Trump as You’ve Never Seen Him Before

There is no shortage of merchandise in China devoted to the former president of the United States, Donald J. Trump. There are commemorative coins, toilet brushes and cat toys; countless figurines, including updated versions of Mount Rushmore, plus all those flags, bumper stickers and hats from campaigns past and future. (Does anyone still believe all that “Make America Great Again” stuff was really made in America?).

Enter the Trump Buddha.

A furniture maker and decorator in southern China has cast a sculpture of Mr. Trump in ceramic whiteware, his legs crossed and hands serenely resting in his lap. He is draped in a monk’s robes, his head is lowered and his eyes are closed, as if in meditative repose, an emotional state not typically associated with the 45th president of the United States.

The artist calls it “Trump, the Buddha of Knowing of the Western Paradise.”

“He has been already very successful, but now he is still tormenting himself, being obsessed, having a lot of ideas and doubts,” the creator, Hong Jinshi, said when asked about his inspiration.

Mr. Hong’s sculpture reflects an abiding cultural fascination with Mr. Trump in China that began with his election. Many admired his brash style, his family’s business ties to China and even his early courtship of China’s leader, Xi Jinping, whom he called “an incredible guy.”

appeared last month at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Florida, along with Mr. Trump himself.

It remains to be seen whether Mr. Trump’s legacy as artistic muse will be as enduring as, say, Mao Zedong’s. It may depend on Mr. Trump’s political future. Trump 2024 merchandise is already available online.

Mr. Hong considers the Trump Buddha a work in progress. He said the wrinkles on Mr. Trump’s lips are too deep, creating an effect incongruous with his vision. He said he has given no thought of creating a sculpture of Mr. Biden, though he is fascinated by another prominent American entrepreneur, Elon Musk.

He has set aside the first of 100 numbered pieces of the larger works for a particular patron. If possible, he said, he would like to give one to Mr. Trump.

“He has been very, very successful, so from a religious point of view, he should just let go at this time,” he said. “He should enjoy his life at this age.”

Claire Fu contributed research

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What Is ‘The Firm’? The Royal Family Institution, Explained

When Prince Harry’s wife, Meghan, referred to the British royal family as “the Firm” in their dramatic interview with Oprah Winfrey on Sunday, she evoked an institution that is as much a business as a fairy tale. It is now a business in crisis, after the couple leveled charges of racism and cruelty against members of the family.

Buckingham Palace responded on Tuesday that “the whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan.” The allegations of racism, the palace statement said, were “concerning,” and “while some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately.”

Harry and Meghan’s story, of course, is a heartbreaking personal drama — of fathers and sons, brothers and wives, falling out over slights, real or imagined. But it is also a workplace story — the struggles of a glamorous, independent outsider joining an established, hidebound and sometimes baffling family firm.

The term is often linked to Queen Elizabeth’s husband, Prince Philip, who popularized its use. But it dates further back, to the queen’s father, King George VI, who was once reported to have declared, “We’re not a family. We’re a firm.”

won a judgment against The Mail on Sunday for illegally publishing a private letter that she had sent her estranged father, Thomas Markle.

The couple’s interview claimed a prominent media casualty on Tuesday when Piers Morgan, the co-host of “Good Morning Britain” on ITV news, abruptly resigned. Mr. Morgan, a strident critic of the couple, said he “didn’t believe a word” of the interview, even Meghan’s confession to having had suicidal thoughts — which prompted more than 41,000 complaints to Britain’s communications regulator.

“The monarchy can’t survive without the media, but how do you manage that media?” said Edward Owens, a historian and the author of “The Family Firm. Monarchy, Mass Media and the British Public, 1932-53.”

Harry and Meghan, Mr. Owens said, are the latest in a long line of royals whose personal anguish has been portrayed as the cost of doing their royal duty. That sacrifice, he said, was an unavoidable part of what George VI meant by being part of the Firm. And it served as a justification to the public for the perks of the job.

“The Firm suggests that these bonds of family are an afterthought,” Mr. Owens said. “It is duty and the business of the royal family that comes first.”

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How Do Silicon Valley Techies Celebrate Getting Rich in a Pandemic?

For Palantir, a data analytics company that went public in September, Feb. 18 was “giraffe money” day. That was the first day that current and former employees could cash out all of their shares after the company went public.

In a Slack channel for former employees called Giraffe Money — an apparent reference to wealth that can support casual giraffe ownership — many anticipated their windfalls by sharing links, mostly in jest, to absurdly expensive home listings and boats, one former employee said.

But in reality, techies are spending in very different ways.

Instead of fine art, they are buying NFTs, or nonfungible tokens that represent ownership in pieces of digital art, memes or artifacts of internet history.

Instead of round-the-world travel, they are piling into Sprinter vans, the pandemic vacation essential. Jackie Conlin, a personal style consultant to tech executives, said she had created “van wardrobes” consisting of “comfy clothes that look put together but are oozing with laid-back vacation vibes” for clients going on road trips.

Instead of designer dresses, they are hunting for new outfits that look good on Zoom calls, virtual makeup lessons for the camera and makeovers for their Zoom backgrounds. Ms. Conlin said she redecorates a client’s Zoom room “to make whatever the other meeting attendees see look more cohesive, stylish and pleasing to the eye.” Clients are also buying weekly “comfort” gifts for friends and family like cozy blankets and robes, skin care items, pajamas, and games.

And instead of luxury condos, they are after houses with outdoor space, home gyms and good “Zoom rooms.” In San Francisco, newly rich techies are migrating from modern “white box” apartments in the neighborhood of SoMa to traditional prewar “trophy homes” in more established areas such as Nob Hill, Russian Hill, Pacific Heights and Sea Cliff, said Joel Goodrich, a real estate broker with Coldwell Banker Global Luxury in the city. They are excited by historic mansions with elaborate moldings and architecture.

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The Robots Are Coming for Phil in Accounting

The robots are coming. Not to kill you with lasers, or beat you in chess, or even to ferry you around town in a driverless Uber.

These robots are here to merge purchase orders into columns J and K of next quarter’s revenue forecast, and transfer customer data from the invoicing software to the Oracle database. They are unassuming software programs with names like “Auxiliobits — DataTable To Json String,” and they are becoming the star employees at many American companies.

Some of these tools are simple apps, downloaded from online stores and installed by corporate I.T. departments, that do the dull-but-critical tasks that someone named Phil in Accounting used to do: reconciling bank statements, approving expense reports, reviewing tax forms. Others are expensive, custom-built software packages, armed with more sophisticated types of artificial intelligence, that are capable of doing the kinds of cognitive work that once required teams of highly-paid humans.

White-collar workers, armed with college degrees and specialized training, once felt relatively safe from automation. But recent advances in A.I. and machine learning have created algorithms capable of outperforming doctors, lawyers and bankers at certain parts of their jobs. And as bots learn to do higher-value tasks, they are climbing the corporate ladder.

quietly building for years, but accelerating to warp speed since the pandemic — goes by the sleepy moniker “robotic process automation.” And it is transforming workplaces at a pace that few outsiders appreciate. Nearly 8 in 10 corporate executives surveyed by Deloitte last year said they had implemented some form of R.P.A. Another 16 percent said they planned to do so within three years.

Most of this automation is being done by companies you’ve probably never heard of. UiPath, the largest stand-alone automation firm, is valued at $35 billion — roughly the size of eBay — and is slated to go public later this year. Other companies like Automation Anywhere and Blue Prism, which have Fortune 500 companies like Coca-Cola and Walgreens Boots Alliance as clients, are also enjoying breakneck growth, and tech giants like Microsoft have recently introduced their own automation products to get in on the action.

Executives generally spin these bots as being good for everyone, “streamlining operations” while “liberating workers” from mundane and repetitive tasks. But they are also liberating plenty of people from their jobs. Independent experts say that major corporate R.P.A. initiatives have been followed by rounds of layoffs, and that cutting costs, not improving workplace conditions, is usually the driving factor behind the decision to automate.

Craig Le Clair, an analyst with Forrester Research who studies the corporate automation market, said that for executives, much of the appeal of R.P.A. bots is that they are cheap, easy to use and compatible with their existing back-end systems. He said that companies often rely on them to juice short-term profits, rather than embarking on more expensive tech upgrades that might take years to pay for themselves.

“It’s not a moonshot project like a lot of A.I., so companies are doing it like crazy,” Mr. Le Clair said. “With R.P.A., you can build a bot that costs $10,000 a year and take out two to four humans.”

led some companies to turn to automation to deal with growing demand, closed offices, or budget constraints. But for other companies, the pandemic has provided cover for executives to implement ambitious automation plans they dreamed up long ago.

“Automation is more politically acceptable now,” said Raul Vega, the chief executive of Auxis, a firm that helps companies automate their operations.

Before the pandemic, Mr. Vega said, some executives turned down offers to automate their call centers, or shrink their finance departments, because they worried about scaring their remaining workers or provoking a backlash like the one that followed the outsourcing boom of the 1990s, when C.E.O.s became villains for sending jobs to Bangalore and Shenzhen.

But those concerns matter less now, with millions of people already out of work and many businesses struggling to stay afloat.

Now, Mr. Vega said, “they don’t really care, they’re just going to do what’s right for their business,” Mr. Vega said.

Sales of automation software are expected to rise by 20 percent this year, after increasing by 12 percent last year, according to the research firm Gartner. And the consulting firm McKinsey, which predicted before the pandemic that 37 million U.S. workers would be displaced by automation by 2030, recently increased its projection to 45 million.

Recent studies by researchers at Stanford University and the Brookings Institution compared the text of job listings with the wording of A.I.-related patents, looking for phrases like “make prediction” and “generate recommendation” that appeared in both. They found that the groups with the highest exposure to A.I. were better-paid, better-educated workers in technical and supervisory roles, with men, white and Asian-American workers, and midcareer professionals being some of the most endangered. Workers with bachelor’s or graduate degrees were nearly four times as exposed to A.I. risk as those with just a high school degree, the researchers found, and residents of high-tech cities like Seattle and Salt Lake City were more vulnerable than workers in smaller, more rural communities.

“A lot of professional work combines some element of routine information processing with an element of judgment and discretion,” said David Autor, an economist at M.I.T. who studies the labor effects of automation. “That’s where software has always fallen short. But with A.I., that type of work is much more in the kill path.”

Many of those vulnerable workers don’t see this coming, in part because the effects of white-collar automation are often couched in jargon and euphemism. On their websites, R.P.A. firms promote glowing testimonials from their customers, often glossing over the parts that involve actual humans.

“Sprint Automates 50 Business Processes In Just Six Months.” (Possible translation: Sprint replaced 300 people in the billing department.)

found that for most of the 20th century, the optimistic take on automation prevailed — on average, in industries that implemented automation, new tasks were created faster than old ones were destroyed.

rejected calls to fund federal worker retraining programs for years, and while some of the money in the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill Democrats hope to pass this week will go to laid-off and furloughed workers, none of it is specifically earmarked for job training programs that could help displaced workers get back on their feet.

Another key difference is that in the past, automation arrived gradually, factory machine by factory machine. But today’s white-collar automation is so sudden — and often, so deliberately obscured by management — that few workers have time to prepare.

“Futureproof: 9 Rules for Humans in the Age of Automation,” from which this essay is adapted.

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Tencent Music aims to raise $1 billion by going public

This story originally published on October 2, 2018.

(CNN Business) —  

Tencent Music has filed plans to go public in the United States in what could be one of the biggest recent US IPOs by a Chinese company.

The company set a placeholder target of $1 billion, which could value the company between $25 and $30 billion, according to its SEC filing.

That amount would mark the third largest Chinese IPO to list in the United States since the beginning of 2018, according to data provider Dealogic. The Netflix-like video platform iQIYI raised $2.3 billion and social shopping app Pinduoduo raised $1.6 billion.

Tencent Music dominates the music streaming market in China through its Spotify-like apps. The company revealed in its SEC filing that its music apps have more than 800 million monthly active users. Spotify owns a 9% stake in Tencent Music.

The entertainment subsidiary of Tencent reported a profit of $263 million for the first six months of 2018, with revenue of $1.3 billion.

“We are pioneering the way people enjoy online music and music-centric social entertainment services,” it said in a filing, adding that it predicts the number of people that pay for music in China will “more than quadruple between 2017 and 2023.”

The symbol would be TME, but the company hasn’t yet decided which listing exchange to trade. It could choose either the Nasdaq or the New York Stock Exchange.

CNN first reported that Tencent Music was mulling an IPO in the United States in July.

Tencent Music’s IPO follows a flurry of big listings by Chinese tech companies in recent months, including smartphone maker Xiaomi and online services provider Meituan Dianping.

Daniel Shane contributed to this story.

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