August 12, 2015
Despite a slowdown in China, the world's largest gaming center is doubling down on its future. ... Barely 10 years ago, Francis Lui and his family were building a relatively modest fortune largely from quarrying rock in Hong Kong and processing slag from blast furnaces on mainland China. Today, in the Chinese enclave of Macau, they preside over two palatial casinos that alone generate vastly more gaming revenue than the entire Las Vegas Strip. They're also acquiring a stake in the Monaco royal family-controlled company that operates the Casino de Monte-Carlo. ... the soft-spoken, U.S.-educated billionaire is in the process of placing a far bigger bet than any of the high rollers who wager as much as $250,000 a hand in the Galaxy’s most exclusive VIP rooms. Having just spent $3.1 billion doubling the size of the Galaxy, he’s now pressing ahead with another $7.4 billion worth of investments. And that’s just a part of the $27 billion that global casino companies such as Las Vegas Sands, Wynn Resorts, and MGM Resorts International plan to spend over the next few years in the world’s largest but most-troubled gaming market. ... Macau’s gaming revenue plummeted 37 percent to $15.2 billion in the first half of the year. During the 18 months ended in June, the decline wiped more than $100 billion from the value of six of the world’s biggest casino companies. ... Macau’s fate may be tied to developments on Hengqin, an island triple its size that’s located across a narrow strait. Galaxy is the first of Macau’s six casino licensees to acquire land on Hengqin, which is part of Guangdong province and which Beijing wants to develop into a nongaming leisure destination full of golf courses, Disney-esque theme parks, and other family-focused attractions. ... It all sounds like a pharaonic exercise in overbuilding. And yet tiny Macau, with only 27,000 hotel rooms, compared with Las Vegas’s 150,000, attracted 31.5 million visitors last year, two-thirds of them from the mainland and many of them day-trippers. The new construction aims to add 19,000 more rooms by 2018.
In just 20 years, Cambodia has transformed from a post-conflict, aid-dependent, least-developed country to a dynamic economy with the fastest pace of GDP growth in East Asia. ... According to a report from the Cambodian Development Resource Institute, between 1995 and 2012 economic growth averaged 7.9% and per capita income increased from $248 to $878. GDP growth for this year — on the back of strong performance in garment manufacturing, tourism, construction and agriculture — is expected to reach 7.3%. This puts Cambodia ahead of its neighbors in Southeast Asia. The latest ANZ Asia Pacific Economics report describes Cambodia as “the only country that has been able to grow its exports at a faster pace in the post-crisis period [2007-2008].” ... Economic prosperity is showing up in socio-economic indicators such as the poverty rate, which has been halved, improvements in primary school enrollment, and reduced infant mortality. Corruption, clientelism, social inequality and poor infrastructure remain, but the overall picture is brighter than it has been for four decades. ... To appreciate the magnitude of Cambodia’s turn-around, it’s important to go back to “year zero,” to 1975, when Cambodia was ruled by Maoist fanatics known as the Khmer Rouge. By the time the Vietnamese army overthrew the Khmer Rouge in January 1979, between 1.5 and two million people — a quarter of the population at the time — had perished.
Thirty years ago, Bob Ballard discovered the wreck of the Titanic. He could have stopped there. Yet today, at seventy-three, he remains the world's most vigorous ocean explorer. ... Money is a frequent topic of conversation for Ballard, because it takes $10 million annually to keep the Nautilus in the water for four to six months every year. (Similar vessels, he says, cost six times that.) Ballard's unique position as an oceanographer/owner makes him both liberated and beholden. For that money that frees him to explore, Ballard must regularly court private donors, corporate sponsors, and politicians who believe in his mission enough to fight for public dollars. The donors love to hear about the Titanic. The politicians are guided by an interest in everything from Ballard's commitment to education to his exploration of the earth's crust. ... Ballard seems prouder of his discoveries of the prizes for which he was not looking—the prizes you win, he says, by spending "time on the bottom." In 1977 he discovered the very existence of hydrothermal vents, hot springs in the ocean floor near where tectonic plates move apart from one another, releasing a steady flow of superheated water from deep in the earth's crust. The water is a chaotic mess of mineral-rich fluids including sulfide that, when discharged into the frigid, pressurized water on the ocean floor, can create new ecosystems hospitable to a wild mix of creatures. In the worlds of marine biology and geology, it was a monumental discovery. In the actual world, nobody much noticed. ... "I got addicted to it. In my fifty-five years of exploring, how much of the ocean floor have I seen?" He holds his thumb and forefinger close together. "In all my discoveries, just that much." His eyes grow wide. "So how much have I not seen?"
I’ve spent much of the past year digging into the evidence. Here’s what I’ve learned. First, it’s true that the issue is complicated. But the deeper you dig, the more fraud you find in the case against GMOs. It’s full of errors, fallacies, misconceptions, misrepresentations, and lies. The people who tell you that Monsanto is hiding the truth are themselves hiding evidence that their own allegations about GMOs are false. They’re counting on you to feel overwhelmed by the science and to accept, as a gut presumption, their message of distrust. ... Second, the central argument of the anti-GMO movement—that prudence and caution are reasons to avoid genetically engineered, or GE, food—is a sham. Activists who tell you to play it safe around GMOs take no such care in evaluating the alternatives. They denounce proteins in GE crops as toxic, even as they defend drugs, pesticides, and non-GMO crops that are loaded with the same proteins. They portray genetic engineering as chaotic and unpredictable, even when studies indicate that other crop improvement methods, including those favored by the same activists, are more disruptive to plant genomes. ... Third, there are valid concerns about some aspects of GE agriculture, such as herbicides, monocultures, and patents. But none of these concerns is fundamentally about genetic engineering. Genetic engineering isn’t a thing. It’s a process that can be used in different ways to create different things. To think clearly about GMOs, you have to distinguish among the applications and focus on the substance of each case. If you’re concerned about pesticides and transparency, you need to know about the toxins to which your food has been exposed. A GMO label won’t tell you that. And it can lull you into buying a non-GMO product even when the GE alternative is safer.
I suppose, the latest expression of that now vintage and troublingly prophetic bumper sticker: In Google we trust. ... My campus tour has something of the quality of a west coast Tomorrow’s World. It involves meetings with the head of Google Translate, Barak Turovsky, who places a phone on a table and has it talk to me in English directly from his spoken Russian; the cartographer-in-chief of Google Maps, Manik Gupta, who is excited about current efforts to map the unmappable – Indian villages, the Grand Canyon, the Great Barrier Reef – using backpackers and local knowledge. I listen to one of the two or three key brains behind the Search algorithm itself, Ben Gomes, who speaks 10 to the dozen of “natural language generation” and “deep learning networks” (and, inevitably, of the “holy grail” of answering users’ questions before they have been asked). I walk and talk with the Brit Alex Gawley, who has just reimagined Gmail for mobile. I have my mind suitably boggled by some of the more maverick voices at Google X, the company’s in-house futurology lab, including Mike Cassidy, whose Project Loon aims to bring Wi-Fi to 4 billion currently disconnected people, with the stratospheric use of tens of thousands of hot-air balloons ... From the outside it can appear as if Google is trying to solve every problem, colonise every market, all at once. As a company, it seems dangerously – or thrillingly, depending on your point of view – addicted to ubiquity. ... Corporate cultures only become a source of wider interest when their attached businesses are wildly successful. ... The more you spend in that deliberately pervasive culture, though, the more people you speak to, the more you realise that Google employees are not only living the Google dream, they are also selling a version of that fantasy to the world.