Weekly readings – 18th July 2020

What I wrote

Uber’s latest chess moves

An interview with AirBnb CEO Brian Chesky on the future of his company and travel

What I think of a potential Twitter subscription feature

A groundbreaking and disheartening study on violence against women in Vietnam

Chris Evans started a project to facilitate communication between voters and elected officials. It’s called A Starting Point

Business

Kroger conducted a test in which they moved plant-based meat into the meat section at some select stores. The test proved that the move lifted sales of plant-based meat. This is great news for suppliers such as Beyond Meat and environmentalists.

In the past, I was somewhat bearish on Netflix’s prospect, but I have grown more bullish over the past year. The high retention figure below bolsters the new position

Source: Second Measure

Lidl’s entering the Long Island market caused competitors to reduce item prices by 8% to 15%. It’s worth noting that Lidl commissioned the study, but it was independently conducted.

Amazon is formidable in online grocery. The company leads many aspects in the latest study on consumer satisfaction with online grocery services.

Technology

US Netflix Subscribers Watch 3.2 Hours and Use 9.6 GB of Data Per Day

This company presents an interesting concept when it comes to encryption. Slack-rival Element wins largest ever collaborative software deal

A government’s role in stimulating demand and widespread adoption of next generation products is at play here. Europeans get substantial subsidies for electric cars from their government

How SHA-2 Works Step-By-Step (SHA-256)

What I think is interesting

According to JP Morgan, 19% of eCommerce transaction value in Vietnam in 2019 was through digital wallets while 34% was through debit and credit cards

How Parmesan cheese is made and how you can identify the real Parmesan cheese. Fascinating stuff

I didn’t know there is a company that has an exclusive deal with airlines to buy lost luggage

‘Absolutely No Mercy’: Leaked Files Expose How China Organized Mass Detentions of Muslims

Scale and Loyalty are more important online than offline

The competition for immigrants will heat up soon as women are giving birth less, especially in developed countries

Graph of number of children women have
Source: BBC

A starting point – where you start getting to know your elected officials

I came across this project whose one of the founders should be familiar enough to you – Captain America himself Chris Evans. A Starting Point (ASP) is created in order to “create a bipartisan channel of communication and connectivity between Americans and their elected officials with the goal of creating a more informed electorate“. Elected officials, whether they are Governors, Senators, Congresspeople or state officials, can use this platform to communicate their thoughts, demystify some complex issues or debate with colleagues with different ideologies. On my count, there are approximately 150 contributors already on the site on various levels and from both parties. Below are a few key features of ASP

StartingPoints

In this section, you’ll find some popular questions that can help viewers understand a little bit better some complex issues. In each question, you’ll hear from several officials from both sides of the aisle articulating their thoughts and explaining their answers to the questions.

Figure 1 – Source: A Starting Point
Figure 2 – Source: A Starting Point
Figure 3 – Source: A Starting Point

CounterPoints

In this section, you’ll listen to two officials, each from a different party, debating in one-minute videos on an issue. There are back-and-forth arguments followed by closing remarks.

Figure 4 – Source: A Starting Point

DailyPoints

This section is an open forum that allows officials to connect with their constituents on a daily basis about all kinds of topics in one-minute-long videos. Some Democrats already talked about the importance of masks on this section.

Figure 5 – Source: A Starting Point

IntroPoints

On this sub-section, you’ll learn a little bit about the background of these officials, such as what inspired them to go into politics?

Figure 6 – Source: A Starting Point

My thoughts on this project

I think it’s a great idea. I used to work for an IT company in Omaha, Nebraska. Once, I talked to a couple of my American colleagues and to my surprise, they said that they didn’t actually know much about the elected officials in their districts or state. I bet it’s not uncommon. Our daily hustle and distractions don’t leave us much time into knowing about prospect or current officials; which is a shame, but understandable. The problem is that who we vote for matters a lot in our life. Not only can officials represent us on a state and national level, but they pass legislations that directly and significantly influence our life. Hence, being informed of what the officials are about and what stance they have on certain issues is hugely important in elections. And this project is clearly helping constituents across the country with that.

I think short videos are a good choice to deliver content. The limitation on length of videos forces officials to be concise in their delivery and not to digress. Policies are not sexy. People tend not to spend a lot of time on long videos on policies. Therefore, short videos can be more appealing. However, there is also a drawback. Most issues are pretty complex. Short form videos may unintentionally lead to generalization and omission of important nuances.

It is essential that voters are as informed and have a balanced view as much as possible on issues. An appearance by an official on a news channel doesn’t come with counterpoints from the other side. There are debates on the House and Senate floors, but who will watch those debates that can last for hours? Having different viewpoints on one issue in one place is beneficial to voters who want to learn more about pressing issues. Throughout its website, I think ASP wants to accomplish that. Either StartingPoints or CounterPoints, you can see Democrats and Republicans present their thoughts and ideas. As a result, viewers can take away different points of view and leave with a balanced dose of information.

Even though this is a good starting point, pun intended, there are challenges. First of all, there are A LOT of big topics that are not covered on this website. Under each existing topics, there are a lot more questions to be asked and discussed. Chris Evans and his team still have a long way to go, but everything has to start somewhere and the website has been live for only a couple of days. So, I wanna give them the benefit of the doubt and think that they’ll make the content richer.

Secondly, ASP needs to build an audience in order to get politicians speak their minds more. Nowadays, politicians have multiple channels through which they reach constituents such as news channels, op-eds, social networks or their own websites. The only way that they will generate content for ASP is that their constituents frequent the website, giving politicians a reason to spend time on content for ASP. The star power of Chris Evans will initially bring traffic, but the site cannot rely on Chris forever. It has to grow organically.

The next challenge that I can think of will be content moderation. At some point in the future, what if some politicians deliberately made false claims and post their videos on ASP, what would the site do? Taking the videos down would result in accusation of hampering free speech while leaving them intact would lead to voters being misled. In a nutshell, ASP would run into the same trouble that Twitter or Facebook is facing now and I don’t think they want that. ASP needs to build a culture that fosters communication only in good faith by officials.

Lastly, and this is why I think the website is aptly named “A Starting Point”, even though we can benefit from this project, we still need to do our homework. The information presented on ASP is just the beginning. It falls on each of us to do further investigation and keep these politicians honest. Let me give you an example. If you listen to Republican officials talk about the Tax Cut in 2017, they reason that they passed the law in order to create jobs through tax incentives given to businesses. Well, although there may be more jobs created, we have to ask: what kind of jobs are we talking about? More waiting jobs at restaurants for college graduates aren’t what we have in mind, aren’t they? Or $7-per-hour jobs don’t necessarily solve entirely our issues, do they? Plus, at the time of unprecedented economic expansion at the time in 2017, wasn’t there anything else to encourage job creation other than a giant tax cut for the rich and corporations?

In sum, ASP started to do their part in bringing elected officials from both sides of the aisle and voters together and we need to start doing ours as well. The job of understanding pressing issues should not only fall onto ASP. There is only so much they can do. As mentioned above, I think Chris and his team will do more to keep this project running well. We have big elections coming up till the end of the year. You have seen what is going on in the country. Your votes matter. They are the most powerful weapon in each voter’s arsenal. Use it well. Get informed. I appreciate what Chris and his team did. Have a great weekend and stay safe!

Review of The Banker and Defending Jacob

It has been a while since I took time on a weekend to watch some movies and series. I saw The Banker and Defending Jacob today on Apple TV+ and wanted to share a few thoughts

The Banker

The movie is about two black men who wanted to take down the racism and segregation in the real estate and banking industries in America several decades ago. By their entrepreneurship, determination and talent, they managed to own a sizable fortune from their real estate business in California. After the success, Bernard Garrett set his sight on helping black people in his hometown Texas access capital which could, in turn, change their life. To do so, Bernard and his partner Joe Morris and Matt Steiner bought a bank in Texas. Since having colored folks as owners of a bank threatened its existence, Bernard and Joe did their work behind the scene with Matt as the front man. They started to make loans to the black community, true to their mission. The entire operation was put in jeopardy by a jealous and racist minor owner who was the son of the previous owner. The trio were put in a congressional hearing chaired by a Senator with a racist agenda. They were offered immunity deals to say what they were asked to say or they could speak their mind and go to prison. Truth was spoken, immunity deal was granted and a revolutionary law was passed to make banking fairer.

Working at a bank, I have come across laws that require equal access to capital a few times. Everything we do from issuing credit cards to lending out money has to be legal. Even if we want to use an attribute provided by our partner to make targeting more efficient, the attribute has to be investigated by our Compliance to make sure that there is no discrimination. It’s tedious and bureaucratic, but it’s necessary. Watching this movie brought me a new level of appreciation for some of the banking laws.

I enjoyed the movie and the story it told.

Defending Jacob

This is a new series from Apple starring Chris Evans. It’s about a Deputy Attorney District in a county in Massachusetts named Andrew Barber. One day, a high school student who went to the same school as his son was found dead in a park two blocks from their home. The tight-knit community was on edge. Andrew was charged with leading the investigation. The dead student was stabbed to death. Later, the investigation uncovered that his son bought a knife two weeks prior to the murder and was seen bullied by the victim. Andrew was taken off the case and his family’s world was turned upside down.

Only three episodes of the series have been aired so far, but they have been pretty nice. The drama is getting more exciting by each episode. The plot was set up to reveal more explosive twists later. I enjoyed watching the actors playing the Barbers bring out the struggle that their family had to go through. I think Chris did a good job. It’s refreshing to see him outside of his iconic role as Captain America. I suspect his son was dead, but don’t mind waiting for a few episode to find out.

Disclaimer: I own Apple stocks in my portfolio