Read on the street 9 November 2019

"Ich bin (still) ein Berliner"

Good morning,

This week I was lucky enough to have the chance to attend a talk by John Plender, the FT’s senior editorial writer on China, and author of several books including Capitalism: Money, Morals and Markets, thanks to an invitation from an organisation called the Asia Scotland Institute. I came away more convinced of my own lack of detailed knowledge of the country and made a promise to myself to read and seek out more from Chinese writers and artists. Please do send me any recommendations you may have. I would so appreciate that, thank you. I hope you'll enjoy this mix of history, tech and people stories with an underground focus.

Now onto this week's reads...

The story of Tunnel 29

It’s 30 years to the day since the fall of the Berlin Wall, ending a generation of division of one of Europe’s great capitals. In this edge-of-your-seat listen, Helena Merriman tells the story of one of the most audacious and successful escapes from the East, thanks to the group of people in West Berlin who dug a tunnel right under the feet of border guards and the “death strip”. 

It’s also a fascinating media story of the American television network that funded and filmed the escape – making it an early example of reality TV, but in the most chilling and dangerous circumstances. 

And whilst I appreciate the pun in the title of this week's Read of the Street, yes, "Ich bin (still) ein Berliner".

Find out more in a BBC News long read , and listen to the accompanying Radio 4 Intrigue podcast.

Chasing unlimited clean energy

Amid a wave of regional chauvinism and protectionist policies, a construction site in Provence, France has become the unlikely multilateral bet placed on our future by many major countries. Here, efforts by China, the European Union, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the US are being put into building the first ever practical fusion reactor. If they are successful, the result would be unprecedented: a nearly limitless supply of clean energy.

Read more about their progress on Bloomberg.

Dice man

In this abridged version of “In Search of the Dice Man”, an essay from a new collection of 97,196 Words by Emmanuel Carrère, this strange yet captivating piece goes in search of the mysterious author of 90s cult classic the Dice Man. 

Read in The Guardian.

Cheap DNA sequencing is helping us fight fish fraud

Just one per cent of all fish imported to the United States are tested to verify its authenticity. For a country that imports 90% of its fish, this leaves a gaping hole in which fish fraudsters can operate. A study shows that about 15% of all swordfish consumed in the States is actually shark, for example. But thanks to cheaper and easier DNA decoding techniques, change is now afoot.

Read about how they are doing it on Quartz.

Work less but produce more? In Japan, Microsoft is trying to do just that What if I told you, you could increase employee productivity by 40% by giving everyone the day off? That’s exactly what happened in Japan when Microsoft dared to trial a four-day week. In the UK, productivity is a massive hindrance to our growth. Japan is struggling with the same problem largely due to a strongly hierarchical working culture that makes change and innovation difficult to achieve. So here’s a solution we can all enjoy.  

Read on ZDNet.

Conservative Californians are leaving in droves for “America First, Law and Order” red states

The story goes that an increasing number of Republicans are physically moving out of the state of California, driven by their discontent with state policies. They say that the state government is opening its doors to illegal immigration, relinquishing gun ownership and debilitating law enforcement. Another factor driving red Californians away, however, is also the high cost of living. I leave it up to you, dear reader, to decide how much weight to give this article but the premise of people voting with their feet is certainly taken to new extremes here. 

Read about the political exodus on Zero Hedge

London Underground: the dirtiest place in the city

If you live in London, I advise you to avoid this article; it will ruin your weekend. To cut a long story short, air pollution on the tube was found to be 10 times the WHO recommended guidelines. The worst offenders are, as expected, our old friends the Central, Victoria and Northern lines, on account of being some of the deepest and oldest. Commute on these bad boys daily and drive up your chances of heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, infertility… the list goes on. Despite a year-round cleaning operation (yes, someone’s mopping those tunnels!), fine particles of who-knows-what are kicked up into the smog and easily inhaled into the furthermost recesses of the human lung. This FT investigation is incredibly detailed and utterly staggering. I, for one, will be hitting the pavement from now on.  

Read in the Financial Times (£) 

McDonald’s CEO scandal and the problem with consensual office romances

Office relationships between consenting adults have been a matter of debate for decades. In this article, Vanessa K. Bohns explains part of her research and why she believes that this type of relationship is problematic. Most office romances, it turns out, involve the traditional dynamics of a normal relationship, but this is often amplified by a “power amplification effect” that leads to those involved acting out the wishes of their partner or feeling pressured to do so. 

Read on The Conversation.

A bit of light relief for you here and a return to my most nerdy instincts. Just how accurate have sci-fi depictions of artificial intelligence been? This infographic shows some of the major predictions that sci-fi got (at least partially) right along with the actual technology. Strap in, Back to the Future fans. 

See it to believe it on the Visual Conversation.

It feels like we have been grappling with a way to measure health and wellbeing as a more valid index than GDP, or at least one to work alongside GDP, for some time now. But it will take more than a TED talk, endless conversation and field trips to Bhutan to bring that about. Lord O’Donnell’s speech gives us some practical indicators of how that measurement could be achieved. 

Read at Pro Bono Economics


Written by Harriet Moll, Creative Director