Learning by Proxy | Brexit

Britain is just working hard to make things a little harder for itself in 2020, applause! In the meantime, all rich people are changing their citizenship; China's interesting bail-out program

The fibres of what constitutes our societies are coming apart. I think a huge part of it is because of social media and polarisation. I also think an even greater part is because we do not know our history. There are 195 countries in the world today. This is a result of a long march of consolidation that has taken place over the last 1000 years. 

Think about history. Do you think there were 7800 nations back in 1000 BC? 

No. 

But then it splintered to become many before it went back to a few. The divisions that are being sown today are setting us on a path to be many again. I will dive into some of that in the edition next week. For now, let us look at a tiny group of islands north of mainland Europe.

United Kingdom Marching Band

Brexit

In 1527, Henry VIII wanted to annul his marriage. At the time he was needed to request the Pope in Rome for the annulment. The political differences between Rome and England resulted in a parliamentary declaration in 1532 naming Henry the Supreme Head on earth of the Church of England. This started the process of English Reformation and the move of the state away from Roman Catholicism. 

The Irish, devout Catholics pushed back; and were put down with a heavy hand. So typically English! This also caused the first of the mass migration of Catholics from England which led to the population of land across the Atlantic Ocean which we know today as the United States of America. 

Ironic, the first migrants came to America seeking religious freedom!

The United Kingdom OR the United Kingdom of Great Britain is a group of countries which are part of the British Isles which include England, Scotland, Whales and Northern Ireland. These four countries have their laws created at the Parliament in London and are ruled by the Monarchy. 

Ireland finally freed itself from the clutches of England in 1921 through the Anglo-Irish Treaty. But before that treaty was signed, in typical English fashion, the parliament, through the government of Ireland Act of 1920 created Northern Ireland which already self-governing was a part of the United Kingdom. Just like everywhere else in the world where a British man drew a map (India, Isreal, etc.) much strife was created for 30 years due to this separation. The Good Friday Agreement gave Northern Ireland self-governance. Ireland and the UK being a part of the EU eliminated borders between Northern Ireland and The Republic of Ireland.

The Republic of Ireland continues to be a part of the European Union, while the UK and by extension Northern Ireland will no longer be part of the EU. 

Hence...

Enter Brexit

Through a referendum conducted in 2016, the year that will forever remain synonymous with voter manipulation through social media - Britain voted to exit the EU. Three Prime Ministers and 3 years later the UK agreed upon a trade deal with the EU which can potentially create hard borders between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

In that context

The overall aim of the Northern Ireland protocol was to avoid the return of a "hard" land border between Northern Ireland, in the UK, and the Republic of Ireland, in the EU.

All sides agreed they did not want the return of border checks - or other physical infrastructure - which could become a target.

One of the solutions in the treaty was to keep Northern Ireland in the EU single market for goods, unlike the rest of the United Kingdom.

[…]

The way these measures are implemented on the ground is still being negotiated by UK and EU officials - who meet in a joint committee.

But if they cannot reach an agreement by the end of the transition period, on 31 December 2020, and there is no free-trade deal, that is when parts of this new proposed legislation could come into play.

For example, the protocol states companies moving goods from Northern Ireland to Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) would have to fill out export declaration forms.

But the Internal Market Bill would give ministers the right to overrule or ignore this part of EU customs law.

Source: BBC

The EU officials are none too pleased about this and are threatening to trash the agreement that is in place and move the UK towards a hard Brexit. One of the articles in the Brexit agreement states that the clauses of the EU agreement will take precedence over any UK domestic law. The UK attempting to pass this legislation is being seen as an attempt to break international law.

The EU says Johnson’s bill would collapse trade talks and propel the United Kingdom towards a messy Brexit while former British leaders have warned that breaking the law is a step too far that undermines the country’s image.

Johnson, though, said it was essential to counter “absurd” threats from Brussels including that London put up trade barriers between Britain and Northern Ireland and impose a food blockade - steps he said threatened the United Kingdom’s unity.

Source: Reuters

It does not help that there is a power vacuum in Northern Ireland and nobody is there to represent its people and their will.

But in January this delicate arrangement was upended when Sinn Fein, which hopes for a united Ireland one day, withdrew from a coalition with the Democratic Unionist Party, which wants Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom.

The government stopped working and the assembly stopped meeting. A major overhaul of the region’s ailing health system was postponed, and all long-term decisions about government spending were put on hold.

[…]

As the standoff drags on, and polarization increases, people find it harder to envisage Northern Ireland as an autonomous entity. “We’re back to this binary situation where people either see it as a problematic part of the U.K. or as a part of united Ireland,” said Graham Walker, a politics professor at Queen’s University, Belfast.

Source: New York Times

The politicians in London are playing with fire without the slightest regard for what the consequence could be.

Rachel Powell grew up in South Armagh, where during the Troubles a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland was patrolled by British troops, often attacked by Irish republican militants. She said she’s deeply concerned about what will happen next.

“The British government has not got a clue about what it is like to live on the border, and it is again using it as a political football,” said Powell, a lobbyist with the Women’s Resource and Development Agency in Belfast.

Source: Washington Post

Given the work-from-home world that we today live in; is immigration such a big deal even?

Around a quarter-million people from the EU have left the UK economy since the start of the year, according to Britain’s Office for National Statistics, as the number of EU nationals who were employed, unemployed, or economically inactive declined substantially. “The UK labour market has seen a pretty dramatic change over the last couple of months,” Sanjay Raja, an economist at Deutsche Bank, said in an email. The drop in labour participation from EU nationals suggests many workers went home during the pandemic, perhaps because of travel restrictions, Raja said.

Source: Quartz

Given how kind 2020 has been, I do not expect a resolution. A hard Brexit would be catastrophic to the economy on both sides of the channel. Countries are suffering some of the worst economic downturns in recent memory and the cases are expected to spike again in winter. The last thing that they need, is to enter 2021 with supply chains disrupted. The UK has been the financial capital of Europe for decades and this will cause financial disruption as well. 

JPMorgan Chase & Co. is moving about 200 billion euros ($230 billion) from the U.K. to Frankfurt as a result of Britain’s exit from the European Union, a shift that will make it one of the largest banks in Germany.

Source: Bloomberg

Scotland had voted to remain a part of the EU. Northern Ireland also does not want this exit. England has decided to jump headlong into this. There are murmurs in Scotland to seek independence from the UK. 

Best of luck Kingdom - United or not remains to be seen.

When your country is a dumpster fire

The premise of Brexit has been immigration. Citizenship is a commodity bought and sold. In most countries, you can throw in a bunch of cash as an investment and buy their citizenship - including Britain. The business is a called Citizenship and Residence by Investment (CRBI) and there is a thriving industry. With the current pandemic situation countries that have great healthcare and low infection rates are finding themselves in great demand. 

London-based CRBI advisory firm Henley & Partners saw a 49% increase in enquiries in the first two quarters of 2020 compared to the same period last year. A competing advisory firm, Arton Capital, saw a dip in interest in the first quarter of the year as the pandemic spread in Asia. But enquiries rebounded and have increased 25% since April according to founder Armand Arton.

Source: Quartz

It would come as no surprise that a large number of British and Americans High Net-worth Individuals (HNIs) are opting to move themselves to other countries. 

Bailing them out

When a company is in trouble, it often seeks buyers whose capital can bail the company out. At times it is hard to find the right capital. In times like the ones we are faced with today, there is little capital available for troubled companies. In China, the government has found novel ways to source capital. A government-owned highway development company was in crisis.

Fiery grain liquor and highway maintenance are strange bedfellows. But the unusual matchup is precisely what the Chinese government has orchestrated by tapping booze maker Kweichow Moutai to rescue a state-owned highway operator through a massive bond issuance.

The state-owned parent of China’s most valuable listed company, which is based in the impoverished southwestern province of Guizhou, plans to issue up to 15 billion yuan ($2.2 billion) in bonds to help Guizhou Expressway pay off its debts, with proceeds from the bond sale going towards buying a stake in the highway operator. The company’s shares plunged by almost 7% this week after the company filed documents to the bourse for approval.

Source: Quartz

What are moves like these going to mean for privately owned enterprises in China? Kweichow Moutai is no small fry, it is the largest liquor manufacturer in the world, surpassing AB InBev.

One man's loss…

To protect the data privacy of Indians and to a certain extent retaliate against the Chinese, India banned a whole host of apps. One of them, a game, PUBG was published by one of the largest Chinese Internet companies - Tencent. It emerged once the ban went into effect that the game was being run by Tencent under license from the South Korean owner!

Guess who plans to distribute it in India?

According to a Business Line report, citing multiple sources, after severing ties with Tencent, PUBG is eyeing the Indian market with a long-term view. “The talks are in an early stage, which began just after the government’s second round of bans. Officials from both sides are working out the contours of how to structure various aspects of the deal.”

“Legal experts from both sides are exploring possibilities on how revenues should be split, whether it would be 50:50 or Jio guaranteeing PUBG revenues based on a fixed number of users every month,” sources told Business Line.

Source: Inc42

It is amazing how this conveniently played into the hands of Jio.

Also

How the smoke from the US fires spread. Read the whole thread

Since I had written about the catastrophe that electric power is unleashing on the world, last edition; it made me happy to see this. Airbus is developing a hydrogen-powered aeroplane. [link in French] Don’t get excited, they plan to launch it in 2035 after the end of the human civilisation as we know it!

Another concept from Embraer.

After deploying such technology on Mars, finally tyres that cannot be punctured! Coming near you.

I had mentioned Belarus in the edition titled Anger. When the people are against the regime…

And the questioning of the PM Cares fund in the parliament

Songbirds had to change their tune thanks to the noise that we have been making. With the lockdown in place and decreased human activity. Their call is transforming again.


You have come this far, so I assume you enjoyed reading this. If you are not subscribing but still want to know when Learning by Proxy drops; follow me on Twitter @viveksrn 

It takes me time to write this and if more people read it and comment on it, it encourages me, so please do share this post with anyone who might like to read it.

Signing off…

Courage and Stupidity

A thin line divides the two. What determines which side you are on?

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Courage ~ mental or moral strength to venture, persevere and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty

and

Stupid ~ given to unintelligent decisions or actsacting in an unintelligent or careless manner

There is a thin line that separates courage and stupidity. 

Often, people determine whether it was courage or stupidity based on the outcome. What I have noticed is - if the outcome is favourable, the person is called courageous; if the outcome is not favourable, they are deemed stupid. In business, when was the last time, you came across a courageous failure. 

What is courage?

I had once met an Everest Climber who has summited the mountain twice. He had attempted the climb five times, failing the first three times. He told me although he did not summit; the first time was the best. Getting to the summit of Everest involves crossing several crevasses several meters wide with ladders and ropes. Also, the last 850 meters of the climb is called “The Death Zone”. The oxygen in the air is so low that you require oxygen tanks. If you do not reach the summit and climb down before your oxygen runs out, the cells in your body will start dying due to hypoxia. 

Snow Field

He was blissfully unaware of all this when he set off to the base camp, the very first time. He could not acclimatise well on his first climb and had to be airlifted quite early. Despite having seen the danger and he went the next time because he wanted to summit Everest. 

While the first time was a sheer act of stupidity, it took courage to go the second time. Because he was aware of the consequences this time. He knew how easily he could end up dead. He knew that mountain had as many dead people buried in it as most cemeteries on the planet. 

Courage is when you know what the consequences could be and you still take the leap. Leaping without any idea of the consequences is stupid. 

It takes a unique mindset to be willing to undertake a risk despite knowing all possible outcomes. One is prepared for the worst outcomes and hoping for the best. At times blissfully ignorant people also pull off impossible feats. That is an act of sheer stupidity where the outcome turned out to be favourable, not courage. Had they known what could happen; would they have still done it?

What is Stupidity?

Steve Jobs, when he returned to Apple in 1998 was asked by a journalist; "What do you think about what the Wall Street Journal wrote about Apple?" 

He said, "You know when I and Woz started Apple we did not read the Wall Street Journal. I did not even know what the Wall Street Journal was! Had I known, I would have probably nudged Woz and told him we don't stand a chance."

They went about building what they loved and it served them well! But it also brought them to a place where Apple ended up with neither of them in it.

Everyone wants to be Steve Jobs but nobody wants to end up thrown out of their own company to be him. Few have the courage. I am sure even Steve jobs himself was unaware that he had the courage till he was faced with the consequence.

The thin line is the knowledge of the consequence. That line determines if the act was courageous or stupid.

I have often found myself sitting squarely on the stupid side of the divide. Truth be told, most founders take the plunge because they are stupid enough to. If they were to know all the possible consequences, they probably would never even bother starting a venture. This kind of stupidity is important as well. It allows us to do things that others would not dare to. 

Or as Steve Jobs famously said - Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish.

Learning by Proxy | The Electric Future

The world has determined that electric vehicles and renewable energy is the future, is it?; the fires seem to be quite selective; Can you just impose trade restriction? WTO sides with China!

Did you know that it was only in 1901 that Oil was first pumped out of the Earth? The first oil company was set up by the English in Iran; the Anglo-Persian oil company. It took just one world war to move all ships and vehicles from coal to oil. And by 1980 we knew we were changing the weather of the planet.

After the Second World War, nuclear energy was considered the solution to global energy requirements. Then there was Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and more recently Fukushima.

Over the last 30 years we have been going two steps forward, one step back with renewable and a more concerted effort started with the Obama administration in 2009. To me, it just seems like, as humans, we prefer death by a thousand cuts rather than one swift blow.

Electric Car

In the summer of 2003, two entrepreneurs, who had invented the e-book business back in 1997, sold it and decided to pursue a new venture. They decided to take a Lotus chassis and add batteries to it and create an electric car. The genius that they accomplished was to design a motor that world run like an AC motor with DC input. DC is binary, full power or no power and this allows for limited acceleration. AC, by comparison, is a sinusoidal wave that allows a range of output.

A year later they were looking to raise a Series A and struggling to put the USD 7.5 Million together. A young dot com Millionaire showed up with a USD 6.5 Million cheque. His name was Elon Musk and the company we are talking about is Tesla. Over the subsequent years, the co-founders were ejected from the company for not being able to drive sales and Elon Musk took over as the CEO.

Elon Musk and his need for Tesla to survive resulted in a PR push projecting him as a messiah trying to save the planet. In reality, he just created a new problem. Li-Ion batteries started to be produced at a different scale thanks to cars. The application of this technology before this was in small electronic devices. Lithium-Ion batteries are called as such because Lithium is the carrier of the electron and hence the current. The battery consists of much greater quantities of Manganese, Cobalt, Nickel and other rare earth metals. The trouble is recycling them is tough. 

The travesty is that Germany and Japan had for decades been experimenting with Hydrogen Fuel Cell cars. They need to be refuelled with Hydrogen, much like we fill Petrol today and the byproduct is water vapour! Even today, there is a vast network of Hydrogen fuel stations across Germany and Japan.

On that note - After harnessing Direct Current (DC), Edison had decided DC was a solution. A young apprentice who worked in his shop called Nikola Tesla came up with Alternating Current (AC). Edison could not stomach the fact and berated Tesla and declared AC impractical. He even went so far as to put on a show in the middle of New York, electrocuting horses and dogs to make people fear AC and adopt DC. Dues to technical shortcomings DC lost.

Incidentally, Elon Musk did the same to Hydrogen Fuel Cell, claiming that Hydrogen was unsafe and highly inflammable. 

You know another highly inflammable substance - Petrol. 

Not very much unlike Edison; Musk berated Hydrogen Fuel Cell technology. He ensured that research into Fuel Cell died and the technology was not made any safer. He sunk to the lows of opening up Tesla’s patents so that other automakers chose Li-ion Cells. The real irony is that Elon Musk’s car company is called Tesla.

This is not a war of technology but one of infrastructure. If there are no recharging stations, no matter how good the Li-Ion battery, it will not succeed. Similarly, no matter how good Hydrogen Fuel Cells are if there are no Hydrogen fuelling stations - checkmate. More auto manufacturers adopt Li-Ion, it spurs more infrastructure for it, the fate of the other technology is sealed. 

China was amongst the first nation to get on board with the electric car experiment and today is buried in landfills full of spent Li-Ion batteries. Two years ago every country was releasing an EV Policy. And now…

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has floated an expression of interest (EoI) to invite companies that can assist in recycling and refurbishing of end-of-life lithium-ion batteries as well as printed circuit boards (PCBs), according to documents seen by The Indian Express.

Source: Indian Express

Elon Musk is certainly aware of the garbage armageddon that he is unleashing. Certainly why he is so desperate to get to Mars.

Not to mention we will probably run out of Lithium in the next 10 years at the rate at which we are consuming it. Chile, Bolivia and Argentina form the Lithium Triangle and hold about 80% of the deposit on earth. The current appetite is so high every nation is scrambling to buy mines in the region. The USA in the meantime is busy organising coups. 

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has stirred up a Twitter storm after seemingly suggesting that he has no objections to carrying out regime change operations for his company’s benefit. But some argued Musk was joking.

The provocative comments were made after the billionaire businessman suggested that another government stimulus bill to help boost America’s faltering economy would “not be in the best interests of the people.” 

Source: RT

It certainly is not a joke. You see the condition of the Middle East today. South America will resemble that in 10 years. 

An Estonian startup is trying to bring to an end the Lithium domination. They have been developing a battery using Graphene Technology. Graphene is a single atomic layer of carbon and has incredible properties. The trouble has been scaling production. It is very hard to make.

It can be charged in just 15 seconds and can go through hundreds of thousands of charge-recharge cycles without degrading. Meet the “SuperBattery” developed by Estonian startup Skeleton Technologies, which could solve some of the biggest problems still holding back the transition away from fossil fuels.

Source: Sifted

This is one of the battery technologies that seems interesting and can help us move away from the Lithium-Ion Battery.

Renewable Energy

The entire premise that electric cars will help reduce emissions is predicated on the assumption that the electricity will be generated using renewable sources.

I wrote a previous edition on Energy and how the visionary moves made by ARPA-E has moved the world towards building renewable energy supply chains. The economies of scale are kicking in and prices are falling precipitously. Even the story of renewable energy being the saviour is all a lie. Solar and Wind are both a recycling nightmare.

[…] because the solar e-waste glut is coming. By 2050, the International Renewable Energy Agency projects that up to 78 million metric tons of solar panels will have reached the end of their life and that the world will be generating about 6 million metric tons of new solar e-waste annually. While the latter number is a small fraction of the total e-waste humanity produces each year, standard electronics recycling methods don’t cut it for solar panels. Recovering the most valuable materials from one, including silver and silicon, requires bespoke recycling solutions. And if we fail to develop those solutions along with policies that support their widespread adoption, we already know what will happen.

“If we don’t mandate recycling, many of the modules will go to the landfill,” said Arizona State University solar researcher Meng Tao, who recently authored a review paper on recycling silicon solar panels, which comprise 95 per cent of the solar market.

Source: Wired

Solar panels use a whole host of rare earth metals and while they have a long life, that life eventually comes to an end. When it does, dealing with the leftover cells is challenging. We do not have the technology to deal with the quantum of solar cells that will arrive at end of life. 

You would think Wind Turbines made of metal should not be a problem. But they pose a different challenge.

The municipal landfill in Casper, Wyoming, is the final resting place of 870 blades whose days making renewable energy have come to end. The severed fragments look like bleached whale bones nestled against one another.

[…]

Built to withstand hurricane-force winds, the blades can’t easily be crushed, recycled or repurposed. That’s created an urgent search for alternatives in places that lack wide-open prairies. In the U.S., they go to the handful of landfills that accept them, in Lake Mills, Iowa; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and Casper, where they will be interred in stacks that reach 30 feet under.

Source: Bloomberg

If renewable energy is also a bad solution, then the question that begs to be asked if what is the right solution? Many including Bill Gates have maintained that Nuclear is the right way to go.

In that context,

While we are on the subject, is this not all about reducing pollution? This…

Oregon Fires

When you look at the images of the Oregon fire destruction, what do you see?

One thing seems to be common - Standing Trees. I think nature is out to exterminate our presence and cleanse itself.

USA meet WTO

The American government has been acting strange with China especially when it comes to trade. There have been two rounds of tariffs levied on China at random. Their companies have been asked to sell themselves. Crazy nonsense that China has been enduring rather stoically. 

The World Trade Organization ruled today that US tariffs on Chinese imports are illegal under global trade rules.

The new taxes in question were imposed on Americans by President Donald Trump, ostensibly put in place to combat Chinese efforts to steal intellectual property from US companies through coercive investment pacts, among other tactics. Now, the WTO says the US’s blanket tariffs aren’t a permissible solution under trade agreements the US signed on to starting in 1994.

[…]

Consider that traditional US allies Australia and the European Union both weighed in on the dispute—in China’s favour. Both submitted formal comments saying that they think China’s exploitation of foreign intellectual property is a problem, but that the US arguments about multilateral trade rules were incorrect.

Source: Quartz

The US has been slowly alienating itself. It began by pulling out of the Paris Convention and denying climate change. Karma is a bitch! A third of the country is burning and another third is underwater. Being in a position where your greatest allies from 80 years align themselves with China! Now, that requires some talent.

Facebook Campus

Facebook started at Harvard as an aggregator of hostel facebooks. 15 years, several acquisitions and even more copying later, Facebook does not resemble its former self. Furthermore, the company does not appeal to the younger demographic. So what does the company do? Launches Facebook for college - Campus.

Facebook is getting back to its roots today with the launch of a new product called Campus, a section of the main app specifically designed for college students. Campus is designed to be a place where students can interact only with peers at their school; they can access a Campus-only News Feed and join Groups, events, and group chat rooms, called Campus Chats, about campus life. In a nod to the original Facebook, they’ll even have access to a “Campus directory” where they can find and friend other students.

Source: Verge

What this would ultimately mean for the company and its fortunes remains to be seen. I feel pretty confident that it would be a qualified disaster.

Nvidia Armed

As a kid when I heard Nvidia, I thought gaming. Nvidia makes some of the best Graphics Processors (GPU) in the world. It has off-late been associated with Bitcoin since GPUs are used heavily to mine bitcoins. This has changed the fortunes of the company. You could have bought Nvidia shares for USD 20 in June 2015, as of yesterday it was priced at USD 510. The company has been doubling sales since 2015, every year.

They bought ARM from Softbank last week. A chip architecture that powers almost every mobile device in the world as well as 

The deal values ARM at $40bn (£31.2bn), four years after it was bought by Japanese conglomerate Softbank for $32bn.

ARM's technology is at the heart of most smartphones, among many other devices.

Nvidia has promised to keep the business based in the UK, to hire more staff, and to retain ARM's brand.

It added that the deal would create "the premier computing company for the age of artificial intelligence" (AI).

Source: BBC

Nvidia has the most sought after GPU and the company that produces the architecture for the most sought after CPU. It is a whole widget!

Nvidia is a US company and fears are rife that the company that was born in Cambridge might be forced to move. Also, with Brexit looming anything could happen.

If you want to know more about ARM - a thread

Delivery

Across the world, e-commerce companies have been grappling to bring the cost of delivery down. The big problem - people. They have to be paid salaries every month. It's like a subscription service that you want to get rid of. Several companies have experimented with drones but drone regulations across the globe are not free enough to allow any of these companies to move to drones completely. Snapdeal, the homegrown e-commerce company is now attempting to use the current pandemic to start contactless delivery using autonomous vehicles in Gurgaon. 

Ottonomy IO has developed delivery robots for autonomous last-mile and local deliveries which can run along sidewalks and local streets autonomously.

“We are investing heavily in artificial intelligence and machine learning to develop future-oriented capabilities. Delivery via robots is part of the evolving future of logistics and we are excited to partner with Ottonomy IO to test these technologies. Contactless delivery via robotic vehicles is a step in building a safer and convenient future for shoppers”, said Snapdeal spokesperson in a medial release.

Source: Inc42

It remains to be seen what technical challenges are faced and also if this model takes off or not. We can all wait and watch. Given that this is Haryana, I expect many of them will be stolen!

Also

Delhi is getting a new Parliament building which will be a triangle! Read here

People are dying - literally - of sickness, of fires, of anger and stupidity. And some of the best minds in the world are busy…

You think it is all bad, get disappointed and then…

Would you like to brush your teeth like this?

On activism


You have come this far, so I assume you enjoyed reading this. If you are not subscribing but still want to know when Learning by Proxy drops; follow me on Twitter @viveksrn 

It takes me time to write this and if more people read it and comment on it, it encourages me, so please do share this post with anyone who might like to read it.

Signing off…

Desirable Difficulty

Difficulty is essential to being able to learn. If it is not difficult, you probably learnt nothing.

When a student attends class, the teacher tries to teach. They try to prompt and support them to reach the answer. Different students have to struggle a different amount and need different amounts of time to perfect something. Our academic cycles mean that we are unwilling to afford them the time that they need to figure things out. When you struggle and figure something out, you learn.

American psychologist Martin Seligman experimented as a part of his research into depression in 1967 at the University of Pennsylvania. He put two dogs in two separate cages. He then passed an electric current through the cages, enough to cause discomfort to the dogs. Each cage had a lever that the dog could press. In the first cage, upon pressing the lever the electric current would stop. In the second cage, the lever did not affect the current. While the dog in the first cage quickly learnt to press the lever and put itself out of discomfort; the second dog after many attempts stopped even trying.

The dogs were later switching between the cages. The first dog which had been able to stop the electricity tried to act to stop it, the second dog just lay on the ground whimpering. The second dog had Learned Helplessness.

It had learned that nothing was going to be in its control and nothing it could do would change its destiny.

When you take up something challenging or difficult, succeeding by yourself is critical. If you do not succeed at all you learn helplessness. At the same time, if you do not feel it was a challenge at all you do not retain anything.

What did you learn?

How many of you remember how to cycle? Is there anyone who did not fall while learning to cycle? Learning to balance has a certain amount of difficulty built into it. Every person who has learnt to cycle would have had to learn it the hard way. This difficulty in learning is desirable. It leaves you with a sense of accomplishment as well as a memory of it which is far more deeply ingrained.

Also, why most motor skill-based activities that people learn, like playing the piano or a guitar is never lost. Nobody can make it easier for you. There is no shortcut.

How many of you still remember how to solve a calculus problem? Most are often helped through rote learning formulas or even entire methods. There is little that is learnt and even less retained.

Difficulty is essential for learning and without challenge nothing is often learnt.

This is true whether it is a course that you are working on or whether it is a business that you are trying to build. Most of the successful entrepreneurs that I know are those who have spent time with their customers, no matter how hard or challenging.

A story comes to mind. Sumant Moolgaonkar is a Padma Bhushan who played a role in two of India’s most well-known automobile companies - Tata Motors and Maruti Suzuki. While at Tata Motors, he would disappear during lunch at times and return quite late to work. Rumour had it that he was having lunch with some of the affluent dealers of Tata Motors. One day other executives decided to follow him to see where he went and found that he would drive up to a Dhaba (highway restaurant) to sit with the truck drivers and learn more about what they thought of their trucks. Trucks that were often produced by Tata Motors.

Even today I find entrepreneurs who are unwilling to go that extra bit to get time with their customers and seek validation and feedback.

There is a certain degree of difficulty that is important in life. That difficulty is a necessary ingredient to learning as well as to success. Overcoming it teaches you a lot more than anything else and has the power to transform you.

Also, remember - Most challenges in life CAN be overcome.

Learning by Proxy | Reliance

Reliance is doing a double act; Is the virus an act of god?; Even if your country wants it, you need a passport to leave the country!

Another week went by; where Donald Trump was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize; the aggression at the LAC between India and China resulted in shots fired after decades and the west coast of the US has been left looking like a burnt toast. Seems par for 2020.

The bad news just does not stop arriving this year. Part of me thinks we set ourselves up for this. It is just that all the dominoes are falling at the same time. That does not mean everyone is having it bad.

Let us dive in!

Retailing Reliance

When the economy is not performing well, the governments tend to reduce interest rates to encourage borrowing. The hope is that the borrowings will be invested to grow the business thereby creating jobs and increasing consumption.

On the other side, capital hates this low-interest environment. Hence, Capital began moving to the stock market seeking higher returns, causing the “Stupid Boom” that we are currently witnessing! Capital looks to buy assets that will appreciate over time. Listed or un-listed, businesses represent an asset. 

A telecom company in one of the world’s largest telecom markets, which has managed to corner over 30% of the market share in just 5 years, sounds like a good asset. All the better if they can absorb a lot of capital.

The entire fundraising ecosystem, the world over, has been put to shame by the USD 15 Billion Reliance managed to raise for Jio Platforms at the peak of the pandemic. This move effectively allowed Reliance to make itself debt-free and align with some of the most dangerous photocopiers in the world. Birds of a feather…

It also helps if the spectrum that you built the empire on belongs to your brother, whose company has gone bankrupt!

The Supreme Court on 14 August had asked Reliance Jio why it should not be held liable to pay the dues of RCom as it has been using the latter’s spectrum since 2016, directing the two telcos and department of telecommunications (DoT) to submit details of the spectrum-sharing agreement.

Source: Livemint

A few days later the Supreme Court agreed.

The Supreme Court has exempted Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio from paying around 40,000 crores of past dues for using the spectrum of other telecom companies who are bankrupt. Notably, Jio uses a spectrum of Anil Ambani's cash strapped Reliance Communications (RCom) while Airtel avails spectrum owned by Videocon and Aircel.

Source: NDTV

The Supreme Court also gave all the telecom companies, 10 years to clear their AGR dues. This was necessary to ensure that the existing telecom companies survived and also to make sure that the government got something at the end of this whole ordeal. 

For all practical purposes, Reliance is going to be in a position to outdo all of its competitors. For the first time, Airtel and Vodafone-Idea [Rechristened - VI] are talking about a 40% increase in tariffs, if they have to have any hopes of survival. Jio on the other hand has no debt, 200 Crores in AGR which it has already cleared and potentially huge 5G contracts in the offing given Huawei.

Using the same playbook

If you have a successful playbook, would you not use it again and again?

Welcome to Reliance Retail. 

A company that has been almost 15 years in the making. I started my career in retail consulting in 2006 and everyone seemed to be opening a retail chain - Pantaloon Group, Aditya Birla Group, Tata Group, Godrej, and several others. Today, many of them are in dire straits. The largest of them Pantaloons which birthed the Future Group was forced to sell itself to the Aditya Birla Group a few years ago. Now, the entire Future Group is being acquired. No prizes for guessing.

"Reliance Retail Ventures Ltd (RRVL), subsidiary of Reliance Industries Ltd will acquire the retail and wholesale business and the logistics and warehousing business from the Future Group as going concerns on a slump sale basis for lumpsum aggregate consideration of INR 24,713 crore," the company said in a statement.

Source: Livemint

Before all this, Amazon had bought a small stake in Future Retail, amounting to ~3% of the company. Now, Amazon seems to be in a place where it already has a small stake in Reliance Retail consequence of the acquisition. Since Amazon missed out on the Jio funding bonanza, an opportunity may have opened up for them to get in on the party!

PremjiInvest owns a 6% stake in Future Retail, while Amazon has 3.6% in Future Group flagship firm Future Retail.

According to media reports published last year which two cited senior industry executives, global e-commerce giant Amazon too was in talks to acquire about 26% stake in Reliance Retail. These investment talks have started after Reliance’s deal with the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba did not complete because of differences over the company’s valuation, the report added.

Source: Inc42

Silver Lake was one of the earliest participants in the Jio Deal. They have struck a deal again. Over and above all of this, it seems Amazon is lining up USD 20 Billion!

Force Majeure

In every agreement, there exists a Force Majeure clause under which the parties can relinquish their contractual obligations. Force Majeure can cover situations that are normally deemed acts of god [natural catastrophe] or war and other such [human-made catastrophe] situations that prevent a party from living up to their obligations. The Indian government has been under fire for the non-payment of GST to the states and there is no agreement on who should raise capital [center or state] to help tide through the current situation.

Pushed to the corner, the centre mentioned ‘acts of god’. No sooner was the syllable uttered; the question of what this could mean for other businesses under contractual obligations came up!

If contracts involving the Centre — a sovereign that has the power to decide policy— are deemed null and void on account of force majeure, this could have a bearing on a range of contracts that include payment obligations such as rents, interest payouts, utility bills and even salaries.

Source: Indian Express

Dysfunction

India has had the worst drop in GDP in 40 years. More than 20% drop in one quarter. Unemployment has been shooting up. India is adding close to 100,000 cases per month. Looks like we would surpass the USA before September comes to an end. There are border tensions with China. Tax collections are down as mentioned above. What would you think would be the news dominating the country?

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar invoked Rajput's name at his first virtual election rally on Monday and his alliance partner BJP has been distributing car stickers, masks and pamphlets with the actor's smiling face, Mr Tewary says, adding that "once the elections are over, no-one in Bihar will talk about Rajput".

The story may have a longer shelf life in the western state of Maharashtra - capital, Mumbai - where an ugly spat has broken out between the BJP and its former ally-turned-bitter rival Shiv Sena, which governs the state.

Source: BBC

With the lockdown, news channels had lost viewership. Not being able to go out and get stories would have hurt their revenues severely. This is a golden opportunity to keep the audience engaged and make good the losses.

Expulsion

In the edition titled Anger; I had mentioned the unrest in Belarus about the elections. The Opposition leader who should have won the election quit the nation and sought refuge in Latvia. Others stayed behind, most notably, Maria Kolesnikova. She disappeared a few days ago and all fingers of suspicion pointed towards the government. 

The abduction of Ms Kolesnikova, the latest in a series of disappearances engineered by Belarus’s security agencies, followed large protests on Sunday in Minsk, the capital, and towns across the country. It seemed to reflect a shift in strategy from the initial frenzy of police violence against protesters to picking off opposition leaders one by one and sending them out of the country.

Source: New York Times

She was in-fact abducted and asked to leave the country so that she would not foment trouble. How do you ensure that you cannot be sent out of a country? Tear your passport!

The three were taken to the border with Ukraine by men in plainclothes early on Tuesday morning, Mr Rodnenkov said.

But when the car reached a checkpoint between the two countries, Ms Kolesnikova prevented her deportation by ripping up her passport and throwing away the pieces, he said.

"It was clear that she was being taken by force, she was resisting," Mr Rodnenkov said.

Source: BBC

Facebook and Truth

Facebook has been under fire for election manipulation. To ensure that this time around the US election takes place in as fair a manner as possible, the company announced unprecedented changes to its policies. 

In an acknowledgement of how powerful its effect on public discourse can be, Facebook said it planned to bar any new political ads on its site in the week before Election Day. The social network said it would also strengthen measures against posts that tried to dissuade people from voting. Post-election, it said, it will quash any candidates’ attempts at claiming false victories by redirecting users to accurate information on the results.

Source: New York Times

This is a serious change and hopefully will result in a reduction in misinformation. But Ellen Pao has a point.

Anti-trust

There have been a few major antitrust proceedings in the history of the USA. In the early 1900s, most film production companies owned theatre chains as well. This would make it harder for the new and upcoming production house to get noticed. You can read The Master Switch to learn how this evolved.

A consent decree put an end to it in the 1940s. This broke up the studios and the exhibitors. The businesses got separated and led to a huge amount of innovation in the film industry. The case was against Paramount Studios and the decree came to be known as the Paramount Consent Decree. This week, that got undone!

But with some deregulatory fervour, the Trump-era DOJ has been taking a hard look at long-lasting behavioural remedies for older antitrust abuses. Last November, the DOJ moved to terminate the decrees. In the government's estimation, total bans on practices like "block-booking" (bundling multiple films into one theatre license) and "circuit dealing" (the practice of licensing films to all movie theatres under common ownership, as opposed to licensing each film on a theatre-by-theatre basis) had outlived their usefulness. It was time to sunset them and get rid of other rules. Some indie theatres warned the move would usher in new consolidation with tech giants like Amazon swooping in to acquire theatres.

Source: Hollywood Reporter

One way to think about it would be that COVID has pretty much put a nail in the coffin of the theatre business. Hence there is not much power to be amassed by this roll-back. Alternately, one could argue that Netflix or Amazon (still worse) could acquire several theatre chains on the cheap and use that as leverage against content creators. Only time will tell.

Also

On the 75th Anniversary of the Second World War. Some incredible stories by New York Times

I had written about how the weather is going crazy. Looks like South East USA is getting pasteurised.

The Indian press hungry for exclusives is willing to even interview the postman.

My good friend Arnaud posted these picture of post-apocalyptic San Francisco

Capitalism in the US. Making lemonade when you are served lemons.


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