Opinion

The Great Debate

iPhone 6, Apple Watch and Tim Cook all impress, but questions remain

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Tim Cook has had his first Steve Jobs moment.

With Tuesday’s introduction of the new iPhone 6 line, Apple Pay and Apple Watch, the company’s CEO escaped the public shadow of his revered predecessor. Now the question is: Can he deliver in the same impressive fashion?

The early signs indicate he just might. While Apple’s presentations are usually packed with an amen chorus of fans and tech journalists, the details the company revealed about its next line of phones, its new payment processing system and upcoming smart watch gave a clear sign that Apple is not becoming stagnant, as so many critics had feared.

The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are almost certain to be hot sellers when they become available on Sept. 19. The 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch models level the playing field between Apple and its larger-screened Android competitors. The processor and camera improvements are impressive. And the user interface changes the company showed off were promising.

Like the iPhone 5c and 5s, though, there’s no question about which model Apple is favoring. The advantages of the iPhone 6 Plus over the iPhone 6 go well beyond the screen size. The 6 Plus’s optical image stabilization (versus less effective digital stabilization) and a significantly better battery life will be strong drivers to the more expensive model, something that should make investors happy.

While the iPhone will be the company’s cash machine, the most interesting — and impressive — part of the event wasn’t the phone — or even the Apple Watch. It was Apple Pay, the company’s vision of changing how people interact with both brick and mortar and online retailers.

from Stories I’d like to see:

How much money is raised and spent in fighting cancer?

Actress Paltrow is interviewed as she arrives for the fourth biennial Stand Up To Cancer fundraising telecast in Hollywood

1. Cancer money:

The Stand Up to Cancer telethon -- simulcast Friday night on all four major broadcast networks and 28 cable channels, and live-streamed on Yahoo and Hulu (available on YouTube here) -- reminded me of a story I have long wanted to read: How much money is being spent on cancer research, where is it going and how well is it being spent?

This story, from the CBS Los Angeles affiliate, reports, “Stand Up to Cancer was established in 2008 by film and media leaders as a new collaborative model of cancer research.

“More than $261 million has been pledged to support its programs,” the report continued, adding that the organization “has funded 12 teams of researchers, two transnational research teams and 26 young scientists.”

Trying to find a women’s gym in Saudi Arabia? Ask for the ‘make-up room’

A woman drives a car in Saudi Arabia

Pity the female athlete in Saudi Arabia. Once again, the country is sending an all-male team to the Asian Games in South Korea — justifying its decision on the grounds that its women don’t quite make the grade. Officially, the line is that they’re not competitive enough. But how can anyone be a competitor in a country where just getting out to work out is almost impossible?

I spent two weeks in Saudi Arabia on a reporting trip in 2012. It was a time of tentative optimism, where Saudi women were keen to tell us of incremental changes in their lives. They still were forbidden to drive, travel abroad without male permission, eat alongside men in the food courts of their local mall or appear in public without a stiflingly hot abaya covering them from neck to ankle. But, for the first time, they were being allowed to buy their bras from women rather than men. (Yes, it matters.) Some of the more daring were able to add personal, decorative touches to the unrelenting black of their abayas, and there was even talk of women being included in the Saudi Olympics team later that year. More importantly, record numbers of women were being given scholarships for graduate study abroad.

If it wasn’t quite an Arab spring, the country at least seemed to be poised on the cusp of something. For me, though, one of the most telling signs of attitudes toward women was the obstacles to exercise.  My visit to Saudi Arabia was just a few weeks before I was due to take part in the New York City triathlon, but I quickly gave up hope of maintaining any sort of training program while I was there.

Israel appropriated 1,000 acres of the West Bank. Why now?

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Last week, Israel announced that it was appropriating nearly 1,000 acres of private Palestinian land near Bethlehem. The seizure, which one anti-settlement group called the largest in 30 years, was condemned by Palestinians, the United Nations, and criticized by the United States.

Israel has said that the move is retaliation for the June kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers. Settlement has long been considered a fair response to Palestinian attacks by some parts of Israeli society, and appropriation of Palestinian land has been a consistent policy of every Israeli government since Israel became a state in 1948. In the West Bank alone, close to 250,000 acres were appropriated since 1979, using a legal mechanism based on an interpretation of Ottoman law.

The timing of this most recent appropriation, though, has little to do with any particular act of Palestinian violence. It did have something to do with pacifying domestic opposition – the appropriation soothed some of Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition partners critical of Israel’s ceasefire terms with Hamas. But ultimately, the move is mostly about geopolitics.

from Ian Bremmer:

Chinese leader’s reforms are bad news for Hong Kong protesters

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In 1997, Britain returned Hong Kong to China after some 150 years of colonial rule. In exchange, China agreed to a set of principles: Hong Kong would maintain its capitalist system for half a century, by which point its chief executive and members of the legislature would be elected by universal suffrage. As the thinking went, “one country, two systems” would suffice in the interim; Hong Kong and the Mainland would surely converge on democracy in the half-century to come.

Not so fast. Recently, Beijing has been systematically moving in the other direction. The decision on August 31 to rule out democratic elections for Hong Kong in 2017 was just the latest example. Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s transformational reform agenda is driving this shift — and it does not bode well for Hong Kong.

Xi’s reform agenda has two parts: the first is economic liberalization. The Chinese leadership recognizes that it cannot rely on state-driven investment and cheap labor to provide growth indefinitely. Xi wants to make China’s economy more sophisticated and competitive. He is overhauling inefficient state-owned enterprises and focusing on changes in the financial sector in particular. It’s a top priority of the new leadership, and a requirement for a sustainable and dynamic Chinese economy going forward.

iPhone 6: What does Apple have to reveal Tuesday to stay on top?

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It’s been a while since we’ve had a true ‘Apple moment’ at one of its press events. Tuesday’s expected introduction of the iPhone 6 (and possibly more) could end that drought.

All signs indicate Apple plans to come out swinging this time — determined to regain the attention of former customers who have drifted toward larger Android devices in recent years.

That would certainly be entertaining to watch, but it’s not going to be easy to accomplish. To woo away the Android faithful, Apple needs to make Samsung, the leader in Android devices, look outdated — and it needs to amaze increasingly jaded consumers.

Tuesday’s big iPhone 6 question: Is Apple done leading from behind?

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For the last few years, Apple’s iPhones have been a little like the U.S. role in the war against Muammar Gaddafi in Libya — leading from behind.

When cell phones were 3G, the iPhone was 2G. When cell phones were 4G, the iPhone was 3G.

When phones got bigger, with beautiful, huge screens, Apple said, “We don’t care, and you won’t either.”

Not one woman gets her own pedestal among Central Park’s statues

The Central Park statue of Dr. James Marion Sims is pictured along 5th Ave in the Manhattan borough of New York

There are 50 statues in New York’s Central Park, one of the world’s most visited spots. Not one of them is of a woman who exists outside of fiction.

There are marble monuments to dozens of men, most of them real, but not a single statue commemorating the life or contributions of a real-life woman. Even the fictional female characters – Alice in Wonderland, Juliet Capulet and Mother Goose – were created by men.

Among the marble and bronze population of Central Park, you’ll find Shakespeare and Beethoven, Simón Bolívar and Alexander Hamilton. You’ll even find Balto, the hero sled dog who delivered diphtheria medicine to the town of Nome, Alaska, in 1925.

Plans to stop Russia show NATO and the West are in denial

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For more than six months now, since Russia annexed Crimea, Western politicians and analysts have been asking what can make Vladimir Putin stop or retreat. It’s the wrong question, and the policies that have flowed from the resulting debate have been misguided, because they are based on the fallacy that the West can do something to influence Putin’s actions.

Putin has always been a master of the public lie, both of the bold-faced variety and the mixed-message variety, and for the last six months he has used this skill to keep the West playing catch-up in Ukraine. It’s a game the West is losing.

Western politicians, for their part, have heeded only those of Putin’s statements that they want to hear — or at least ones that make sense in their picture of the world. Leaders have chosen to believe that Russia invaded Ukraine to protect vital strategic interests: the need for a “buffer state” between itself and NATO. They have validated Putin’s avowed concern about the fate of ethnic Russians in Ukraine. And right now, they are going along with a charade Putin is playing out regarding cease-fire negotiations with Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko – negotiations that Putin’s press secretary managed to disavow minutes after the fateful telephone conversation concluded on Wednesday.

from Edward Hadas:

Russia-Ukraine conflict shows money isn’t the root of all war

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Many people think politics is really a branch of economics. When the United States invaded Iraq in 1991, the common cry was that it was all about oil. On the same thinking, rich countries were indifferent to the brutal civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo – which has cost 5.4 million lives, according to the International Rescue Committee – because the economic stakes were too low to matter. This economic reductionism goes on in developed countries too. Pundits and pollsters argue that elections are won and lost above all else on the economy.

Such ideas can be traced back to the philosopher Karl Marx. He believed that material considerations motivated everything people do, including how they are governed. In modern surveys, people routinely say that the desire for better jobs or higher incomes is not what drives their voting behaviour. On Marx’s view, these respondents are either lying, or in denial. They may not realise that economic discontents and aspirations drive their action – and all of history.

Followers of this dialectic should be disconcerted by current events. Only a die-hard Trotskyite could see economic issues behind the conflicts in Ukraine and Iraq.

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