Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Five interesting articles

1. Michael Lewis hangs out with Steve Bannon. "Steve Bannon reminded me of someone, but it’s not until I’m back in my hotel room that I realize who. He was a character from “The Big Short.” He saw the world differently from virtually everyone in his profession, and it led a lot of people to think that he was insane. But he was right and they were wrong, and the rest of the world has yet to come to terms with why."

2. "The core feature of Banks’s universe is that he imagines a scenario in which technological development has freed culture from all functional constraints – and thus, he imagines a situation in which culture has become purely memetic." More here, a nice reminder of what science fiction, at its best, is for.

3. "That the Catholic Church should put Silicon Valley—or any other institution or culture—to shame when it comes to world-changing innovation is not some tantalizing yet na├»ve prospect. It should be the baseline expectation for any educated Catholic." More here. (Well worth reading this article together with the previous one and then asking yourself the question: what does a functional culture look like today?)

4. "Tim Henman, the frustrated It Boy of English tennis, is still “the first human being called Tim to achieve anything at all."" One thing that a useful book review can do, rather than to tell you how good the book is, is to tell you what it is like to read the book. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Vanity Fair are 5 out of 5 on the book review scale, but that's not everything you'd want to know about them. Sometimes those reviews that say things like 'it's as if Harry Potter grew up and joined MI6, as described by Henry James' are quite informative. Anyway, that is all to say that this review tells you, in an entertaining way, what it is like to read Martin Amis.

5. Can you think of a policy that reduces housing costs, decreases unemployment, increases wages for the lowest paid and decreases inequality? Too good to be true? Well, according to The Economist, one the most pro-Remain papers out there, that's what Brexit will do. The Economist has been to Harrogate, a place that EU migrants came to in large numbers but have been leaving for a few years, and this is what it saw: "Unemployment has fallen to 3.6%, below the national and regional levels, allowing some workers to drive harder bargains. Though real median wages in Harrogate have not changed much since 2014, at the lower end they have risen by 9%. ... Demand for low-end rented properties has fallen. In Harrogate, prices in this segment grew at half the regional average between 2014 and 2017. ... Another strategy is to lure younger and older workers into the labour market. Some businesses in Harrogate are paying teenagers well above their minimum wage of £4.05 ($5.70) per hour, to tempt them into work." So Brexit is bad news for the owners of businesses and property; good news for workers, the young and the poor. You can see why the Labour Party might have difficulty selling Remain.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Some completely different things

1. Interesting (slightly repetitive?) piece by Stephen Wolfram about how to send messages to alien civilisations - and what messages we have already sent. Even if you are not interested in this at a theoretical level, it's worth scrolling down to the pictures: why has humankind decided to send Lego to Jupiter? And what about this, apparently left on the Moon attached to the Apollo 12 lander:

Seriously? There's a chance that the sole record of human civilisation that will remain for aliens to discover is a schoolboy drawing of a willy?

2. Two nice videos, each about 3 minutes long and enjoyable to watch.

3. Man bites dog.

4. This is brilliantly done - all the holiday photos all at once. I was impressed by the winglets moving back and the egg moving round the bowl.

5. These (downloads at the right of the page) could be interesting. They are part of a Royal Society scheme to develop primers to help judges handling scientific evidence in the courtroom. The first two are on DNA and gait analysis. I'm sure they are a good source of authoritative scientific information aimed at the intelligent layperson.

6. Why we should have money that “rots like potatoes” and “rusts like iron”.

7. "Nigel lived for years on his own on uninhabited Mana Island off the north of the country, surrounded by concrete replica gannets." Poor Nigel.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Conflict, mistake and a new religion

Why do people disagree about big issues to do with politics and society? More precisely: why do they disagree with you?

For many people, as I shall try to explain below, the reason they think other people disagree with them is because they are bad people - unbelievers, destined for a kind of secular hell. As I also try to explain below, this is a Bad Thing.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Unrelated interesting links

1.  The Kolmogorov Option. I've been meaning to link to this and write about it for some time. But all I really need to say is this: this is an interesting story in its own right; it raises interesting thoughts about how to live under oppressive regimes; and you should consider why a successful left-wing American academic would even be writing this kind of thing in the first place. 

2. An interesting bit of history. "Notably, at the start of the sixth century, Aksumite armies invaded and installed a puppet ruler in the Kingdom of Himyar in south Arabia, which had recently undergone its own conversion to Judaism and become an ally of Sasanian Iran. These high-stakes rivalries shaped the world of Muhammad and the first Muslims: indeed, the Islamic tradition holds that the Prophet was born in 570, the “Year of the Elephant,” when an Aksumite viceroy famously marched a fleet of war elephants into Mecca with the goal of destroying the Kaaba." I'm not sure which bit of this is the most surprising. But here you can find more together with some glorious illustrated ancient Gospels.

3. Interesting people. "For instance, an employee who sexually identifies as ‘a yellow-scaled wingless dragonkin’ and ‘an expansive ornate building’ presented a talk entitled ‘Living as a Plural Being’ at an internal company event.”" That was at Google.

4. I'm feeling quite happy about my three recent predictions, what with North Korea talking to South Korea again (and entering the Olympics under a joint flag) and the current turmoil in UKIP. This is the sort of thing I had in mind as liable to persuade people that China might be more worth worrying about than Russia. "Some 18-20 informants may have been killed as part of China's attempts to dismantle the US intelligence operation on its soil. // But it's only the latest chapter in a long saga of espionage and counter-espionage between the US and China - one, say analysts, that should not be eclipsed by the focus on Russian covert activities." Listen to those 'analysts', guys - those informants were apparently killed, not just trolled on an internet forum.

5. An interesting bit of law. "This is a claim by Omodele Meadows for the additional costs of raising her son, Adejuwon, who suffers from both haemophilia and autism. It is admitted that, but for the defendant's negligence, Adejuwon would not have been born because his mother would have discovered during her pregnancy that he was afflicted by haemophilia and so would have undergone a termination. It is agreed that she can recover the additional costs associated with that condition. What is in dispute is whether she can also recover the additional costs associated with Adejuwon's autism." You might want to think how you would decide the case before you look at Yip J's decision here.

6. Technically this is more law, but it's really about interesting social distinctions. This is what happens when international architects from Foster + Partners have a client who first meets them in a semi-detached house in Hayes. (A semi? Ugh!) It's not pretty, but I get the feeling from the judgment that justice has been done. Worth a read.

7. Do I recommend annual letters to shareholders about investments? Not often. But this one is worth a read (not Buffett).

8. You know all the annoying/irritating/infuriating news/opinions/stuff going on? This is worth reading and keeping in mind. So when you read this about this (Margaret Atwood, Bad Feminist) or (I'm guessing) any reaction to this then you will have some idea of why people are saying what they are saying. (I suspect Caitlin Flanagan has time for the Gods of the Copybook Headings, a poem that Scott Alexander put me onto.)

Monday, 15 January 2018

Lady Chatterley's Lover's Love of Red Trousers

I've never read Lady Chatterley's Lover and this review does not encourage me to do so. However, I was intrigued to read about Mellors' belief in the power of red trousers:

"Mellors has a plan for world reform that requires men to wear scarlet trousers “and buttocks nice and showing scarlet under a little white jacket.” And if you think this a passing fancy, swiftly suppressed, you are wrong. The plan to save the world with red trousers is restated at the end of the book, where Mellors raves, “If the men wore scarlet trousers, as I said, they wouldn’t think so much of money: if they could dance and hop and skip, and sing and swagger and be handsome, they could do with very little cash.”"

Hitchens points out that much of what the book tells us about Jews, lesbians, black women and so on is, shall we say, not very nice. I only hope that the efforts of the anti-red trouser brigades will not persuade us to add Mellors' rather innocent plan for red-legged world peace to the book's list of offences.

Monday, 8 January 2018

Sentences that tell stories

1. "Parcell, 26, could pass for an aspiring model in New York or L.A., but in Utah, she looks like an ordinary mom." From here.

2. "The amount of concrete used by China in the last 4 years is equal to the quantity used by the USA in 100 years" and "In Indonesia, several islands near Jakarta have disappeared because of illegal extraction [of sand]." From here.

3. "Before he laid down even a dot of paint, Vermeer would have weighed, ground, burned, sifted, heated, cooled, kneaded, washed, filtered, dried and oiled his colours", often in pretty unpleasant ways. From here.

4. "We propose that class is inversely related to a propensity for using wise reasoning" (and there's evidence to back that up). From here.

5. "The first event, the Key Box Challenge, is a form of competitive OCD: Valets must sprint to a locked key box, match a dozen or so keys with their corresponding vehicle tags, hang them correctly on a metal door, then sprint back to the finish line. It seemed simple, but it was chaos." From here

6. "“I voted for Brexit but some Lord who failed in their attempts to be elected as an MP and got appointed by the Tories to an unelected post resigned in protest whilst skiing in Austria” // “I’ve changed my mind!!!”". From here (Owen Jones making sense).

7. "As you can see, Bitcoin dwarfs even the legendary South Sea Bubble!" From here. And here's a lovely little graph for you (the yellow line includes the legendary Wall Street Crash of 1929):