Weekly Roundup 166: A Curated Linkfest For The Smartest People On The Web!
Handpicked to satisfy your intellectual curiosity!
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The Activist(s) Corner ( Issues to Get Your Blood Boiling):
America Is Europe – via NYTimes.com – We Americans cherish our myths. One myth is that there is more social mobility in the United States than in Europe. That’s false. Another myth is that the government is smaller here than in Europe. That’s largely false, too. The U.S. does not have a significantly smaller welfare state than the European nations. We’re just better at hiding it. The Europeans provide welfare provisions through direct government payments. We do it through the back door via tax breaks.
Contract Requires Prisons 90% Filled – via The Big Picture – “Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) has reached out to 48 states as part of a $250 million plan to own existing prisons and manage their operations. But in return CCA wants a 20-year contract and assurances that the state will keep the prisons at least 90% full.”
Al Jazeera’s Bahrain documentary wins award – Middle East – via Al Jazeera English – The documentary, which was first broadcast on Al Jazeera English on August 4, 2011, follows the unraveling of the Bahraini uprising from the initial days at Pearl Roundabout to the chaotic scenes of injured protesters overwhelming the Salmaniya Medical Complex.
David Graeber interviewed on Debt: the first 5000 years – via www.cognitionandculture.net – the anarchist anthropologist, talks about his important book,
Authors@Google: David Graeber, DEBT: The First 5,000 Years – via www.valueinvestingworld.com – Found via Paul Kedrosky.
Seminar On David Graeber’s Debt: Introduction – via The Browser – “Debt: The First 5,000 Years” is brilliant but daunting. Starts in social anthropology, advances across economics and finance, law, history, classics, sociology, history of ideas. You probably need some readers’ notes.
US Tax Code Not Aligned With Basic Principles – via NYTimes.com – It is clear that the rising inequality of wealth and income and how the wealthy should be taxed will be major issues in the political campaign.
Best Reads of The Week:
An Animated Scale of The Universe – via Htwins.net
Ira Glass on the Secret of Success in Creative Work, Animated in Kinetic Typography – via Brain Pickings – This American Life host and producer Ira Glass is among our era’s most beloved storytellers. In this wonderful short motion graphics piece, filmmaker David Shiyang Liu has captured Glass’s now-legendary interview on the art of storytelling in beautifully minimalist and elegant kinetic typography. The gist of Glass’s message for beginners — that grit is what separates mere good taste from great work, and that the only way to bridge the gap between ability and ambition is to actually do the work — is one that rings true for just about every creative discipline, and something I can certainly speak to in my own experience.
Harvard Thinks Big 2012: 8 All-Star Professors. 8 Big Ideas. – via Open Culture – Earlier this month, Harvard students made their way to the Sanders Theatre for the 2012 edition of Harvard Thinks Big. It’s a TED-style event which gets pitched like this: “8 all-star professors. 8 big ideas. All ten minutes each.” You get the gist.This year’s version had as much substance, though perhaps not quite the same sizzle, as the 2011 version, which featured talks by Steven Pinker, Lawrence Lessig, Daniel Gilbert and Elaine Scarry. Above, we have one talk from the latest Harvard Thinks Big. It features Daniel Lieberman, the renowned biologist (perhaps you know his work on barefoot running?) talking about how evolutionary biology explains why obesity is on the rise in the United States.
Ted Talk: Behavioral Economics -Shlomo Benartzi: Saving for tomorrow, tomorrow – via Video on TED.com – It’s easy to imagine saving money next week, but how about right now? Generally, we want to spend it. Economist Shlomo Benartzi says this is one of the biggest obstacles to saving enough for retirement, and asks: How do we turn this behavioral challenge into a behavioral solution?Shlomo Benartzi uses behavioral economics to study how and why we plan well for the future (or fail to), and uses that to develop new programs to encourage saving for retirement.
The Science of Why the Past is Different from the Future, Animated – via Brain Pickings – Every difference between the past and the future can ultimately be traced to the fact that the entropy was lower in the past and is growing — that’s the second law of thermodynamics: the universe was orderly, and is becoming more disorderly.
Why the super-rich love the UK – via The Guardian – I also didn’t want to write it. A few years ago, when I set out to write a novel about contemporary London, my point of departure was to think about who I wanted to be in it. I wanted to have characters who were lucky and unlucky, immigrants and natives, mindful and oblivious, poor and rich – but the question there quickly became, just how rich? London is full of the 1%, the people at the top of the income distribution, whose circumstances are at the moment so much on the agenda for the other 99%. But the thing is that while the 1% are rich by everyone else’s standards, they are not rich by the standards that rich people use themselves. To be in the 1%, in income terms, you have to earn – or, as the Socialist Worker has it, “earn” – £150,000 a year. That’s a lot, to most people’s way of thinking – but not to the way of thinking of the rich. I’ve asked quite a few people in the world of money, the kind of people who know properly seriously rich people, what counts are being properly, seriously rich. The consensus figure is that you need $100m. At that level, even the seriously rich agree that you are rich. Anyone with that amount of money is obviously way, way past the point where they will never have to think about any of their material needs, ever again.
Why Everything is Connected to Everything Else, Explained in 100 Seconds – via Brain Pickings – Cox turns to the Pauli exclusion principle — a quantum mechanics theorem holding that no two identical particles may occupy the same quantum state simultaneously — to explain why everything is connected to everything else, an idea at once utterly mind-bending and utterly intuitive, found everywhere from the most ancient Buddhist scripts to the most cutting-edge research in biology and social science.
Workouts May Not Be the Best Time for a Snack – via NYTimes.com – A few weeks ago, a friend showed up for a run with a CamelBak — one of those humplike backpacks with a tube that allows you to sip liquid — and a belt containing food to eat along the way. Every 20 minutes or so as we ran, he stopped to eat and drink, sprinting afterward to catch up.
Behavioral Economics, Complexity Research, Decision Making, Psychology, & Risk:
Adventures In Behavioral Neurology—or—what Neurology Can Tell Us About Human Nature – via Edge – So here is something staring you in the face, an extraordinary syndrome, utterly mysterious, where a person wants his normal limb removed. Why does this happen? There are all kinds of crazy theories about it including Freudian theories. One theory asserts, for example, that it’s an attention seeking behavior. This chap wants attention so he asks you to remove his arm. It doesn’t make any sense. Why does he not want his nose removed or ear removed or something less drastic? Why an arm? It seems a little bit too drastic for seeking attention.
Teller Reveals His Secrets – via Smithsonian Magazine – In the last half decade, magic—normally deemed entertainment fit only for children and tourists in Las Vegas—has become shockingly respectable in the scientific world. Even I—not exactly renowned as a public speaker—have been invited to address conferences on neuroscience and perception. I asked a scientist friend (whose identity I must protect) why the sudden interest. He replied that those who fund science research find magicians “sexier than lab rats.”
Economics and the Brain: How People Really Make Decisions in Turbulent Times – via Neuroscience News – In a 2008 paper on neuroeconomics, economist George Loewenstein said: “Whereas psychologists tend to view humans as fallible and sometime even self-destructive, economists tend to view people as efficient maximisers of self-interest who make mistakes only when imperfectly informed about the consequences of their actions.”
Dan Gilbert at HLS on The Situation of Good Decisions – via thesituationist.wordpress.com – He said that it should be simple to make a decision—all we need to do is multiply the odds of getting what we want by the value of getting it. But people make two classes of errors when trying to make decisions: errors in odds and errors in value.
Have You Been Nudged Today – Via PsyFi Blog– Sitting at the center of UK government is the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT), which is tasked with using behavioral approaches “as an alternative or complement to regulation or bans”, while achieving a ten-fold return on the cost of the team. They’ve just released the results of their first set of trials on fraud, error and debt, and these suggest they’re likely to continue, as the potential savings look like they’ll be quite significant. Wherever you are, you can expect to be nudged, prodded and cajoled into being a better person; or at least one that pays their taxes and turns up to doctors’ appointments on time.
Too Much Information Clouds Negotiators’ Judgments – via www.gsb.stanford.edu – Whether we’re negotiating a business deal or talking with a friend about which movie to see, most of us use information we have about the other party to reach agreement. But recent research from the Stanford Graduate School of Business warns that knowing our negotiation partners too well or having the wrong kind of information about them can actually produce less successful negotiating results than having no information.
Capitalism, Business, Economics, Entrepreneurship, Finance:
Too Big to Jail – Simon Johnson – via Project Syndicate – Among the fundamental principles of any functioning justice system is the following: Don’t lie to a judge or falsify documents submitted to a court, or you will go to jail. Breaking an oath to tell the truth is perjury, and lying in official documents is both perjury and fraud. These are serious criminal offenses, but apparently not if you are at the heart of America’s financial system. On the contrary, key individuals there appear to be well compensated for their crimes.
The Myth Of The Ethical Consumer – via Emerald – Marketing ethics and social responsibility are inherently controversial, and years of research continue to present conflicts and challenges for marketers on the value of a socially responsible approach to marketing activities. This article examines whether or not consumers care about ethical behaviour, and investigates the effect of good and bad ethical conduct on consumer purchase behaviour. Through focus group discussions it becomes clear that although we are more sophisticated as consumers today, this does not necessarily translate into behaviour which favours ethical companies and punishes unethical firms. The article concludes by some thoughts on how marketers might encourage consumers to engage in positive purchase behaviour in favour of ethical marketing.
Warren Buffett: Baptist And Bootlegger – via The Browser – “Buffett is very much a political entrepreneur; his best investments are often in political relationships. In recent years, he has used taxpayer money as a vehicle to even greater profit and wealth.” Is this smart or unscrupulous?
Competitiveness is about capital much more than labor – via www.interfluidity.com – Southern European workers do earn less overall, simply because they produce fewer or lower-value goods and services than their Northern neighbors. Unit labor costs are not the problem at all: it is the scale of aggregate output. And what determines the scale of aggregate output? Is it the laziness of workers? No, of course not. We all know that when residents of poor countries emigrate to rich ones, the same weak bodies and flawed characters that produce very little at home suddenly explode into economic vigor. The difference is “capital depth”, broadly construed to include all the physical equipment, business organization, public infrastructure, and governance that collude to enable two small hands and a broken mind to accomplish outsize things. Workers’ pay level is not the problem in Southern Europe. It is deficiencies in the arrangement of capital, again broadly construed, that have left Greece and Spain unable to produce value in sufficient quantity to compete with their neighbors.
The Making of Nigeria’s Film Industry – via NYTimes.com – Twenty years after bursting from the grungy street markets of Lagos, the $500 million Nigerian movie business churns out more than a thousand titles a year on average, and trails only Hollywood and Bollywood in terms of revenues. The films are hastily shot and then burned onto video CDs, a cheap alternative to DVDs. They are seldom seen in the developed world, but all over Africa consumers snap up the latest releases from video peddlers for a dollar or two. And so while Afolayan’s name is unknown outside Africa, at home, the actor-director is one of the most famous faces in the exploding entertainment scene known — inevitably — as “Nollywood.”
Where is Wal-Mart when we need it? – via vox – Research-based policy analysis and commentary from leading economists – Has the financial industry become less efficient? This lead commentary in the Vox debate on the financial sector argues that, despite all of its fast computers and credit derivatives, the current financial system is no better at transferring funds from savers to borrowers than the financial system of 1910.
Restraining unit labor costs is a right – via wing conspiracy – An increase in unit labor costs can mean one of two things. It can reflect an increase in the price level — inflation — or it can reflect an increase in labor’s share of output. The Federal Reserve is properly in the business of restraining the price level. It has no business whatsoever tilting the scales in the division of income between labor and capital.Yet throughout the Great Moderation, increases in unit labor costs were the standard alarm bell cited by Fed policy makers as an event that would call for more restrictive policy. And all through the Great Moderation, except for a brief surge during the tech boom, labor’s share of output was in secular decline. (More recently, the Great Recession has been accompanied by a stunning collapse in labor share. Record corporate profits!)
The Comedians, The Mob and the American Supperclub by Kliph Nesteroff – via WFMU’s Beware of the Blog – Back in 1933, when President Roosevelt gave Americans the okay to get drunk, speakeasy proprietors scrambled to stave off irrelevance. The bootleg profits amassed during the dry years gave rise to the Mob. When the Eighteenth Amendment was repealed, the Mob was left with hundreds of useless venues furnished with every conceivable liquor serving accoutrement. They salvaged their investments by retrofitting the speakeasy for legitimate nightclub use. Without the draw of clandestine liquor a new gimmick was needed to lure customers. The bait was entertainment; elaborate, lavish entertainment at a hitherto unseen scale. The explosion of Mob-run nightclubs created a huge circuit of well-paying jobs for singers, dancers, acrobats and comedians. Goons that had stood at speakeasy doors demanding secret passwords were now supperclub frontmen acting as the buffer between Mob overlords and the public. The American supperclub was born.
How This Entrepreneur Raised $28,000 Using Airbnb to Fund Her Startup – via www.bothsidesofthetable.com – She actually IS the prototypical entrepreneur. Just not the kind you would initially read about on TechCrunch. That may soon change. And that’s what I love about her narrative. It represents the great majority of entrepreneurship and eschews the fairytale rags-to-VC-riches stories we so often read about in the press
The Eclectic Mix:
Generating Deep Thoughts – via falkenblog.blogspot.com – variables that improve the ability to detect weak associations may improve insight solving. In short, insights tend to involve connections between small numbers of neurons….Just as it is hard to hear a quiet cell phone at a loud party, it is difficult to notice signals that have less energy than the general energy level already present in the brain. Hence, we tend to notice insights when our overall activity level in the brain is low. This happens when we’re not putting in a lot of mental effort, when we’re focusing on something repetitive
The Mysterious Mr. Zedzed: The Wickedest Man in the World – via Longform – Few men have acquired so scandalous a reputation as did Basil Zaharoff, alias Count Zacharoff, alias Prince Zacharias Basileus Zacharoff, known to his intimates as “Zedzed.” Born in Anatolia, then part of the Ottoman Empire, perhaps in 1849, Zaharoff was a brothel tout, bigamist and arsonist, a benefactor of great universities and an intimate of royalty who reached his peak of infamy as an international arms dealer — a “merchant of death,” as his many enemies preferred it.
Errol Morris: The Thinking Man’s Detective | Arts & Culture – via Smithsonian Magazine – You may even think, as I do, that Morris has become one of America’s most idiosyncratic, prolific and provocative public intellectuals.But what’s less well known about Morris is that he brings to his work the invaluable experience he picked up working as a private eye. And he hasn’t given up the private-eye impulse: He’s back on the case, two cases actually—two of the most electrifying and controversial cases in the past half century.
Google to Sell Heads-Up Display Glasses by Year’s End – via NYTimes.com – People who constantly reach into a pocket to check a smartphone for bits of information will soon have another option: a pair of Google-made glasses that will be able to stream information to the wearer’s eyeballs in real time.
Scientists Create A One-Atom Transistor – via Forbes – Despite the small size of the transistor, the team was able to confirm that the electrodes present on the silicon were contacting the transistor, and also confirmed that they were able to successfully change the quantum states of the atom – which means that it can be successfully used as a transistor.
Corporate Taxes Paid – via Chart Porn – Nice chart from the NYT showing average S&P 500 company tax rates 2005-10: total taxes (fed,state,local,foreign) over pre-tax earnings, by sector. A weighted average dot would have been nice for each sector.
Global Wealth – via Chart Porn – There are a number of interesting and well designed charts in the 2011 Global Wealth Report from Credit Suisse. The private sector actually does a lot of good analysis and visualization work that just doesn’t get publicized much.