People develop hobbies. Leaders are people as well and they develop hobbies, too, some of which become both peculiar and political. The first time I noticed this was when it became clear that Ronald Reagan was overly interested in Nicaragua and this lead to the Iran–Contra affair that unfolded during his second term in the mid-1980's. My thought at the time was, "Why is he so interested in this small inconsequential Central American country?" followed by a shrug and, "This must be a hobby of his."
Fast forward to present day and we have Putin loving to pose shirtless, Trump and his tweeting, and now Kim Jung-un.
With the spectacular death of Kim Jong-nam, Kim Jung-un's hobby now seems to be killing his domestic and family enemies in high profile exotic ways. This hobby seems to have started with the execution of uncle Jang Song-thaek in December 2013 -- he and his associates purged at the same time were executed with an antiaircraft gun. And here is another 27 Feb 17 WSJ article about the hobby: North Korea Executes Officials as Malaysia Probe Continues South Korea reports purge, makes fresh charges in killing of dictator’s brother Kim Jong Nam by Jonathan Cheng and Kwanwoo Jun.
Hobbies can be peculiar, and if they are pursued by the leader of a totalitarian social system they can become quite spooky as well.
Over the last couple of years scientists have developed gene editing technology that can get very precise on what changes are made to the DNA. This technique is called CRISPR and is just a beginning in gene editing.
Just a beginning but, boy, what attention it is already getting!
The Economist has a special report on this in its Feb 18-24, 2017 issue. It centers on how issues and thinking have changed since Dolly, the sheep, was cloned in 1996. This 14 Feb 17 WSJ article, Door Opens to Gene Editing in Embryos Technical questions need to be resolved first; clinical trials involving germ line would require extensive oversight by Amy Dockser Marcus, describes how ethical committees are already trying to decide what kind of editing should be done on human genes. The article indicates that The Curse of Being Important is strong in this one, and indicating there is already lots of worry.
From the article, "Gene editing offers the possibility of treating many diseases, and there are already trials or advanced research under way to use the techniques to try to cure individuals with HIV, sickle cell anemia and cancer. But adjustments made to the human germ line—eggs, sperm and embryos—don’t just change the health of a single person; they can be passed on to any future offspring.
For that reason, a gene-editing trial involving the germ line would have to include oversight not only of people participating in the trial but also following the long-term health of future generations, presumably including people who haven’t been born yet and never consented to being in a clinical trial."
And, again, these folks are really, really worried.
"Once technical questions are resolved, clinical trials could start with extensive oversight, the report said. But the report urged limiting trials to the “most compelling circumstances,” such as when no other treatment exists, the condition is very serious, and the genes in question are well known to cause a particular disease."
Being this cautious is going to have two results:
o The first one is obvious: very slow progress.
o The second one will come about if this technology proves to be a quick, cheap and easy way of doing the editing and as a result becomes world-shakingly popular: using it will develop into an underground industry functioning much like today's drug culture does.
This second result is the one we really need to be worrying about, not the results of using the technology itself. We don't need to add another War on Drugs to our social repertoire.
The revolution in Turkey that began with the failed coup attempt last July is still very much in progress. This 4 Feb 17 Economist article, Turkey’s purges are hitting its business class Once among the country’s most dynamic entrepreneurs, the “Anatolian Tigers” are having their firms confiscated, talks about how the purges are now moving to Turkey's business classes.
From the article, "Not long ago, this industrial city [Kayseri] was touted as the birthplace of the Anatolian Tigers, a generation of conservative businessmen who helped create Turkey’s economic boom in the 2000s. Today many of the Tigers are behind bars in the mass arrests that followed an attempted coup last July. The boom is over. Exports from the region have fallen by at least 4% over the past year. Investment has dried up. For the local economy to recover, says Mahmut Hicyilmaz, head of Kayseri’s chamber of commerce, “our industrialists and our investors need a sense of security.”
They do not have it. Roughly 40,000 people have been arrested across Turkey since the summer, and an increasing number are businessmen, from construction magnates to owners of chains of baklava stores. Their crime, say prosecutors, was to have bankrolled the Gulen movement, a religious sect accused of masterminding the coup."
This means that Turkey is still an unstable place. And this instability means that Turkey is still likely to get involved in a bloodletting war (my term) with a neighbor in addition to many more forms of domestic misery.
Many people of many cultures have an instinctive fear of strangers. These days one way that fear expresses itself in developed nations is as worry about strangers being terrorists and stealing jobs from natives.
The reality is that immigrants have been through a lot of hell to get to this new country they have come to and that makes their temperament well suited for engaging in positive forms of disruptive innovation -- for engaging in entrepreneurship of many forms.
This 4 Feb 17 Economist article, Immigrants are bringing entrepreneurial flair to Germany While native Germans are growing less eager to start businesses, new arrivals are ever more so, describes this happening in Germany.
From the article, "Germans are famous for hard work and efficiency, but not necessarily for entrepreneurialism. They are less likely to start a new business than Americans, Swedes or even the French. But the country’s recent wave of immigration appears to be giving its startup rate a boost. In 2015, 44% of newly registered businesses in Germany were founded by people with foreign passports, up from just 13% in 2003. In all, about one-fifth of those engaged in entrepreneurial activity were born abroad."
As long as humans are engaging in the heavy lifting of getting the world's goods and services produced immigration is going to have a positive effect on that happening.
What is going to be fascinating to experience is what happens to immigration when automation and artificial intelligence are doing the heavy lifting in the productivity realm, not humans. What difference will that make to immigration trends?
Several years ago, at the beginning of the trend of increasing interest in driverless cars, I forecast that one of the big changes coming was in car ownership styles -- many people would loose interest in owning a car and instead think of it as just another piece of furniture in their lives.
It looks as if that forecast is getting closer to reality.
This 9 Feb 17 WSJ article, Future of Cars: Hitching a Ride From Your Bank French bank Société Générale will list a stake in its car-leasing business by Paul J. Davies, is talking about banks and leasing companies planning on getting deeply involved in owning more cars.
From the article, "If the future of car ownership lies in the sharing economy, Société Générale is moving into pole position and is about to make a lot more noise about it.
The French bank has been quietly building a big and profitable car-leasing business.
Self-driving cars and shared ownership have the potential to change the car industry dramatically. Some analysts believe this ultimately will lead to a string of listed fleet-ownership companies like ALD, spun out of manufacturers or new entrants such as Alphabet, the parent of Google."
My prediction is that most people will loose interest, but not all. Cars will be affected by the Tattoos and T-Shirts phenomenon -- some people will still see a lot of personal expression in owning a car, and as a result car ownership will evolve into something similar to the horse-owning styles of today. Those cars that are personally owned will be really fancy ones, their owners will take great pride in knowing how to drive them, and lot of owners will participate in car shows.
-- The End --