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Photos by Tianyi Ma on Unsplash and by Viktor Talashuk on Unsplash (Composite)

Honest Fakes

Beijing, sometime in 2014 — I can’t remember the month or the date, but it doesn’t matter. I do remember that it was a Wednesday morning in the office. We opened up Youku (a Chinese Youtube clone) and were delighted to see that our company’s promotional ‘viral’ video was indeed going viral. We had gained tens of thousands of views overnight! The money we’d paid to a digital marketing agency seemed well spent. Except something was a bit off: Why no comments, why just views? We sent our VP of marketing off to ask the agency what was going on.

Thursday morning. Behold! Our problem was solved. Now we had hundreds of comments and tens of thousands more views. Our video was top-ranked on one of Youku’s category pages. Except… why were all the comments so generic and short? They were all one-word phrases like, “Cool!” “Great!” “Good watch! (sorry for the Chinglish) “Interesting!” They could have been typed by anyone, on any video, and they would have been equally (ir)relevant. …


How inequality, climate breakdown, and toxic politics are setting us up to fail

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Flooding in the Philippines (Original Image: Mathias Eick EU/ECHO (CC BY-SA 2.0)

“Free” market capitalism has done a lot we can be thankful for, but it has also generated a host of problems. In the past, devotees argued that the system itself could solve all problems, or that perhaps the lightest possible government touches could help correct course. At the very least, they believed, the benefits outweighed the problems that emerged alongside them.

This is no longer a credible view, and it’s not just because of the disastrous 2008 financial meltdown. It is now clear that our dominant system has given rise to a trio of especially dangerous problems: three mutant children that have grown beyond their parent’s abilities to rein them in. …


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Are you afraid? Boise, Idaho. (Image: Quarrie Photography. License)

Which emotion more effectively drives people to action: fear or hope? This is a complex but vital question we must ask ourselves in the effort to prevent runaway global climate breakdown. Until recently, our climate messaging has erred too far on the side of hope. But now several key players — Greta Thunberg’s school climate strikers, Extinction Rebellion, and the IPCC itself — are starting to harness fear and run with it. And now it seems that fear might be our only hope.

Back in the early 1990s, the UN got on board with climate scientists’ worrying predictions, which were based on decades of evidence and more than a hundred years of theory. I am European, so apparently unlike many of my American peers, I was made aware of this information at the time, in my 1990s geography classes. I returned to thinking hard about what we now call Climate Change or Climate Breakdown in 2017, when I began work on a related communication project. …


Arbitrary detentions and legal action against foreigners in Russia and China are more in line with recent behaviour from North Korea and Iran than that of modern globalised states. Should travellers and expats take note?

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Huawei is in crisis as its global activities and ties to the Chinese government come under scrutiny. (Image: Kamil Kot from Unsplash)

On December 28th 2018, Paul Whelan, a retired US Marine with a rather controversial record, was detained by the Russian internal security service, the FSB (Security Service of the Russian Federation). He was ostensibly in the country to attend a wedding. …


Is there a relationship between underlying climates and extreme events?

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Do underlying climates affect the occurrence of extreme weather events? Yes, according to the environmentalist movement. But climate isn’t just a weather word. In an increasingly polarised and chaotic political climate, what lessons from the ‘climate change world’ can we apply to America’s uptick in political violence?

Hurricanes

We all know the story. A powerful hurricane makes landfall and causes devastation. Flooding, destroyed buildings, power-cuts, loss of life and property, and major disruption to the economy. …


(Part II of II)

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Camel One. (the bad one). Image Karakoram Highway, 2008 (P Harding)

(Part II of a Xinjiang Travel Story. Part I is here)

It’s really not a good part of the world in which to have a car crash, that much was obvious. And that’s what I was thinking as my driver and I stared down at a wrecked minivan that had somehow ended up rolled and partially crushed well off the Karakoram Highway on some grassland. The closest hospital for much of this journey is hours and hours by road — and that is only if someone happens to come along to take you.

Did the people from the crash survive? Make it out of the vehicle? Were they badly injured? If so, did they make it to hospital in time? …


(Part I of II)

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The Fortress at Tashkurgan, Southern Xinjiang. July 2008. (Image: The Author. All rights reserved.)

I was eating alone in a busy, crowded restaurant in Kashgar, Xinjiang Province, western China. It was night, it was very hot, and the fans in the restaurant seemed to be just moving hot air from one place to another, their efforts possibly even adding to the heat. In addition to hot, I felt self-conscious. Eating alone is weird. At my peak misery point (too hot, too weird), two young Uyghur men, who were drinking beer, came to sit at the table next to mine. They stared, and talked to each other, clearly discussing me. I offered to share some food, which did make them smile a thank you, although they waved it away. …


(Series — Part Seven)

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This is the seventh part in a series examining Russia’s information warfare against the USA and EU. The introduction can be found here.

So why have the member states of the EU and NATO failed to establish anything resembling a credible deterrence against Russia’s ongoing attacks on their societies and electoral systems?

The simple answer is that Russia clearly still feels that the benefits / potential gains of their influence operations outweigh the costs / potential losses. In other words, the gains that Russia sees in increasing the disruption, polarization, political stagnation, distrust in elections, social divisions, loathing for democracy, dislike of alliances, support of pro-Russia / anti-NATO or EU candidates, and social in-fighting; outweigh the sanctions, diplomatic expulsions, or reputational damage that Russia has experienced so far. …


(Series — Part Six)

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This is the sixth part in a series on the ongoing Russian attempt to undermine western democracies and their international organisations and what the West can do about it. The series introduction can be found here; part two on Putin’s intrinsic hostility to the EU, NATO, and democracy is here; part three on Russia’s intervention and disinformation in Syria & Ukraine can be read here; part four on Russia’s attack on the EU and USA is here. Part five, which considers the asymmetric nature of this strategic competition is here.

The EU, USA, and NATO members are facing an asymmetrical competition with Russia in the use of Russia’s hybrid disinformation capabilities. Their systems and political responses have been found wanting, and nearly two years after Russia’s actions started to come to light there still has not been an adequate response capable of deterring Putin. …


(Series — Part Five)

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This is the fifth part in a series on the ongoing Russian attempt to undermine western democracies and their international organisations. The introduction can be found here, part two on Putin’s intrinsic hostility is here, part three on Russian intervention and disinformation in Syria & Ukraine can be read here, part four on Russia’s attack on the EU and USA is here.

It may be tempting, when considering a counter strategy, to suggest that the tech savvy members of the NSA, GCHQ, or CIA could, if only directed by their political leaders, simply develop a reciprocal capability to balance and deter Russia’s influence campaign capabilities. However the actions Putin’s regime has taken in order to maintain a grip on domestic power have already degraded the Russian media, information, and electoral spaces so much that there is no realistic comparable “target set” against which a symmetrical deterrent could be established. …

About

Paul Harding

Writer, analyst. Previously involved in finance, economics, geopolitics. Tech & Education entrepreneur. 13 years in China

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