Weekly Roundup 168: A Curated Linkfest For The Smartest People On The Web!
Handpicked to satisfy your intellectual curiosity!
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Via Act on Aid Blogs
Via Oxfam Blogs
The Activist(s) Corner (Issues to Get Your Blood Boiling):
James Hansen: Why I must speak out about climate change – via Video on TED.com – Top climate scientist James Hansen tells the story of his involvement in the science of and debate over global climate change. In doing so he outlines the overwhelming evidence that change is happening and why that makes him deeply worried about the future.
The Last Famine – By Paul Salopek – via Foreign Policy – Last August, I took a long walk with Daasanach nomads in northern Kenya, well inside the disaster zone, to see what it was like to move, as most famine victims do, on foot, through a landscape of chronic hunger. It was a way to look at hunger beyond the carefully framed shots of television cameras, and an occasion to ask: When will Africa’s vast hunger pangs finally end?
The Warlord and the Basketball Star: A Story of Congo’s Corrupt Gold Trade – via Longform – Dikembe Mutombo, humanitarian and former NBA center, and oil executive Kase Lawal arrange a ill-fated deal to buy $30 million in gold in Kenya.
Bryan Stevenson: We need to talk about an injustice – via Video on TED.com – In an engaging and personal talk — with cameo appearances from his grandmother and Rosa Parks — human rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson shares some hard truths about America’s justice system, starting with a massive imbalance along racial lines: a third of the country’s black male population has been incarcerated at some point in their lives. These issues, which are wrapped up in America’s unexamined history, are rarely talked about with this level of candor, insight and persuasiveness.
Is economic decoupling real? – via Considering Evidence– This is disappointing, but seemingly not surprising. After all, income inequality increased sharply during these years. The share of income going to the top 1% of households jumped from 8% in 1979 to 17% in 2007. With a larger and larger portion of economic growth going to those at the top, a divorce between growth of the economy and growth of middle-class incomes is exactly what we would expect to see.Decoupling is real and sizable.
Best Reads of The Week:
Socrates on TV, Courtesy of Alain de Botton (2000) – via Open Culture – Those who’ve questioned whether de Botton knows how to handle philosophy may well come away from these programs convinced that he doesn’t. I, however, find something almost radical in the way his demeanor, unyieldingly straightforward and never forgetful of concerns others might dismiss as mundane, interacts with the great works of the philosophical canon. I sense an almost strategic naïveté at work, and it takes him places, intellectually and geographically, to which his closest peers in letters may never get around. The starkly divided reaction de Botton draws shows, to my mind, that he’s being just the right kind of provocative — in his gentle manner.
The Fabric of the Cosmos with Brian Greene: Watch the Complete NOVA Series Online – via www.valueinvestingworld.com – The Fabric of the Cosmos, first broadcast in November, follows up on the 2003 Peabody Award-winning The Elegant Universe. Both series are adapted from the best-selling books of host Brian Greene, a mathematician and physicist at Columbia University.
Mark Lynas Long Now Seminar Media – via Blog of the Long Now – Lynas proposed that the goal for the future should be to get the whole world out of poverty by 2050 while staying within the planetary boundaries. Among the solutions he proposed are: clean cookstoves for the poor (they cause 1.6 million deaths a year); better GM crops for nitrogen efficiency and concentrated land use; integral fast reactors which run on nuclear waste (a recent calculation shows the UK could get 500 years of clean energy from its present waste, and the resulting IFR waste is a problem for 300 years, not for thousands of years); international treaties, which are crucial for dealing with global problems; carbon capture (everything from clean coal to biochar); and ongoing “dematerialization,” doing ever more with ever less, including more intense farming on less land. “Peak consumption,” Lynas noted, has already arrived in much of the developed world.
Phil Tetlock on expert predictions – via infoproc.blogspot.com – “How you think matters more than what you think.”It’s a matter of judgement style, first expressed by the ancient Greek warrior poet Archilochus: “The fox knows many things; the hedgehog one great thing.” The idea was later expanded by essayist Isaiah Berlin. In Tetlock’s interpretation, Hedgehogs have one grand theory (Marxist, Libertarian, whatever) which they are happy to extend into many domains, relishing its parsimony, and expressing their views with great confidence. Foxes, on the other hand are skeptical about grand theories, diffident in their forecasts, and ready to adjust their ideas based on actual events.
Walt Whitman, First Artist of Finance (Part 1): Robert Shiller – via Bloomberg – One of the myths surrounding economic inequality in our society is that high incomes are often the result of selfishness and narrow-mindedness, rather than idealism and humanity. We tend to think that those in careers other than our own are fundamentally different kinds of people.
Finance Isn’t as Amoral as It Seems (Part 2): Robert Shiller – via Bloomberg – Many people assume there is something sleazy about the business of finance, or the people who practice it. This impression is probably behind the commonly voiced opinion that it is a shame so many young people today are going into finance-related occupations, when they could be doing something more high- minded in other fields.
Don’t Resent the Rich; Fix the Tax Code (Part 3): Robert Shiller – via Bloomberg – Another of society’s most important weapons against economic inequality is the progressive income tax. Higher tax rates are fixed on higher levels of income, and so revenue is raised disproportionately from high-income people, and much of the benefit of the proceeds is directed to, or at least shared by, the poor. Strangely, though, the income-tax system has never been designed with the express objective of managing inequality.
Logic of Finance Can Banish Corruption (Part 4): Robert Shiller – via Bloomberg – We need a system that allows people to make constructive deals to further their goals, and one that allows an outlet for our aggressions and lust for power. It must redirect inevitable human conflicts into a manageable arena, one that makes room for those who are happy to commit themselves to a life of stewardship and the protection of others.
What Do Fact-Checkers and Anesthesiologists Have in Common? – David Zweig – Entertainment – via The Atlantic – IN A CULTURE that favors sensation, the fact checker is an anomaly, perhaps even anathema. He is the brakes on editors and writers racing toward deadline intent on dazzling readers at the expense of edifying them. He is the schoolmarm tsk tsking. He is the public defender for the unrepresented, the downtrodden, the forgotten—the facts.
Hall’s Law: The Nineteenth Century Prequel to Moore’s Law – via www.ribbonfarm.com – What America brought to manufacturing was a wholesale shift from craftsman-and-merchant thinking about technology and business to engineer-and-manager thinking. The shift affected every important 19th century business sector: armaments, railroads, oil, steel, textile equipment. And it created a whole new sector: the consumer market.
Behavioral Economics, Complexity Research, Decision Making, Psychology, & Risk:
The Situation of Optimism – via thesituationist.wordpress.com – Neuroscientist Tali Sharot visits the RSA to explain the biological bias of optimism, and its effect on our lives and societies.
A Quest to Understand How Memory Works – via NYTimes.com – We next looked at short- and long-term memory in the snail. I began to see what happens when you convert short-term memories to long-term ones. It would turn out that short-term memory involves transient changes of the connections between the cells. There is no anatomical change. Long-term memory involves enduring changes that result from the growth of new synaptic connections.
The Illusion of Understanding Success – via Why We Reason – The true test of an explanation, as Kahneman also says, is whether it would have made the event predictable in advance. No story of Rowling’s unlikely success will meet that test, because no story can include all events that would have caused a different outcome. This being said, we will continue to explain Rowling’s story as if it was inevitable and predictable. We will always be obsessed with happy endings.
The Situation of Ability– via thesituationist.wordpress.com – A bulk of research shows that when people are put in situations where they are expected to fail, their performance does plummet. They turn into different people. Their head literally shuts down, and they end up confirming the expectations. When they’re expected to win, their performance shoots back up. Same person, difference expectations.
Making Up Our Minds – via When are people individuals and when are they part of a group? – The issue at hand is essentially whether groups have minds: whether they can intend, think, feel, or plan as a single entity. “If something has a mind, it therefore becomes worthy of moral care and concern and has certain moral rights,” Waytz explains. A small number of studies had investigated how people make judgments about the mind of a group, and a much larger body of work had addressed how people make judgments about the minds of individual members of groups. There was no research, however, connecting the two, asking when we judge that the mind—and the accompanying credit or blame—rests with a company or its chief executive, a politician or his party.
The Grandmaster Experiment – via www.psychologytoday.com – The world’s first female grandmaster was ready to deliver her regular Thursday-night lecture. Susan Polgar was perfumed, coiffed, made-up and dressed in a sleek black pantsuit, an elegant contrast to the boys and young men hunched over their boards in her Queens, New York, chess club. “I have a special treat,” Susan, 36, announced in her gentle Hungarian accent. “Tonight, everyone will get to play me.” Blitz chess it was—each opponent received five minutes on his clock to Susan’s one. She first sat across from a young Serbian man. The two began slamming pieces and punching down their side of the clock, creating a percussive sound track to their lightning-fast moves. Susan beat him with a good 30 seconds to spare. He shook his head and avoided her eyes. A retired bartender and a 14-year-old boy succumbed almost as quickly. A reluctant 9-year-old suffering from an allergy attack was then coaxed to step up to the challenge. “Don’t worry about your eyes—everybody loses to her anyway,” his mom said helpfully. The boy’s minutes slipped away to inevitable loss. “Once you have a winning position,” Susan said, “play with your hands, not your head. Trust your intuition.”
The Inspiration Paradox: Your Best Creative Time Is Not When You Think: Scientific American – via www.scientificamerican.com – Insight problems involve thinking outside the box. This is where susceptibility to “distraction” can be of benefit. At off-peak times we are less focused, and may consider a broader range of information. This wider scope gives us access to more alternatives and diverse interpretations, thus fostering innovation and insight. Indeed, Wieth and Zacks found that participants were more successful in solving insight problems when tested at their non-optimal times.
I Was Not Almost Wrong But I Was Almost Right: Close-Call Counterfactuals and Bias – via Less Wrong – “Close-call counterfactuals”, claims of what could have happened but didn’t, can be used to either defend a belief or to attack it. People have a tendency to reject counterfactuals as improbable when those counterfactuals threaten a belief (the “I was not almost wrong” defense), but to embrace counterfactuals that support a belief (the “I was almost right” defense). This behavior is the strongest in people who score high on a test for need for closure and simplicity. Exploring counterfactual worlds can be used to reduce overconfidence, but it can also lead to logically incoherent answers, especially in people who score low on a test for need for closure and simplicity.
Capitalism, Business, Economics, Entrepreneurship, Finance:
Reid Hoffman: The network philosopher (Wired UK) – via www.wired.co.uk – Thiel describes LinkedIn as the stealth social network of the Web 2.0 era. “It’s not been as spectacular as Facebook, nor quite as overnight as Groupon or Zynga or Twitter, and it’s the least glamorous of the five big new internet companies of the last decade. But it has the clearest core value of helping people connect with people, mainly to get jobs. It’s probably in some sense the most underrated because of that.”
Frighteningly Ambitious Startup Ideas – via www.paulgraham.com – Don’t worry, it’s not a sign of weakness. Arguably it’s a sign of sanity. The biggest startup ideas are terrifying. And not just because they’d be a lot of work. The biggest ideas seem to threaten your identity: you wonder if you’d have enough ambition to carry them through.
What Really Goes On at Conventions in Vegas? – via Businessweek – That’s the difficulty of throwing a convention in Vegas. Sure, you benefit from the “Las Vegas effect,” which increases attendance by 5 percent to 10 percent because people like Mitchell want to come. But it can deplete the people who actually show up for your events by a far greater number. Which is why there are so few exit signs on a convention floor. It’s why so many companies hire booth babes—models in some degree of undress who lure men in and then hand them off to a salesperson. And it’s why MGM Resorts Events (MGM) works with conventions held in their many hotels on the Strip to create keynote cocktail parties and awards galas that are more exciting than what lies outside the convention walls.
How Three Germans Are Cloning the Web (Copying startups and making billions) – via Businessweek – Bamarang is the creation of Oliver, Marc, and Alexander Samwer, a trio of German brothers who have a wildly successful business model: Find a promising Internet business, in the U.S., and clone it internationally. Since starting their first dot-clone in 1999, a German version of EBay (EBAY), they’ve duplicated Airbnb, eHarmony, Pinterest, and other high-profile businesses. In total, they’ve launched more than 100 companies. Their Zappos (AMZN) clone, Zalando, now dominates six European markets and is estimated to be worth $1 billion by Financial Times Deutschland. Through their venture capital firm, the European Founders Fund, they also invested in European knockoffs of Facebook and YouTube (GOOG), which sold for $112 million and $36 million, respectively.
School for quants – via FT.com – Treleaven’s excitement stems, at least in part, from the fact that financial disasters are just as interesting to academics as success stories. When I asked him whether the ongoing agony in the economy had thrown up research opportunities, he said: “Oh yes, absolutely… the mother of invention is all something, you know? Look at what happened in the war, you have loads of scientific breakthroughs.” But the professor’s real animus is that he believes that what has been taking place in the financial industry – a heady meeting of computing power and the finest young scientific brains – is about to break into the rest of the social sciences. That is because what Treleaven’s students do, what quants do, is find patterns in oceans of electronic data. In a hedge fund, that might mean finding relationships between price movements and then trading on them. In public health, it might mean tracking millions of pharmacy transactions and spotting the next outbreak of flu. “They think of themselves as doing computational finance,” Treleaven said of his students, “but let’s jump forward: people who are interested in politics in the next 10 years will be doing computational politics.” The calculating power and analytical techniques used in finance could also model the impact of public policies, or seek insights in sport and education. This year, for the first time, Treleaven has a psychology graduate among his students and he enjoys telling undergraduates from other faculties – economics, music even – that they should learn how to program computers if they want to stand a chance in the world that is coming.
The real Greek economy: owners, rentiers and opportunists – via Longform – Why Greece has really failed.
Financial planning in the brain scanner slidecast – via www.slideshare.net – A presentation lecture regarding new fMRI findings on brain activations associated with changing financial advisors during an advisor-intermediated stock market game
The Eclectic Mix:
The Believer – via Interview with Steve Martin – No matter how much recognition he receives as an art collector and patron—he recently donated $1 million to the American art collection at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California—and no matter how many times he appears in the New Yorker or at the 92nd Street Y or anywhere else that we don’t expect superstar comedians to appear, his voice will always carry traces of Navin Johnson in The Jerk. Martin is nothing if not the embodiment of the fusion of high and low; a wacky, broadly comedic entertainer who cleans up astonishingly well. But unlike most of the affable, suburban characters he now tends to play (his upcoming turn as Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther notwithstanding), Martin seems coiled with ambition, focus, and an utter lack of goofiness.
Encounters with the Calabrian Mafia: Inside the World of the ‘Ndrangheta – via Longform – The profile of a crime syndicate which dominates the European cocaine trade.
On the Market – via Longform – Art pricing is not absolute magic; there are certain rules, which to an outsider can sound parodic. Paintings with red in them usually sell for more than paintings without red in them. Warhol’s women are worth more, on average, than Warhol’s men. The reason for this is a rhetorical question, asked in a smooth continental accent: “Who would want the face of some man on their wall?”
You’re Working too Hard to Make an Impact – via calnewport.com – When the weather turns nice, as it has been recently down here in DC, I remember this Cambridge ritual. It reminds me of an important point: creating value is unrelated to busyness. When you find yourself — as I sometimes do — working long hours, day after day, reacting and e-mailing and hatching schemes, it’s useful to remember that you’re working more than some of the world’s most respected and impactful thinkers.
The Truth Behind America’s Unemployment – via visualeconomics.creditloan.com – Many of us have been unemployed at some point in our adult lives. Whether it was the terrifying period between graduation and that first “real-world job,” an unexpected lay-off, or just an unconquerable need for change, unemployment can be incredibly taxing.