israeli foreign minister when he and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin helped negotiate a peace accord with Yāsir ʿArafāt, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).  The three were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1994 for the peace talks which produced the Oslo Accords.
 

Quote of the Week: Zhang Lei

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"You need to have the ability to delay gratification. You have to focus and you have to have a clear mind.”

- Zhang Lei, Chairman and CEO of Hillhouse Capital Management, one of the largest equities investment firms in Asia, speaking on his longterm investment strategy.  Hillhouse, based in Beijing, typically invests in consumer, internet and media, medical treatment and healthcare, advanced manufacturing and commodity related sectors and manages $10 billion for leading endowments, sovereign funds, pensions and family offices.  Zhang also serves as a board member for several Asian companies, including Jingdong (formerly 360Buy), Blue Moon, Qunar and MNC/Global Mediacom. 
 

Overwhelming Pictures, Perturbing Reportage

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David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, opened a recent piece brilliantly titled ‘Aflame’ thus:

"Because memory, particularly historical memory, fails unfailingly, this summer feels like a uniquely horrific season of dissolution and blood."

Wars seem to be kicking off or intensifying everywhere. States are unraveling in what someone called ‘a great sorting out’. Global leaders and global institutions are struggling, unsuccessfully thus far, to contain, manage, and end not one conflict but several. And some of the conflicts are merging, evolving, transforming in ever more macabre ways. Above all, civilians are being killed in every one of these conflicts. Mortars are landing on homes. Women, children, the old and infirm are being slaughtered. The hard men – and they all seem to be men – leading these fights have welded iron into their souls. They have decided that they will not allow moral or legal niceties about protecting non-combatants to get in the way of an all-out drive for ‘victory’ by any means necessary.
 

Quote of the Week: Junot Diaz

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"I believe wholeheartedly that the experience of reading powerfully invites the reader to reach out to other people, to form community when they encounter language that they do not understand.”

- Junot Diaz, a Dominican-American writer and author of critically acclaimed DrownThe Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award; and This Is How You Lose Her, a New York Times bestseller. The duality of the immigrant experience is central to Díaz's writing.  He is also a creative writing professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and fiction editor at Boston Review.  
 

Quote of the Week: George R.R. Martin

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"An artist has an obligation to tell the truth. [...] that the true horrors of human history derive not from orcs and Dark Lords, but from ourselves. We are the monsters. (And the heroes too). Each of us has within himself the capacity for great good, and great evil."

George R. R. Martin, an American novelist and author of the international bestselling series of epic fantasy “Song of Ice and Fire,”  that HBO adapted for its dramatic series Game of Thrones.

Reputation and Governance Styles: The Leader as a Smart Aleck

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Because we have a global audience, I must start by explaining that, according to the Oxford American Dictionary, a smart aleck is “a person displaying ostentatious or smug cleverness’.  It also reports that one usage of the word ‘smart’ means: “(of transactions) unscrupulous to the point of dishonesty”. If you watch crime movies the way I do, there is a tendency to admire ‘smart play’, that is, ruthlessly clever and effective maneuvers. The best crime bosses are masters of ‘smart play’. In order words, they are smart alecks.

What is fascinating is how often (particularly in the massed punditry of elite global media) a capacity for smart play by political leaders is glorified. Leaders are routinely judged and compared with regard to whether or not they appear to shape the game, determine events, or impose their will on others and so on. If they do not seem to do that, they are dismissed as effete. If they seem to do that, they are admired and glorified.  What is particularly striking is how often the writers who say these things leave out ethical standards. I believe, for instance, that true evil is a willingness to act without ethical considerations. Yet, notice how often leaders are admired for ostentatiously clever play even if the methods are odious.

But I am interested in a much narrower question. And it is this: if we leave out ethical considerations, is a reputation for ‘smart play’ good for a leader? Does it make her more effective?  To throw this into bold relief, I am going to tell two kinds of stories- one domestic, and the other global.
 

Quote of the Week: Tim Harford

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"A good working definition of a bubble is that the price of an asset has become detached from the fundamentals, which means that the only way to make money in a bubble is to find a bigger fool to take the thing off your hands."

- Tim Harford, economics leader writer for the Financial Times. He is the author of four books and also writes the long-running weekly FT column, “Undercover Economist."

Quote of the Week: Lee Hsien Loong

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 "When people say they don't want a nanny state they are, in fact, in a conflicted state of mind.  On the one hand, they want to do whatever they want and not be stopped. On the other hand, if something goes wrong, they want to be rescued."

- Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister of Singapore. He became the third Prime Minister of Singapore in 2004, succeeding Goh Chok Tong and before that, his father- Singapore's first Prime Minister- Lee Kuan Yew.
 

The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State

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Can liberal constitutional democracy run the state in a manner that is both responsive and accountable to citizens without succumbing to incurable elephantiasis precisely because it is democratic? Does democratic governance inevitably lead to government as an ‘all-you-can eat- buffet’ (allegedly per Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore), and, therefore, bloat, fiscal crises and collapse? These crucial questions are taken on in an important new book by two of the leading minds around the Economist Magazine: John Micklethwait is the Editor of the Magazine, and Adrian Wooldridge is the management editor, who also writes the Schumpeter column. The book is: The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State.

The authors argue that there have been three and half revolutions in governance in the West, and each one is linked to an emblematic political thinker/economist. The first revolution was the rise of the nation-state, and the paradigmatic thinker is Thomas Hobbes, author of Leviathan. The second revolution was the rise of the ‘liberal state’, and the focus thinker here is John Stuart Mill. (Objection from a Bentham scholar: the authors do not do justice to the role of Jeremy Bentham).  The third revolution was the rise of the welfare state, and the authors discuss the ideas and efforts of Beatrice Webb.  According to the authors, these first three revolutions in governance were completely successful. The fourth revolution, the effort to roll back the bloated welfare state – the focus here is the economic thought of Milton Friedman – was only partially successful. The authors argue, I believe, that this revolution needs to be completed.
 

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