The Economist, “Going for the auditors”

December 29, 2010

The ultimate target of Mario Cuomo’s lawsuit against Ernst & Young may be Lehman’s former bosses

One possible outcome is a settlement in which E&Y agrees to co-operate with the prosecutors in cases they may bring against Lehman’s former executives. If so, the fines and sanctions suffered by the auditing firm and its partners may be stiff but not ruinous.

After all, no one wants to cause the fall of another big accounting firm. In 2002 Arthur Andersen was found criminally liable for its shredding of documents and other actions linked to its audits of Enron, a collapsed energy giant. Though Andersen’s conviction was later overturned, the firm was already gone. With just four big accounting firms remaining, and none of the next tier big enough to take up the slack, the corporate world cannot easily handle another accounting-firm failure. This is another reason to suspect that the authorities’ real intent is not a credibility-busting hammer blow against E&Y, but perhaps one against Lehman executives instead.

Intelligent Life: “ v ”

December 17, 2010

Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert comic strip, writes a blog of pointed commentary, largely aimed at techies. Last year he depicted technology-tethered humans as de facto cyborgs: “If a cyborg can remove its digital eye and leave it on a shelf as a surveillance device, and I think we all agree that it can, then your cellphone qualifies as part of your body.” He sees the phone as an exobrain: “Your regular brain uses your exobrain to outsource part of its memory, and perform other functions, such as GPS navigation, or searching the internet. If you’re anything like me, your exobrain is with you 24-hours a day.”

If smartphones are going to be our exobrains, for the next few years at least, or will be behind most of them. Expectations for Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 are modest. Only BlackBerry, which makes a very different, work-centred device, is in the same league. No one else has anything like the wind behind ’s and ’s backs.

Certainly, and have the most distinct propositions for your exobrain…[read more]

The Economist, “English as she was spoke”

December 16, 2010

A review of The Last Lingua Franca: English Until the Return of Babel, by Nicholas Ostler.

“English is expanding as a lingua-franca but not as a mother tongue. More than 1 billion people speak English worldwide but only about 330m of them as a first language, and this population is not spreading. The future of English is in the hands of countries outside the core Anglophone group. Will they always learn English?

Mr Ostler suggests that two new factors—modern nationalism and technology—will check the spread of English

The Economist, “Offshoring your lawyer”

Outsourcing can cut your legal bills

“Thomson Reuters, a media and information-services company, bought Pangea3, a legal-process outsourcing firm with most of its lawyers in Mumbai, in November. At about the same time, Thomson Reuters said it was looking to sell BarBri, a company that prepares young American law graduates for the bar examination. Thomson Reuters says the two deals have nothing to do with each other. But Elie Mystal of Above The Law, a muckraking blog, sees a straightforward swap: more cheap Indian lawyers, fewer expensive American ones

The Economist, “Courting trouble”

An American trial is drawing nearer for Julian Assange

“Convincing a judge in Sweden, which has one of the world’s most liberal press-freedom laws, of the virtues of America’s Espionage Act may be tricky. A 1961 treaty between the two countries forbids extradition for ‘political’ crimes. So does Britain’s extradition treaty with America. But it also sets a lower burden of proof. Simon Chesterman, a law professor at the National University of Singapore, notes that Britain’s tough Official Secrets Act would also outlaw WikiLeaks’ actions. For Mr Assange and his pals, Sweden may soon seem a haven, not a threat

Economist debate: “The language we speak shapes how we think”

December 13, 2010

Lera Boroditsky and Mark Liberman debate, (with me moderating), how much the language we speak shapes our cognition.