Afghanistan + other news

17 minutes estimated reading time


I couldn’t avoid doing a post on Afghanistan given what had been going on this week. The Afghanistan conflict posed a number of interesting questions about:

  • What privacy and security means for the people left behind in Afghanistan in the digital age
  • Why strategy is seldom a teacher and several countries have made the same mistake in Afghanistan – (Britain did so twice!)
  • The failure of intelligence in Afghanistan reminded me of the failure of intelligence agencies to realise that the fall of the Berlin Wall would happen. There was also a failure to underhand who the players were and their motivations in Afghanistan
  • What will Afghanistan mean for Pakistan moving forwards? Once out, the west has the perfect opportunity to shun Pakistan; which will leave the country vulnerable to Chinese predatory practices

The US Is Removing Records of Its War in Afghanistan From the InternetLives are on the line here, but helping them may mean destroying—even if temporarily—the memory of the war and all that happened. It’s a horrible problem to face. One potential solution would be for the U.S. and its allies to take as many Afghan refugees as want to flee the country. – it assumes that the Taliban and supporters like the Pakistani ISI intelligence agency haven’t been caching this material themselves over the years. Things got rolled up so fast, they probably have hold of records from Afghanistan government payroll ledgers to intelligence reports

1999 Afghanistan
1999 Afghanistan map, courtesy of the CIA

Germany Flew 65,000 Beer Cans Out of Afghanistan, but Just 7 People on an Evacuation Flight“​​There was transport capacity for alcohol, but not for the local staff in Afghanistan,” read a piece in Germany’s Bild newspaper, referring to the fact that the German military had earlier flown home 65,000 cans of beer and 340 bottles of wine before it withdrew from its bases in Mazar-e Sharif and Kabul at the end of June. – surely they could have blown up the alcohol and put people on the flights? – this is the kind of thing that fuels future grudges that morph into terrorist attacks. But it also shows the colossal failure in intelligence in a microcosm

How Social Media Helped ‘Taliban 2.0’ Take Control of Afghanistan | Vice – The modern, tech-literate Afghanistan Taliban aren’t the same as they were 20 years ago. Now they’re using technology to control the narrative and assert dominance.

Ranger Wing to be sent to Kabul to aid in evacuation of Irish citizens | Irish Times – if you want to understand what a mess Afghanistan is, look at Ireland. Ireland hasn’t been involved in Afghanistan and has had to send a special forces team in to try and get three dozen Irish citizens out of the country

SIGAR | Lessons Learned. The Ides of August – a couple of good post-mortem reads on Afghanistan. A few things struck me. Mission creep had been baked in, although much of that was down to the allies partnering with the Northern Alliance and liberal values. The dual nature of Pakistan, which I suspect Pakistan will get punished for in the longer term. The lack of intelligence on the main players involved such as former president of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai


Skincare Preferences by Generation | NPD GroupDespite the generational differences in skincare preferences, there are also commonalities. At the end of the day, it seems we’re not so different, after all. Whether they are more like my mother or my cousin, we see from consumers across-the-board that they are open to trying new things, are looking for clean ingredients, and simply want skincare that produces results from a brand they can trust. Regardless of the trends driving the category, the demand for efficacy and transparency is here to stay


Wolfsburg, we have a problem: How Volkswagen stalled in China | ReutersLast month, though, he said Volkswagen had fixed the problems revealed by the test, that the ructions of the episode had subsided and the carmaker’s Chinese business was recovering. “We have once again clearly one of the safest cars on the market in this segment,” Woellenstein told reporters in July. “We will once again take up the old leadership of the Passat.”But there is quite some ground to regain in the large family car segment. A total of 47,480 Passats were sold in the first six months of this year in China, some way behind the 91,110 Toyota Camrys (7203.T) and 89,157 Honda Accords (7267.T), according to LMC. The figures from the same period of 2019, before the pandemic struck, show how steeply the Volkswagen model has fallen away of late: 91,400 Passats were sold versus 111,968 Accords and 85,396 Camrys. – I am surprised by this, given Volkswagen’s obsession with common platforms

Xi Jinping Millionaire Relations Reveal Fortunes of Elite – Bloomberg 

Tata’s rise mirrors the sweep of India’s history | Financial TimesTata is no longer at India’s entrepreneurial vanguard. The likes of Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries and Gautam Adani’s eponymous group, with their investments in telecoms and renewable energy, hold stronger claim to be the “nation builders” of today. These tycoons represent a different way of doing business, one that has prompted much consternation. They lack Tata’s ambivalence about the state, aligning themselves unabashedly with Narendra Modi, and share few of the conservative Tatas’ qualms about “wealth creation for its own sake”.

Consumer behaviour

Parents in China are giving their children growth hormones to make them taller | South China Morning Post 

Biden is sandbagging on immigration – by Noah Smith – Noahpinionthe new American support for throwing open the country’s gates is more broad than it is deep. There’s a real desire to cleanse the stain of Trump’s human rights abuses and flirtation with white-nationalism — to at least be able to say that America is still the Nation of Immigrants, that we still have compassion for the people of the poor countries of the world. But beyond that idealistic impulse, I’m not so sure that most liberals have a strong, enduring commitment to welcoming in as many refugees, asylum-seekers, and economic migrants as possible. 

One reason is that the Democratic party is increasingly the party of the educated, and to most educated Americans, people like refugees and asylum seekers live in a different world. There’s little natural class solidarity or empathy there. And when it comes to skilled immigrants — the people waiting desperately for that backlog of 100,000 green cards to be processed — well, to most educated Americans, that’s the competition. Both for themselves and for their kids in schools.

Coronavirus: Singaporeans eye savings with bulk-shopping groups on WhatsApp, Telegram | South China Morning Post – interesting how these groups were informally formed


Beijing’s American Hustle | Foreign AffairsU.S. institutions, especially in finance and technology, cling to self-destructive habits acquired through decades of “engagement,” an approach to China that led Washington to prioritize economic cooperation and trade above all else. 

If U.S. policymakers and legislators find the will, however, there is a way to pull Wall Street and Silicon Valley back onside, convert the United States’ vulnerabilities into strengths, and mitigate the harmful effects of Beijing’s political warfare. That must begin with bolder steps to stem the flow of U.S. capital into China’s so-called military-civil fusion enterprises and to frustrate Beijing’s aspiration for leadership in, and even monopoly control of, high-tech industries—starting with semiconductor manufacturing

Why has the gig economy been a disappointment? – by Noah Smith – Noahpinion it seems likely that Uber and Lyft will survive, but not at the scale investors hoped — instead, they’ll mostly be boutique services for the well-heeled. And I expect they’ll probably take a hit to their valuations.


Engrave Danger: An Analysis of Apple Engraving Censorship across Six Regions – The Citizen Lab

Apple exports PRC censorship to Hong Kong and Taiwan – Protocol — The people, power and politics of techLiu believes what he calls the “lameness” of Apple’s China filter list suggests Apple might have its own in-house censorship team, because “if it were a Chinese company to provide censorship to Apple, they would’ve done a far better job.”

China’s Hong Kong Crackdown Sweeps Away Unions, Activist Groups – Bloomberg 

How Chinese pressure on covid origins probe shocked WHO — and led Tedros to push back – The Washington PostWhen a WHO scientist on a coronavirus origins probe announced in February that the idea that the virus leaked from a lab was “extremely unlikely” and unworthy of further investigation, senior WHO staff in Geneva were shocked. “We fell off our chairs,” one member told the authors. The team in Wuhan appeared to have given in to Chinese pressure to dismiss the idea without a real investigation. Later, when the WHO-China team released a report that again dismissed that scenario, Tedros pushed back, saying that the research was not “extensive enough” and that there had not been “timely and comprehensive data-sharing.” Since then, relations between the WHO and China have nosedived. Chinese officials said in July that they would not accept any further investigation into the origin of the coronavirus in China and accused the United States of pressuring scientists. The WHO last week released a statement that resisted the idea that “the origins study has been politicized, or that WHO has acted due to political pressure.”

China, the WHO and the power grab that fuelled a pandemic | News | The Sunday TimesIn 2017 Chan crowned her final year in office by welcoming Xi to Geneva. While he was there, she signed an agreement that committed the WHO to working alongside China on health as part of the country’s Belt and Road initiative. It was the first time any UN agency had signed up to the initiative, which seeks to extend Chinese influence and trade in more than 70 developing countries by financing infrastructure projects. The initiative is highly controversial because its critics argue that China uses it to shackle countries, particularly in Africa, to “unsustainable debt” as a way of gaining access to the continent’s raw materials and buying political favours. “I think health is too special to get into the really seedy politics that Belt and Road is part of, and I wouldn’t want the WHO to be associated with it,” Gostin argues. “The cost in terms of human rights and debt, and other adverse events for Africa, was a bridge too far.”

Hong Kong’s Leader Killed Her City – The AtlanticRegina Ip, a pro-Beijing lawmaker and member of Lam’s cabinet, told me that simply having the laws on the books would provide a “deterrent effect” to protesters, and that the fears of journalists and activists over the curtailing of freedoms were not “completely misguided.”

Why is advertising still ignoring people in their 50s and 60s? | Campaign – TL;DR lazy generational thinking and ageism


Why Hong Kong’s crypto crown is slipping | Financial Times 

Facebook (FB) Offers Loans as Tiny as $6,720 to Businesses in India – Bloomberg

China’s Hong Kong Crackdown: Billions in Retirement Money Blocked for UK Emigres – BloombergChinese authorities consider the BN(O) policy as a “means to destabilize Hong Kong,” said Joseph Cheng, a retired political science professor who left Hong Kong shortly after the security law was imposed. “These people are seen as traitors and fugitives.”


How the daigou can help new brands | Vogue BusinessThe classic image of the daigou is of an entrepreneurial and well-connected individual who buys global luxury brands on behalf of Chinese clients abroad, where prices are lower and hard-to-find products are more accessible. But the new model daigou is also working closer to home, and mixing emerging Chinese designers with foreign brands. The motivation for the evolution of the daigou’s role comes from a wave of young Gen Z Chinese consumers who are seeking more interesting and affordable fashion and don’t care as much about the name on the label. This is good news for new brands in China – and elsewhere. In a fiercely competitive market, any well-designed brand has the potential to catch consumers’ eyes. What’s needed in the early days of a new brand’s development is an effective sales channel. – Building a similar relationship with daigou, that brands currently have with fashion stylists


Insight & Strategy: #LikeAGirl | Contagious – on brands taking a leadership position – a great example by Always


[Report] Bad News, By Joseph Bernstein | Harper’s MagazineIn the beginning, there were ABC, NBC, and CBS, and they were good. Midcentury American man could come home after eight hours of work and turn on his television and know where he stood in relation to his wife, and his children, and his neighbors, and his town, and his country, and his world. And that was good. Or he could open the local paper in the morning in the ritual fashion, taking his civic communion with his coffee, and know that identical scenes were unfolding in households across the country. Over frequencies our American never tuned in to, red-baiting, ultra-right-wing radio preachers hyperventilated to millions. In magazines and books he didn’t read, elites fretted at great length about the dislocating effects of television. And for people who didn’t look like him, the media had hardly anything to say at all – give this a read

Inside the Hong Kong Newsroom at the Edge of Autocracy – The Atlantic – SCMP bias on protests


COVID slows Apple and Google production shift away from China – Nikkei AsiaAirPods — both entry-level and high-end models — were among the earliest products that Apple began making in significant amounts in Vietnam, having moved production there around two years ago during the height of U.S.-China trade tensions. Apple’s plan to bring some MacBook and iPad production to Vietnam has also been put on hold due to a lack of engineering resources, an incomplete notebook computer supply chain and the dynamic COVID situation, one of the people said. Production of smart doorbells, security cameras and smart speakers for Amazon, which recently moved to Vietnam, has also faced delays since May as assembly lines in the northern part of the country coped with a surge in local cases and tougher COVID prevention measures

Apple’s NeuralHash Algorithm Has Been Reverse-Engineered – Schneier on Security

Opinion | We built a system like Apple’s to flag child sexual abuse material — and concluded the tech was dangerous – The Washington PostOur research project began two years ago, as an experimental system to identify CSAM in end-to-end-encrypted online services. As security researchers, we know the value of end-to-end encryption, which protects data from third-party access. But we’re also horrified that CSAM is proliferating on encrypted platforms. And we worry online services are reluctant to use encryption without additional tools to combat CSAM. We sought to explore a possible middle ground, where online services could identify harmful content while otherwise preserving end-to-end encryption. The concept was straightforward: If someone shared material that matched a database of known harmful content, the service would be alerted. If a person shared innocent content, the service would learn nothing. People couldn’t read the database or learn whether content matched, since that information could reveal law enforcement methods and help criminals evade detection. Knowledgeable observers argued a system like ours was far from feasible. After many false starts, we built a working prototype. But we encountered a glaring problem

Our system could be easily repurposed for surveillance and censorship. The design wasn’t restricted to a specific category of content; a service could simply swap in any content-matching database, and the person using that service would be none the wiser. 
A foreign government could, for example, compel a service to out people sharing disfavored political speech. That’s no hypothetical: WeChat, the popular Chinese messaging app, already uses content matching to identify dissident material. India enacted rules this year that could require pre-screening content critical of government policy. Russia recently fined Google, Facebook and Twitter for not removing pro-democracy protest materials. 
We spotted other shortcomings. The content-matching process could have false positives, and malicious users could game the system to subject innocent users to scrutiny.
– Emphasis in bold is mine


Laptops Shortage Is Easing as Pandemic Demand Wanes – BloombergThe waning demand for PCs will likely last for at least several more quarters. Memory prices are dropping precipitously on fears the chip cycle is over. But it’s good news for anyone looking to buy a laptop, printer, webcam or router. Expect them to be much easier to find in stores this fall. – I am hoping that the price of SSDs will fall again

Robinhood Q2 earnings: Crypto makes up 52% of company’s revenue — Quartz – would I be right in thinking that there is more derivatives and CFDs of crypto being sold then than there is crypto and could be vulnerable to a market squeeze?

Intel with an old take on big.little for Alder Lake | EE News EuropeIntel’s next-generation desktop chip, code-named Alder Lake, is the company’s first hybrid architecture to integrate two core types – the Performance-core and Efficient-core. This is similar to ARM’s big.little approach which used a small core optimised for low power consumption with lower performance alongside a larger, higher performance core. Both cores could run the same code depending on the context, avoiding the problems of having a scheduler to allocate tasks to multiple cores. This has traditionally been a limiting factor for the system-level performance of multicore chip designs

IBM shows first dedicated AI inference chip | EE News Europe – interesting that they fabbed it using Samsung’s 7nm process. It has 22 billion transistors. Indicates a move away from GPUs to put machine learning back on the CPU


Epic’s Fortnite lawsuit has become a nightmare for Google – ProtocolGoogle ‘estimated in 2019 that it risked losing as much as $6 billion per year if app makers and app store operators banded together with Epic and began creating alternative distribution channels. So instead of offering a superior product, the company muscled its way to a market position now being viewed by U.S. regulators as potentially anticompetitive’ – this might feed into a wider FTC case later on given the focus on revenue. More related content here.